If you’ve ever ended up in a champagne destination on a beer budget, then you know how critical it is, particularly when planning international travel, to have an accurate sense of just how far your dollar will stretch. Before booking a flight to New York, for instance, you should be aware that for the price of an overnight there you could sleep for two nights in Barcelona or three in Buenos Aires. Before opting for Stockholm, you should know that dinner for two with wine will cost five times more there than it does in Hanoi. Luckily, we’ve got a tool to provide just such intel: Our 2014 TripIndex Cities study, which compares the cost of an evening out and an overnight stay in 67 popular tourist cities worldwide.
The most expensive cities tend to be in Europe. London is the priciest ($520), followed by Paris ($510). Scandinavia is pricey too—Stockholm, Oslo, Copenhagen, and Helsinki all fall into the top ten—as does Zurich. If you’re itching for Europe but looking for value, the least expensive cities are in Eastern Europe: Sofia (Bulgaria), Prague, and Budapest. Prague, in fact, is one of those places where you can get both reduced rates and VIP perks simultaneously this summer.
The world’s most affordable cities are typically found in Asia. The least expensive is Hanoi ($153), followed by Jakarta ($158). Other Asian cities among the ten least expensive are Bangkok, Mumbai, and Kuala Lumpur. In fact, when it comes to affordable five-star resorts and four-star boutiques the world over, it’s hard to beat Southeast Asia. Right now, with all the low-season deals on offer this summer, it’s the best place to get exotic luxury for less.
But if your goal this summer is a trip to those expensive Western and northern European cities without breaking the bank, here are tried-and-true tips for stretching your dollar farther:
Stick to cities that draw vacationers and students, as opposed to business travelers on expense accounts.
You’re likely to spend more money in Rome than in Florence, and in Moscow than in St. Petersburg. Why? Cities that cater to business travelers are pricier than cities where most of the visitors are leisure travelers. In expensive cities, look to residential or university neighborhoods for affordable hotels and, of course, consider renting an apartment.
Think ethnic restaurants and picnics.
In London, try the curry houses. In Paris, go for falafel. (Here’s my favorite falafel place in the Marais.) In any German city, think Turkish kebab joints. Anywhere there’s a colorful food market—from Florence’s Mercato Centrale to Barcelona’s Boqueria—pick out some artisanal breads, fine cheeses, and fruit, and have a picnic in the park. It’s a great way to meet locals.
Avoid sticker-shock taxi fares from the airport to town.
Most European cities have fast, convenient train service from the airport to the city center. Zip into town on the train, and from there, if you’ve got heavy bags (that you don’t want to lug up and down subway stairs), grab a taxi from the train station to your hotel.
Consider a museum pass that gets you into all or most of the museums and monuments on your list.
There’s the London Pass, the Paris Museum Pass, the Berlin Museum Pass, the Prague Card, etc. If you plan to blitz two or more attractions per day, for two or more days in a row, it will likely pay off
Buy a metro pass providing unlimited rides.
Most big cities sell 3- or 5-day passes that can save you a fortune if you’re relying on the subway and buses to get around.
Use a credit card that does not charge foreign-transaction fees.
Many credit cards still charge you an extra 3% each time you make a purchase overseas. That’s simply a waste of $30 for every $1,000 you spend. Capital One and Chase both offer several cards with no foreign-purchase surcharge, some of them free for the first year.