Europe on a Budget – Tips for Traveling on the Cheap

This August Casco FCU teller-to-the-stars Paige went on the adventure of a lifetime. She and a group of friends went on a trip to visit her German exchange student from high school. While abroad Paige got to travel all around Europe – to Iceland, Germany, Italy, France, and Austria. It was a month-long trip jam-packed with fun. Trust me, I’ve seen the photos.

Paige & Friends at Eiffel Tower

Paige & Friends at the Eiffel Tower.

Because she works at a credit union, Paige was very well prepared financially for her vacation. She might have been gallivanting around Europe, but that doesn’t mean her bank account was left hurting. And now Paige has returned from her trip with more than just fancy German chocolates to share – she sat down with me to give me her 7 best tips for saving money while traveling. Here they are:

  1. Get your home finances in order – Step number one when you travel (even within the U.S.) is to let your financial institution know where you’re going and the dates. Your credit union or bank has fraud prevention systems that track your debit card use for unusual transactions. If out of the blue you start using your card in Switzerland when you’ve never made a purchase outside of Maine before, those systems might think someone has stolen your card. Your debit card might get frozen and you might not be able to access your money right away, which isn’t a problem you”l want to have while traveling overseas. If you notify your FI beforehand, however, they can often modify settings on your card to make sure it works correctly while you travel. Step two of financial prep for your trip is to make sure all of your bills will get paid while you’re gone. Set up auto payments to insure things like car payments, credit cards, student loans, and your rent are taken care of while you’re gone. Then you won’t have to deal with late fees or other hassles when you get back.
  2. Save more than you need – Paige estimated that she would need between $1,000 to $1,500 for her trip. This was based on the fact that she would be gone for 4 weeks and some research she did into accommodations, transportation, and activities. She began putting money into a savings account for her trip over a year before she left and aimed to save $3,000. Knowing she had more money than she would necessarily need to spend meant she was ready for any unexpected expenses that popped up along the way (like a $25, 5 minute cab drive when it started raining in Paris). Plus it meant that she knew she had wiggle room in her budget for splurges like one fancy hotel room in France or some clothes shopping at Michael Kors. Lastly, saving money beforehand meant that even if she charged things on her credit card while she was there, she would have the funds to payoff that card when she returned. You want to enjoy your trip, not be worried about how much money you’re spending. The more you can save beforehand, the more enjoyable your trip will be.
  3. Get creative with lodging – Hotels can often be a traveler’s biggest expense. You gotta sleep somewhere, right? Paige saved money on lodging by exploring other options. She stayed with a friend from Germany for a lot of the trip. She also stayed in hostels, which are usually much cheaper than hotels because the accommodations are less fancy and you often share a room with other travelers. Paige recommends using websites like booking.com to check out a hostel before you book, just to make sure it’s safe and clean. Another option that can save travelers money is AirBnB, a site which lets you stay in someone’s apartment or home while they are gone.
  4. Buy tickets early – Most people know that often the earlier you can book a plane ticket, the cheaper it is. But the same goes for other traveling tickets, like trains, subways, museums, tourist attractions, and more. Paige, for example, got a $10 ticket to visit the Vatican online in advance. Tickets on site the day of are $42. That’s a big difference! The only downside to buying in advance is that if you don’t end up making it to that city or site, it can end up being a waste. So just make sure you don’t overbook.

    Paige Venice

    Paige took this herself in Venice. Look how cool the reflection on the boat is!

  5. Travel like the natives – Whichever mode of transportation is most popular with the natives of that city is probably also the cheapest. Instead of renting a car or flying, try alternative modes of transportation like trains, boats, and subway systems. Paige traveled from city to city in Europe mostly by train, because it was the cheapest. What was the most common way she got around once she was in a city? By foot! Walking not only saves on cab fares, but it lets you see more of the city up close and personal. Plus it’s free. Can’t beat that.
  6. Bring snacks – Food is expensive, but you gotta eat. Especially after a long day of sight-seeing. Obviously eating out can be a huge part of travel experience, but if you only eat out for your whole trip it can also be expensive. Try having at least one meal a day be “homemade” or rather something you buy at a grocery store and prepare on your own. If you’re going to be out for a long time sightseeing, bring snacks so you’re not tempted to buy food while you’re out. Plus bringing snacks means you get to check out foreign grocery stores, which will look a lot different than your local one. Who knows what yummy treats you’ll find for less.
  7. Keep track – This last one might seem obvious, but as she was climbing the Eiffel Tower I’m sure Paige was not thinking about her current checking account balance. It’s easy to lose track of how much you spend when you’re busy and having fun. But it’s also integral to making sure you stay within your budget. Use your mobile app to check your balance and recent transactions. Compare receipts to your app to make sure you got charged the correct amounts. Keep a list of what you’ve bought for gifts and souvenirs so you don’t overspend. Lastly, if you use a debit or credit card even once while abroad, checking your account online will help you prevent fraud on your account. If you see a transaction on your account that you didn’t do, let your financial institution know ASAP.

Although it sounds like if she had been able to Paige would have stayed in Europe forever, her return to reality has been a little easier because she’s in such great financial shape. She came back with money to spare, rather than being over budget or worried about how she was going to make credit card payments. That sounds like the right way to pay for Europe if you ask me!

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