By Rick Steves
Has your dollar lost its luster? A year ago, one of them could buy 1.1 of those funny little euros. Today, the currency tables have been turned: it takes 1.1 dollars to buy one big scary euro. Do the math, and brace yourself for what amounts to 20% inflation attacking your travel budget.
Hold on. Is it really that bad? Only if you're careless. Spend smart, and you'll still travel well-and save more than enough to make your dollar feel almighty again. Here are my Top 10 Dollar-Dipping Self-Defense Tips for 2003:
Just in from Rick check out his take on salad bars and picnic beer!
1. Cheap flights cheap flights cheap flights.
The euro may be taking off, but airfares certainly haven't. A couple of years ago, $1,000 round-trip fares were common. Today it's easy to fly for half that-and we get to pay in "cheap" dollars! A traveler with a $2,000 in-Europe trip budget who saves $400 on airfare has just made up for a 20% drop in in-Europe purchasing power. Don't you feel better already?
2. Don't let frequent flier miles cloud your judgment.
Choose a plane ticket, car rental, hotel or tour according to the best value for your trip, not in hopes of scoring a few extra miles. Consolidator or "discount" air tickets are perfectly legitimate. By putting up with a few minor drawbacks (no changes allowed and no frequent flier miles given) you'll save hundreds of dollars. Student agencies are not limited to students and offer some great airfares.
3. Buddy up.
Two can travel cheaper than one. A single hotel room often costs nearly the same as a double. And by splitting taxis, chores, guidebooks, and picnics couples save both time and money. Threes and foursomes can enjoy the added freedom of a rental car for about the same cost as separate railpasses.
4. Know your transportation options.
Eurailpasses can offer big savings-if you're traveling a lot. For short trips, point-to-point tickets are cheaper. Throughout Europe first-class tickets cost 50 percent more than second-class. If you're on a budget, go second-class. Nearly every train has both first- and second-class cars...each going precisely the same speed. To save even more: hop on the bus, Gus. For instance, traveling from London to Edinburgh can cost as much as $130 by train, or as little as $35 by bus.
5. Consider a tour, maybe.
Taking an organized tour can greatly reduce the expensive euros you'll need to buy in Europe, since you've paid in advance in "cheaper" dollars. But read their fine print: look for a tour company that includes lots of meals, and one that won't "adjust" the actual vs. advertised tour price based on currency fluctuations.
6. Keep it in the family.
Small restaurants and hotels that employ family members get around Europe's costly labor regulations, and pass the savings on to you. Plus, in mom-and-pop shops you're more likely to be served by people who care about their reputation and their customers.
7. Eat with the locals, and with the season.
Restaurants that are filled with locals serve better food for less money. I look for a short and handwritten menu in the local language only. Go with the cheaper daily specials, which are often tasty seasonal dishes. Germans go crazy for the white asparagus, Italians lap up the porcini mushrooms, and Spaniards gobble their snails-but only when waiters announce that they're fresh today.
8. Dare to picnic.
Ten dollars buys a fine picnic lunch for two anywhere in Europe. Picnic once a day, and you'll ease the pressure on your meal budget by at least 30%. Stock your hotel room with drinks and munchies upon arrival. You can pass train rides enjoyably over a picnic meal. Many grocery stores have elegant deli sections. Know the metric system for buying produce. In Italy 100 grams (about a quarter pound) is a unit in itself called an etto.
9. Use European phone cards.
International phone cards with PIN numbers are sold at newsstands throughout Europe. Use them to reserve rooms while you're on the road-and to call home for just ten cents a minute (a huge savings over the $3 a minute rates offered by the big American services).
10. Wear a moneybelt.
You'll save money by not losing it. Thieves target Americans not because they're mean but because they're smart. They know we're the ones with all that valuable plastic in our purses and wallets. Assume beggars are pickpockets. Be wary of commotions in crowds and fake police who ask to see your wallet. When you know the scams, they're almost entertaining.
For many more money-saving tips like these, visit the vast Travel Tips section of our website.