How much does a trip to Europe cost? This is a question often asked – or at least wondered about – by people who dream of a European vacation. Some may think it is out of their reach, at least in the near future, but it doesn’t have to be. Travel to Europe can be as affordable as you want to make it. Here are some thoughts about planning for your dream trip:
If you are putting together a trip completely on your own, airfare and lodging should be the first items that you book. They are usually the most expensive, so it is good to figure them in at the start of your budget planning.
Airfare prices fluctuate – sometimes by a large amount. Last year, I priced a round trip economy flight to Europe. In January, the price for a trip in May was $1800. By the end of February, the price for the same flight had come down to around $1200. Sometimes there are deals that pop-up with prices much lower than average. I was able to book tickets to Europe for around $600 earlier this year.
When you first start to plan your trip, begin watching the prices of airfare. If you know what prices have been averaging, you will be able to determine when an especially good deal comes along. For the past few trips I’ve taken, I have set a goal to find an economy flight for under $1000, although this is not always easy. Hopefully, the lower-priced deals will continue to surface. If you are looking for a flight deal, you may want to read, Finding a Travel Deal – You Can Do It, Too.
If you like to travel in “Economy Plus,” “Premium Economy,” or similar, you can add around $250 per flight segment to the price. Business class tickets can be over $2000 and first class tickets, when they are available are over $4000. You can sometimes save money by booking a flight with a stop somewhere. For example, we once flew to Montreal and then on to Europe. It also makes sense to check nearby airports both at home and abroad. You may be able to save by traveling an extra hour on the ground.
Lodging costs also vary widely. Staying with friends can cost nothing, while staying in a luxury hotel can cost hundreds per night or more. I like staying in B & Bs or small family-run hotels. Even these can vary depending on whether you are staying in the city or a rural area and which country you are visiting. (Read about inexpensive lodging and more lodging options).
When I am traveling with someone else and sharing a room with them, I try to keep our lodging expense average under $50-75 per person. It doesn’t seem that hard when I first start looking, but then I have to remind myself that the prices are usually listed in euros, not US dollars. At today’s exchange rate, that means from about €45-68. I always look at the average – I know some nights will probably cost more, so I try to mix in a few lesser expensive places to bring down the average.
Staying longer in the same place may help bring your average down, but probably not by much. However, staying longer may make it easier to find an apartment to rent, since most apartments have a three to five day minimum – some as much as a week. An apartment can save you money if you are disciplined enough to use the kitchen and make some of your own meals or if you are able to share the cost between three or four people.
In addition to eating meals that you make yourself, there are other ways to keep your food costs down. My daughter and I kept our average food costs under $40 per day on one of our trips – you can read about it here. It’s up to you to determine how much you’d like to spend on food.
If you eat out frequently at home, think about how much you spend on meals. Your travel budget can reflect your home budget. It is possible to set a budget of $40 per person per day – maybe even lower – but it’s also possible to set your budget much higher. A popular columnist wrote about his favorite restaurant in Paris. I read the article and found the meal he enjoyed came with a tab of around $200. Although that is a bit above my budget, it may fit in yours.
Beverages can throw you budget off, if you do not plan for them. Beer is often cheaper than a soft drink or bottled water, but many places in Europe also serve free tap water. “Table wine” or house wine is usually reasonably priced and some locally produced wine isn’t much more. Other wine ranges in price as it does here.
Most European restaurants post their menus on the wall outside of their establishments. You can see the menu – with prices – before you commit. If the restaurant looks busy, it probably serves great food. Make a reservation for a couple days later. If you are staying at a hotel, ask the concierge or the desk clerk for recommendations – ask where they would eat, not where they send tourists, to get a more authentic meal.
Breakfast may be included in the cost of your hotel, but if it’s not, you can figure $5 per person if you pick up something from the local bakery and $10-20 for a nice sit-down breakfast. A lunch of soup or salad can cost as little as $10, a sandwich or burger and fries $12-15, and a hot meal $15-20 or more.
Dinner prices have the largest range, but you can get a nice meal at a cafe for around $20 to 30. Add more for a salad or appetizer and dessert. Restaurants in popular tourist areas, fancier restaurants or specialty ones charge more accordingly. I usually try to keep my average for dinner between $30 and $40 – or between €27 and 36, including a beverage – but, again, that is what works for me.
Activities, Guide Services, and Souvenirs
Many cities have passes that group museums or activities together for a discounted rate. (You can read more here). The prices seem to be comparable to similar activities in the US.
One activity that you may participate in abroad, but not at home, however, is the use of guide services. Hiring a guide or taking a day tour can add an immense amount of benefit to your stay in a particular place. There are times when places are only accessible by using a guide – then it becomes a necessity – but other times it’s just a good investment. You can hire someone to show you around the city where you are staying, or to take you away from the city on a day trip to something nearby.
Going to see the beaches at Normandy as a day trip from Paris can be complicated; hiring a guide or taking a day tour is not. The tour can pick you up at the front door of your hotel and drive you to the sites. Meanwhile, the guide explains the history and significance of each stop along the way. Although you may know the history, the guide can often relate stories of individuals that were involved and make history come alive.
Specialized tours – wine tours, food tours, photo tours, and more – can teach you about your hobby while showing you the area. Do some research ahead of time, so you know how much to add to your budget for these activities.
If you don’t take a day tour, you will still need to add in an allowance for local travel. Whether you are traveling from city to city or just within one city, you will need public transportation, a rental car, or short flights.
Your budget should also include money for souvenirs – even if you aren’t much of a shopper. I don’t buy near as many souvenirs as I used to, but I find that I pick up a few things here and there. When I was in the Provence area of France, I bought herbs de Provence. I picked up packaged Swiss cheese fondue from Switzerland and I splurged on chocolate in Belgium. In addition to food, I’m partial to yarn.
If you travel with an organized tour group, much of your cost has been determined by the price of your tour. Read the tour brochure carefully to determine which costs are not included.
Traveling with a tour can save time and money. If you are not confident in your travel planning skills or if this is your first time traveling to Europe, a tour can be much less stressful. As mentioned above, traveling with a guide can be more informative, taking off the pressure for you to research every area ahead of time.
Tour companies can sometimes get discounts that are not available to individuals, so they can price the tours competitively and still make a profit. Click on the “Tour” tab above for information on the tour I am leading.
The Bottom Line
-Figure $1000-1200 for a round trip economy flight from the US to Europe – more for business or first class.
-Lodging can range from $30 to $300 or more per night, depending on where you travel and the type of accommodations you prefer. Determine your average and then multiply it by the number of nights you plan to travel. I aim for $50-75 per person per day.
-Food costs vary as much in Europe as they do here in the states. Decide ahead of time how much you are comfortable spending and work within that budget. I usually try to keep my food budget between $40 and 60 per day.
-Activities can add a lot or a little, but I try to keep the average under $50 per day, then add to that any day trips or guide services I use. Any amount under budget is money I can spend on food or yarn.
In general, I am a pretty low budget traveler, but I know many people whose budgets are lower. I also know many people who would think nothing of having a budget at least double of what I would spend. The nice thing is that there are possibilities for everyone. The budget alone does not determine whether or not you have a great trip – you are the one to decide.