Budgeting for a Family Vacation to Europe
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It’s day two of our series European Family Vacation: 31 Days to Make it Happen.
Today we will be discussing your travel budget and how to afford your family vacation to Europe along with some money saving tips. We even have a handy PDF you can download that will give you a budget template and trip itinerary for easier planning.
Your vacation budget is one of the most important steps to planning your trip. We know it is mundane and not as much fun as looking at the drool-worthy images of dream destinations on Pinterest, but trust us…it’s a great first step and THE ONE THING that will make your dreams of visiting the Italian Riviera possible. So where to start?
Let’s look at the major categories of spending on vacation.
Transportation: Getting there and back
Of course going on vacation means going somewhere away from home and getting to Europe from the United States means a long haul flight. This is one of the largest expenses in the budget so you will need to plan accordingly. The good news is there are several airlines and often decently low fairs if you know where to look.
While we often travel on miles, I always check flights on Skyscanner to make sure we’re getting a good value. In the early stages of planning a trip I will put in our departing airport and choose “everywhere” as the destination so I can see if there are any standout deals. This will bring up flights from your home airport to anywhere in the world so you can quickly compare the best prices in multiple destinations at once.
Accommodation: Somewhere to sleep
Your next biggest line item on a travel budget is your nightly accommodation. The big cities in Europe will tend to run at least $200 per night, where in the more budget cities, you can still find rooms for under $100 per night.
We love booking apartments through Airbnb. This often allows us to secure a two bedroom furnished apartment for the price of a hotel room. The adults love it because we do not have to be quiet as a mouse after our daughter goes to bed. She loves the extra space to spread out. We all adore getting to fix breakfast at home. It’s a great way to save money and chill out in the morning instead of rushing out the door with empty bellies.
Transit: Getting around town
Once you have arrived at your destination, you will need to be able to get around town to see the sights, get to dinner, and to your next destination. Most European cities have amazing public transit. From subways and trams to trains, trolleys, and busses there are a plethora of options. Research the cost of public transit in your destination. Sometimes discounts are available for full day or week-long passes. Transit is often included in city pass cards as well so make sure you do not pay for this twice.
I highly recommend flying into one city and out another. This will help you maximize your vacation time and ensure you do not need to spend precious time and money backtracking just to fly home. When traveling between cities and countries your options are still plentiful. You can often find busses, trains, and low cost airline options.
Food: Good things to eat
Eating out in Europe is not only a requirement, but an event in and of itself. That said, this can be a serious budget breaker. Our recommendation is to splurge on one or two meals and eat more budget options for the other meals. We have found that the average prices for meals in Europe are $15 per person for lunch and $20 per person for dinner. Neither of these prices include alcohol.
If you rent an apartment, you will easily be able to save money on breakfast or by cooking another meal in. You can also save money by picking up snacks and bottled waters at the grocery store. This will save you lots of money and often be kinder to your waistline. Remember that you will be hungry because you will be spending more time outside and walking around more than when you’re not at home.
Activities: Fun things to see
Ah, sightseeing. There will always be so many things to see and do when you visit a new country or city. Even in our hometowns, we are always finding new things to do and explore. We recommend planning for one major activity per day. The general consensus is to pack in as much as possible when seeing a new city, but we try to slow down, remember we are on vacation, and work on digging deeper into the attractions we are most interested in as a family.
When traveling with small children, be sure to seek out parks and playgrounds. We have discovered some of the most fascinating playgrounds in Europe. In the big cities, playgrounds and cafes are often located close together so the children can play while the adults enjoy an afternoon espresso. Parks also help offset the “boring” adult activities like museums (as long as you visit the park first).
Shopping: Bringing home souvenirs
To be honest, we are not really souvenir people. Our favorite things to collect are photos of our travels so you will always catch us taking pictures and videos when we are out and about. However, if you are into collecting a treasured item from your travels some good ideas are artwork, jewelry, or clothing. These are items that will get more use when you return home.
One way to save money on souvenirs for your children is to give them a budget and let them spend it however they see fit. I also know parents that allow their children to pick out ONE item to bring home. Our 5 year old still had some Christmas money to spend on our last summer in Europe and chose to buy a wooden toy in Bratislava, some legos in Croatia, and bubble sticks in Berlin.
Overage: Leaving a little wiggle room
No matter how much planning you do before you leave for vacation, there is no way to plan for everything. There will always be something that either costs more than you were expecting or a new activity you did not hear about until you were already there. We suggest adding a buffer to your family vacation budget of about 5% for these expenses.
Be sure to carry a credit card that does not have foreign transaction fees. This can save you lots of unexpected costs on your bill when you return home. We have found this card to be our favorite and it also has some traveler insurance protections, but we’ll discuss that later on in this series.
If you missed it, be sure to check out the other posts in this series. We’re writing about how to make a family vacation to Europe a reality.