Dunnan, Teter and Ziff all recommend package deals as the best way to get the most for your weak dollar. Because package organizers book a large volume of trips, they get better rates than you can. "A package can be as simple as a series of hotel nights; some will include transfers from the airport to the hotel; some will include continental breakfast," said Teter. An additional benefit, she notes: "You're buying that package in U.S. dollars" at a locked-in rate.
Web Packages a Good Bet
While Dunnan and Teter say the best packages are found through travel agents, Ziff says consumers can increasingly build their own packages through the Internet.
Cruises are also a good option. "You fly to a point in Europe, spend a week or two on board a ship. Your meals are included, transfers are included. You are covering the majority of your expenses before you leave home," said Teter.
But Dunnan advises looking at the terms for sightseeing at ports of call before booking passage. In some cases, excursions can add hundreds of dollars to your cruise cost; in other cases, you can simply borrow a bicycle from the ship and tour the local villages on your own.
Among the ports of call on a 14-day Holland America cruise sailing July 27 from Copenhagen are Oslo, Dover, LeHavre, Lisbon, Barcelona, Monte Carlo and Dubrovnik, with daylong stopovers in each. Scenery on the cruise route includes the Rock of Gibraltar, the Stromboli Volcano and Mt. Etna. Fares for inside staterooms, not including airfare from New York, begin at well under $2,500 per person, double occupancy.
But you will pay extra for sightseeing when the ship docks. In Barcelona, for example, a $37 excursion from the Holland America cruise focuses on tours of Antoni Gaudi's works, while a $33 tour for cruise guests includes Barcelona's Gothic Quarter and the Picasso Museum. If you're visiting more than one city or country, compare your transportation options. If you're traveling with others, sharing a rental car might cost less than train tickets for everyone. But be prepared for fast, aggressive drivers, and of course, signs in another language. And remember that standard-shift cars are the norm in Europe.
For train travel, Eurail still offers the classic Youthpass for those under 26 ($414, 15 days, good in 17 countries). Other deals include the Saverpass, for two or more people traveling together ($498 per person, 15 days, 17 countries) and a Selectpass good for any combination of three, four or five adjoining countries. Kids age 4 to 11 can get half-price passes. But you must buy your pass before you go overseas.
New European discount airlines like Ryanair, Spanair, Air Berlin and EasyJet offer flights as low as $30 to $40 between major cities. But Wendy Perrin, editor at Conde Nast Traveler, cautions in the magazine's March issue that "low-fare carriers work only if you have a couple of hours to spare. You need to factor in the trip to and from the airport, possibly long check-in queues, and strick check-in deadlines." In other words, Europe's high-speed trains — which often connect cities at 150 mph — are sometimes faster.