9 tips for travelling Europe affordably
Yes, the Continent can be affordable—even for families—and now's the time to look into planning a trip for this spring, summer or fallBy Camilla Cornell
1. Travel in the off-season
It generally costs more to travel in July and August, for the simple reason that it’s the busiest time of year. Switch to the shoulder seasons of April through June, or September through October, and you get the benefit of great weather, fewer crowds, and lower prices for flights and villas.
2. Book flights early
Take advantage of seat sales. Air Transat (airtransat.ca and canadianaffair.ca) generally has well-priced fares to Europe, but Air Canada (aircanada.ca) can be very competitive and has more flights from more locations. Most airlines allow you to fly from a different city than you arrived at for no extra cost. Once there, you can take the train between destinations (raileurope.ca).
3. Do a stopover
Consider flying to the U.K. (usually cheaper), then using a budget airline—such as ryanair.com, bmibaby.com or easyjet.com—to get to Europe. And if your destination is Brittany or Normandy in France, you can take a ferry from ports in southern England. For more information, go to brittany-ferries.co.uk.
4. Make your own meals
While my family was travelling Europe, we tended to eat lunch out and cook most of our dinners in the villa, which saved a ton of cash. In Italy, for example, it cost us 40 euros per person for breakfast, dinner and wine for the week. In Spain we spent $60 each for a week of really great dinners (including wine) as well as daily breakfasts and the occasional lunch. An added bonus: You get to shop with the locals.
5. Get your culture gratis
Museums generally have special free days, and many historic sites are free any time. In addition, events like festivals and outdoor concerts often don’t require you to pay. Try Googling your destination, along with “free things to do.”
6. Rent your car in advance
7. Check your insurance coverage
Before you fork out the big bucks, find out if you’re already covered. Many gold and platinum credit cards provide trip cancellation and interruption insurance, rental car insurance and out-of-country medical insurance. Just check to make sure the coverage is adequate.
8. Get tax refunded
Many European countries will refund the value-added taxes (VAT) that can boost the cost of your purchases by 20 percent. Check out the rules before you leave Canada.
9. Skip the tip
Guidebook writer Rick Steves contends that “tipping 15 or 20 percent in Europe is unnecessary, if not culturally insensitive.” He suggests you don’t tip at all at pubs or for counter service. For table service, five percent is adequate and 10 percent “verging on excessive.” And look out for terms on your bill like servizio incluso (that’s Italian), which indicate the tip has already been added.