Europe Made Easy: Everything You Need to Plan a Trip

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Broaden your airport search—even if it means an extra flight: "If folks are living in a major gateway, like New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles, they have competition and multiple choices," says Seslow. "But in secondary markets, that competition dwindles. We've found there are a decent number of [travelers in smaller cities] who wind up buying a low-cost domestic ticket on their own, to Atlanta, New York, or Chicago from their smaller town and then take advantage of the better options from the bigger town.

So if you're traveling from Pittsburgh to Paris, for example, don't just look at flights between the two, as you may actually spend more money than, say, taking Southwest from Pittsburgh to Chicago or New York, and then a major carrier to Paris.

Maximize your hotel schedule: "Hotels tend to give better rates if you arrive on a Sunday," says Osborne. "Their local leisure traffic stays Friday and Saturday night and they leave, and the business [travelers] don't arrive until Monday. So most hotels have empty Sunday nights and they like to get people to stay [then]."

McKay also suggests looking at a variety of hotel classes, as you might be surprised by what you can afford. "Look at location and star classification, and decide what fits your travel style best. While the lead-in price might be really cheap, there is usually great value when upgrading to a four-star property," she says. Looking at what each hotel offers (taking amenities, daily breakfast, and the like into account) can help you determine the best fit for your budget.

Consider cruising: "The major cruise lines, such as Royal Caribbean, have more ships over in Europe," says Seslow. "If [travelers] book a cruise as their vacation, they can hit multiple destinations, meals are included, and they're spending a lot less money than the overpriced hotel accommodations in many of these main destinations. And you're paying upfront in U.S. dollars, so there's no currency exchange fees or issues."

Finally, do a little pre-sightseeing legwork. "It's best to purchase sightseeing tours in advance of your trip," says McKay. "You'll avoid long lines on the ground, saving valuable vacation time." You may also get an advance-purchase discount by ordering attractions admissions before you depart.

Get Great Values Once You've Arrived

It's great to find a deal, but it's even better to be a cost-conscious consumer once you're in-country. Follow these recommendations and you'll get the most out of your trip abroad.

  • Avoid public transit or taxi sticker shock by using hop/on-hop/off buses like your personal chauffeurs. "Work it out within your schedule as a part taxi service," says Osborne. "That way, you don't have to buy a tube card or take a taxi." Study the hop/on-hop/off bus schedule and sightseeing map, then plan your day's explorations accordingly.
  • If you have a multi-city itinerary, choose rail over low-cost carriers. You'll see the countryside, have easier point-to-point connections, and enjoy fee-free travel. Ryanair is notorious for nickel-and-diming travelers—with the train, you may have a longer trip, but the convenience of downtown train terminals, no baggage fees, a snack car, extra legroom, and other amenities make the experience an overall better value.
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