Friday, May 9, 2014

How much Do You Need for a 2 Week Vacation in Europe if you spend wisely

I am sure, some of you are wondering how much I spent for my two weeks in Europe – eating and shopping the way I did? I tried to keep track, but this may not be 100% accurate, but it should give you a general idea.

If I counted correctly, I spent roughly around Php250,000 only (US$5,600 or roughly around 4,000) for a little less than 2 weeks in Europe, visiting 3 key cities for 1 person. This DOES NOT include Visa Application Fees, travel tax and terminal fees. Another caveat is that I got my ticket through miles redemption, but I had to top up to buy a few miles because I was a bit short, so my computation only counts US$785 NET for my long haul ticket from Clark-Dubai-London with return flight from Paris-Dubai-Clark. You can just adjust accordingly based on the cost of your long haul ticket.

Some Definition of Terms:
Travel: Includes all travel tickets including long haul and inter-Europe travel, as well as airport transfers, taxis and daily local travel expenses
Miscellaneous: Includes all spending related to getting a local sim card as well as museum entrance fees
Food: All meals eaten including drinks
Shopping: Everything I bought to bring home, including food that was bought as pasalubong (presents)

Based on Total Trip Spent, you can see that 53% of my budget was spent on shopping. This is where you can potentially optimize.

Some Smart Spending Travel Tips:

On Travel:
For Flights: I booked my flights around 3 months before my trip so I was able to get good deals on the inter-Europe flights. You can use when surfing for flights. They will give you a quote from all the airlines (traditional and low-cost) but you’ll need to look at each one so you get a view of the most cost-effective option inclusive of Added Charges like if you need to purchase Luggage Allowance.
On Airport Transfers: I normally check out the distance and cost of travelling by cab from the airport to the city center. It’s my preferred option, but normally this costs a lot.
A good compromise if the airport is far, is to take the Shuttle Bus to the city center, then from there, I take a cab to my final destination.

For example, in London you can take the Heathrow Express Train to the city center (less hassle but more expensive than taking the tube) then take a cab from there. If travelling from the other London Airports (ie Gatwick or Luton), you can pre-book a seat on EasyBus online. You can get it as cheap as £2 if you book early. They will allow you to use your ticket 1 hour before or after your booked time.

In Paris, you can either take the Roissy Bus which will take you directly to Opera, or the Air France Airport Shuttles which have more drop off points. You just need to do your research before hand to see which bus stops closest to where you’re staying to minimize your cab fare and to make your trip more efficient. Taking the Metro is also an option if you only have a few things but I will only recommend this if your final destination is near one of the stops on the same line (RER B).

In Paris, when I was trying to book a taxi on my way home to take me back to the Roissy Bus station on Opera, I discovered WeCab, a service run by G7, the most reliable taxi service in Paris. You can book a shared cab which will pick you up at home/or drop you off at your door to or from the airport shared with other people which the cab company arranges, so it’s totally safe but at half the price of booking your own taxi. I loved the idea so much, it deserves a separate post.

In Florence, my preferred transport option was to take a taxi since the airport is very near the city center.

But you need to do the math, because if you’re travelling in a big group, sometimes it’s better to use a cab service. Ask friends for references so you can pre-book one, it’s cheaper than hailing one from the queue.

On Accomodations:
As you can see, I spent only 15% on accommodations, which is really low for Europe – especially during the Easter Holidays. I was able to do this by again, reserving early, around 3 months in advance. I normally look for accommodation options on VRBO (better for big groups, staying for a longer time) or on Airbnb (better if you’re only staying a few nights, and they have options of renting only a room).
My criteria normally is that I only look at places in good locations (ie in the City Center and preferably near places I like visiting). Then my second criteria is price. As a general rule of thumb, if I spend around 50 a night for accommodations, I am happy, but this is only easy to do if you are travelling in a big group! It’s really a challenge to find accommodations within this price range in a good location (meeting the first criteria) if you’re alone.
At first, I was totally unwilling to rent JUST A ROOM. I wanted a flat all to myself, thus the challenge. But when I stumbled on Julie’s listing of a room IN PORTOBELLO ROAD, at the heart of Portobello Market, within my price range, I changed my mind.

This is Julie's place in Portobello. My room was very comfortable.

I don’t regret the idea, but the idea of only renting a room needs getting used to because it’s like you’re a guest in their home.  I’ll write more about my stay with Julie in London in a separate post.

Since I already jumped on the Room Bandwagon, I wasn’t against the idea when I came across Francesco’s ad for the “Clementina Bedroom” in Florence. Location wise, it was a bit farther than initially desired, but with Florence being so small, I was also looking forward to seeing how the locals really lived. Price wise, it was way below my already low budget, which was a big plus.

This is the Clementina bedroom in Francesco's home in Florence.

Francesco was so nice, he even picked me up from the Airport, and when I saw his house, I felt like I won the Airbnb lottery! It was so beautiful. His place felt more professionally run like a bnb, with fruit and snacks ready for the guests. He even will teach you how to make good Italian coffee on the moka. I’ll write more about my stay with Francesco in a separate post.

In Paris, I was very lucky because I stumbled on a Studio apartment in an area I loved within my price range, so I booked it immediately. This was a very good deal!

This is Line's studio apartment in Montmarte.
I want a place like this some day. Love. Love. Love.

It was only when I arrived that I realized that the apartment and my landlady was so much better in person! My landlady had food ready for me when I arrived, and she invited me to her home (in the flat across) and fed me several meals.  Line was such a nice lady she also deserves a separate post.

The key in choosing a nice place to stay is to look at the feedback of previous guests, especially if you’re planning on renting only a room.

Here are the links to the places I stayed in, just in case you’re interested:

Julie in London:
Book with caution, only if you don’t mind living with her family and sharing a toilet and bath with them.  On the plus side, they are very nice and the location is excellent.

Francesco in Florence:
Highly recommended, you will only need to share the toilet and bath with the guest/s in the other room for rent. If your group is big enough to rent 2 rooms, this won’t even be a problem.

Line in Paris:
Highly recommended, it’s best place to stay in Paris for 1 or 2 people.

On Food:
I ate really well when I was in Europe. I told myself, I wouldn't scrimp on Food. My only tip here is to do your research before you leave, so you know exactly where you want to eat and what to order in specific places.
In Paris – if a place says reservations are required, reservations really are required, so make them before flying.
For all the good things I ate (you can read my post on the food I really savored here), remember I was on a Foie Gras and Truffle diet, my food bill was quite low. This is because I don’t really drink alcohol. Factor in an additional cost if you take wine with every meal.
Lastly, you can ask for tap water when they ask if you want still or sparkling. If you answer still – you’ll get mineral water in your bill. Also, tipping is not customary, but you can round-up to the nearest euro or two if you were satisfied with the service.

In general, you should avoid tourist traps with over-priced substandard food. Italy has a lot of these places, and they are normally located around areas popular with tourists like Fontana di Trevi, Vatican Museum, etc. A good indication of whether or not a place is targetting tourists is if they have menus in every language. It's much better if there is no English menu and you can see that the place if busy with locals. Just look at what they are eating and point at what you want. Hahaha. Seriously.

On Shopping:
This is something that looks for me, even when I am not looking for it. I swear!  But the good thing about Europe is, the more you shop, the more Tax Refund you get!!!
Just make sure, you ask how much you need to spend before you get tax refund so you can maximize this. You’ll also need to show your passport when you ask for it, and at the airport, they sometimes ask to see the goods before they give you the customs stamp.

Here’s an idea of the breakdown of my spending per country:
I included the items that drove my Shopping spend crazy. If you skip these, your trip will be much more affordable than mine.

      On Museums:
I just realized that I barely spent for any museums on this trip since I visited them before. 
In London, most museums are FREE, hooray! This includes the British Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum, if you have kids, the V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green and the Museum of London Docklands
In Paris, the Louvre, Musee D'Orsay and the Pompidou Museum offer free entry every first Sunday of the month, so if you'll be in Europe anyway, plan to be in Paris during this time to save on your Museum Entrance Fees.
In Florence, I have not discovered any loophole, but make sure you book your museum ticket online so you can enter the Uffizi Gallery.

I hope my tips help you plan an enjoyable trip to Europe without breaking the bank and feeling like you're watching every centime because everything is just so expensive so you can be free to enjoy the good life. just saying.

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