It’s official, the US Dollar is, and has been, in the toilet! Now, more than ever, Europeans are flocking to the U.S. because it is cheap for them to travel here and their money goes a long way. And while that is great for our economy and I welcome them all with open arms, I still wish financially, it was the other way around.
But there is hope for those of use who still want to make that dream vacation to Europe a reality. It can be done, but you just might have to work a little harder at rationing out your pennies once you get there. Here are some ways to experience the good life in Italy and France, and not just sit staring at the four walls of your hotel room.
- Pick one city. Try to pick the one city you would really like to go and stay for as long as you can. Fight the urge to go on a country wide tour. The extra cost of planes, trains and automobiles (yep, I said it), not to mention gas, going from place to place can add up quickly. Plus, you can really delve in and experience everything that one city has to offer and feel like a local.
- Save on airport transfers. Yes, taxis are convenient, but also can be costly. Look for alternate ways of getting to and from the airport. Paris and Rome have buses or trains that run into the city center that are efficient and inexpensive. Florence, has very nice budget hotels that are within walking distance of the train station, so you wouldn’t even need anything but your own two feet. If you pack everything in a wheelie carry-on, like I do, you don’t have to worry about lugging around all that baggage! Worst case scenario – get as close to your hotel as possible and then if you can’t. possibly. take. another. step, take a taxi for a few blocks. It’s much cheaper than from 35 miles away!
- Speaking of feet. Walk. Most cities in Europe are meant to be explored on foot. That is the best way to discover all the nooks and crannies anyway. Renting a bike is also another great option, especially when the weather is good. If you must use public transportation, try to get a multi-day pass if it is available. You will get more bang for your buck.
- Museums. Some museums are always free. Cities, like Paris and Rome have days when National Museums waive the entrance fees. For Rome it is the last Sunday of the month, for Paris it is the first Sunday. Why not try to plan your trip accordingly? You can save some hefty admission prices.
- Research. Do a little and it could pay off. Scour the Internet for deals on some attractions or concerts. For example, the Vedettes du Pont Neuf in Paris, offers coupons for boat rides on the Seine at 4 Euro off regular admission if you book in advance, on-line. It is a seamless, easy process.
- Shopping. Don’t always assume that buying your favorite French or Italian products, right from the source, will save you money. In the end, it could cost you. You need to factor in the Euro to Dollar conversion and only then if it is less expensive would it make sense to buy. Many of these products that you know and love are available right in the good ole US of A, so do the math first.
- Cafe anyone? Did you know that sitting at a table in a cafe is usually more expensive than standing at the bar? Bellying up to the bar for your morning espresso will save you about half and you’ll fit in like a local in the process.
- Prix-Fixe. Always eat from a prix-fixe menu. They offer the best value. Try to make lunch your big meal of the day. Some good restaurants have lunch menus that cost half of what dinner does. You will still get the same great food, service and try that *place* you have been just dying to try! Many bistros may serve 2 course prix-fixe menu’s. Those are a great option! A main dish and dessert or a starter and a main dish are more than enough to fill you up. And if you are in Italy, why not just order a dish of the chefs special pasta of the day? More than enough to satisfy and nothing but the best, freshest ingredients found at the market that day!
- Water and Wine. No splurging on bottles of wine or bottled water if you are on a budget! Tap water is always potable (and free) and the house wine is generally better than anything I drink at home, and a fraction of the price. Stay away from soda – it’ll cost ya!
- Wine Bars. Pop in for lunch or dinner. These are often family owned, tiny, communal places with tons of wines by the glass available along with meat and cheese plates and simple, homemade fare like omelettes, panini, soups and more..that won’t break the bank!
- Picnics. Stop by a local food market, pick up some bread, cheese, olives, fresh fruit…maybe a rotisserie chicken and potatoes, and a blanket and head out to a picnic. No matter where you go, this is a cheap and easy meal… and you can’t beat the scenery! In Paris, try the Luxembourg Gardens or the lawn in front of the Eiffel Tower. Florence has the Boboli Gardens. And in Venice, where there is not alot of green, plop down on the edge of the Piazza San Marco and dangle your legs above the Grand Canal and watch the vaperetto and gondolas glide by.
- The best things in life are free. You have heard this before, right? Well, it is true! Often, just being in the place you have dreamed of visiting is enough. For many, just standing in front of the Colosseum, or the Arc du Triomphe is enough of a thrill, without having to pay admission to go in or go to the top. In all honesty, I could stand all day and night in the courtyard of the Louvre, drooling over its facade, without ever venturing inside, and be fully satisfied. There is enough free *eye candy* in France and Italy to keep me busy for centuries. (And no, I am not talking about the waiters). Visiting street markets or window shopping in Florence, standing on the Spanish Steps or throwing a coin in the Trevi Fountain in Rome, strolling along the banks of the Seine in Paris admiring all its bridges, or standing amongst a thousand fluttering pigeons in the beautiful Piazza San Marco in Venice, while music fills the air, all cost nothing. It is all free. Free for the taking.
There is something else that’s free. Memories. All the wonderful subconscious memories that you are making on your trip, to carry around with you, day after day, year after year, and relive in the stories told to friends and family. Memories are souvenirs of the mind. Only you don’t set out with a list to make them or pack them carefully in your suitcase for the trip home. They just happen, magically. You don’t plan them, or say “Today, I am going to remember my experience at breakfast”. It just happens. They just appear out of nowhere. The longer you wait, the more you share them, the stronger they become. Your trip would never be the same without them. Nor will any trip ever have the same set, etched in your mind. Not only are these precious memories free for the making, they are priceless. No one would dare put a price tag on them.
Go create some wonderful, new memories. Come home and tell your stories, share them with anyone who’ll listen. You will relive your trip over and over again…until it is time for you to create some new memories. And hopefully, when that time comes, the Dollar will have risen again!
What are some of your favorite tips to keep the cost down when you travel?
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