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Take a European Vacation Without Blowing The Budget


European Vacation

Travelers have cited Europe as their most desirable destination for years. The reasons are simple. There are so many countries to visit in such close proximity that you can literally travel from country to country in hours.  Nowhere else in the world do so many cultures converge in such a small area and with such easy travel available. We went to Europe for the first time this year and learned some valuable lessons about how to stay on budget without missing out on the good stuff!

Aside from planning the purchase of the airfare, the cost of lodging, sightseeing and food all come into play in your European vacation.  Once the airfare is taken care of, there are tips for getting around Europe and enjoying all it has to offer, even when your budget is tight.

Simple Digs

For those who love the experience of diving into the culture of a region, a stay at a five-star hotel isn’t going to make it.  Not only are these hotels somewhat removed from the experience, they are very expensive.family hostel

Instead, staying in hostels and campgrounds around Europe will give you the freedom to explore the region fully, and without barriers.  With just a knapsack on your back and a satchel with a bite of food and fresh water, you can take off anytime to visit festivals, find outdoor music events, or stop at the local street vendors to enjoy real homemade food, beverages, or to find a trinket or two.

Hostels are not just for college kids and they’re very family-friendly these days.

Or…Luxury Living for Less

If you are not the type to go backpacking across Europe, you can find affordable motels, hotels, and bed-and-breakfast places.  Do the research first, either online or with a travel agent.  You can often find discounted rooms with groups, or last minute deals.  Don’t forget to look into ‘boarding’ situations.  There are some big, old houses, even castles, that feature rooms for boarders at reasonable rates.

Don’t be afraid to book out-of-the-way accommodations to save money, like cottages, farms, or places in small villages. The travel options in Europe are often very modern, fast, and convenient to many cities and towns.  A couple subway or train stops, and you’ll be right in the center of the city, enjoying the sights. A B&B offers double the warmth and cultural intimacy for half the price of a hotel. You’ll find them in most countries if you know the local word: Husrom is Norwegian for sobe which is Slovenian for Gästezimmer which is German for rooms in a private home.

We rented an apartment in Barcelona that was in a fabulous location, but even better…had a washer and dryer!

Cheap Sightseeing

One of the great things about travelling and exploring Europe is there is so much to see, so much history. Once you get your accommodations settled, you’ll be wanting to see the sights.  Oftentimes, your hotel will offer discounts for admission to the most popular attractions and landmarks.  Map out your destinations and see if you can get a package rate if sightseeing is big on your agenda.

When we first arrived in each of our recent destination cities, we took advantage of the Hop On Hop Off bus tours (we affectionately called them the HOHO”.) Most were the double-decker buses with an open top and all came with earphones that plugged into a recording of a tour guide (available in many different languages.) They really helped us get the lay of the land, see lots of things we would haven otherwise seen, provided inexpensive transportation around the city and allowed us to plan where we wanted to “hop off” and see more. All for about 20 euros or less per person for a 24-hour pass.

Hop On Hop Off Bus Tour in Paris

From the top of a HOHO bus in Paris

Churches and cathedrals are almost always free to go in and look around. There may be a fee to enter a special section or to climb a bell tower, but Europe’s churches are treasures!  Additionally, museums offer free admission days and are free for visitors who are disabled (bring your placard – it will also typically allow you to bypass long lines and use separate entrances.)  We enjoyed Westminster Abbey, Notre Dame and il Duomo, for example, for free. What an experience!

Each country has something unique to offer, whether it’s the natural beauty, great landscapes, architecture, ocean views, and, of course, the people. Because of this, many things you want to experience will not cost you a thing. Just bring along your camera and enjoy the  experience, just for the cost of a memory card.  Of course, there is no charge to view many attractions like the Eiffel Tower, Buckingham Palace, Arc de Triomphe and the Colosseum from the outside.

When you do pay, something that we took advantage of was that my daughter is 25 years old. In most European countries, especially on the train, those who are 12-25 years old are consider “Youth” and pay a lower fare/fee. Children are even less expensive.

The Off-Season

There’s something to be said for experiencing springtime in Paris and we’re all familiar with the need to travel in summer when the kids are out of school. However, if you’re able to swing off-season traveling — October through April in Europe -you’ll not only get cheaper airfare, but also find more budget rooms, spend less time in lines, and meet more Europeans than tourists. The sights in big cities like London, Paris and Rome are interesting any time of year.

Roman Forum

We traveled in May and found Rome, Paris and Barcelona already bustling and very crowded with tourists. Lines to get into the popular attractions like the Eiffel Tower, the Colosseum and Sagrada Familia were long. The line to see the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica stretched across the square and down the street.  Bonus piece of advice: get tickets ahead of time for everything you can!

Vatican Museum Entrance

Free Breakfast and Picnic-Style Dinner

Whenever possible, we booked a hotel that included breakfast with the room. This didn’t mean chain hotels or fancy prices. We stayed a small hotels, but still enjoyed a continental breakfast – fruit, pastries, meat, cheese, breads, cookies, juice, coffee.

breakfast buffet

We grabbed an extra apple or orange, a packet or two of cookies and Nutella, and made a ham and cheese sandwich for snack later in the day.  Stock your hotel room with drinks and munchies upon arrival. You can have a picnic meal on the train or in a park. Many grocery stores have wonderful deli sections.  Bakeries and fruit stands are common and small “take away” stands are both yummy and a bargain.

ham and cheese


When you make Europe your vacation destination, it doesn’t have to mean bankruptcy is right around the corner.  Whether you want a cozy stay in a country inn, the freedom to explore with just a pack on your back, or all the comforts of a city hotel, with a little planning, you can find the right way to enjoy your European vacation and stay within your budget.