12 Tips for Budget-Friendly Shopping and Traveling in Europe (2023)
If you're planning a trip to Europe, you'll definitely be tempted by the enticing range of shopping opportunities. In this post, we'll share the most important tips on how to save money while shopping in Europe, from using public transportation and coupon sites to selecting the right credit card and considering city passes.
Read more: 7 Tips to Save Money While Shopping
Research and Plan Ahead
Research and planning are two of the first steps to saving money while shopping in Europe. Begin by finding the must-see shopping areas in the cities you'll be visiting. This allows you to make the most of your time while avoiding unnecessary expenses.
Identify the Best Shopping Destinations
Begin by researching the best shopping areas in the cities you'll be visiting. Look for well-known local markets, and discount stores that are known for their great deals.
These shops frequently sell unique items at lower prices than high-end boutiques or tourist-oriented shops. To find hidden gems, consider exploring neighborhoods known for their shopping districts.
Create a Shopping Itinerary
Create a detailed shopping itinerary after you've made a list of shopping destinations. Write down the addresses, hours of operation, and transportation options for each location. This will allow you to plan your days more effectively and avoid wasting time and money on unnecessary transportation expenses.
Timing is Everything
When it comes to saving money while shopping in Europe, timing is everything. Europe has several sale seasons, such as the January and July sales, which offer deep discounts. Keep an eye out for special events and holidays, as many stores offer special promotions during these times.
Prices may differ depending on the season or day of the week. Weekends and peak tourist seasons often result in higher prices, so try to shop during the week or during off-peak seasons if possible to get better deals.
Check for Special Sales and Events: Look for special sales, events, or seasonal discounts in the cities you intend to visit. Many cities in Europe have annual or seasonal sales periods, such as summer and winter sales. Take advantage of these chances to save money on clothing, accessories, and other items.
Go Off-Season: Consider visiting Europe during the off-season to benefit from lower prices and fewer crowds. Off-season travel, usually in the spring or fall, can provide excellent opportunities for bargain shopping. During this time, businesses are more likely to offer sales, promotions, and lower prices in order to attract customers. Furthermore, navigating through stores will be easier without the swarms of tourists.
Embrace Local Markets
Local markets are your best friends when it comes to authentic experiences and low-cost finds. These markets offer a feast for your senses as well as your wallet, with everything from fresh produce to handmade crafts. When purchasing multiple items, remember to haggle politely and aim for bulk discounts.
Find Outlet Malls
Outlet malls are great places for budget shopping. These malls offer a wide range of popular brands at significantly reduced rates. Before your trip, research the nearest outlet malls and set aside a day to browse the racks of discounted clothing, accessories, and more. To receive exclusive offers and updates, sign up for loyalty programs or newsletters.
Compare Prices and Bargain
Compare prices across different stores before making a purchase to ensure you're getting the best deal. Use smartphone apps or websites that allow you to quickly and easily compare prices. Also, don't be afraid to haggle over prices, especially in local markets and smaller boutiques. Bargaining works sometimes and you can save a little bit.
Install price comparison apps on your smartphone to compare prices quickly and easily while shopping. Some popular apps include:
PriceGrabber: This app allows you to scan barcodes or search for products to compare prices across multiple retailers. It also provides user reviews and product details.
ShopSavvy: With this app, you can scan barcodes or search for products to compare prices online and in nearby stores. It also offers price alerts and deals.
Google Shopping: Accessible through the Google website or the Google Shopping app, this platform allows you to search for products and compare prices across different online retailers.
If you prefer using a web browser, you can visit price comparison websites that aggregate prices from various retailers. Some popular options include:
PriceRunner: This website compares prices from a wide range of retailers and provides user reviews and product information.
Camelcamelcamel: Focused on tracking prices on Amazon, this website allows you to view historical price data and set price alerts for specific products.
Idealo: This platform compares prices from different online retailers and offers user reviews and detailed product information.
Stay Alert for Tax-Free Shopping
Tax-Free Shopping is offered by many European countries for non-resident visitors. Inquire about tax refund schemes and collect the necessary paperwork when making eligible purchases, such as clothing, electronics, or souvenirs.
Present your receipts and paperwork at the designated refund desks before leaving the country to receive a partial refund on the VAT (Value Added Tax). It's a simple way to increase the size of your shopping budget.
When shopping in Europe, bring your passport or a photocopy of it as proof of citizenship. To save money, ask the store clerk for a tax-free form before making your purchase. Keep all receipts and documents, and have them stamped by a Customs official at your point of departure from the EU.
When visiting the Customs office, make sure you have the purchased items with you. Each country has its own VAT regulations, so consult the Global Blue website or app for details on the countries you'll be visiting. Consider purchasing smaller items from a single store to meet the spending requirement for VAT refunds. To save money when traveling to non-EU countries, get your documents stamped before leaving the EU.
Read more: Shop In Germany Tax-Free (For Tourists)
Avoid Tourist Trap Markups
Tourist areas are notorious for having inflated prices, so explore neighborhoods away from major tourist attractions to find smaller shops, boutiques, and local artisans selling unique items at lower prices. Don't be afraid to ask locals for recommendations or to research hidden shopping hotspots on online forums and travel communities.
Use Coupon Sites
Use coupon sites such as Groupon and LivingSocial, which frequently offer discounts on attractions, restaurants, and experiences in European cities. Before you go shopping, look through these platforms for deals that can save you money on dining, sightseeing, and even shopping. You might come across exclusive discounts and promotions that you won't find anywhere else.
Use Local Currency
When shopping in Europe, it'd be better to use the local currency rather than credit cards. Cash payments may provide better deals or discounts from some vendors, and you can avoid potential foreign transaction fees or unfavorable exchange rates charged by your credit card company.
Use a Credit Card with No Foreign Transaction Fees
Use a credit card with no foreign transaction fees to save money on currency exchange fees. Many credit cards offer this feature, which allows you to make purchases abroad without incurring additional fees. Not only will this save you money, but some credit cards offer rewards points or cashback on purchases, giving you more value for your money.
Avoiding Unfair Exchange Rates and Hidden Fees
Bank ATMs usually charge fees, which may be waived if you are a member of that particular bank. To avoid these fees, check to see if your local bank has any partnerships with foreign banks. Nonetheless, some ATMs charge fees to all users, regardless of banking affiliation.
International or Transaction ATM Fee: Many banks charge higher fees for international withdrawals when using a foreign ATM. You may be charged a flat rate (usually between £1-5 or $1-5) or a percentage of your total withdrawal (usually between 1-3%).
Conversion Fee: Larger banks usually charge a 1-3% conversion fee for foreign ATM withdrawals. This fee, known as a hidden surcharge, is common among banks in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia. It is usually a flat fee plus a percentage of the amount withdrawn.
Surcharge: ATMs may charge a fee for using their machines. However, you will be notified on the ATM screen and asked to confirm the transaction. When compared to smaller banks or independently owned ATMs, using ATMs at major banks or post offices reduces the risk of surcharges.
ATM exchange rates are bad because they are linked to interbank currency rates, which fluctuate constantly. To ensure you receive a fair rate, check the current exchange rate with a quick Google search or online currency converter. Some ATMs may offer lower rates and charge additional fees.
Additionally, you should know these different ATM networks:
PLUS Network (Visa): This interbank network is available in 200 countries and territories worldwide and covers all Visa cards. PLUS is widely used in the United States, Canada, India, Indonesia, and other parts of the world. You can use their online locator to find the nearest PLUS/Visa ATM.
Cirrus Network (MasterCard and Maestro): Operated by MasterCard, the Cirrus network connects MasterCard, Maestro, and Diners Club cards in 93 countries. It is common in the US, Canada, Venezuela, Chile, Saudi Arabia, India, and Bangladesh. Cirrus ATMs can be found using their online locator.
MasterCard and Maestro Network: Maestro is a multinational debit card service operated by MasterCard. Maestro is MasterCard's primary debit brand in Europe, and it is usually linked to the Cirrus network. To find the nearest ATM, look for the Maestro/Mastercard logo.
Avoid Taxis and Overspending
Taxis in Europe can be expensive, particularly in popular tourist areas. Instead of relying solely on taxis, consider alternative modes of public transportation such as buses, trams, and metro systems. They are usually less expensive and can take you to most locations within a city. If you need to travel longer distances, consider taking the train, which is often faster and less expensive than taxis or renting a car. In addition, ride-sharing services such as Uber can provide competitive rates in certain cities.
Consider Buying an All-Inclusive City Pass
Many European cities provide all-inclusive city passes that include free or discounted access to popular attractions as well as unlimited or discounted public transportation use. If you plan to visit multiple attractions or use public transportation frequently during your trip, these passes can be a great way to save money.
Go City (www.gocity.com): Go City offers all-inclusive passes for cities worldwide, including major European destinations like Paris, Rome, London, and Barcelona. These passes grant you access to top attractions, skip-the-line entry, and sometimes even transportation options, helping you save both time and money.
The London Pass (www.londonpass.com): Specifically for London, The London Pass provides an all-inclusive pass that covers entry to numerous attractions and tours across the city. It includes popular sites like the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, and the London Eye.
Paris Pass (www.parispass.com): The Paris Pass offers an all-inclusive pass for exploring Paris, giving you access to over 60 attractions and museums, including the Louvre, Versailles Palace, and the Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour.
Barcelona City Pass (www.barcelonacitypass.com): The Barcelona City Pass provides an all-inclusive pass for exploring Barcelona. It includes admission to major attractions like Sagrada Familia, Park Güell, and a hop-on hop-off bus tour.
Rome and Vatican Pass (www.romeandvaticanpass.com): The Rome and Vatican Pass provides an all-inclusive pass for exploring Rome and Vatican City. It includes free entry to top attractions like the Colosseum, Roman Forum, Vatican Museums, and Sistine Chapel. The pass also offers skip-the-line access and optional add-ons for transportation.
I amsterdam City Card (www.iamsterdam.com): The I amsterdam City Card provides free access to major museums and attractions in Amsterdam, including the Van Gogh Museum, Rijksmuseum, and canal cruises. It also offers unlimited use of public transportation within the city.
Milan Pass (www.milanpass.com): The Milan Pass offers free entry to top attractions in Milan, such as the Last Supper, Duomo di Milano, and La Scala Museum. It also includes a hop-on hop-off bus tour and discounts on shopping and dining.
Istanbul Tourist Pass (www.istanbultouristpass.com): The Istanbul Tourist Pass provides skip-the-line access to popular attractions like Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, and Bosphorus cruises. It also offers a guided walking tour, Bosphorus boat tour, and discounts at selected restaurants and shops.
Firenze Card (www.firenzecard.it): The Firenze Card grants free entry to numerous museums and historical sites in Florence, including the Uffizi Gallery, Accademia Gallery, and Palazzo Pitti. It also offers skip-the-line access and unlimited use of public transportation.
Berlin WelcomeCard (www.berlin-welcomecard.de): The Berlin WelcomeCard provides free entry to over 30 attractions in Berlin, including Museum Island, Berlin TV Tower, and Pergamon Museum. It also offers discounts at various restaurants, shops, and tours, as well as unlimited use of public transportation.
Athens City Pass (www.athenscitypass.com): The Athens City Pass offers free entry to top attractions in Athens, such as the Acropolis Museum, Ancient Agora, and Temple of Olympian Zeus. It also includes a hop-on hop-off bus tour, airport transfer, and discounts on dining and activities.
Shopping in Europe does not have to be expensive. You can have a satisfying shopping experience while staying within your budget if you use these money-saving strategies. Use this post to make your European shopping adventure both economical and enjoyable.