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How to successfully plan your Europe trip when you’re on a budget

Visiting Europe has always been at the very top of your bucket list, and when you’re young and ready to see the world, there’s no better time than the present to take the plunge. The only problem? With your bank account as dry as a bone, visiting the Louvre Museum, the Tower of Pisa, and Stonehenge can feel about as attainable as pet unicorn. Luckily, I’ve compiled a quick checklist for how to plan your dream trip across the pond without breaking the bank:

1. Travel off the tourist path.
Take it from seasoned travelers – this trip will immerse you in new experiences. From language and cuisine to three-prong adapters, it’s all different. If you crave good food or stunning architecture, rest assured: All of Europe qualifies. Plus, you’ll stretch your travel budget even further when you steer away from the tourist-ridden cities.

Chart a course for the east. You’ll find more affordable food and lodging across Eastern Europe – along with medieval castles, mountain skiing, and beaches. You’ll save on airfare to Eastern cities and find hostels at a fraction of Western European prices.

Check out the wine districts such as Moravia in the Czech Republic, which rivals the well-trodden wine regions of France and Spain. The area’s best picks are along the Mediterranean shore, with the same aqua sea as Italy’s Cinque Terre. You may find that comfort levels reflect the lower prices, so make sure to check out reviews. And exercise the same caution with your belongings as you would in all public places.

2. Work from a well-thumbed itinerary.
Before you start buying airline tickets, map out your journey. Where do you want to go, how will you get there, and what do you want to do while you’re there? Are you after the nightlife, or would you rather hike the trails? Once you target a destination, you can estimate a solid budget for transportation, lodging, and daily expenses. Start with your largest expenses – usually flights and rail passes.

Check your options on all-in-one airfare sites. You can avoid the top tourist airports by looking for better deals nearby or even in neighboring countries. Smaller airports are easier to maneuver, and flights within Europe are unbelievably discounted.

Travel overnight, and sleep on the plane or train if you can. You’ll have one less hotel bill and reach your destination rested and ready for a full day of discovery. Sleepers are popular on European trains, so reserve your berth a month in advance. While you’re there, get around on public transport. Europe is easy to navigate without a rental car, and you’ll enjoy it more when someone else is doing the driving. Fly, ride the train, or catch a ferry. Get off the beaten path on charter cruises or hiking/biking tours.

Finally, if you’re set on visiting popular cities like Paris, plan to go during off-peak seasons. You’ll avoid long museum lines, inflated prices, meager lodging offers, and overbooked transport. You can stretch resources (and bet on better service and accommodations) when you avoid the crowds.

3. Destinations and transportation – check. Now, do the numbers.
Once you’ve estimated travel expenses, tally your daily cost of lodging, eating, and exploring.

Travel can eat up your schedule. You’ll have a more authentic experience when you spend a few days or more exploring the locale. For starters, get a city pass that includes metro and museum tickets. You don’t have to stand in line at the Louvre to experience French culture – the city of Paris alone has scores of chic, affordable sights.

Some of your best memories will involve food, and you can eat well on budget when you steer away from tourist and upscale eateries. Shop local, visit the bakeries, lunch at outdoor markets, and sip your coffee at the bar. In some cities, you pay extra for table service, so figure that into the cost of your cafe au lait.

While you’re stretching your budget, allow yourself to splurge on what you love. Climb that mountain, and cross that sea. Take that moonlit cruise, or glam up for the opera. You’ll find the romance will last long after your travels.

With these expert tips for making the most of Europe, you can pursue a wide-ranging itinerary, even on tight budgets and time schedules. So get out your maps, investigate all the options, and start planning.

Senior search marketer - Expedia Canada

Tony Tie is a numbers-obsessed marketer, life hacker, and public speaker who has helped various Fortune 500 companies grow their online presence. Located in Toronto, he is currently the senior search marketer at Expedia Canada, the leading travel booking platform for flights, hotels, car rentals, cruises, and local activities. Connect with Tony on Twitter @tonytie.

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