How We Traveled Europe on a Budget

I think sometimes we feel kind of weird about talking about how much we spent on things unless it was super cheap.  Like, if someone compliments you on your shirt you could proudly say, "Thanks, it was only $20," but what if it was $125?  Is it still okay to volunteer that information?  I wouldn't know because I've never spent that much on a shirt, but I have spent that much on jeans.  Now I'm going to tell you how much I spent on my first trip to Europe

When we decided on a European vacation in 2012, I was so nervous about how much it would cost.  I googled "average cost of European vacation" and a few sources said about $2,000 depending on where you go, how long you stay, and accommodation preferences, which didn't tell me much.  I fake booked possible flights and possible hotels for possible dates in possible cities, and the numbers scared me.  I wanted to experience that whole backpacking through Europe kind of thing...minus the backpack...because in general I travel with way too much stuff to make that work.  I wanted to be there for at least two weeks and see as many cities as possible, but how do I do that on a budget?

That's where Carnival Cruise Lines came in.

1 round trip ticket:  San Diego to Europe:  $1,026
1 one way ticket:  Barcelona to Paris $126
Total:  $1,152

1 ticket Thalys High Speed Paris to Amsterdam: $100
1 ticket CNL overnight train Amsterdam to Stuttgart:  $150  (doubled as hotel room that night)
Total: $250

7 nights Carnival Cruise Mediterranean Cruise (Double Occupancy):  $1,172  (total for 2 people!)
     *Ports of call-  SPAIN:  Barcelona, FRANCE: Toulon (Aix En Provence), Cannes, Livorno (Florence & Pisa)
     *ITALY:  Civitavecchia (Rome), Naples.
2 nights Barcelona:  $250  
2 nights Paris: $372
1 night Amsterdam $133
Total (12 nights Lodging for two people):  $1,927

Not included is excursions, food and drink for our non cruise days, and miscellaneous transportation expenses to get from point A to point B via train.  We mostly used trains, but I think there was one or two taxi's involved.  MJ is excellent at navigation so we didn't have to do a lot of the shore excursions which can be pricey.  We only did one, and it was because of a transportation strike on our Pisa and Italy day.  So the cost for one person (assuming hotel is split down the middle) was $1,402 for airfare (flying in from the West Coast)/transportation and $963 for 12 nights of lodging based on double occupancy accommodations for a grand total of $2,365.55 all in.  I know it sounds terribly expensive when you lay it out there like that, but the average cost per night for 13 nights lodging was $158 and we got to experience so much.  I still can't believe how much bang for our buck we got out of that cruise.
Carnival Cruise Ship
So this is how our trip went.  I flew from San Diego to Barcelona, MJ flew from Stuttgart to Barcelona (at a cost of $160 one way) and we met up at the airport.  We spent one night in Barcelona in a cheapie (but very clean and nice) hotel near the airport.  We spent seven nights on the cruise traveling from Spain, to France, to Italy, and then back to Spain.  The ship returns early so we had the day to explore Barcelona and spend one more night there, before hopping on an airplane to Paris for two nights.  We took a train from Paris to Amsterdam where we spent one night, and then an overnight train from Paris to Stuttgart.  We had to fly home out of Stuttgart because MJ was already there for work and that is where his round trip ticket originated from.  I suppose I could have left him in Amsterdam, but nope, I wanted to do that last leg on the overnight train with him and then fly home together.

Pisa, Italy

It was a whirlwind.  I'm exhausted just thinking about our crazy schedule.  It was insane.  Up early every day to make the most of the day before having to get back to the ship, then to bed as late as possible because we wanted to enjoy every minute that we could of our experience.  We felt it was in our best interest to make the most of the time we were over there, so we added Paris and Amsterdam after the cruise.  Yes, that meant more money, but the way I see it when it costs a cool G to get somewhere I want to stay there as long as I possibly can.  When we traveled on our own after the cruise we didn't have to be back at the ship at a certain time and it was nice to have a little bit more time to meander the last four nights before catching the overnight train to Stuttgart.  It was basically a quick hits tour of Europe.  We didn't have time to just be in most of our destinations, but I loved that trip so much, and as go, go, go as it was I have no regrets about doing it that way.  We were able to visit four countries (not counting Germany because I only saw the train station and the airport) and ten cities.  Food for most of the trip was taken care of.

Amsterdam, Netherlands
Do I want to travel that way again?  Maybe.  Preferably a cruise with less involved ports of call like the islands of Bermuda or the Bahamas.  The kind of places where you want to sit at the beach all day or explore a small village.  However, if you are trying to get to Europe and you need to do it on a budget I would still recommend a cruise.  It was a wonderful experience and a wonderful way to see a lot of Europe, but it did get me craving the experience of spending more time in those places.  I already knew I wanted to go back to Rome because Rome wasn't built in a day and we found out very quickly that it can't be fully explored in one either.  I knew I'd want to go back to Paris because Paris in October can be chilly and rainy.  We didn't have time for the Palace of Versailles, or the opportunity to bask in the glory that is the Eiffel Tower as much as I wanted to.  It's a huge city and I want to see more.  We got our second chance at Rome, over Thanksgiving and we will be going back to Paris.

Our biggest family vacation was Ensenada, Mexico.  We visited family in Michigan and Northern California.  We didn't fly anywhere, and now that I'm older I know why.  It's damn expensive to fly a family anywhere, let alone pay for accommodations.  Families who can still afford to travel are very fortunate.

As an adult my first vacations consisted of road trips to Las Vegas.  Then short cruises, often including my own city as a port of call!  My older sister and I did two of those together, and it was great.  Time away is time away, and we had fun together.  My next biggest vacation was a 7 day cruise in the Caribbean.  I was attracted to the one stop shop package deal that even allows you to book in advance and make payments.  It was a good way for me to dip my toes into traveling without having to spend too much.  I was that person who would travel to Las Vegas, but eat Subway and Panda Express while I was there to save money.  I'm the one who insisted we eat as many meals as possible on ship.  My husband is a heck of a lot more liberal than I when it comes to spending on vacation.  I've had to come a little more towards his side because he is not about nickel and diming his way through a vacation.  

Our Oahu honeymoon in 2010  was my first non road trip non cruise vacation after a very long vacation drought, and I've been hooked ever since.  Every vacation since is right here on this blog and it brings me so much joy to go back and read the posts.  I must have a vacation planned at all times, and I've been lucky enough for that to be the case pretty consistently since then.  There was that stretch of time after our second time to Oahu last October when I had nothing planned.  I went to Germany last minute for Thanksgiving, and when I came back there was another lull in the vacation planning.  Everything was up in the air with MJ being out of the country for the year, but  I am knee deep in vacation planning mode and will finally get to check that one place off my bucket list I've been dreaming of for a while.  I have something to live for again!! Only partly joking, because when I'm in that day to day grind of work, eat, sleep, having a vacation to look forward to means a lot.

Paris, France
After last years girls trip to Vegas, some of my friends were saying that we should plan a trip someplace further.  Some place international.  I didn't say no, but I never agreed, and eventually I had to say that I'm not available to do those kinds of trips.  I felt a little bad, but the thing is, my husband and I love to travel.  I can't commit to taking trips with them, because I don't have the time or the resources to do it all.  I wish I did! I would be agreeable to a cruise or some other shorter domestic trip, but my husband is my ultimate travel partner and I really want to experience those places with him.  I'm the only married woman in the group, but I think they understand.

If you don't enjoy traveling.  Congratulations! You are saving money.  But if you do, then figure out a way to get out there and see the world.  White sand beaches, turquoise waters, lush rain forests, grand cathedrals, cobblestone streets....there is so much beauty to be discovered and I can't seem to get enough.  I don't even even want to know the grand total of what we've spent on our vacations.  I also don't really care that much.  I care, because I'm wired to be frugal, but I also don't care because it was worth every penny. 

Europe:  4 Countries, 10 Cities, 15 Days

The Cost of Vegas  


Nylse Esahc said...

I get this - I'm wired to be frugal/cheap but there are some things that can't be done as frugally as I'd like and travel is one of them. If I have the money to spend, I spend it on travel.

PS I wonder if this is the reason, we haven't been able to make our girls' trips happen? We've talked about it for years but maybe our husbands are our best travel partners...hmmmm

Toni :O) said...

I'm all about having the next vacation to look forward to. It gets me excited to make plans like that. Otherwise the day to day job obligations can drag you down. Next year are two vacations, one to Disney with my kids and one on one with my man to a beach for our 25th wedding anniversary. My man and I have never been away for a week together (only long weekends) in 19 years. It's time to change that.

Laura Darling said...

Can I just put in a plug for Bermuda? You HAVE to go there. It is the most amazing place. Matt's uncle lives there and so he's been a bunch of times. We went together a few years ago, and since then we've gone to Punta Cana and Riviera Maya and they were lovely but paled in comparison to Bermuda!

I loved reading this breakdown of how much things cost and the analysis. We've never done a cruise but might have to consider it. Just tonight at dinner we were discussing renewing our passports because they're just about to expire and we both have an itch to travel!!

Faith said...

I love the way you broke this down! Very detailed and can't believe how you remember!

But yes, travel is completely worth the cost. I'll choose the cost of experiencing a new place any day!

And it's true, when you work a full time job having a trip to look forward to is satisfying.

Catherine Gacad said...

You can either travel, spend money on therapy, or have a nervous breakdown. I opt for the first two, but I would much rather vacation no matter how expensive! We are currently in Lake Tahoe for 6 nights and I spent over $2K on lodging alone. Yes I feel guilty, but it was worth the splurge and I have worked so hard this year and haven't had a family vacation in a year. Plus we're all more interesting bloggers when we have interesting things to write about!

Carly Blogs Here said...

I love how you broke everything down in this post! You definitely got a great deal for how much you did/saw on your trip. My husband sounds similar to yours with vacationing and wanting to make the most of it, where I'm more budget conscious usually! Did you end up picking where you're going to go next?

Rachel ¦¦ A Nesting Nomad said...

I am a new convert to cruises being a great way to travel on a budget. They do work out extremely cost effective, and I think they'd be great somewhere like the Med where you can see a lot in a short time. Jam packed, yes, but very efficient!

We spend a lot on travel too, and I don't regret a penny of it. It's not just the places you see but what they teach you, how they make you feel, how they become part of you.

And I highly recommend a return trip to Paris, if you can. I love that city. I spent weekends just walking around it, not even going to museums etc - it's just so pretty!