Traveling to Europe has never been cheap, but that doesn't stop savvy travelers from planning vacations to the continent for less than you'd expect. Tammy Levent of Elite Travel delivers the inside scoop on when and where to go to get the most for your money, and how to avoid the pitfalls of trying too hard to find a deal.
Some places like Paris and Italy are always expensive because of their high demand. In either of these hotspots, 6 nights at a 3.5 star hotel could cost as much as $3400 for two people--and remember, European rooms are smaller and usually have twin beds unless you stay at a luxury resort. However, it is possible to save a few Euros and still have a dream vacation...
One way to find cheaper rates is to travel during the off seasons--but that may not be a good idea depending on where you're headed. Off season in Tuscany could get you a less expensive room, but the wineries will be closed--and the vineyards lose their appeal when the vines die back for the winter. Shoulder seasons during March and October are the best bet for lower prices and most attractions will still be open. The cooler spring and fall weather is perfect for walking around cities and enjoying hot cups of espresso.
Consider exploring one area in depth rather than country-hopping, since 1-stop airfares are cheaper than flying from one place to another. If you are determined to see as much of Europe as possible, some escorted tours use lower end hotels and busses to provide less expensive trips. Just be sure to work with a knowledgeable travel agent who is familiar with the tour company--this isn't something to trust to online booking.
For those who want to country hop comfortably, take a cruise. You fly into one city, which allows you to save on airfare, and all your meals are included. Cruises are an especially good option for Greece, where the history, mythology, ruins--and party scenes--are scattered throughout the islands.
Of course, some countries are more budget-friendly than others. London, Ireland, and Amsterdam tend to offer good deals, but if you find a cheap hotel in Amsterdam, make sure it isn't in the Red Light District. If you like Spain, look into Portugal, its less expensive neighbor. Croatia, Brussels, and the Scandinavian countries are off the beaten path enough to want to draw tourism with lower prices.
To save money wherever you go, here's a tip: don't eat next to tourist traps! Some places will charge you for everything from the silverware to the water, but if you venture to the small village eateries, you'll find authentic food for much less money. —Tammy Levent