What does a Christmas trip to Europe cost? It depends on many factors including where you're going, where you're coming from, how long you'll stay, and what you do when you get there.
And of course, you know that. But it helps to have an idea, right?
In this article, I'm sharing our actual expenses from my family's trip to Austria to help you get an idea of what a 2-week trip to Europe costs for a family of four.
Keep reading to find out what we spent, how we planned our trip, and my top tips for saving money on this trip.
We traveled to Austria in late December 2023 to visit my daughter who was studying abroad in Salzburg, Austria. I, my husband, and my 16-year-old son flew from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles on Southwest Airlines using points. A few hours later we flew SAS from Los Angeles to Munich, with an 8-hour daytime layover in Copenhagen, Denmark.
It was tricky to find a good deal on holiday flights. We started watching fares in March and we booked our flights in August. Our dates were not flexible, so we shopped for flights in and out of many large airports in the United States and Europe, prioritizing price over convenience and comfort.
Ultimately we found flights on SAS from Los Angeles to Munich and Vienna to Los Angeles for $1139 per person. The going rate was $1,700-2,000 from Salt Lake City, which is about $500 more than what we paid for my daughter to fly from Salt Lake City to Salzburg in September.
We only paid $33 total for our Southwest flights because of the strategies we learned from the Families Fly Free program. Being able to fly to bigger airports on Southwest for almost nothing puts a lot more international flight deals within our reach. Be sure to plan at least 3-4 hours between flights and buy travel insurance when you buy tickets from different airlines.
We needed an airport hotel in Los Angeles on the way home and that added $175 to our flight budget.
I planned to get by with the carry-on suitcase and backpack we each use for most trips, but added one more large checked bag at the last minute for Christmas stockings and stuffers, American snacks for my daughter, and overflow from our suitcases. Winter clothes take more space! My daughter replaced the snacks with items she wanted to send home. Adding a bag cost $75 for our fare type and I added it 2 days in advance.
Our flight expenses
- SAS – $3,417
- Southwest – $33
- La Quinta LAX – $175
- Extra luggage: $75
- Total: $3,700 or $1,233 per person
How we saved money
- Flexible airports and airlines – Your closest airports might not be the least expensive. You might save money by flying in or out of a larger hub and taking a cheap regional airline, train, or car to get where you need to be. We shopped for flights from Los Angeles, Denver, New York, D.C. Chicago… into Munich, Vienna, Berlin, Prague, London, Paris… until we found something that worked for a price we could live with. We flew into Munich and out of Vienna. Both were cities we wanted to visit, so finding a good fare for that itinerary was perfect!
- Selective add-ons – I had to pay extra for luggage, seat selection, and other things that are automatically included with some fares. I paid for the luggage we needed and for seat selection and extra legroom (when we could get it) on the longer flights. On our shorter flights, I took our chances and we were seated together or close enough. I paid $15 per person to access the SAS Lounge in the Copenhagen airport, which included a complimentary buffet and drinks. It was worth every penny.
- Families Fly Free – My membership in Families Fly Free made this flight deal possible. If we had to pay for our Southwest flight to LAX, we would have paid hundreds more per person. Instead, we used points and the Companion Pass.
- Pack light and plan ahead – We brought one more bag than we normally would. We added it early and made sure it was less than 50 pounds to minimize fees.
We arrived in Munich on December 22 and flew home from Vienna on January 1. As we considered the holidays and our activities we decided on:
- 2 nights in Munich
- 4 nights in Salzburg
- 4 nights in Vienna
I looked at hotels and vacation rentals and ultimately chose hotels in each city. Staying within walking distance of the city center was important to me and I liked our options better with hotels.
In Munich and Salzburg, we chose moderately priced European chains with good reviews. European hotel rooms run smaller than American hotel rooms and it's crowded with two teens and two adults in one room anyway, so we booked two rooms.
I used my favorite hotel search engines to find the hotels and read reviews but booked the rooms directly through the hotel websites.
In Vienna, I found a great deal on a 2-bedroom, 2-bathroom suite in a good location on Booking.com. The same price was not available on the hotel's website. It was a non-refundable rate that saved us hundreds of dollars.
We took the risk and it paid off. We were a few blocks from the Vienna Opera House and a 15-minute walk of Vienna's equivalent of Times Square on New Year's Eve!
None of our hotels had guest laundry facilities. Our Salzburg hotel was a few blocks from a laundromat and we used two washers and dryers there.
Our lodging expenses
- 2 nights, 2 rooms at Premier Inn Munich City Zentrum – $348
- 4 nights, 2 rooms at Motel One Salzburg-Mirabell – $1,050
- 4 nights in a suite at Hotel am Schubertring, Vienna – $1,587
- Laundromat – $32
- TOTAL: $3,017 or about $301 per night
How we saved money
- Focus on priorities – I wanted comfortable rooms in a good location for a moderate price. We hit the mark, but our rooms weren't 4-star. The locations were convenient and walkable, but on streets that were otherwise nothing special.
- Find an amazing non-refundable deal? Research it first. And fast. – I prefer to book a refundable rate directly with the hotel. But when I found a non-refundable rate on Booking.com for a two-bedroom suite that was not available on the hotel's website, I read reviews, scoured the official hotel website, and checked the location carefully on Google Maps to make sure it was REALLY what we wanted. Then I booked it. I had to work fast so we didn't miss the deal. I've been using Booking.com for years, so I trusted that it was legit.
- Eat breakfast elsewhere – We skipped the convenient but overpriced breakfast buffets at every hotel, except for Christmas morning. Where else were we going to go? On other days, it cost a lot less to get breakfast at one of the bakeries on every block and train station. Or a grocery store. Or McDonald's.
Wondering how we got from Munich to Salzburg to Vienna? We took the train and it worked well.
In Munich and Salzburg, our hotels were located about halfway between the city's main train station (Hbf) and the city center or Old City – and within walking distance of both. This was convenient. I used Google Maps to figure out distances before our trip.
We added a day trip to Innsbruck from Salzburg and took the train about 2 hours each way.
Within each city, we walked and used public transportation. It currently costs €5.80 per person for a day pass in Vienna. It usually costs more to take public transportation between the city and the airport.
We only took an Uber once, to the Vienna airport at 4:30 AM on January 1. It cost about $10-15 more than public transportation but took half the time. It was raining, we had all the luggage, and it was crazy early on a holiday so we were happy to pay for the convenience.
The Salzburg Card and Innsbruck Card (see Activities) included public transportation, so we didn't pay anything extra on the days we used those passes.
My daughter took the train to meet us in Munich and to get back to Salzburg from Vienna, and those trips are included in our Trains total.
Our transportation expenses
- Trains – $578
- Denmark public transportation (including luggage locker) – $58
- Munich public transportation – $79
- Vienna public transportation – $94
- Uber XL to Vienna Airport – $58
- TOTAL – $867
How we saved money
- Walking – We booked hotels in central, walkable locations where we didn't have to spend a lot of time and money on transportation.
- Public transportation – We used public transportation when we couldn't walk, even to/from the airport. We found that public transportation is safe and affordable and it works well in Munich, Salzburg, and Vienna. We felt comfortable riding and walking in the city with our suitcases. It's what the locals do.
- Bundle and save – Two of our activity passes included public transportation and it was really easy to just show the pass as we boarded. Our Go City Vienna Pass included a Big Bus Tour and we used that for our transportation that day.
- Flexible scheduling – It matters what time of day you book train fares. We stayed a couple of hours later in Innsbruck than we would have liked because it saved us nearly €200 to ride at a less popular time.
We love trying new food when we travel and don't track expenses too closely when we are on the trip. Our formula for most trips is to aim for cheap eats for two meals each day, which lets us splurge a little on a restaurant for the third meal. We buy snacks and drinks along the way too.
By “cheap eats” I mean
- Fast food/counter service
- Christmas Market stalls/street food
- Grocery store sandwiches, sushi, pastries, etc.
- Convenience stores
We like casual, full-service restaurants with entrees around 15-20 euros or dollars, plus drinks. Tap water isn't free in Austria, but it's inexpensive. Tips are appreciated and 10% is standard for restaurants in Austria.
We withdrew $398 (including fees) for €350 from ATMs. Most places take credit cards, but not all. Most of our cash went to food, so I just put it all in the food budget.
Our food budget covered twelve days. I budgeted $2,000 and we came pretty close to that. 🙂
Our food expenses
- ATM withdrawals – $398
- All food – $1,775
- TOTAL: $2,174, or $181 per day
How we saved money
- Minimize fees – Credit cards are usually your best bet because Visa and MasterCard will always get the best exchange rate. But you need some cash on hand and ATMs will likely cost you less than the currency exchanges at the airport or your home bank. Use a bank that won't charge an ATM fee like Capital One. In our (limited) experience, airports, train stations, and banks had ATMs that charged fewer or no fees.
- Grocery stores – Grocery stores were closed on Sundays and holidays so we had a hard time finding an open grocery store for half our Christmas trip. But when they were open, they were a great place to find inexpensive sandwiches, fresh fruit, snacks, and souvenirs for friends. Everybody loves getting candy from another country – especially Swiss chocolate bars and Salzburg's own Mozartkugel.
- Christmas Markets – We wandered through bustling Christmas Markets often on our trip. There were always good food stalls and they weren't crazy expensive. It was authentic and a great way to enjoy Austrian cuisine as long as we didn't mind eating outdoors at a standing table.
This is the fun part of the trip and we tried to save money on Airfare, Lodging, Transportation, and Food so we can spend money here!
We focused on a handful of bucket list activities like the Vienna Opera and Silent Night Tour. The Salt Mine Tour was highly recommended by several sources and was one of our favorite activities of the trip.
After that, the best thing we did to save money and simplify planning was to buy an all-inclusive activity card in Vienna, Salzburg, and Innsbruck. Bundle-and-save passes are offered in many cities. In large cities like Vienna, there are several of these passes to choose from and Go City is my go-to. In smaller cities like Salzburg and Innsbruck, there is one pass sold by the tourism office. Either way, they are usually a good deal.
We used the Go City All-Inclusive Pass in Vienna for two days. On Day 1 we used the included Big Bus Tour as our transportation and planned activities that were on the route like the Sigmund Freud Museum, giant ferris wheel, and Danube Tower. On Day 2, we booked the tour of Schonbrunn Palace and visited Schonbrunn Zoo, which is on the palace grounds and one of the world's oldest zoos.
The Salzburg Card and Innsbruck Card include most of the activities you'd want to do in the city AND public transportation. It was so convenient to just flash the card everywhere we went instead of pulling out the credit card every time and figuring out tickets.
Our activities expenses
- Go City Vienna Passes, 2-day all-inclusive for 4 adults – $448
- Vienna Opera tickets – $364
- Silent Night Tour – $264
- Innsbruck Card – $232
- Salt Mine Tour – $135
- Salzburg Card – $123
- MOMAK Museum – $46
- Munich Rathaus elevator – $23
- TOTAL: $1,635
How we saved money
- Bundle and save – Go City Vienna, Salzburg Card, and Innsbruck Card made it easy to budget for activities in advance and do more for less. These cards were convenient and helped cover both entertainment and transportation. Plan your itinerary around the card to get the most for your money.
- Free activities – Every city is filled with architecture, monuments, historical sites, churches, parks, etc that cost nothing to visit. And many European cities have Christmas Markets, which cost nothing to just walk through. Walking around, window shopping, and enjoying our surroundings filled a lot of our time between paid activities.
- Read reviews – This didn't save us money, but it possibly saved us from disappointment and wasted money. When we boarded our tour bus after the Silent Night Christmas Eve service, the woman next to me told me how disappointed she was. She didn't realize there would be hundreds of people there and we would all be standing outside the tiny chapel – mostly only hearing the service, not seeing it. She walked back to the bus before it started. We read reviews of the tour at Viator and TripAdvisor before we booked. We knew exactly what we were getting and had a good experience.
Note: We received complimentary passes from Go City, Salzburg Tourism, and Innsbruck Tourism for the purpose of review. This reduced what we actually spent on activities. The amount shown above is what we would have paid at full price. We bought some of the passes ourselves and would have bought all the passes if needed because they really are a good way to save money on popular activities and transportation.
On a trip this big and expensive, travel insurance is a must. Travel insurance will cover financial losses due to cancellations, missed connections, lost baggage, and other common travel problems. It will help cover any medical expenses if you get sick or injured on your trip.
I used Squaremouth to shop for health insurance and chose a plan from Aegis for this trip. We didn't use it, but it gave me peace of mind to have it.
Mobile data was also important. I used the Map app on my phone every day and used data to look up information, buy tickets, make reservations… My T-Mobile plan seems to offer better international service all the time, but we downloaded a SIM and bought data from Airalo.
It cost $13 per person to get 3 GB for 30 days of coverage throughout Europe. This covered us in Denmark, Germany, and Austria. I got it for myself and my 16-year-old son. My daughter already had it. My husband doesn't have an unlocked phone so he relied on my data when we were out and about and was OK.
I'm not including what we spent on souvenirs because that's an optional and personal expense. We didn't buy a lot, mostly Christmas tree ornaments and chocolate. Our teens spent their own money on their souvenirs.
Our miscellaneous expenses
- Travel insurance – $195
- Airalo Mobile Data – $26
- TOTAL: $221
Related: Tips for Buying Travel Insurance
The Bottom Line
I've learned that $10,000 is a good target for a 2-week international trip for my family of four. However, I budgeted $12,000 for this trip because I knew that flights, hotels, and other expenses would be higher because we were traveling over Christmas and New Year.
Here's what we spent…
- Airfare – $3,700
- Hotels – $3,017
- Transportation – $867
- Food – $2,174
- Activities – $1,635
- Miscellaneous – $221
- TOTAL: $11,614
Nailed it! It wasn't a luxury trip, but I never felt like we were pinching pennies. We spent money on the experiences and comforts that were important to us and had a wonderful time. The memories we made on this trip will last a lifetime.
About two-thirds of this trip was booked and paid for before we left home. And because we save our money and travel debt-free, the rest of the credit card bills were paid off in the month they were due so we didn't pay interest.
Now we can start saving for the next dream trip!