Eliminate the middleman! If you plan the trip yourself, you get to choose your own adventure--whether it's in the saddle of a bike or at the helm of a sailboat, you'll discover a Europe far removed from higher-priced guided tours. This is your Europe at your pace.
Walking & Biking
From the vineyards of Tuscany to the wildflowers of Provence, self-guided hiking and biking trips cost as little as $408 per person per week. The experts take care of all the details--crafting an itinerary along the most scenic roads, booking cozy B&Bs, providing maps, and often enlisting a sag wagon to truck your gear from one inn to the next.
Itineraries range from slow-going jaunts to Tour de France-size epics, but most are designed for tourists in average physical condition. Figure on hiking at least four to eight miles (three to four hours) each day. Bikers cover 20 to 40 miles a day, but that still leaves plenty of time to explore.
Go-today.com sells weeklong hiking and biking trips across Europe ($539 to $2,559 per person, go-today.com). Bike Tours Direct acts as a clearinghouse for local European bike-tour outfits with itineraries including the Danube ($408), Tuscany ($583), and the Loire Valley ($589, 877/462-2423, biketoursdirect.com). Distant Journeys sets up self-guided treks in France, Italy, and Switzerland, including a hut-to-hut hike across Mont Blanc ($860, 888/845-5781, distantjourneys.com).
Savor the scenery of Europe's countryside at a leisurely 5 to 7 mph by cruising a canal. Most associate barging with France, but Europe is threaded with thousands of miles of canals and rivers, and solo cruising is becoming popular in Ireland, the U.K., Italy, Holland, and Germany. The best part: Even a six-person, self-drive barge costs only $335 to $425 per person per week.
Ignore those barge trips that are really mini-cruises on oversize riverboats. Who needs a stateroom when you can be the captain? If you can handle a car, you can drive a barge. Along with the keys, you get a crash course in barging, including mooring and how to go through locks. Worried you'll miss all the best bits by going it alone? Consider a bed-and-breakfast tour that includes some meals and a degree of support while still leaving the driving to you.
The pace will be set by how often you stop--arrange for rental bikes onboard to explore nearby villages and vineyards--and how many locks you have to go through. The barging season runs from late March through October. You rent by the week, and rates should include fuel, linens, an equipped galley, and navigational gear.
Le Boat (800/992-0291, leboat.com) and Connoisseur (888/355-9491, connoisseurafloat.com) make planning practically effortless. The Barge Broker (800/275-9794, bargebroker.com) rents self-drive boats and arranges bed-and-breakfast barge trips in France.
You needn't be an Onassis to sail the Greek islands or the coast of Turkey. Whether aboard a sailboat or motor yacht, you have three main options for tackling the high seas.
Self-skippered bareboat yachts come with everything and the kitchen sink--snorkeling gear, CD player, and other amenities--for $300 to $500 per person per week, assuming you split the costs between six to eight people. The price varies with the season, as well as with the size, type, and age of the craft. Slightly worn yachts over five years old tend to be better bargains, but may suffer from dubious plumbing (pump toilets break easily).
Wondering whether you have the experience to go bareboat? Frankly, if you have to ask the question, you should charter a skippered boat. Captains charge around $130 per day. A cook runs another $110 to $130 per day. Fully crewed boats including meals cost $700 to $800 per person per week (drinks are usually extra).
IfIf you're already an old salt but feel skittish about sailing solo in foreign waters, consider joining a flotilla led by an experienced skipper. However, flotillas add about 15 percent to the bareboat price, and you exchange a lot of freedom for that safety net--sailing dates and routes are all prearranged.
Both Odyssey Sailing (odysseysailing.gr) and Fyly Yachting (fyly.gr) offer bareboats, crewed yachts, and flotilla tours in Greece. Ocean Blue Yachts arranges bareboat and skippered charters in Greece, Turkey, Italy, and Croatia (oceanblueyachts.com). The agency Contact Turkey deals in bareboats and crewed yachts in Turkey (contactturkey.com). Blue Voyage (800/818-8753, bluevoyage.com) books skippered charters in Turkey and Greece. The name-your-own-price website sailonline.com links travelers directly with boat owners (mostly bareboat; some crewed) for a $39 fee, but it claims you can nab prices 35 percent to 50 percent below the going rates.
VIP passes to Europe's greatest cities
Never again fork over a fistful of euros at every sight, wait an hour in line at top museums, or search in vain for a newsstand selling the bus tickets you need. Museum cards and city passes do away with such travel aggravations, making them some of the best buys in Europe. Available from participating attractions and tourist offices, these little beauties grant you admission to most city sights--and often the right to bypass the entry line--for $5 to $49 per day. Many also throw in free public transportation plus discounts on tours, shopping, dining, and nightlife. Cards in Scandinavia tend to be the most comprehensive, but those of other major cities--London, Amsterdam, Berlin, Barcelona--are no savings slouches, either. --RB
Car camping costs just $20 to $40 per couple, even in Paris and Venice. Carol Mickelsen poured 25 years of Eurotenting into Camping Europe (Affordable Travel Press). These are her 10 favorite campgrounds. Most are open only during the warmer months.
Austria: Donaupark Camping Klosterneuburg, its cheery cafe/store a colorful caboose, sits in the woodlands of a Vienna suburb. 011-43/2243-25877, tiscover.at/donaupark-camp.klosterneuburg.
Denmark: On the island of Mon, 80 miles south of Copenhagen, white cliffs rise above the sea to a lime-green forest. Stake a tent between shoreside dunes at Ulvshale Camping and then wander the near-deserted beach. 011-45/55-815-325, ulvscamp.dk.
France: A bus connects Camping du Bois de Boulogne, along the Seine, with the Paris Metro. In lousy weather, splurge on a riverside mobile home with kitchen and bath. Year-round, 011-33/1-45-24-30-00, abccamping.com/boulogne.htm.
Greece: Explore Delphi's temples in the crowd-free early morning or late afternoon. During the hot midday, retreat to the Camping Apollon pool for views over the Gulf of Corinth. Year-round, 011-30/226-508-2762, apolloncamping.gr.
Italy: Savor sunrises at Camping Miramare's private beach on Punta Sabbioni, a peninsula protecting Venice from the Adriatic. Venice is just a ferry ride away. 011-39/041-966-150, camping-miramare.it.
Netherlands: Gaasper Camping is in a lakeside park 20 minutes by metro from Amsterdam's center. Awake to the smell of baking bread from the camp store. 011-31/20-696-7326, gaaspercamping.nl.
Norway: At Melkevoll Bretun Camping, near Jostedal Glacier, there are guided hikes and a sauna. Cabins are available year-round. 011-47/57-873-864, melkevoll.no.
Poland: Camping Smok is just minutes from Krakow's market square. Year-round, 011-48/12-429-8300, smok.krakow.pl.
Spain: Outdoor enthusiasts gather in the cafe at Camping Asolaze, in Isaba, to plan Pyrenees hikes. 011-34/948-893-034, larra-asolaze.com.
Turkey: Near Goreme, Dilek Camping is tucked into the boulder fields of Cappadocia, where the hills are dotted with frescoed churches. Swim in the pool, and walk through Dovecote Valley at sunset. 011-90/384-271-2396.