Europe 2018: 5 Money-Saving Tips
From the jaw-dropping natural beauty of Iceland to the ancient ruins of Sicily, from the fjords of Norway to the late-night tapas feasts of Spain, Budget Travelers ask us all the time, “Can we afford Europe?” And we’re more than happy to answer, “Yes, you can.” Here, our five best tips for doing Europe on a budget.
1. BOOK A BARGAIN HOTEL
Our hotel booking tool is showing reasonable rates across the continent this spring, including Dublin city center from under $150/night, a few London hotels well under $300/night (that’s an extraordinary savings for London, but do be careful not to book yourself too far from the points of interest you most want to visit), Paris hotels from under $200, and well-reviewed Rome lodging from under $150/night.
2. SAVE BIG ON AIRFARE
Airfare will, of course, be your big-ticket purchase when visiting Europe, and our friends at Skyscanner (Skyscanner.com), who mine discount airfares to deliver the lowest of the low, are uncovering spring deals such as round-trip to Dublin from under $500, Paris from under $500, and Milan from under $600 (with one or two options under $500). We also recommend that you follow the major air carriers on social media and sign up for their e-newsletters, which can give you the inside track into flash promotions and other good deals.
3. TAKE THE TRAIN
Speaking of Milan, Rail Europe (raileurope.com) is now offering direct service tickets between that Italian business and fashion capital with Frankfurt, Germany’s business capital, significantly shortening train travel time between those two countries. Rail Europe is one of the most efficient and affordable ways to explore, including Eurail One Country passes for 23 countries and Eurail Two Country passes for certain regions. New 2018 initiatives include One Country passes for Turkey and Serbia and a Two Country pass for the Czech Republic and Poland.
4. CONSIDER A PACKAGE TOUR
It’s one of the open secrets of the travel business: Hotels and airlines are willing to offer rock-bottom rates in order to fill their inventory, but the best way for you to take advantage of those super-low rates is to participate in a package tour. Budget Travel contributors and readers have loved the European tour experiences offered by Monograms, Contiki, Friendly Planet, G Adventures, and other tour companies. Today's package tours are a world away from the "touristy" treks your grandparents may have undertaken. The best tour company's offer exceptional guest services, plenty of independent exploring time, some great group meals and celebrations, informative guided tour options, vibrant people-to-people cultural experiences, and much more. And if you briefly crunch the numbers to compare the overall price of a European package tour with a vacation that you book yourself “a la carte,” you’ll almost always find that you’ve saved big.
5. DOWNLOAD THIS TRIP-INSPIRING APP
Our colleagues at Budget Travel's parent company, Lonely Planet, cover Europe like no other travel brand on earth, and we’re hooked on their Trips app, which allows you to browse a wealth of travel stories and images from Lonely Planet’s worldwide audience, editors, writers, and photographers. Of course you’ll find great intel on some of the popular European destinations we’ve touched on here, but you’ll also uncover hidden gems, locals-only secrets, and up-and-coming destinations where your travel dollar may stretch farther than you could ever imagine.
5 Bargain Destinations for February
Whether the phrase “February travel” conjures images of a romantic getaway, American history, or a warm beach vacation (or all three), we’ve got good news: Airfares to some popular mid-winter destinations are down. Our friends at Skyscanner crunched the numbers and came up with some trip-inspiring data. Here, five U.S. destinations where airfares are surprisingly affordable. 1. CHICAGO Domestic airfares to the Windy City are down around 32 percent compared with last year at this time. That means the taste of Lou Mitchell’s incredible breakfasts, Seven Lions’ muffalettas, and, of course, a classic deep-dish Pizzeria Uno, are all within reach. Not to mention the views from Skydeck Chicago in Willis Tower, the astounding art collection at the Art Institute of Chicago, and selfies at Anish Kapoor’s iconic Cloud Gate sculpture (better known as “The Bean”). And while you’re at it, tell Sue, the massive T-rex fossil at the Field Museum, that Budget Travel says, “hi.” 2. HOUSTON With airfares down around 28 percent, the U.S.’s fourth-largest city is ready for winter visitors. While you can expect a heaping portion of Southern hospitality down here (BBQ, comfort food, and steaks, anyone?), you’ll also love the decidedly chic shopping, cutting-edge cuisine, and crowd-pleasing hotspots such as the Johnson Space Center’s Space Center Houston (where kids of all ages will love the array of spacecraft, moon rocks, and learning activities) and the city’s vibrant Museum District (comprising 19 institutions, including the Children’s Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts). 3. WASHINGTON, D.C. Airfares to our nation’s capital are down around 16 percent, and the city’s major cultural and historical institutions are all free to the public, making it the ultimate destination for commemorating President’s Day and Black History Month. Don’t miss the new National Museum of African American History and Culture, the National Gallery’s peerless art collection, the inspiring monuments along the National Mall, and the cool neighborhoods such as Adams Morgan and Dupont Circle where locals enjoy some of America’s finest eateries and unique shops. 4. DALLAS Flying to Dallas, with its awesome shopping and dining in West Village, history at Highland Park Village National Historic Site and the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum, and superb art collections at the Dallas Museum of Art and Crow Collection of Asian Art, is about 15 percent less than last year. 5. MIAMI Warm beaches, from tony South Beach with its array of stately hotels and iconic Art Deco style to the quieter, family-friendly vibe of the North Beach area, are within reach, with fares down around 15 percent. When you bite into your first cubano sandwich, you'll thank us for the airfare tips.
5 Steps to Booking a Hotel Deal Anytime
We love asking "Where will you go next?" and then showing you how to seal the deal, pack your bags, and go. Our Book a Hotel tool (see the button on the top right of this page) literally puts the world at your fingertips, helping you to research and book hotels, motels, B&Bs, and other lodging anywhere in the world through our partners at Booking.com. Here are five easy steps to nabbing a good deal anywhere, anytime. 1. Choose a destination and your travel dates On the upper left of our book-a-hotel page, you'll find a box where you can enter the name of the destination you’re thinking of visiting and your check-in and check-out dates. You may enjoy trying to stump the database, but you'll soon find that it can find you lodging just about anywhere, from Mali to Maui, from Bali for Birmingham. 2. Review lodging options Hit "Search" and a list of available lodgings will appear (in rare cases, a destination such as a small town or remote park will offer only one or two nearby lodgings, but typically you'll get quite a list to choose from). You can choose to view lodgings by price, or view the database's top picks, which represent properties that are frequently booked and have been well-reviewed by customers. (Top picks may be especially desirable if you're visiting an area that's new to you or where you'll be unfamiliar with the language or customs.) 3. Get a little picky We encourage you to push the database to suit your needs, employing the menu on the lower left of the hotel listings. You can filter for common factors such as price range, complimentary breakfast, free Wi-Fi, kitchen, swimming pool, and more. 4. Read reviews and the fine print The listing of lodgings gives preference to frequently booked and well-reviewed properties, so you may not need to go deep into user reviews. But reviews are ample if you choose to take a peek. You'll also want to review a property's "fine print" and policies regarding children, smoking, pets, and other important details. 5. Reserve your room You may especially love how quickly you can select and reserve your room, and you will not be asked for banking or credit card information, simply your name and email address. Yup, our booking tool is that easy, and we hope it makes it a little easier to answer that question we started with: "Where will you go next?"
Confessions of an Obsessive Traveler
At age 27, Sal Lavallo believes he’s one of the youngest Americans to visit all 193 countries in the world. “My friends make fun of me because my WhatsApp number is always changing,” he laughs, but he wouldn’t have it any other way. Thanks to a serious stash of airline miles and points from SPG and Marriott Rewards and the goodwill of friends who provided couches for crashing and insights for exploring, he capped off his 10-year journey in November, celebrating the milestone achievement with a big bash in Malta. Here, the inveterate traveler gives us the scoop on his on-the-road style—where he goes, how he packs, and what he never misses. Q: Do you like to check your bags, or fit everything into a carry-on? A: A lot of people bring a lot of gear that they need to check, and if you’re a fashionista and you want to have a lot of clothes, that’s fine—I would never be like, “It’s gospel to only have one carry-on,” but I do travel light. It’s faster and it’s easier, though I do always wind up needing to borrow jackets from people. I never have good winter clothes because they’re so bulky. Q: Any packing tips for making the transition to the carry-on life? A: One thing that will always get you in trouble with the carry-on is the toiletries, because a lot of them are liquid and they might be too big, or one country might say gels and lotions are ok and one might not. So unless you’re really dedicated to one brand and can buy travel sizes, stock up at hotels. The other thing I always say is that you should pack like a puzzle. it should always be the exact same way so that you can instantly look down and see if a piece is missing. If my bag was with you right now, I could tell you exactly where everything is because it’s always exactly there—it takes me one second to open it and see if there’s a hole and something missing. It's kinda like Tetris. Q: Is there anything that always goes in your bag, regardless of your destination? A: I’m notoriously low-tech, but I always have my camera and my zoom lens, and I always need my Kindle—I love reading, and obviously bringing 10 books around all over the world would be difficult. I also have a small tablet that’s occasionally used when I need to have a computer. I bring a lot of adapters, because I never know where I’m going to be and which one’s going to be useful, so I have universal adapters and other specific ones. Oh, and hand sanitizer. Q: How do you stay connected when you’re overseas? A: I don’t have a global data plan at all. If I’m in a country long enough, or if I think that I’ll need a phone, then I’ll buy a SIM card if it’s easy—some countries it’s really difficult to do. For a couple of months, I had a Nauru number. Nauru’s the smallest country in the world, only 11,000 people, and I was there for a week so I had a SIM card. Even if you’re out of the country, if you’re roaming, the cell-phone company’s push SMSs can be sent to you, so for like six months, I was getting all the news from this small island country in the Pacific. Q: Do you have a travel playlist? A: I don’t have any music on my phone. I do a lot of traveling by land, so really long buses and taxis and cars, and I really like to focus on the present and look out the window rather than, like, jamming out to Jay-Z while I’m in Guinea. Q: Do you prefer to use public transportation? A: Between cities for sure. I love being on buses because you get to see the rural areas, the trade happening, what the trucks going by are carrying—you get a better sense of the country when you’re on the road. And then within a city, I really love to walk. I’ll often land in the place and do a big two- or three-hour walk around. On foot is best because you can stop whenever you want, go into little nooks and crannies and figure everything out. Just ask how much it would cost for a taxi back, so in case you get lost you can stop a cab and you’re easily back. Q: What do you like to look for in a new city? A: I’m really interested in development and identity and culture, so I love to go to markets to see what’s being sold, whether they’re imports or exports, how local are they, because that tells you a lot about a place. I also like to go any kind of art exhibit, especially contemporary art, because I feel like you get a really good sense of the pulse of a society by looking at the contemporary art, what issues are being discussed, and where it’s being exhibited. I’m usually being hosted or shown around by friends, so I try to ask for their recommendations and do the off-the-beaten path things that might not be the best tourism sites. Q: How do you find good things to do when you don’t know anyone in a particular destination? A: It’s amazing when you travel how much people want to help you. If I’m staying at a hotel, I’ll talk to the concierge—they’re nice to everybody, but if you stick to a loyalty program and have status, they’re extra-nice then. One time, a concierge got off work early and guided me around town because he didn’t like the plan I’d set for myself. I’ve made friends just, like, in a restaurant because people will hear you speaking English, and they want to practice and come talk to you. Then you just have to be open. Too many people get nervous when they’re approached and assume everyone’s trying to con them, but that’s almost certainly rarely the case. A GLOBETROTTER'S ESSENTIAL PACKING LIST The Carry-on I have a large Osprey hiking backpack and a small Jansport school backpack. Depending on the length of trip, I'll decide which to bring. The Personal Item I use a small Nikon camera bag I got with the D3300. It has two clasps, but one has been broken for a year 😂 The Day Bag I have a canvas bag that I use when I’m walking around the city, with two rope straps that tighten the opening. One of the worst things about getting mugged is that you can dislocate your shoulder if someone pulls something off of you, so it’s always better if the strap is rope or stronger than the bag—if someone tries to tear it off you, they rip open the bag instead of ripping it off of you, and it just falls on the ground. I’ve used this one so much it's full of holes. The Camera Nikon D3300. Lens One 250mm Nikon zoom that came with the camera. E-reader Kindle Paperwhite. Tablet It’s an Egyptian-made one. I bought it because it said Microsoft really big on the box, and I thought that meant it was a Microsoft one, but it really just runs Microsoft. Phone Sony Xperia. Adapters I buy the cheap ones at little markets. Hand Sanitizer I always have one or two of the small bottles, no favorite brand.
8 Surprising Airline Fees You’d Better Know
Airline fees are flying high. In 2016, U.S. travelers paid a whopping $7.1 billion in checked bag fees and flight changes alone, up from $6.3 billion in 2010, a recent report from the Government Accountability Office revealed. But the harsh reality is a number of airlines today sneak in “hidden fees”—extra charges for services that were traditionally free in the past. Unfortunately for travelers, many of these fees are non-negotiable, says Anne McDermott, editor at Farecompare.com, a website that curates deals on flights from around the world. “Fees are a fact of life for flyers these days, and they are here to stay,” McDermott says. “They make the airlines billions of dollars every year.” The upshot? Knowing what these fees are can help you budget better for your next flight. Here are eight hidden airline fees to watch out for. 1. CARRY-ON BAG Most airlines still let you bring one carry-on bag for free, but some don’t. Granted, whether you have to pay for a carry-on bag typically depends on what type of ticket you purchased and the size of the bag. American Airlines and United, for example, recently rolled out basic economy seats that charge passengers an extra $25 per “full-sized carry-on bag,” or any luggage that requires overhead bin space. (Basic economy ticket holders are still allowed one free personal item that fits under the seat in front of you.) 2. RESERVATION CANCELLATION AND CHANGE A number of airlines charge customers a fee to cancel or change a reservation, and these fees can range significantly. American Airlines imposes a $200 change fee on paid fares for domestic flights and up to $750 for international flights, and Delta Air Lines charges a $200 change fee for paid domestic flights and up to $500 for international flights; meanwhile, Allegiant only charges a change fee of up to $75 per person. Southwest Airlines has the friendliest change and cancellation policies, with no fees in either case (though you’ll have to make up any difference in the fare). There is an exception: when booking a domestic flight, the U.S. Department of Transportation regulations require that, as long as you've booked a non-refundable ticket seven days ahead of your flight, you're entitled to change or cancel your reservation within 24 hours of booking without paying a fee. 3. OVER-THE-PHONE AND IN-PERSON BOOKING It’s typically free to book a flight online, but many airlines charge a fee for booking a flight over the phone or in person. Phone-booking fees range from $0 to $25 and in-person booking fees range from $0 to $35, according to a 2016 report by Consumerist.com. 4. IN-FLIGHT WI-FI While JetBlue offers free high-speed Wi-Fi to all passengers, most airlines charge customers for in-flight Internet access. Some airlines charge a flat fee for the full flight, while others charge an hourly rate. (Prices can also vary depending on whether it’s a domestic or international flight.) There are ways to cut costs for in-flight Wi-Fi. A number of airlines offer monthly subscription plans aimed at business travelers, McDermott says. For instance, American Airlines has a $50 monthly Internet plan for domestic flights through Gogo, a service also used by Virgin America, Delta, and Alaska Airlines. 5. PICKING A SEAT Once a free perk, many airlines now charge passengers a fee for selecting their seat in advance. On Spirit, for instance, seat assignments start at $5, but be prepared to pay a premium for a window, aisle, or seat with extra legroom. Meanwhile, some airlines like Lufthansa let you choose a seat free of charge beginning 24 hours before departure. (Of course, the best seats may already be snagged by passengers who paid extra for an advanced reservation.) 6. NON-ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGE Traditionally, airlines have offered passengers a complimentary juice or soft drink and charged extra for an alcoholic drink, but some carriers now also charge for non-alcoholic beverages. Case in point: discount airlines such as Frontier and Spirit charge for these beverages; they also charge for snacks. (So long, free peanuts!) 7. PILLOW OR BLANKET Want to sleep tight on your next flight and enjoy the comforts of a complimentary pillow or blanket? Well, you may have to pay for these goodies. JetBlue charges $5 to $6 for a pillow and blanket, while American Airlines charges $8. 8. REDEEMING FREQUENT-FLYER POINTS You should be rewarded for being a loyal customer, right? Not always. In fact, some airlines charge customers fees when they redeem frequent flyer miles. But whether you get hit with this type of fee depends on how and when you book. Oftentimes, you have to pay a premium if you book a flight with the help of an agent. Some airlines also charge extra for “close-in bookings,” or reservations that are made a set number of days before the flight. American and United both charge $75 if you book a flight with airline miles less than 21 days out, while Spirit charges a $15 fee for tickets purchased more than 180 days prior to departure; if you use miles to book