4 worry-free tips for an affordable European vacation

young woman stands on a bridge with the Eiffel Tower in the background looking at map next to her suitcase
May 02, 2017 | Maggie Tomasek

Before I book a trip, I’ll spend hours scouring for the best deals on flights and hotels and rental cars. But the real challenge, I’ve found, is sticking to my travel budget once I’m actually on vacation.

Being removed from your routine and your everyday worries, it can be easy to spend money with reckless abandon. It’s foreign currency, so it’s not real money! Just throw it on the credit card, you’re only in Paris once!

While you don’t want to nickel-and-dime every single dining option, it’s still important to keep your spending in check so you don’t have a post-vacation debt hangover.

Here are four worry-free tips I used to help me stick to my budget and create an affordable European vacation.

1. Go on a cash diet.

One simple way to stick to any budget is to go on a “cash diet.” For my recent trip to London and Paris, my partner and I procured both pounds and euros before we left. We knew that, worst case scenario, we could take out more cash or throw something on a credit card, but in the end, we stuck to our cash allowance and came out almost exactly even. Of course, we followed these handy tips for credit card use while traveling abroad, but the only things we wound up charging were either at kiosks (i.e. London underground passes) or reservations we made online beforehand (like Tower of London, so we could skip the long ticket window queue).

2. Use public transit.

In London and Paris, the subway really was the easiest and cheapest way to travel. Transit passes were super affordable, and there were stations everywhere we wanted to go. We still did plenty of walking – about 70 miles over six days, according to my fitness tracker – but the ease of public transit allowed us to pack in so much sightseeing with plenty of time leftover for wandering, eating and drinking. (Side note: We did spring for taxis from the airport and train station, rather than dragging our large suitcases around, and the ride from London Heathrow to our hotel was literally the most expensive thing we did during the entire trip!)

3. Strike a balance of free and paid sightseeing.

Seriously, so much stuff is free! We served as our own tour guides, armed with a transit map, iPhones and a sense of adventure. For example, we were more than content to take photos and enjoy the view from outside the Pantheon, but we knew we wanted to spend the money for the Lourve – which, at 15 euro per adult, was a total steal. If you’ll have a longer stay and want to hit up more museums, look into city museum passes. You can save money and also avoid some of the ridiculous lines.

4. Skip the souvenirs.

I bought a couple postcards, a pair of earrings and a Gryffindor hat (I just couldn’t resist). Otherwise, it was all food, drinks and museum admission. As I mentioned in an earlier blog post about how I approach budgeting for travel, I’m all about experiences over things. Besides, if you overload on souvenirs, you might get saddled with an extra bag, which can be both annoying to carry and cost more in airline baggage fees.

Maggie Tomasek is the PR & Social Media Specialist at Alliant. She began her career as a journalist for newspapers in Utica, N.Y., Des Moines and Cincinnati before moving to Chicago in 2009. Maggie is a six-time Chicago Marathon finisher and a lifelong creative writer with a passion for comedy. Her mom instilled in her a great sense of fiscal responsibility, and her big sister told her to throw that responsibility out the window every once in a while in the name of life experience. So far, that combination of financial advice has worked out pretty well for her.

You might like

Sign up for our newsletter

Get even more personal finance info, tips and tricks delivered right to your inbox each month.