Saving for Your European Vacation

There are many ideas floating around the internet about how to save money, and these may not be new to you, but I decided to collect several ideas in one place.  It seems that “I cannot afford it” is the reason I hear most often from people who don’t travel.  These ideas can help you be able to turn your travel dreams into the trip of a lifetime.

Main Street, Vernazza, Italy
Main Street, Vernazza, Italy

When would you like to go to Europe?  Do you have a special event coming up? A birthday? Or someone’s graduation? There doesn’t have to be a special reason; you may just want to fulfill your dream. Determining when you plan to go will help you figure out how many weeks or months you will have to save for the trip.

Basic Travel Budgeting

Decide how much you want to spend on your trip so you can set a budget.  For my example today, I’m going to use a figure of $3000. Trips can cost a lot less or a lot more than this amount. For help figuring out how much the trip will cost, read The Cost of a European Vacation.

Burano, Italy
Burano, Italy

Once you have a timeline and an estimated budget amount, you can come up with a plan for how you want to make your dream a reality.

The simplest way to add your trip to your budget is to divide the total amount by the number of months or weeks you have available to save – this shows how much you will need each week or month.  Be aware that if you go on an organized tour, you will probably need to submit your payment in full several months before you leave, so that needs to be figured into your budgeting timeline.

If you are going on a tour 18 months from now, plan to save $250 per month over the next year.  This should cover your expenses in plenty of time.  If the organized tour costs $3000, make sure you continue to save, since some meals, your shopping, and possibly a few activities will be an extra charge.

If you are planning your own trip, your plane fare and some or all of your lodging will have to be paid several months before you leave. Generally, trip insurance and pre-ordered tickets for attractions also need to be paid when they are secured.

Duck a l'Orange, Paris, France
Duck a l’Orange,
Paris, France

Restaurant meals and snacks, admission tickets, and souvenirs or shopping are paid for at the time of the purchase. Find out whether your credit and debit cards will work in the country you will be visiting. Check with your financial institution about what fees, if any, are charged for transactions or foreign charges. If they are unavoidable, they need to be figured into your budget.

It makes sense to set up a vacation fund. The Schwab Investor Checking Account is a good place to save your money.  When you go on your trip, you can use the debit card associated with this account. The card has a chip and pin so it works well in places where those attributes are necessary. Schwab rebates all ATM fees and does not charge a foreign transaction fee.

Other Ways to Save
Westminster Abbey, London
Westminster Abbey, London

In addition to the simple savings plan outlined above, there are many other ways to accrue funds for your trip. You can jump-start the account by using your income tax refund (average tax refund in the US – over $2500). Put year-end bonuses, cash back rewards or rebates from purchases in the vacation fund ($300-500, or more). You can fool yourself into saving this way and not feel it cutting into your budget.

If you get a raise, put the amount of the raise into your savings account and live using the same budget you have been accustomed to (average US raise this year, 2.5%). When you need to make a large purchase  – like replacing your furnace – and the cost actually comes in a little under budget, put the difference in your vacation fund. For example, if you thought it was going to cost $5000, but it was $4500, your vacation savings will have grown by $500.

If you pick up the tab in a restaurant or for an activity and your friends pay you back in cash, try to absorb the cost in your regular budget and put the cash in your vacation fund.  My daughter paid the fees for the campsites our family used over the Fourth of July camping trip; when the family members paid her back for their portions, she put the money into her vacation fund ($50 – 200 per event).


There are smart phone apps that can help you save small amounts by rounding up purchases or automatically moving small amounts of savings into your account each day. Search the internet to find one that will work for you – with some you can turn your savings into a game. Many of these apps only save $1-2 per day ($300-500 in a year), but that amount will buy several restaurant meals on your trip, so it might be worth it.

Dropping your change into a savings jar is something that can also add up. When my daughters were young, I took them downtown Chicago with money I had saved by never spending coins. Some people do the same but also add all their $1 bills (this could amount to well over $500 per year). If you shop with cash, this method may work well for you.

Café in the Seventh Arrondissement, Paris, France
Café in the Seventh Arrondissement,
Paris, France

Other common ways to save include avoiding the expensive coffee on your way to work – making your own is easy and much cheaper ($25 per week). You can bring your own lunch and not only save around $10 each time you do, but the lunches you make at home can be healthier. Each time you save by making your own coffee or lunch, think about eating in an Italian bistro or having coffee in a French café.

It All Adds Up

Saving $300 here and $500 there can add up quickly, especially if there are a few bonus amounts added in. When you receive a large tax return, adding the savings from your change can total up to $3000.  If you get a nice year-end bonus and commit to making your own coffee and a couple of lunches every week, you will be able to enjoy a European vacation before you know it. Or, if you’d rather just have a simple plan, set up an automatic transfer of your budget amount from each paycheck into your savings account. Choose the plan that works for you.

Dingle Peninsula, Ireland
Dingle Peninsula, Ireland

There are many more ways to save for your European vacation, but one thing to keep in mind is that if you want to go, you need to make your trip a priority. You may have to sacrifice a bit, but the reward could be something that will change your life. Keep your goal in mind; make the dream trip a reality.

How do you like to save?  Do you have any suggestions for other readers? Add your ideas in the comments below.


  1. Great post. We love Washington and esp Arlington. I’m glad you got to see a wreath laying…. all the more special. If u didn’t go out to the Natl Cathedral make that a must see in the next trip. It truly rivals some of the most beautiful in Europe. Happy Trails

    1. We went to an evensong service at the National Cathedral the last time we were there. It was special because they were installing a new pastor. The service was very nice and the cathedral is awesome. And as I said in the newsletter, the wreath-laying at Arlington was very moving. You can read more about my last trip here.

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