EASIER THAN YOU THOUGHT
Stretching the Dollar in Europe
Even with the weak dollar, there are ways to save when traveling abroad.
1. Check airline deals Europe's low-fare carriers are good for more than cheap airfares--many also sell packages (air and hotel for a bargain price) and offer hotel and car-rental specials. EasyJet has hundreds of packages in dozens of European cities, many departing out of London (holidays.easyjet.com). The deals require planning and patience: EasyJet doesn't fly to the U.S., so you'll have to connect to it in a hub like London, and the airline charges to check bags and for extra weight. Vueling (vueling.com) and SkyEurope (skyeurope.com) airlines also list hotel and car-rental discounts on their websites.
2. Buy train 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. In Germany, weekday, round-trip Deutsche Bahn tickets purchased at bahn.de at least three days in advance are 25 percent off the regular price--and weekend tickets bought in advance are 50 percent off. Look for Dauer-Spezial one-way tickets on the website for very low prices, too. Many tickets purchased more than a month in advance for France's TGV trains are also at least half the normal price (voyages-sncf.com).
3. Dig deep on tourism websites Tourism bureau websites are often loaded with overly rosy descriptions of a place, but some also have good deals. Click on the People Like You tab on Visit London's site (visitlondon.com) for budget hotel and entertainment listings. The Special Offers tab links to a page with hotel-and-attraction packages, such as one night at a hotel and two tickets to the Ian Fleming exhibition at the Imperial War Museum starting at $200. The tickets alone cost $16 per person.
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. A double-occupancy, upper-deck cabin on the DFDS Seaways' ship that sails daily from Copenhagen to Oslo (an overnight trip lasting 16 hours) starts at $139 in the summer (dfds.com). A couchette bed in a six-person compartment on the 11-hour overnight Deutsche Bahn train from Prague to Cologne costs $72 per person if purchased in advance (bahn.de).
5. Evaluate city passes Many tourism bureaus--including ones in Lisbon, Zürich, Budapest, and Stockholm--sell city cards that cover the costs of mass transit and admission to museums and also provide discounts to other attractions. To determine if they're worth it, however, you have to do the math: Sometimes you'll have to go to four or five museums just to break even. For a full list of cities with the cards, go to europeancitycards.com.
6. Don't buy single rides Multiride subway cards are almost always a better value than individual tickets, depending, of course, on how many stops you want to make. In London, a single Tube journey costs a whopping $8, but a one-day unlimited-ride Travelcard runs you just $13.25. An even better value is the Oyster card, which starts at $16 (a $6 refundable deposit for the card itself and $10 worth of credits toward subway and bus rides). With the Oyster card, a single ride on the Tube is $3 to $4, and a day of unlimited transport is $12.25. When you run out of credits, you can recharge the card at Tube stations, convenience stores, or newsstands where you see the Oyster card logo.
7. Use a bike to get around In Paris, about 20,000 bikes are available for short-term rentals at hundreds of pickup and drop-off spots. You buy a Vélib' card for $1.50 per day or $7 per week; each bike is then free for the first half hour, $1.50 for the second half hour, $3 for the third half hour, and $6 for every half hour after that. Two caveats: The bike-rental machines only accept credit cards with smart chips, such as certain American Express cards. You also can't rent a helmet at a Vélib' station, so you'll have to bring one (though there are no helmet laws in Paris). Starting at $15 per day, you can rent a bike (with a helmet) at the city's 20 Roue Libre bike-rental stands (rouelibre.fr). Other cities with programs like Vélib' include Brussels, Vienna, and Helsinki.