1. To cut down on your food tab, make a trip to the grocery store when you arrive. Stock up on cereal and milk or whatever you like to eat for breakfast. Buy bread and PB&J or sliced meat for lunch, plus snacks like apples, muffins, cookies, trail mix, and chips. If you have access to a fridge, add in carrot sticks, string cheese, yogurts, etc.
2. Check if your credit card charges a foreign exchange fee, says Christopher Elliot, who writes the syndicated Travel Troubleshooter column. This fee can be 2-3 percent of your transaction, sucking up dollars when you could be using cash, traveler’s checks, or a credit card without this fee. Credit unions do not typically charge this fee, Elliot said.
3. Find a place to sleep on Couchsufing.com, which connects travelers with locals willing to open up their homes and a spot on their couch. The site emphasizes the cultural exchange that can happen between host and travelers, not just free shelter. Some say this group is the modern-day equivalent of Servas.
4. Avoid restaurants that are tourist traps (i.e. the cheesy place 10 feet from the tourist attraction) and venture out to places where locals fill their belly. Many countries have excellent fast food and street food options, which are tres cheap, Elliot said.
5. Use mass transit. Americans are not used to taking the train/bus/metro in our hometowns because the systems are, with a few exceptions, terrible. But many cities in Europe have excellent mass transit. Buying a day or week pass is almost always cheaper than taking a taxi or renting a car. Plus, mass transit offers great people watching.
6. If you want to go on a tour but need to save money, book a trip through Untours.com, which boasts cheaper (and less structured) trips than a guided tour. You stay in a home or apartment instead of a hotel and Untours plans as many or as few excursions as you want. Trips are 7 days minimum and meals are not included.
7. When you are planning your trip, look for free days at any museums you want to visit.
8. Rent an apartment instead of staying at a hotel. Use your best judgment when making arrangements. If it sounds too good to be true…you can always go to Google street view to see what the place looks like. Also check for comments from others that have stayed at the apartment or house. Pay with a credit card – never cash or wire transfers – to protect yourself.
9. Stand up for a dose of culture. “Even the most expensive theaters and operas have a backdoor option and that is standing room,” Elliot said. “It sounds like hassle but I’ve done standing room and it costs literally dollars” to see the same production everyone else is paying through the nose for. At intermission, you can fill the seat of someone who has gone home.
10. Research free performances. Arts are so heavily subsidized in Europe that there are plenty of free options. “If want to see a band or orchestra, do a little research and you might find they are performing free in the park the day after they give a concert.”
Note: if you are traveling abroad and need a last-minute passport, AllStarPassports.com, which has offices in LA, can turn it around that same day (for $200), the next day ($150) or in five to seven days ($99). Info at 1-866-525-7255.