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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

How to budget for a European vacation

How to budget for a European vacation

Europe is one of the top travel destinations in the world. But for many people, it may seem out of reach (or out of budget). The good news is that it doesn’t have to be the case, and it’s entirely possible to travel to Europe on a budget.

Our goal is to help you figure out just how much you can expect to pay on a trip to Europe and how to save money along the way. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about how to budget for a European vacation.

How much does a European vacation cost?

The cost of a European vacation can vary widely depending on where you’re traveling to and the type of vacation you’re planning. One person might plan on a budget trip for just a couple thousand dollars, while someone else might plan a $10,000 vacation. It’s easy to spend a lot on a trip to Europe, but it’s also easy to cut costs when traveling.

The table below shows how much you can expect to pay for the major components of your trip to Europe:

Expense

Estimated cost

Airfare

$500 to $1,500 for economy

$2,500 to $25,000 for first class

Accommodation

$15 to $50 per night for a hotel

$150+ per night for a mid-range hotel

$300+ per night for a luxury hotel

Local transportation

$0 to $30 per day, depending on whether you walk, drive, or use public transportation

Food & drink

$25 to $100 per day, depending on whether you are cooking or eating out

Attractions

$0 to $100 per day

Spending money

$0 to $100 per day

Keep in mind that if you have an unlimited budget, you could easily spend far more than the estimates listed above. For example, if you eat at high-end restaurants each day and eat out for every meal, your food costs could easily top hundreds of dollars per day. However, the numbers above are designed to cover what people would typically spend.

Budgeting for your trip to Europe

Airfare

Your airfare is likely to be one of the most expensive parts of your European vacation. The amount you’ll pay for a plane ticket depends on many factors including:

  • Your airport of departure
  • Your airport of arrival
  • The airline you fly with
  • Whether it’s a direct flight
  • The time of year you travel
  • When you book your flight
  • The day of the week

You’ll find that airfare prices vary, even from one day to the next. A flight to London might cost $1,200 during one part of the week but $500 less during a different part of the week. Sites like Google Flights make it easy to see flight trends, including what airlines and days are cheapest to fly.

You’ll be able to save the most on airfare if you can be flexible with your travel and adjust your itinerary to fly on the cheapest days. You can also save by being flexible with your destination, opting to fly to the cheapest airport in the area.

Lodging

Your accommodations will be another major cost on your trip to Europe. You have many options for where to stay, including Airbnb, hotels, hostels, and more.

Hostel travel is quite common in Europe, and you can expect most hostels to be relatively safe. Some have dorm-style rooms with many beds, while others offer private rooms. If you aren’t comfortable with the style of accommodation, you might consider a hotel or Airbnb.

When booking your lodging, ask yourself what you really need. Is it worth paying for a hotel that has all the bells and whistles if you’ll be out most of the time? Many people don’t spend much of their trip in their hotel room, meaning a fancy hotel may not be worth the splurge.

Transportation

In addition to considering your transportation to Europe, you should also think about your transportation once you arrive. If you’re traveling to a large city, public transportation is likely sufficient to get you where you need to go. Many cities have trams and buses that are easy to navigate and can bring you all over the city.

If you’re not staying in a large city or are visiting multiple cities, you’ll have to put more thought into your transportation.

Europe makes it incredibly easy to travel around the continent on a budget. Trains, buses, and budget airlines can get you from one city to another — even one country to another — at a fraction of the cost you’d pay for travel in the United States.

Depending on the type of trip, it may also be worth renting a vehicle. You might consider a rental car if you’re planning to hit many different spots in a country, especially if you’ll be traveling to some less urban areas.

Food and drink

Food and drinks end up being one of the biggest costs of many European vacations and more expensive than many people plan for.

The good news is that food and drinks can cost as much or as little as you want. Just like your food spending at home, you can save money by buying groceries and cooking budget meals, or you can splurge by eating out for most of your meals.

You can save money on food by booking lodging with a kitchen or staying somewhere that offers at least one free meal per day. Consider choosing one meal per day to eat out while buying groceries for your other meals.

When it comes to eating out, there are still ways to save money. First, consider eating like a local and avoiding touristy restaurants. European cities have many hidden gems that are beloved by the locals. And the food is probably more authentic.

You may also save money by choosing lunch as your meal to eat out each day. Because dinner tends to be more expensive, consider cooking your dinners at home and enjoying a nice long restaurant lunch each day.

More tips to save money on a trip to Europe

In the section above, we talked about how to budget for and save money on the big-ticket expenses for your European vacation. But your airfare, lodging, transportation, and food aren’t the only decisions that will impact the cost of your trip. Below are some additional tips to help you save money on your trip to Europe.

Take advantage of credit card points

One of the best ways to reduce the out-of-pocket cost of your European vacation is to use credit card points instead.

There are plenty of credit cards that allow you to earn points on various purchases. Most rewards cards let you earn a small number of points on every purchase. But some offer elevated point levels for certain spending categories. For example, some credit cards may offer 5X the points on travel or 3X the points on dining.

A major advantage of saving for your trip in this way is that you’re earning “free” points with purchases you were already going to make. We would never suggest that you make unnecessary purchases to earn credit card points. But you’d be surprised just how quickly the points rack up when you use your credit card for your regular spending on groceries, gas, and more.

Once you’ve earned your credit card points, many credit card companies allow you to redeem them either by transferring them to a partner airline or hotel chain or by booking your travel directly through the credit card company’s website.

Save for your trip ahead of time

No matter how much you plan to spend on your trip to Europe, it’s important to save ahead of time to make sure you can afford the trip.

One of the best way to save for your trip to Europe is to set a monthly savings goal. For example, if you’re budgeting $3,000 for your trip and it’s nine months away, you’ll need to save about $333 per month to reach your goal.

It can be tempting to just put the trip on a credit card and pay it off later. The downside — other than spending money you don’t have — is that your trip can actually end up being more expensive. Interest rates on credit cards are notoriously high, meaning you could end up spending hundreds of dollars more by the time you pay off the trip.

Track your spending during your trip

Just as it’s important to save for your trip ahead of time, you’ll also want to track your spending throughout the trip. It’s easy to get carried away with spending, and if you aren’t tracking it during your vacation, you may find yourself arriving back home to find you’ve gone way over budget.

 A simple way to track your spending during your trip is to create a travel budget in whatever budgeting app you already use. You can also create a spreadsheet that you can access from your smartphone that has room to enter your spending each day, as well as your running total. That way, you can quickly check to see whether you’re on track or if you need to cut back a bit.

Opt for cheaper cities

It probably comes as no surprise that some countries and cities within Europe are cheaper to travel to than others. Cities like Paris and Venice might be popular, but they’re also pricey.

Generally speaking, the most expensive part of Europe to visit is Scandinavia. Cities like, Copenhagen, Oslo, and Stockholm will be the priciest to travel to. On the other end of the spectrum, you can save money by traveling to Eastern Europe instead of Western Europe or Scandinavia.

Because these countries may not be as popular as tourist destinations, they also tend to be more affordable. Don’t let the price tag fool you, though. These countries still have plenty to offer.

Choose cheap or free attractions

Expensive attractions can increase the cost of your European vacation in a big way. Of course, everyone wants to see famous museums and popular tourist spots. But every European destination has just as many — if not more — cheap or free attractions.

If you have an expensive attraction on your wishlist, you don’t necessarily need to skip it altogether. But find a balance so that you’re visiting mostly cheap and free attractions, with one or two more expensive ones sprinkled in.

Visit in the off-season

Everyone wishes for perfect weather on their vacation, but you can actually save by traveling during the off-season. Because most tourists tend to visit during the peak season, flights, accommodations, and other travel expenses may be more affordable when fewer people are traveling.

The off-season depends on where you’re traveling to, but in Europe, it typically lines up with the off-season in the United States. Most travelers tend to visit between June and August. April through May and September through October are the shoulder season, meaning costs might be slightly lower. But the real savings will come from traveling in November through March.

Travel within Europe

If you’ve traveled to Europe — or even just window-shopped for flights — you know it can be expensive to get there. But the good news is that once you get to Europe, it’s relatively cheap to get around.

One way to save on your European adventures is to extend your trip and travel within the continent. Using trains, buses, and cheap airlines, you can check multiple destinations off your wishlist in one trip. As a result, you can see all the places you want to in fewer trips, saving you money in the long run.

Enjoy free city tours

Taking a guided tour of your destination can help you learn about its history and see all of the most popular spots in the city. And many popular tourist spots have these tours for free. You simply sign up and meet the guide at a designated spot in the city. You’re encouraged to tip your tour guide but can still save money over a traditional paid tour.

Another type of tour to consider — though it’s not free — is a hop-on-hop-off bus tour. These bus tours exist in many large European cities.

The benefit is that, while you have to pay, you can get on or off the bus at any popular tourist spot, and it essentially serves as both your tour guide and your transportation during your trip. It can help you save a lot of money on public transportation, especially if you would otherwise be relying on Uber and other cab services.

Plan the trip you can afford

There is no shortage of beautiful places to visit within Europe. And it’s easy to feel FOMO when you see travel influencers and friends visiting destinations or staying at hotels that may be out of your budget.

At the time, it may feel worth spending more than you can afford to experience the European dream vacation. But you truly can enjoy Europe on a budget. And in the long run, you’ll thank yourself for not sacrificing your other financial goals for one trip.

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Erin Gobler

Contributor

Erin Gobler is a money coach who helps people pay off debt and reach their big financial goals without giving up spending on the things they love. She is a freelance writer for Empower.

Author is not a client of Empower Advisory Group, LLC, and is compensated as a freelance writer.

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