Tag Archives: europe

Pros and cons of budget accommodations in Europe

photo by NatBat

Accommodations are often the most expensive part of a vacation budget. For our two-week trip to Europe, our estimated hotel costs are more expensive than airfare.

One of the first things I’m looking at as we attempt to slash our budget is how to save on accommodations. I’ve looked into three different options: budget hotels, hostels, and guesthouses. Here are some of the pros and cons I’ve found for each option:

Budget hotels


  • It’s incredibly easy to find traveler reviews and book a hotel online.
  • Budget hotels may not be fancy, but they’re private, comfortable, and pretty luxurious when compared to other options.
  • Most hotels are conveniently located. Even budget hotels are centrally located in the city or near public transportation.
  • Concierge services and hotel resources make it easier for travelers to find their way around the city (especially in France where tourist-y hotels are more likely to cater to English-speaking travelers).


  • They’re expensive. The cheapest I could find was $125 a night.



  • Staying in hostels could cut our hotel costs in half. Staying in a dorm-style room with a number of other travelers is the most economical option (as cheap as $20 per person per night). We’d want a private room, though, which is a little more expensive. A private room with a shared bathroom would save us about $800.
  • Hostels are centrally located with easy access to public transportation and traveler resources.
  • Some of them include a continental breakfast.
  • Online booking sites also make it easy to find and reserve a room in advance.


  • Sharing a bathroom with other travelers would probably mean we’d be waiting for a shower in the morning.
  • I also have some concerns about cleanliness and atmosphere. It seems like staying in a hostel (even a private room) is like staying in a college dorm. Lots of student travelers means drunk kids, filthy bathrooms, twin beds, and noise. Not exactly what we had in mind for our romantic second honeymoon in Europe.



  • Guesthouses are family-owned bed and breakfasts. You’re a guest in someone’s home. Private rooms with private bathrooms are about $25-$50 a night cheaper than budget hotels depending on location, and a home cooked breakfast is often included. We’d save about $350-$700, and we could save even more money by sharing a bathroom with the host family.
  • Because they’re in private residences, rooms are clean and comfortable.
  • Hosts are accommodating to travelers, so they’re discreet and respectful of privacy.
  • Other travelers rave about this option. They say it’s comfortable, homey, and perfect for novices. Hosts offer insider advice on where to go, what to see, and how to get around.
  • It’s also a great way to experience another country, because you’re staying with locals instead of other tourists.


  • They’re trickier to book than a hotel or hostel. Guesthouse agencies can help travelers find information and reviews and make reservations, but it’s more work than logging into Expedia and searching for hotels.
  • Even if hosts are respectful of privacy, we’d still be guests in their home, which means sacrificing a certain degree of privacy and freedom.
  • Location is another concern. Affordable guesthouses are situated on the outskirts of the city, which means a 10- to 30-minute trip by bus or train to get into the city every day. In London we could probably get advice on the commute from our hosts, but this would be tougher in France if they don’t speak English.

I’m leaning toward guesthouses. Tony is a pretty good navigator, and as long as we’re close to a bus or train station I think we’ll be ok. I love the idea of staying with local people in quaint neighborhoods, and I obviously love that it’s cheaper without sacrificing comfort. Staying in a quaint little bed and breakfast on the countryside just seems romantic to me.

I also might consider spending most of our time in a guesthouse, and booking a hotel in the city for only a night or two. This might be a good compromise, but it would be a hassle to pack and move our stuff from guesthouse to hotel.

What do you think?

Planning (way) ahead for our trip to Europe

photo by Zigar

The first step to taking on any overwhelming endeavor is learning and reading as much as possible on the topic. Before I really started planning my wedding, I read book after book on wedding planning, flipped through magazines, and searched for ideas for saving money.

I’m taking the same approach to planning our frugal trip abroad. Even though I won’t start booking plane tickets or making reservations until next fall, I’m learning as much about it as I can right now. By the time I actually start making plans, I want to be as close to an expert as I can be without having been there.

I want to share my planning process with all of you, so I’ve decided to start a sporadic series on how we’re planning and preparing. I’ve already come up with a rough budget for the trip, and now I’m looking for ways to slash it without sacrificing our comfort and fun.

We’re still 18 months away from our desired departure, so these plans are subject to change (and most likely will). But I want to keep all of you in the loop in the step-by-step process (and get your ideas and feedback as we plan), so I’m going to be writing about everything. I hope you’ll continue to give me your awesome feedback and ideas. I could certainly use them!

My first step is finding as many resources as I can. Yesterday Tony and I went to the bookstore and pulled about 10 books about European travel from the shelves. Eventually we’ll buy one for each city that can serve as a reference guide, but we’ll probably wait until next year so it will have the most up-to-date information.

I really like the Frommer’s and Fodor’s series for information on attractions, but I was really looking for a guide with a focus on first time travelers and budget travel.

I started flipping through the “Let’s Go” series (Let’s Go Paris and Let’s Go London). These books are mostly geared toward young travelers, particularly students, so they’re not really good for family travel. But they offer a ton of information for first time travelers and ways to save money. So far these are my favorites.

Do you have any other suggestions for planning resources?

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

No round up this week, gratitude instead

My apologies for missing the round up this week. I wasn’t feeling well last night, so I didn’t get a chance to get it posted. Then I was up and at ’em for work this morning, and I didn’t have a chance to catch up.

I do want to give my sincere thanks for the words of encouragement on my post about planning our trip to Europe. I have to confess, I was really nervous about sharing my plans. I had no reason to believe that my wonderful readers would be anything but supportive, but I also know that all of us in this community are committed to being debt free. I was worried that announcing such an expensive endeavour while we’ll still in debt might result in some judgment. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The comments I received were so supportive and encouraging. Thank you.

I’m excited, but also overwhelmed. We’ve never made a trip like this. So I’d also like to request advice if you have any to give. A couple of you have already offered some tips (thanks Susan and Claire!). If you’ve ever traveled to Europe — or to any other country for that matter — I would love to hear about your trip, especially if you’ve done it frugally!

I really want to have the trip of a lifetime, but since we’re still in debt and living on a modest income, we’re going to have to be creative if we want to do it without throwing off our goals too much.

I’ll be sure to write more as we continue to plan. First priority, though, is saving! :)

I hope you all had a wonderful Friday!

Planning a frugal European vacation

eiffel-towerLast weekend during one of our long talks, Tony and I ended up discussing the things we’d like to do before we have children. At the top of both of our lists was a trip to Europe.

There are a lot of things we’d like to do someday, but international travel is the only one we can’t imagine doing with a baby.

Ever since we met, we’ve talked about traveling to Europe while we’re young — one last big trip before we settle down and start a family. When we first started planning our wedding, we briefly considered a European honeymoon. Our budget and my inability to find a full time job after we moved quickly nixed that plan. But when we decided to take a brief (and frugal) trip to Washington D.C. instead, we told ourselves that we’d plan for a European vacation the summer after he graduated in 2010.

When we committed to becoming debt free, I shelved this lofty dream. “We can’t afford anything like that until we’re debt-free,” I told myself.

But now that we’re credit card debt free and making serious plans for a family, I’ve realized something — we’ll be paying our student loan debt for a long time. No matter how aggressive we are, we’ll be paying those debts for years after we’ve had children. I’ve come to terms with that, and I’m ok with it.

We can’t wait until we’re completely debt-free to live our lives, though. My first plan was to be 100% debt-free before having children, but there’s no way I’m waiting 10-15 years to start a family. I’ve decided to add the dream of a European vacation to that list, too. We don’t want to wait until retirement to take the trip we’ve always dreamed of taking.

So we’ve set a new goal for ourselves: we want to plan a trip to London and Paris for May 2010. If it works out, we’ll be spending our second wedding anniversary in Paris! :)

That doesn’t mean we’re sacrificing our other goals, though. We’re not going to add to our debt for this trip or stop working toward our goal to be debt-free. After some planning and discussing, here’s our rough plan:

  • We’ll pay for the trip in cash.
  • We’ll be as frugal as possible in planning the trip, and plan ahead to make sure we’re getting the best deal possible on airfare, hotels, and other expenses.
  • Our emergency fund is still our top saving priority, so any saving for Europe will start after we’ve fully funded it.
  • We’ll continue to pay a little extra on our student loans to cut the total time we’ll be repaying. After the trip, student loans will be our top priority.
  • All extra money (including gifts and extra income) will go toward emergency and vacation savings.
  • We’ll cut spending in other areas to free up money for savings and debt.

I did some preliminary research and determined that we’ll need to save about $6,000 for the trip. Including our emergency fund goal, that means we’ll have to save about $12,000 in 16 months.

I realize this plan will delay a lot of our other goals — including being debt-free and buying a house. We’ve considered all of this in our decision, and I can’t imagine a scenario in which we’ll regret the trip (as long as it doesn’t add to our debt).

I’m more excited about this goal than I’ve been in a long time, and I’m feeling good about our decision. As excited as I’ve been about paying debt, it can be so overwhelming and depressing to devote every extra penny to what seems like an endless black hole of debt. Adding an exciting goal to our plans has given me the lift I needed. I can’t wait to get started!

photo by franz88