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

Random Acts of Kindness: Turkey Edition

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Turkey was the first destination we’ve hit on our trip that felt even slightly unfamiliar. The rest of Europe was comfortable- not too chaotic, similar foods, and similar looking people. Stepping off the ferry in Istanbul made me think for the first time, “Now this is when it’s going to get interesting.” To the Turkish people, we must have looked a little bit out of our element, because in those first three days, they went out of their way to help us. And not for money or to scam us as it may have seemed in the beginning, but simply for the sake of it. The people of Turkey want you to experience Turkey. Yes, some people have misaligned intentions, but those are few and far between the smiling, friendly people we encountered. While these stories are not over the top, you must put yourself in our shoes to appreciate what they meant to us. It may be trite, but it’s the little things that make the biggest difference.

Here’s a recap of the random acts of kindness that occurred.

Number 1: It took a while to get through passport control at the airport so once we arrived to the baggage carousel, there were only a few bags left. I found mine circling around, but Kris’ and Steph’s were nowhere to be found. Obviously looking a little concerned, a young man approach and said there was a pile of bags from this flight sitting over in lost and found. We found their bags easily and were happy that someone pointed it out so quickly.

Number 2: As we were spinning in circles in the arrival terminal trying to figure out which way to go to find an IstanbulKart, a man came to our rescue and told us it was at a stand, just outside.

Number 3: There’s a private bus company that shuttles people from the city to the airport and back on the cheap. It’s supposed to leave every half hour, but there seemed to be no sense of schedule going on. Steph had run inside to use the restroom and so I tried to ask the driver when the bus was leaving, not wanting to get on and leave her stranded. The driver spoke no English, but another guy, already halfway boarded in front us, overheard the breakdown in communication. He jumped back off and interpreted for us. “The bus will leave when it is full.”

Number 4: We knew what direction we needed to be going when we entered the tram stop- east toward Sultanhamet. A first tram across the tracks showed up heading west and we figured we were on the correct side. But then a few minutes later, on our side of the tracks another tram showed up heading west. Not being able to make sense of the situation, some random guy leaning up against gate asked, “Sultanhamet?” He told us this was the tram to get on and sure enough, it was. But how could know where we were going? We later learned that it’s because every foreigner is going to Sultanhamet.

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Number 5: The Grand Bazaar is a huge. The shops go on forever. The streets inside the bizarre are actually named. As lunch time approached we decided to look for a kebab shop we had heard about, but the map was confusing and we had lost all sense of direction. Watching us looking this way and that, one shop owner helped to point us in the right direction.

Number 6: We learned in Thailand that Steph has a thing for dolls. As luck would have it (for Steph), there just so happened to be a doll shop at the Grand Bazaar so Kristin and Steph wandered in while I meandered around outside. Fifteen minutes later when I returned, tired of looking at the carpet and jewelry shops nearby, I find Kristin sipping some green tea that the shop owner bought for her. Apparently, she had been sniffling a little bit and the shop owner graciously offered his common cold cure.

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Number 7: Some kebab hopped off the pita onto Steph’s sleeve one day. What a mess. So as she was in the bathroom washing her hands, a lady noticed the remnants of lamb and yogurt sauce and offered to help her clean up. “Madam, madam, let me help!”

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Number 8: I think Steph left something at a restaurant at least four times on our trip. On the only occasion she didn’t notice, the server from the restaurant chased us down the street to return her hat to her. Good thing, because our next jaunt to Cappadocia was chilly to say the least.

Number 9: Public restrooms in Istanbul require you to pay per use, much like many places across the rest of Europe. Some have attendants to offer you change, but some don’t and require you to come prepared. As Steph walked into one, she didn’t have exact change, but the gentleman in front of her offered to give her one lyra- the entrance fee.

Number 10: Maybe not an act of kindness, but still a pretty cool system in place. We were wandering around the park in front of the Topkapi palace when a smart car with a blue and red siren pulled up towards us. I thought we may have been in a restricted area as there were guards with machine guns manning a gate not 100 meters away. Turns out it was the Istanbul Municipality Metropolitan Tourism Task Force. They handed us maps for public transport, pamphlets on Turkish baths, info on mosques, and everything tourists like us might need. With this kind of service, you don’t even need to bother finding an info center.

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Number 11: We are no hookah experts, but we decided to try out what the locals do. We paid a visit to one of these shisha cafes but soon found we were in a little over our heads as we didn’t know exactly when to turn the coals. Luckily, a friendly local checked up on us every fifteen minutes or so and turned our coals when it was time.

Number 12: Walking out of a restaurant, Steph spilled her water bottle all of the restaurant floor. Any decent manager would tell the customer not to worry about it and to continue on their way. This manager did exactly that, but also offered her another bottle of water to replace what was left soaking under our table. How’s that for hospitality? The cherry on top.

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A Return to Normalcy: Turkish Protests Then & Now

When we first started planning our trip to Turkey is when the unrest started. What started as a peaceful protest against commercial development of a small city park turned into violence and riots around Taksim Square in Istanbul. It hit the news quickly and we watched closely for what was to come. Over the next few months, U.S. media lost interest and turned their heads toward Egypt and Syria. Discovering what was happening in Turkey was hard to see for an outsider looking in.

But travel warnings ended and it seemed that the city was quieting down. So we made our way to Istanbul. One day, I went searching for signs of what occurred just this past spring. I walked up Istiklal Street from our hostel to the square. Along the way Turkish ice cream vendors clanged bells and attracted crowds performing tricks with their ice cream scoops. Groups of young women browsed through the fashionable clothing stores. Stray dogs sniffed strangers and of course kebab vendors sliced piles and piles of meat, the smell of doner all around. No signs of unrest.

I continued to Taksim Square where I was sure I would find damage from explosions, makeshift shelter in the park, and graffiti lining the sidewalk. As I approached the crowds got bigger. People were walking in every direction, criss-crossing their way across the pavement. Going home, to school, to work, or to meet friends, I’m not sure. But people were going along with their everyday lives. I sat in the park- the source of the initial conflict. I watched two little boys roll down the hill as their mother watched along. A few couples and groups of friends sat on the benches talking. And tea vendors walked through chanting “chai?!, chai?!”.

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AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis

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AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis

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AP Photo/Kostas Tsironis

I drank my turkish tea and people watched, looking for signs of what occurred. I found nothing. Graffiti has been painted over, new street signs put up, new sidewalks and pavement set, and flowers and bushes planted. To an outsider there is no evidence of the voices that were heard from Turkish people this past spring. It felt as though they had been silenced.

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Oren Ziv/AFP/Getty Images

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AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis

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AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda

It wasn’t until later that day that I began to notice what has been leftover. We walked to dinner and saw two buses of police. As we sat inside the restaurant eating they began to gather in the side street in full riot gear. They stood there the whole time we were eating. And as we walked home, down alleys and small streets were groups of two or three police officers smoking cigarettes and just watching people go by. We asked a local what was going on that night. He said you’ll often see the police gather in crowded areas of the city, ready for any disruption, ready to silence it as quickly as possible with tear gas and rubber bullets. This is what the Turkish citizens were fighting against in the first place- freedom of speech and freedom of press. Something I take for granted, but something others continue to fight for.

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Reuters/Yannis Behrakis

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Reuters/Yannis Behrakis

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AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis

I won’t pretend to understand what is going on in the minds of Turkish people. I don’t know if they think about these issues daily or if they just continue to live their lives with discontent for their government in the same way many in the states feel about theirs. But I do know we encountered many smiling faces while in Turkey- the friendliest people we’ve met so far on our trip. And I hope that the words that they speak are soon heard by their government.

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Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images

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Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images