Face it: just because the economy has been terrible the last few years doesn’t mean we don’t still yearn to go on holiday. If anything, years of misery have only whetted our collective appetite and made us want to get away even more. Now that the purse strings seem to have loosened up a bit, and we’re not having to take out a payday loan just to make ends meet, more and more of us will finally be dashing our way across the European countryside. And if we’re smart about it and use some of the tips and tricks that frequent globe-trotters employ, we won’t have to return from our holiday only to face our own personal recession. Here are a few tricks to help.
Truth is that many of the things that tourists pay dearly for are not appreciably different from similar things that cost far less. Some are even better than their more costly counterparts. One good example is to compare the cost – and the benefits – of staying in a B&B, hostel, or an individual’s home with the cost of staying in a hotel. The hotel will cost you easily twice as much as the alternatives, and in many cases, you’ll be paying extra to isolate yourself from th very culture you’ve gone on holiday to absorb. And in some of the two-star hotels, you’ll still end up sharing a loo with other travelers, just as you would in many hostels.
Look for restaurants that are brimming with tourists. When you find one, turn around and walk away. Most are pricey affairs that strive to please their customers without making them experience anything too alien to their everyday lives. Look instead for the mom & pop establishments that are patronized by locals. These places know that they have to provide quality and good value. If you don’t understand the language on the menu, don’t hesitate to ask your server or even a fellow diner for advice. If you’re particularly adventurous, you can even rely upon your waiter or waitress to suggest dishes that are in season and particularly well-liked by regulars.
Renting a car in a large city is an exercise in frustration, as well as being costly. Look into the cost of rail passes, buses, and even flights between cities, and save your motoring for the trips between cities where the drive itself will be the best part of the adventure. And be sure to compare the price of extended passes against single-destination tickets, and choose whichever costs less for the itinerary you intend to follow.
Here too, you will want to avoid places that cater to high tourist traffic. Plan to do the bulk of your shopping in places that cater more to locals than to tourists. You should also consider shopping more in exotic countries, such as Greece or Turkey, rather than fully “Europeanized” countries like France or Germany. If you simply must have one of those little snow globes with the Eiffel Tower inside, you’ll be able to purchase one much more cheaply online, and since they’ll both come from China… We won’t tell if you won’t!
Finally, schedule your trip at a time when you’ll see more locals than tourists, typically from late Fall to early Spring. Prices on everything from lodging to travel to meals will be significantly less, and you will get a better feel for the culture, as well. Plan your trip ahead of time, but be flexible enough to take advantage of unique experiences and bargain rates. Your experience will be infinitely richer, and what with the money you’ll save, you’ll be richer, too.