Travel Tips Rick Steves – The economy may be shaky, but our travel dreams are still strong – for good reason. Europe is as magical as ever, and no recession can change that. What matters is how well you manage your travel budget and how you use these skills to create a better trip. Playing your cards right and spending less will lower the barrier that separates you and the culture you’ve traveled so far to experience.
To help you keep your dream trip affordable, here are 50 thrifty ways to stretch your travel dollar in Europe…
Travel Tips Rick Steves
A B&B offers twice the warmth and cultural intimacy for half the price of a hotel. You can find them in most countries if you know the local word:
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Avoid touristy restaurants with “We speak English” signs and multilingual menus. Those filled with locals serve better food for less money. I’m looking for a short, handwritten menu in the local language only. Go with today’s special.
Fly with your jaws open – it’s into one city and out of another. Save time and money by avoiding an unnecessarily costly return to your starting point. When considering the start and end points of a long trip, try to start in mild countries (like England) and work your way into places with greater culture shock (like Turkey). That way, you’ll minimize stress and save the countries that offer the cheapest shopping—and the biggest health risks—for the end of your trip.
Travel in low season – usually October to April in Europe. You will get cheaper plane tickets, find more budget rooms, spend less time in queues and meet more Europeans than tourists. Big cities like London, Paris and Rome are interesting at any time of the year.
Family-owned businesses offer the best values because they employ family members to get around Europe’s expensive labor laws. In mom-and-pop shops, you’re more likely to be served by people who care about their reputation and their customers.
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Picnics save money. For ten dollars you buy a nice picnic lunch for two anywhere in Europe. Fill your hotel room with drinks and sweets on arrival. You can pass train rides enjoyably over a picnic meal. Many grocery stores have elegant deli sections. Know the metric system for purchasing products. In Italy, 100 grams (about a quarter of a pound) is a unit in itself called an
Eat with the seasons. The Germans go crazy for the white asparagus. Italians alternate the porcini mushroom. And the Spanish devour their snails
— but only when waiters announce that they are fresh today. You get more taste for less money throughout Europe by ordering what’s in season.
Use a guidebook. Guidebooks are $20 tools for $3,000 experiences. Saving money by not buying one is penny-wise and pound-wise. An updated guidebook pays for itself on your first day in Europe.
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Use ATMs instead of traveler’s checks. You get your money cheaper and faster. Although ATMs offer the best possible rates, they come with transaction fees. Minimize these fees by making fewer and larger withdrawals. Keep the money safe in your money belt.
Keep in touch cheaply by calling directly. International calling cards with PIN numbers are sold in newsstands throughout Europe. They offer calls to the US for ten cents per minute – a huge savings over the $3/minute rates offered by the major US services.
Cars are useless and costly headaches in big cities. Pick up your rental car after the first major city and drop it off before the last major city on your trip. Paying $20 a day to store a $40 a day car while touring a city is an expensive mistake.
Shop mostly in the cheaper countries where gifts are more interesting and your shopping dollar stretches the furthest. The difference is huge: For the cost of a pewter Viking ship in Oslo, you can buy a real boat in Turkey.
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Search for friends, relatives and contacts. Assume you are interesting and charming and enjoy local hospitality with gusto. This works best if you are actually interesting and charming. Bring a show-and-tell Ziploc bag filled with photos of your family, house, and hometown.
Adapting to European tastes. Cultural chameleons drink tea in England, beer in Prague, red wine in France and white wine on the Rhine. They eat fish in Portugal and reindeer in Norway. Going with the local specialties gives you the best quality and service at the best price.
Look for consolidator tickets for international flights. Consolidator or “discount” airline tickets are perfectly legitimate. By putting up with a few minor drawbacks (no changes allowed and no frequent flyer miles), you can save hundreds of dollars. Student agencies are not limited to students and offer great flight tickets.
Don’t let frequent miles cloud your judgment. Choose a plane ticket, rental car, hotel or tour according to the best value for your trip, not in the hope of getting a few extra miles.
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Know your railpass options. Rail passes can offer big savings – if you travel a lot. For short journeys, point-to-point tickets are cheaper.
Second class carriages get there just as quickly as first class. Across Europe, first class tickets cost around 50 percent more than second class. The difference in comfort is usually minimal – it’s not like first vs coach on a plane. The vast majority of Europeans do not travel first class unless someone else pays for it.
Buses, although often slower, are cheaper than trains – especially in the UK, home to Europe’s most expensive train system. For example, traveling from London to Edinburgh can cost $145 by train or just $45 by bus.
Groups save by driving. Four people sharing a car generally travel much cheaper than four people buying four rail passes. And don’t worry about gas costs. Even at $6 a gallon, you’ll find that cars get good mileage and the distances between points of interest are short. A simple two-hour train ticket can cost you the price of a full tank of gas.
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Park carefully. Thieves recognize and target tourist cars. Judge safety too much by how it flashes. Broken glass means thieves like this place. Paying to park in a garage with an attendant can be a good investment.
In many northern countries, train ticket holders receive a discount on bicycles rented at the station. And in many cases you can rent a bike in one city and drop it off in another at no extra cost.
Pay with cash, not credit card. While credit cards will get you a good exchange rate, many places offering Europe’s best deals – from craft shops to bed & breakfasts – only accept cash.
When exchanging cash, avoid exchange offices that do not display both the bid and ask rates. By looking at both prices, you can deduce the profit margin – which should be within 5 percent. Sites that only show the sale price are hiding something… an obscene profit margin.
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Wear a money belt. You save money by not losing it. Thieves do not target Americans because they are mean, but because they are smart. They know that we are the ones who are comfortable in our wallets and purses. Suppose beggars are pickpockets. Be wary of brawls in crowds and fake cops asking to see your wallet. When you know the scams, they are almost entertaining.
Students, families and seniors should ask for discounts. But be warned: Because the U.S. doesn’t reciprocate, many countries don’t extend their usual senior citizen discounts to Americans.
Understand all fees and expenses in all transactions. Ask to have bills itemized. Assume you will be short-lived. Always ask how much. Do your own arithmetic and don’t let the cashier stress you out. Smile but be knowledgeable. You will save lots of money.
Travel with a partner to share and save. A single hotel room often costs almost as much as a double room. And by sharing taxis, chores, guidebooks and picnics, couples save both time and money.
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Buy your maps in Europe at half the price you would pay in America. And you will find a wider selection.
Communicate online instead of sending postcards. For the cost of a postcard and a stamp, you can be online at a cybercafé for about 15 minutes. Many libraries, hotels and hostels offer free internet access.
Europe’s 2,000 hostels offer countless cheap dorms. A hostel membership pays for itself in four nights. And it is not limited to young people. In fact, those over 55 get a discount on a hostel card. Using the hostel’s kitchen, you can cook for the price of groceries – a big savings for traveling families.
Take advantage of department stores anywhere in Europe for cheap folk art, souvenirs and postcards. Local shoppers eat cheaply at department store cafes and restaurants. Savvy travelers can too.
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Although they are notorious for scamming tourists, flea markets can offer great deals. Prices are low, so haggle.
Consider using a low-cost airline to connect distant cities. Europe’s highly competitive, no-nonsense airlines — such as Ryanair and Virgin Air — can often get you from one city to another faster and cheaper than the train. You usually book the flights yourself by phone or on the web. Beware though: Low-cost airlines often use small airports far from the city, which can cost some extra time and money.