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Thrifty Thursday: How I Save (at least) 50 Euro Per Day in Europe

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This Thrifty Thursday post has been written by Jo Karnaghan, and I’m happy to share it because it shows that saving money on travel can come in little bits from many places that add up to a lot. If you’d like to share a thrifty travel post on this site, please get in touch with Brooke.

I love to travel and travel well. I’ve never backpacked and love my creature comforts, but I also love to save money where I can. Having travelled extensively in Europe over the last 25 years I’ve learned plenty of strategies to save money, without compromising on my safety, comfort or enjoyment. The key to this is research, planning and not trying to save my €50 in one single action.

Euro Money

FOOD & DRINK

Start with breakfast:

I seek out hotels that include breakfast in their room rates. When not included, a hotel breakfast (even in a modest hotel) can easily set you back €10-12 per day. If I can’t find a hotel I like in my price range that includes breakfast, I eat out – but still cheaply, by standing up to the counter where there is one, or by checking the menu carefully. In some cities, it is considered OK to bring a paper bag from a bakery and eat while enjoying your coffee in a café – just don’t make too much of fuss or expect cutlery, jams and condiments.

Avoiding hotel breakfasts when not included, and eating out cheaply, can save between €5 and 10 per day.

Continue with lunch and dinner:

While I know the best food deals come in ethnic restaurants and pizza/pasta bars, that’s not necessarily what I want to eat. To eat cheaply, locally and well, I do the following:

  • I think of lunch and dinner as one big meal and one small meal – so either I have a larger lunch and a snack for dinner or vice versa – never a multi-course meal for both.
  • I buy plenty of beautiful, local fresh fruit – most green grocers will proudly display the origins of their produce, so seek out the local stuff in preference to anything from another country – I know I am guaranteed the best quality at the best price that way.

    My favorite – the French Garrigues strawberries available in spring and early summer.

  • I choose cafeterias in department stores for quick and cheap meals with the locals when I don’t feel like finding a café. They are also often self service or choose-and-point (good if you are bit linguistically challenged). As department store cafes are often on the top floor of their stores you can also get the completely free addition of a meal with a view.

    A particular favorite of mine is the cafeteria of the Les Galeries Lafayettes, that has a fab view of the Opera and Eiffel Tower. The last time I was there I dined like a queen for €15 for a two course salad and dessert bar meal, including wine, mineral water and bread – all while enjoying the million Euro view and amusing myself watching the French ladies of a certain age pretending to eat their lunches!

  • The other place where a good, sit down lunch often comes cheap is in museum and gallery restaurants. I always check out the prices carefully first, and if they look good, I dive in and enjoy.
  • If I decide a sandwich on the run or sitting in a park is the best lunch for the day, I buy my sandwich from the supermarket and queue up with the locals to pay for it. Alternatively, I head off to the local specialist food suppliers and buy tiny amounts of gourmet delights and fresh fruit to make a really classy picnic.

I regularly save up to €20 a day on my lunches and dinners.

Tap into free water:

Tap water in Europe is perfectly safe, so I take an empty bottle with me and fill it up as I go.

I save about €4 per day by not buying bottled water.

Europe Train

TRAVEL & TRANSPORT

Ground travel costs are among your biggest expenses, so it’s worthwhile working out how you can save money here – and there is plenty to be saved! As I travel alone most of the time I go by train and avoid the hire car, road toll, fuel and parking costs. I also do my research on how to save as much as I can on my rail expenses.

Pare down the Railpass:

I only ever buy a pass that allows me to travel a certain number of days in a given timeframe (say 5 days travel in 15 calendar days). There is no point buying a pass for days I know I am not going to travel. This saves me about €20 per day. I also only use a precious Railpass day if I am going on a trip of greater than about an hour. Any less than that is cheaper to buy a point to point ticket. I save about €5 a travelling day by doing this. Passes can be bought for different combinations of countries or single countries. I save myself at least €10 a day by not buying a pass for countries I know I won’t be going to.

For example:

  • A 3 country Eurail pass for 10 days of travel = $699 (adult) or $69.90 per travel day.
  • A 4 country Eurail pass for 10 days of travel = $752 (adult) or $75.20 per travel day.
  • A Global Eurail pass for 10 days of travel = $861 (adult) or $86.10 per travel day.

If you travel to Europe with the idea that you’ll travel to 3 countries for sure, it might be better financially to stick with the 3 country pass. Buying a 4 – 5 country, or global, pass and not venturing to all on the pass is money wasted.

By not buying a Railpass with these “just in case” features I probably won’t use, I save about €35 per travelling day, easily!

>> Research your Eurail passes and make the best decision for your travel plans.

Seek out group discounts:

If I’m travelling with my family I always buy saver railpasses. These passes can be bought by groups of friends travelling together (at all times), so if you know you will travelling with someone else, they are an easy bargain.

For example:

  • A Global Eurail pass for 10 days of travel = $861 (adult) or $86.10 per travel day.
  • A Global Eurail Saver pass for 10 days of travel = $732 (adult) or $73.20 per travel day.

By travelling in a group of 2 to 5, we each save €10 per travelling day.

Pack your own food for travel days:

The other way I save money on travel days is to never buy food or drink (except maybe a coffee) on the train. Once you are in that little cocoon the price of everything goes through the roof. In fact, the closer you get to the train the more expensive food and drink gets. To save the most money, I buy snacks, sandwiches and drinks from a supermarket or other shop away from the station, but even buying at the station is cheaper than on the train.

Depending on the length of my trip, I can save about €10 per train trip just by planning my meals.

rail tickets

SIGHTSEEING SAVINGS

Research combo passes:

I save money on my sightseeing by looking at the prices of the museums, galleries and other sights I want to go to, and then by looking at what passes or combo tickets are available that might cover my visits. Not all passes or combo tickets are good value for money. My advice is to only buy one of these passes if you know you are going to save money, and/or there is some other significant benefit, like not having to queue at the major sights.

Most passes will pay for themselves after 3-4 visits; you should be able to save €5-10 over a couple of days.

Avoid tourist traps:

In Europe you would have seen those hop on/hop off tourist buses that conveniently visit all the big sights with commentary on what you’re passing. I avoid these buses like the plague! It costs the equivalent of 16 single train or bus tickets to pay for one of these passes (based on my research they average about €25 for a two day pass). That’s a lot of public transport. My recommendation is to therefore ditch the tourist bus, download some free podcast commentaries and either walk or use public transport.

You, too, can save €25 on a hop on/hop off bus by following my advice.

I think I’ve got to well over €50 a day without even mentioning how to get a VAT refund, so maybe we can save that for another day! The only question left is what to do with that €50 I’ve saved?

* * * * *
About the Author: Jo Karnaghan has spent the last 25 years travelling in Europe, during which time she has honed her travel philosophy of frugal first class. Her dream is to be able to travel in Europe fulltime, and to always turn left upon boarding the plane. She is currently writing her first book (on travel of course). Jo believes the best parts of any trip are often those that cost nothing. When she is not writing, planning or thinking about travel, Jo has a busy career as a medical practitioner, wife and mother, and student of French. She lives in Sydney, Australia with a patient husband and daughter. Jo is the author of Frugal First Class and can also be found on Twitter @jokarnaghan1

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7 Responses to Thrifty Thursday: How I Save (at least) 50 Euro Per Day in Europe

  1. Christy March 29, 2012 at 1:41 pm #

    Great tips! We try to seek out hotels/hostels that include breakfast and buy snacks and meals ahead of time for travel days. I always forget it’s safe to drink tap water in Europe.

  2. Jane March 29, 2012 at 10:57 pm #

    Some great tips in there. The best one I had with saving money on travelling is to walk. I’m not from the European zone and when I went there it is amazing how some things seem so far away on your little tourist map but they are really only a few blocks. You can save a lot of money on tube and train tickets just by walking there.

    • Brooke April 3, 2012 at 9:21 am #

      Walking is great! It also lets you eat what you want and not gain *too much* weight on your trip 😉

  3. Jimmy March 30, 2012 at 12:16 am #

    It is safe to drink tap water in Europe but it can take a few days for your stomach to get used to it depending on where you are.

    It’s very common for people from the UK to have upset stomachs from even drinking juice ice cubes made from tap water. Like I say, you get used to it in the end.

    Some great tips in here, by the way.

  4. Tony - Internationalcouples.net March 30, 2012 at 3:05 pm #

    Hi Brooke!

    Being a European wanderer myself, let me stress how much it is important to avoid tourist traps. The see you coming 🙂

    Great post!

  5. Jo March 30, 2012 at 5:40 pm #

    Thanks for all the great feedback! I’m the queen of walking – I can go a whole week in Paris without using public transport! 🙂

    Jo

  6. Nomadic Samuel April 2, 2012 at 3:32 pm #

    These are some great budget saving travel tips.

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