RTW Budget Update: Europe

We’ve shared our RTW budget previously and now that we’re a few months in, it’s time to check-in. I’ll spare you the heartburn if you’re curious about the end result – we went over budget. But that’s okay. I’ve got explanations (or excuses) on why we went over budget. Learn from our mistakes and plan accordingly.

Part 1: Major Transportation

  • Estimated Expense: $1,400
  • Actual Expense: $1,002
  • Variance (+Better / -Worse): +$398

Good news! Transportation in Europe is all it’s cracked up to be. Comfortable, clean, fast, efficient, and relatively affordable. We’ve faired much better than expected due to the great decision not to purchase a rail pass. I’ve mentioned before that we were on the fence on purchasing a Eurail pass and I’m glad we didn’t. Here’s how it would have worked out for our route (all prices quoted for 2 people):

  • Cost of Travel with Eurail Pass: $2,170
    • London to Paris via Eurostar (not covered on Eurail): $132
    • Paris to Florence to Cinque Terre to Bologna to Venice to Ljubljana to Budapest: $1616 (the cost of a 10-day saver pass for 2 people)
    • Budapest to Istanbul via Wizz Air: $277
    • Istanbul to Cappadocia and back via Pegasus Airlines: $145
  • Cost of Travel without Eurail Pass: $1,002
    • London to Paris via Eurostar: $132
    • Paris to Florence to Cinque Terre to Bologna to Venice to Ljubljana to Budapest: $448 (the cost of point to point train and bus tickets for 2 people)
    • Budapest to Istanbul via Wizz Air: $277
    • Istanbul to Cappadocia and back via Pegasus Airlines: $145

Part 2: In-Country Costs

So we started our analysis on a high note. And now to the bad news. I’m breaking it up between Western Europe and Central / Eastern Europe due to the large differences in costs.

Western Europe

  • Estimated Expense: $2,520 (14 days at $90 / day / person)
  • Actual Expense: $3,957
  • Variance (+Better / -Worse):  -$1,437

Whoa! That number looks bad. We must have spent all our time blowing dough along the Champs-Élysées in Paris or sipping wine at 5-star resorts in Tuscany. But no. We didn’t do those things. There is a simpler explanation. We spent more time in Western Europe than we had originally planned. Our original budget called for just 14 days (2 weeks), but in reality we spent 21 days (3 weeks).

So – because all things numbers can be fudged around to make things seem better or worse if you want them to, I’m going to do just that. With an adjustment to the budget based on our actual time spent.

  • Adjusted Estimated Expense: $3,780 (21 days at $90 / day / person)
  • Actual Expense: $3,957
  • Adjusted Variance (+Better / -Worse): -$177

So what happened? Even if I try to mess around with the numbers, I can’t fix them. We overspent. We spent too much on cozy apartments in Paris and Bologna, we visited tourist hot spots like Cinque Terre and Venice, and we had far too many apertivos, bowls of pasta, and gelato in our near two weeks in Italy. But that’s okay. We were comfortable. We ate well. And we’d say it was well worth it.

True Cost for Western Europe: $94 / day / person

View from our apartment in Paris booked from Airbnb
View from our apartment in Paris booked from Airbnb

Central / Eastern Europe

  • Estimated Expense: $2,520 (21 days at $60 / day / person)
  • Actual Expense: $2,766
  • Variance (+Better / -Worse): -$246

But of course, I need to mess with the numbers again. This time it’s going to work against me though, as we fell a few days short of the originally planned 21 days in Eastern Europe.

  • Adjusted Estimated Expense: $2,160 (18 days at $60 / day / person)
  • Actual Expense: $2,766
  • Adjusted Variance (+Better / -Worse): -$606

With the $450 we dropped on the hot air balloon in Cappadocia, good eats in Ljubljana, and free flowing beer in Budapest, we overspent just a bit. Woops.

True Cost for Central / Eastern Europe: $77 / day / person

Getting ready to fly with Butterfly Balloons in Cappadocia
Getting ready to fly with Butterfly Balloons in Cappadocia

London: A Lifelong Souvenir

In the midst of some research regarding the first stop on our trip, I found myself at the site for the School of Life in London. Offering classes from improvisation to having better conversations, I decided to look to see if anything interesting was happening while I was going to be there and signed up for a class called decoding the city. This was a night class. Meeting at the 1 New Change, a huge outdoor mall, at seven PM and going on a three hour long walking class of the city with Leo Hollis as our guide, this was not your typical class. Filled with a lot of history and some new perspective it opened the door to further learning and I realized again that it’s really up to you how much you want out to get out of your experiences. So with that, I decided to continue my learning from that class by picking up his new book and taking a gander.

Called Cities are Good for You, that, plainly, is his angle. As someone who is on the fence between living in a city and missing the natural countryside a lot, this book definitely made me think harder about what it means to be part of a city community. He goes through many things including problems with slums, traffic jams, pollution, but I think what resonated with me most was that cities offer creativity. Hollis says, ‘the city offers diversity and competition, the best forcing grounds for turning seeds into blossoming success. . . Competition forces innovation.’ In addition to that I think the city or lack there of can really take an industry to the next level, particularly mine- the restaurant industry. Growing up in small town Ohio, restaurants weren’t a thing. You didn’t aspire to work in or own them or at least I didn’t. They weren’t big or exciting and least of all they didn’t seem to offer any kind of challenge or environment to learn about business. I think in the little towns they’re viewed as a job to make ends meet but not a means to make something of yourself. But it’s a different opportunity that you find in the city.

Enter Chicago. One of the biggest foodie towns in America, the competition and creativity oozing out of its restaurants is ridiculous, extreme, and relentless. Consistently pumping out the next generation of amazing food, cocktails, dessert, it’s endless. And it’s a way of life. Something that grows on you and you grow into, something you start to understand and appreciate only by being a part of it. I think that’s why I felt a little embarrassed telling my parents (after getting my Master’s) that, ‘I’m working in a restaurant and I’ve stopped looking for work for what I went to school for,’ whatever that was supposed to be. But I’ve found that the people in cities, the people that I work with especially, have pushed me far beyond my comfort zone into a place where I feel comfortable going out on a limb to learn something new or try out a new idea. They push me to be creative, going back to Hollis’ point, and that’s something I never thought I would get from working in a restaurant. People in cities are so much more interested in out of the box, taking chances on ideas and people, rather than looking at credentials on a resume. Considering I really had no experience before that in a restaurant or in the ‘real world,’ these people of the city took a chance on me. They gave me an opportunity to see what I could do and in the process I saw what I could do. And while the city helped define me and allowed me to understand by potential more fully, it is really the people of the city who effected me the most. So I guess no matter where I end up- town or country- the city has been good for me.

Getting Familiar with Life on the Road: London Edition

Hyde Park - London, England

There are plenty of people out there that have turned travel into a lifestyle. Endlessly wandering from destination to destination for the best unknown restaurant, hidden alley, or secret spot. These are the people that get offended if they’re called a tourist instead of a traveler- because they’re on the road for something bigger than passport stamps and pictures of Big Ben. These are the people that will offer advice to newbies like us: travel slowly and get off the beaten path. Seems cliche.

But we ignored that advice in London. We walked for hours and hours around to every big site in town. We walked down the South Bank, through the Tate Modern, and sat under the London Eye. We ate our way through Borough Market, stuffing ourselves with smoothies, lentil soup, a roast beef sandwich, a duck confit sandwich, and topped it all off with Turkish coffee and baklava. We went on the hunt for fish and chips and lounged around Trafalgar Square people watching and dodging pigeons. And we drank beer at an old English pub.

We followed the guidebooks in London and all I got were sore feet (and I think I did something to my hip too). I was left feeling like Lonely Planet must be missing something and those well-trodden travelers must be right. The best parts of a trip aren’t written in a guidebook. They are the easily missed, random encounters, and hidden experiences you’ll find by just wandering around. By going slowly.

As it turns out, my favorite memory of London isn’t found within any of the above mentioned excursions. My favorite memory of London was a string of serendipity that happened on the first day we arrived.

Jet-lagged on our first day in London we spent a few hours lounging around the Round Pond in Hyde Park waiting for our room at the hostel to open up. There are stacks of chairs for people to use for a lunchtime picnic or afternoon nap. So we took a seat and just sat there. Watching people walk by, kids running around laughing and playing, and lots and lots of bike riders.

While Kris was busy snapping photos of the lawn chairs, I saw him. The most British guy I’ve ever seen in my life. A slightly rounder Mr. Bean with his brown suit and combed over hair. Perfectly shined shoes, a messenger bag, and scarf, riding his matching 30 year old bike through the park. With no one else as witness to this British spectacle, I felt alone in my amazing British experience. Until later that night . . .

Because when we got back to the hostel we loaded up pictures of the day. And there, as we were flipping through pictures of pavilions and lawn chairs, was Mr. Bean. In perfect alignment and perfectly timed, staring right at us. We’ll never get a better picture by chance.

Hyde Park - London, England

We were so, so lucky on this pleasant, sunny afternoon in London.

Getting In and Around London

london-heathrow

I should get into the habit of writing a post like this before we arrive at our destination. But no. It wasn’t until we wasted a few bucks getting into London that I realized that researching transportation options is a good idea. So here it is. To help others figure their way around and avoid my mistakes.

Getting In

Airports

London Heathrow is is London’s largest airport and most likely destination if you’re coming from across the pond. It pushes 70 million people around every single year, making it the third busiest airport in the world.

Once you’ve arrived you’ll have a few rail options to get into central London:

  1. Heathrow Express – the fastest train into town, leaving every 15 minutes and taking just 15 minutes to get to Paddington. The speed will cost you though – £20 one-way (~$32 at the time of this post) and £34 return.
  2. Heathrow Connect – this is what we ended up taking. Not because it’s the best option, but because we didn’t know what we were doing. It runs every 30 minutes and is a 25 minute ride. £9.50 one-way.
  3. Piccadilly Underground – the first choice for getting into town for the budget traveler. Departs from terminals 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 and takes just under an hour. £5.50 Cash and £3.00 on an Oyster Card (read more about the Oyster Card below).

Chances are you may also fly into on of London’s other major airports. Since I’m no expert on travel from these airports, I’ll just point you in the right direction. But from whatever airport you transfer from, only take a taxi if you’ve got money to blow.

Train Stations

If you’re coming from Paris or Brussels, the Eurostar is a great option. This high speed train will have you whizzing through the country side at nearly 200mph, under the water through the Channel Tunnel, and into London St. Pancras in about 2 hours from either city. If you’re flexible on days and times, you’ll find a good deal. We paid the lowest advertised fare of $66 one-way by adding a day to our London stay and leaving around 6pm on a Monday.

Getting Around

Underground

We were shocked at the price of a tube ride when we first saw it. £4.50 cash for just one ride. That’s over $7! How do these Brits afford this?

Well there are some better options. And they all involve the Oyster Card. Plan on getting one no matter what. It will pay for itself in just one ride. In fact, they are free if you’re willing to stand in line to return the card when you leave London in order to get back your £5 deposit.

Give some thought to how much you may travel by train around town. It’s you’re most viable option and if you’re moving fast like us, you’ll easily fit in 6 to 8 trips a day. And you’ll likely stay around the central part of the city keeping you in Zones 1-2 on the fare charts. Keep that in mind as you weigh your options.

  1. Option 1: Pay As You Go – Pay for every trip that you take. Reduces the trip cost to £2.10 in Zone 1 and £2.80 in Zone 1-2 as compared to cash.
  2. Option 2: Buy a 1 Day Anytime Travelcard – a one-day pass will cost you £8.80 in Zones 1-2.
  3. Option 3: Buy a 7 Day Travelcard – will put you back £30.40 in Zones 1-2.
  4. Option 4: Buy a Visitor Oyster Card – don’t do this. It’s for folks that want to be super prepared and have a card in hand before they visit London. It works on a pay as you go system and is no better than buying an Oyster Card when you get to London.

Now do the math based on the costs above.

  • A 7 Day Travelcard is better than a 1 Day Travelcard if you’ll be in London for 4 days or more.
  • A 1 Day Travelcard is better than pay as you go if you plan on taking 4 or more trips a day in Zones 1-2 and 5 or more trips a day in Zone 1.
  • Otherwise, just add some credit to your Oyster Card and plan on getting a refund on your remaining funds and your deposit once you leave town.

Bicycle

Just before we left Chicago, we saw the Divvy bike stands literally pop up overnight. Around every other corner was a shared bike stand to allow tourists and locals alike to cruise through the city at reasonable rates.

London’s got a Barclays sponsored system and here’s how it works:

  1. Decide on the time period you may want to use the bike share system. 24 hours – £2, 7 days – £10, and Annual – £90.
  2. Find a bike stand and decide where you are going.
  3. Don’t plan on riding these bikes all around town.
  4. Keep it under a 30 minute ride to avoid additional costs to the access charges you already paid. If you go over 30 minutes, plan on giving up some additional dough. Between 30 minutes and 1 hour – £1, Up to 1 hour and 30 minutes – £4, Up to 2 hours – £6, Up to 2 hours and 30 minutes – £10, Up to 3 hours – £15, Up to 6 hours – £35, Up to 24 hours – £50, and Over 24 hours – £150.

Take a look at those additional charges closely. The costs go up significantly the longer you keep the bike. There’s a reason for this. These bikes are meant for point to point transportation and not leisurely rides around town. Use it to get to where you need to go, drop it off at another bike rack, and pick up another one when you’re ready to move along.

Used the right way, biking around town can be cheaper than one ride on the tube and a whole lot more fun. Be safe!