I’m back from my two-week trip to Europe. My travel companions and I visited Paris and Burgundy in France, the Swiss Alps in Switzerland, Boppard in Germany, Amsterdam in the Netherlands, Bruges in Belgium and Rome and Milan in Italy. It seems a lot to pack in two weeks but it’s doable when you do it through a coach tour. Half our trip we did via a coach tour. The other half I had to play tour guide. Also, two weeks is all the vacation time that I had left, sigh. Perks of being a lawyer.
Your trip cost will depend on your travel style. I do believe it can be as expensive or cheap as you’d like it to be. I felt that this trip wasn’t the time to be excessively frugal for several reasons. It was our first time in this continent and it should give us an opportunity to see which cities we may want to revisit at a later time. Europe is a long way from home and it would be a pity to miss out on certain things. Safety is also a key issue so hotel accommodation and transportation (when carrying heavy luggage) are areas not to cheap out on.
In any event, prepare a detailed budget, accounting for a little allowance for deviation. Overspent on one category? Balance it out by taking money from another category. Stick to your budget. There will be a lot of temptation to buy many useless knickknacks along the way. Please avoid them and any other touristy traps, as much as possible. I personally value shopping and sight-seeing so that’s where priorities lie when travelling. All the other things aimed at getting you to spend more than you need to are just noise for me.
Spend only money that you have—spend using cash or withdraw money from atms inside banks. You wouldn’t want to come home to bills, bills, bills. I’m happy to report that I prepared a budget and followed through, coming home with leftover Euros, which I promptly converted back to dollars to be placed in a dollar account.
Our trip cost may seem expensive to others but it was definitely affordable for the duration, number of cities and excursions done, 3 star hotel accommodations, and good food. First, we booked a package tour straight from a tour operator so we skipped booking it via a local travel agency. Second, we chanced upon discounted plane fares despite booking a month from departure. Third, we allotted a portion of the duration of our trip without a tour guide, which gave us the flexibility to plan our itinerary and pick our own fabulous hotels. We didn’t stay in hostels which we felt weren’t safe.
As a rule of thumb, the internet gods opine that a budget of EUR 60.00 /PhP 3,840.00/USD 74.00 PER DAY should suffice as spending or pocket money, exclusive of air fare and hotel accommodation. I personally don’t recommend this tight budget as food and beverages can get really expensive. You spend money for everything—including the apparent privilege of using the toilet (3 Euros inside the Louvre Caroussel!#*). Toilets mostly aren’t free in Europe. There are free ones but they stink and the queue is long and by the time you get there, the toilet becomes suddenly up for maintenance due to the huge group before you that left it dirrty.
Europe and its pickpockets
Frugal husband was worried about gypsies mugging/ pickpocketing me. It was a reasonable fear as on our first day in Paris we experienced first hand the quick and sticky fingers of these gypsies who approach in groups five with their innocuous-looking clipboards. Fortunately no money was ever taken as it was a burgled attempt. You need to have your wits about you as muggers and pickpockets seem abound not just in Asia but also in Europe. One site even says that Barcelona is the pickpocketing capital of Europe!
We were lucky we weren’t mugged as others have been. Avoid going out alone at night. Avoid taking crowded trains when arriving from the airport as those are the theft sweetspots—you’re preoccupied lugging around your heavy luggage with your purse swinging free for the taking. Don’t leave your purse unattended, not even while peeing as one acquaintance had her purse taken while it hung from inside the toilet.
There are plenty of scams as well which we fortunately avoided! One dude tried to sell us tickets to the Louvre when it was 10 minutes to closing time, making the ticket nearly useless. Avoid the guys selling tickets outside the Vatican who promise you’ll skip the lines, you won’t. Count your change. Several times I found that I was being short-changed by several Euros (screw you airport sales girl in Milan!).
About traditional European hotels
Apparently, most European hotels don’t provide some basic stuff like slippers, toothbrush, toothpaste, and bottled water (tap water is potable but I don’t want to risk my tummy). Don’t expect bellboy service. Don’t expect service staff in hotels and restaurants to speak fluent English. Only in Rome and Milan did we have a bidet in our hotel room. Their bidets aren’t the handheld type, either. So, chaffing much? Lol.
It takes physical stamina
Travelling in any part of the globe is draining but I felt it was even more so in this trip. Trains and buses in Europe are pretty efficient but not as clean and on-time as those in Japan. Trains in Paris and Belgium were filthy. Being on a coach tour definitely helped in crossing country borders and saved us the trouble of taking the trains. We took all forms of inner Europe transport during this trip, train, bus or coach and plane. The transportation part really requires stamina as you have to physically drag your luggage to the hotel/train station/ coach/airport.
You do a lot of walking so bring comfortable walking shoes. Hydrate and wear appropriate clothing don’t scrimp on the heattech as the temperature tends to drop at random times and hello, it rains all the time so make sure to pack an umbrella.
Jet lag is a b*tch
A day before our departure we were walking around in Milan. It had started to pour really hard so we cut our afternoon short and at the early hour of 4 p.m., decided to take the train back to the hotel. It had been one of my longest trips and I was exhausted and homesick and eager to return back to frugal husbanbd and eat lechon back home.
Jet lag started to kick in the moment I got home. I slept off an entire day! Western Europe is 6 hours behind so I had to adjust my body clock. It may be nighttime in Paris but it’s already dawn in Cebu. To recover from jet lag I forced myself to eat and sleep according to Cebu time. My body was just fatigued and I fell asleep at the most random time. It took me about a week to fully adjust. But now I’m back!
How do you feel about European bidets where you squat and aim at the water?
As I already write and argue for a living, I really missed writing just for fun!