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By Roy Stevenson
Many Americans put off traveling to Europe. They perceive it as beyond their pocketbooks. However, if you do a few simple things, you can cut your food and hotel expenses by as much as 25%.

After airfare, your accommodations and food are your next major expenses when traveling. Here are some ideas to help you shave hundreds of euros (or British pounds, Swiss francs, or Norwegian krone) off your dining in Europe.

Start by checking your hotel websites to see if breakfast is included. This will save you a considerable amount of money over two or three weeks. If no breakfast is offered, check if your hotel has a small fridge in the room. I often buy my breakfast food (fruit, yogurt, energy bars, cheese, croissants, bread, butter, etc.) and store it in the fridge.

Find the nearest supermarket to your hotel soon after you check in, and stock up on snacks and breakfast supplies. What about lunch? You can spend as much money and time as you like eating a leisurely meal in a nice Parisian bistro or café, soaking up the ambiance, the Eiffel Tower looming romantically in the background.

But be warned—a typical sit-down lunch in Europe will easily cost you US$30 per person, and can take up to two hours. Now, having a nice lunch is part of your European experience, so you should do this now and then, but it’s not really necessary every day.

Once you’ve done a few lunches bistro-style in France, you can cut food costs by stopping by a patisserie (pastry shop), boulangerie (bakery), or épicerie (delicatessen). Inside, you’ll find mouth-watering pastries, baked goods, sandwiches, and many more treats that will give you a taste of what the locals eat and keep you going until the evening. Other European countries have their own versions of these.

Another cheap lunch alternative is to raid the supermarket again. Fruit and vegetables in supermarkets are reasonably priced, and of course a healthy snack. European supermarkets often have delicatessens offering hot takeaway meals.

Purchase your hot meal (or croissant, pastry, fruit, yogurt, etc.), grab a plastic knife, fork and spoon, and stroll across to the riverbank or cobblestone town square. Sit at the side of a fountain or sculpture and enjoy your meal while you people-watch. You’ll get a much better idea of the local culture doing this than sitting in a tourist restaurant that the locals avoid like the plague because it’s so expensive.

In the evenings, eat at local eateries. Don’t bother taking a taxi across town, at the end of an exhausting day of sightseeing, to the restaurants recommended in guidebooks. They’re great for special occasions, but cost you two to three times what you’d pay in the U.S. for a similar meal.

Instead, walk around your local neighborhood and look in the front windows of the cafés and restaurants. If there are plenty of locals eating inside, it’s worth checking out.

Here’s another thing to look out for … Europeans love bottled water, sparkling (“with gas,” as they say) or still. In many places, they’ll assume that’s what you want if you ask for water. Get around the extra expense by asking for tap water in restaurants. Then, refill your water bottle throughout the day.

You don’t have to spend lavishly to travel well and enjoy your time in Europe. In fact, the closer you live to the locals’ lifestyle, the more you’ll save.

Roy Stevenson is a freelance writer based in Seattle, Washington. He came to The Ultimate Travel Writers Workshop in Portland, and now he’s had over 210 articles accepted for publication. He writes on travel and culture, communications, military history and vehicles, history, running, fitness and health, sports and film festival reviews.

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