Our European adventure: budget and tips

In July, we took a two week trip with my mother and sister to Cologne, Germany and Paris, France, with a one-day side trip to Amsterdam, Netherlands. We did this somewhat inexpensively, but not as cheaply as we probably could. I’ll break this down into a few simple steps…

  1. Host an exchange student
  2. Get her to date a German guy
  3. Get them to move to Germany
  4. Go visit them and partake of the wonderful hospitality
Kolsch

Toasting with our Kolsch beer! Left to right: Cata (who lived with my family for a couple years), my sister Andrea, my husband Steve, me making a weird face, and the only German in the photo, Tony on the far right–we had just been at the Cologne Pride Parade

But if that doesn’t work for you, a few other tips:

  1. If you’re into travel, get a travel rewards card like the BarclayCard Arrival+ MasterCard, and get the PIN/chip version of the card–your US swipe card likely won’t work anywhere in Europe except at some ATMs for getting cash (I am serious about this, the card has saved us over $900 this year! The annual fee is waived the first year, and if you keep traveling, the fee will be a drop in the bucket compared to what you can save)
  2. Pick your vacation time–we were limited to July because of work/school schedules, which isn’t the best time since it’s peak tourist season, but nobody will freeze to death in July

    Tuileries

    It was around 95 degrees on this day in Paris in the Tuileries park (I’m wearing the long-sleeved shirt to keep the sun off)

  3. Start scanning websites like Kayak.com for airfare many months in advance of your trip; try to be flexible about exact departure dates (leaving on a Tuesday or Wednesday seems to be cheapest)–agree with any travel companions on what constitutes a good airfare price drop, and immediately purchase it (using that travel rewards card) when you see it (or you may literally never see that low price again! EVER!)
  4. Scope out rentals on sites like AirBnB–we had really good luck with this for an apartment in Paris–prioritize your important rental components; we’re fans of a washing machine so we can pack lighter, and mention of comfy beds or a quiet neighborhood within walkable distance to some sights is a huge plus
  5. If traveling to a country where you don’t know the language, try to learn at least the basics, “Hello,” “Goodbye,” “Thank you,” “Please,” “Excuse me,” and “Do you speak English?” Seriously, this is super helpful… Get Duolingo on your phone… I’ll wait while you download that…
  6. Learn some basic food ordering terms, like how to say “I would like two scoops of raspberry gelato, please” in whatever language you might need, and practice politely pointing to menu items for those things you can’t pronounce

    Amorino

    Ordering gelato for about the third time in two days

  7. Pack as lightly as possible; literally no one ever comes back from a trip saying “I wish I packed heavier”–you can buy what you’re missing (even if that means you attempt to buy shampoo but get conditioner and so then buy body wash and use that as shampoo the rest of the week–c’est la vie!)
  8. Nice tip from our German friends: keep about 10 Euro plus some coins in your pocket, and keep your wallet more tucked away… it makes buying that crepe or postcard or scoop of gelato really easy and quick, and you don’t reveal to anyone on the street where your wallet is… Seriously, get ready to buy a lot of gelato, the love for gelato is real and lives on…

    Gelaot

    The love is real

  9. If arriving in a foreign city where you’ve never been, it can be fun (and prepare you for navigating) to take a little Google Maps street level tour of your area–I did this for the walk from our Metro station in Paris to the apartment, and it was nice to see potential landmarks (a carousel, a Starbucks) and also see what street signs look like and where they are positioned… Trust me, dorking around with no internet connection, attempting to use your nearly dead phone to look up a map, while carrying your luggage, is not fun
  10. If available, get an offline (GPS only) map for the city you’ll be in–I really liked the Ulmon maps of Amsterdam and Paris (nice tip: you can ‘pin’ locations before you leave, so you can have your metro station, apartment, nearby grocery stores, etc. all pinned before you even arrive)
  11. If you’ll be communicating with someone ‘back home’ regularly, an app like Viber can be really handy
  12. Get out and do stuff, walk around, sit in a park or at a cafe and people watch, draw/sketch, play a card game, take photos, generally just enjoy your trip and the people that you’re with… It’s seriously the best part!
Art

Andrea and Cata admire some art at the Ludwig Museum (Magritte painting in the back)

Steve got a haircut in Germany from John, and it was awesome!

Steve got a haircut in Germany from John, and it was an awesome souvenir! John spoke about five languages, and was extremely nice

Memory

We got a copy of Cologne Memory as the perfume museum, and played it in a park (Andrea smoked all of us… dang, she has a good memory)

Metro

In our Metro stop… the guy on the left is not amused at the tourists taking photos of him 😉

A kiss in front of the love locks (Notre Dame in the back on the right)

A kiss in front of the love locks (Notre Dame in the back on the right)

You can see more of my favorite photos from the trip in this Flickr album. Enjoy!

And for those who want a price breakdown, here it is:

  1. Airfare for two during high season: $3,150
  2. Daily average expenses for food, tickets, etc.: $90 or $1,260 total (my mom paid for groceries in Paris and friends fed us well in Germany)
  3. Staying with friends in Germany: $0
  4. Staying in an apartment in Paris, my mom insisted on paying for all of us: $0
  5. Total trip cost: around $4,500

Advertisements