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How to visit Switzerland on a budget

the shorcuts and travel secrets of Switzerland revealed

If you’re here, I can already guess that you love traveling to Europe. You and I might be one and the same, spending every last cent of our hard earned money on an extravagant trip across the globe. Like me, you might have also found that after all that travelling, your bank account is left wanting… the problem is, our next trip absolutely cannot wait! It’s time to get smart, but still go where you want to go. This is a detailed guide on…

Visiting Switzerland for Cheap

When should you begin planning? Right now, likely. Starting to plan a trip of this scope 8 months to a year out is when you’ll save the most money, but if you are not able to start that early, you’ll still be able to save. Our strategy on saving is both low risk and cost effective.

Flights

What is the cheapest city to fly to Switzerland from? That’s a complicated question. There are two types of low fares:

1.Regular flight low fares are flights you can consistently fly to Switzerland for Cheap. BostonNew York, and Chicago constantly rank high in this category for flights to Geneva or Zurich. MinneapolisMiami, and Toronto are not as cheap, but have consistent flight prices in the $600’s. Your job is just to get to one of those cities.

2.Deal flights are how many of you West Coast travelers will steal a sweet Switzerland escape. In our opinion the best site to compare deals for free is Secretflying.com. The deal search mechanism works great! Just go there and input USA as your departure, and Switzerland as your arrival, and check as many months as you can for the desired time! it will turn out like this search (may not work on mobile), or at the time of writing this random deal from San Francisco for $510. In my opinion this is the cheapest way to get to Switzerland, but you should sign up for their newsletter or follow them on Facebook and enable notifications – so you don’t miss a deal you’ll need.

Transportation

The most often overlooked aspect of planning a budget trip is transportation. Often I see people book all their flights and hotels – and they leave without a plan on how to get from place to place. This is because it is so cheap in the US – that they just don’t think about it. Driving especially can be extremely expensive in Switzerland, with each fill-up costing around $80 or so, but lets do the math:

1. A Swiss Rail Pass is our top choice for convenience, but can get pricey. Switzerland has one of the best train systems in Europe, and it will visit almost every destination you’ll have in your plan. The best selection is the consecutive days option, which we found to be a much higher value than picking several days within one month. For 8 days in a row the price at the time of writing is $400 (adult.) Visit myswitzerland.com to book your train pass.

  • We did extensive research on the train system, and found that a train pass saves an average of 55% versus pay-per-route train travel. We calculated this using a few popular routes through Switzerland.
  • Use Rome2Rio to plan your route via train, it will automatically tell you where to switch trains and what is going to be involved.

2. Perhaps you do want to try your hand at driving through Switzerland. This can be good if you’re going to obscure destinations with inconvenient and too long of train connections, and can even be good in some other situations. To tell the truth, driving could be great Value compared with trains it it weren’t for parking costs. To give you an idea, to drive across the country from Geneva to Zurich in average traffic, it would cost $27 in gasoline (Sans Plomb or Bleifrei in Switzerland.) A lot of travelers like driving for privacy, and the ability to store luggage in your car while you’re out sightseeing, which can be a major problem with trains if you’re not a light packer. In order for driving to be financially viable, make sure you plan out your route and stay in hotels with free parking. Most of these can be found outside the city center.

  • We consistently found the best rates from AutoEurope.com. We have noticed the company usually does not include one-way charges in its quotes, so be careful.
  • If you’re doing a multi-country trip, getting you car rental in cities outside of Switzerland can sometimes save you money. Don’t get too attached to the idea though, because the farther away you are from Switzerland, the more gas will cost to get there, negating any savings. Additionally you’ll have to pay for a vignette road tax ($40) when you enter the country.
  • Use viamichelin.com to calculate out how much gas will cost for your route. Always overestimate by 50%. If you rent within Switzerland, you can ignore the item “Road Tax” included in the cost estimate, as it is included with your rental.

3. For ultra low-budget travelers, consider using ride sharing services like BlaBlaCar, but your success rate will be low. NomadicMatt noticed that when using the service, 2 out of 3 ride-sharers either cancelled or did not show up.

Accomodation

This is a hard one. Whether you purchase early or late, your accommodation costs are going to be higher here than most other countries in Europe. We’ll start from Cheapest and move on to more comfortable options. If you’re driving, remember to get a place with free parking.

1. Out of all tricks, the best money saving trick is to hotel through Switzerland opposite how you would most other countries. Realize that in most of Europe, you are visiting the cities for their history. While Switzerland does have an interesting past, the truly impressive sights are the natural wonders – all so densely packed together in this country. The good news is you can finally trash the city-center mindsetyou’ve had in Italy, France, and England and book your accommodation in the countryside. This is the best option for several reasons:

  • Lower prices than you’ll find in incredibly high prices Zurich and Geneva
  • Your hotel will be less busy, and your hosts will be in the business because they love doing it, not because they are trying to make business. These Mom & Pop lodges will for the most part charm your shoes right off!
  • Better views of the valleys, mountains, and lakes.
  • A more authentic view of Swiss culture. This takes the cake in our opinion, because in the large cities (except for Bern) the traditional Switzerland tends to be quite faint, besides some of the architecture.

To book a great place we recommend looking on Hotelscombined.com. This site impresses us because of its range of included sites it pulls from, its taxes&fees included option, and its powerful map search. To see the map view, you have to search in a city, then scroll all the way to the bottom of the site, where the map will be in the bottom left. Once the map is open you can apply filters, and even zoom out to see all of Switzerland!

  • A great feature is you can see room types available in the map view (see below)
  • The only downside of Hotelscombined is that many small hotels and lodges have no rating, so if you’re looking for the cheapest places, do not apply a rating filter, or they will disappear completely, even if they’re great places!

2. Once you find your hotel, Consider booking through Tingo.com, a great company that monitors the price of your hotel, and refunds you the difference if the price drops.

3. If you’ve already bought your flights, consider applying the same philosophy so an Airbnb.com stay. You can routinely find accommodation at a lower price that a hotel, on average about $80 for two people. Although not as flexible, Airbnb can be a great alternative for the budget traveler, however most times breakfast is not available for free.

4. For the very price conscious (and perhaps single) traveler, you might give couchsurfing.com a shot. The approval rate is low however, so make sure you apply to 20-40 hosts in the area you’d like to stay.

Food

Again another major expense our budget travelers often overlook is their food expenses. If your not careful you could be spending more on food than your hotel or attractions for the day. Here are some tips to help keep that wallet from crying:

  • Eat your big meal at lunchtime as it is typically less expensive. Look for specials as they can save you quite a hefty amount.
  • Try the local supermarket (Co-Op & Migros). They’ve got great delis and/or self-service cafeterias. Or you can just pick a ready-made sandwich off the shelf. Or pick up supplies for your very own picnic, as the variety of new foods you’ll see will leave you mouth watering. Then go find a bench by the lake or park! 
  • Meat is very expensive, so have it at lunch (if you must) and go veggie for the evening. Lunch meat purchased from a Grocery store can be reasonably priced, consider making sandwiches.
  • Try small street-side pizza joints to save. These can be found in larger cities.
  • Load up in the morning if you are staying in a hotel with free or cheap breakfast included. below 12 CHF is considered a good value.
  • All of the city major department stores have cafeterias or food courts that tend to be less expensive.
  • Drink “tap water” as drinks out tend to be very expensive, especially alcohol.
  • Bakeries are very decent, and will do sandwiches or specials, but do not expect them to be much less expensive than a typical restaurant.

Trevor Carson

Trevor is an adventurer, husband, father, writer, and musician that loves to find travel tricks and jet around the globe.

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