We all know that Western Europe is one of the most expensive tourist destinations in the world. I think I’ve spent more money in the past couple weeks than I do in a month at home (whoops!). I’ve learned how to cut corners here and there, though, so keep reading to learn from my mistakes!
1. Walk as much as possible.
I literally couldn’t believe how expensive the tube was. An Oyster card alone is five pounds (you get that back when you return the card, though). I’m not sure of the exact amount, but I was putting in maybe eight to ten pounds a day, or maybe $12ish. I wasn’t even taking the tube that much! I did find, however, that things are closer in distance than they seem. Walking has all sorts of benefits: exercise (to burn off that 100g bag of chocolate you ate earlier…no? Just me? Okay.), exploration of the neighborhoods, getting a feel for the layout of the city, meeting people, saving money… the list goes on.
Walking provides so much more opportunity for sight-seeing, stumbling across cute little shops and cafes, and experiencing the city a bit more in-depth.
2. Cook as much as possible.
I bought quinoa meals and fruit to keep in my hostel, to eat in the morning and late afternoons before dinner. It cuts costs here and there, because all those 5 pound purchases really add up! I also purchased a big salad that kept me full for maybe 3-4 hours. Buy superfoods like that—kale, spinach, quinoa, chickpeas, etc…. Those foods keep you fuller longer than shitty foods! Finally, carry small snacks like nuts or granola bars with you. It will definitely help those mid-afternoon cravings.
3. Do free walking tours (or better yet, DIY it!).
My hostel partners with New Europe tours (I did the same one in Paris), a fantastic company that employs free-lance tour guides who work for free—you just tip at the end. It’s a 2-3 hour walking tour of the central neighborhood in the city, and it’s jam-packed with history, monuments, fun facts, insider tips, and more. It’s a great, very inexpensive way to both acclimate yourself to the city and plan for later activities (what interests you? What would you want to come back and see more of later?).
Secondly, I wanted to sign up for a fourteen-pound Harry Potter walking tour of the city on my last day, to see some filming locations. When I went to signup, however, it was full! I was discouraged at first, but then I figured I could just google some of the locations and check them out for myself. Turns out, this guy has already compiled a 23-page DIY Harry Potter walking tour that takes about 6 hours! It’s completely free, it has very detailed directions for walking and taking the tube, and you can choose which things you want to see and which things you don’t. He’s also included a lot of London’s history and fun facts, which is a nice touch. Click this link to check it out for yourself!
4. Google photos of famous places first to see if you want to pay the money to really go inside.
Many famous tourist attractions come with a hefty entrance fee, because everyone wants a photo for their Instagram. For example, a pass to see the insides of the three royal palaces runs about 98 pounds, if my mind serves me right. Ask yourself if you really want to see inside famous attractions, or if you just want to see it to say you’ve been inside. I know I don’t care much for British royalty, so I didn’t pay to go inside any of the palaces, or even to go out to Windsor Palace (a bit out of the city, comparable to Versailles).
The London Tower was 26 pounds, so I googled photos and I truly wasn’t impressed, so I walked over to the building and saw it from the outside, read the info on the plaques, and took some photos. St. Paul’s Cathedral was 18 pounds, so I did the same thing there. After all, if you don’t see it, you don’t know what you’re missing, either!
Some things truly are worth seeing, if you have the money to pay it. For example, I saw photos of the inside of La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, and knew that for me, it was worth paying 16 euros to go inside.
Instead of paying to go inside some of these famous monuments, I spent money on a ticket to see Wicked, which I knew would mean more to me in the long run. I’m glad I made that decision – it was one of the most incredible shows I’ve ever seen!
Instead of paying to go inside some famous attractions, I visited the free (5 euro suggested donation) British Museum one afternoon… and I was NOT disappointed. I expected to spend an hour, hour and a half there, but I ended up spending 3 hours there! I didn’t even get to see all of what I wanted to, but the museum was closing.
Do your research, and decide for yourself what you want to pay to see. To each their own!
5. Explore markets, rifle through local stores, stop inside artisan shops…. But don’t buy anything.
I went to the Camden Markets this week and was instantly drawn to these artisan rings. I wear two rings every day, a family heirloom from my grandma and a ring from Tiffany’s that I received for my fifteenth birthday. I thought wouldn’t one of these rings look lovely with the two I already wear? And what a story—I bought them at a market in London! These rings were so intricate and beautiful, not to mention handmade. Prices ranged from 12 to 26 pounds, which I did consider. I decided to continue shopping, and return if I really wanted one a while later.
Sure enough, I didn’t miss them.
I read once that if you love something in a store or online, walk away for twenty minutes. If you still want it then, go back and buy it.
Humans have a tendency to consume—we see something, we have access to money to buy it, and so we do. It’s especially hard to walk away when the person who made it is standing right there, watching you. It feels rude to walk away! Remind yourself that you are just one in a million customers they see every day, and save your money.
Those are the five tips I learned this week! What tips do you have to see cities for cheap, especially expensive cities? I’d love to hear them (especially as I travel around Europe by myself!).