Traveling to Europe can be expensive, especially for first-time travelers, but it doesn't need to be overwhelming. Here are five tips to save money when traveling in Europe that you can employ to help you have fun, but save some money at the same time.
1) Buy cash before you go
Cash is still the preferred method of payment in many countries in Europe. Although credit cards have become more popular, there will still be instances wherein cash is the only method of payment taken. To "purchase" cash, visit your local bank and request a currency exchange to the foreign currency you'll need. Be sure to do this at least 3 weeks prior to your trip as it can take financial institutions as much as 10-14 business days to acquire the currency you desire.
Using an ATM in Europe can be pricey, with the both the ATM provider and your bank charging you international fees. For short term trips, the best thing you can do is plan out how much money you'll need and take it with you in a money belt, hidden against your skin under your clothing.
If you are traveling for several weeks or months, consider upgrading your bank account to one that allows for international withdrawals without fees.
2) Stay at hostels that have shared amenities
A great way to meet new people and save some money is by purchasing groceries and using a shared kitchen to make your meals. Eating out is one of the biggest expenses you'll experience when traveling, so cutting costs by eating in, even if it's just breakfast, will save you a lot of money.
Save your meals out for special places, or specifically for restaurants where you'll be able to sit down and enjoy the ambiance. Don't waste your precious dollars on forgettable fast-food meals.
Another less expensive option for lodging is Airbnb, which enables people to "rent" short-term lodging for vacations.
3) Travel like a local
It might seem intimidating at first, but if you learn how to navigate the public transit in Europe, you will save yourself a lot of money and time. You'll likely notice how much easier it is to get around Europe via public transit than it is back home, so take advantage of their fantastic and cheap public transit.
If you're unsure of how the process works (how to scan your pass, or how many times should you scan it if there are several of you, etc), set off to the side and watch the locals for a few minutes. While you're staring out the window of that bus, train or funicular be sure to take in all the beautiful sights of the cities as you pass them by on the way to your destination, like this gorgeous fountain in the center of a roundabout in Barcelona Spain.
4) Buy rail tickets in advance
Almost all of Europe is connected by a excellent railway system, but what most tourists don't realize is that when you purchase your tickets in advance, you save money. When you reserve a seat on a train the same day you travel, you'll be charged a premium price for the ticket, but if you know the dates you want to travel, then book your tickets in advance--and save. In many countries tickets can be purchased at convenience shops and offer multiple trip options. Another major benefit to purchasing your tickets ahead of time is avoiding lines at the railway kiosks where you'll likely be a target for extremely talented pickpockets.
Railways take advantage of last-minute travelers because they're willing to pay whatever they have to in order to get where they want to go, so plan ahead! If you make the mistake of purchasing your railway ticket at the train station kiosks, be very aware of your surroundings, pick pockets are very adept in these locations.
5) Get off of the beaten path
A little research goes a long way, so for wherever you're traveling, seek out unconventional places to visit. In local towns, you'll be able to get a vivid picture of what life is like in Europe's more obscure locales. Another bonus to traveling outside of major cities is that the prices are often much lower. Many of the major European cities charge "tourist taxes" for hotels, a premium for staying in the city, but the smaller cities don't have these special taxes.
Eating out in these cities is often cheaper because they're catering to local diners and not foreign tourists who are willing to pay anything. Be mindful of what type of service you're expecting- if you just want to grab a local beer, consider standing near the bar, rather than being seated as this can often save you a seating expense of several euros.
Visiting Europe can be daunting, even for the most experienced of travelers. There are many tips for saving money, however, that can help make the entire trip run smoothly and seamlessly. You don't have to be a millionaire to have the experience of a lifetime in Europe, and with a few helpful hints, you'll find yourself saving money and having fun at the same time.