Barcelona: 25 Do’s and Don’ts that will improve your trip

Are you planning a trip to Barcelona and worried about looking like a blundering tourist? That’s natural, of course. But don’t get too hung up on this  — you’re visiting the city and taking in its biggest sights. You’re allowed to look like a tourist!

As a traveler in a new culture, it will be really hard, if not impossible, to look “local” so why not just be comfortable and go with the flow? (However, this doesn’t mean wandering La Rambla with three cameras tied around your neck wearing socks and sandals — there are limits!)

However, acting like a tourist is a different subject. We’re here to help you overcome some common mistakes that tourists make when visiting Barcelona, from spending too much time on La Rambla to trying to eat at 6 p.m.

Related:
How to navigate Barcelona’s most popular attractions

 10 Best cheap hotels in Barcelona


25 Do’s & don’ts that will make your trip to Barcelona better

Follow our lead and you’ll be acting (and eating) like a local in no time!

Basics

1. Do try to learn a few words in Spanish and Catalan.

Por favor, gracias and bon dia go a long way.

2. Do try to adhere to local customs and schedules.

Remember that Spaniards eat late and that many shops will be closed midday for lunch and on Sundays.

3. Don’t get too political.

It’s fine to ask locals their opinion on Catalan independence, but be careful if you’re voicing very pro-Catalonia or pro-Spain opinions. You might end up offending those around you and find yourself in a heated debate or fight.

Barcelona tapas

Late dinner means more time for snacking on tapas beforehand! Photo: Craig Nelson

Eating & drinking

4. Don’t eat on La Rambla if you can avoid it.

We’ve been over this many times before, but it’s worth mentioning again.

5. Do visit Barcelona’s wine bars.

Head to these spots to sip reds and whites from all over Spain.

6. Don’t tip 20% on your restaurant bill.

Tipping is not common in Spain. If you want to leave something, leave your change or a couple of euros.

7. Do take a cooking class.

Learn how to make Catalan dishes and Spanish classics like paella.

8. Don’t try to go to dinner at 6 p.m.

Any respectable restaurant won’t even open the doors until 8 p.m. (Here are 18 tips for eating like a local in Barcelona.)

9. Do eat delicious tapas.

They will get you over the 6 p.m. hump and tide you over until your late Spanish dinner.

10. Do visit the famous Boqueria Market, but…

Also visit Barcelona’s lesser-known markets, all of which will be less crowded. Santa Caterina is a good option.

11. Don’t order paella for dinner.

It’s a lunch dish considered too heavy for a late meal.

Barcelona market

A shop selling Spanish jamón in La Boqueria Market. Photo: Jessica Spengler

Shopping

12. Don’t take photos in shops or at market stands unless you’ve asked permission.

Fortunately, most of the time, the vendors will say yes.

13. Do shop for exquisite Spanish shoes and clothing.

Looking for Zara, Mango, etc.? Head to the Gothic Quarter around Portal de l’Àngel and Carrer Comtal.

14. Do score deep discounts during the twice-annual city-wide sales.

They’re held in Barcelona in January/February and July/August.

15. Don’t buy souvenirs on La Rambla.

Look for locally made goodies to take home on side-streets off La Rambla.

16. Do check out museum stores.

They offer a great selection of books on Barcelona and artsy souvenirs crafted in Barcelona.

Park Guell

The spectacular Park Güell designed by Gaudí. Photo: Carlos Lorenzo

Sightseeing

17. Do pay the entrance fee to see La Sagrada Família.

It’s Barcelona’s most important sight and there is a reason for this — it’s stunning! Cough up the entrance fee and spend a few hours inside gawking at Antoni Gaudí’s unfinished masterpiece. (And do get tickets online and skip the wait. Read all of our tips for visiting Sagrada Familia.)

18. Don’t go to Park Güell if you’re short on time.

It’s a bit of trek to get up to Park Güell that can easily eat up most of the day. Stick to Gaudí sights in the city center if you’ve only got a couple of days.

19. Do rent a bike.

Ride along Barcelona’s beachfront boardwalk from La Barceloneta to Llevant beach. Stop along the way for lunch at a seaside eatery.

20. Don’t spend all your time on La Rambla.

It’s tempting to spend too much time with the human statues, cheesy vendors and crowds of tourists. But do walk down La Rambla at least once and stop in to see La Boqueria Market.

21. Do take a tour of the Gothic Quarter.

Get an in-depth look at what Barcelona was like in Roman times.

22. Don’t confine yourself to Barcelona’s city limits.

Consider a day trip to Girona to wander its medieval lanes, Figueres to see the Salvador Dalí Museum, or the Penedès region for wine tasting.

Hostal Fernando

Hostal Fernando offers a central location and rooms for every budget.

Hotels

23. Don’t try to save money by staying at an out-of-the-way hotel.

It’s worth it to spend a little more to be central. You’ll save time and money getting to popular sights, and it will be easier to walk home at night. Check out these affordable hotels near Barcelona’s most popular attractions.

24. Do make sure your hotel has a safe in the room or at the reception desk.

Leave your passport, extra cash and credit cards, and anything else of value that you will not need on you in the safe. Here are 10 tips for staying safe in Barcelona.

25. Don’t pay for an expensive hotel breakfast at your hotel.

Instead, head to the nearest cafe and eat breakfast like a local for about $5 (coffee and a small sandwich or pastry).

Finally, do come to Barcelona with an open mind and flexible itinerary.

Travel is tricky and things may not pan out the way you planned. It could rain, a museum could be closed for remodeling, or the taxi drivers could go on strike.

However, good things can crop up too, and it’s rewarding to be able to spot these opportunities when they surface and embrace them. A restaurant owner offers you something that’s not on the menu, and it turns out to be the best meal of your life. A local invites you over to their condo for coffee, and you make a new friend. A wrong turn takes you down a winding alleyway with unique bars and boutiques.

The unplanned can many times be the best part of the journey — embrace it!

The post Barcelona: 25 Do’s and Don’ts that will improve your trip appeared first on EuroCheapo's Budget Travel Blog.

Source: Euro Cheapo

How to Save on Your Trip to Europe

EuroCheapo’s Ultimate Budget Travel Guide to Europe


Welcome, budget traveler!

If you’re looking for ways to make your upcoming trip to Europe more affordable, you’ve come to the right place. Since 2001, EuroCheapo has been helping travelers save in Europe. It’s what we do.

On the following pages we’ve compiled our top budget travel advice. It’s organized into 10 quick chapters about ways to save on the big items in your travel budget: the flights, hotels, train tickets, rental cars, sightseeing, using your smartphone and more.

But let’s be clear: These travel tips aren’t only about spending less on your trip. They’re also about having a better experience when traveling in Europe.

We believe that the best budget travel is also about slowing down and traveling in step with the locals. If you can do that, and if you’ve learned a couple tricks of the cheapo trade, the savings will follow. And, in the end, you’ll have a richer experience. We’ll get into all of that below.

 

A quick note about us — and why we can help you save in Europe

My name is Tom Meyers and I started EuroCheapo back in 2001. I quit my job in New York and moved to Berlin and hand-coded the first version of this site that launched that June. Honestly, I had a blast — I spent the year hunting down the best small, budget hotels in the center of Europe’s most expensive cities. I felt like every day was a treasure hunt.

Since then, I’ve been joined by a team of writers and editors who have kept up our hotel picks (like these in Paris and Rome), but who’ve also written nearly 3,000 articles about simple ways to save on every aspect of your trip, from booking flights and train tickets to cheap eats and saving on sightseeing.

In the following pages, I’ll be sharing these tips with you in the first person, although many of these tips have been plucked from the thousands of posts published on our blog. I’m thankful to the dozens of fabulous writers who have shared their expertise with us on the site over the years and continue to write for us. You can read more about them if you click their names on any of the blog posts we link to.

I hope that you’ll find these budget travel tips helpful and that together, we can help you spend less while improving your travels in Europe. If you have questions or feedback on these tips, send me an email or leave a comment below. And please join us on Facebook.

Thanks — and bon voyage, Cheapos!

Our guide to saving in Europe


Chapter 1:  When to go to Europe (for the best bang for your buck)

If you have the flexibility to choose the timing of your next trip, you’re in a good spot. Which season makes the most sense for your schedule and for your budget? Is there a better time to go?

Cheapo Tip: If possible, travel during low season or “shoulder season” for the best deals.

 

 


Chapter 2:  Building an affordable itinerary

Travelers, especially those from North America, tend to overbook their trips to Europe. We can’t help it. Resist the urge to “see it all”, and you’ll save time and money — and probably have a much better travel experience.

Cheapo Tip: We like to spend at least two nights in each spot. It helps our budget… and our sanity.

 

 


Chapter 3:  Finding cheap airfare to Europe

Flying to Europe is expensive — in fact, it’s probably the largest expense facing many American travelers. How can you actually find great deals on airfare to Europe? Here are some tips to help you fly the cheapo skies.

Cheapo Tip: Airfare alerts are your friend. So are “open jaw” flights.

 

 


Chapter 4:  Saving on hotels in Europe

Whether you’re planning to travel for two days or 20 days, where you stay can have a major impact on both your budget and your trip experience. Here are some tips for booking the right hotels for your trip — and at the best possible price.

Cheapo Tip: Small, family-run hotels can make all the difference on your trip. But you have to find them.

 

 

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Chapter 5:  Saving on train tickets in Europe

Americans are rightfully awestruck by Europe’s high-speed rail network, from the TGV in France to Germany’s Bahn and Italy’s Trenitalia. But what’s the best way to book those tickets in advance? And should you buy a rail pass?

Cheapo Tip: Book your train tickets like the locals, and you’ll save (just like the locals).

 

 


Chapter 6:  Saving on car rentals in Europe

What’s the best way to rent a car in Europe? Should you go through a European website or an American site? Do you need an international driver’s license? What should you be aware of before you sit down behind the wheel?

Cheapo Tip: Book early, and then re-book if you find a better deal. And double check the fuel type.

 

 


Chapter 7:  Saving on sightseeing and making the most of your time

Hooray, you’ve got the big stuff booked. Now what? How much of your time should you schedule in advance? Should you pre-book attractions? Wing it when you’re there? Let’s discuss.

Cheapo Tip: Too much pre-booking can actually stress you (and your travel companions) out later.

 

 


Chapter 8:  Using your smartphone abroad

With a little planning, it’s possible to use your phone while traveling abroad for a variety of purposes (calling, texting, emailing) without getting stuck with a huge bill when you return. Here’s a quick guide to setting it up.

Cheapo Tip: Our advice for using a phone in Europe? Keep it SIM-ple.

 

 


Chapter 9:  Money, ATMs, and credit cards

What’s the best way to get cash when you’re heading to Europe? Should you buy euros before you go? Are Travelers Checks totally passé? Will your credit card work? And which countries take the euro? We’ll break it all down.

Cheapo Tip: Get your money like the locals do… from a faceless machine.

 

 


Chapter 10:  Packing for savings

You want to pack it all, but remember: You’ll be hauling those bags through airports, train stations, down cobblestone alleys, and stowing them in rental cars, high-speed trains, and small hotel rooms.

Cheapo Tip: The time to lighten your load is now. Seriously. I’m talking to you. Yes, you.

–>


Chapters 5-8: Coming soon!

Stay tuned — we’ll be publishing our guides to saving on train tickets, rental cars, sightseeing and more in the coming week!

 


Now… where are you going?

Once you’ve read through these quick chapters, you’ll have a great grasp on many of the top budget travel strategies that work today. But wait — there’s more!

Now comes the fun part: It’s time to start researching ways to save in the countries and cities that you’ll be visiting. It’ll probably come as no surprise that we have a lot to say about that, too.

See our top budget travel advice for:

Top Cities:

Amsterdam | Barcelona | Florence | London | New York | Paris | Rome | Venice

Top Countries:

France | Germany | Italy | Netherlands | Portugal | Spain | Switzerland | UK

 


 

The post How to Save on Your Trip to Europe appeared first on EuroCheapo's Budget Travel Blog.

Source: Euro Cheapo

Tanzania with a Hustler, Healing Through Travel, and a Pilgrim’s Walk in France

Raja Ampat travel Indonesia

With a strange subject line like that, you know it’s time for a new issue of Perceptive Travel online magazine, home to some of the best stories on the web, written by wandering book authors. In the May issue, we take you to four continents through four traveling tales, long-form narratives that dig deeper and […]

Want to live a better life for half the price? Sign up for the Cheap Living Abroad Newsletter.

             

Source: Cheapest Destinations

How to Save on Hotels in Europe

Chapter 4: How to Save on Hotels in Europe


Whether you’re planning to travel for two days or 20 days, where you stay can have a big impact on both your budget and your trip experience.


We’ve spent the past 18 years hunting down the best hotel values in Europe’s priciest cities. While we’ve seen some big changes, good and bad, over the years (finally, free Wi-Fi!), there are certain bits of “Cheapo advice” that remain the same today as in 2001.

Before we get started, remember: Don’t panic.

High-season rates in particularly expensive destinations (London, Venice, all of Switzerland…) can cause great anxiety and all-out panic. Remain calm and remember that many websites (not including EuroCheapo, of course!), rank the hotel results to show you what they’d like you to book first. (These are often the hotels that are paying them the highest commission.)

So don’t just stare at those first results and quickly assume that the city’s going to be too expensive for you to visit. It might take a little digging and further research (using tips on this page and throughout EuroCheapo), but chances are you’ll be able to find a great little hotel, B&B, or hostel in town for your budget.

Bottom line: Don’t panic. But be prepared to do some digging for a deal.


Tips for saving on hotels in Europe

Here are our 10 top tips for saving on accommodation and on finding the perfect hotels for your trip.

1. Think about location before price.

We often hear from travelers who do a hotel search, and then book the cheapest hotel they can find, only to realize it’s located far outside the center (or in a neighboring town!), and isn’t easily accessible to areas they want to visit. This can cause an undue expenditure of both time and money, not to mention often a crummy hotel experience.

Fortunately, this can be avoided with advance planning. Really zoom in on the hotel’s location when researching. How far is it from a subway or bus line? Consider paying just a bit more for something more central or closer to public transportation.

2. Be flexible with your travel schedule.

If your trip itinerary spends quite a bit of time in one geographic area, flexibility with your itinerary can help save money. Once you start searching for hotels, you might find that one stop is more expensive on certain dates than others. Juggling around your itinerary can allow you book hotels when they’re at their cheapest.

For example, say you’re spending a week in Belgium, visiting both Brussels and Bruges. Once you start searching for hotels, you’ll likely find that hotel rates in Brussels are lower on the weekends (because there are fewer business travelers and Eurocrats booking them). Thus, why not visit Bruges during the week, and spend the weekend in Brussels, when hotels are at their cheapest?

3. More stars do not always make a better hotel.

Hotel star ratings in Europe are confusing. Every country has their own standards and system of classification, usually set by a government-run tourism board. Thus, what qualifies as a three-star hotel in the Netherlands will probably be different from a three-star hotel in Italy.

In short, the more amenities and services a hotel offers, the higher the star rating. Inspectors visit with clipboards and literally check off everything they see in the lobby, hotel room and elsewhere. The more stuff to check off, the higher the star rating. But obviously, more “stuff” doesn’t always make a better-run, friendlier or more memorable hotel.

You can be fairly certain that a four-star hotel offers elevators, room service, private baths, cable TV, Internet, air conditioning and so forth. But it doesn’t say anything about the room décor, the hotel’s location or the helpfulness of the staff. A four-star hotel may actually be far less charming than a two-star hotel.

We’ve visited many hotels that are stuck, for reasons outside their control, with a low star rating. A two-star hotel located in a historic neighborhood in Paris, for example, will probably have restrictions placed upon its ability to do renovations. This might make adding an elevator impossible, which would prevent the hotel from achieving three-star status, no matter how lovely the rooms or how cordial the management.

Also, note that one-star hotels will often offer things for free (like Internet access) that four-star hotels might still charge for. Read more about star ratings in Europe.

4. Which amenities do you really need? Really?

If you can reduce the number of amenities you need, and reduce the star rating, you can probably score a better deal. Consider which room amenities you really need to enjoy your visit. Do you need air conditioning in Vienna in early June? Do you need a safe? Hairdryer? Toiletries? The difference between a one-star and a three-star hotel might be more noticeable in your wallet than in your room.

5. Know when to book.

When’s the best time to book to save on hotels in Europe? Unfortunately, it depends. Booking in advance helps you arrange your travel plans before you take off, but you miss out on the possibility of last-minute travel deals. Booking at the last minute (even same day!), can result in amazing deals, but it can also lead to stress… and finding yourself without a place to sleep.

I wrote an entire post about when to book hotels for the best rates. But basically, it boils down to this:

We recommend booking well in advance if:

  • You need to secure a favorite hotel. Book it before it fills up.
  • You see very limited availability when you search. Book now — it’s only going to get worse. (This is especially the case during high season.)
  • You just want to get everything checked off you’re list and relax.
  • You have a pretty rigid schedule.

We recommend booking closer to your travel date if:

  • You see lots of availability and cheapo options when you search for hotels. You can hang back and see if prices come down. (This is often the case when traveling during the off season.)
  • You want more flexibility when you’re traveling. Are you the kind of travelers who likes to switch your itinerary at the last minute? You may just want to hold off. (Or at least book refundable rates! See next point.)

6. Consider first booking a hotel with free cancellation.

Another option is to book a hotel right now that offers free cancellation, and then cancel the reservation later if you find a better deal. This can at least calm your nerves (hey, you’ve got a place!), and allow you some flexibility in terms of finding something better later.

One warning: Most hotels now charge a bit more for free cancellation (so you’re actually spending money to have this flexibility). Also, be aware that the definition of “free cancellation” varies widely. Free… until when? Are you free to cancel until the day of your reservation… or only free to cancel up to one week before check-in? There’s a big difference — pay attention to the details.

7. Consider renting an apartment.

Even though we have a special love for small hotels, we can’t deny that apartments can be handy and sometimes even more affordable than hotels, especially for longer stays or when traveling with a family. You can browse apartment listings by searching on EuroCheapo, or on any number of apartment search sites, like VRBO or (of course) Airbnb.

Be aware that some European cities, like Paris and Berlin, are cracking down on illegal apartment rentals on these sites, so double-check before booking that it’s legal! Also make sure that all of the check-in logistics are squared away in advance, and that you know exactly how to get into the apartment, and how to contact the apartment’s owner for any questions or emergencies.

8. Hostels are for everyone.

Hostels in Europe aren’t just for “youth” anymore. In fact, in the past 10-15 years scores of stylish and hip hostels, like the Generator chain, have reinvented what it means to be a hostel. Today’s “hip hostels” often offer fresh design themes (often developed by local artists), low-cost group activities, healthy food options, and lots of shared space.

As you’ll see when you search and filter by “hostels” on EuroCheapo, the bedroom situation ranges widely depending on the hostel, but most offer both private rooms that are cheaper than you’d find in most hotels (you’ve got the room to yourself, although you might share a bathroom) and really cheap shared rooms (you’re probably sleeping in a bunk with others in the room). Regardless, rooms tend to be simply furnished, but often hostels make up for it with extensive public rooms meant for reading, hanging out, and meeting other travelers.

That said… the hostel landscape still includes plenty of more traditional “youth hostel” options, as well, especially those official and non-profit hostels affiliated with Hostelling International.

9. Take our hotel advice

We’ve spent a lot of time inspecting hotels and rounding up the best affordable hotel options in Europe’s priciest destinations. We especially like small, family-run and independent hotels that really capture the spirit of the destination–and we try to stay away from recommending big international chain hotels. I always say that I prefer to wake up in Rome and immediately feel that I’m in Rome — and not next to the Milwaukee airport.

You can easily save on hotels in Europe by booking one of our picks in Paris, Amsterdam, Rome, Venice or any of these cities. We’ve already done the hard work for you!

10. Keep saving once you’ve checked in.

Once you arrive, there are still ways to save on your hotels in Europe even after you’ve checked in. These include:

Head for the nearest grocery store: Don’t touch that minibar! As soon as we plop our things down in our room, we typically head out to a nearby supermarket for some essentials: Bottles of water, fruit, snacks, missing toiletries, and anything else that would cost us a small fortune if purchased from the hotel or (double yikes!) taken from the mini-fridge.

Think twice about breakfast: When you check in, the receptionist will probably ask you, “Are you taking breakfast?” Don’t be shy here — ask for more specifics before committing to their breakfast offerings. How much does it cost? And what exactly does it consist of? (You might be surprised!) If you’re staying in the middle of a city or town, chances are you can easily walk to a cafe or restaurant and get a better deal.

Be clear when making your hotel reservation.

One final word of advice (from an article I wrote about how to not get stuck with the worst room in the hotel): Be as clear as possible when reserving your room. What exactly are you looking for in a room? Do you prefer one on a high floor overlooking the street? Or perhaps you like lower floors with windows opening to the courtyard? Maybe you dream of a room with a balcony? Do you need a bathtub instead of a shower?

Mention these preferences in your correspondence with the hotel when reserving. (When reserving through EuroCheapo, there is a field in the reservation form to add any special requests). Your requests will almost always be considered. The hotel wants you to be a happy guest (and they especially want you to write a glowing review). They’ll try hard to accommodate.

 

The post How to Save on Hotels in Europe appeared first on EuroCheapo's Budget Travel Blog.

Source: Euro Cheapo

How to find cheap airfare to Europe

Chapter 3: Finding Cheap Flights to Europe


Flying to Europe is expensive — in fact, it’s probably the largest expense facing many American travelers heading abroad. How can you actually find great deals on airfare to Europe? Here are some tips to help you fly the cheapo skies.


For most of us traveling from North America, the flight to Europe is our biggest budget obstacle. While it can be easy to find great bargains on hotels, it takes a bit of effort and research to uncover cheap flights across the Atlantic.

There are airfare flash sales that come and go, but those are hard to nab if you don’t act quickly. However, before you give up hope on finding a good price for your next flight, try some of the tips below.

Example flight

For the tips that follow, we’ll use a sample itinerary. We’ll say that we’re based in Chicago and want to visit London, Amsterdam, and Paris. We’re looking for a flight from Chicago to London. After spending a few days in London, we plan to take the train to Amsterdam (via Lille) and wind up in Paris. Then we’ll head back to London to fly home to Chicago.

So how can we save on this flight?


Airfare Watchdog

Set up alerts so you can get the latest prices on your route.

1. Set up an airfare alert.

If you know the exact route that you want to fly, you should set up airfare alerts to be notified of flight deals immediately. Websites like Kayak.com and Airfarewatchdog.com will email you when they notice a deal on the route that you’re planning to fly.

In this example, we can go to these websites and create a flight alert for Chicago to London. But wait…

2. Don’t forget about “open jaw” flights.

As I mentioned in my overview of creating a trip itinerary, “open jaw” flights (into and out of different cities) can help you save time and money, as they’re often about the same price as flights into and out of the same city. Furthermore, you can save lots of money on transportation (trains, buses, ferries, etc), as you won’t need to circle back to your city of arrival. This tip can not only save you money but allows you to save time, so you can see more of Europe.

In our example above, instead of a round-trip to London, you could fly into London and home from Paris. It’s a good idea to also research the round-trip fares from London (after all, you might snag a cheap deal), but we would certainly focus on flights from Chicago -> London, and then Paris -> Chicago.

Even if that flight turned out to be a bit more expensive, chances are it would be less expensive than paying for a trip on the Eurostar (or a flight!) back from Paris to London (and probably an extra overnight in London, too).

Paris in May

Paris in May can be just as beautiful (and a lot less crowded) than the summer. Photo: Loïc Lagarde

3. Be flexible with your dates.

Flexibility is a budget traveler’s best friend (in so, so many ways!). In terms of snagging a good deal on flights, if you can bump your travel dates around a bit, you may end up saving a lot on airfare.

If you have the possibility, try pushing the trip back a week or up a week to see if you can find a deal on airfare. You might be surprised—there might be something happening (a big convention, sporting event, Madonna concert…) in one of your cities that is throwing off the airfare.

In our example, say that we find that our flight seems strangely expensive. In fact, the hotel prices also seem quite high—but only for Paris for our dates. This could indicate that Paris is booked up with some special event (such as a giant conference or the annual Fashion Weeks). If you have some flexibility, push your trip dates around and see if airfare drops. Hunt for a deal–you might just find it.

4. Avoid weekends, if possible.

Flights tend to be more popular and more expensive for weekend travelers. If you’re able to travel midweek, chances are you’ll be able to snag a better deal. Play around with your dates — you’ll probably see cheaper airfare on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Heathrow

Heathrow is a major airport in London, but did you know there are several others? Photo: Stefan Kellner

5. Be flexible with your destinations or itinerary.

Conversely, you can play around with your destinations. Is there another airport nearby that you haven’t included in your search? Could you add another leg to your trip that includes a less expensive airport to fly into? Can you juggle your itinerary a bit to avoid a momentarily expensive city?

Back to our example, if Paris is booked up (and flights expensive) because of the fashion show, perhaps we could invert the trip, landing in Paris (the week before the fashion show), visiting Amsterdam and then departing from London. This would allow us to avoid not only more expensive flight costs, but higher hotel rates, as well.

You should also double-check and make sure that you’re including “all area airports” in your search. In our example, don’t just search for Heathrow (LHR) and Charles de Gaulle (CDG). Make sure to search for the city code, “LON” and “PAR”, to see all area airports. A lot of European cities, even smaller ones, have secondary airports that might be new to you.

A final option is to “hub it.” For example, say you find an incredible flight deal from Chicago to Dublin on Aer Lingus. It might be worth booking the flight to Dublin and then searching Europeans budget airlines (like Ryanair and easyJet) to get a fare from Dublin to London.

Kayak

Don’t overlook nearby airports. Kayak has a function to let you easily search for them.

6. If at all possible, avoid the peak travel season.

We know, for many travelers, the timing of the trip has been established long in advance (often dictated by academic schedules, holidays, or growling bosses). However, if you do have a bit more flexibility and are looking for ways to save, consider pushing your trip away from peak summer months and major holidays, and into “shoulder season” or even low season.

For spring travel, instead of June, try early May or late April. Looking for a fall visit to Europe? Push your plans back from September to October to save a bit more. If you’re able to travel to Europe in the early spring or late fall, you will almost certainly be rewarded with lower airfares, shorter lines at top attractions, and lower hotel rates. (Read more about the best time to visit Europe.)

7. Book it when you see a deal.

According to a study by the airline experts at Kayak.com, the ideal time to book airfare to Europe is six months in advance. That said, these days you should snag a deal whenever you spot one!

8. Don’t forget about “budget” international airlines.

In the past few years, a number of new budget-conscious airlines have started flying between North America and Europe. These airlines have made it possible to find one-way tickets for jaw-dropping prices, and their fare calendars make it easy to browse prices over the course of a few months.

While some of these airlines have gone out of business (including Wow Air in 2019), Norwegian is a budget option that has been offering super cheap fares from North American to Europe for years. They fly non-stop from New York to London, and we’ve found some excellent deals on Norwegian in the past. Read our guide to making your trip on Norwegian more comfortable.

Will you score a $99 one-way flight to Europe? Probably not, but it’s still worth it for budget travelers to look for deals on Norwegian Air and Westjet (from Canada).

9. Subscribe to airline newsletters.

You can’t take advantage of fare sales if you never hear about them. I suggest signing up for airline email newsletters that fly to your area. If you’re afraid of spammy airline emails clogging up your inbox, you can unsubscribe once you’ve booked your trip!

Here’s a list of newsletters we recommend subscribing to.

10. Points, credit cards, and rewards travel.

And then there’s the world of rewards travel. Redeeming frequent flier miles for “free flights” to Europe or using miles to upgrade to business class is another matter unto itself. In fact, it’s spawned a world of experts who give advice on the best credit cards to use for miles, strategies for accumulating miles, etc.

A word of caution: Don’t put yourself in debt signing up for new credit cards in order to accumulate frequent flyer miles. Those “free” flights will end up costing you far more than paying full price.

However, done the right way, transfering credit card “points” to frequent flyer miles can help you snag free or discounted flights. If nothing else, double check that your credit card is working for you. Are you accumulating points? Check out this post I wrote a few years ago about mistakes to avoid with your frequent flyer program.


Your tips

How do you keep it cheap when searching for airfare to and around Europe? Share with us in the comments section below!

The post How to find cheap airfare to Europe appeared first on EuroCheapo's Budget Travel Blog.

Source: Euro Cheapo

Creating the Best Itinerary for European Travel

Chapter 2: Best Itineraries for European Travel


When putting your travel itinerary together, try to remain calm and realistic. If possible, give yourself a minimum of two nights at every stop in order to minimize travel expenses and keep everyone happy.


Note: This is Chapter Two in our Ultimate Budget Travel Guide to Europe.

The trip planning experience can be exhilarating. You know that you have a set number of days (or weeks!) to travel, and you look at a map with all the lip-smacking excitement of a kid in a candy store. Where do you want to visit? Where don’t you want to visit?

Imagine that you’re putting together an itinerary for a 10-day trip. You could start in Paris, head to Amsterdam, then take a train to Salzburg, Venice and Rome? Wait, maybe start in Madrid instead, then drive up to Barcelona, Nice, Milan, Munich and then Amsterdam? But hold on. What about Prague?!?!

If you’re only traveling for 10 days, either of those options is certain to cost you dearly (in transportation costs alone) and, without question, lead to grumpy and exhausted travelers.

My epic misadventure

I know, because I’ve been there. In a state of unabashed enthusiasm, I once rented a car for about 10 days and drove with friends from Berlin to Paris, then to Madrid, Lisbon, Seville, Barcelona, Aix-en-Provence, Nice, Locarno, Tubingen and back to Berlin.

Sounds great, right? It certainly started out with a blast–and ended with silence, as nobody talked in the car for the last day.

I had made a classic mistake: I’d overbooked us. When I had mapped it all out beforehand at my kitchen table it all seemed like so much fun. It worked, technically. But in practice, it meant that we spent far too much time sitting in a car (or, in my case, driving the car), and not nearly enough time exploring the cities we slept in or the tiny towns we raced by.

We ended up resenting that we had to keep on driving past places we wanted to visit. And if we did stop to check out the scene, we’d end up arriving late at whatever hotel I’d booked (months beforehand). We’d have time for a late dinner, then wake up and start over. There was never any time that wasn’t in motion–we could never actually relax.

A note to first-time American travelers to Europe

I grew up in the great state of Ohio and spent many wonderful summer breaks cruising from state to state in the family van. We took in a lot of territory during our one- and two-week family jaunts, often spending much of day taking in the scene from the air conditioned comfort of the big old Ford. Sure, we’d stop for meals, photo ops and major tourist sights (Grand Canyon, Old Faithful, a day at Disneyland), but much of the adventure was the drive itself.

Many travelers from the US approach their European travel planning with a similar mindset. Why not jump from town to town every day, taking in the landscape, driving through cities and finding fun spots for dinner along the way?

Add to our inherent “road trip” instinct the fact that we get the fewest days of vacation each year of any industrialized country, and the high cost of flights to Europe in the first place, and you’ve got a situation where American travelers understandably want to pack in as many experiences as possible during their European trips.

Nobody’s going to stop you from doing this, of course, and you might have a grand time. However, you’d be missing out on a lot. Many of the cities that you’ll be passing through have histories that go back more than a millennium. A region that you could speed through in an hour probably has its own cuisine worth sampling, wine worth tasting, and dessert worth gobbling. It’s worth slowing down to experience it.


Why should you slow down?

Aside from your sanity and the happiness of your travel companions, slowing down can also lead to real savings. Read on…

Gas is expensive.

If my last point didn’t convince you, it’s worth noting that slowing down means less gas. Gasoline in Europe is far more expensive than in North America. If you’re planning to rent a car and drive like crazy, you’re in for a real shock at the pump.

Don’t believe me? As I writer this, the average cost of gas in the US is just over $3. As you can see on this European gas tracker, it’s currently $6.59 in France — and higher in Italy.

Slowing down means fewer train tickets.

Zipping from city to city on Europe’s high-speed rail network is an experience in itself and is highly recommended. You can speed from Florence to Rome in 90 minutes on the high-speed train (and for as little as €20 off-peak if you book directly in advance!).

However, those seats (and those on France’s TGV, Germany’s ICE, and Spain’s Renfe) can be expensive in high season. Save on transportation costs by scaling back your itinerary. Not to mention that if you speed from one city to the next day after day, most of your trip memories will be of train stations and cafe cars.


Tips for putting your itinerary together

Now, let’s start putting the itinerary together. How many stops? How many nights in each stop? Here are some thoughts:

Minimize the one-night stands.

Try this: When building out your itinerary, don’t allow yourself any one-night stops. Unless you’re really on a mission to get somewhere, give yourself at least two nights in every hotel you book.

This little tip will force you to slow down and take in your surroundings a bit. But on a more practical note, it will relieve the hassle of schlepping your bags from hotel to hotel, packing and unpacking, checking in and checking out. All of that busy work can be a time-waster and add stress to your trip.

I recently helped a friend plan a trip to Normandy from Paris. His instinct was to drive up from Paris to a small B&B near the American cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, spend the night, and then head back to Paris the next day.

What was the problem with this plan? It didn’t leave any time to actually visit the beaches, cemetery, or surrounding towns. He might have been able to see a few things, but not take the time to really take it in. Fortunately, he booked two nights, and he greatly enjoyed exploring not only the beaches and cemetery, but the surrounding villages. He later told me about an unforgettable experience he had going to mass in a small village church–something that certainly would have fallen off an over-packed itinerary.

Use your two-day stops as bases for exploration.

If you do take my advice and give yourself at least two-day stops along your trip, use those stops as bases for exploration. This way you can wake up, not have to pack things up, head off to explore, and feel relaxed that you can come back to your “home base” whenever you please.

You also have the added bonus of exploring a territory that your hotel owner will be very familiar with. He or she will be able to offer all kinds of inside advice for activities not to miss, restaurants to try out, and views to take in.

A few years ago my partner and I were married in France. For our honeymoon we headed to the Greek island of Crete. During the planning stages, we were both so excited about experiencing the island that, in typical fashion, we planned to move from town to town each day, making our way around the island over the course of the week. There were so many things to see on the east coast, and amazing villages in the west, and great beaches along the south… and the ancient Minoan ruins in the north!

And then something happened. We remembered that this wasn’t a race: It was our honeymoon. At the last moment, we booked one amazing mountainside hotel in the southeastern part of the island, and used this as our home base. We checked in and unpacked for the week. Although we had brought along a travel guidebook, some of the best advice we received was from the friendly hotel manager.

From here, each morning, we took off to explore the beaches, the ruins, the villages, and the amazing restaurants. And every night, we came home, relaxed, and happy that we didn’t have to pack up in the morning.

This is an extreme example (it’s a honeymoon, after all), but I bring it up as it’s one trip where I forced myself to overcome my instinctive “go, go, go” trip mentality. And, in the end, the trip was more relaxed and full of surprises.

Prefer one night stops? Cut back on travel time.

I know that the (minimum) two-day stop isn’t going to work for everyone and for every trip. Sometimes you’re on a mission — you’re just trying to get from Venice to Paris by car, an 11-hour drive. Some will be tempted to just do the whole thing in one epic day on the road.

Do a search on Google maps for the route and you’ll see several halfway marks that would be perfect for an overnight. (I would recommend either Lyon or Geneva.) If you’re on a mission, I probably won’t be able to convince you to spend two nights in either city. (Even though either would be amazing. You could explore the vineyards of the Cotes-du-Rhone during your day off in Lyon, or search for the perfect cheesy raclette in the mountain villages surrounding Geneva!)

However, I would at least recommend an overnight in one of these towns, or at countless smaller villages along the way. The point is to break that 11-hour trip up into smaller, manageable trips. For this example, I think at least two overnights would be better. Three or four hours of driving every day will still give you time to explore the territory.

You don’t always need to drive in circles.

When you’re checking around for flights to Europe for your trip, remember to check “open jaw” flights that allow you to fly into one city and home from another. (For example, a flight from Boston to London, and then a return flight from Amsterdam to Boston.)

Increasingly, these flights cost about the same amount as flights into and out of the same city. “Open jaw” flights can have a big impact on your itinerary, as they can free you to plot your trip in a straight line, avoiding that end-of-trip requirement to circle back to your city of arrival.

For example, say that you’re flying from Chicago to London, then heading by train to Paris, and then down to Nice before heading home. Check flights from Chicago to London, but with a return from Nice to Chicago. There’s no need to make the mad dash from Nice all the way back up to London. So many travelers do this, and it can add unnecessary stress and expense to the final days of your trip. (Wouldn’t you rather be hanging out on the beach for another day than hustling back to London?)

One caveat: These “open jaw” flights might not work for you if you’re renting a car. (You’re in luck if you’re moving around Europe by train or by one-way flights inside Europe.) Renting a car in one European country and dropping it off in another can be quite expensive, as the company usually tacks on a fee to go fetch the car and bring it back home.


Your trip itinerary

Now, back to your drawing board (or kitchen table). Try plotting out your destinations, giving consideration to all the stops along the way. Play around with your itinerary and see what it looks like if you trim a couple of stops, and double up the nights on others.

And remember, by building more time into each step of your trip, you’re giving yourself more time for surprises and serendipity. You don’t need to know what you’re going to do on your day off in southern Spain. You’ll find something tasty, we promise you!

The post Creating the Best Itinerary for European Travel appeared first on EuroCheapo's Budget Travel Blog.

Source: Euro Cheapo

Why I Try to Book Cruise Excursions On My Own

While I’m not a huge cruiser, I have been taking four, sometimes five, cruises per year these last few years. I like the convenience factor of cruising and the fact that they offer such excellent value. My kids also love cruising so much right now too, which makes it easy to book a cruise instead of other types of trips.

I typically book with MSC Cruises because kids ages 11 and under are free on most itineraries and their pricing is usually the best anyway. And before anyone asks, MSC Cruises doesn’t pay me to say these things! They really do offer the best pricing. For my upcoming Norwegian fjords cruise in June, for example, our balcony cabin on the MSC Meraviglia was around $3,100 for the seven-night trip. However, competitors like Royal Caribbean and Holland America were charging more like $7,000 and up for similar itineraries!

Of course, the cruise fare itself isn’t the only cost involved in cruising. You also have excursions to book at each port you stop in — or not. You don’t have to book anything at all, but I typically do.

The thing is, I normally plan our own excursions instead of booking with the cruise line. Here’s why:

You can help the local economy.

I always prefer to spend my money with the people of the destination I’m visiting instead of a big corporation. Case in point: Whenever I go to Jamaica, I hire my friend Lyndon from Purpose Driven Tours to pick us up from the airport or take us to a beach. Lyndon is an independent business owner, which is rare for tour operators in Jamaica. When you spend money with someone like Lyndon, it goes directly to their family without a big company taking 50% or more off the top.

You can run things on your own schedule.

During our March trip to Ochos Rios on the MSC Seaside, Lyndon suggested we go to Puerto Seco Beach, which is about an hour from the cruise port. I’m so glad we went here! The water was amazing, the food was plentiful, the people were so friendly, and it wasn’t crowded at all. There’s also a huge floating water park at this beach resort for the kids. You should definitely check it out!

The thing is, MSC Cruises also took a group to this beach. But because it was a group trip, they were only there from around noon until 3:00 p.m. Since we went with Lyndon and he picked us up as soon as we could disembark, we were able to stay at the beach from 10: 15 a.m. until 4:00 p.m.

Self-guided tours can be a lot cheaper.

Self-guided tours can also be less expensive. For our upcoming Norway cruise, this was especially true. While I did book a hiking tour to a glacier with MSC Cruises, I booked our shore excursions through the fjords separately. Out of Flam and Stavanger, we’re cruising the Nærøyfjord and Lysefjord for a little over $300 USD for six people instead of the $500 USD+ we would pay if we went with the ship.

Do you ever plan your own shore excursions? Why or why not?

 

[Image Source: Shutterstock]

Source: frugal travel guy

Hilton Is Testing Confirmed Suite Upgrades

Any luxury hotel cardholder will tell you that part of the appeal of climbing the ranks of a hotel loyalty program is the guaranteed room upgrade. For members of the highest tier, that upgrade includes suites. Marriott and Hyatt are well-known for their confirmed suite upgrade awards to elite loyalty members. This is a huge perk, especially if you will be traveling with your family and need to know in advance if you will be accommodated in a suite.

At last, Hilton will be joining its competitors in awarding its members the same elite benefit. The brand is currently testing a pilot program where select Diamond elite members can confirm a suite upgrade at the time of booking. If the program goes well, Hilton plans to unveil it publicly for all users later in 2019. With the absorption of SPG into Marriott Bonvoy, this new feature could give Hilton a serious edge over competitors, increasing its value and attraction to consumers.

The pilot program works in a similar way that Hyatt’s upgrade benefit works. Hotel members, at the time of booking, can choose to confirm a suite upgrade. The upgrade acts as a certificate that covers stays for a duration of up to seven days. For example, if you book a standard room for seven nights, and use your upgrade certificate during the booking process, your entire stay will be in the suite. Additionally, the certificate is applicable to both cash and award stays, making it an extremely lucrative redemption for users who use points for a stay. Hilton’s pilot users are a lucky bunch. A small group of the brand’s most valued customers was each given a single upgrade certificate to use by the end of March. From the start of the program, January 21st, until after the redemption, Hilton will work with its participants to acquire helpful feedback that will shape the rollout of the larger program.

Jonathan Nouri, Vice President of the Honors Strategy and Program Management is familiar with the importance of upgrades and the value they bring to customers. In a press release, he affirms that Hilton is committed to enhancing loyalty benefits for Gold and Diamond members in the future, conveying that this pilot program is the first step in making those changes a reality. However, before that happens, there are a lot of complexities to work out in terms of the program. Nouri did not have any defining parameters to share, so it is unclear if credit card spending will count towards qualifying, or if the certificate will be awarded based strictly on qualifying nights stayed (it currently takes 60 nights to earn Diamond elite status). While there is no official date on the program’s launch, it seems likely that we will be hearing more about it later on in the year.

If you are not currently a Hilton Honors Aspire cardholder, now could be the perfect time to join. The card, from American Express, gives card members complimentary Diamond status, which is valued at over $2,200 annually when you consider bonus points, airport lounge access, breakfast, and upgrades. As a new member, you will also receive 150,000 Hilton Honors points after spending $4,000 in the first three months of account opening. With the imminent suite upgrade certificate, this could be just the boost you need to dive into Diamond elite status.

Overall, Hilton is taking a step in the right direction by aiming to keep up with other competing loyalty programs. The suite certificate will certainly work to keep elite members in the Honors program, as Hilton has figured out, not offering it is a detriment to those high-earning members. To really stand out, however, the luxury chain should strive to offer something competitors don’t have, instead of simply trying to keep up. Today, when all incentives are the same, how do members choose where to place their loyalty? At least, with this new pilot, Hilton is helping its current members make that choice easier.

What do you think about the introduction of confirmed suite upgrades by Hilton?

 

[Image Source: Shutterstock]

Source: frugal travel guy

I Spent 7,200 Chase Points at a Low-End Orlando Hotel

Sometimes we get to redeem our points and miles for aspirational travel other people can only dream of. Other times, we redeem them for trips that are practical or downright boring.

A recent trip from Miami to Orlando I took ended with the latter situation — as in, me cashing in 7,200 Chase Ultimate Rewards points to spend five hours at the Ramada by Wyndham Suites Orlando Airport hotel. This wasn’t a planned redemption — it was one I made the day before on a whim. But it was necessary and I’m glad I did it.

Why I Love Having Extra Chase Points Laying Around

The redemption in question came about due to the weird flights I had to book into Florida for our spring break cruise on the MSC Seaside out of Miami. Flights from Indianapolis to Miami were insanely expensive and I couldn’t find any award seats I liked with my favorite airlines — American and Delta. Alas, I opted to book cheap Southwest flights early into Orlando and then a flight home from Orlando the day our ship got into port.

This also required me to get a rental SUV on both sides of our cruise, which cost a little over $200 total. The thing is, I still saved over $1,200 on flights with this strategy because Southwest flights into and out of MCO were better than flights into MIA.

Since our flight home took place the day our cruise ended, I was scared to book a departure that was too early. We had to get off the ship, after all, and I had my parents and my kids with me. We also had a 3+ hour drive up to Orlando and would need to stop for lunch. I initially figured we would just stop at a beach along the way and hang out for a few hours.

But the day before we got off the ship, I realized they wanted us to get off at 8:15 a.m. because we have Black status and that’s when our group was set to disembark. That means we could take the time to pick up our rental car, drive the three hours to Orlando, stop for lunch, and still get there at around 2:00 p.m. – EIGHT HOURS before our 10:00 p.m. flight would depart.

That wasn’t going to work, so I got on my smartphone and started figuring out a plan. This ultimately led me to book a night at less than desirable Ramada hotel for 7,200 Chase Ultimate Rewards points with my Chase Sapphire Reserve card. I could have booked something nicer, but we weren’t staying overnight. We just needed a place to hang and watch TV for a while, and this hotel was fine for that — barely, but it worked.

The Bottom Line

This is why I always strive to have extra points and miles laying around. You never know when poor planning or a change in plans can shake up your travel and leave you in a position where you need a hotel, rental car, or flight at the last minute. There’s nothing sexy about booking a cheap Orlando hotel for five hours, but it saved me $100 or more and gave us an easy way to kill some time. You can’t beat that.

Have you ever used points to spend a few hours in a hotel? When?

 

[Image Source: Shutterstock]

Source: frugal travel guy

Travel Prices in Ecuador – Latest Update

international living in Ecuador

  Every few years I do an updated post on travel prices in Ecuador, plus when there’s a new edition of The World’s Cheapest Destinations coming out I dive in deep on that research.  In reality though, prices don’t really change much on the mainland. One of the main reasons is that Ecuador converted to […]

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Source: Cheapest Destinations