Top 10 Tips for a Smart Trip to Europe
Follow these suggestions for a more enjoyable vacation
Rick Steves writes European travel guidebooks and hosts travel shows on public television and public radio.
- Fly "open-jaw" (into one city and out of another): Save time and money by avoiding a costly return to your starting point. Try to start your itinerary in "mild" countries (such as England) and work into the places with greater culture shock (such as Turkey) to minimize stress. Save countries offering the cheapest shopping — and greatest health risks — for the end of your trip.
- Use ATMs rather than travelers checks: You will get your cash cheaper and faster using an ATM. Just keep in mind that while ATMs give the best possible rates, they do come with transaction fees. Minimize fees by making fewer and larger withdrawals. Store the cash safely in your money belt.
- Shop cheap and interesting: Do most of your shopping and gift buying in the cheaper countries where gifts are more interesting and your shopping dollar stretches the farthest. The difference is huge: for the cost of a pewter Viking ship in Oslo, you can buy an actual boat in Turkey.
- Adapt to European tastes: Cultural chameleons drink tea in England, beer in Prague, red wine in France, and white wine on the Rhine. They eat fish in Portugal and reindeer in Norway. Going with the local specialties gets you the best quality and service for the best price.
- Consider driving as a group: Four people sharing a car travel cheaper than four individuals buying four railpasses. Even at $6 a gallon, cars get great mileage and distances between sights are short. A single two-hour train ticket can cost you the price of a full tank of gas.
- Pay with local cash: While credit cards get you a good exchange rate, many places offering Europe's best deals — from craft shops to bed & breakfasts — accept only cash.
- Explore no-frills flights: Europe's highly competitive no-frills airlines (e.g. Ryanair, easyJet) can get you from one city to another faster and cheaper than the train. You generally book the flights yourself by phone or Web. Beware though: Cheap airlines often use small airports located far from the city center, which can cost a little extra time and money for transportation.
- Go business: During summer and weekends year-round in Brussels and the Scandinavian capitals, you can get a fancy business hotel room at a cheap one-star hotel price. It's not unusual to score a $300 double room for $100. Ask at each city's tourist information office.
- Don't over-tip: Only Americans tip 15 to 20 percent in Europe, even tipping when it is already included or not expected. Ask locals (who are customers rather than employees of a restaurant) for advice. Generally, 5 to 10 percent is typical if service is not included.
- Buy museum passes: Passes save time and money. The Paris Museum pass, for example, pays for itself in four visits and saves you hours by letting you skip long lines. With a pass you can also pop painlessly into sights that might otherwise not be worth the expense.
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