Money Saving Tips
Whenever we tell people that we’re traveling for a year, the subject of how expensive it must be invariably comes up. Yes, traveling is expensive but it’s not nearly as expensive as people think it is if you have a budget and plan accordingly. Obviously there are the big expenses like lodging & transportation, but we’ve found a bunch of small ways to save money on this trip that can really add up over time.
Bread is not (usually) free.
Unlike the United States, most places in Europe will charge you for bread service. Restaurant servers will typically bring it to your table without asking. It’s not expensive (€1-2), but if you don’t want the carbs, why pay for it? If you’re not in the mood, or are saving for dessert, just tell them you don’t want the bread. It feels a bit weird to send away the food, but trust us, it’s OK.
Free Hours at Museums
Many museums will have certain days (like the first Sunday of the month) or hours set aside for free entry. This is a fantastic way to save some serious dough if your schedule can accommodate it. For example, in Madrid we discovered that the Prado and Reina Sofia museums had free evening hours. This saved us €50 total. The obvious downsides are that a) you have limited time in the museum and b) you have to wait in line and deal with crowds. However, if you find you need more time because you love the exhibits, you can always go back and pay! Don’t try to show up right when it opens though, bring a book and show up 30-45 minutes before the free hours began so that you’re one of the first ones to go in.
If you have your student card, keep it in your wallet. Many ticketed places will provide discounts with proof of a student card, as much as 50% off of an adult pass.
You can haggle on Airbnb
If you’re not comfortable with haggling, this might not for you. However, we’ve discovered that Airbnb allows hosts to send you a special offer if you contact them first. Instead of booking, click the “contact” button. Tell them a little bit about yourself so they get a feel for why you’d be a good guest. Also, appeal to how this will benefit them: perhaps you’re booking for several days or on short notice. It doesn’t always work and we have had plenty of places say no, but that’s the worst that can happen (well, the worst is if you’ve fallen in love with a place and someone else beats you to the booking!) But with so many places available, just be flexible to booking another. Just be polite and reasonable when asking.
Multi-pack public transit passes
Instead of buying individual tickets or unlimited day passes for public transportation, find out if the city sell multi-pass packs that can be shared (some cities, like Milan, do not allow you to sell the multi-pass packs – they still may be worth buying though). For example in Barcelona a single ride costs €2.20 and a 2-day pass costs €15. However you can also get a 10-pack for €10.20 (€1.02/ride) which you can share between as many people as you want. Do some simple math: to make the 2-day pass worth it, you would need more than 15 rides in 48 hours!
Shop at grocery stores
We’re staying almost exclusively at Airbnbs on this trip and most places have a kitchen with refrigerator (check the listing carefully though! Some room-only places might not allow cooking). This means we can make simple meals at home. Besides saving a ton of money, we’ve discovered exploring the grocery store is a very efficient way to see how the locals live and eat. It’s also significantly better for the waistline.
Some of our go to items on this trip have been:
- Yogurt: for some reason yogurt tastes much better in Europe and it’s significantly cheaper
- Bread: bread in Italy is lacking salt and not that tasty, but their baguettes were okay. Baguettes are typically the way to go, but Italy had focaccia and France had croissants. Go with the flow.
- Charcuterie: We ate a ton of prosciutto and salami in Italy and jamón in Spain. It is significantly cheaper and pretty fun to buy at the grocery store. Don’t be shocked by the prices, remember they are in kilograms, which is ten times what a small portion is. Start at 100g and feel free to choose something totally different, the worst case is you’re out a few euros. Even tiny shops in the middle of a city will have a deli.
- Local cheeses: while you can buy most things by weight in Europe, for the cheese you just tell them how big of a slice you want. We’ve never gotten too much if you know what I mean 🙂
- Steamed vegetables: we’ve only seen this in Italy’s fridge section, where you can buy wilted spinach, beet tops, chard, etc. We have not seen this anywhere else though.
- Beer: you can buy single cans of every beer they have and it’s usually < €1/can. So try them all.
- Snacks: it’s fun to try junk food in different countries. L fell in love with Chino, a bitter orange soda, from Italy. In Spain, we found Snatts, a vegetable-based chip brand, and torreznos, which we could only find market store brands of. Torreznos are basically deep-fried pork belly, a much better version of Chicharrón.