Options available for European adventure

Published 12:14 pm Sunday, December 7, 2008

Here’s a question that I was recently asked: “We’d love to travel to Europe but isn’t the currency exchange impacting travel costs and making it expensive?”

Yes, the exchange rates have devalued the American dollar versus the EURO, English pound and other European currencies. The dollar has started to make a recovery, but Europe is still a little pricey.

There are a few strategies that you can employ in today’s travel environment to make your European vacation affordable and a great value. These tools in no specific order are take a European cruise tour, travel in the off-season, book a tour package or if you’re going it alone stay outside of the city center.

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A European cruise tour package typically includes air travel, accommodations, meals, entertainment, and transportation between cities even organized activities for children. Your prepayment often locks in a favorable exchange rate so most if not all of your major expenses are paid before you depart. When you bundle all of these items together you really reduce your per day costs.

I also believe it is a more civilized way to travel. You arrive at the airport are transferred to your ship unpack once and watch the world sail by. There’s no packing and unpacking rushing from airport to airport or train station to train station as many multiple city-country European tours involve.

Whether you are sailing on one of the traditional cruise ships or aboard an intimate inland river vessel there’s a new destination each day with boatloads of European history, heritage, culture and cuisine to take in.

I would also suggest that you look into a pre and/or post cruise land option. By doing this you can spend a few days exploring the city your ship departs from plus it reduces the stress of flight delays and other airline issues. Besides if you’re sailing from Rome don’t you want to spend a day or two there doing what the Romans do?

Look at booking your air and hotel package separately from the cruise. The cruise lines offer flights and hotel stays but I’ve found that you can get better deals and greater selection by doing this independently. Here’s where a good travel agent or plenty of on-line research can help out.

For itinerary ideas, sailing dates and rates contact your travel/cruise only agent or visit the Cruise Lines International Association website www.cruising.org and for small ship or river cruises go to www.nichecruise.com home of the Niche Cruise Marketing Alliance.

And do the math! Traditional blue water companies like Carnival or Royal Caribbean offer fairly inclusive European itineraries cruises but items like shore excursions and tours are extra. When added to your total bill your bottom line has increased drastically.

Small ship and river cruises companies like Viking River Cruises and Louis Cruise Lines frequently include shore excursions in their rates so what initially may look like a more expensive vacation in the long run is actually less expensive. Another benefit of the smaller vessels is that they can take you to places that the 3000 passenger mega liner cannot.

Travelling in the off season (October-April) helps you avoid the higher prices of peak period travel plus you miss the congestion of the summer time hordes of tourists. Wait times to get into Rome’s Sistine Chapel are frequently 2 hours or more in the summer and in the off you can actually walk right in. Many of the sites and attractions that you are planning to visit will be inside so the weather is not a major factor. However if you want to see the spring or summer bulbs in Holland then you are pretty much stuck to a specific travel window.

Another cost saving tip is to stay in the suburbs away from the central tourism region. Lodging in the city center tends to be much more expensive than farther in the neighborhoods. Look for lodging in the burbs and use public transportation to get around. In Europe mass transit is convenient, cheap, easy to use and will get you from you room to the sites. I’ve used this tactic in London, Paris, Moscow, Munich, Prague plus other urban centers and will ride the rails and buses again.

Better yet is to have a tour operator package your air, land transportation, accommodations, meals and sightseeing. These companies have tremendous buying power and pass these saving along to their travelers. Many of these operators have years of experience in the region that you will travel to so use their knowledge, expertise and bulk buying power.

In closing do your research but talk with a knowledgeable travel professional before you make any payments. They are paid to tell you where to go.

Happy travels! Email your travel questions to thetravelprofessor@gmail.com.