Living overseas provides endless opportunities for travel; however, those opportunities can seem overwhelming when you consider the many possible ways there are to do it. After living here for several years and traveling regularly, I have come up with a few helpful tools and links to help in the quest for the perfect vacation.
- Booking.com I use two main sites to book most of our travel and this is my favorite. You can get lots of last minute deals, book rooms with no cancellation fees, and filter your search to help find the right accommodation. Filters range from price, review score, amenities, locations, inclusion of meals, family rooms, etc. After searching various other sites and hotel websites themselves, I still find Booking.com to be the most affordable and efficient way to book a stay. You can book anything from a hostel to a fully equipped apartment, or a five star deluxe villa. The website is easy to use, cohesive, and customizable.
- Air bnb and HomeAway: Similar to booking.com, these sites offer great filters to search, but often the price is much lower since you are typically renting someone’s home. I like booking these types of places depending on where we are headed because we can find larger accommodations for cheaper rates. Plus, the experience is usually much more personal. It’s worth chatting it up with owners who can help you figure out the best places to eat, play, and what to do and when.
- Skyscanner For flights booking and price comparison between airlines, Skyscanner is my favorite and has proven to be the most economical. However, I wouldn’t consolidate your search to one site. Comparison is always the best way to search for a great flight and with so many options available, do check out other sites like Kayak, CheapAir, and Expedia, just to be sure you’re getting the best deal.
As for specific airlines for overseas traveling, these are a few no-frills European budget airlines that are worth checking out individually. They offer direct, cheap flights to some of the major cities and sometimes it’s best to see which fly out of your local airport and check with them directly:
*Regarding EuroWings, not only do they have great rates in and out of most major (and not so major) airports, they also have a feature called “blind booking“. This is a cheap (and fun!) way to book a trip if you aren’t too worried about where you are going. If you have flexibility in your time of departure you can book this about a week or two out. Basically, you pick a theme (culture, beach, party, etc), pick a weekend, and pick your departure airport. A list of possible locations pops up and you know that once you hit purchase, you will be going to one of those places. If a city pops up on the initial list that you have already been to or don’t wish to see, you can X it out of the list and for each X you get charged a small amount, usually 5-10 Euro per X. We have seen Hamburg, Brussels, and Milan through this feature and paid half the cost of a regular airline ticket.
When to Book & Travel?
- TUESDAYS: This is the cheapest day to search for ticket prices, specifically 3pm Eastern Standard time
- THREE TO ONE MONTH: The amount of time in advance you want to purchase tickets for the best price if flying domestically in America.
- FIVE & 1/2 TO ONE & 1/2 MONTH: The amount of time in advance you want to purchase tickets for the best price if flying internationally.
- SET ALERTS: Many airline search sights allow you to set up a cheap fare finder, airfare alert, etc. You can set these up daily, weekly, etc and can keep an eye on how the flights are fluctuating to purchase when the price is right for you.
- NO FRIDAYS OR SUNDAYS: These are the most expensive days to travel, so if you can avoid flying on these dates, do it.
- BOOK TICKETS SEPARATE: If you are booking multiple people. Flights default to make each ticket the same and if you are traveling with two or more people, check to see the difference if booking one at a time or three at a time. Chances are, you’ll fly cheaper booking separate, but then you’ll need to sweet talk customer service to get your group to sit together.
Cruises can be very overwhelming to search for, but if you have some time on your hands and a little patience, you can find some great deals. USAA offers their members access to their affiliate, Explore Cruise and Travel. They offer specials for USAA members and it’s worth giving them a call to see what they can offer. I have personally booked two cruises with them and saved hundreds of dollars by being flexible with my departure date. This allowed us to have an ocean view room on one cruise and a balcony on the other without having to pay for an upgrade. If you are cruising with children, one thing to keep in mind is that many cruise lines don’t offer drop off childcare for children under three years old. I have noticed this is changing and over the past couple of years more cruise lines are starting to offer this service which makes the pool of cruise lines to search for much broader. I have cruised with Royal Caribbean specifically for their “Royal Babies and Tots” program. This program provides rental toys for young kids, free playtime in their nursery, and drop off care for a small hourly fee for children under three years old. Disney also has this feature, but their cruises tend to cost quite a bit more.
Traveling by train in Europe is the iconic way to travel for most, however it’s not always cheap and in fact, flying can get you there quicker and cheaper more times than not. Traveling by train does offer you the benefit of viewing the passing scenery and in Europe, it’s no small perk since the terrain varies from gorgeous costal bluffs, rolling hills covered in vineyards, castle topped hills, and snowy peaked mountains. You don’t get to see or appreciate these things from 35,000 feet in the air.
- Deutsch Bahn is a great option here in Germany and you can pick routes to other countries, week long passes, EuroRail passes, and make custom tickets based on where you want to go.
- Train Stations: If you want a last minute deal, or to find the best fares on trains, going to the train station in person is the preferred way for many to save some money. Larger train stations have a booking office inside and the staff will search to find the best fare and best dates. Not only do the train fares tend to be cheaper when purchased directly at the station, there are also travel packages available to search through which include train fare, hotel, and meals.
Renting a mobile home or doing a self-drive are other options when trying to plan a more custom trip, but gas prices, tolls, vignettes, and hidden speed cameras can add up to a very expensive road trip.
- Vignettes: When planning to cross a border in Europe, always check to see if that country requires a vignette. Countries like Switzerland and Austria require a vignette to be displayed on your windshield and failure to do so results in hefty fines. If you don’t have ADAC, which is similar to AAA in America, I highly suggest purchasing the international package if you plan to do a lot of travel. ADAC has offices all over Europe and you can buy your vignettes directly at their shops for a discounted price, or wait until you’re at the border to purchase from the local vendors and gas stations.
- Cash: Keep Euro in cash on hand for tolls in other parts of the EU, such as Italy. In many of the larger freeways, credit cards are accepted at the tolls, but if you don’t have an international card, expect fees from your cardholder, too. In Europe, cash on hand is always a good idea.
- Gas: Fuel is expensive in Europe, that’s no surprise. Keep a list of AAFES and ESSO stations programed in your GPS and in your glove compartment, and keep your gas card loaded up with at least five Euro. Knowing the last possible station in Germany to top off at can save you a lot of money. Along with what I have provided in this article, there are other ways to get around Europe including by IC bus and by numerous bike trails. The destinations are seemingly endless and hopefully this article provides you with enough useful information to start planning your next adventure.
If you have other tips or suggestions for readers about the best ways to book travel around Europe please let us know in the comments below!