This is a guest post by travel enthusiast Matthew Kepnes.

savingeurope1Europe is one of the most popular destinations for North Americans.  Yet even with the slide in the value of the Euro, it is still not a cheap destination. Cheaper than before but still not cheap. However, there are many ways to cut down the cost of a European Vacation.  We don’t live a good financially sound life so we can spend all our money on a two week vacation.  Just like good money management requires planning, so does going to Europe.

Here are 8 ways to save money on your next trip:

1. Don’t do Dinner

In Europe, restaurants offer a set lunch menu, often called the plate of the day. This menu has a number of dishes at an affordable cost. For dinner, these same meals might cost double. Eat out at the nice restaurants for lunch and save money. In Barcelona, “la menu de dia” is usually 10 Euros while a dinner at the same restaurant can run around $35 Euros.

2. Get a Eurail Pass

Traveling around Europe doesn’t have to be expensive. If you plan on visiting a lot of countries or covering a vast distance, get a Eurail pass. These passes offer you unlimited travel within a set time frame and can be used for 1, 3, or 15 countries, or over number of days or months. You pick. When I used mine last summer, I saved over $650 dollars. You can read my Eurail pass review here.

3. Use Tourism Boards

City tourism websites are often an overlooked source of information. People tend to stick to their guidebooks but that information is at least a year old. City tourism websites have a long list of current activities, events, and deals that cost little or no money to you.  While in Amsterdam, I found a city fair because I looked on their website. I spent an afternoon at this event and it didn’t cost me any money.

4. Couchsurf

Couchsurfing is a global phenomenon where people offer other travelers a place to stay for free. The site has over 2 million members.  Locals open up their home to you and provide you with a free place to stay. It’s safe as members as verified by other members and the service. (Other than not getting along, I’ve never heard of a problem!) Most will host families and couples- you don’t need to be a single traveler.  This not only provides you with free accommodation but also gives you a chance to meet the locals and get local tips on what to see, do, and how to save even more money.

5. Take Free Tours

In most of the major cities in Europe, you will find free tours of the city. They are a great way to see the city, get your bearings, and learn about the city without ever paying for it. The biggest company is New Europe and they have tours in about 10 different. I’ve done a few of their tours and they have been very informational. You can find more about them here. However, even if they don’t offer a tour, you can find someone else that does.

6. Go off Peak

The most expensive part about Europe is getting there but if you avoid the summer months, flights will be much cheaper. Visit during the shoulder seasons of the spring or the fall and you can find prices much cheaper and the weather still as nice. Also, use for your flights. They search websites around the world and not just in the US.

7. Skip the Major Cities

Europe has millions of great places to see besides Paris, Rome, London, Milan, etc. Save money by avoiding the big cities. Go to alternative destinations like Croatia, Poland, Budapest, Cornwall (in England), or Southern Germany. Get off the beaten path a bit and you’ll find prices drop a lot. These places are just as good, just as fun, and just as beautiful but without the crowds or high costs.

8. Find the Freebies

In every city, you’ll find free exhibits, museums, and attractions. You just need to research. The Louvre is free on Fridays. All museums are free in England.  FOAM, an art museum in Amsterdam, is free.  But I didn’t know any of that before I did some research. If I didn’t use Google, I never would have known the Prado in Madrid is free from 6- 8pm. Before you go on your trip, do a little research and get a list of free attractions. Often times we assume things aren’t free or cost money when they don’t. A simple Google search can help with that.

Europe doesn’t have to be an expensive destination. I manage to travel around Europe on around 60 Euros per day by following the tips above. Just because we are on vacation doesn’t me have to waste money. There are plenty of ways to have a good time without spending a lot of money.   Budget travel doesn’t have to mean hostels and ramen noodles- it just means thinking outside the box.

Matthew Kepnes has been traveling around the world for the past four years. He runs the award winning budget travel site, Nomadic Matt’s Travel Site, and has been featured in The New York Times, The Guardian UK, AOL’s Wallet Pop, Wisebread, and Yahoo! Finance. For more travel tips and money saving advice, visit his website.

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Nomadic Matt
11 years ago

Sorry for the delay. I was actually on holiday!

: My favorite place in Europe is Amsterdam. I used to live there for a bit.

@anon: right! Avoid TC at all costs!

@ITS: Couchsurfing is used by people of all ages. I have stayed with senior couples who gave me my own key, room, and privacy. I once stayed with a family who took me for a traditional Danish dinner. I stayed in a condo by myself in Australia. You get a wide variety of people on couchsurfing.

11 years ago

These are some great tips for saving money on a European adventure. I recently had the opportunity to do a working vacation in England, where I worked and got to travel for the summer. I saved a lot of money because my accommodations and food were provided and I was able to travel to different cities for free. On my days off from work I got to explore on my own. I highly recommend working vacations for those who want to explore a new country on a budget.

11 years ago

Travel light and fly with Ryan Air between cities. Two of us flew London to Cork for about $50Cdn incl taxes then went Dublin to Edinburgh for about the same. I lucked out on a great deal but they have them all the time.

11 years ago

Wow, these are great tips for me (I disgree with ITS).. I suppos it’s targeted towards people who are younger.

I personally wouldn’t couch surf (I’m 27) but still wouldn’t mind doing hostels (unless I was traveling with my boyfriend, in which privacy would be appreciated).

The euro-rail pass is a good idea, too.

11 years ago

Couchsurf? Seriously? How old are you? This is one step below the hostel, and I stopped doing hostels when I turned 23. How about privacy, romance, and comfort… Are you traveling for a burden or pleasure?

And also going to Croatia and Poland instead of Paris? These are not even on the same scale.

As somebody who just returned from a one week trip to Paris with my wife, I would say that it was truly amazing. There is no comparison to the former Eastern Europe (and I have seen Eastern Europe) We stayed at a hotel 10 minute slow walk away from the Eiffel Tower. It was only 145 Euros a night. Paris was expensive, and you will pay dearly overall, but it’s worth it. It’s sort of once in a lifetime trip for us at least.

If you are going to penny-pinch when on vacation, why go at all? This is why we work hard the other 50 weeks of the year, so we can splurge when it matters…

FT, I am sincerely disappointed with this level of advice…

11 years ago

I can’t believe how bang on these tips are. Of the 8 tips I’m always talking about at least 5 of them.

Couchsurfing is probably one of the ways that flies under the radar for most people. The biggest reason being that sleeping on someone’s couch isn’t all that appealing for some. However there’s the added aspect that is often overlooked when it comes to couchsurfing…the local point of view. That can save you a “pant-load” and get you some unique experiences in the process.

11 years ago

Don’t use traveller’s cheques (commission fees). If you use ATMs, withdraw a lot of money at once so you minimize transaction fees (if they apply to your account).

Also, point 7 is awkward…. Croatia and Poland are countries not cities (and prices in these countries are getting quite expensive!). ;-)

Glass Is Half
11 years ago

With regards to off peak, you can actually also take advantage of discounted train fares into the major cities if you do not travel during work hours. While you will not quite save 1/2 the money it is fairly significant depending on the distance to travel and considering you’re on holiday … you might as well enjoy sleeping in too! :)

11 years ago

Another thing to add is understand currency exchange rates. There are free apps for smart phones to help you do the math, makes it easier to figure out how much things are actually worth.