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Planning a trip to Europe? Avoid these 10 costly mistakes

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Planning a trip to Europe this year and deep in the list-making process? Now’s a great time to quickly review your itinerary and “trip strategy” to make sure that you’re not about to make any common mistakes that will add unnecessarily to your travel costs.

1. Don’t over-pack your itinerary with too many destinations.

American travelers (myself included) tend to over-pack our itineraries when planning trips to Europe. It’s understandable — for many, vacation days are scarce and trips abroad infrequent. There’s a natural tendency to try to jam as many cities and countries as possible into our trips, as we don’t always know when we’ll be back!

However, this can be costly (not to mention exhausting), as over-packing trips with too many destinations in too few days leads to more time on the road, and more gas or train tickets. In extreme cases, it can sabotage a trip, turning it into a blur of hotel check-ins and check-outs (with constant packing and unpacking), while watching a never-visited landscape race past the car windows. If possible, slow down. You’ll save on transportation and gain more time to explore your destinations.

Looking for a helpful itinerary? Check out our 10-day itineraries for Germany, Italy, Spain, and Portugal.

On Kayak, click into “Multi-city” to search for flights into one city and home from another.

On Kayak, click into “Multi-city” to search for flights into one city and home from another.

2. Don’t race back to fly home.

When searching for flights from North America to Europe, don’t forget about “multi-city” and “open jaw” tickets. These are flights into one destination and home from another. These tickets often cost about the same amount as simple round-trip flights, but, depending on your itinerary, can save you the hassle and expense of returning to your arrival city.

For example, imagine you’re flying from Atlanta to Paris and then spending 10 days visiting France and Italy, winding up in Rome. You might instinctively book round-trip tickets from Atlanta to Paris, and then try to figure out how to speed from Rome back up to Paris at the end of the trip to fly home. Instead, click into “multiple destinations” or “multi-city” when researching flights, and search for Atlanta to Paris, and then Rome to Atlanta. You can often find a flight for about the same price as the simple round-trip airfare.

Note: If you’re planning to rent a car, “open jaw” flight can make rentals a bit trickier and more expensive. It’s almost always cheaper to pick up and drop off the car in the same location, and dropping off in a different country can add a huge fee to your rental (we’re talking about hundreds of euros). However, you could still book an “open jaw,” rent a car for travel in one country and then switch to train tickets for reaching the last leg of your trip.

Driving (and parking!) near the Vatican will be an ungodly experience. Get the car on the way out of town. Photo: mariagraziamontagnari

Driving (and parking!) near the Vatican will be an ungodly experience. Photo:mariagraziamontagnari

3. Don’t assume you need to rent a car from day one.

Many travelers renting a car for their trip instinctively start their rental on the day they arrive, picking it up at the airport. However, if you’re planning to spend at least one day visiting your arrival city, you shouldn’t rent that car until you’re leaving town. This will help you save on the rental and parking, and help preserve your fragile jet-lagged sanity.

For example, imagine that you’re flying into Rome, spending two days visiting the city, and then heading off to explore Italy by car for a week. Start the car rental on the third day of your trip (the day you’re leaving town, not arriving). You’re going to be visiting Roman ruins and the great sights of the central historic city and the Vatican–the last thing you’re going to want to think about (or pay for!) is parking. You’ll be getting around by foot, bus, and Metro, or taxi.

The same holds for Paris, Amsterdam, London, Barcelona… really any major city with a well-preserved historic center. Driving your way around the town’s big sights isn’t going to happen (or at least it’s not going to happen twice). That car will wind up in an expensive garage.

Get the car on your way out of town. This will also give you flexibility in terms of pickup location, as rental car agencies offer a wide variety of pickup spots in most major cities, often with many options around the major train stations.

The Hotel de Nice in Paris won't show up on page one, but it's worth filtering for.

The Hotel de Nice in Paris won’t show up on page one, but it’s worth filtering for. Photo Source : eurocheapo.com

4. Look past page one for that hotel.

So you’re searching, and searching, and searching for that perfect hotel. Remember when researching on most major hotel reservation websites that the hotel results are often ranked by those that the website wants you to book. In most cases, these “page one” results are hotels that pay the site the highest commission. It’s in the website’s best interest to show you these hotels first.

For budget-minded travelers, this often means looking past these “page one” results, no matter how many bells, whistles, and “Only 1 room left!” freak-out messages they throw at you. Filter by guest rating, neighborhood, and price, and start digging around to find the good stuff.5. Don’t sacrifice location for small hotel savings.

If you’re struggling to decide between hotels that are within your budget, I recommend giving preference to the hotel with the more central location. Budget travelers, in particular, have a tendency to choose a hotel in a far-flung location that’s €5 cheaper than one in a more central neighborhood. I’m a strong proponent of paying a bit more for something more central, as you’ll save time and money on transportation (especially if you wind up taking taxis).

You can almost always save on train tickets by not using a rail pass. Above, boarding at Munich's main station. Photo: jseita

You can almost always save by not using a rail pass. Above, Munich’s main station. Photo:jseita

6. Don’t assume that you need to buy a rail pass.

As we’ve mentioned in several posts throughout the years on the blog, European rail passes sold to American travelers usually don’t save you any money. Unless you’re spending most of your travel days taking long-distance high-speed trains, buying a rail pass is probably going be an unnecessary expense.

These days, the official websites of Europe’s main railways (SNCF in France, Trenitalia in Italy, Renfe in Spain, Deutsche Bahn in Germany, among many others) are easily searched in English and offer great deals on high-speed and long-distance trains when booked a few months in advance. Buy these tickets like the locals: Book early and get great discounts.

For example, during a recent to Paris, Munich, and Venice, I took two trips by train, one high-speed (TGV and ICE) from Paris to Munich, and one Intercity train from Munich to Venice, on a romantic voyage straight through the Alps. Booked directly through the official rail websites about two weeks before the trip, the first ticket cost €74, while the second trip was only €69. These two trips covered several countries and cost only €143 for first-class travel. A rail pass would not have made these more affordable.

Having said that, there are still some reasons why you might want to book a rail pass. They do allow for greater flexibility in your schedule — you can determine your schedule at the last minute and not worry about paying more for the ticket (although you still risk sold-out trains). And yes, if you plan to take a great number of long-distance trains, it can pay for itself. They come with some other benefits, as well, like a new family discount in 2015 that allows two children to travel for free with a Eurail pass-carrying adult.

Been there. Give yourself a break by not over-booking activities before you leave. Photo: prawnpie

Been there. Give yourself a break by not over-booking activities before you leave. Photo:prawnpie

7. Don’t pre-book the small stuff.

It’s now easier than ever to pre-book activities in each of the cities you’ll be visiting. You can book museum tickets and passes, walking tours, boat cruises… The list is endless and quite tempting. However, try to remain calm and limit the number of smaller activities that you pre-book, as you risk wasting cash and causing disappointment.

In the fun lead-up to your departure, there’s a tendency to forget about the unplanned realities that always creep into a trip. Things happen, people get tired, blisters form, the weather doesn’t cooperate. Making plans and compiling itineraries is a great idea — but pre-booking every small attraction puts you at the risk of burning out, skipping things and wasting money. You’re not going to know what speed you’re able to travel at until you get on the ground.

Having said that, a couple of high-profile sights are worth pre-booking, especially during high season when their lines could lead to long waits, or worse, not being able to get in. These include tickets to the Eiffel Tower (book in advance through the tower’s website), tickets to the Alhambra in Granada, the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, and to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence (again, skip the ticket line).

Somebody's getting solid advice without batteries or roaming charges. Photo: yourdon

Somebody’s getting solid advice without batteries or roaming charges. Photo:yourdon

8. Don’t write off guidebooks.

Okay, I know that I’ll hear from detractors on this one, as it’s now fashionable to ditch heavy guidebooks in favor of apps and free information that you can pull up on your phone, tablet, and laptop. But I’m here to say that the best guidebooks out there can greatly enrich your trip and yes, can help you save time and cash by allowing you to put away your electronic devices.

When I was in Athens on a recent trip, I spent several days running around town with my Rick Steves‘ guidebook, following their informative (and often humorous) walking tours, getting restaurant advice, and gaining an understanding of how the city worked. That book was my companion, folded, dog-eared, and often tucked under my arm. Its value became doubly-obvious when I witnessed a couple in the ancient Agora trying to read information off of their iPad in the blazing hot sun. It wasn’t happening.

Relying on electronics is risky and can be unnecessarily costly. Batteries die. Sun makes it hard to read. And data charges are incredibly expensive. Don’t underestimate the value that a $20 guidebook provides.

If you plan to use your phone abroad, call your carrier to check about rates before you leave. Photo: yourdon

If you plan to use your phone abroad, call your carrier now to check on rates. Photo:yourdon

9. Don’t forget to call your phone carrier.

As we have written in several previous posts if you plan to use your phone abroad, call your carrier before leaving to discuss your international options. First, you should make sure that your phone works abroad and has been activated for international use. Secondly, you should discuss with your carrier the costs associated with using your phone to place calls, send texts, send emails, and access the internet.

AT&T, for example, has recently changed their international packages, and now offers a “Day Pass” and a “Passport Package that bundles together unlimited texting, data (to send emails and use the Web), and cheaper calling rates. These packages start at $40 for 30 days — and make good sense for anyone considering using their phone while traveling. (Check out Verizon’s less-generous plan here.)

“Winging it” without knowing how much you’ll be charged is not recommended. Call your carrier, get a plan if you plan to use your phone, and then make sure you set up your phone to avoid accidental data charges (in brief: turn off cellular data and restrict the number of apps that can use cellular data). And, as a plan, stick to free Wi-Fi networks for downloading and sending emails, checking the Web and using apps.

Another option? Buy a SIM card for your phone when you get to Europe.

Withdrawing cash from ATM machines like this one in Berlin is almost always cheaper than converting dollars on your own. Photo: skohlmann

Withdrawing cash from ATM machines like this one in Berlin is almost always cheaper than converting dollars on your own. Photo:skohlmann

10. Don’t waste money getting euros before the trip.

Should you buy euros before your trip to Europe. Travelers waste a lot of money purchasing euros from their bank (or worse yet, from a currency exchange counter) before arriving in Europe. In most cases when exchanging money from home before a trip, you will pay dearly in fees, lousy exchange rates, or both. If exchanging a bit makes you more relaxed, go for it — just don’t overdo it.

I often arrive in Europe without a euro in my pocket. I head straight away to an ATM at the airport and withdraw cash using my American ATM card. It’s simple, and the exchange rate that I’m getting for the transaction is almost certainly better than any rate I’d get from my bank back home (especially once fees are factored in). Call your bank before you leave to ask about international ATM transaction fees, as they vary widely depending on the bank, the type of account you have (banks often wave transaction fees for premium accounts), and the type of ATM accessed abroad (your bank may have international locations or partnerships with local banks).

What if there isn’t an ATM at the airport? I’ve never experienced this. I have experienced long lines at the ATM, which has led me to use my credit card for purchases (rail or bus tickets into town, for example) until I found an ATM in the city without a line.

Article Source : eurocheapo.com

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