Heading on a trip to Europe this year and deep in the planning stages? 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.
From hotels to flights, rental cars and train tickets, there are several things to keep in mind before you hit “book”. Regular readers might recognize a few of these tips from posts in previous years (including last year’s “10 Ways to Save Before Leaving for Europe”). They’ve been included below if they’re still important today, and if they represent a budget travel faux pas worth avoiding.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 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.2. Don’t forget about “open-jaw” flights.
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” 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.3. Don’t automatically start your car rental on your first day.
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 car rentals 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, 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.4. Look past page one for that hotel.
So you’re searching, and searching, and searching for that perfect hotel. Remember when looking to book 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 first.
For budget-minded travelers, this often means looking past these “page one” results. Filter by guest rating, neighborhood and price, and start digging around to find the good stuff. On EuroCheapo, we’re a bit different as we’ve already done this filtering and ranking for you. We list our hotels by “CheapoFactor,” which is a formula that presents the top-rated hotels (including those reviewed by our editors) that have the lowest rates in the most central neighborhood. If you do a hotel search (in the box above or from our homepage) you’ll see these hotels by default.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).6. Think twice before booking 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 my trip to Paris, Munich and Venice last month, 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.
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 Grenada, and to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence (again, skip the ticket line).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 last summer, 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.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 three “Passport” packages that bundle together unlimited texting, data (to send emails and use the Web), and cheaper calling rates. These packages start at $30 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.10. Don’t waste too much money getting euros before leaving.
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.
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). Here are some questions to ask your bank.
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.Your tips?
Have another mistake to avoid to add to our list? Share with us in the comments section below!
The post Planning a trip to Europe? Avoid these 10 costly mistakes appeared first on EuroCheapo's Budget Travel Blog.
The expert team at Cold Fire Creek Dog Sledding hadn’t had a runaway dogsled in over two years. Guess who broke their record?
Not me exactly, I was tucked tightly in the actual sled when the Australian girl who was driving our rig slipped right off the back (to be fair, I’m not sure she’d ever seen snow before this trip). Oblivious, the dogs ran forward at top speed with no one to break or rein them in. I sat helplessly sealed in the canvas seat, able to do nothing except flail uselessly.
For about two seconds I was filled with alarm, the dogs were in charge now and I was going wherever they wanted to take me. Luckily 2 seconds was really all it took for our long-legged guide to race towards me, jump on the back of my sled and get the dogs back under control.
I was fine. The dogs were fine. The Australian girl was fine (if a little embarrassed). Cold Fire Creek’s runaway sled record however, was back to zero.The Drive
I’ve always wanted to try dog sledding, but in all my travels I’ve never had a chance to give it a whirl. Luckily Tourism Jasper agreed to fulfill my dream and arranged for me to give this very old form of transportation a try.
Dog sleds have been used for transportation over ice and snow for over 1000 years. They were used during the gold rush in Alaska and to reach small towns in Northern Canada. Nowadays (thanks to snowmobiles) there aren’t a lot of practical uses, so sledding is done primarily for racing or tourism purposes.
There actually isn’t any dog sledding inside Jasper National Park proper, but Cold Fire Creek operates 120 km west of Jasper- about an hour and a half drive depending on the weather. I was transferred there by SunDog Tours.
On arrival we were paired up and given our own sled and team of 6-8 dogs. Everyone was allowed to take turns both riding in the sled and driving. To drive you stand on the back of the sled and control a foot brake to slow the dogs down on downhill passages. To help speed the dogs up on uphill area, the drive uses their foot to help push. Fairly easy directions, but driving the team is still quite a thrill.
I was taking part in the Moonshiners’ of Whiskey Creek Tour, a 3 hour experience with a lunch break of sausages and hot cider halfway through. We glided through over 20 km of snowy terrain. A fresh snowfall the night before had left everything blank and smooth, like a black and white picture. With no other humans in sight and just the dogs panting for company, it was quite beautiful.The Dogs
The best part of dog sledding was undoubtedly the chance to spend some quality time with literally dozens of blissed out dogs.
Alaskan Huskys aren’t really a breed, they are more of a category of northern dog bred to withstand cool temperatures, run fast and pull sleds. Cold Fire Creek has over 70 huskys, which they rotate throughout the day and week to make sure everyone has a chance to run.
And boy, do these dogs love running. I was slightly concerned before I arrived about the dogs- the last thing I wanted was to take part in any sort of exploitation. I was pleased to learn that Cold Fire Creek takes excellent care of their furry friends and that the guides seemed to have a special relationship with all the animals. Best of all the dogs seem to love their job, they could barely contain their excitement all day and whined mercilessly any time the sled stopped.
In addition to being fast and strong, all of the dogs are super friendly. A few were shy, but most of them were happy to be pet and cuddled
Now on to what you guys really care about: cute dog faces.
Disclosure: My trip to Jasper was sponsored by Tourism Jasper. I was also compensated for my coverage. All opinions are my own.
From the World Heritage inscription:
This property is an eminent example of a type of structure illustrating the historical situation of Haiti at the dawn of its independence. These Haitian monuments date from the beginning of the 19th century, when Haiti proclaimed its independence. The Palace of Sans Souci, the buildings at Ramiers, and, in particular, the Citadel serve as universal symbols of liberty, being the first monuments to be constructed by black slaves who had gained their freedom.
Situated within the National History Park created by presidential decree in 1978, in a splendid natural setting of mountainous peaks covered with luxuriant vegetation, the Citadelle Henry, the Site des Ramiers, and the Palais San-Souci represent for the Haitians the first monuments of their independence.
On 1 January 1804, after 14 years of struggle by the island’s black slaves against the colonists, Jean-Jacques Dessallines, the principal leader of the revolution, proclaimed the independent Republic of Haiti. The Emperor Dessallines immediately entrusted to Henry Christophe, one of his generals, the task of constructing an immense fortress on the Pic Laferrière, or Pic Henry, 28 km south-west of Cap Haitien.
At the death of Dessallines in 1806, the Haitian Republic was divided into two states: the southern part governed by Pétion, and the north, where Christophe proclaimed himself king in 1811. The Citadelle Henry originally conceived as the monument to the defence of liberty was maintained as a fortress by the despot and was inaugurated only in 1813.
At the same time, King Christophe (Henry I) undertook the construction of an astonishing palace surrounded by gardens, situated at the foot of the access road to the citadel near the village of Milot. The Palais Sans-Souci, mainly in a state of ruin but currently being restored, owes its bizarre beauty to an exceptional harmony with the mountainous setting, as well as its recourse to diverse and yet reputedly irreconcilable architectural models. The Baroque staircase and the classical terraces, the stepped gardens reminiscent of Potsdam and Vienna, the canals and basins freely inspired by Versailles, impart an indefinable hallucinatory quality to the creation of the megalomaniac king.
Both military installation and political statement, the Citadelle Henry, constructed at an altitude of 970 m and covering a surface area of about 1 ha, is one of the best examples of the art of military engineering of the early 19th century. The plans are the work of the Haitian Henri Barré, but it is probable that General Christophe played the preponderant role in their formulation: the projecting masses remarkably articulated to allow an integrated use of artillery capabilities; an elaborate system of water supply and cisterns; and colossal defensive walls which render this citadel impregnable. It can shelter a garrison of 2,000 men, or 5,000 if necessary.
There are two major parts of this site which I visited. The first is the Citadel, which is the largest fortification built in the Western Hemisphere. As the Citadel was abandoned (and forgotten) soon after its completion, it still has the largest collection of 18th century cannons in the world. There are well over 150 original cannons still within the walls of the fort and hundreds of original cannon balls. Cannons from France, Spain and England can be found in the fort (the Spanish and English cannons were captured and brought there).
The Palace of Sans Souci is near the Citadel and was the residence of King Henry Christophe. After the death of Henry Christophe in 1820 the palace was sacked and never restored. After centuries of earthquakes and weathering, you can still the walls and stairs of structure.
Both locations can easily be visited in a half-day trip from Cap Haitien which is on the north coast of Haiti. I’d recommending having a guide with you who can explain the history and details of both sites as there is quite a bit which can be missed if you don’t know what you are looking for.