Frugal European vacation – first we need a budget

london-big-benYesterday I asked for some advice for traveling abroad on a budget. Kacie at Sense to Save is a genius, and she suggested that I post my budget breakdown to see if anyone can offer tips for cutting back.

I looked into airfare and hotel costs for two people for 12 days. Then I made some rough guesses for food and entertainment costs. I want to save enough to avoid stress on the trip (and to account for any price increases between now and next year). Of course we’ll spend as little as possible so we can put the leftover money toward debt and savings.

The numbers I found are based on a May 2009 trip instead of May 2010, so they are subject to change in the next year. Here we go:

Passports: $200

We’ll apply for passports and take care of that this summer.

Airfare: $1700

Right now, tickets to London with a return flight out of Paris this May are about $750 a ticket. We considered a round trip in and out of London because I thought it would be cheaper, but it’s about the same price.

Travel in Europe: $400

Travel from London to Amsterdam and Amsterdam to Paris by train costs about $400. Please weigh in if you’ve ever traveled Europe by rail. Is it fun, or is it a big old hassle? Would we be better off hopping on a plane?

Hotel: $1800

Hotels were the hardest thing to estimate. There are so many factors involved (including where we want to visit in each city and which areas are the safest/best places to stay). I searched for hotels in each city with low prices and high traveler ratings. I found several hotels for about $125 a night with 4 stars from other travelers. Sounds good to me.

Kacie asked if we’d consider staying in hostels to cut back a little. If I were traveling alone or with a friend, I would love to save by staying in a hostel. However, as a married couple we want the privacy of a hotel room. Nothing fancy, but definitely a place where we can be alone. ‘Nuff said.

Food: $1200

This is one area where I’m purposely WAY overestimating. I’m married to a foodie, and I know he’s going to want a considerable food budget to taste everything he can. Me too. I don’t want to spend the trip fretting about how much we’re spending on food, so I’m budgeting about $100 a day. I hope we don’t spend anywhere close to that.

Miscellaneous: $700

This is another very rough estimation. I’m still not sure exactly what we want to do and see, and how much everything is going to cost. I think $50 a day for museum admissions, tours, etc., is a reasonable estimation. I’d like to say that we’ll stick to cheap/free things while we’re there, but I know London and Paris are tourist traps. I want to have enough money available in our budget to see the things we want to see, even if they charge for admission. That said, I hope most of this money ends up back in our savings account.

Total: $6,000

I’m open to suggestions/advice. Be kind. This is just a preliminary budget plan, and I’ve never done this before. :)

Photo by 13bobby

21 thoughts on “Frugal European vacation – first we need a budget

  1. claire

    def. take the Eurostar from London to Paris (or vice versa). It is super fast and takes you from central London to central Paris. The plane is a huge hassle b/c you have to travel to the airport and depending on which airport you flight out from you could spend gbp 8 to gbp 30 getting to the airport. Plus, train travel is so nice and very European. :)

  2. claire

    oh, I forgot, most of the museums in London are free. The British Museum, National Gallery, Tate, Tate Modern all come to mind. You do have to pay for the audio guides, but you don’t have to have those to enjoy the art. Plus, lots of fun london things like visiting Harrods, Selfridges, and walking through the lovely parks like Hyde Park and Regent’s is free. The Eye is a huge ripoff (I think). The Tower of London is about gbp 20 and people say that it’s worth it. I’ve not been inside Westminster, but the outside is stunning and free. The inside is gbp 20. People say it’s a bit of a let down. You can see the changing of the guard and buckingham palace for free. Okay, I’m rambling, but London is great. The Tube is expensive. Buses are cheaper and take more time, but you get to see London. The number 8 hits a bunch of tourist sights. Oh, I forgot, you can also see Westminster and St. Pauls for free if you go during an evensong.

    Sorry for two long comments!

  3. Rodwilliams

    You can travel quite well for considerably less that that. The cheapest lodging is not going to have web sites. Get there and find it. Stay at Ma and Pa pensions. Get a couple good guidebooks such as “let’s Go” or Lonely Planet. They have lots of listings of cheap places to stay. You may have to bang on the wall or flip a switch to get hot water. They may not understand much English but I have had some great experiences in various countries traveling like that. It is a different experience than staying in a modern travel lodge somewhere. Don’t worry about reservations. Travel right before or after the peak of the travel season and there is good plentiful lodging everywhere and the attractions are less crowded. Don’t over plan, be flexible. If you book in advance, you may have to stay somewhere three days although you have seen the sites in 2 days. On the other hand, if you fall in love with a place you may want to stay longer. If you do not have reservations you can do that. If you are young you may on occasion want to spend the night in a youth hostel. If you are only looking for a place to sleep there is no use paying big bucks for a bed. I never spend much time in the room anywhere I traveled.
    Another option for cheep lodging is the people who stand at the train stations or docks with signs looking for people to stay in their home or apartment. I have had some great experiences and nice rooms for $30 a night. Be cautious and see it before you buy but sometimes the people trying to get lodgers at train stations have excellent deals. I don’t know the exchange rate of the dollar now or how desperate your destination is for tourist dollars, but travel can be cheap. You can go to Europe for less than Disneyworld. France is going to be more expensive than other European Countries. Venice is outrageously expensive. Rome is a lot more expensive than other Italian cities except for Venice. Lot of Italy is very cheap. You can travel very cheaply in Spain and Turkey and Hungary and other eastern Europe countries. Just to it! Have an adventure.

    Rodwilliams’s last blog post..Congratulations Michael Steele!

  4. Eurobserver

    In my opinion, going to London and Paris might not be the best thing if you are on tight Budget. Other places in Europe are way cheaper (Spain, Germany or Eastern Europe ) and as culturally rich as Paris-London.
    Anyway, remember that France’s Hotels are “minus 1 star”, so a 3 stars value an American or British 4 stars, etc. Furthermore, do not consider having Lunch/diner in major tourist Areas such as Moulin Rouge, around Opera or on the Champs Elysees.
    And do not tip more than 2 euros at restaurant and cafes.
    If you have any questions, do not hesitate to email me.

    Bon voyage

  5. Kate

    I’ll be watching your comments as we may be planning a similar trip the summer.

    My well-traveled friends all recommend that we move around less and explore one area more, which I think would be economical as well. But where to choose? We’ve never been to Europe and there are so many fascinating choices.

  6. momstheword

    So since you’re pretty frugal I assume you are checking sites like travelocity or kayak or lowest faires for the cheapest airline tickets? I don’t know where you’re getting your passport from but we got it thru the post office and it was the cheapest price we could find. It was like $67 each or something. They also recommend a great place for shots (although I don’t think you’ll need any).

    momstheword’s last blog post..RACING THE TIMER – HOME BOOGIE

  7. Kasey

    Some hostels offer private rooms but you share a bathroom. I looked into some of these type of hotels for our Euro trip that fell through. Also convents and monastarys will sometimes have rooms for rent cheaply.

  8. Emma

    Try flying into one city and out of the other. This will give you more time because you won’t have to backtrack to the city you flew into. Also if flying into/out of London try for Heathrow airport, you can get to it from the Tube. If you have to fly into Gatwick, you’ll have to take the train which is much more expensive (I think it was likek $30 one way a few years ago).

  9. Karen

    Momstheword – Thanks! I actually did a preliminary price check at Expedia, but when it comes time to buy the tickets I’ll likely go directly through the airline with the best prices. As long as the entire flight is through the same airline, it’s typically cheaper to buy directly from them. I will definitely check out the Post Office for passports! I checked online at a .gov website for information, and it said passports are $100 each. But perhaps the Post Office will offer a lower price?

    Eurobserver – I appreciate the advice, but we’ve got our hearts set on London and Paris. :) Good to know about the French star system, however I typically don’t pay any attention to star ratings anyway. I tend to pay more attention to reviews from other travelers. I’ve found some really low-priced gems this way. The hotel might only be 2 stars, but if other travelers recommend it, it’s usually a good bet.

    Rod – Thanks for all of the advice! I have to be honest, I’m too much of a planner to play it by ear. Though I’m sure I could find a great deal that way, I can’t imagine showing up in Europe without a place to stay lined up!

  10. Kacie

    I think taking the train would be a fun experience. From what I’ve heard, European rail is efficient and mostly pleasant.

    Do you think you’ll need new/different luggage to get you to and fro? Or clothes that would travel well? If so, maybe you can include that in your regular clothing budget instead of with your overall trip budget.

    For your entertainment budget, no doubt you’ll research and map out some sort of itinerary beforehand, so you’ll have a good idea of what things will cost. I’m wondering if the cities have some sort of tourist package or something for some of the main attractions. I know some US cities have things like that.

    Oh wait, here we go:

    Of course you’d have to figure out if something like this would be worth it to you or not. Some of the places might be free to get in anyway, so a pass might not be as much of a deal.

    Maybe your hotel would have a complimentary shuttle from the airport? That might help save. Then again, who the heck knows. I don’t. My international experience is about three hours in Canada.
    I do think that as long as you can afford it, you should see all you want to see, no matter the cost. Cuz how often do you have the chance to go abroad, ya know?

    Kacie’s last blog post..Have a baby in 2008? Get $300 from Uncle Sam

  11. Angie

    There were several hostels in South Africa that had very nice private rooms. They were very very affordable, and it was really cool to meet the people who owned & stayed at the hostels. I would personally recommend looking into hostels with private rooms, and then possibly staying in a hotel every third or fourth night. You could save quite a bit there, and have the best of both worlds. Also, the owners of the hostel in SA were awesome, they’d drop us off somewhere in the morning & we just needed to call them in the evening & they’d pick us up. I’m sure that’s not standard, and we hadn’t planned on it but in the end it saved us some money.

    I second your food allowance! I hate to scrimp & save on FOOD when i’m traveling. I want to try everything!

  12. Katie L.

    We just got our passports a few months ago and they were $75 each to renew. (not sure how much for a first-time passport) And the cheapest place I’ve found for passport photos is Walgreens (at least in my area) and they are often having sales on them, such as buy 1 set get 1 set free or get a free travel kit when you buy one set of photos.

    If you end up getting your plane tickets online, the best prices are usually on Tues or Wed mornings.

    I agree with others that taking the Eurorail is better than flying into Paris. It’s quick and comfortable!

    London has soooo much to offer! I was a little disappointed with the Tower of London and thought the Eye was neat, but very pricey. Definitely check the hours for all places you’d like to see – when I went, I missed a lot of things because my timing was slightly off and some places were closed at odd times.

    In Paris, I highly recommend visiting Versaille! They operate their fountains only at certain times/days and I highly recommend checking when they do that, as it’s a gorgeous site! You could easily spend hours walking around just the gardens! And you can buy and print your tickets online to save time.

    Also, if you have a student id, take it and use it! Many places, including the Louvre, offer discounts with one.

    And you may want to keep an eye on the exchange rates, so you’ll know when you see a good deal.

    Katie L.’s last blog post..Tropical Fruit Salsa

  13. Pingback: Having fun with a limited entertainment budget | Frugal Living Tips & Money Saving Ideas | Living Well on Less

  14. Pingback: Planning (way) ahead for our trip to Europe | Frugal Living Tips & Money Saving Ideas | Living Well on Less

  15. Karen Yan

    You don’t have to spend as much money as you budgeted.

    Here are some tips. Consider taking the National Express bus from London to Paris. Depending on the day and when you book, you could get a fare for 15pounds one way. For some, meals, there is a sandwich shop on sandwich shop glouchester road ½ price sandwiches after 4pm. If you do an internet search you’ll find it. Basements of department stores have food shops with takeway food. Use for the hotels. I’ve seen amazing deals on 3 or 4 star London hotels for under 90 dollars., is the unofficial board where people report what they got for their bid. Learn the system and strategies by that website. If you want more of a budget deal still with privacy, look at Travelodge’s UK website. They have a certain amount of rooms for 19 & 29 pounds. Read the reviews on the hotels first. Some are nicer then others.
    Buy a tube pass for transportation (oyster card).
    If you think you’ll like hiking or the English Countryside take the tube to the outskirts of the city. Richmond Park where deer roam freely, and Hampstead Heath. For a daytrip to another town, consider Cambridge. 2 hours away by bus. Sometimes you can get a sale fare of 1 pound each way (I did) on National Express website. To see a play, London has a 1/2 price theatre kiosk for day of show tickets. I saw Blood Brothers for about $20 and absolutely loved it. Enjoy!!

  16. Ebbsfleet International Rail offers low cost alternative to London or the airport...

    If you are coming to the UK and want to visit Europe, rail is faster and cheaper than any other transport (environmentally friendly too). The journey to an airport, the cost of flights and taxi’s in Europe is most expensive. I speak from first hand experience and many frequent travellers in Europe, would also recommend the train services. Most domestic services are very reliable and arrival times to Europe is near perfect on international trains.

    Recently snow in the UK deafeted air travel with cancelled flights and the departures sections were busy and crowded, while the new international rail links were in full operation, taking new airline passengers. I have travelled from St Pancras and Ebbsfleet International and have been impressed by both new stations. St Pancras International is easy access from London and has rail connections to the main airports, however if you are driving then Ebbsfleet International is even better.

    Ebbsfleet International offers easy access by London’s major motorway route M25 (10 minutes drive) and they have over 9000 car parking spaces at Ebbsfleet International station. The BBC had claimed that a statue of a horse will be built nearby 160 ft tall or visible from 60 miles away, so if you have not herd about it by then you will see it from anywhere tall in London. Also just 5 minutes from Ebbsfleet is the Bluewater shopping center, which is one of the largest in Europe and very popular for frequent tourists to the UK and if you really have lots of time, then Kent is a very historical and nice place to visit in the UK.

  17. Becky

    I’ve also heard that travel by train in France/England is great. The overall time is less too, since you don’t have to spend that much time in lines, security, etc. Plus, it is a nice experience.

    I don’t think you are way overestimating on the food. Depends on what the dollar does between now and then but a meal for 2 people can easily cost $40-50, without any alcohol (I am unaware of prices of alcohol since we don’t drink, but it is expensive…that much I know). If you eat out three times, then it could get pricey. I don’t think that you are “way over” on your food budget.

    Everything here seems to be expensive. I spent something like euros 7-9 on a sandwich at the airport in France coming back home to Poland last fall. That’s just the sandwich.

    We’re getting ready to go to Germany/Denmark (drive) for 5 of us during the last week of August. I’m going to keep close tabs on our costs… I can let you know if you are interested.

    I too, dream of visiting Paris and London someday. We’ve been to Germany numerous times since it is close. After the kiddos leave home, maybe we’ll fly over to Paris (or maybe before…) :)

  18. Pingback: Countdown to Europe: 6 months

  19. Pingback: Our trip to Europe is booked!

  20. Pingback: Frugal year in review – 2009

Comments are closed.