Shel Horowitz's Monthly Frugal Fun Tip for November, 2003
As I promised you in September: more strategies to keep your costs down on a European vacation:
* Go a little out of season--May or September/October is probably best (see June 2000); you can travel far more cheaply than we did during the high season.
* In Italy, we were shocked to discover that most places charged a commission to change euro travelers checks into actual currency. Since we'd already paid a commission to convert from dollars to euros, we were very upset. Also, almost no individual businesses accept travelers checks as payment (and many don't take creditcards either). One moneychanger, at the Genoa airport, did not charge a fee. Others charged anywhere from 3% to 8% (the most we would agree to was 4%). Lesson learned: forget about traveler's checks and simply use a debit card--*not* a creditcard, which will cost you a big chunk of interest--at A. T. M. machines).
* If you have a plane change that involves changing airports, find out before you make the reservation how you get from one airport to the other and how much it costs. We didn't budget for the transfer between Heathrow and Gatwick Airports in London, which added about $50 per person, round trip--ouch! Also, research alternative options.
* When traveling in the summer, pack only clothing that you can wash out easily in a sink, and that dries quickly. That cuts dramatically down on the number of suitcases.
* Buy a good luggage cart and a cover that can fit over all your luggage on the cart. Then if you store it at a train station, it's more likely to be treated as a single bag (we had four on a cart with no cover, and had to pay for each bag in some places).
* If you're staying in a city for even one day, investigate local transit options. For instance, in Venice, you can buy a 24-hour pass on the vaporetti (water buses) for just the cost of three single fares. From 11 a.m. one day until 10 a.m. the next, we went all over the place--and then on other days we walked. For longer stays, there may be 3-day, weekly, or monthly options.
* Always have a map.
* Get train schedules ahead of time on the raileurope.com website--but allow for enough time between connections if your first train is a bit late (we found delays of up to 20 minutes common in Italy).
* If you're visiting a small village, tell the conductor ahead of time where you're getting off. Some of the stops are very tiny indeed, and the trains don't tarry long there.
* Shopping is almost always substantially cheaper if you get off the main tourist paths. For example, we saw one item for 10 to 17 euros at the shops nearest the boat dock, but four blocks in they were 6.50.
Editor's note: as of summer 2003 when this was written, 1 euro was worth US $1.25.
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