Vacationing Cheaply In Europe

Traveling is definitely one of the luxuries of life and can be expensive. But it doesn’t have to be. I developed a penchant for being on a plane back when I was 8. My dad was always busy at work and so sending us along with mom out of the country always worked out. We had a ton of relatives to meet in different countries anyway. I quickly developed a love for jet fuel, airports, baggage claim, and eating food at 30,000 feet.

Fast forward 30 years and my appetite to fly hasn’t abated even one bit. Actually, my love for travel has become more obsessive with age. My wife and I came to the conclusion that we wanted to spend a good chunk on traveling since we craved to see new countries. During the typical year, we travel 4 times domestically and once internationally. After rent, traveling expense is our largest expenditure.

Choosing A Cheap Destination

The quickest and most logical way to save a buck on ticket prices is to travel during bad weather which is the least popular time to travel, hence when demand is low. There is a darn good reason why people avoid England in February. But that’s exactly when we decided to go. Europe is pretty cheap September to June and is really cheap December to March as the weather is fairly hopeless. And that’s why a round trip ticket from SFO to Heathrow set me back only $420 taxes included. The tradeoff was that it was a bit wet and grey, but we also lopped off $800 per ticket. This was our biggest savings of the trip.

Spending Money On Attractions

When we visit a new country, we spend our time checking out architecture, buildings, public squares, outdoor food markets, cafes, retail streets and general places to walk around. Most of this stuff is free so there is no outlay of cash. One of our favorites activities in a new country or city is to get on the double decker open air bus and just scope out the city to get the lay of the land. 

We aren’t big museum, art, theater or musical people so we save money on admission fees, museum fees and opera/theater costs. Going to a museum and looking at impressionist era paintings would be a total waste on us. Heck, I’m guilty of flying to Florence and coming back without seeing the Statue of David. 

Lodging

Before getting married the only lodging I was familiar with were traditional hotels, like the Marriott, Hilton, Holiday Inn, Best Western, Sheraton etc. Staying overnight meant staying in a proper hotel. There was no second option. But the internet has long changed that with the advent of AirBnB. I have to admit I started using this service very late in the game as the idea of living in someone’s house seemed way too intrusive. But I took the chance and let my wife book some spots. It turned out to be really good. We ended up getting legitimate rooms and most of the amenities you would expect in a hotel. It may have not been quite as polished of an experience, but then again you were paying half the price of a hotel. That’s a lot of savings over a 10 day trip.

Food

We are bona fide foodies and adore desserts. But spending $65/a head on esoteric fine dining is something we have never spent money on. We like good food, in good quantities at good prices. Good flavor is mandatory, fancy dining optional. Also, if you are traveling on a dime, a sure shot way of keeping expenses down is buying food at the super market. For breakfast you can get yogurt, croissant, coffee, milk and breakfast sandwiches. For lunch, there are tons of pre-made sandwiches or high quality frozen microwave meals. For example in Vienna, we grabbed breakfast and lunch items from Billa, and in Switzerland we went to Migros. Lunch ended up costing us eight bucks rather than thirty. You don’t have to do this for every meal. But eating out in Switzerland everyday is insanely expensive. We spent more on eating desserts frequently and venturing into nice cafes.

Transportation

Logic tells you that you don’t need to rent a car when visiting a major city center. London and Vienna both have excellent subway systems. It would be a major liability to rent a car. If you are city hopping or driving between countries or have a super customized travel schedule then renting a car makes a lot of sense. The downside is that driving in Europe is difficult for the average American. The streets are narrower, the street directions are reversed. If you are a nervous driver, then definitely not. 

Also another hassle with car rentals is crazy gas prices in Europe and tolls on the highway. Filling up my empty tank in an Audi A3 in the UK was around $70. I racked up $50 worth of tolls driving across Italy. Didn’t plan on that and I also didn’t plan on the speeding tickets that captured me speeding on camera. As a local, you won’t know where they are hidden so always check the speed limit. All these costs add up. But if you are a seasoned traveler then you know that renting a car gives you the ultimate flexibility.

What To Pack

Making a list solves many problems, including what to pack. For my 10 day trip to Europe I packed the following: 

  • 5 t-shirts / 2 shorts / 1 pant / 5 pairs of socks
  • Packing Cubes (roll-up your clothes to save space)
  • Phone / Charger / Universal Converter to plug in the walls (You HAVE to get this)
  • Toothbrush/paste, floss, shaving equipment, moisturizer and face wash
  • Sleeping pills for my flight, melatonin gummies, band aids
  • Laptop
  • One reading book
  • Slippers so I don’t have to walk barefoot in people’s bathrooms and houses
  • Eye mask for a nice sleep, neck pillow when in my long flights
  • Ear plugs so I don’t become deaf from the airplane engine and air friction noise
  • One swiss army backpack to put everything inside

We traveled with only one backpack per person which was super refreshing and light. It made the entire trip much more pleasant.

After spending a lot of time deciding on what to do and where to go our itinerary looked like this.

SFO–>Zurich–>Lucerne–>Interlaken–>Bern–>Luscherz–>Lausanne–>Annemasse–>Geneva–>Florence–>Bologna–>Venice–>Verona–>Milan–>Vienna–>Zurich–>SFO. 

15 CITIES, 10 DAYS, 700 MILES OF DRIVING, 6 AIRPORT CONNECTIONS AND 34 MILES OF CITY WALKING.

One epic trip.

My Favorite View In Switzerland
Saleve Mountain Geneva
Florence From Michelangelo Square
Our Airbnb In Switzerland

2 thoughts on “Vacationing Cheaply In Europe

  1. Hi Rachel! Thanks for checking this out. Yes, credit cards without any int’l transaction fees is a must. And Amen to be able to cook in your AirBnb.

  2. Interesting! Thanks for the great tips!
    I would definitely go to the museums rather than renting a car and wasting money on gas and tolls, haha!
    So what was your final cost would you say for your 10 day trip? Make sure too, to use credit cards that don’t charge a transaction fee 🙂
    The nice thing about Airbnb s is that you can cook – avoid restaurants everyday!

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