By Megan Brown & S.J. Grady
USAG Stuttgart Public Affairs Office
If you resolved this year to save money and travel more, 2015 could be the year to do both.
With the dollar at its strongest against the Euro since 2003 and predictions that the Euro will continue to fall, there’s no better time to start checking things off your bucket list.
Keep in mind a stronger dollar will hardly make a dent in certain European cities known for luxury. Think Paris, Venice, London, Copenhagen, Brussels, Oslo and Zurich — all considered among Europe’s most expensive cities, according to USA Today.
So in order to maximize your dollar, we suggest that you pick your destinations wisely.
A good place to start your research is Price of Travel, an online database of travel costs for 110 cities worldwide, 56 of them in Europe. The site’s Europe Backpacker index for 2015 ranks cities from cheapest to most expensive based on the price of a hostel bed, two public transportation rides, the cost of one cultural attraction and other incidentals for each day in that city.
If you prefer the comfort of a private hotel room, the site’s 3-Star Travel index rates 51 European cities, substituting a shared hotel room and taxi rides for the hostel and public transportation.
Once you have your locations targeted, how do you get there?
You probably are already aware of price-comparison website giants such as Kayak, Expedia, etc.
But when searching for budget airfares within Europe, guidebook author and TV travel host Rick Steves suggests skyscanner.com as the site to use.
For international flights and unusual combinations of flights, New York Times travel columnist Stephanie Rosenbloom recommends Momondo.com.
Or you can go straight to the source.
Europe has a number of low cost airlines, the largest and most established being EasyJet, Ryanair, Germanwings and Airberlin.
Germanwings and Airberlin fly various routes out of Stuttgart, and this summer, EasyJet will add Stuttgart to its routes from London, while Ryanair will add a route between Manchester and Stuttgart.
Hannah Schlagel, a member of the Stuttgart community said she loves flying on low cost airlines, but warned about the carry-on situation.
“My husband and I always take backpacks since they are strict on their hand luggage, but they never asked us to weigh the backpacks or check the size. It’s a great way to get from A to B,” she said.
Some airlines offer surprise bookings for travelers willing to give up control in exchange for savings.
“We did two blind booking trips. The first took us to Brussels and the second to Milan. We find it exciting to travel this way, as it was cheap and exciting,” said community member Anna Schuhart.
Travel experts recommend travelers can also save money by flying on holidays, early in the morning, in and out of places where there’s airline competition and by opting for a smaller airport in a metro area.
RIDING THE RAILS
An alternative travel mode is by train. While train travel is not always the least expensive, traveling by train in Europe is comfortable and relaxing.
Most European train systems offer discounts for travelers under 26, free passage for children under 15 when traveling with an adult, special group rates and weekend deals. And you can usually save a substantial amount when you buy in advance.
Many systems offer rail cards that allow travelers to save 25 to 50 percent on tickets, and are valid for a year from the purchase date.
Deb Teagan took advantage of the German train system’s rail card for a trip from Stuttgart to Paris on the TGV, the French high speed train. “It saved us over 25 percent on the fare, and the train goes really fast … we made it each way in 3 ½ hours,” she said, adding that she hoped investing in the card will help her family travel more without having to use a car.
According to James Feess, one of the creators of the website The Savvy Backpacker, if you are planning a complicated rail journey, the German train website, www.bahn.de, is a good place to do your homework.
While you won’t be able to buy tickets unless you’re buying tickets for German train travel, you’ll be able to see the schedule of just about every train in Europe. You’ll also find out if reservations are needed and if sleeping cars are available.
Hotels can be expensive. Fortunately there are several options for those who are willing to try something different.
Hostels are a great low budget choice. A hostel is somewhat like a no-frills hotel, only with dorm rooms and shared bathrooms. You basically rent a bed. Some hostels offer double and family rooms, but these should be booked in advance and can cost a little more. Prices can range from €30 to €90.
The invention of room-rental websites allow travelers to bypass the hospitality industry and rent accommodations such as single rooms, apartments, trailers, villas and castles, and live like the locals.
Bri Tegtmeier said she loves this option because it saves her family money not only on accommodations, but also on other amenities such as Wi-Fi, and means her family has access to a full kitchen where they can store snacks or prepare meals.
When booking, Tegtmeier advises families to inquire if linens are included or if the host offers discounts for staying a longer period of time, such as more than four nights.
For those with a sense of adventure larger than their pocketbooks, there is always the option of couch-surfing.
If you don’t already have friends where you want to visit, you will after registering with an online hospitality exchange organization such as BeWelcome or the Hospitality Club.
These networks bring tourists and travelers together with hosts who offer accommodations free of charge, with the ultimate goal of fostering international friendships and intercultural understanding.
With these resources you’ll discover it is possible to travel without breaking the bank and it will be worth every penny you spend.