Every year, spring is the time when I love try to travel to Europe. Number one I need to see family back home at least once a year, and number two, around April the weather in Canada can still be pretty bad (as it has been this year) while the grass is green and the flowers are already blooming in Europe. Apparently this year, spring was great in different parts of Europe, with temperatures in the 20 degree Celsius range most of the way through March and April while it was still snowing here on occasion in Toronto.
Naturally, being on a limited budget always has a huge impact on travel plans, and I wanted to share of my money-saving travel secrets with you.
1. Save money on flights
– One of my favourite money saving tips for flights is to use Airmiles. I use my credit card for as many purchases as possible and collect bonus offers from Airmiles to accumulate even more rewards points. Since I also run a full-time business, I put as many business expenses through on my Airmiles credit card and collect even more rewards points.
– Another great way to save money on flights is to book early (or late). I booked my flights to Europe last November, about five months before my departure. Prices often get more expensive as you get closer to the departure date. On the other hand, very close to the departure date they may become cheaper again as airlines are selling off seats last-minute to fill their planes.
– This time I booked an open-jaw flight with Air Canada from Toronto to Malaga with a return flight from Berlin. Open-jaw flights are usually more expensive than flights to and from the same destination. But despite the different departure cities, I was able to get a price that was comparable to a regular flight.
– To find cheap flights I always check many travel booking engines to see if I can find a better offer on one booking platform.
– Also, check charter airlines that are not listed on major travel booking engines. From Toronto, for example, I always check Air Transat because they have very inexpensive flights to Europe, especially during the warmer months. Last year I was able to get an open-jaw flight with Air Transat from Toronto to Madrid with a return flight from Rome to Toronto which cost $499 before taxes, an unbeatable price…
– Another great way to save money is to fly out of smaller airports, particularly in Toronto. Pearson International Airport in Toronto apparently has one of the world’s highest airport fees, so I often look at alternatives such as the Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport (which is home to Porter Airlines), or even Buffalo International Airport (great inexpensive connections inside the United States), or Niagara Falls International Airport (which offers flights to Florida, South Carolina and Puerto Rico).
– When I fly to Europe I usually go for at least 3 weeks and I generally visit 3 major destinations. This year I spent two weeks in Andalucia (visiting Seville, Granada, Cordoba, Cadiz, the Costa de la Luz and various Pueblos Blancos), 4 days in Austria and 5 days in Berlin. Local connections within Europe by train or air are much cheaper than buying trans-Atlantic flights for 3 different trips. To connect from and into Austria I often use Air Berlin which offers very inexpensive intra-European flights. I also check out the Austrian Federal Railways (www.oebb.at) which have a special super-saver bundle that allows you to get to places like Prague, Munich or Rome for less than 80 Euros. Bundling your desired destinations into one trip will save you a lot of money.
2. Save on local transportation
– Car rentals can take a huge chunk out of your budget, and taxes on top of the daily rental fees can vary greatly in different European countries. I hardly ever rent a car in Austria because the daily fees and taxes are quite exorbitant. In Spain, on the other hand, I was able to rent a car for less than $50 a day including taxes and fees. After many comparisons of car booking websites I often end up using Autoeurope for car rentals because I have found that they offer very good prices and conditions. I generally rent the smallest car because I don’t need a big fancy sedan. As a matter of fact, I love zipping around in these small nifty vehicles in Europe. This year I rented a Nissan Micra in Granada to drive to the west side of Andalusia, and I got a VW Polo for my car rental in Seville.
– To get around inside your destination city, take public transit instead of expensive taxis. During my visit to Granada and Seville I spent about 1.20 Euros for a bus ride, an extremely inexpensive and convenient way to get around. By the way, you don’t want to be driving in many European cities, often the streets are narrow, downtown is inaccessible anyway due to pedestrian zones, and parking can be outrageous.
– I also find it’s much more exciting to take public transport, you’ll see how the locals travel and get that authentically local feeling. It’ll definitely save you a lot of money.
– If you are staying for several days buy a multi-day transit pass. They will save you tons and you’ll enjoy the convenience of hopping on and off the busses, subways or trams without having to buy a new ticket.
– Rent a bicycle: in Berlin I saw many places that rented a bicycle for $10 a day – a great way to get around, explore the city and burn some calories while you are at it.
– Walk – walking is one of the best ways of exploring a new destination. Regardless of where I go, I often spend 4 to 7 hours a day walking. You get to see different neighbourhoods, see how the locals live, and as a passionate photographer, I get to stop and check out all sorts of interesting visual details that I would have missed if I had travelled in a vehicle. Many cities in Europe are quite compact, and are easily explored on foot.