Nine budget tips for Europe

Katrina Gibson
Thursday, August 7, 2008
Eating food from local supermarkets is a great way to cut your costs

If there's one place that doesn't immediately scream 'value' for budget travellers, it's Europe. But, with some careful planning and a few smart choices, it's possible to stick to a budget without compromising on your experience.

Here are nine great tips on how to save:

1. Lease a car

As long as you're travelling for more than 30 days, leasing a car can be a surprisingly affordable option. Peugeot, Renault and Citroën all offer great long-term lease plans, whereby you get a new car from as little as $18 per person per day (if split between two). The longer you travel, the cheaper it becomes.

You can organise everything online from Australia before you leave — and then pick up your car from a destination in France (or other European cities for an extra fee). Having your own car also allows you to venture off the beaten track — where food and accommodation is generally cheaper. You can also offer lifts to other travellers in exchange for petrol money!

Check out the following reputable sites to get a good idea of prices and special offers:

2. Pitch a tent

Unless you've got relatives and friends dotted throughout the continent, there's no better way to save on accommodation costs in Europe than by camping. In summer, Europe is a campers' paradise and many of the camp sites are cleaner and more pleasant to stay at than hostels.

Generally, you'll be charged for your tent, the number of people staying in it, and your car. For two people, this total cost can range from $12-20 a night per person — depending on which country you're in, and how remote the campsite is. Plus, if you fancy leaving your car on the street outside the campsite, you can save around $5 a night!

Unlike here in Australia, camping in Europe isn't relegated to the countryside — with some sensational campsites in major cities. A few of the best include:

3. Expand your horizons

There's so much more to Europe than the Western countries — and if you're on a budget, heading off the beaten track is a great way to save money and broaden your travel experience. Some car lease companies now permit you to travel right throughout Eastern Europe, and as far south as Turkey.

Make sure you've got all your necessary visas, and double check your car's insurance policy. You might also need to book car-ferries for countries like Greece and Croatia. Prices in Eastern Europe are considerably cheaper — and beer in Slovakia is cheaper than water!

4. Get smart about sightseeing

Entry fees to tourist exhibits will quickly absorb your budget. So, when you arrive in a city, determine what sights are most important to you, check your guide book, and divide your budget. You might also want to consider buying "bulk" sightseeing passes for various cities — such as the Paris Museum Pass which gives you free, direct and unlimited access to more than 60 museums and monuments in Paris and the Paris region for a period of two, four or six days.

5. Investigate free attractions

If you're smart, there's plenty in Europe you can see without paying a cent. Check your guidebook, chat to other travellers, or ask at your campsite or a local hostel. A few freebies include:

  • Paris — Notre Dame Cathedral, Place de la Concorde and the Louvre — free on the first Sunday of every month.
  • Rome — the Roman Forum, Spanish Steps, and St Peter's Basilica.
  • Berlin — the Brandenburg Gate, Berlin Wall and Potsdamer Platz.
  • Barcelona — the sensational food market: Mercat de la Boqueria and Las Ramblas.

6. Take free walking tours

A few European cities now offer fantastic walking tours — where the guides just rely on voluntary tips at the end of the tour for their income. These tours (literally called Free Tours) started in Berlin — and similar tours can now be found in major cities such as Munich, Paris, Lyon, Amsterdam and Madrid.

7. Eat smart

If you're camping, cooking your own meals will save you a bundle. Most of the major supermarkets in Europe stock cooking gear — and Campingaz gas bottles which (when empty) you can exchange for a fee. Most European camping grounds also have a small shop which stocks basics such as water, milk and fresh bread — and you can always take turns cooking with other travellers to save money. If you're really serious about your budget, try not to eat restaurant meals more than once a day — less if possible. When you do, eat what the locals eat — and where they eat. A good tip is to wander away from the main tourist areas for your evening meal.

8. In Italy, drink your coffee standing

Throughout Italy, there are often two separate prices for the same cup of coffee: one if you stand at the bar with the rest of the locals — and another (more exorbitant) price if you sit at a table and have a waiter serve you.

9. Take your phrasebook!

And finally, it might sound implausible, but the more of an effort you make with the local language, the less likely you are to be ripped off! A few smiles and a bit of effort can go a long way to securing you a great bargain.

How do you pinch pennies when travelling around Europe?

User comments
Most places including the movies will give you cheap entry for student cards, so if you are a student oor just finishing up get an international to last you that little bit longer on your travels. Also in Wales on St Davids day all museums and castles give free entry.
Bastille Day is 14 July. Most of Paris goes to the military parade up the Champs Elysées, I suggest a trip to the Louvre. The entry fee is waived, get there for opening and see the Mona Lisa virtually crowd free. The fireworks display around the Eiffel Tower is also a great display. Grab a spot near the train line for a good view but less crowds than the grass area in front of the tower. After grab a crepe, while waiting for the queue on the metro to reduce.