Exploring Europe on a Budget

Diverse and varied Europe may well be, but it’s still a relatively small and well-connected continent, which makes exploration easy. You don’t have to spend a fortune doing it, either—there are travel and accommodation options at every price point.

Here are some tips for keeping down travel costs, while also savouring the flavour of European life.

For long, cross-Europe hops (say, from Denmark to southern Italy), air travel may prove the least costly per kilometres. Book well in advance with a discount carrier (Ryanair is the best known, but there are dozens) for fares as low as $15 or $30 each way. (Still, don’t forget to check for fare deals from the major carriers, too.)

If you plan on lots of train travel, Eurail and InterRail passes can be good value. Or pay as you go and look for deals like senior discounts, special weekend fares and inexpensive regional trains, which make multiple stops (but give you better views of the countryside), if you have the time to spare. Buses tend to have the lowest fares. They also may be the only public transport to off-the- beaten-track areas; if the bus schedule to such places in inconvenient, it’s time to rent a car.

For accommodation, small, local hotels often offer better rates than large chains. (In southern Spain, for instance, a friend recently paid just €35 a night—around $50—in a local four-star hotel.) Family-run pensions (guest houses) can be even cheaper.

Both these options rank high on local charm and authenticity. But some can also have their quirks or lack amenities like on-site restaurants, so take this into account.

If you plan to base yourself in an area for a week or more, try renting an apartment. The cost can be comparable to that of a mid-range hotel but you can save on food expense by eating some meals in.

Shopping locally is also a great way to get a feel for an area and see what it would be like to live there. Tourist cities, especially along the coasts, offer plenty of short-term rentals. You’ll find rental agencies and websites listing these, with many in English (and aimed at the British market). Airbnb.com, HomeAway.com and similar sites also list short-term rentals.

During the high season of July and August, most popular destinations (including beaches) are heaving with tourists and prices for accommodation are higher. The same is true during the Christmas and Easter holidays. Book travel and accommodation well in advance if you want good bargains during these times…and just be prepared to deal with the crowds. Sometimes, after all, they’re worth it.

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