With the summer season in Europe about to kick off, South Africans are planning their trips over to the continent in their droves. The current exchange rate means that this can often be an expensive exercise, with the Rand currently sitting at almost R15 to the Euro. However, it is possible to make the dream European vacation a reality with a few clever tips from global flight search and travel deals platform, Cheapflights.
Where to go
According to data pulled by Cheapflights, European countries are among the most popular in the world for South Africans to travel to. Top searches by Saffas are always the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, France, Italy and Ireland, which often mean that flights there can be expensive due to high demand.
“Sometimes it works out cheaper to swap out destinations for other ones that offer a similar experience, but which are less popular. For example, swap a beach holiday in busy Spain for one in Croatia, which still has many parts that are off the beaten track,” shares Andrew Shelton, Managing Director of Cheapflights.
The cheapest time to travel
Unsurprisingly South Africans travel most over March (Easter), June / July (winter holidays) and December (Christmas) when schools close and the majority of people take leave to spend time with their families and, or travelling.
“It comes as no surprise that airline costs tend to escalate over these peak periods, but what travellers might not know is that the months preceding, i.e. May and November are actually the cheapest times for South Africans to travel”, continues Shelton.
While most of the concerts and festivals in Europe happen from June to August, May offers beautiful spring vacations. November meanwhile (although chillier), is generally still fairly temperate and has plenty to offer in terms of events such as The Open at Cheltenham Racecourse, The Fair of the Dead in Siciliy and All Saints Day (all over) Spain.
“If the main reason for travelling is to attend the peak summer festivities, travellers need to keep an eye for flight specials, which start as early as six months in advance for the best deals. Also pay attention to the day of the week – it’s generally cheaper to fly in the middle of the week, or on a public holiday than over a weekend,” Shelton advises.
Fend for yourself
Second to flights, accommodation tends to be the biggest expense when travelling.
“These days there are so many reputable, safe and importantly, less expensive accommodation options available; ranging from Airbnb to luxury hostels and pristine camping sites”, shares Shelton, “Naturally opting for one of these options also allows travellers to cook for themselves – which is not just more immersive (in that they visit local stores and markets) but also considerably cheaper than eating out every day”.
Other options include researching where the locals go; avoiding prime tourist eateries (with inflated prices), or eating street food.
There are excellent forms of public transport throughout Europe including the metro (in most major cities like Paris, Berlin and London) trains, busses, bicycles and more recently, Uber.
Shelton advises tourists to opt for a multi-day transport pass; “If you’re going to be in a city for a few days, don’t buy day passes for public transport, rather look into a week pass or longer – these are often more cost effective and usually allow transfer from the metro, trains and busses on the same pass”.
Most big tourist cities offer a number of multi-venue passes for museums, monuments and buildings of interest. Depending on the time spent in the city and the number of tourist sites travellers want to visit these passes can save a bundle.
In the UK visitors can get one day passes for over 60 attractions from £62.00 (R1 065), while the Dutch Museum Pass (Museumkaart) allows entry into over 400 museums across the country, is valid for one year and costs €60 (R895 + a R75 administration in the first year). The Paris Pass gain users free entry into around 60 attractions and tours at a cost of €63.50 (R945) for a day pass. These passes can be big money savers, but it is critical to investigate the terms and conditions to see which what the various packages offer and what any limitations might be.
“It’s also useful to proper research before travelling to see which museums and sites might have free entry on certain days and times and to plan a travel itinerary around those times”, said Shelton.
With a little pre-trip planning it’s possible to enjoy the sights of Europe on a budget – book early, fly mid-week, explore alternative accommodation, invest in a sightseeing pass and watch where you eat.