(This is a guest post by UK-based reader Ben Doyle of HouseTrip.com, about all sorts of ways to save on your family vacation to Europe. Thanks so much for contributing, Ben!)
Top Ten Ways for Families to Save in Europe
1. Where and when to go is obviously the first part of your planning. Central and Eastern Europe are typically cheaper than the West (think Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Croatia and the Baltic countries.) The UK, France, Italy and Spain are certainly more expensive, although with the decline of the pound and Euro against the dollar, they are still affordable. You can also save money by avoiding high season – city trips are just as good in winter, but without the crowds, prices are much more favorable. Spring and Fall are a good compromise.
2. Shop around for flights. Before you can save money in Europe, you’ve got to get there – and it’s not cheap. There are occasionally excellent deals, such as these incredibly cheap flights from New York/Newark to London. Otherwise use a meta-search such as Kayak or Skyscanner to get an idea of the carriers to investigate. If your dates are flexible, you can then go to the individual airline websites for a closer look – certain dates are normally cheaper than others, and it can be hard to find this information from meta-searches.
3. Investigate your travel options within Europe. Budget airlines such as EasyJet and Ryanair offer extremely cheap flights, but it’s still worth booking ahead. Rail pass information is available on www.raileurope.com, or take a look at destination tourist sites such as www.visitlondon.com for information about local transport. London’s excellent Underground tube network offers cheaper tickets if you buy an Oyster Card, while day travelcards are normally available for unlimited daily travel.
4. Resist the temptation to move around too much. Focus on one city, region or country in depth instead of travelling large distances. You can easily base yourself in one place and take day trips – by doing this you will save on transport fees as well as the difficulty of long travel times with young children.
5. Look at budget hotel chains first if you want to stay in a hotel. Brands such as Ibis, Travelodge, EasyHotel and Etap offer simple, no-frills rooms for a fair price, and you can often find good deals if you book ahead. It’s worth enquiring whether the hotel can squeeze in an extra bed, as turning a double into a triple or a triple into a quad will invariably be cheaper than having to take another room. Hostels in Europe can also be a good alternative, with far more options than just dorm rooms. Many hostels offer private rooms that are ideally suited for families, and staying in a hostel also gives you the option of self-catering.
6. Consider a vacation rental. Holiday apartments, as they are often known in Europe, are widely available in both cities and countryside locations, and normally offer far more space than a hotel or hostel for a similar (or cheaper) price. They often represent better value than other forms of accommodation, especially for longer stays, and also allow you to spread out and experience life as a local, rather than a visitor. There are many good sites offering holiday apartment stays.
7. Try camping if you want to go rural. Campsites in Europe, especially France and Spain, are normally well maintained and offer a range of excellent facilities. For exploring the countryside, they can be an excellent alternative. Alan Rogers guides are the market leader and a lot of free information is available online at www.alanrogers.com. If sleeping in a tent isn’t your thing but you would like to explore the countryside, farm stays are an interesting alternative and offer a great cultural experience for your children (and you!) If you’re considering going rural, it is also worth investigating car rental, to make it easier to transport your belongings – although remember that gasoline in Europe is much more expensive than in the US.
8. Start with free activities. Europe offers many free attractions and activities that will be enjoyable for all the family. Try www.FreeToDoEurope.net for ideas. After that, always investigate the possibility of family tickets for museums, attractions, tours and public transport. Local tourist offices normally offer good advice.
9. Eat out less and make lunch your big meal of the day if you’re eating out. Many restaurants offer excellent lunch deals, but try to stay away from tourist spots. Places that are full of tourists don’t offer the best eating experience or the best price. Menus translated into English are often another sign to look elsewhere. Instead, take a guidebook (look out for one with translations of food) and follow the locals to places that are slightly off the beaten track. And be careful not to overtip. Tips are often included and Europeans only tend to tip 10%, anyway. Ask fellow diners if you’re not sure.
10. Eat in, even if you don’t cook! If you’re staying in a hostel or holiday apartment, or if you’re camping, you can save a lot of money by preparing your own meals. Local shops and markets are a great cultural experience for all the family. But even if you’re staying in a hotel, you can still grab food for lunch, and you don’t have to go to much effort: locally produced breads, cheeses, meats and salad make a great meal. You may even find a delicious local wine to enjoy once the kids have gone to bed. Just don’t forget a corkscrew!
Ben Doyle is a British travel enthusiast and entrepreneur. He is one of the founders of www.HouseTrip.com, an online marketplace for European holiday apartments. He currently blogs at blog.housetrip.com.