Planning a Trip to Europe, Part 4: Food

img_5449

As I mentioned in my post about travel budgeting, I consider us to be “fat budget” travelers — we keep a close eye on our costs, but spend money where it counts. I think food is an area where you can strategically cut significant costs, and still have a grand time. Skeptical? Here’s what we do. (What don’t I do? Take good pictures of my food. I’m either A) too sheepish to do it well inside a restaurant or B) too busy actually eating to remember to take a picture! Usually B, my friends, usually B.)

Maybe it’s because I like to cook, and find foreign grocery stores fascinating to browse anyway, but food abroad, in my opinion, is not typically any more expensive than food in the States. If you’re staying in a place with a kitchen  you can economize in small ways that add up big. (Notable exceptions are Iceland and Switzerland, which I’ve heard are both very expensive places to eat!) Restaurants may look more expensive when you first sit down to eat, but bear in mind that the price listed is what you pay, period, zero — tax and tip are already figured into the price. So, let’s say the lunch menu is 15€, and you think “This would only be $10 at home!”, remember that back home you’d pay close to another $3 in tax and tip, bringing your total to $13. Suddenly it’s a lot more comparable, right?

melissa-iphone-september-2015-281.jpg
Chocolat chaud in Paris. Le sigh.

We have one basic method for our meals that saves money and sanity: every day we eat one sit-down restaurant meal, one picnic, and one meal at our lodgings. How this method plays out varies slightly depending on how small the children with us are and what we’re planning on doing. Our first variation is to make a yogurts/eggs/milk/coffee run from the local grocery when we first arrive, and supplement that with something from a bakery every morning for breakfast at the house (hey, that’s experiencing local culture– it’s educational!). We’ll then eat a picnic/bakery sandwich lunch, and end the day with a sit-down dinner when we’re all tired out. Sometimes we’ll switch lunch and dinner; restaurant for lunch, picnic/take-out for dinner. There are pastry/gelato snacks in between, obvs. France is made for “pique-niquing”; all boulangeries have sandwiches ready-made, so you can pick up your lunch at the same time as your breakfast pastry and be set until dinner. This eating schedule works well with older children or no children (or babies tiny enough to not care!).

img_5448
In my humble opinion, the overrated Sacher-torte — other Viennese pastries were much tastier.

If you have toddlers, I highly recommend the beautifully explained rhythm of starting your day with a bang — either an early start with breakfast at home, or a big, eat-out breakfast. (Especially nice when the city is known for its brunches. Oh Prague.) Then do a picnic sort of lunch (or a sit-down lunch if breakfast was at the house), and finish with an early night in to put kids to bed. For dinner, either cook an easy meal or do take-out. (Did I mention that pastry/gelato/coffee stops are also sprinkled in liberally throughout the day? Don’t they say an army travels on its stomach? We do.) We’ve found that this early-to-rise-early-to-bed plan capitalizes well on children’s natural rhythms and keeps everyone happier.

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset
French pastries in Metz

When planning our trip in advance, I keep a running list of all the markets/cafes/bakeries/restaurants we want to try, and group them by neighborhood/planned activity as much as possible. The night before we head out we check that we have a list of possibilities for maximum flexibility and preparedness (this does sometimes happens the day before…). We have previously mentioned our love of Rick Steves’ books, but we have found his restaurant recommendations to be inconsistent. (Nobody’s perfect, right?) We can always rely on him pointing us to something to eat nearby, but sometimes those somethings have been amazing, and sometimes they’ve left us feeling we could have done better choosing blindly. So we cross-reference when possible! We still wing it sometimes, but definitely prefer having known solid options near where we’re going.

Processed with VSCO with 6 preset
Sampling local cuisine

If you don’t have options researched, this article has some sound strategies for finding good restaurants on the fly. Wikitravel will have restaurant recommendations; when heading to a large city, read the wikitravel article on the neighborhood you’ll be staying in. (Look! The Marais in Paris!) This is handy for countries that lack our favorite guidebooks, too. Also, if you’re staying locally, don’t forget to ask your hosts for recommendations, and don’t be shy about asking strangers for recommendations too. (No, don’t flag down random people, but do strike up conversations with docents and shopkeepers. It has stood us in delicious stead.)

IMG_3140
A memorable pastry stop, recommended by a kind lady tending a table in a cathedral.

As mentioned earlier, we picnic daily; this usually involves exploring local markets and grocery stores. The experience of shopping for food in a foreign country (and language!) is almost always simultaneously exhilarating, fascinating, bewildering, and humbling. It’s a cultural experience in a way eating in a restaurant isn’t. (They keep the eggs where?!) In addition to being an adventure, it keeps our extra food expenses down to one restaurant meal a day. (Well, plus the coffee and pastries, but those aren’t going anywhere.) To me, not eating out lots while traveling doesn’t feel like deprivation; our other meals are so full of the delicious local food that they’re just as much of a treat, just one that happens to be much more economical. (Cheeses! Fresh fruits from the markets! Breads and pastries! Yogurts!)

IMG_3631
Nutelle crêpe beneath the Eiffel Tower

Other helpful food tips in no particular order:

  • Always carry a snack in your bag for children who get hangry and begin to melt down before a meal is imminent! (Also for adults to whom this may happen. We name no names.) Food isn’t always close at hand when we want it to be.
  • Unless you’re in France, anticipate the likelihood of paying for water at dinner, and do most of your hydrating in advance with refilled water bottles. I don’t like spending 5-10€ at a meal just to slake my thirst…
  • The larger your group, or the busier the city, the more reservations I suggest making (you can call on wifi for pennies using Skype, or stop by the restaurant earlier in the day if you’re in the area). Many restaurants are cozy, and not well-prepared to handle even 6 people walking in suddenly. If you’re making a special trip to a particular restaurant, it never hurts to call ahead.
  • Don’t buy groceries you can’t transport or eat — it winds up not saving you money after all. Who, me, get carried away in an aisle of new foods?
  • But do explore those stores and eat adventurously!

Are you hungry for some European treats yet? Next part of the series I’ll talk about how I pack and what I’ve learned not to worry about when packing.

Curious as to what we’ve talked about before? Here is Part 1: Budget, Part 2: Choosing a Destination/Buying Tickets, and Part 3: Accommodations/Trip Pacing.

 

 

Homemade Pasta

Homemade Pasta

I can still remember the first time I tasted homemade pasta. We were visiting North Carolina and were told we just had to try this Italian restaurant called 411 in Chapel Hill. What was the secret to their amazing food? “They make their own pasta.” Six years went by and we found ourselves in Cinque Terre enjoying a multi-course meal at an agriturismo. (As one does.. ;-))  The star of the show for me was the first course – a vegetable lasagna with a béchamel sauce. We still talk about that meal as one of the best we’ve ever had in Italy. These amazing dishes were special occasions though. Not something you could recreate regularly at home.. or could you?

We began making our own pasta last year. I had an Amazon gift card burning a hole in my pocket, and we were already so far down the foodie rabbit hole. Why not give pasta making a try? I knew the results would be delicious, but I’ve been surprised at how easy it is to make. Even when I’ve added a little too much or too little water to the dough, the end result has still tasted amazing!

680x1280
One | Two | Three | Four

Wondering what you need to get started? You’ll want to have a pasta maker like our Atlas or the pasta making attachment for your KitchenAid. Accessories we’ve found are nice to have include a flour shaker, a dough scraper, and a wooden rack to hang your noodles on prior to cooking.

IMG_5553

On to the pasta making! We use the ubiquitous Italian recipe of 1 egg and 100 g of flour per person. Of that flour, we do half all purpose flour and half semolina flour. So, for our family of two adults and three kids, we usually make 6 eggs worth of pasta. (We generally have 2 servings of leftovers for the next day – lunch for the grownups!) First, bring your eggs to room temperature by placing them in a bowl of warm water. Weigh your all purpose and semolina flours and whisk them together. Then, dump them onto the counter and make a well in the center. Crack your eggs into this well.

Whether you use a pastry scraper or just your hands, mix together the eggs and flour. You will probably need to add some water to get it to come together. Try not to use too much though – a dough that’s too wet will require even more flouring as you roll it out with your pasta maker. Conversely, a too-dry dough will be harder to flatten out with your palm and more difficult to feed through your pasta maker. After you’ve worked and kneaded your dough together into a smooth ball, wrap it in plastic wrap and let it rest for at least an hour at room temperature. (Note for those who plan ahead: This first step of the process can be done hours or even a day ahead if it’s in the refrigerator. If you leave your dough too long, it can turn an unappetizing gray color, though it doesn’t affect the taste. Just something to bear in mind.)

When you’re ready to roll out your dough, divide it into four sections. You’ll work the dough into a rough rectangle (as our toddler is attempting to do in the above picture) and then feed it through on the 0 setting. Your dough needs to be dry and not tacky, so flour each side as needed (usually about every or every other pass through). Feed the dough through once on each setting until you get to the setting your recipe calls for (usually 6 or 7). If you’re making lasagna, your noodles just need to be cut to length (use your lasagna pan as a guide) and cooked. If your recipe calls for spaghetti or fettuccini, you’ll need to cut this long rectangle in half (to keep your noodles from being excessively long) and then feed your rectangle through the appropriate attachment (fettuccini, spaghetti, etc). Repeat this with your remaining three sections of dough.

So easy, your kids can do it!

Next, bring a pot of water to a boil. Salt your water and add your pasta. What type of noodle you’re cooking will determine the cooking time. But generally speaking, 1-3 minutes is going to be about how long it will take to cook. I’m usually standing there taste-testing. 🙂 Next week – two of our favorite pasta sauces! If you’ve got a favorite, link it in the comments below!

Pasta for 2

  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 100 grams all purpose flour
  • 100 grams semolina flour

Whisk both flours together, then make a well in the middle of it, and crack the eggs in. Work the eggs into the flours until it comes together. If necessary, add as little water as possible to help bring it all together. Wrap in plastic and let rest for an hour.

 

 

Planning a Trip to Europe: Part 3, Booking Accommodations and Trip Pacing

IMG_3737.JPG

 

 

Houston, we have a problem…All this imaginary trip planning has done nothing to ease my wanderlust. Nada. In fact, I think it’s made my husband catch the bug, and this may turn into a real trip yet. Ha! (Whenever we do go, I’ll walk you through the planning in real time.) We’ve been saving our money to meet our budget, and have been researching places we want to go. If we were actually going somewhere, I would have tickets in hand before the next step of my planning: plotting how many days we’ll be where, and then booking rooms accordingly. (Don’t you want to know this before you go, you may ask. Well, yes, we have a rough idea of what we’ll be doing, but I wait until I have firm dates to get to the nitty-gritty.)

On to the lists! I am an inveterate list-making, and yes, my lists have lists. Before I book rooms, I write out our must-sees for each stop/city, and research how long it will take to see it all. (Not to be a broken record, but I’ve already mentioned how awesome Rick Steves’ books are for this– I always plan with his book in hand.)  I try to leave some slush time in there for “bits and bobs” of travel, and I also have a list of “nice-to-sees” in case we have extra time– stuff that would be, well, nice to see, but I won’t feel robbed if we don’t get to it this trip. Don’t try to plan your time too tightly; something always takes longer than expected, or you’re especially tired/sick one day, or something goes awry. Expect it to happen, and plan accordingly.

IMG_3386.JPG
Buongiorno our house in Venice! I had to walk around the canal to get the picture, a ten minute walk, ha!

The larger your group and the more children you have, the fewer activities I would recommend planning, and the fewer “must-see” sights I would schedule. Embrace slow adventure. Savor exploring one city thoroughly. Become acquainted with their parks and nearby cafés. Travel is sometimes about immersing yourself in an atmosphere, right? This is an art I am still learning, but one that will stand our trip enjoyment in good stead…Even if you are few in number and nimble to travel, plan a slower day after a really full one. Don’t wear yourself out. One thing I’ve learned is that I enjoy having my museums spaced out — if I see too many museums too close together I stop appreciating them. I need a day of nature/fun/wandering in between to refresh my mental palate. Preferably while using my actual palate…

Where to stay? Before I book any rooms my paranoia kicks in and I write a little chart of where we’ll be when, to make sure I don’t mess up my booking dates and that everything dovetails. We are fans of renting local houses; we feel a little more a part of wherever we’re visiting, we have a kitchen to help cut food costs (up next!), as well sitting areas to chill, and a way to wash clothes. Since we don’t travel with anything larger than a carry-on (For so many reasons! Never regretted it! Packing tips coming soon…), any trip that lasts longer than a week will require some way to do laundry.  Unless we’re there the better part of a week, the first place we stay won’t need to have a washing machine, but our second one will. Within the next week, we’ll need another washing machine, so we book accordingly. So at least one chance to wash clothes a week. There’s nothing like having a way to wash clothes, particularly when traveling with children. Our personal rental go-to has been AirBnb (we are strangers to them, except as consumers), and we will filter rooms/houses by whether or not they have a washing machine. (You can also filter searches for baby gear, such as a pack n’ play. In France it’s called a lit paralpluie.) Heads up, most/many places in Europe will not have a dryer; they provide a drying rack, just plan accordingly in your clothes schedule! I’ve never had a bad experience renting a room; I read the reviews of a place thoroughly and they have steered me well. If you’re planning on using public transportation as your primary means of getting around, look to see if the room is close to a métro/bus stop. If I’m in France, it’s an especially nice perk if there’s a good boulangerie nearby (yes, I look for that too!).

Another personal rule of thumb: the more people you have in your group, the more children with you, the easier and faster commuting should be. Logistics are already complicated enough in those circumstances. Don’t make yourself wrangle a two-year old and/or eight other people out the door on a timetable every day to race to catch a bus or train, or even for a long walk. Not a fun way to start the day. We try to strike the balance of staying close enough in to enjoy the vibe, but not pay a premium. But sometimes it’s worth the premium for the experience and convenience! We did pay some premiums (to us) on our last trip to France for some B&Bs with native hosts and delicious breakfasts and they were worth every penny.

IMG_3261.JPG
“Pique-nique” supper in Amboise — see that castle view out of the window?? The room wasn’t the cheapest available, but was charming and was walking distance to everything in Amboise.

Bottom line: make a list of what things you must see, and plot your days in each location accordingly. Plan for downtime too, and to do laundry once a week. Don’t book rooms too far away in an effort to save money.

Things to see and places to sleep are wonderful, but I travel mostly on my stomach, so next week — planning food!

Coffee culture, at home and abroad

IMG_5398
Coffee in Crete

We’re big into coffee around here. I know, it’s cliché – look at any bio floating around and it’s in there. But we were taken with the stuff enough to devote a sizable chunk of our dining area (and dare I say, budget) to our coffee experience.

We started in earnest when we lived in Alaska – with the bitter cold and daylight not appearing til closer to 11 AM during the winter, there needed to be something to motivate us to get out of bed.

 

 

The weather and latte art in 2012

This propelled us through our time there quite nicely, but when we moved to Germany we sold our machine because it wouldn’t work on the voltage over there. Sad day, but we promised ourselves we’d get another one when we returned to the States, and we might even upgrade our setup.

But being without an espresso machine wasn’t even close to all bad, because we had the world of European coffee to explore! We did a lot of coffee tourism as we went around the continent and had a ton of fun discovering how different countries approach coffee and the culture around it.

IMG_4715

In Germany, Kaffe und Küchen (coffee and cake) is a tradition that is kinda self explanatory.  We had an awesome roaster and cafe about 15 minutes from our house with a courtyard and a play area for the kids. As Kaffe und Küchen is more of a leisurely affair, it was great to send the kids to the sandbox and then enjoy most of our cake before they’d noticed we’d gotten more than just coffee!

IMG_2635
View of the courtyard from the sandbox

Given our coffee fixation, we were thrilled to have the opportunity to go to Italy a few times – ground zero for coffee in Europe.

 

 

La Casa del Caffe Tazza D’Oro in Rome

In Italy it is far more common to take your coffee standing at the bar, so while coffee is cherished, it isn’t usually lingered over. You can get it at a table, but the price usually spikes up about 50% for table service, so I usually just got it at the bar like everyone else. On the plus side, the average Italian takes several coffee breaks a day, so while they don’t spend as much time per break, they take more of them, so it all evens out in the end.

IMG_4336
Barista in Naples

Something to note in Italy is that the coffee gradually changes with the latitude. In Northern Italy, they go for a lighter roast, something most Americans would refer to as a medium roast. As you travel south, it gradually darkens, until you reach Naples, where the coffee is darkly roasted and extra syrupy. I’m a little more partial to the medium stuff, but hey, to each his own!

France has lovely cafes, but the coffee was pretty consistently lackluster. The pastries, on the other hand….

 

 

Clockwise: Prague, Istanbul, and Athens

Czech Republic’s cafe culture was much the same as Germany’s, though “third wave” type of roasters were more common than most places (with the exception of Berlin, which has a thriving 3rd wave coffee scene). We seemed to mostly visit Czech in winter and early spring months, so we’d plot our sightseeing around cafes and warm up 2-3 times a day with coffee and shelter.

We found Istanbul and the Greek areas we visited to present the slowest coffee experience of all. Something about the sun warming you lends itself to longer stays at the coffee shop. Though we did get Ibrik coffee in both areas, I seem to have neglected to take any pictures – shame on me!

I could go on, but most would say I already have 😛 So, suffice to say, we were all the more excited about coffee when we were gearing up to leave, so after much careful research we kept our promise to ourselves for another espresso setup, and did indeed upgrade it upon our return.

IMG_4617
We were out of town when it arrived, and our landlady called us and asked, “are you sure this is all supposed to be here?!?”  Yes. Please don’t send it back – I’ll cry.

We got the machine and have been enjoying it for a few years now, but wanted to take the best from across the spectrum of the coffee scenes we had experienced. So, as recently seen on this blog, we just recently finished building our cafe table to round out our home coffee shop. It’s a blend of everything – the machine and coffee from Italy, the Parisian style, and and the laid back approach found in the Med – and we couldn’t be happier with it!

photo

 

Planning a Trip to Europe: part 2, Choosing a Destination and Buying Tickets

Melissa iPhone September 2015 176.JPG
The view from the castle in Cochem, Germany

Welcome back to planning my would-be trip! Last time we talked turkey about budget figures. Today we talk about the next step of the planning process: how to decide where you’re going and how to get there.

If you’re planning a Europe trip (which thus far, all of ours have been), we often start with Rick Steves’ YouTube Channel just to see what’s out there and what piques our interest, as well as get our daily dose of dad jokes and fashion. (Last night I had the novel experience of watching one of his episodes, only to say, “Cute place, but I’d rather go elsewhere right now.” Never had that happen before, but totally helpful!) Before you decide where you’re going, it also helps to figure out what sort of activities you’d like to do: lots of food? museums? shopping? history? hiking? sitting and doing nothing? How many people are going and how busy/ambitious do you want to be? (Trip pacing coming up next!) Once we’ve figured out a broad outline of what we want to do, we buy a guide book(s) to help us in our initial planning; cities we want to visit, in what order they should be visited, how long we want to stay, and best ways to get there and get around. Again, we are fans of Rick Steves’ books for their practicality and clarity, not to mention suggested itineraries and which airports get you closest to where you want to go (between our families we own Spain, Germany, France, London, Italy, and have borrowed Czech Republic, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Despite all this, Rick has no idea who we are. Yet. Hi, Rick!)

IMG_3679.JPG
Charm on the Appian Way

Once we know where we want to go, time to stalk some flights! (I don’t book any lodging or transportation where I’m going until I have airline tickets in hand.) Getting a great deal on flights seems to me to be key to affordable international travel, especially with a crowd. You will most likely need some flexibility in your dates (and possibly your ideal destination) to get the best deal, but the savings are worth it! Traveling during the so-called “shoulder season” (usually April-May and September-October, depending on the destination) is our vote — everything’s in less demand since it’s not peak season yet, so your money goes further, but the weather is usually lovely, and it’s close enough to peak season for most everything to be open.

We highly recommend Scott’s Cheap Flights for scoring airline deals. (Scott doesn’t know who we are either, but we have a crush on him anyway. Hi, Scott!) It’s an email subscription that notifies you of airline sales (and possibly also mistake fares), with both a free and premium level. The free version is more than enough to trigger serious wanderlust, but for $39 a year the premium version will send you even more deals, and you can filter by airport. (I had to unsubscribe from even the free version because it was killing me to see that I could FLY TO GENEVA ROUND.TRIP. FOR $485. For our next trip I’m definitely buying a premium subscription.)

Melissa iPhone September 2015 117.JPG
The cathedral in Metz, France; this doesn’t even begin to capture how it glowed.

If you don’t live near a major airport, it may require some creativity to score a good deal… or friends near an airport. Consider multiple departure airports to cast your net as wide as possible. What, exactly, constitutes a good deal will vary on where you’re headed and how big the airport you’re leaving from is, but from New Orleans to anywhere in Europe I would consider anything $500 or less a bargain. If you’re flying out of NYC, a great buy can be even significantly less than that. If you’re considering booking two different tickets (say, to a major airport to catch the cheap international flight), be careful! Leave LOTS of time in between flights, so if there’s a delay you don’t miss your next flight. If you book separate legs the airline is under no obligation to you get to your final destination (file that under “lessons learned the hard way”, though it did pan out. After we payed extra money.)

If you have specific dates you need to travel, also check out Google Flights and Momondo, but the more flexible you can be, the better the deal you’re likely to score.

Melissa iPhone September 2015 149.JPG
Just another little corner of Metz.

If you’re traveling with children, you may have a lap infant up to the age of two (there will be taxes/fees involved on an international flight, so they won’t be totally free), and often airlines will give a little reduction in fare for young children (it will apply automatically). Don’t forget to get even the smallest babies a passport! And both parents have to be present when applying unless you have a notarized form for the absent parent.

Narrowing down what I want to see in a trip can be difficult (I want to see AAALL the stuff!), so now that we’ve figured out where we want to go, next up we’ll be talking trip pacing and booking accommodations.

 

 

To Build A Cafe Table

To Build A Cafe Table

 

 

Sometimes it’s little things that bring Europe into your home. Sometimes it’s the not-so-little things. This one is probably the latter.

One thing about Europe – in particular Italy – that we’ve especially enjoyed has been the coffee culture. It’s easy to get reasonably-priced, high-quality coffee pretty much anywhere, with an espresso going for about a €1 and a cappuccino for €1.50-2. I’m not saying I’ve developed an eye twitch on more than one trip there, but I’m not saying I haven’t. Anyway, you get your coffee, then you either stand at a bar and drink it (very Italian), or sit at a table in the cafe and people-watch and hang out while you nurse your coffee (not so Italian, but I like it anyway).

We’ve been enjoying our coffee as espresso-based drinks at home for some time now (more on the coffee culture both in our house and abroad in another post) and have the coffee side of the equation down pat.

IMG_5483

However, we’ve wanted to complete our at home cafe experience for a while now and had been looking for a table that fit the bill for over a year. But alas everything was too big, too small, too expensive… you get the picture. So we decided to build one.

One thing we really wanted was a marble top. However, the thing with marble is that it’s a calcite stone, which in a practical sense means it reacts with everything even slightly acidic – tomatoes, wine, citrus juices, you name it – and will etch, leaving a permanent mark. We decided to go for it anyway, but got the stone in a matte finish rather than polished because it blends and fades the etches more easily.

IMG_5416
Our table top – we went with Carrera marble

So I found a local marble place and ordered the stone top. We went with a bigger table than you usually find at a cafe because we wanted to be able to seat four for coffee at it. After ordering a base online, I bought a piece of plywood to support the top and cut it to a round-ish shape.

IMG_5408
It’s kinda egg-shaped, but hey, it’ll do!

Once the base arrived, I set about assembling the whole thing.

 

 

 

 

With a little help from my boys it was done and where it needed to be in no time!

IMG_5413
Pretty sweet, huh? I almost left it like this, I was that proud of my woodworking skills.

Then with help from Michelle we got the stone top in place.

IMG_5418
Who am I kidding? This looks awesome.

The space still isn’t quite done – the chairs are enroute from Louisiana (don’t ask, long story). Once they arrive this weekend, we’ll post an update with the final result!

Planning a Trip to Europe: Part 1, Budget

IMG_3677
A door of a house off the Appian Way

So, bad news for me, y’all — I have the travel bug like crazy but no trip on the near horizon! The Detroit Crew is planning a trip this year, but our next (hopefully!) planned one isn’t for over a year, so I’m going to console myself with pretending I’m in the middle of planning a trip. Wanna come along? A smooth trip takes a lot of planning time up front, but totally pays off once the trip rolls around. (Plus anticipation is half the fun! Well, ok, maybe not half. But it’s not insignificant.)

First up: budget! We’re all planners and budgeters over here, but for a long time (before my first trip) I didn’t have the slightest clue about how and what to budget for a European trip. It made it feel inaccessible to me because I didn’t know what I was getting into. Maybe I’m looking in the wrong places, but I haven’t seen actual dollar cost broken down a lot. So today I’m going to break down how we travel, ways we economize (and ways we don’t!), and then actual dollar amounts of how much we spend/budget.

General overview of how we travel: we are “fat budget” travelers (yes, totally made that term up). What I mean by that is we are not staying in hostels (mostly. The Detroit crew has done it. The Louisiana Krewe draws the line, ha!), but neither are we staying in fancy hotels. Or usually hotels at all. We go for clean, comfortable, safe, rooms that are reasonably close to what we’re doing but may be a little basic. We eat out some, but not every meal. We only do one sit-down meal a day (more on that later), but if we’re in Italy we don’t skimp on gelato, and when in France we don’t pass up a patisserie. Ever. We are flexible and shop for a great deal on flights, but may sacrifice some convenience. It’s a constant balance. Bottom line is we try to spend our money on things that really matter to us, so it goes further!

IMG_3782.JPG
Monterosso, Cinque Terre

General ways we economize: it’s way cheaper to split lodging with other family or friends, even if you have to get bigger rooms because of it. So we try to travel together. Usually planning ahead for trains and other transportation results in cheaper tickets too. I’ve already mentioned eating on the cheap. Flexibility in travel times helps too (also more to come, but the more kids I’m traveling with the more I’m willing to pay for good travel times…sanity, people, sanity.).

Ok, so time to talk turkey! Our last trip to France, for two adults, a child, and a baby, cost about $3500 for two weeks. It’s a rough number because we were splitting some lodging and transportation costs with my father, but I added up receipts and it’s close to accurate. We got a deal for airline tickets, and with a some flexibility (i.e. less than ideal flight times) paid $1,750ish for the four of us to fly to Paris. (3 x $500 each, plus another $150ish for fees for the baby, plus a hotel on the way back to catch a flight the next day. Even lap babies aren’t totally free on an international flight.) We then paid just over $400 to rent a car for 10 days, plus gas and tolls; train tickets may be cheaper or comparable, depending where you’re going. Lodging was the second largest expense. We paid an average of $130 a night (keep in mind some of this was the total cost for 3 adults and 2 children). This will vary too, of course, depending on how big a city it is and how close in you are. (More on this to come also.) Food and tickets made up the rest of our budget. (If you’re doing the math, yes, I know it’s not adding up. We split some of the traveling and lodging costs with my father and I don’t have that amount written down any more! Sorry…)

IMG_3639
Near the Appian Way Again

In our experience thus far, bringing small children along for the trip doesn’t add a great deal more expense (other than the plane tickets). A couple doing “fat budget” could totally get by on $3,000 for a couple of weeks, especially if traveling with another couple. A family of say, 5, should be able to get by on about $5,000-$6000 for food, transportation, and lodging. Activities would probably be additional (not including that in the budget because it varies so wildly from city to city and person to person.) Plus, in my book, if you’re taking a two week trip, you can take half your regular monthly food and transportation budget and apply it to the trip for “free”, because you’d be spending that at home anyway. Generally speaking, whatever you’d spend on a trip in the States is what you’ll spend in Europe; only the plane tickets are more. Plan your personal spending preferences accordingly.

IMG_3629

There are so so many variables when it comes to budget, and I’ll be breaking it down a little more in future posts as well as we talk about each step in the process, but there’s a starting point. Anybody else care to share some budget thoughts? Anything  else in particular you’d like to see covered?

Next up– picking destinations and booking flights!