Making the Most of Your Euros
Way back when, people traveled to Europe because it was cheap. That's not so today, but don't let that stop you from going—you just need to think creatively about how to spend your money.
Save Before You Go
Online research and trip planning. The more research you do, the better prepared you'll be to save. Sometimes you can save money by purchasing a package deal or a tour. Fodors.com often has good deals; check the website frequently.
Money matters. Know the exchange rate and your credit card and ATM card fees. When you call your bank and credit card to find this out, be sure to tell them when and where you're traveling so they don't flag your card. Change any PINs to four digits.
Save on Lodgings
Rent an apartment or house. One of the most costly parts of a vacation is lodging. Not only can renting an apartment be cheaper than a hotel but access to a kitchen lowers food costs. Many rental sites let you book for less than a week; typically, these flats can sleep five on some combination of beds and fold-out sofas, and often have Wi-Fi connectivity.
Stay off the beaten path. If your vacation is for more than a couple of days, consider staying outside the pricey, heavily touristed areas. If public transportation is easy and cost-effective, as it is in Madrid and Barcelona, then you'll get to know an off-the-beaten-path neighborhood with its less expensive local eateries, and still be able to see the sights.
Sight-See, Don't Sight-Spend
Pass or no pass? Buying a multisite or museum pass can make sense if your plans include heavy sightseeing rather than just hitting top spots; they can also save time since many passes also allow you to skip long lines.
Book tickets online. Go online for advance-purchase tickets for sites and performances. You might get discounts, or beat the lines with time-specific entry for sites like the Prado in Madrid, Barcelona's Sagrada Familia, or Granada's Alhambra.
Research schedules. Find out which sites have discounted hours; most museums offer lower-priced or free tickets one afternoon or evening a week.
Save on Transportation
Take public transit instead of taxis. Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, and Bilbao all have excellent, inexpensive, and easy-to-navigate metro and bus systems; local bus service elsewhere around the country is usually easy to use as well. Don't automatically buy bulk tickets or a pass, though, without doing the math.
Avoid expensive airport transport. Research alternatives before you go to prevent hailing a pricey taxi on arrival. Public transit isn't always your best option since some metros may be well connected but hard to navigate with heavy luggage. Check destinations for cost-effective, privately operated shuttle services to and from the airport.
Compare airlines and train travel. Low-cost Europe-based airlines such as Ryanair, EasyJet, and Vueling can get you around Europe cheaply, but the fast trains in Spain can also be quick and inexpensive.
Book ahead. RENFE offers considerable discounts if you book ahead; tickets are available up to 62 days in advance of travel. If there are four of you, consider booking a “table ticket” (mesa, denoted by an M), which offers big discounts on regular prices.
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