Europe on a budget

If you’re planning a Western European vacation this year, you may be in for a rude awakening. Europe is expensive.

An easy way to figure out the cost difference between Canada and Europe is thinking dollars for pounds — what costs you $100 in Canada will cost £100 in Britain and elsewhere in Europe, a real problem when you consider the fact one pound is worth more than two loonies. Worse still, many major hotels and eateries are cashing in on the occasion, boosting their prices to hitherto unseen highs.

But if you can afford it, a European vacation in the year 2000 is certainly worth every penny. Europe’s major capitals, such as London, Paris and Rome, are going all out with special events and festivals to celebrate the millenium.

To help you get the most from your under-valued Canadian dollar, I canvassed a number of my travel-writing colleagues, as well as industry professionals, about some of their personal money-saving tips when travelling to Europe. Here’s what we came up with:

  • Plan as far ahead as possible, and don’t spare the details — then contact CARP Travel or your travel agent when you’re ready to book your flight, accommodaon and car rental if needed. And try to pay for as much as possible prior to your departure — you’ll find it’s cheaper. Also, many major airlines offer special deals on hotels and car rentals if they’re booked in Canada.
  • Make use of the excellent services available at the various European tourist commissions, most of which have offices in Canada. Most offer a variety of brochures and money-saving tourist tips.
  • If your budget is tight, try the charter airlines, such as Sunquest’s Skyservice or Canada 3000, which also offer hotel deals.
  • Take along two credit cards. You get a much better exchange rate than trying to convert Canadian or U.S. cash at a hotel or by cashing traveller’s cheques — most banks will hit you with a fat surcharge. Buy a small amount of foreign currency in Canada. When you arrive at your destination, visit a nearby ATM (Automatic Bank Machine) to get local currency, withdrawing only as much as you’ll need for a few days.
  • Consider alternative European destinations other than the obvious. Ireland is a must-see, and now a lasting peace seems possible, there’s never been a better time to view its splendid scenery. Holland is another delightful destination. For art lovers, Amsterdam is heaven on earth with its many museums full of Old Masters such as Van Gogh and Rembrandt. And, for history junkies, there are almost 400 museums in the Amsterdam area.

If you really want to see as much as possible without breaking the bank, you could follow in the footsteps of my daughter. This past summer she travelled from one end of Europe to the other in five weeks by train. It was exhausting, but she loved it. Rail Europe has a variety of pre-paid passes which must be purchased in Canada. For further details, check with CARP Travel or call toll-free 1-800-361-7245. For British rail passes, contact BritRail at 1-800-555-2748.