Budget Breakdown: How to *Actually* Afford a Vacation to Europe

We travel to Europe 5-6 times a year, and we are not rich people, so budgeting is extremely important to us. We create custom itineraries for clients that want to travel to Europe, and in our consultations with them, the issue of money almost always plays a big role. 

Here are a few tips on what you can expect to spend, and how to budget so that you have a trip that is immersive, authentic, and affordable - and you won't even notice the 'budget' aspect of it. 

Each budget line has options for making the trip significantly cheaper. 

Budget for a Standard “Little Roads Europe” 8-day trip for two people: $5500
Budget for the “Cheapskate” version of a “Little Roads Europe” trip: $2400

Standard Budget:
Airline tickets: $2000
Car/gas/tolls: $600
Eating out: $1500
Hotels: $1000
Stuff: $400 

1. Airline Tickets:

On average, we spend $1000/ticket when we travel. Sometimes we find a great deal, and sometimes we pay a little more if we are traveling in high season. But if you are flexible, you can find deals. What does “being flexible” mean? It means having a flexible schedule; or being willing to fly in and out of different airports. 

To save even more, check out the “Vacations” tab on airline sites — you can combine your plane fare with a rental car. Often great deals can be found here, because the exact distribution of airfare and car rental costs are not broken down, which allows airlines to sell cheaper fares without revealing its true cost to the consumer (and therefore not creating expectation of cheap fares in the future).

We have booked several trips using this feature. In each instance, the cost of the Flight+Car (for 2 passengers) was only a little more expensive than *one* flight only! For example, we are headed to Belgium for the New Year’s break, and we found a Flight+Car for $1400 (for both passengers.) The flight alone would have cost $1100 per person! 

Standard rate for flights: $2000 (for both passengers)
“Cheapskate” budget rate for flights - including car rental: $1600 (for both passengers)


2. Cars/gas/tolls

Be sure when booking your car that you know where you will be picking up the car. Sometimes you’ll find that the cheapest car is so priced because you have to take a long shuttle bus to get to their satellite location. After you’ve been on a 10-hour flight, you’ll regret saving the extra $25 if you have to schlep all your stuff and blow a lot of time just to get to the car. There is a fee for picking up a car at the airport, in our opinion it’s better to pay the fee and get going quickly, versus taking a train to a smaller town to save a few bucks.

You’ll also need to do some research on insurance. Different countries have varying rules on what insurance is required when renting a car. Italy requires CDW (collision damage waiver), so that is built into the price. CDW will be offered in other countries as an option; it’s up to you to decide whether or not you want to upgrade. Your credit card or your personal car insurance might cover extra insurance, so before you leave, just know what insurances you plan to purchase or decline so you can save time at the rental counter, where they will invariably try to upgrade you on every option. If your credit card does indeed cover extra insurance, you might want to bring a copy of the policy with you.

One good thing to know is that there is no fee for dropping off cars at different locations within the same country. So, for example, you can pick up a car in Rome and return it in Milan, and it would cost the same as picking up in Rome and returning in Rome. This is great to know if you are employing an open-jaw ticket.

Standard rate for Car/gas/tolls: $600
“Cheapskate” rate for Car/gas/tolls: $200 (Assuming you find a flight package that includes a car, this number is just gas/tolls)


3. Food/Eating Out

Food is always an important part of our trips; as “foodie” writers we are always seeking out great places to eat. We like to budget $175/day for food. Even if we eat out twice a day, it’s not hard for us to stick to this budget. Sometimes we will spend $200 on a single meal, and then make up for that by eating at cheaper places for a day or two. We don’t worry too much about the daily $175 mark, but rather focus on the weekly $1500. 

A lot of travel bloggers will suggest cutting food budgets by eating street food, loading up on a free breakfast at a big chain hotel, or even something ridiculous like bringing power bars with you. That is not a sacrifice we are willing to make. A big part of the enjoyment of the trip for us is experiencing the culture through food. So we have figured out ways to cut our budget while still having a meaningful trip. 

-Finding a cheap restaurant to eat at doesn’t mean it has to be a bad restaurant. Do a little research ahead of time, or ask the locals where they like to eat. Often you will find that places serving up traditional, excellent food are very affordable. This is often true in small towns — big cities like Rome or Dublin can support bad restaurants because tourists eat there. Small town restaurants can’t last if their food is terrible, because the locals won’t eat there! 

-To *really* cut your budget, consider cooking for yourself, and picnicking. You don’t have to be a great cook to cook for yourself! Anyone can bake a few local sausages and make a simple salad. In Ireland, we like to shop at farm shops, buying local fruit, meat, cheese, veg, meat pies, and bread. The food is local and delicious, and cheap! In Italy, we like to shop at the weekly markets held in small towns. Again, we pick up a variety of items. It’s not unusual for us to have a supper of fresh bread, olive oil, olives, fruit, local cheese, salami, and local wine. It’s easy to enjoy a meal like this for $20 for two people. It’s cheap, local, and we have never felt deprived. Bonus: There are often benches and sometimes even picnic tables placed in beautiful spots like overlooks, or in parks, so it’s easy to find a inviting place to picnic.

Standard Eating Out budget: $1500 (for 2 people)
“Cheapskate” Eating Out budget: $500 (for 2 people)


4. Hotels

In small towns, hotels are family-run affairs. You’ll find plenty of B&B’s as well. In Italy, try an agriturismo (farm stay). You’ll be out in the country, in a beautiful setting, and often have a chance to sample cheese, veg, honey, meat and wine from the farm. Many agriturismi offer dinner as well (for an extra fee). B&B’s can be a great way to stay in a small walled town, and feel like you are living there, even if just for a few days. In the off season, often hotels and B&B’s in small towns offer reduced rates. 

We will pair a farm stay or modest B&B with a more expensive stay (e.g. a castle, or a lighthouse.) It gives us a completely different experience, and keeps us within our $1000 budget. 

To *really* trim your budget, search for apartment or house rentals in small towns. Over the past few years, we have been shocked at how affordable some of the apartments we’ve rented have been. Here is a short list of the places we have stayed for $400/week (or less!!) 

-A small house, with kitchen, two bedrooms, living room, wifi, and private garden with patio furniture, in a medieval walled town 

-An apartment with two bedrooms, kitchen, dining room, and wifi, in the hills in Chianti (and even in July!)

-A cozy apartment with kitchen, bedroom, living room, wifi, in a 14th-century building just down the street from a castle

Standard Hotel budget: $1000 (for 2 people)
“Cheapskate” Hotel budget: $400 (for 2 people)


5. Stuff

Ah, “stuff”. Well, by “stuff”, we mean liqueur, wine, oil, ceramics, gifts, etc. etc. etc. Whatever strikes your fancy. We like to include a budget of $400 for “stuff”, so we know a little money is set aside and can feel comfortable to buy something if we really want it. But this is obviously the easiest category to cut, or eliminate. But since we’re not monsters, we still put $100 in the “Cheapskate” category. 

Standard “Stuff” budget: $400
Cheapskate “Stuff” budget: $100

Whether you follow our Standard budget, or our Cheapskate budget, you will have a wonderful time! The key is to find things that locals like, to have time to enjoy them, and be willing to learn and explore. It’s easy to have a memorable, immersive trip, even on a (strict) budget!

Ready to take that trip? We can plan it for you. It’s kind of ironic to write at the end of an article hyping cheapskate budgets, but if you hire our Itinerary Service, we can point you to those cheap eats and lodgings. We can plan a “cheapskate” trip for you that will still be the trip of a lifetime!

Poppi balcony drinking.JPG