Switzerland on a Budget
Switzerland is simply indescribable. It’s beautiful in a way that is difficult to comprehend, and impossible to adequately photograph. I sat in front of my computer for hours on the train to Austria as we were leaving Switzerland trying to find the right words to describe a place that needs to be seen to be believed. It’s 3 weeks later, and I’m still struggling.
We spent most of our time in Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland and the surrounding area (Interlaken, Murren, Gimmelwald). We didn’t want to rush our time in Switzerland, however, we knew we couldn’t afford to stay very long so we decided to prioritize Lauterbrunnen and Lucerne with one short day in Montreaux. Here’s the thing about Switzerland- it’s expensive. We didn’t even make it to Switzerland the first time we were in Europe and ended up having to wait several years until we had saved up enough money to go again, and even then we had to seriously limit our time there. A couple of things contribute to this, but I think the biggest issue is the increased cost of living in Switzerland – if recent data still holds true, the Swiss have way more disposable income to play with than Americans do, and even though the U.S. dollar is stronger than the Swiss Franc (today, at least) the amount of money you’ll spend in Switzerland for, well, everything, is much higher. Whether it’s food, movies, drinks, hotel rooms, or transportation- it’s all going to be way more than you’re used to spending. Compound that with a relative lack of cheap, delicious street food (here’s to you, Paris) and increased prices for hotel suites where you can do your own cooking (and you, Croatia) and you can find yourself veering farther and farther away from your original budget (moral of the story: budget more for Switzerland). This is a place where a little planning goes along way for the budget-conscious. Here’s a few things that might help you cut costs.
Swiss Rail Passes: I’m going to go into the details of transport passes later, but I do want to say very briefly that when traveling exclusively by train, Switzerland is best visited alone, not in conjunction with a larger European rail trip. If you’re flying or driving this doesn’t apply to you.
I’m sure some will disagree wholeheartedly with me on this, but if you have a budget you’ve got to stick to, it’s really hard to do when jumping from a country where the Eurail pass covers almost everything to Switzerland where Eurail pass coverage is variable at best. It doesn’t matter as much if you’re only going from large city to large city and then leaving again, but those who want to reach smaller towns and villages like Murren and Lauterbrunnen will find that they have to purchase additional tickets that, although discounted as a Eurail holder, are still an additional expense. In addition, the Swiss Passes have alot of benefits in terms of reduced prices for museum tickets, cable car rides, panoramic trains, etc. I’ve covered it all in more detail in another post (read it here, Swiss Travel Pass and Flex Pass Pricing) but suffice to say, you can save yourself a ton of money by planning the trip out in detail before you go.
Food: As I mentioned already, cheap food is harder to come by, and we found it much easier to stick to our food budget in Paris than in Switzerland. If you can access a kitchenette you can save yourself a ton of money by just cooking your own food. In relative comparison to restaurants, Swiss grocery stores are cheap.
Gear: Going backpacking? Have some serious, day-long treks on your agenda? Keep in mind you need lots of layers and probably more than one pair of shoes when trekking near the Swiss Alps. Many of the alpine activities require copious amounts of gear and trying to pack a dress and heels for a nice dinner in Paris in the same backpack as your trekking gear is no small feat. Renting gear is EXPENSIVE. In Switzerland, minimizing luggage can end up maximizing cost (never thought I’d write those words). Again, if you’re just sight seeing and hiking is not on your short list, this point obviously does not apply to you.
Hotel v. Hostel: The difference you pay in price for a hotel in Lauterbrunnen v. a hostel is usually about 20-50 francs. That’s substantial. Three days in a hostel instead of a hotel and you’ve saved enough money to pay for a fourth night. I know alot of people who will not consider a hostel regardless of cost, and I do understand the rationale. However, Switzerland is a place you may want to consider breaking that rule. There is one hostel in Lauterbrunnen, Valley Hostel, that is really excellent. If you’re an older traveler nervous about staying in a hostel or just want some privacy, they offer private rooms as well as the traditional dorm rooms.