Affordable European Vacation Ideas

An affordable European vacation became the focus of our family vacation plans last September. This is myself, my husband and our seven month old daughter. We decided to go to Portugal.

Whenever I am planning a family vacation idea, I always do a lot of research to find the best experiences for the least amount of money. This year, I was off work on maternity leave, so we needed to be even more economical than usual but still enjoyed a fabulous adventure.

Our first step was to book our flights using reward points. We have two different types of collector points (Aeroplan and Airmiles) with enough points on each for 1 ticket.

We were unable to find the same tickets with each program, so we made a deal with my parents.

They also had enough Aeroplan points for 1 ticket, so we booked 2 Aeroplan tickets, one with our card and one with their card. Then we used our Airmiles to book a flight for them to the destination of their choice.

Essentially we made a trade but didn’t have to incur any penalties from the reward partners or pay to transfer the miles.

If you don’t have a family member willing to help out, there are also websites that offer similar swap programs, however there may be a small cost; is one example.

European travel and accommodations can be very expensive. We chose Portugal because it is cheaper than most Western European countries but still has all the culture and beautiful scenery.

For an affordable European vacation it is essential to save money on accommodations. Apartment rentals instead of hotels may be a really good option for families.

In Europe, families often have to rent two rooms because there are only small twin beds in one room. An apartment can therefore save money on rooms as well as offer kitchen facilities to save money on meals.

We used and felt that we had a better experience than we would have in a hotel because we were more entrenched in everyday Portuguese life. We shopped for food in local markets and corner store, bought fresh bread from bakeries, observed the locals from our street side balconies and felt at ease wandering the various neighborhoods.

Belen Tower, Lisbon Harbor
Photo Credit:

Portugal is also a good option for an affordable European vacation as there are many packages available for the Algarve region that include flight from North America, apartment hotel and car rental.

Prices do not usually include food or drinks but both are inexpensive in Portugal so it works out to be approximately the same price as packages to the Caribbean. Groceries are comparable to North American standards and wine comes cheap (although I’d splurge and spend a couple extra dollars to get the good stuff)!

Most of our activities were free. We spent a week in Lagos in the Algarve region. All of the beaches have free public access and with a few inflatable toys, could be endless fun for kids of all ages. There were many hiking trails, with caves to visit for young travelers.

Many churches, museums and historic locations did not charge entrance fees such as the fortress at nearby Sagres Point and the monolithic stones found at Almendres Cromlech.

We found look-offs, and wandered around the walls and grounds of castles in white washed marble villages such as Vila Vicosa. Lagos town often had street performers that provided us with some evening entertainment.

Hiking and exploring are cheap and help create your affordable European vacation. To make hiking and exploring more exciting for children, you could try Geocaching. This activity requires a GPS, and is like treasure hunting using co-ordinates found on line.

We discovered this hobby after our trip to Portugal, but I wanted to add this to my comments as I think it will be fun for our family both on future trips and for weekend activities at home. Story shared by Lisa Woodill.

Here are some organizations that can help you with affordable European vacation ideas.
  • CouchSurfing: Serving not only Europe but all around the word, CouchSurfing is an organization with lofty idealistic goals of connecting travelers and creating a worldwide community of sharing. Basically you have travelers who want a cheap place to stay and hosts who are willing to provide that cheap place to stay. CouchSurfing provides a place for everyone to meet and make it all happen. Along the way, everyone gets a chance to share their culture and enrich their lives.
  • AirBnB: This is pretty much the same as CouchSurfing. AirBnB is all around the world and provides a means for hosts and travelers to get together. The host typically provides a room in their home, although the space could be anything from a tree house to a sailboat to an air-mattress.
  • If you are into hiking and plan to vacation in the Alps, check out the Swiss Alpine Club. There are hundreds of mountain huts spread across the European Alps. The Swiss Alpine Club provides a means for hikers and hut owners to get together and make arrangements. For anyone who loves the mountains and is willing to forgo the luxury hotels, this can be a cheap and richly rewarding experience.

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