Europe Reborn As A Budget Destination?
I had abandoned Europe as a possibility for the budget traveler long ago. I did it with great difficulty, because I know from experience there is nothing like the food, history, and atmosphere of Europe. Still, a strong euro and expensive flights seemed to offer no other choice. That is, until I read about a deal to be made on Sunday.
The Open Skies agreement, reducing restrictions on flights between the United States and Europe, is expected to foster competition and, at some key airports like London's Heathrow, spark as much as a 20% increase in transatlantic traffic by June. With this increase in volume and competition experts predict "in the next 18 months you will be able to travel at a steep discount to Europe."
We may not have to wait for major airlines to catch on. Zoom airlines has already begun an aggresive expansion program, with flight schedules modeled after the regional low cost carriers, to drive down the price of flying to Europe. At the moment it is still no bargain, but with a little more competition and room to operate, these already discounted fares will likely drop even further.
For me, the possibility of more reasonable airfares triggered daydreams about lazy coffees at French cafes. With the current exchange, that would be a lazy, budget breaking, $10 coffee. Reality seeped in and I realized that even with the cheapest flight possible, the value of a weakening dollar is a serious budget challenge. But, does it necessarily make travel in Europe impossibly expensive?
Thanks to EasyJet, RyanAir, and other pioneers of low cost airfare, it is still cheap, even with a weak dollar, to fly around Europe. With CouchSurfing and other room share programs, It is possible to sleep for free. This option may not work well for families, but there is always the opportunity of a home exchange.
Of course, there are other expenses that will have to be dealt with. Perhaps the best way to beat the weak exchange is to avoid the euro all together. From Poland and Hungry, to Estonia, Sweeden, and the Czech Republic, there are many excellent destinations not yet on the euro. Even if forced to face a euro exchange, all is not lost. There are many tricks to eating cheap abroad, visiting museums, and even shopping that can help cut the costs.
So, am I off to find the coffee of my daydreams? Well, if I am, it will be relegated to a planned "splurge" in the budget, I am afraid. Still, I am now convinced that a budget trip to Europe, while it may require some careful planning, is possible. I think that, even with frightening reports, this most expensive of destinations can show us just how much travel is possible with a small amount of carrefully spent money.