European Family Travel on a Budget: 13 Tips for an Affordable Vacation
Do you dream of taking your family to Europe? Do you quickly write off your future adventures almost as fast as you dream them up, figuring European family travel on a budget—on your budget—would be impossible? Well, I'm here to tell you to keep your dreams alive.
My family of four just returned from 3 1/2 weeks in Europe, visiting 10 countries and two continents for $7,500 (or approximately $288 a day). This otherwise would have been a $30,000 trip, but some simple planning tips helped us stick to our budget and enjoy the trip of a lifetime.
Now, if you're reading this and saying to yourself: "$7,500 isn't my idea of a low budget." No worries! European family travel on a budget can be scaled up or down to meet your financial goals.
This post, focusing on tips for European family travel on a budget, is the fourth in our series of how to plan for a family trip to Europe. Check out the other posts in this series, including what to pack for a family trip to Europe, the benefits of lodging with airbnb, the benefits of renting a car in Europe, the types and benefits of tours to help you create the perfect travel itinerary, 10 tips to maximize your rental car experience in Europe, how to get around in Europe with a family, and must see places more than 10 countries in Europe and Africa.
13 Tips for Planning European Family Travel on a Budget
Follow these simple tips to create a well-rounded itinerary for European family travel on a budget:
- Set a budget. When planning your European family travel on a budget, the first thing you need to do is actually determine what your budget is. At a minimum, it should include the estimated cost of:
- Attraction/sight passes and fees
- Food and snacks
Tip! Factor in luggage, oversized luggage, or extra luggage fees!
- Tour guide fees
Tip! Don't forget to factor in both the cost of the tour as well as tips. If a tour guide is exceptional, you'll want to compensate him or her and you'll be glad you set aside that cost ahead of time. (Check out the post in this series, sharing the differences, benefits, and potential downsides of Europe tours to identify which type are perfect for your family vacation.)
- Transportation (in country and between countries)
Tip! Don't forget tolls, parking, and potential fines for speeding, parking, or other tickets! If you're renting a car, make sure to purchase the insurance ahead of time and other add ons like a GPS, an additional driver, and a large enough car to fit your family and all of your luggage. Booking those ahead of time will save time and money. (Check out the posts in this series, sharing the benefits of car rental in Europe and 10 things to know before you rent a car.)
- Save! No matter what your budget—big or small—the key is to start saving. We saved for our European family vacation for 3 years before we traveled. Planning and saving helped us appreciate the trip so much more.
Tip! Get the whole family involved in the saving process, allowing each family member—no matter how young—to play a part. For example, brainstorm as a family ways to raise funds, allowing each family member to contribute. Create a European Vacation thermometer to show your family's progress toward your financial goals. Make purchasing decisions together as a family, identifying ways to save or cut back in order to grow your travel fund. And, have each child save his or her own spending money.
- Get recommendations. Research Europe tours and vacation packages from friends, by reading travel books or online sites, or from travel agents. Get the skinny on who is trustworthy, which tour groups provide a great value, and which ones have awesome offers.
- Search for online deals. Look for flight, lodging, transportation, and other deals online. Subscribe to eNewsletters that list travel discounts. And watch for super sales. On a previous trip, we were able to get drastically reduced rates on Cyber Monday flight fares.
Tip! When possible, use loyalty program points or miles for purchases.
- Enter to win giveaways or other online contests and sweepstakes. I typically never win giveaways, but I entered the Passports With Purpose Roman Holiday giveaway and won 5 nights lodging, a walking tour, and a Vespa tour in Rome for our entire family, shaving tons of money off of our budget. No one was more surprised than I was! Take a chance. You never know when you could get lucky!
- Book as early as possible, especially when you find the good deals.
- Book on your own where possible to avoid additional fees from travel agents or other third-party sources.
- Mix up your itinerary.
Tip! Multiple days booked with back-to-back tours can get really old, especially for younger travelers. Consider varying the type of Europe tours you take in a given week: group, private, self-guided audio, and self-guided walking tours. (Check out the post in this series about the benefits and potential downsides of the various types of tours.)
- Plan FREE activities!
- Don't estimate the power of down time and unstructured play or sight seeing. It's natural to feel like you have to see it all. The truth is, however, that an abandoned castle along the road side can be just as fun if not more fun for your family than structured tours in well known places. Varying your itinerary and adding in time to explore and discover will help keep your family vacation affordable as well as help you create memories that are unique to your family and that will last a lifetime.
- Many attractions have FREE passes during one or two evenings or one day a week. Research each place you'll be visiting ahead of time and identify which places have FREE options and take advantage of as many as possible.
- Park the car! If you have a rental car and are staying in a big city and will be see the sights there, consider leaving your car at the apartment or at your hotel. Parking, gas, tolls, and other fees associated with driving can add up. Public transit, walking, and/or renting bikes is often a much cheaper, not to mention a really fun, eco friendly, and healthy alternative to driving. It also creates fabulous photo opps and great family memories!
- Stay in an apartment with a washing machine and a refrigerator. Having a washing machine allows you to pack lighter and avoid unnecessary luggage fees. And having access to a refrigerator makes eating in or eating leftovers an option. (Check out a previous post in this series, listing the benefits of renting an apartment.)
- Eat out once daily or less. Staying in an apartment and eating breakfast in, packing a lunch, and eating leftovers or some dinners in will leave you ample budget to enjoy dinners out, even nicer ones if you choose to add those into your budget.
- Avoid tourist traps! Buying souvenirs, eating at restaurants, and purchasing attraction and/or tours passes in heavy tourist areas guarantees you'll spend more money. Limit the purchase of souvenirs and buy them from areas outside of souvenir stores near popular attractions and sights. Go off the beaten path when dining out. Rick Steves and the Lonely Planet have awesome recommendations broken down by price, food type, and location. If you find yourselves in a tourist area and hungry, even heading down alley ways or just a few blocks away from the main areas and city centers will decrease your spend. And nothing screams "Spend gobs of money!" like buying a last-minute pass or tour. Most cities offer deals for purchasing more than one attraction pass at a time and many have city passes, which give you great entrance rates to popular attractions.
Identifying your expenses, saving, and following these tips when planning European family travel on a budget draws you many steps closer to taking the trip of a lifetime.
Have you taken a family vacation to Europe? What tips do you recommend for European family travel on a budget?