- Travel off-season. Airfares and hotels are much lower in March and April, and after September 15th. Springtime weather is more fickle, while it's often warm until November. We've been to Europe in the winter, too, and loved it, except the days are very short. Always check several days around the time you want to fly when looking for airfares. Last September I saved $200 by going on Friday rather than Monday! (Our Paris hotel was $90 cheaper the 2nd night because the rates went down that weekend.)
- Choose small towns over big cities. Of course you'll want to stay in London, Paris, Venice or Rome, but spend fewer nights in those expensive places and experience cheaper villages that often have more personality. For instance, Delft is a small picturesque city an hour's train ride from Amsterdam. It's very walkable, with many family run hotels and B & B's. Rooms can be double the size and half the price that you'd find in Amsterdam. A few more of these gems: Bruges is an hour outside of Brussels; Colmar is three hours from Paris; Brienz is thirty minutes from Interlaken, Oberammergau is two hours from Munich. But it's silly to stay in a town just because it's cheap; you can discover magic places if you . . .
- Invest in guide books. Don't get these at the library because you want the most up-to-date information available. The Rough Guides, Rick Steves, Lonely Planet, and Let's Go are my favorites. Read up on the places you want to go. Check opening and closing times and days. It would be a shame if the day you planned on going to the Vatican was the day it's closed! Look at travel magazines, and research places online. I love to visit tripadvisor.com, travelgator.com, and I find ideas for hotels at hotels.com.
- Get good maps. Know how far it is from Madrid to Rome. Once you're there, have a list of the sights that are free. I always get a good city map and mark the inexpensive places I want to visit with a bright colored marker. For instance, in Paris I might circle the passages (19th century arcades with galleries and shops,) the I'le de St Louis (a tiny neighborhood on an island in the middle of the river,) and the bookstalls on the Seine. Tours are expensive; wandering is free. The view from the top floor of the Galleries Lafayette department store is free, so is the vista from the steps of the Montmartre. Looking up at the Eiffel Tower is as spectacular as looking down from it, and it saves you about $80!
- Eat your big meal at lunchtime. Breakfast is often included in the room charge. If it isn't, go to a bakery. (Pack a plastic jar of peanut butter and a plastic knife for an instant sandwich anytime.) When there's a fancy restaurant you want to try, go there for lunch, when it's cheaper. Buy sausage, yogurt, cheese, pastries, and fruit at the outdoor market, or at a corner grocer for dinner. Shopping for food at a market is a cultural experience, too.
Consult a map and decide where to go,
Check train timetables (Thomas Cook)
Expecting the unexpected is especially important when traveling to Europe on a shoestring. We've taken twenty-six trips to Europe and we collect hotel experiences like souvenirs: showers too small to turn around in; no hooks, hangers, doorknobs or towel racks anywhere in the room; rock solid pillows shaped like hot-dogs; beds so high we needed stools; lights that turned off automatically, set on an illogical timer; maids that popped in without knocking and changed the towels no matter what we were doing . . . But isn't that why we travel?
In my Special Collections (on my sidebar) I've assembled experiences in Austria, Germany, Poland, France, etc. under Europe. Try some of our favorite bargains and splurges. We always spend more than $5 a day, but it's worth every cent.
Homework: Pick one assignment that appeals to you.
~Where is your ancestral home? Most of us have roots in several places. Pick one city or country you'd like to visit, find it on a map, and explore some travel websites, just for practice. A few of my favorites are: multi-map, Rick Steves, Cheap Flights, Budget Travel.
~ Someone found your blog and emailed you saying they're visiting the city where you grew up. Write an itinerary for a one-day tour of your hometown. Prompt: "When you're there, you can't miss____. There's a great view from____. My favorite place for lunch is_____, and the kids would love____."
~Write a postcard to your grandma from someplace in Europe you want to visit someday.
(Just a note to a couple of readers: Please don't take my School Days Seminar posts and present them as your own ideas. I'm flattered that you like them, but I'm putting in a lot of time! I'd appreciate it if you linked back to my blog. Thanks!)
*If you do any part of this assignment on your blog, link it back to TravelinOma. And please leave a comment here with a link to your blog as part of our class discussion. I'll be keeping track, and spot checking your work, giving points for participation. You can grade your own work, based on your individual progress. (A for Accomplishment, B for Basic Effort, C for Class Comments, D for thinking this post is Dumb, and F for Failure to Communicate.)