Consider this a warning: European summer trips are filling fast.
Flights. Hotels. Tours. They’re selling out. It’s only March, yet alarming booking data has surfaced, and I’m hearing reader anecdotes about expensive and hard-to-find flights and lodging.
“Indeed, online booking platforms, tour operators and hotel companies confirm what those selfies-from-abroad splashed across your social media streams are bragging about: US travelers are already packing their bags for trips across the Atlantic, long before the summer season even kicks off.”— “Why your dream European vacation is already booked solid” CNN
So, if spring is already heating up, you can only imagine what summer will be like. Besides all the usual suspects from Europe, Australia and North America, this summer will also mark the return of Chinese travelers.
And that’s your shot across the bow: Book soon. Book now. Or travel in the fall.
Now, even if your dream trip isn’t booked (take that, CNN!), exorbitant summer pricing will bruise your budget. Since airfare and lodging are the two biggest expenses, let’s review a few ways to cut costs:
I’m seeing great deals in the fall and some in the next two months, but sky-high (ahem) prices for summer. My advice for finding airfare deals, if they exist, is threefold:
- Stop me if you’ve heard this one: Sign up for Going (formerly Scott’s Cheap Flights). I’ve sung their praises for years. A free account should suffice, but I find a lot of value in a paid membership. Sign up here.
- Monitor prices on Google Flights. If you have hard-and-fast dates and destinations, then you can plug those into Google Flights. You can then see the price history and get alerts when prices rise or fall. Start tracking fares here.
- Consider flying in/out of less expensive airports. These airports typically fall under one of two categories: They are either a city’s smaller, secondary airport (Paris-Orly, London-Gatwick, Milan-Linate, etc.) or they service a less popular city, usually in colder, darker northern Europe. Dublin, London-Gatwick, Vienna, Warsaw, Copenhagen, Stockholm and Berlin routinely turn up nice deals.
Prices look up across the board as proprietors deal with inflation and two years of missing or lackluster revenues. This will take some research.
- Airbnb is no longer a budget option, but always worth checking out.
- Book direct on a hotel’s website whenever possible.
- Use credit-card rewards.
- Stay in expensive areas during the week and cheaper places on the weekend. Recently, I was helping a friend plan a trip to the Luberon in Provence, France. A 3-star hotel in Gordes, for example, wants $215 for weekends, but $165 for weekdays. That was enough savings to pay for another night in a cheaper, nearby village.
- Consider hostels. Modern hostels are no longer just for 20-something backpackers (ahhh….remember being one of those?). Hostels welcome travelers of all ages, and most now offer private rooms, sometimes with en suite bathrooms. How lux! Peruse hostels here.
I posed this quandary to my EuroExperto newsletter subscribers (sign up here: rorymoulton.com/subscribe), asking them for tips on saving and skipping crowds. The EuroExperto crew is the best crew. Here are some examples:
“Always look into museum and sightseeing passes!”
“New budget bus lines cost half what trains do…going between big cities.”
“…plan your whole itinerary around the cheapest flights you can find. It’s fun, and you can’t go wrong in Europe.”
“Sometimes private tours at crowded attractions are worth the steep price.”
“…morning markets, picnic lunches, street food…”
“Like you say in your Paris book — take the stairs at the Eiffel Tower. Cheaper and so fun!”
“…on high-speed trains, take the earliest in the AM or an after-dinner one to avoid rush-hour pricing.”
“…book in advance, book in advance, book in advance…”
Or, as chef-author (I **love** his cookbooks!) and longtime subscriber Francois Melogue replied while traveling in St.-Rémy, France: skip summer altogether!
“I walked around St Remy at the Wednesday market today with almost no one there except us and the vendors. Overall, the weather has been great with only 2 colder days – not cold at all by Vermont standards.“
In sum, don’t get discouraged thinking about crowds and prices. Get creative.