7 Ways We’re Saving on Our 18-Day European Vacation

We're taking 5 people on an 18-day trip to Europe. Sure, it's still expensive, but here are 7 techniques we used to save thousands!

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Hey everybody! Welcome back.

Last week, we took a look at the itinerary for our 18-day trip through Europe. As a reminder, we’ve already made a short stop in Germany, moved on to our 10-day stay in Italy, and we’ll round out our experience with a few days in the Swiss Alps. We’re currently hunkered down in Rome, and it’s been nice to stay put for a few days!

While Holly and I have been to Italy before, this is our kids’ first time here. Yep, we brought the kiddos along, and they seem to be enjoying themselves. So far, there’s not much that a promise of gelato can’t fix! We also brought Holly’s brother with to help us keep an eye on the kids, which has been a big help.

Of course, bringing 5 people to Europe isn’t cheap. The most expensive part is just getting there, which is why we decided to take an extended trip in the first place. Still, there are some serious quirks and hefty bills that come with taking 3 adults and 2 kids on a European vacation. True to form, we’ve made a conscious effort to save money wherever we can. Here are a few ways we’re cutting costs on our 18-day European journey.

7 Ways We’re Saving in Europe

We paid for our flights using airline miles.

As I mentioned earlier, just getting over here is the most expensive part. We knew this going into the trip, so we planned ahead – like waaaay ahead – to earn enough miles for our flights. In fact, we redeemed 200,000 American Express Membership Rewards (which we earned using The Platinum Card® from American Express) for Air France miles. This made our round-trip flights FREE, minus the $400 in taxes and fees.

That’s a ton of points, and we definitely put them to good use. Had we booked these flights with real money, it would have cost us over $9,000 alone. So yeah, thank you points and miles!!! Use the banner below to find this card and start earning points of your own.

We used credit card portals to book our tours.

Last time we came to Italy, Holly and I used the Rome and Vatican Pass. We thought it was a good deal and considered using it again. However, since the plan was to travel a bit slower this time and we’re were also hoping to cut costs by using as many points as possible, we started looked around for alternatives.

Instead of paying out of pocket for the sightseeing passes, we decided on using our huge stash of Chase points to book tours through the Chase Ultimate Rewards® Portal. By using our Chase points, we saved hundreds of dollars in entry fees. We also get a tour guide at most of our stops, which is an added bonus.

We booked three nights in hostels.

Since we usually don’t spend a lot of time in our hotel room, it didn’t make sense to book something super swanky. Besides, as is common throughout much of Europe, many of the hotels we looked at only allowed 2 people per room. For us, that meant booking 3 rooms at certain stops – which was clearly not a good use of funds.

As an alternative, we booked 3 nights at two different hostels – one in Munich and one in Switzerland. We booked private rooms, even paying for a 6th person in Switzerland, so we wouldn’t have to share a room with somebody we didn’t know. This saved us hundreds of dollars a night, which was a huge boost to our savings on this trip.

We booked Airbnbs at our other stops.

Since we were having trouble finding hotel rooms to accommodate 5 people, we booked Airbnbs in Rome, Florence, and Verona instead. Although renting apartments didn’t save us a huge amount of money, it did save some. Most importantly, these apartments have allowed us to do laundry and cook a few meals – saving us even more.

This isn’t the first time we’ve used Airbnb or VRBO when traveling internationally. We’ve rented a couple of times while traveling with the kids to the beach. They aren’t always as fun as a 5-star hotel, but they’re definitely worth it if you’re looking for something more budget friendly. Plus, you get to live like a local for a few days, and I love doing that. And since we basically just need a roof over our heads to sleep, we’re almost always willing to save a few bucks on lodging if needed.

We’re eating breakfast at the apartment.

I mentioned this above, but I think it deserves its own section. By renting an apartment, we were able to save on at least one meal a day. So far, we’ve eaten all of our breakfasts in-house. When you’ve got 5 people with you, eating in for just one meal a day can save $40+. Over 18 days, that’s $720 or more!

When traveling, I always suggest eating in for at least one meal a day. We usually search for hotels which include breakfast. That way, we know we’ll have at least one meal a day that is included. It doesn’t have to be much, but every dollar helps.

We’re carrying snacks with us.

We're taking 5 people on an 18-day trip to Europe. Sure, it's still expensive, but here are 7 techniques we used to save thousands!In addition to saving money on breakfast, we’re also carrying snacks with us during the day. My kids ask for 3.75 million snacks a day, and I can’t afford to buy them something every time they complain for food. I mean, we could sit down for a gigantic dinner, and they’d ask for a snack 15 minutes after we eat. So, we have to plan ahead.

This is also helping us save on lunches. Again, we’ve got 5 people to feed. The less we spend on snacks and lunch, the more we can save throughout the trip. When we do eat out for lunch, we try to eat at cheap local joints or buy food from street vendors. Sure, we’ll splurge for a few nice dinners, but every meal doesn’t need to be the greatest culinary experience we’ve ever had.

We’re renting a car in Switzerland.

Folks, prices throughout Switzerland are crazy expensive. We’re taking a train to our first stop in Grindelwald. Then, we’ll be renting a car to make the journey to Lucerne.

We priced out some rail passes as well as individual train tickets, but they didn’t make sense after looking at rental cars. The price difference was negligent, like within $10, plus we’ll get the added benefit of having a car. It’s a lot easier to get to the alpine slide in Kandersteg, and we don’t have to worry about finding transportation from Lucerne to the Hotel Villa Honegg. All in all, the money is a wash, but the convenience is a huge bonus – at least that’s what we’re hoping.

Wrapping Up

No matter how you look at it, bringing 5 people to Europe is gonna cost a lot of money. And since we included Switzerland in the plans, the price could have easily gotten out of hand. We’ll still spend a few thousand dollars on this trip, but we could have easily spent $15,000-$20,000 had we not taken the measures above.

I hope we’ve given you some ideas on ways you can save on a family vacation to Europe. We’d love for you to follow along with our trip on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Thanks so much for reading. Until next time, happy traveling!

To see rates and fees for the American Express cards mentioned here, please use the following links: American Express Platinum Card: See Rates and Fees.

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    1. Oh my gosh, yes. It’s crazy not to carry a bottle around in Rome especially since you can fill them up at the various stops for free. It has also been in the 90’s, so we’ve needed lots of water anyway!

  1. I love Airbnb! It is such a good way to experience local cultures while saving some money!
    I especially love interacting with the hosts as they know all the best places to go.

    1. So far our AirBNBs have been great. The one we had in Verona was especially nice. I wish we could have stayed there forever!

  2. I agree with so much here! I loved our Air BnB in Rome. We were a group of 5 adults with only two being a couple (my husband and I) so we needed 4 beds to sleep so Air BnB was the way to go.

    I’d love to hear more about your car rental experience. Did you rent an automatic or manual? I don’t know how to drive stick shift but learning is on my to-do list as our large traveling family group want to in the next 2-3 years do a NW Italy shore, SE France shore and Southern Switzerland trip some time and I know renting a minivan is the best way to do that as far as time is concerned and I imagine we may have trouble finding an automatic transmission vehicle within a reasonable price. Speaking of rental cars overseas, I saw our Costco Citi card offers free car insurance (up to $50,000 and only on your vehicle) for international car rentals. Since you’re experienced with credit card rewards, I’m curious if you’ve seen other cards offering that? I thought that was a nice perk.

    Hope your travels are fabulous!

    1. We rented an automatic SUV thingy for Switzerland. I booked it through Expedia for pickup in Interlaken and drop-off at the Zurich airport when we leave. I definitely booked one that’s automatic. My husband can drive a stick shift, but I don’t think he was thrilled about doing it in the mountains and with a car full of people in a strange land. HAHA

      As far as credit cards go, we use both the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Sapphire Reserve for their primary rental car coverage. It covers nearly all countries where we would travel anyway, and it’s free as a cardholder perk.

      Your trip itinerary sounds amazing! I hope you figure out how to make it happen. I do know that it can be expensive to pickup and drop off your rental in different countries. That’s part of the reason we’re picking up and dropping off in Switzerland. Doing a multi-country one-way rental was considerably more money. Like, a lot more! But, if you find it’s too much, you could always get a separate rental in each country and take trains in between. That’s probably what I would do if the cost was outrageous!

  3. Looks like you guys did it the right way. My wife and I did a 2-week thing in Europe a few years back. Cost us $15K. We ate out quite a bit though, so that’s where it probably hit us the hardest. Thanks for sharing!

    1. We are definitely not spending that much, thank goodness! But I see how it could be easy to do.

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