October through April is considered the off-season in Europe and it’s a time when hotel rates drop, the crowds dwindle, and you’re likely to meet more locals than tourists. Plus, the weather is still nice so you won’t have to lug around your winter coats. Autumn is the perfect time for a stroll through Paris or a visit to one of Rome’s gelaterias
Here are some ways to save when traveling in the off-season that will allow you to cut costs and plan a magical fall European vacation without hurting your wallet.
1. Be flexible with your flights.
Airfare to Europe will typically drop in the fall since it’s off-season, but you can save even more if you pay attention to which days you fly. Flights during the middle of the week are generally $20 to $40 cheaper than weekends. However, many of the cheapest flights require a Saturday night stay, so book accordingly.
2. Check European airline deals if you’re traveling to several cities in Europe.
3. Traveling by train? Buy tickets in advance.
Train travel is sometimes more expensive than flying, but you can save by buying tickets online in advance and traveling during off-peak hours. Take advantage of the high-speed trains between cities—they can save you significant travel time.
4. Eliminate a night in a hotel. Sleeping in transit is a backpacker’s trick to save money, but it works for those who want to travel in moderate comfort as well. For example, a couchette bed in a six-person compartment on an 11-hour overnight Deutsche Bahn train from Prague to Cologne costs less than $100 per person if purchased in advance.
5. Tell your bank and mobile service provider that you’re traveling.
A few days before your trip, call your bank and tell them what cities you’ll be visiting so they won’t freeze your cards when unusual charges begin to show up. Also, do some research on cell phone plans. What kind of international data package does your carrier offer? You don’t want to save money on your vacation only to end up with hundreds of dollars of roaming charges once you get home.
6. Find the freebies.
Scour the internet before your trip for free museums, concerts, cultural events and activities—you may be surprised by what’s out there. The city of Oslo’s official website, for instance, has an extensive list of free festivals and museums (). The blog at EuroCheapo—a worthwhile source for very affordable hotels—routinely posts articles on how to find free stuff in Europe. Rather than paying for tours, check out free walking tours. Most cities offer them and they’re easy to find via a Internet search. There are no strings attached – simply tip your guide what you feel is appropriate after the tour.
7, Use your debit card or no-fee credit cards for the best exchange rates.
Most banks tack on fees that can add anywhere from 3–8%. But a few, like Citi and Bank of America, have international branches or partners that allow you to use your ATM card fee-free. If you do have to pay international transaction fees, minimize them by withdrawing large amounts less often. Another popular option is to use a credit card that does not charge foreign transaction fees like Arrival by Barclaycard. Not sure? Google “[Card Name} Transaction Fee” to quickly see if any of your cards currently allow you to transact internationally for free.
Finally, if you return home with some euros in your pocket, don’t convert excess currency into cash. You’ll have to pay an even bigger fee to convert your euros back into dollars. Save them for an incentive to return to Europe one day.
Using reward points is a great way to travel on the cheap – read more here.