Affordable Europe: Travel Tips for the Budget Conscious

Published in the Spring 2009 issue of Tufts Magazine

Affordable Europe
Travel tips for the budget conscious

Skip summer. Everything costs less in the iffy weather of off-season. Yet a great place is a great place year-round. An October walk on Spain's Mediterranean beaches calls for a sweatshirt, but the sun's still warm enough to let you linger over wine and grilled fish at al fresco cafes. Germany in December is chilly, but it's alive with holiday lights and ornament shops. And a Scottish February's gray sky is the perfect backdrop for ancient castle ruins.

Fly frugal. If the major airlines' off-peak prices are too high, investigate economical carriers like Icelandair and Aer Lingus. Travel midweek. Check airlines and tour companies for air/hotel bundles, often cheaper than airfares alone. Browse discounted packages at sites like Then be ready to combine air travel with other transportation options. Say you've found a cheap flight to London but are headed elsewhere. Grab the flight, then travel to your destination by train, bus, ferry or low-cost intra-Europe airlines like Ryanair or easyJet.

Hotel hunt. Sites like Expedia and Orbitz list some budget accommodations, but a little digging can uncover many more two- and three-star hotels. Start at your destination's official tourism site, which will likely have an expansive list of accommodations, often with links to their websites.

Make contact. Email each hotel you're interested in. Explain that you're looking for budget accommodation for specific dates, and ask for the best rate. If you can write a few words in your potential host's language, do. Bypassing a booking service gives the hotel an opportunity to actively compete for your business and fill a room that might otherwise go empty. And the personal contact can yield surprise perks like a welcome gift, view or upgrade.

Dine midday. Make luscious lunches your day's major culinary event; for dinner, grab something quick or buy groceries and eat in. Eating your main meal in the afternoon lets you indulge inexpensively in local cuisine -- and get enough sleep for sightseeing: European dinnertime is typically nine or ten.