How I went to Europe for 5 weeks in High Season on the cheap, cheap, cheap

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Are you thinking about going to Europe?

In this article, I will explain how my husband and I made it to Europe, visited 10 countries in 5 weeks, and pinched every Dollar, Euro, Swiss Franc, and Pound, to make a lifetime of memories, without breaking the bank.  It will take some planning, and if you want to save some REAL money, give yourself about a year to plan.  Remember, this is going to take some effort, but it is well worth to keep your savings!

Step One:  Airline Tickets

First, you must decide which airline that you are going to take to get across the pond.  Since Northwest has one of the most generous frequent flyer programs in the business, I went with them.   Here’s what you do:  Sign up for the Northwest Worldperks Frequent Flyer Program.  Get involved with all of the promotions they have to offer.  Don’t forget, every time you make a purchase online, go through the Worldperks Mall.   Register with the Dining Program, it’s free and easy. Your miles will rack up in no time.  Don’t be afraid to get the credit card.  Usually this alone will get you half way to Europe.  It took me one 8 months to get 100,000 miles; enough for my husband and me. I paid only $115.00 in taxes for each of us!

Step Two: Hotels or Hostels?

If you are traveling alone, a hostel is your best bet.  Since you are only paying for one, it makes sense to go this route.  If you are two or more a cheap hotel will cost you the same or maybe just a bit more, and in my opinion, worth the extra money for a door that locks. 

Your first step to getting free international hotels again is decide on a program and stick with it.  I went with the Thank You Rewards Program.  I changed my bank account to Citibank, got several Citibank credit cards, booked all my travel through Expedia, and ordered items I bought online through their shopping portal (when the NWA mall didn’t have that store).  After 10 months, I had accumulated enough points for 7 free nights.  I used mine in Amsterdam, Netherlands and Nice, France.

Step Three: Getting Around

The best decision I made on this vacation was to go on a guided tour.  We did a 18 day “Classical Fantasy Tour” through Trafalgar that took us to 8 countries.  If you want to see many places, this is the best value.  Please be advised though, tours are like cruises, in that you will pay for excursions on top of the base price.  For example, I paid $2,000 for the tour and when we joined the tour, we had to pick our excursions which added another $1,000. 

When we were not on tour we flew, bussed, took taxis, took trains, and walked a ton.  The best thing to do is to map out where you want to go, search on the cheapest method to do it, and stick to the plan.  It can be tempting to take a taxi to your hotel, but the bus will save you so much money.  Usually, the hotel website will have directions on how to get there from the nearest airport.  Also, at every airport there is a kiosk to help travelers get to their destinations.  Don’t be afraid to ask. 

Flying around can be very inexpensive in Europe.  Ryanair.com and Easyjet.com have specials all the time from $1 travel or taxes only.  After you know where you want to visit and when, watch these sites daily, and you will find a great deal.

Step Four: Eating and Drinking

Believe it or not, this is where you are going to spend the bulk of your money.   Planning ahead is the best way to avoid this. If you are staying in a hostel or hotel that offers free breakfast, make sure  you take advantage of it!  There are not a lot of free-bees once you get to Europe.  Here’s some tricks:

  • There are different prices at restaurants for lunch and dinner, so make a late lunch the big meal of the day 
  • You can drink everywhere in Europe.  Instead of having wine after dinner in a restaurant, buy a bottle at a store and sit in the park, on some stairs, or on a bench, and watch the people
  • Find a grocery store and buy some easy travel items like granola bars or sandwiches
  • If there is coffee or snacks in your room, eat/drink them every day.  They will be replenished for free.

Step Five: Transaction Fees and Currency Exchange

To avoid international transaction fees, you need to look at your credit cards and bank cards very closely.  The only credit card that I know of without transaction fees is Capital One.   Transaction fees will be an unwelcome reminder for months to come that you had a good time in Europe!   If you can, exchange your currency at your bank here in the US.  There are less fees, but you need to plan ahead because your bank will have to order the currency.

Summary: Don’t forget to have fun!

With all the money you save you will be able to see the museums, architecture, and cities you have dreamed of.  Be safe, buy travel insurance (worth the splurge), and take tons of pictures!

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