Living In Europe On A Budget Just Got Easier

Europe Is The Bargain Of Our Age

When I was 22 years old, my college roommate and I bought the cheapest plane tickets we could find (thank you, Icelandair) and two Eurail passes. Then we stuffed two oversized backpacks with our gear, slung the packs over our shoulders, and took off together for our first trip to Europe, first stop Frankfurt (because that’s where our super cheap Icelandair tickets deposited us). We spent the next four weeks riding the rails as whim and train schedules dictated, making a dozen stops in six countries. For me, the deal was sealed. I knew from the moment my two feet hit the cobblestones. The Old World was my kind of place.

This summer, Lief and I are back on the Continent for our first extended stay in Europe since our move from Paris to Panama City. We’ve come and gone often, for business meetings and two-week holidays with the kids, but we haven’t had a chance to settle in and savor what this part of the world has to offer in seven years.

I feel like I’m falling in love all over again.

The best part is I’m not living out of a backpack. Lief and I have been indulging in the best on offer in each city we’ve visited, from Portugal to Germany, from Andorra to Spain and, now, France. It’s been champagne and fine dining all along the way, without a word of complaint from Lief.

In the 1920s, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Stein, and friends came to Paris because it was Paris but also because it was cheap. These struggling writers-in-the-making appreciated Paris’ beauty, history, and bon vivant lifestyle, but, even more, they appreciated being able to partake of it all on shoestring budgets. Paris fed their souls, but the cost of living in Paris back then made it possible for Hem and Fitz, et al., to feed themselves and their families at the same time.

Paris isn’t as cheap today as it was in the Roaring ’20s, but, with greenbacks in his pocket, even Lief is finding this city so affordable that he can’t say no to taking full advantage of its attractions.

Here in Paris we’ve been joined by our children and some of their friends, who are reminding me that, even if your budget is backpacker modest, you can afford this town right now. Many of Paris’ best diversions and distractions are free, meaning they’re available to anyone anytime, currency exchange rates notwithstanding. Museums have free days each month, and hanging out in the parks and gardens or riverside is likewise gratis. Our kids and their friends make evenings of bread, cheese, and wine, which they enjoy together on blankets on the lawn of the Invalides or the Champ de Mars. A drinkable bottle of French wine is less than 10 euro, bread and cheese just a few euro more.

And Paris is the high end. Other places we’ve traveled this summer, including Lagos, Portugal, for example, are screaming bargains at the current dollar-euro exchange rate. Dinner out in Lagos some evenings came in at less than 10 euro per person, including wine. Some restaurants offered set menus for as little as 4 euro per person.

Right now, to convert those prices to U.S. dollars, you need add only about 10%.

Lief and I have been doing the math along the way. Some places we’ve visited—again, Lagos, Portugal, stands out as a top example—have been cheaper than Panama City. Portugal cheaper than Panama? Yes.

Our recently released Retire Overseas Index names the world’s best places to think about living or retiring overseas in 2015. Three of the top five are in Europe. After spending the past several weeks in this part of the world, I’m pleased to be able to confirm that our editors did not exaggerate the point. A European lifestyle is more affordable right now than it has been in more than a dozen years.

Lief and I will finish this summer tour of the Continent just in time to make our way to Orlando, Florida, for this year’s Retire Overseas Conference, where, with help from contacts and colleagues from this part of the world, we’ll detail for all those in attendance precisely where and exactly how to take advantage of the enormous opportunity currently on offer in Europe.

If you’ve dreamt of retirement on the Continent or of a pied-a-terre in the Old World, this is your chance to act. Meet me in Orlando for the details.

Kathleen Peddicord

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