Why A European Trip Might Not Be As Expensive As You Think

My husband and I have had the good fortune of traveling to Europe many times in the past few years. When we recount our stories of our trips, we hear complaints from others that it’s just too expensive to travel to Europe.

Don’t worry – I’m not hear to say that traveling to Europe is cheap and anyone can do it. What I am going to argue is that a trip across the Atlantic can be comparable in total price to a trip within the U.S.

1) Plane tickets – yes, these are going to be more expensive than flying somewhere domestic. The best way to avoid outrageous prices is to travel off season (i.e., not during the summer). Plane ticket to Europe: $1,000+. Plane ticket in the U.S. $300-$500.

Last month we stayed at Colwyn Guest House in North Wales for 63 Euros a night ($83).

Last month we stayed at Colwyn Guest House (pictured) in North Wales for 63 Euros a night ($83).

2) Hotels – Lately I’ve noticed that if you travel to any large city in the U.S., you’re going to pay at least $200 a night for  a hotel room. And then most likely you will have to pay for Internet, and breakfast is definitely not included. If you want to keep costs down, you could find a room for the low $100s, but usually these are either next to the airport or at the very end of the subway/train line. Hotel: $200; Wifi: $15/night; Breakfast: $10/person. Total: $235/night.

In Europe, however, there are much more bargains. In fact, during most of our trips we spend about 50 to 90 euros a night ($65 to $115) on our hotel rooms. We are also always right in the middle of major cities – in Madrid our hotel was a block away from Plaza Mayor, in Munich we were two blocks from Marienplatz, in Paris we were right by the Bastille. Wifi is usually included in the price and a lot of places in Europe have breakfast included as well. Total: $90/night (an average).

At Chartier in Paris in 2010. Our huge jug of wine that evening was 5 euros.

At Chartier in Paris in 2010. Our huge jug of wine that evening was 5 euros ($6.60).

3) Drinks – you’re traveling, of course you are going to want to have drinks. In the U.S., even during happy hour you’re going to pay at least $5 for a beer or wine. At dinner the bottle of wine will be, at its cheapest, $30. However in Europe, drinking is much cheaper. You can usually get a glass of wine or beer for about 1 to 2 euros ($1.30-$2.60). And at restaurants we get a bottle (or a litre) of wine for about 10 euros ($13). Total in U.S. for a drink and a bottle: $35. Total Europe: $15.

4) Food – Depending on where you are in Europe there are plenty of bargains for food. Dinners in Spain can easily be tapas standing at a bar. A lunch in France can be a baguette and some cheese. In Germany and Austria the street food sausages are amazing any time of day. Obviously there are bargains for food in the U.S. as well, so this one I will just call a tie.

When you add it all up for a, let’s say, 7 day trip here are the totals:

A 7-day trip in the U.S.: Air $400 + 7 nights at a hotel and paying for wifi and breakfast every morning $1,645 + 7 days of drinking (you’re on vacation, no one is judging here) $245 = $2,290

A 7-day trip to Europe: Air $1,000 + hotel $630 + drinks $105 = $1,735

Go to Venice in November and you may have flooding, but you can get an amazing central hotel for 80 euros a night. Plus the floods add to the charm.

Go to Venice in November and you may have flooding, but you can get an amazing central hotel for 80 euros a night. Plus the floods add to the charm.

Clearly the costs aren’t that different (and with these estimates, Europe is looking pretty attractive). Let me point out a few disclaimers:

  • European hotels at this price point are not 4 or 5 star lodgings. You are getting a very basic room (sometimes you won’t even have toiletries in the bathroom), but in our experience (in the U.K., Netherlands, Belgium, France, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Austria, Italy, and Croatia) the hotels have been clean, in great locations, and very decent.
  • To find hotels, restaurants, and even bars that are a bargain you will have to do some planning. I recommend reading Rick Steves as his recommendations are usually spot on and very affordable.
  • Looking for a 90 euro room in London? Probably not going to happen. London is the anomaly.

Obviously I understand that costs of trips are much more than airfare, hotel, and alcohol. I’ve just used those three categories because I think that’s where European and American vacations vary the most. Your total trip cost for either destination will be much more when you factor in food, ground transportation, admission prices for attractions, etc.

Before you turn down the idea of a trip to Europe, do the math – you might be pleasantly surprised.

Prices in USD and EUR conversions based on today’s rate.

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About Stephanie Y.

I'm a professional news writer in Frederick, Maryland. I blog at S.Y. Ciphers.

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