Kacper Pempel / Reuters
Tourists ride in horse carriages Nov. 12, 2011, in the Old Square in Krakow, Poland. If you're planning a trip to Europe this year, Krakow is one of the best bargains.
Budget travelers of a certain age may remember guide books of some years ago that helped them plan vacations in Europe on $5 and $10 dollars a day. But the 21st century may have its own version: the European Backpacker Index 2012, an online listing in its second year that rates 40 major European cities by price.
Released earlier his week, the new 2012 listing rates Sofia, Krakow and Budapest as the cheapest major tourist cities in Europe, while Zurich, Oslo and Stockholm are rated as the most expensive.
“At least right now, Europe is a little bit cheaper than the last few years,” for Americans, said Roger Wade, who researched and complied the list. With a strong U.S. dollar and favorable exchange rates, budget travelers can save even more on their next European trip.
Wade is founder and editor-in-chief of Price of Travel, a website and database of travel costs launched in 2010 to help travelers compare typical expenses in more than 110 cities around the world to ascertain the best values.
Wade began the site because he couldn't find any comprehensive resource that rated cities based on affordability. “Websites and books tend to not list prices because they fear they will be out of date soon,” and will be a burden to update, said Wade, who insisted the list is not just for college-age students and 20-somethings.
“I’m always looking for value,” said Wade, who is 47 years old and has been traveling for the last two years, and spoke to msnbc.com in a phone interview from Kas, Turkey. The same amount of money for a three-night stay at a higher-end hotel could cover two weeks at a lower-cost hotel or hostel. “That’s what I’m going to do every time,” Wade said. The trade-off is worth it, he said. If you go cheaper, you can go for longer.
The list is not meant to discourage travel to certain cities, but to help figure out which cities to hurry through or linger in. Based on this year’s list, visitors could spend five times longer in Sofia, Bulgaria than in Zurich, Switzerland. The Daily Backpacker Index daily rate for Sofia is $23.71 a day; for Zurich, it’s $118.78 a day.
(This list will be updated when currencies fluctuate, the site states, but the most current information will always be on the city-specific pages; links are at the bottom of each city listing.)
Any surprises on this year’s list?
“Poland in particular seems to be gaining in popularity, especially Krakow, which has become a hotspot,” Wade said.
Ratings are based on average costs for accommodations, public transportation, attractions, food and drink in each city. “It’s quite scientific,” Wade said. “Most are exact prices, except for food, which can be variable.” Those estimates are based on “the cheapest meal you can get.”
Here are the detailed criteria:
- One night in the cheapest bunk at the least expensive hostel with a good location and good reviews. (The rating must be over 80 percent, Wade said.)
- Two public transportation rides per day.
- One paid/famous attraction per day. (Every city is loaded with free things to do for budget-conscious travelers, but the average cost of a major attraction in each city for each day is used.)
- Three “budget” meals per day. (The minimum meal price, plus 20 percent to make it more realistic for a longer trip.)
- Three cheap, local beers (or wine) each day as an “entertainment fund.” Non-drinkers might have dessert and coffee or attend a local music performance instead, so this is a general benchmark that should be proportional for each city.
Are lists like the European Backpacker good predictors?
Experience the grand cities, amazing architecture, cultural attractions and natural beauty of the Old Continent.
For Americans, it’s a great time to travel to Europe, said Reena Aggarwal, professor of finance and business administration at Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business. “I think the dollar will continue to be strong for the next few months, and tourists should take advantage of the opportunity.”
Aggarwal said she did not expect the exchange rates to change markedly anytime soon, but other factors should also be considered when planning an international trip.
“Obviously it is not all about dollars,” said Aggarwal, as things like safety are also important. But lists like the European Backpacker Index, which help travelers have a better understanding of comparative costs, “are a good starting point.”
For budget-minded travelers, a critical factor will also be the price of airfare and availability of low-fare seats between the United States and Europe, said Henry H. Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst and co-founder of the Atmosphere Research Group, a market research company.
“We're seeing some expansion of budget airlines entering the U.S.,” Harteveldt said. “XL Airways of France just announced it will add summer season Paris-San Francisco flights, and carriers like Air Europa and Air Berlin tend to up frequencies and capacity in the peak summer season. Air France, however, has announced it will suspend flights between Paris and Newark, to focus instead on its service in/out of JFK.”
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