Last summer I traveled quite a bit in Europe and I saw fellow travelers making several common mistakes that cost them money. I’m sure that some people are willing to overlook these types of tips because they either have a lot of money or enjoy the conveniences in life, but money is money and it can add up while traveling the world for a long period of time. Here are a few ways I like to save money while traveling:
1. Pay in local currency when using a credit card
If you have traveled, you have been asked “Euros or USD?” when paying for something and most times you may not know how to answer that question. I can tell you with confidence that the answer is to pay in the local currency. Why you ask? What they don’t tell you is that there is a conversion fee for using your own home currency. The only real benefit for this “service” is being able to see what the cost was in your easily understandable home currency. I’m not sure how this is worth 3% or more, since you’ve already bought the item and/or service and now you’re just paying the bill. In addition to the conversion fee, you’re most likely to get the worst exchange rate possible. Will/could your bank/credit card give you a better exchange rate? It’s possible, but its extremely hard to keep track of that with spotty internet and travelling the world all at the same time. Save your money and pay in local currency.
2. Don’t book hostels through booking websites
Booking sites charge a percentage to allow you the convenience of booking online with a credit card. So how do you get around this? Simple! Use a booking site to see which hostels have available bunks (take note of the price), then Google the hostel’s contact info and contact them directly via email to secure a bunk. Mention that you’re paying in cash (and be ready to do so) and they will be more likely to reserve you a bunk. Hostels are inclined to take cash customers at full price over those paying inflated bunk prices via a booking site, particularly when those customers are paying via credit cards. Hostels have to pay fees on credit card transactions.
3. Don’t buy bottled water
I think that this should be self explanatory but time and time again I see people in Europe buying bottles of Icelandic glacier water or water from the swiss alps. Look people…its Europe not the third world. European countries have reliable sewer systems, running water and electric power grids. The water is safe to drink. There is a reason that you’ll see water fountains in most squares. If you can understand a sign that has a picture of water with a red circle and line through it then you can determine what sources of water are potable and which ones aren’t. If you see a local fill up, its safe to drink. I purchased just one refillable bottle and used it the whole six months I traveled. My advice: bring your own bottle.
4. Get a Student Id or something that says you’re a student
This tip is a bit tricky, unless A) you’re already a enrolled student (which means you already have an ID) or B) you have your old student ID and it doesn’t have an expiration date. If you don’t have an ID you will have to make one. That sounds hard, right? Not really. Go to IdCreator.com and make your own. It’s quite simple and you can have it in your hands within a week. So how does this save you money? Well, every museum has a few different prices for entry. Generally, student admission prices are 15% cheaper than standard admission prices. In some places like Paris, museums even offer free entry if you have a student ID card that says you’re under 26. In some cases you can get a discount when purchasing bus/train tickets as well. I have had a kiosk clerk ask if I was a student and I’ve said yes…then been asked for my student ID (which I didn’t have) and that was awkward. Now I do have an ID and I’m ready to save even more money. So get an ID or dig up your old one…it might just work for you.
5. Cook for yourself
Once again, I think this is an obvious one but I’ve had people tell me they don’t do it because there is no culture involved in cooking within the confinements of ones hostel. I disagree. There’s definitely culture to be found in going to the local market to purchase veggies, meats and other foods that you will prepare for the evening’s feast. If you go where the locals go, you’re going to be immersed in the culture and it will be cheaper than a restaurant or a supermarket chain. Even supermarket chains will be cheaper than restaurants, not to mention that most of the local restaurants that you could eat at will be buying from these exact markets.
6. Book Hostels that offer Breakfast
I know what most hostel goers are saying right now “You never get a good breakfast included in the cost of the hostel.” You’re right and you’re wrong. Most hostels don’t offer a ton of variety but it is free and food is food. Secondly if you wake early enough, you get first dibs and that can make all the difference. If I can get a little food in my belly for free (well…not for free, but included in the room price) I’m going to do it every time, and when that one hostel comes around that has a sweet spread including some Nutella you’ll stock up and thank me later.
7. Return your beer bottles to the store when done
Not all EU countries allow you to return glass bottles for a refund, but in my experience most do. It’s easy to tell if you’re in a country that does. Look at the prices on beer and if glass bottles are more expensive than plastic, then you’ll be able to return glass bottles for a refund. You’re probably thinking this is kind of hobo-esque and it is…but guess what? I don’t care and you shouldn’t either. When traveling, both young and old tend to enjoy a couple adult libations now and then and if you’re on the younger side you probably don’t buy booze in bars anyway. You’re probably buying from stores and supermarkets because its cheaper. This just adds one step to the process: when you go to buy more beer (when you inevitably run out), bring the empties with you and return them while you purchase your next rounds.
8. Don’t ride Big Bus
You’ve seen them all around Europe and they normally have a open air top to provide 360 degree views of the city’s attractions at a daunting speed of 35mph. I’ve never been on one myself but that’s because I’ve known about free walking tours since I started traveling. That’s right FREE city walking tours! Sandemans new Europe free city walking tours is the largest company in Europe spanning 18 cities including the middle east and the US, but they are not the only ones providing this service. As most things in life when they say its free they aren’t always free and this is one of those occasions, they work on tips and you provide them with what you felt the tour was worth to you. I generally tip 2-5 Euros depending on the quality of the tour and that’s normally all based on the guide itself and how they conduct the tour. What if your going to a city that is not one of the 18 cities that Sandemans covers? Simply go to your hostels bulletin board and look for the flyer that tells you when and where they start or ask one of the hostel employees and I have only been to a small handful of cities that didn’t provide this service.