Finding ways to see Europe on weak dollar
March 2, 2008
RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — Paris and London are not too far away on the map, but the cost of visiting them and other popular cities is quickly getting out of reach for many Americans stationed in Europe.
The tanking U.S. dollar has made traveling in Europe more expensive than ever. But Americans can still see some of the continent’s landmarks without having to take out a signature loan.
They just have to plan ahead, said Beth Gross, a tour guide with the United Service Organizations in Kaiserslautern. “Traveling on the spur of the moment costs too much money,” she said. “You have to do your research and you have to plan ahead.”
She gave her traveling tips at a lunchtime seminar — sponsored by the base’s Airman and Family Readiness Center. It was the last of five sessions this week that focused on how airmen and their families can better manage their finances, save for college and plan for retirement.
The “Traveling on a Budget” seminar aimed to offer some practical advice at a time when the dollar has plummeted to a record low against the euro. On Friday, the euro bought $1.55 at military banking facilities.
The exchange rate alone is enough to make some Americans think twice before they take a trip off base. “It hurts me just thinking about the exchange rate,” said Stacy Nichols, the community readiness consultant and organizer of the Military Saves Week series of seminars.
But Gross said Americans who shop around for hotels and search for bargains and discounts on trains and entrance fees can go where they want without obliterating their bank account.
She also suggested that people avoid buying souvenirs and instead focus on taking plenty of pictures and making friends.
“Instead of spending a lot of money on a souvenir, I tell them to make a lot of memories,” she said.
Thrifty travelers also should plan trips in the off-season, when prices drop. They shouldn’t forget to bring gas coupons and Value-Added Tax forms.
In addition, people should consider renting apartments instead of paying for hotel rooms because it can often be cheaper for larger groups and families.
And those who want to hit the museums should check out whether they offer discounts. Some museums, including the Louvre in Paris, have special rates for those who go later in the afternoon and on Sundays.
Another tip: Bring a cooler of food and plan to eat out only once a day.
That’s what Airman 1st Class Philesha Odom and her family did on a recent trip to Paris. Odom, who is with the 86th Maintenance Squadron at Ramstein, rented a van with a group of people and split the cost. They brought a cooler full of food so they didn’t have to spend too much money in expensive restaurants. She said they still found a way to enjoy Paris, one of the most expensive cities in the world, on a shoestring budget.
“I found that it doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, when you go up to the top of the Eiffel Tower, it still takes your breath away,” she said.
Tips for Traveling on a Budget
Plan your itinerary and make reservations early. Avoid booking on European holidays and school breaks.If you take the train, check into reduced rates for children and groups.Eat only one meal a day at restaurants. Go to the local grocery store or bakery and stock up for breakfast and snacks. Keep a cooler in your hotel room.Follow the rule: One beverage per meal. Beverages are more expensive in Europe, especially in the tourist spots, and can add to the bill quickly.Get your guide books at the library.Look into “city cards” that offer discounted entrance fees and offer reductions on other sights.If you have a large family or group, consider renting an apartment. They often offer more space at a better price than hotel rooms.Shop around on the Internet for hotel rooms.Use public transportation.Take pictures, instead of buying souvenirs.Source: United Service Organizations and the Ramstein Airman and Family Readiness Center