When you think Paris, Rome, London, or Barcelona, do little dollar signs dance in your head? International travel is notoriously expensive, and we (being North Americans) often announce these trips years before they happen so we can save up for two weeks in Italy. Some people save these trips for their honeymoon. International travel is seen as so luxurious and upper-crust that we save it for the most special of occasions.
I am not like these people, if you cannot already tell. My reason for traveling was, purely, to go experience some things. And, when you’re gone for as long as I was (three months!) you start to pick up some tips that make traveling abroad a little less expensive. Because honestly, folks – had I traveled the way we imagine traveling in Europe to be, I would be dead broke. Here are some things I picked up along my trip that may help you out as you plan your next one.
Traveling is as cheap or expensive as you’d like to make it.
I’ve said this a few times now in other posts, but if you only take one thing from my blog, take this point: You do not need hoards of money to travel. If you are hoping for a glitzy Paris vacance with night and day trips to the top of the Eiffel Tower and Michelin-star dinners, France is going to cost you. But, if you’re like me – it’ll cost you less than $75/day, lodging included. Great news, right? You are in control of how much you’re spending in these places. You may have to sacrifice a little glamour, but who doesn’t still love the idea of being in Paris? Baguettes are $1. Live your fanciest life without completely blowing your savings.
Public transportation is awesome, and can be really helpful if you need to make it from Point A to Point B with a deadline. If you don’t have a timeline, however, I would *highly* recommend walking. Not only will this save you a butt-load of money (that is the scientific term, yes) – you will find places along the way that you didn’t even know existed. But, back to the dollar signs. Public transportation can still be a little pricey if you’re going somewhere for an extended amount of time. In Switzerland, a one-way trip 20 minutes into Zurich costed us 10 Swiss francs (about $10). In Germany, a day pass in the inner ring of Munich is 7 Euros. A week will run you about 20 Euros. Vienna had similar prices, if not a little more expensive on the metro. The tube in London was incredibly expensive. I went through 40 pounds (about $50) in under 4 days – and I walked almost everywhere.
I didn’t use public transportation at all in Barcelona, Rome, or Prague, and we used it very sparingly in Paris (you can get 10 tickets – a carnet – for about $14). Although the cities are big, they are almost all walkable if you map out where you’re going and what you want to cover. Don’t just automatically splurge for public transportation tickets if what you want to see is in walking distance.
Be aware that some things we know as “free” actually cost money.
In France, tap water was free and there were a few free restrooms. In Germany, no water is free at restaurants and all of it will cost you a good chunk of change. In Italy, water is relatively inexpensive but it’s totally delicious (and you could get a carafe of wine for a similar price!). In each place, there are different common standards and rules. Most places will make you pay for a bathroom break. I paid as little as 20 cents and as much as $2 (thanks, Switzerland!). All this means is that you have to be a little more strategic about your liquid intake, and always, always use the bathroom if you go somewhere for lunch.
Many of the major cities also have public fountains with potable water, so I carried an empty bottle almost everywhere I went and filled it up when I had the chance. If you’re sitting outside at a casual restaurant (and you don’t make it obvious), you can sip out of your water bottle and avoid that crazy expense for water.
You also should be aware of table fees. First of all – most cafes in Italy and in the UK had two prices listed: the stay-in and the take-out price. Take-out prices were cheaper, as you weren’t taking up a spot in their (usually small) dining rooms. If you know you’ll be on the go and don’t desperately need to sit down, it can be, like, a dollar cheaper to take something to-go.
The other expense specifically in Italy that we weren’t expecting was a table service charge. Tipping isn’t as common in European countries as it is in America, but most countries just leave it at the bill. Most restaurants in Italy, however, charge a per-person table service fee that kinda doubles as what you’d tip. We paid anywhere between 1.50 Euros and 4 Euros per person for table service, and this fee is higher if you choose to sit outside verses inside (because outdoor dining spaces are so limited). If you’re sticking to a budget, it’s just a good thing to know – you may be spending an extra 5-8 Euros on dinner.
The food on the streets is just as good (if not better).
Don’t be so quick to pop into a restaurant if you’re feeling peckish. In almost every city I visited (less so in Spain, but especially in Holland), street vendors are selling meals, local delicacies, treats, and drinks for a fraction of the restaurant cost. And, we’re not talking rubbery hot dogs here, folks. The food is delicious (think peanut sauce on fries and mini pancakes in Rotterdam, spiced nuts and cheese noodles in Germany, döner just about everywhere you go, trdlnîk – fried dough cones – in Prague… the list goes on) and, sincerely, will save your budget. We opted for a larger meal at lunchtime, which is more customary for many of the cultures anyways, and then picking up a street-food snack along the way. Eating from street vendors also gives you a better taste of the local flavor (and you won’t have to pay pesky take-out or table service fees).
Prioritize your experiences.
What means the most to you? If you’re visiting a new city on a low budget and all you care about is exploring from morning until night, it’s not worth it to splurge on an expensive hotel. If you’re wanting to relax inside, don’t get tickets to an outdoor attraction with a two-hour tour. If you’re budgeting, you may have to pick and choose what matters to you and what you actually want to see.
For me, this meant choosing to see the Louvre in Paris instead of the other handful of art galleries that were on my list, and checking out the gardens of Versailles instead of waiting in the long lines to get inside the mansion. You don’t have to visit something just because it’s famous or just because you’ve seen pictures of it. What do you enjoy? What do you actually want to experience? Check out the prices of tickets online before you visit so that you don’t get all the way up to the gates and then splurge on something you didn’t care that much about. You may also need to reserve a spot in advance – like the Anne Frank House tour in Amsterdam or the Harry Potter studio tour north of London.
What are your money-saving tips while traveling? I’d love to hear them. Leave me a comment below!