Tips I picked up about taking a budget vacation to Europe, despite high exchange rates.

It’s a tough time for Americans in Europe. Not only are stereotypes making us hesitant to say we’re from the good ol’ US of A, but rising exchange rates are making it tough to travel on a budget. And for us undergrads working on minimum wage, a European vacation seems like just a distant dream.

How Much to Bring

I recently traveled to The Netherlands with my school’s study abroad program. The first thing they told us? Save. We would be abroad for four months and although room and board were provided to us by our school during the week, on weekends we’d be on our own. When I arrived in The Netherlands in fall 2007, the exchange rate was about $1.50 American dollars to one Euro and $2.00 American dollars to the British pound. This means you should expect to lose at least a third of your money just in exchange rates.

They suggested to us to use credit cards, as this will give you the best exchange rate. I found that doing this often led to high fees for overseas use. It’s a good resource if you’re buying in bulk, but for small purchases keep cash on hand. Get foreign money at your bank beforehand, they will give you the best exchange rate. Use ATM’s when you need cash abroad, and avoid cash exchange booths that can rip you off.

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I found that $5,000 was sufficient for me for four months, but even if you’re just going for a week I would suggest having at least $1,000. You never know what expenses will come up, and with the exchange rate constantly fluctuating, it’s a good idea to have extra cash on hand.

Getting Around

My program encouraged us to travel on the weekends and gave us each a Eurail pass that would enable us to travel most of Europe. You can obtain these passes via the Eurail website for anywhere from 10 days to three months. Though they’re a bit pricy, it’s a good investment if you’ll be traveling to three or more countries. Otherwise you’ll have to pick up tickets as you go, which can lead to complications and a general hassle. Also, a two hour train ride can cost as much as $50.

If you need to use an airline, Ryanair is Europe’s leading bargain flight. The airports are a bit out of the way, but with the price of a ticket starting at $30 American dollars, it’s definitely worth the extra bus ride. It’s a flight devoid of luxury, but it gets you to your destination for cheap. get

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Where to Stay

Forget the horror movies, Hostels are the backpacker’s best friend. Websites like Hostelworld list hostels in particular cities that cost as little as $10 per night. Some even include breakfast and discounts on tours. You’ll probably have to share a room with other guests, but for the most part hostels are safe and reliable. Just make sure to book in advance, because of their cheap price they fill up quickly.


I found that in each city I visited, there were certain foods that were necessary to sample. However, most foods that are popular to a particular place (think: Belgian waffles in Brussels, Gyros in Athens) have multiple restaurants that serve the dish. Don’t just go to the first place you see, shop around to get the best price. A four star restaurant may serve a Welsh Rabbit (grilled ham and cheese) that is just as delicious as the pub down the street.

Also, limit yourself to one special dinner per place you visit, or even just per week. It will save you money and there’s no shame in eating fast food every now and then. Also, grocery stores can be a cheap way to get a good meal. What’s more romantic than wine, bread, and cheese in a French park? The atmosphere is free, and the food is a fraction of what you’d pay elsewhere!

Following these tips you’ll be able to have a fun and exciting European vacation on a budget. Make sure to take as many pictures as possible and keep your valuables and passport on you at all times. Happy travels!


Categories: Travel