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How do you save on international travel…


As I mentioned before, my family is heading to Ireland & Italy in six months. Thanks to my ‘frequent and annoying’ complaints about costs, I inherited the onus of planning where we stay when not staying with Italian relatives… and how we are going to get there… and what we are going to do.

Uh sure. Simple. Riiiiiight.

Especially since none of us have been there and no one but me has been out of the country.

No pressure.

I have left American soil precisely one time. I went to visit my sister living in Ireland. Planning that trip was easy. Book a flight, call sis, pack bags. This trip? Not so easy.

Would you do me a favor? Give me your best overseas traveling tip?

If there is a way to save, I’m going to find it!


  • Reply Margaret |

    You should get a Holiday Apartment. You can find them all over europe from cities to the country side. If you can find one that is large enough to fit your entire family you will be saving tons of money over hotels / hostels.

  • Reply Jeffrey |

    Have you considered Clark Howard? He loves to travel and is famously frugal. He has information available on his website and has people on phone lines both on and off the radio. That might be a good way to generate options quickly.

  • Reply Nichole@40daysof |

    We read a ton of reviews online when we found areas we wanted to stay in. We found our hotel by reading reviews on trip advisor. We read a ton on Rick Steve’s website about European travel in general (I would caution you about taking ALL of your tips from him). He is a good resource, but getting your info from multiple sources is better. Also, The Eyewitness Travel guides by DK are totally worth the money to purchase. I would recommend purchasing books about the specific cities and regions you will be in, not about entire countries. My experience was in Rome for 9 or 10 days and one day in Orvieto. We kept a record of where and what we ate and what museums we liked the best. If you are interested in any of that info., send me an email and I’ll be happy to share. Also, we found it very beneficial to try to speak Italian (listened to tapes before we went). They are very willing to help you out and speak English if they know it as long as you try.

  • Reply Nan |

    Whenever we travel (domestically or internationally) we eat a big lunch, then have cheese, crackers, fruit, etc. for supper. In Europe, it’s especially easy to pop in a little grocery to buy a small amount of cheese, a crusty bread and fruit and have a nice little meal outside, or you can take it back to your room if you’re retiring early.
    Also, look for group or family transportation options. Some cities offer family all-day passes, or two- or three-day passes and I know that in Germany up to 5 people can travel on the train within one state all day for 28 Euro. Don’t know about other countries. Just price out the travel for your itinerary ahead of time to see if you’ll save money by buying an all-day pass.
    Have a great trip!

  • Reply M Denise C |

    I have used VRBO.com (vacation rentals by owner) to eliminate a middleman and you can find some great rentals and deals there for places to stay. If it is an apartment, you can buy food and eat cheaper than going out every meal.

  • Reply Steady Plodding |

    We use VRBO too and have always had good experiences with it. It’s so much less expensive renting a house or condo than it is to stay at a hotel…and that will give you the option to be able to prep some of your meals at “home”. Also, you can usually negotiate the price…especially if you book this far in advance!

    When we went to Italy (8 years ago…) we rented a villa and I think it was about $100/night. It was 1 BR with a nice sized living room and a kitchen. Also had a pool and a tavern on the property. Lodging is the area where you’ll be able to save the most money…

  • Reply JONATHAN |

    My wife and I honeymooned in Ireland last year and it was the trip of a lifetime. It was a fantastic experience.

    We spent A LOT of money while we were there. The Euro is strogner than the US$. You lose value there already.

    We learned by the end of the trip to split meals. On average two people eating would spend 20 Euro per meal. So if you can split meals it is a great option.

  • Reply WillyPower |

    My wife and I always use Trip Advisor. We booked our whole trip to Spain using Trip Advisor and had a wonderful time. I have heard that apartment rentals are cheaper if you are staying near one place. I agree with Nichole about trying to speak Italian to the local folks. I first did not try to speak the little Italian that I know and was not greeted very warmly in Rome. As soon as I tried to speak Italian I received a whole different reception and people were much more willing to help. I couldn’t blame them for wanting a visitor to at least try to speak the local language.

  • Reply chacha |

    I’m 1st generation Italian (in the process of getting my dual citizenship) so I’ve been many times. #1 which is kinda “duh” but anyway – use trains to get around if possible. Cheap and fast.

    #2 – Capital One, at least last I heard, is one of the only credit cards that does not charge a fee for use in foreign currency/country. The exchange rate was good, too – easier and cheaper than dealing with exchanging lots of cash where they charge you a service fee. They take Visa/MC all over Italy. And apparently travelers checks have fallen out of favor – don’t bother with them.

    #3 – Local pizza joints in Italy are super cheap places to eat! Seriously – like 3-4 euros for a pizza (good for one person). Wine is cheap too – more so if you go to the grocery store (bring your own bags – they will charge you for plastic).

  • Reply Jenn |

    Our family of 4 went to Europe for a month the summer of 2008 (Italy, Monaco, Germany, Greece, Turkey). Here are my learnings:
    1. if your credit cards don’t have CHIPs (requiring a pin number) get them reissued before you go. Ours were still the old style and most places wouldn’t accept them and we were unable to use them to pull cash from ATMs. Small/private hotels and B&Bs may take a CC to book the reservation but require cash at check in. Make sure you know if this is the case.
    2. let your CC company know which countries you’ll be visiting and the dates. If they see unusual activity on your card they may freeze it while they try to contact you to confirm it hasn’t been stolen. Not a situation you want in the middle of your trip.
    3. On this trip we didn’t use apartments because we weren’t in any one place more than a couple of days, but we’ve done it before and will again. It’s a great option when travelling with a group. Not having to to out for breakfast can be a big time saver in the morning. You can pack picnic lunches and cook the odd supper too. Having your own wine on the balcony in the evening is a nice alternative to a crowded bar. Yes you do travel to mingle and get out, but sometimes a little peace is a good thing. In addition to http://www.vrbo.com as others have recommended, you could also try http://www.rentvillas.com
    3. Take a few photocopies of the front pages of your passport. Many hotels ask for your passport to copy the front – they are required to report all guests to the local authorities. Having a copy ready means you never have to let your passport out of your sight. If you lose your passport it’s also handy when you go to a consolate to have a new one issued. On this topic, get the address and numbers for the US Consulate/Embassy in all the areas where you will travel. If you have an emergency or lose documents it can be handy.
    4. I read the Rick Steves Itally and Germany books cover to cover and they are fabulous. I had the Lonely Planet book for Greece and found it far less helpful and difficult to find things. Pay attention to his suggestions for timesaving tricks to avoid lines. On his recommendation, we bought our Rome museum passes at a museum near the train station as we arrived and used it to bypass the 2-3hr line at the Colosseum. It’s well worth the money if bought at a non-busy site and used to bypass long lines at the really popular ones. The one we bought meant the first 2 or 3 attractions were free and all others were discounted (so use the free entances at the most expensive sites) – it also works as a 3day transit pass which was handy. Unless things have changed, you have to pay cash for the passes so be prepared. I’d assumed I could put them on my card and then had to use up 80Euros of my cash in the first 10 minutes in Rome.
    5. If you must carry a purse put the tab of the zipper forward so nobody can get their hand in it from behind you. On the Rome subway the crowd pressed up against me when the train doors opened. I caught a hand reaching between the two women behind me and going into my bag. I’m sure the women were working with him, but because the bag only contained maps and my Rick Steves book he got nothing. My credit card and cash were carefully tucked in a less accessable pocket. I was amazed at how quickly he’d opened the zipper and I learned the zipper to the front trick.
    6. FYI – food bought in street front stores generally has at least 2 prices posted. One if you take it to go and a higher one if you sit down with it. Even a calzone bought from a cart on the street does this. My son bought one and then plopped down on an empty patio chair beside the cart. The man motioned him out of the chair and said “you paid to walk”. Lesson learned. By the end of our trip the kids had learned to ask at the hotel in each city about local customs so they wouldn’t accidentally offend anyone (or break the law). In Venice you can be fined for feeding the pidgeons for example. The city feeds them seed spiked with birth control… In Pisa we were warned not to buy the fake products sold on the streets (Gucci, Prada etc). It is not illegal to sell fakes but it is illegal to buy them. Good to know.
    7. And most important of all…travel light!!! Depending where you go and how you travel less is more! If you take a train nobody helps with your bags, you jump on the train and fling your bag in the overhead rack or under your feet. Do you really want massive luggage under your feet for a long train ride? In Venice our hotel wasn’t on a canal so we had to get ourselves from the water taxi to the hotel, over three bridges with steps and many cobblestone alleys away. We each took one carry on for the month. We had a week of clothing and did laundry at the end of week 1, 2, 3 and were home at the end of week 4 in our last clean outfits. If you plan to do it this way make sure you either book apartments with laundry facilities, or you locate a laudromat that will do it for you while you’re out sighseeing.

    Do lots of reading, and rereading, pair the information down to what applies to you. Either mark up your travel books with highlighter and postitnotes on key pages or make notes and copy only the pages you need. Plan what you can and leave some things open to chance and then go have a blast. A little information in advance makes a world of difference in your comfort when you get there. If you go knowing the best way to get from the airport to the hotel, where to book tours, how to make train reservations, etc it takes the pressure off having to make too many decisions on the fly which more stressfull and usually costs more.

  • Reply ellen |

    Pack a lunch instead of going to a restaurant. Go to a local deli or grocery store and you’ll be seeing how the locals do it, and it will cost you much less.

    Don’t try to duplicate your American diet. That will be much more expensive than eating what the locals eat.

  • Reply Nancy |

    I don’t know how to cram all the tips into one comment, so feel free to e-mail me and I’ll try to help.
    I spent a lot of time in Italy setting ups ships. One of the main things to remember, especially in Venice, Rome and larger cities. There are pickpockets abounding – all ages and sizes. It’s always good to wear a money belt under your outer layer of clothing. Backpacks are alwo wonderful. Just be sure you have the kind that you can safely secure shut as that’s one big pocket to pick. ;p
    Knowing just where you’ll be would make it easier to add more tips. The tip about using the train is right on. Also, if you’re planning on staying overnight in Rome, you can book your hotel at the train station in Rome. There are some lovely inexpensive hotels near the station that are also moderately priced. I found that it was easier and cheaper than using a travel agent.

  • Reply paisleypenguin |

    Crazy Aunt Purl (of knitting fame) is a daily read for me (along with you) and she has written several times on international travel and how she get’s her deals as well as tips on packing etc.

    If you have a bit of time go to her blog http://www.crazyauntpurl.com and search for international travel and you will see the blog posts where she talks about her trips and tips.

    Here is one that will be helpful to you and there are others that talk about packing etc.


    She has been several places international all on her own and I think she has GREAT advice. I believe she has been to both Italy and Ireland as well.

    Good luck!


  • Reply Chris |

    You could try couch surfing to save money where you stay at someones place for free, although you don’t know them ! I haven’t tried it but I know people who have and they had good experience. Plus you get to meet people: http://www.couchsurfing.org

    Or maybe holiday house swaps ! (can be non-simulataneous). I have not tried this either but seems good idea: e.g. http://www.homelink.org.uk/
    again might meet good people and see Italy in nice way

    Just ideas, although a bit daring !

  • Reply Mary |

    I lived in the UK for a year for work. I was sent over there alone and had to learn the ropes all on my own!

    My tips, for what I found in the UK, may not all apply to where you are going, but for what it’s worth:

    Don’t exchange money at the airport. You get crappy rates. Don’t exchange it before you get here, either. It’s cheapest to use an ATM with your bank card to take out cash once you are in the country you are visiting. Take out the max amount to minimize fees.

    Call your credit cards and see what their exchange rates have been running and what fees are, if any. None of my cc’s (I had 6 back then) charged me any fees. Some had better rates than others. Use cards when you can. In a pinch, most smaller businesses would take US cash and just make your exchange rate a little worse than average.

    Check out small bed and breakfasts. I paid the equivalent of $35 a night for a 2-bed room with a bathroom right in the room – in a historic home – it was wonderful! A cab could be found just a block down the road in the small town I was in, and I got to know the cab driver and he’d wait for me each morning to drive me to work. If you frequent places, they will remember you! Antonio the Maitre’d at a pizza place by Heathrow was our best friend (free drinks, free desserts, etc., because he knew we tipped well, even though the locals discouraged us from tipping, we did it anyway!)

    Trains are your friend. Get a pass for as long as you are going to be in that country – it’s so nice to have.

    What we consider to be a department store here (like Macy’s) had a grocery area with pre-cooked foods like deli turkey, cheeses, breads, Irish Butter (it’s like nothing you’ve ever tasted, you have to buy some), etc. If there is a mini-fridge-honor-bar in your room (B&B, hotel, etc.) ask if they will empty it out for you so you can store a few groceries there. When I’d go home for a weekend while in London, the Marriott would hold my room and they always kept my fridge empty so I could store food in it. Loved them! If you can find a big grocery store it will be less expensive then the little neighborhood stores and food will be fresher, too.

    Don’t be afraid to try restaurants that look like dives. Some of the best food we had in London was from darkly lit Chinese restaurants, little street-side shops that sold Pakistani “donors” (like a gyro here) and seasoned rice. My lunch nearly every day was a tin tray of spicy lentils and rice that cost me about $1.40.

    Stay away from hotel drycleaners if you wind up in a hotel – nearly every small town or village has a local drycleaner or laundry that will do it much cheaper for you.

    Have FUN! It’s the trip of a lifetime!

  • Reply Be Debt Free America |

    I understand it is hard to spend a lot of money on an international trip when you are trying to pay off your debts.

    In regards to what Nancy said, you can also get a little cloth pouch with a cord to hang it around your neck. The one I have is big enough to hold some cash and a passport. As Nancy said, it fits under your outer layer of clothes.

    If you don’t have an international calling plan on your cell phone, you’ll want to look into either getting an international calling card or maybe getting a prepaid cell phone with a few minutes on it when you get to Ireland. This is assuming you may need to call back to the US.

  • Reply Jan |

    When I went to England, we (my friend and I) went grocery shopping before we left. We bought packets of oatmeal, granola bars, Carnation instant breakfast mix in the packets, that sort of thing. That way we knew at least our breakfasts were taken care of, we had snacks in case our blood sugar plummeted, and best of all, none of those things took up much space in our luggage!

    I also took care to get all of my Christmas shopping done while I was there! So all of the souvenirs I bought for my loved ones were their holiday gifts. One thing our family does is buy refrigerator magnets for the other members when we go places. Inexpensive, small, and extremely easy to pack.

  • Reply Grace |

    Ditto as to TripAdvisor for accommodations–read all the reviews; they were pretty accurate as to Italy. Also, ditto as to the Rick Steve’s books–he is particularly good at directing you around museums and he has some downloadable museum podcasts on his website if you have an MP3 player. Consider borrowing someone’s Kindle (and a converter for the charger) to avoid carrying around reading material. I haven’t purchased and downloaded travel guides on mine, but it strikes me as a good idea.

  • Reply Tara |

    I’ve found that booking short-term apartments/vacation rentals is a lot cheaper and more convenient than a hotel. All of you can be under one roof with the convenience of a kitchen, washer/dryer and fridge so you can buy coffee/juice and light breakfast snacks. You can google to find rental websites across the globe. Have fun!

  • Reply Joseph |

    Really you just have to do your homework. Look around online and make sure to read plenty of reviews.

  • Reply Mary |

    Oh, yeah, the power converter is a must if you are bringing anything you plug in. Get a good quality set- it’s worth it not to burn up your cell phone or Ipod to spend the $20 on a set.

    Word of warning, the Marriott I stayed at had a 110-volt “US” plug built into the desks in each room – several of my coworkers used them and burned out their phones, etc. I used the standard wall plug with my converter for everything and never had a problem. I guess just beware and take care with what you plug in, especially if it’s expensive.

  • Reply Kari |

    I agree with Margaret’s comment about getting a holiday apartment or house. With large groups it is way more comfortable and MUCH cheaper since you can split the rate among everyone and cook your own meals in the kitchen.

    A few sites that I’ve seen and/or used (and I don’t work for any of these):
    http://www.vrbo.com – worldwide vacation rentals. I’ve used this one to book houses in Oregon and California and had GREAT experiences. Friendly hosts/owners and the site was easy to use.

    I can definitely say that after renting apartments/homes on these sites, I don’t even want to stay at a hotel anymore.

    Have a great time in Europe!

  • Reply mem |

    Get a Lonely Planet travel guide for each country, or if you don’t want to buy them, skim one at a bookstore or borrow from the library. Look at the budget accommodation sections of the books. Stay there. While most of us are too old to deal with true youth hostels, some of them have private rooms or if your family really wants to be frugal, you could get communal bunk bed rooms but filled with only your family members. Like a slumber party in a foreign country! Otherwise, look for 1-star or 2-star hotels in Lonely Planet, on Trip Advisor and other places for cheap rooms.

    You might also try hotwire.com. I’ve gotten very good last minute rates in Europe there.

    My favorite hotels and best deals, including in expensive cities like Paris and Florence, have come by finding something the day I arrive. Have most of the group sit at a coffee shop while 1 or 2 of you check out a few hotels by foot in your desired neighborhood. You’re bound to find deals at places that aren’t getting business because they aren’t the obvious choice that’s listed in the guidebooks. For example, I stayed in a very nice hotel in Florence for about $35 Euro a night because it had just opened and was nearly empty. I found it the day I arrived in the city just by checking out a few by foot.

  • Reply anysteph |

    One of the best kept secrets in Europe are universities that have a section (almost always a separate building) of dorm rooms for let during the summer. The prices are usually more than a hostel but less than a B&B.

    I’ve stayed at Trinity College, smack dab in the center of Dublin, several times during spring and summer. Your stay in a dorm has a private bathroom and includes breakfast. It’s not dirt cheap, but is the best value for the price, quality, and LOCATION. See
    for details and have fun!

  • Reply CanadianKate |

    Saving money on airfare will be a challenge.

    One thing to check is alternate departure city deals. For instance, for me to fly to Vancouver from Toronto, it could be $600. But if I fly from Buffalo to Toronto to Vancouver, it might be $400.

    So price everything not only from your city but from cities that are an easy drive from your home.

    Try every airline.

    Check out flyertalk.com’s section for mileage runs (cheap, long distance, fares that frequent flyers use to collect points to bump them to a different level of benefits). If you aren’t ‘married’ to using a particular airline alliance (I am because if I fly on them I get all kinds of benefits but the average vacation flyer doesn’t) you can save big money.

    The advice above is all excellent so I won’t repeat it except to remind you travel light. Inter-Europe the rule is 1 piece of luggage weighing no more than 20kg.

    If you can manage with only carry-on bags, you’ll be flexible and frugal in so many ways; fewer taxis – cars in Europe are small so you can’t fit all your luggage and family into one cab, easier to take public transit options, easier to switch flights in case of a volcano going off, quicker in airports (no waiting for bags) and quicker to pack and unpack so you waste less time dealing with your ‘stuff.’

    I have to check a bag (I travel with a ton of business stuff that must be carried on so I have no room for my personal stuff) but my adult kids are down to carry-on only and are thrilled with the freedom it gives them.

  • Reply Julia |

    You might want to consider youth hostels in Ireland (but not Italy). Lots of the big manor houses were turned into private youth hostels, and often you can get a family room or private suite very inexpensive. And the houses and grounds are beautiful!

So, what do you think ?