If you’ve started researching your trip to Switzerland, you’re probably aware that it is an expensive country to visit. There’s no avoiding the fact that, in most cases, you’re going to pay more for things in Switzerland than you would at home.
But with the high prices comes high quality. In Switzerland that old saying ‘you get what you pay for’ certainly rings true.
So how can you get the best value from your valuable vacation dollars without missing out on all the excursions and once-in-a-lifetime activities that you’d love to do?
After many, many trips to Switzerland, I have a few tried and tested ways to make my vacation dollars stretch further whilst still enjoying all the experiences that make a trip special. In this episode I’m going to share my 15 top tips with you.
Before I get started, one general tip I have for you is to book as far ahead as possible to try and secure the best deals. When we aren’t in the middle of a pandemic and travel restrictions are changing frequently, I tend to book the major components of my trip six to nine months ahead.
My thinking is if I’ve prepaid all the big ticket items, I won’t be in for any rude shocks due to currency fluctuations or accommodation in my price range being unavailable as my trip gets closer.
By purchasing things like airfare, transport and accommodation well in advance, it also means that the major costs have already been paid for well ahead of time, giving me plenty of time until my trip to put aside funds for the incidentals like food and any additional sightseeing.
One downside to booking and prepaying during a pandemic is that often the early booking rates that are available are non-refundable, so if you are considering prepaying, do so with caution.
Ok, so let me share my 15 top ways to stretch your Swiss travel budget further.
Click the green button below to listen:
Tip #1- Be flexible when booking your airfare
Although Zurich is Switzerland’s largest airport, you might find it considerably cheaper to fly into Geneva, for instance. As Switzerland is a relatively small country, it’s less than 3 hours by train between the two cities so your point of entry is not going to add too much additional travel time to you.
Saving a couple of hundred dollars can make altering your itinerary slightly a no-brainer.
#2 – Increase the excess on your travel insurance
I’ve always been a huge advocate of travel insurance and have never travelled overseas without having insurance in place. Unfortunately there have been numerous occasions where I’ve had to make a claim – for hospitalisation overseas, damage to a laptop and cancelling a trip – so it is definitely a must-have in my book.
These days travel insurance is even more important than ever and if you are able to purchase a policy that includes cover for Covid-19 you are likely going to pay more.
One way that you may be able to save a few dollars is to opt for a higher excess on your policy. In the past, I have purchased policies that allow me to nominate whether I want NIL excess, a $100 excess or a $250 excess.
The price of the policy reduces slightly with the higher excess I am prepared to accept, so see if this is an option available to you.
(And just a quick note on travel insurance – always read the fine print and know what the policy will and won’t cover you for. Covid cover, for instance, may not include cover if borders are closed and you are unable to return home.)
#3 – Book your accommodation direct
When you’ve found the accommodation you’d like to stay at, check on the hotel’s own website to see if they offer cheaper rates by booking direct. The lower rates may mean full payment upfront and/or stricter cancellation fees but it is always worth comparing the nightly rate and the booking conditions between the hotel itself and the big booking platforms.
It can be a little harder to find the individual websites for holiday apartments as they often don’t have specific names – you might see them listed on larger booking websites under the title of “Lovely apartment with balcony views” for instance.
It can be worth spending half an hour or so doing some Googling to see if you can find the apartment owner’s website and comparing their direct booking rates.
# 4 – Stay outside the ‘hot spot’
Another way you can save money is by staying outside the ‘main destination’. For example, if you stay in Tasch instead of Zermatt, you may find that hotel rates are considerably cheaper.
As long as there are good transport connections – and in Switzerland this is almost always the case – it shouldn’t be too much of an inconvenience to stay outside the main centre.
#5 – Look for self-catering accommodation
Staying in hotels can be a real luxury when you’re on vacation, after all, who doesn’t love the daily housekeeping service? But eating out – at least twice a day – can become expensive so if I’m staying in one location for more than a couple of nights, I always see what self-catering options are available.
Apartments not only provide the option to prepare my own meals, they also often include laundry facilities and more space.
The nightly rate for apartments might seem more expensive initially but when you take into consideration the amount you’ll save by not eating out so often, you’ll probably find they are much more cost effective overall.
#6 – Rent a manual car
Do you love a road trip? If you plan to rent a car in Switzerland opt for a manual/stick shift vehicle. Manual cars are much cheaper and more readily available than automatics.
#7 – Buy a transport pass
If you’ll be using the excellent Swiss rail network to get around, consider a transport pass such as the Swiss Travel Pass or one of the regional passes like the Jungfrau Travel Pass and Regional Pass Berner Oberland.
Although they are a significant investment, they can be a very economical way to get around with the added bonus of free entry to museums, and discounted or free mountain excursions, depending on which pass you choose.
A big advantage of having a transport pass is the convenience it provides. There’s no need to queue up to buy tickets for each journey you want to take – you simply hop on board the train and show your pass to the conductor on request.
As well as the convenience it offers, the Swiss Travel Pass can also be a big money saver as it includes trips on the premium panoramic trains such as the Bernina Express and Glacier Express, so you don’t have to purchase separate tickets for these journeys.
#8 – Take advantage of free city cards
Another way you can save money in Switzerland is by utilising the local city cards that many destinations provide to overnight guests so check each destination you plan to visit to see if there is a free city card on offer.
In Ticino, all overnight guests receive the Ticino Ticket which includes free bus travel within the canton as well as discounted entry fees to some attractions and discounted tickets on cable cars and boat trips.
In St. Moritz, many hotels and apartments provide a guest card which includes free travel on the mountain railways and cable cars, as well as travel on the local bus network.
It may be worth staying a little longer in these destinations to take full advantage of the free travel and discounts that are available
#9 – Don’t always eat at restaurants
The price of food is one thing that shocks many first time visitors to Switzerland. There have been times when I’ve paid more than CHF 6 for a cappuccino at an airport hotel and CHF 36 for a main meal at a restaurant.
That’s ok if it’s only happening occasionally, but when you are tripping around for a week or more, the cost of eating adds up pretty quickly.
Luckily, there are lots of ways that you can save on food and drink in Switzerland.
Firstly, you don’t need to eat at restaurants all the time. Supermarkets have a great selection of high-quality packaged salads and sandwiches – the salads even come with plastic cutlery.
There have been many times where my husband and I have purchased a salad and some deli items from the supermarket and eaten dinner in our hotel room. Bakeries, too, are a great place to buy low cost but delicious food.
#10 – Eat at supermarket restaurants
If you are craving a cooked meal, the local supermarket may have you covered there, too. The major supermarkets and department stores – Coop, Migros and Manor – often have their own restaurant with a huge selection of meals on offer.
You’ll see a lot of locals eating in these restaurants so you can be assured the quality is very good. As an added bonus, many of these restaurants – such as those at Manor department store in Lucerne’s Old Town, and Migros in Spiez – have superb views.
#11 – Bag a bargain at the supermarket
Tip number 11 also relates to food and supermarkets. Shops and supermarkets aren’t open on Sundays in Switzerland (with the exception of the small supermarkets you will find at the main train station in the cities) so shopping after 4pm on a Saturday is a great time to pick up some heavily discounted produce and perishable items.
#12 – Drink water
When it comes to beverages, if you stick to drinking water in Switzerland you don’t need to pay a cent (well, a centime, actually!). There are thousands of fountains all over the country – in fact there are 1200 in Zurich alone – providing free water.
It’s straight from the mountains, crystal clear and safe to drink, so pack a water bottle in your luggage and fill up for free whenever you are out and about.
#13 – Buy a one way cable car ticket
If you don’t have a transport pass or you’d like to visit a mountain summit that your pass doesn’t cover, but aren’t keen on forking out for a pricey return ticket on the cable car or train, why not just buy a one way ticket?
Return ticket prices in Switzerland are almost always double the price of a single ticket so you can save half price by going up on the cable car or train and then walking down.
There are over 65,000 kilometres of marked hiking trails in Switzerland and many of these are from mountain summits to the valley floor or the town below.
If walking the whole way back is too much, often the cable car or train will make intermediate stops so just walk part of the way – you’ll still save some money and you’ll get
#14 – Join a free city walking tour
A great way to get familiar with a city is to take a walking tour with a local guide. Free walking tours are available in Interlaken, Zurich, Lucerne and Geneva so check with the local tourist office for details on when they operate.
Although the tours are free, you will be invited to tip your guide after the tour.
#15 – Buy your souvenirs at the supermarket
Before you head home from Switzerland you will probably want to buy a few mementoes as a reminder of your trip as well as a big stash of Swiss chocolate. My tip – don’t wait until you get to the airport to buy these.
The major supermarkets and department stores have a good selection of souvenirs including calendars, keyrings, fridge magnets, t-shirts and the like. You may even find a Swiss Army knife.
Stock up on chocolate at the supermarket, too, and don’t be afraid to buy the supermarket’s own brand of chocolate – you won’t be disappointed.
If you are starting to plan your trip and are struggling with working out how much it’s going to cost, you might find my Switzerland Travel Budget Calculator helpful.
It’s a free downloadable guide that includes details on average nightly costs for hotels and apartments, the prices for some of Switzerland’s most popular mountain excursions and the cost of the various transport passes including the Swiss Travel Pass and Jungfrau Travel Pass.
Plus, there’s space for you to jot down what each component of your trip is going to cost to make sure your vacation budget stays on track. > Click here to get your copy of the Switzerland Travel Budget Calculator.
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