Europe is currently plastered across various news sources as being “in a bit of a mess”, with
struggling finances and rather annoyed citizens. It’s true that things over here have been rather wobbly of late, but there is a bright side – sales. Everywhere, companies are dropping prices on everything from dinnerware and designer shoes to hotels and holidays, and it’s going some way to balance the unpleasant effects of the financial squeeze. It means cheap travel for you, too; if you’ve ever fancied visiting Europe but felt put off by its pricey reputation, now’s the time to check out car hire comparison sites for the most competitive rates, comb Groupon for deals on fancier rooms than you can usually afford, and head to Eurail for discounted rail travel from country to country.
Finding cheap flights in the first place
With air travel still heavily subsidised, flight costs haven’t really altered much, but there are always ways to reach Europe on the cheap. Sign up to all the airline newsletters so you’re first to hear about sales, and always compare multiple resellers for the cheapest deal possible.
Travel agents are competing heavily against online booking sites, so try calling them up to see if they’ll beat your online price just to get the sale. You may notice some airlines, instead of charging a return fare, are selling two singles – the single out will be nice and cheap, but they’ll try to recoup their costs on the one home. Get round this by booking with two separate airlines – if you’re touring Europe, you may well be travelling home from a different airport than where you arrived anyway.
Cheap accommodation using group buying discounts
Group purchasing sites like Groupon and LivingSocial have been a huge craze over the last
couple of years. Some of these deals offer good value, and some of them are just trying to
sell off hotel rooms during the rainy season, so really do your research before you buy them.
Look at when you can use them, and how close the hotel or hostel is to the centre of town, or
wherever it is you want to explore.
Does the deal include something you won’t use? Crucially, can you get a better price by booking somewhere else, instead? What about hostels, or camping? The trick is not to assume that group discounts represent unquestionable value for money, but do sign up to them in cities or countries you plan to visit. Even if you don’t get a good accommodation deal for a couple of nights, you might get some cheap tickets to the theatre, or a nice meal somewhere you’d otherwise be unable to afford.
East v. West
Eastern Europe is still typically cheaper than Western Europe, but it can also be harder to travel in, from a social as well as logistical standpoint. That said, some of Europe’s most astonishingly beautiful landscapes are in the East, with some iconic yet easily affordable train journeys, so it’s worth looking into.
Eating well for less
Food quality varies enormously across Europe, but trying any country’s food is part of the
adventure. Most people gain a few pounds in Italy, unable to resist its amazing cuisine and
good cheap wine, while in Belgium even the railway station food is better quality than an
embarrassing number of London restaurants, where profit seems to be top priority, at the
moment. The most affordable option is usually to buy food in the supermarket and prepare
it yourself. Otherwise, avoid the obvious tourist hotspots – usually near to major attractions – where quality tends to suffer and prices often rise disproportionately.