Summer is coming and you are starting to make vacation plans. This year it will be EUROPE!
You have some money saved but not as much as you need to do all the things you want to do when you get there. Europe in general is not the most economic place to go if you are tight on cash.
But you can have a dream vacation and not come home to mountains of credit card debt.
There are some secrets that will give you what you want.
1) Go off the beaten path
Europe has some of the most enchanting cities ever envisioned and of course you need to see the big and glorious cities of Europe but not all in one trip.
Europe is magic. Once you go, you fall in love and that kind of love creates a new determination to go time after time.
When you do go to the big cities, do not stay in the big hotels right in the midst of the tourist attractions.
For example, in Florence, go across the river and get an AIR BNB there.
My husband and have stayed there several times and ended up with beautiful apartments that cost less than half of what we would have paid for a hotel.
If you have more than a couple in your party, the cost goes down per person as you split it more ways.
Every time you stay in a hotel or eat or buy anything close to the attractions, you are getting high priced and many times inferior products.
In Florence for example, the leather market is where “everyone” goes to buy handbags and leather goods. Unfortunately many of the leather products sold there are not made by Italians.
Other countries have set up rapid fire manufacturing shops outside of the city that crank out handbags and other leather products.
These are what are sold at the outside markets. Although they can claim that they are made in Italy, they are not made by Italian craftsmen whose families have spent generations learning and perfecting their crafts.
Priceless tip: If you want beautiful Italian made leather products for a very good price, visit Pelletteria Moretti. His products are stunningly beautiful and they are modestly priced. You will not find the quality and craftsmanship at the outside markets.
If you do purchase anything at the outside market, look it over carefully. Many times there are flaws. In one case, the leather on the back of the handbag was split. Another day we were there in the rain and all the bags were being rained on and were blistering.
Just go see Senior Moretti and his family. Save yourself grief.
2. Do not stay in hotels
When I travel with my husband we seldom stay in hotels. We always find apartments to rent for our time there.
Overwhelmingly we have found that the owners of these apartments run them as a business and they are quite lucrative. This gives them incentive to keep their clients (you) happy.
The apartments are way cheaper and way more comfortable than hotels, especially if you book a few blocks away from the main monuments.
Almost without exception, we have had owners who were very anxious to make sure we had a great experience in their place.
The apartments are always stocked with the things you need to be comfortable and the beds are always good.
We did have one bad experience in Rome however and it was because we did not study the reviews on the AIR BNB site.
Every place will get a bad review sometime by some idiot who hates everyone. One of the nicest and most accommodating places I stayed in Florence had a bad review by someone who just had a burr up his ass.
If the BNB has a bad review, check and see if the owner responded. If so, you can bet that they are trying to accommodate and provide what their clients need and want. In short, they care.
The one we stayed in had many bad reviews and the owner never responded so basically didn’t give a crap. It was pretty awful and it could have been avoided if we had looked.
We learned our lesson. at least we didn’t get bed bugs.
Priceless tip: If you have mobility issues check to ensure there is a lift! Buildings in Europe many times are centuries old. There is just no way to put an elevator in a lot of those buildings. Always ask!
3. Watch for thieves
Thieves are an unfortunate part of any travel experience. They know a good target for robbery when they see one.
The forty hours a week you spend at work honing your skills, they spend figuring out ways to steal from you. They can be very clever.
One set of thieves sprayed something on my husband’s shirt and then pointed it out and gave him a tissue.
The idea was that he would put his bags down and while wiping the stuff off, the other thief would slip away with our bags.
There are all manner of ploys. These guys have a lot of time too think them up. Be aware.
If someone you don’t know tries to distract you while you are on a train, bus or metro station or on the street, assume that they might a thief and act accordingly.
If you do get your bags snatched refer to my article on what to do to replace your passport and file a police report.
It is not unheard of for thieves to cut the strap or bottom of your bag while on public transport so keep it close.
There are travel bags sold with metal in the straps that cannot be cut. These are a good purchase.
4. Choose one or two attractions that cost money then go see all the amazing things that you can see for free.
In Italy for example, there is so much you can see without paying anything. The Piazza Navona always has music and families. You can get a gelato and watch the people. It is a beautiful experience.
There are so many spectacular churches filled to the rafters with amazing artistic creations and they don’t cost a thing. It is nice to donate a Euro or two to help them keep the church standing for the next generations.
All across Europe there are amazing ruins that you can walk through. There are different quarters of each city. And there is so much to see just by walking.
In Prague, the architecture and medieval buildings are so beautiful and there are street musicians everywhere.
The windows there are stocked with the most beautiful lead crystal creations lit up to accentuate the beauty and the sparkle. Each window is a show stopper. And it is all free.
5. Go somewhere that most tourists don’t.
Several years ago I accompanied my husband on a trip to Prague and Warsaw. I was excited about Prague because I had heard all about it but Warsaw not so much,.
When I got to Warsaw I fell in love with it. It has a rich history, the food is amazing and I have never seen so many drop dead gorgeous people in one place ever.
Warsaw was very inexpensive. We stayed in the nicest hotel (it was a business trip so we stayed in a hotel rather than an apartment.) and ate at the nicest restaurants. It cost next to nothing.
6. Know before you go
Before heading off to any European city, do your research. Find out where to go and what to do then make plans and book your tickets for everything online in advance or you will wait in endless lines for the best attractions.
A little research goes a long way and it is fun.
Pore over Air BNB to find the perfect economic apartment. Search Tripadvisor for the best restaurants. You will enjoy your trip so much more if you really find out about where you are going before you get there.
7. Go during the shoulder season
The shoulder season is not high season or off season. While the dates vary from place to place, it is generally Spring and Fall.
Flights are cheaper during the shoulder season, in fact everything is cheaper.
But one of the main reasons to go during shoulder season is that the weather is fantastic. Many European countries get very hot in the Summer. Sometimes it is so hot that you can’t really do much sight seeing.
During shoulder season I have never had that problem. In fact, the weather has been glorious.
Another benefit of traveling during shoulder season is that you will not be battling tourists and crowds.
During high season, popular cities change. They become all about accommodating tourists and you lose the flavor of the real city.
During shoulder season, most of the tourists have gone and the locals come out. You can get a real feel of the city that you would not get during the high season.
8. Change your money before you go.
You can spend a LOT of money in fees and bad exchange rates. Airports and shops specifically catering to tourists who need to change money always cost a lot more.
Realize you may have to notify your home bank in advance because they need to order Euros and it can take several days. Don’t wait until the last minute.
If you need to change money while in Europe, go to the bank. Make sure you have your passport with you as many European banks have somewhat arbitrary seeming rules about identification no matter what you are doing.
If you change a lot of money at home, utilize the hotel safe for the extra cash. Also make a copy of your passport and put the original in a safe when you go sightseeing. Some attractions offer discounts for certain people and require a passport. A copy will work.
9. Don’t eat next to the major attractions
The restaurants next to the attractions are generally very expensive and many times they are not as good. If the menu is in English or any language other than the native language, eat somewhere else.
If the idea of not knowing what you might be eating scares you, download a translation app for the country you will be visiting. I love my Vidalingua app.
Not only does this app save me from culinary mysteries, it actually helps me learn more of the language.
Go a few streets away from the attractions. Even a block or two makes all the difference. Eat where the locals eat. You will get a much better meal for less.
Priceless tip: Some countries are way more child friendly than others. According to Mark Volker, Denmark is austere and less child friendly. Italy, on the other hand is extremely family oriented and children are welcomed with open arms.
In my observation, even the expensive high end restaurants in Italy are very child friendly. I have never gone into an Italian restaurant and not seen children.
10. Avoid taking taxis
Most European cities have great metro lines. They are easy to use and are really pretty fun. Taking taxis burns through money very rapidly.
The only time I advocate taking a taxi is when you are jet lagged and are traveling with your bags. Ours were stolen while we were jet lagged and a taxi wold have been much cheaper than replacing what was ripped off.
Some countries do have Uber. My husband used Uber a lot while on a business trip to the Far East.
11. Take the Hop On Hop Off buses
Yes they are for tourists and some people would rather stick hot needles in their eyes than look like a tourist but Hey! These buses are great!
For a few euros you can take a tour around the city and you can hop off at the attractions you want to see.
Some cities are really big and you will not be able to see everything. These buses will save your feet and give you a head start.
Priceless tip: Visit the major cities in Europe if you want to but don’t neglect Southern Italy. My husband and I have a house in Calabria and we love it there. The prices are so inexpensive, the beaches are fabulous, the locals are warm and welcoming.
Southern Italy is a mix of cultures from Italy, Greece, and Albania. The culture there is totally different than the rest of Italy.
If you want the ultimate beach holiday, go visit my friends Clive and Kathryn at Casa Cielo BNB in Scalea, Calbria, Italy. Case Cielo is in the historic center of Scalea. Everything in Scalea is within walking distance from his place and the beach is right across the street.
Clive is a fabulous cook so if you just want a really nice, relaxing vacation in Italy on a fabulous beach with amazing food and beautiful culture, Take the train from Rome and enjoy the amazing views that the train trip offers.
Head up to the historic center and tell Clive I sent you. You will have a vacation you will never forget and for pennies on your travel dollar.
Enjoy your trip! Look for me at Clive’s! We always stop by the sample his creations.