5 money saving tips for your next European vacation
Vacations don't need to be money sucking leeches. When I get home from a wonderful destination I don't want the sensations to be dulled by the sight of my bank account. Yet when planning vacations we plan to get the optimal sightseeing experience and side step how to efficiently spend our money. We start to believe we need to spend money to get a great vacation. This should not be the case.
On one of my recent trips to Paris, France I made it an objective to reduce my expenses. Here I was able to test theories and ideas I have formulated or have read. These tips should not detract from the illuminating experience but will save you a few pieces of your valuable currency. With these tips you should be saving up to (or even more then) 250 euros a person a day which could equal to almost 2000 euros a person in a week. These are the top money saving tips for your next European vacation.
1) Sleep outside the tourist zone.
On my recent trip to Paris I found from a friend that getting an apartment would be more economical then staying at a hotel. This was odd to me since I think of apartments as a big space with more amenities then a hotel. To my surprise the price of the apartment was indeed cheaper but not for the reasons I thought.
To begin I would like to point out the tourist zone is the area with the highest destiny of attractions in that destination. This is usually near monuments, places of interest, or historical centers of a city. This is where you will find over priced restaurants, street hustlers, your main monuments and the like.
The apartment was more economical as it contained a kitchen (and probably the only feature that differentiated it from the hotel) with working stove. This stove as you can suspect can save one a great deal of money if one knows how to cook. In a large touristy city similar to Paris all prices are severely inflated for restaurants, bars, and anything else. On the other hand a supermarket will have very similar prices to that of a small town.
So if you can I would suggest to eat one or two meals at this greatly discounted price. A home cooked meal can cost a fraction of what it costs at a restaurant. If you can't cook there is always frozen dinners or instant meals. On my trip, me and my girlfriend ate every breakfast and a few dinners at the apartment. A dinner in Paris can cost easily 30 euros a person and a breakfast at least 10 euros a person in an average nothing special restaurant or bar. A meal cooked at home could cost as little as 5 euros a person and a breakfast just a few euros.
However if I was to pin point the reason the apartment was cheaper I would have to assume it was because of its location. When one starts to get closer to the city center and tourist areas (hot zone) prices become extremely elevated. This is equivalently true about real estate as well. I would suggest finding a hotel or apartment outside of this hot zone but very close to public transportation such as sub ways. In a modern city such as Paris subway systems are comprehensive across the city and affordable. In Paris our apartment was on the outskirts of the city not near anything but about 20 steps from the door was the entrance to the subway, 1.50 euros per ride, and a few stops later we could be in the center of Paris. These 1.50 euros per person outweighed in savings the 50 euros plus per day we would have spent in a hotel in the core of the city.
can save anywhere from 50 to 150 euros a night on the stay getting a place outside the tourist zone
can save anywhere from 30 to 45 euros per person per dinner if made at the apartment
I have never really thought of bringing a backpack on my days out at a vacation spot. I never wanted to be burdened with keeping track of a backpack or carry the extra weight. I always assumed that people brought backpacks so they can carry the stuff they might purchase on their day trip. On my recent trip to Paris I explored the possibility of bringing a backpack on my day trips and found it agreeable and a great way to reduce the cost of my trip.
To begin I brought a backpack for a few reasons; I wanted to bring lunch or snacks, I wanted to be able to store items I may have purchased on my trip, and I wanted to bring water.
I thought one problem I would have was I would get tired of handling my backpack and keeping track of it, but on the contrary by filling an empty backpack with a lunch for two I barely noticed that I had it on. This was key to having a barely noticeable backpack. I made sure it did not contain anything valuable and that it had the least amount of stuff in it. As the day went on the backpack only got lighter. My backpack never left my back since I was on my feet most of the day except to sit down and have a coffee. If I were to leave the backpack somewhere it would have not been detrimental since I carried nothing valuable in it. Wallet and phone were in my front pockets at all times. It is important to absolutely carry the bare essentials if you choose to bring a backpack. You might feel the need fill the backpack with that portable battery pack or extra shirt but if that object is not what you would typically bring if you were not wearing a backpack then I suggest you leave it at the hotel (or apartment). You will soon get tired of a heavy backpack.
Since I was with someone else we were able to share one backpack and then split the time one of us carried it. This was great since on my Paris trip we only decided to carry a backpack for 4 of the 5 days and on top of that I only carried it for half the time. This very flexible schedule made the backpack much more of a convenience.
Another issue I thought I would have was getting past security for buildings. These security points are littered with no food signs. I found that they did not see sandwich to be a threat to humanity. A quick check of the backpack and I was thru.
Some supermarkets in Europe now charge for plastic bags. An incentive to have the city go green. A backpack can be used as a reusable bag when shopping in super markets saving you a few cents. Not anything significant but another reason why carrying a backpack is so nice.
The backpack is the catalyst for the next few tips.
Supermarkets provide a low cost solution to food. People eat at least 3 times a day and on a vacation those 3 times every day can add up to be quite a large sum of money. One does not need to eat the local cuisine for every meal to enjoy it. One can eat maybe one meal a day out in their destination to get assimilated into the local gastronomy. By reducing the amount of times we ate out we saved an extensive amount of money and yet allow us the pleasure to eat the local delicacies every day.
On the days my girlfriend and I ate dinner out we brought lunch with us and the days we bought lunch we made dinner at the apartment. Why should one pay 15 to 30 euros per person for a lunch when I can go to the super market and pay for bread, local sandwich meats, and cheeses at about 1 euro per meal per person. Yes that is right 1 euro. I can buy French cheese and delicious sliced cured ham for 1 euro per package and then slices of bread or a beget for less than 2 euros. These items would allow 2 people to eat lunch for a couple of days. By buying my lunch at the supermarket we saved at least 56 euros in those 2 days by making our lunches.
Another tip would be avoid restaurants in the center of cities. These are sometimes bought by people who know they will see profit just based on their location and nothing more. These restaurants will sell average food at a luxury price. What I would recommend is use an app such as Yelp or Trip Advisor to find a restaurant that is worth its price. If you're going to spend the money and time you might as well get a very good meal or at least an authentic meal.
can save anywhere from 14 to 30 euros per person per lunch. If you travel with your significant other for maybe a week this can be as much as 420 euros.
4) Water bottle
When I plan my trip I try to plan to efficiently see everything the destination has to offer but in return I forget to plan for places to eat or forget that I need to drink to prevent death. Either on a long trip, when I wake up, or in the middle of my plans I find myself quenched. What would happen in the past is I would complain about it and wait until I had lunch or found some water vendor who over charges me by 10 fold. To alleviate this I now bring a water bottle with me on my trips. This water bottle doesn't have to be especially bought. If I buy a bottle of water in a restaurant or something I can then reuse the bottle. With a small bottle I can get thru the day and as I drink the bottle my backpack becomes lighter. If I find a water fountain like in a museum or train station I can then refill the bottle for free. (see this article for more information about water bottles)
The biggest scam a tourist will experience is purchasing of water. Vendors in the tourist hot spots in large cities like this will charge 267 times more for water then a supermarket. I was quite astonished when I did the math and calculated 267. It infuriates me that they could charge so much for one of the most basic needs of a person. You might not save that much money in total by bringing a water bottle but you can't argue that it is a scam to charge %26600 more for water (read this article where I got the numbers for the calculations). One can simply buy a large water at the super market and keep it in their apartment or hotel. At the start of your day before you leave one can fill their smaller water bottle and place it in their backpack. Then they can enjoy water throughout the day and refill it whenever they find a free source of water.
can pay around 1 euro for all the water one would need for a week as opposed to 2 euros for a small .33 liter bottle which could cost 14 euros per person on a weeklong vacation.
5) You will pay the most for everything in tourist hot spots.
I find it funny now that I would always find myself hungry and thirsty at the worst possible times on vacation. It would always be when I paid to enter a castle and half way through the tour I find myself hungry. Isn't it fortunate that there is a restaurant within the walls of the castle? Of course not. You will find some of the worst bars and restaurants within that museum, monument, amusement park, movie theater, or big tourist attraction. There is no love and no passion in the food they serve there. On top of that one will pay an extraordinary price for what is mediocre food.
I suggest either to bring your lunch or snack so that you can eat it whenever you want or to utilize an app such as yelp or Trip Advisor and eat before or after you get into a touristy spot. Plan out what you will do next. If your plan is taking you to an enclosed area then ask yourself if you will be hungry in the next hour or two.
When looking at yelp or Trip Advisor for a place to eat note the review and most importantly the number of people who reviewed it. If a restaurant has 5 stars but only 4 people reviewed it I suspect the owner and his 2 other family members gave it 5 stars and the other might be some person who came in, had no issues, and then proceeded to give it a good review. It's easy to get 5 stars if the owner is the only person who reviewed it but on the contrary 500 people reviewing a restaurant from all over the world give it 5 stars, I would suspect it to be a quality place to eat. You would be surprised how much money you can save. A bad restaurant that is close to a tourist spot can easily charge double for a moderate version of what you can get somewhere else.
What may disappoint you the most is being unsatisfying with the only meal you eat out in the few days you have on your vacation. It's better to eat the local exotic cuisine in a place that does it right then eat it in a place that does it wrong.
If you're eating out make sure you don't get over charged for mediocre food.
One can save as much as 220 euros per day per person and indulge more into the local culture by following all these tips. Some of these may not fit your agenda but by assimilating enough of these ideas one can save a significant amount of money. These are great tips I have found to work when traveling to Europe. In turn I have found my frugal mind to be more pleased. I have also been less disappointed as I have sidestepped common tourist traps.
If you have any other tips leave a comment below.