Travel to your chosen European city with some euros already in your wallet. We usually get 200€ before departure.
While you’re still in the USA:
- You’ll pay at least an extra 5% foreign exchange fee premium to acquire euros. Your bank can secure euros, but it’s not an instantaneous process: After arranging for purchase, you must pick them up a few days later after they are delivered to your bank.
- American Express (AMEX) travel centers/offices sell euros directly; however, their standard exchange rate is a few percent above major banks.
- I like one-stop-shopping at my AMEX office, which if you ask, matches Bank of America’s current exchange rate. However, AMEX also tries to charge a $5 or $10 transaction fee. Refuse to pay; the AMEX office rep usually agrees. Here’s a link to an AMEX travel services office near you: http://www.amextravelresources.com/search#/travel-office&inav=travel_offices_gem
- Prior to departure, look up or ask your bank for the name of its banking partner in the country(s) you will visit.
While you’re in country:
- Visit the banking partner’s ATM and use your debit card to withdraw funds – typically up to 500€ at a time. You pay the current day’s exchange rate plus a 3% foreign exchange fee. Best deal you’re going to get.
- Using a non-partner ATM adds an extra 5-10€ fee to your transaction, independent of the amount you withdraw.
Eating like Local Europeans
There is a saying: “When in Rome, do as the Roman’s do.” Doing so, you can save more than 25% on restaurant food.
- Lunch is often the primary meal for European families.
- Restaurants offer three-course lunch specials/meals (salad, main dish, and dessert or coffee) for a fixed fee – anywhere between 8 and 14€. Some countries (such as Valencia) also include a drink (beer, wine, soda, or bottled water). A similar meal at dinnertime is priced a la cart and costs significantly more.
- You’re staying in an apartment with a full kitchen, so you have options. If you don’t want to cook and you had a big and great lunch, purchasing good wine, great cheese, olives, crackers, and local bread can provide an enjoyable and sufficient dinner… and allow you to go to bed not feeling stuffed. Not to mention saving money with no sacrifice.
- Another light dinner alternative is pizza. Italians live all across Europe, and great pizza for 10-15€ is always near your apartment.
- Last, but also first, is breakfast. Scope out the local bakery near your apartment for amazing 1€ croissants and fresh bread.
- And, of course, go out for dinner a couple of nights a week. Remember: You’re creating luxurious memories, not penny pinching.
Wine and Liquor Strategies
I’m not an expert here, but I know the favorite wine you buy at home may not be readily available in Europe. My approach:
- Get a couple bottles at the grocery that look/read good.
- Then find a wine store near your apartment. [Ask the owner/agent who meets you at the apartment upon arrival (to give you keys, collect any damage deposit, etc.) for a recommendation.]
- Ask the wine store manager, or guy / gal who knows their stock, which bottles match your stated tastes and desired price range. I like to start at 12€.
- Once I find a bottle that is delicious, I mostly stick with it. (Even if I find it in the grocery.)
As for liquor, USA duty free is not always a good deal. At the Dallas/Ft. Worth airport, a 1.75L bottle of Jack Daniels sells for $50. A 1L bottle of Jamison is $40. In Valencia, Jamison was 18€ for 0.7L. Jack was 16.50€. Other countries/cities may be slightly more expensive but typically equivalent/more convenient when you consider the need to carry duty free goods through TSA-like inspections at any European hub city on route to your destination.
Any credit card that does not charge a foreign exchange fee is fine. There are several cards that do not charge a fee, but also many that do. The fee is typically 3%.
Bank of America’s Travel Card and all Capital One cards are just a few options that do not charge a foreign exchange fee. Chase Sapphire Preferred is another option, but charges a $95 annual fee in the second year. Here’s a link to information about the top credit cards with no foreign exchange fees: http://www.creditcards.org/no-foreign-transaction-fee-credit-cards?os-campaign_id=346664690
Acquiring a new card prior to your trip may have some benefits. Banks are offering tens of thousands of points or a few hundred dollars, as well as 12 to 18 months of 0% interest, on purchases to new credit card clients. There is often a requirement to spend a few thousand dollars in the first three months to get the reward points/ dollars. Getting the card prior to purchasing your European airfare and 25% initial rental payment can help cover the initial purchase requirements for points/ dollars and provide you a few extra months to pay off.
It’s important to obtain both trip cancellation insurance and trip interruption insurance. Cancellation covers you before you leave; interruption covers you after you leave. If you need to return home early for family or medical reasons, cancellation insurance does not cover your expenses.
Cancellation insurance typically only covers expenses not refundable.
- If you need to cancel, even a non-refundable ticket, airlines will likely bank your money for 365 days from the date of original ticket purchase. They charge you a rebooking fee of $300 per person unless you have loyalty status and/or can talk your way around this fee. Cancellation insurance will pay rebooking fees if you bank with the airline. Cancellation insurance might reimburse your ticket value if you ask for it and do not bank with the airline.
- Some airlines will require you to rebook a ticket when you cancel and in most instances, your return flight needs to be complete within the 365 days from original ticket purchase.
- Confirm specifics with your airline after booking tickets.
- Your apartment deposit (typically 25% down) is usually refunded if you cancel for valid reasons at least 31 days prior to arrival.
Thus, your cancellation risk is normally the amount of your monthly rent (anticipates cancellation less than 31 days prior to arrival) plus any anticipated airline-rebooking fee. (Not to complicate things but rebooking a short time after postponing your trip could result in a higher price fare. Cancellation insurance will cover a fare increase up to your maximum insured policy amount.)
However, if you think you might need to cancel due to a potential serious family or personal medical reason, you should include the full amount of your tickets and apartment.
The amount of interruption insurance, unless negotiated, is calculated by the insurance company based upon the cancellation insured amount – and typically covers any additional charges for earlier return airfare plus various amounts for medevac flights, medical, dental, lost baggage, etc.
The amount of insurance purchased should focus on cancellation risks and any other personal concerns.
Filing a claim is pretty easy (based on personal experience). You fill out a form and provide:
- All receipts
- Apartment written cancellation clause
- A contact number for your apartment owner (who is contacted to confirm no refund was paid to you)
You need a GSM phone in Europe. Both GSM phone carriers (AT&T and T-Mobile) offer international calling to the USA from Europe/elsewhere. CDMA carriers Verizon and Sprint loan you a GSM phone from one of their partner carriers to use in Europe.
- AT&T sells you international dialing minute packages in multiple increments. Unused minutes are not refunded. Packages range from $1.00 to $0.35 per in/out minute. Cellular data ranges from 200 to 800 MBs. Texting is included in all plans. Carefully monitor you usage and purchase another package, if necessary.
- T-Mobile’s plan is simple: Unlimited text and cellular data, any amount of in/out calling at $0.20 per the actual minutes used.
- If your USA service is AT&T, Verizon, or Sprint, and you require more than ~300 in/out minutes, consider obtaining an unlocked GSM phone and T-Mobile service: $21 activation, $50 monthly service fee, then $0.20 per in/out minute. T-Mobile lets you cancel at any time, prorating your service fee and requires no contract.
- Download the app Whatsapp, which offers Internet voice calling and texting to another Whatsapp-equipped device. It can be used with your apartment’s Wi-Fi as well as a CDMA phone.
- Don’t forget about Skype.
Tipping across Europe is different – ranging from no tipping necessary to a few euros to 10-12.5%. Here’s a link for recommendations on restaurant, taxi, and hotel tipping for most countries: https://www.theguardian.com/money/2015/jul/25/tipping-around-the-world-holiday-restaurants-taxi-drivers-what-pay
You can buy a city pass at any city tourist location. They provide one- two- or three-day combined passes for museums, buses or local trains, and other discounts. My wife enjoys museums; I’m not so much a fan unless it’s a famous one. So we schedule a few days to see museums. These passes save us considerable money, but must be used in successive days.