BUDGETING A TRIP TO EUROPE
If not taking an organized tour and planning your own independent travel. Since your travel needs will surely vary, for more accurate budgeting I use an actual budget spread sheet form (a basic Microsoft Works sheet that comes with many computers, or just a piece of paper will do) with columns for the category of expenditures. The categories I consider are International Airfare, Intercity Transportation (Train, Air, Rental Car) Ground Transfers (taxi or airport bus, etc), Hotel/Lodging, Food, Entertainment, Incidentals (digital tape, batteries, snacks, museum admissions), then special expenditures like ski package or amusement park and shopping.
For travel in Europe on a budget, we'll focus on traveling comfortably, but staying conscious about spending. Pick the areas where you want to splurge and pamper yourself, but find some compromises in other areas. In your research you’ll have to convert Euros to dollars or your local currency. You’ll have to gather prices from airfare sites, hotel sites, and train travel sites and enter them into your columns. It’s a bit of work, but part of the fun of travel planning.
Things to Consider
That’s getting to Europe. The cheapest, Economy Class, coach with no change or refund, now usually in the back of the plane, many airlines are now offering a form of Premium Economy, still no refund or change without additional cost, but with more leg room, better seat selection options and toward the front of the cabin, still less than full coach fare, then Business or First. Some airlines like Air France are now offering an advanced purchase Business Class fare with no change rules like Economy, but about half price in the Business Class cabin.
Here you have a lot of variety. Chain hotel, B&B, big city or countryside? Finding a hotel room in big capital cities like Paris, London, Rome will be more expensive than smaller cities or town, so budget higher. The class of hotel will make the biggest budgetary difference. Hostels run from about $25 to $60. Some hostels you can get a single room, with common showers, etc. And can be comfortable for a night or two. “Tourist Class” 2 star hotels can be found around rail stations and tourist areas. Most are clean and decent, some not so much, it can depend where you are. The two star tourist hotels very often really don’t expect advance reservation and they may not offer breakfast. Very nice 3 star and some 4 star hotels at a bargain level will range from $70 to $120 for single $90 to $180 for double occupancy. Big city hotels or major chains will be higher. You can search TripAdvisor, Hotels.com, Booking.com, Travelocity, Expedia and compare prices across brands or go to hotel groups directly, Accor Hotels, Best Western and Choice Hotels® offer good mid range and bargain priced options in Europe.
Where you like to dine will be one of the largest variables and where you have the most control how you want to spend. McDonald’s or Cordon Bleu? Most 3 star and above hotels in Europe are on a bed & breakfast basis, with a breakfast served buffet style. Luxury hotels may prepare breakfasts to order. That leaves lunch and dinner. Familiar fast food chains are all over Europe, food stands on the streets and in train stations offer local food styles for eating on the run. Restaurants offer an infinite variety from family style cubby holes to elegant gourmet cuisine. A food budget should account for the exchange rate, how much wine and drinks with a meal, etc. In Europe a gratuity is usually included in the price. Staying in a self-catering accommodation with a family can save a lot of restaurant costs. If staying in lodging with a kitchen, European cities have fresh food markets where you make your own gourmet candle lit dinners.
Here’s where some time spent can make big difference in your budget. If you plan to go to more than one city, several countries, or want to get into the country for find those unique destinations, historic spots, wine tasting and all those things your going to Europe for, how to get around will be a major consideration. When I calculate a Europe travel budget, I consider different variations on my spread sheet, to decide the most cost effective option. Discount airlines with airport transfers, train travel with a rail pass or individual tickets, rental car with fuel and parking. Each of these options have advantages and which you chose will depend on what you want to do. (see Tips for Traveling on a Budget). For example getting to small towns and exploring the countryside will often require a rental car. You can get to major cities by rail or air, then rent a car for a few days of local trips, or instead rent a car for a week or two and wander wherever your whim takes you (see Renting a Car in Europe). In a budget, I put these side by side and see which is the most cost effective. But the cheapest way to go is not always the best choice. What you really want is to get the best travel experience, with the best memories and least hastle at a price you won’t regret after the jet lag has worn off.
Entertainment, Transfers and Shopping
Only you can know what your shopping budget might be. Consider what you plan for entertainment, theater tickets, river boat tours, on and off sight-seeing tours, and don’t forget the museum or attraction admission costs, subway, tram fares.
Add in a communications budget, whether you take a four band cell phone from home, get a local pay as you go mobile phone (many easily available now when you arrive) or a phone card. Calls back home, getting lost and calling hotels - keeping in touch can add up. ©Bargain Travel Europe
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