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Traveling in Switzerland is thrilling—but that thrill can be expensive. Just the airfare alone can knock the wind out of your sails. But you still deserve a trip to Switzerland. The key is to keep costs under control. The little things can add up quickly if you don’t have a plan. From years of leading clients through the cities, villages, and mountains of Switzerland, Alpenwild has developed a few recommendations that will have you holding on to more of your hard-earned Swiss Francs. So how can you manage costs without diminishing your experience?
Tap water and the water in public fountains throughout Switzerland is pure and safe to drink. If you’re doing a lot of walking or hiking each day, water is an essential friend. But it can be a costly one if you’re counting on the restaurateurs to bring bottled water to your table. Far better to take advantage of the free water flowing from fountains all over the country. In Zurich alone there are over 1200 fountains, and each flows with safe, delicious. naturally chilled water. Fill up the water bottle you’ve brought along and enjoy water from the Europe’s “water tower.”
Zurich, Geneva, Basel, and Bern can really pinch the budget. And the tourist centers of Luzern and Interlaken are both spendy and crowded. International resorts like Zermatt, St Moritz, and Verbier can be budget-busters too. You'll find your best values in small towns rather than large cities. Many smaller towns and villages provide just as much charm, access, and authentic Swiss appeal as the larger more touristy spots—all at a better value. Don't overlook places like Gruyeres, Grimentz, St-Luc, Appenzell, Bellinzona, Lauterbrunnen, Zuoz, or Engelberg, .
Restaurant dinners can be a pricey adventure as the Swiss consider dinner a leisurely event that requires an investment of both time and money. While the sentiment is valid, if you want to keep costs in check, consider making a picnic lunch your biggest meal of the day. Food from Migros or Coop is fresh and well made. All the ingredients for a great meal are there. Then you can eat light at dinner—a salad or bowl of soup—and save your money for something else.
Most Swiss use public transportation as their primary means of getting around. It can be expensive if you're buying point-to-point one-way tickets. So most Swiss use a variety of a Swiss Pass or a regional or local transportation card. Hotel's often provide these to visitors with your night's lodging.
One of the best deals around is the “Swiss Half-fare Travelcard.” It’s known in Switzerland as a “Halbtax.” Trust me. If you say “Halbtax” at any ticket counter, you will get your fare at 50% off. And that applies to almost every train, bus, funicular, cog railway, gondola or lake steamer in the country. Alpenwild can issue one for you so you’re ready to go the moment you arrive.
Tipping is not engrained in Swiss culture as it is in America or even other parts of Europe. Service is included in your restaurant bill, so there is no obligation or expectation that you add a tip on top of the bill.
Chocolate shops are on every corner in every city—and sometimes even in the small towns and villages. It is so tempting to load up on every delicious morsel you see through the shop window. But the price of handmade chocolates can be prohibitive. You’re better off getting a couple of small pieces every time you pass a chocolatier that captivates you. Then for gifts or late-night nibbling, you may want to try Migros and Coop house brands for their chocolate bars. They are tasty and quite a bit less expensive than the established brands. Be sure to try the milk chocolate bar with whole toasted hazelnuts. Not available in the US and your friends will thank you (if you don’t eat them up on the way home!).
You know that shampoo you brought along? Some hotels have shampoo for you, too. Before you start feeling bad about toting your shampoo thousands of miles consider using the hotel shampoo for a quick batch of hand washing in the sink. Your socks and underwear will be fresher than ever and no laundry bill.
Batteries can be difficult to find and expensive. Make sure your camera has a rechargeable battery. Even with that, you’ll want to have an extra battery (and memory chip) ready to pop in after a day of sight-seeing or hiking. Around every corner there will be something that you want to photograph or video. Don’t get stuck trying to find an electronics shop. Your jaw will drop over the prices.
Note paper is sometimes hard to find and rather pricey. Bring along a small notebook or tablet and you’ll be glad you had a way to leave messages to hotel staff or thank you’s to people who have served you well.
Books translated and printed in English purchased in Switzerland can quickly burn a giant hole in your pocket: the history of a castle you love, the birds you hear in the forest, the wildflowers you see along the trail. If you know what sort of books you would like to get, try purchasing them in advance or bring them along in an electronic version. Of course, some are only available at certain places. That’s why you cut corners where you can so you can justify that occasional splurge.
When you change your money, you lose money. Everyone understands that. So what do you do? Think big. Exchange the amount of cash you think you’ll need for the week only once. That will diminish the fees. Then use your credit card for as much as you can—as they get the best rate of all. Avoid doing small exchange transactions at the hotels. They don’t want to do it and you don’t want to pay their rates.
Souvenirs can be a troublesome issue—especially with weight restrictions on your luggage. The days of schlepping a fondue pot (cacquelon) all over the Alps and then on to your flight are long gone. But if you see one you can’t live without, most shops have a way to ship which will typically be less than the surcharge the airlines will charge you for overweight luggage. You can also avoid the charges if you share the weight with one of your travelling companions. But be careful. It’s even worse if BOTH of you end up being charged for extra-heavy bags.