Saturday, July 3, 2010

Europe Trip--an Overview

In this post I shall share my experiences with those who intend to visit Europe. This might help you to decide whether you would prefer to join a tour group or go on your own.First, the budget.For my family of four, we spent RM32,000, all in, including shopping. Minus the shopping, which can vary, the cost per person is around RM7500. We visited 7 places across 3 countries for a 16 day trip which includes 13 nights in Europe. Most travel agents will price their tours at RM1000 per day. Don't be misled by the fare advertised. The taxes might come to more than RM1000. And if the tour is ex-KL, you need to add the fare from your place to KL. And check out the meals. You may have to spend quite a sum on food if not all meals are covered. I was told you may be asked to pay for some "optional" tours when you are there. So all in, the expenditure for traveling on your own will be about half the amount you spend on an organized tour. Before you decide to go on your own, better read on to find out more. You might change your mind after reading this.Next, the ScheduleThe best time to visit Europe is in June, early summer. Sunrise is 4 something and sunset is 9 something. 17 hours of daylight. If you are worried about the hot weather, go early summer. The hottest months are July and AugustHowever, it tends to rain quite often during summer, so be prepared. Always carry an umbrella when you go sightseeing. Use the internet to check the temperatures before you decide which month to go.
Next, the planning.You need a lot of planning.
a) Flight tickets: Go to a travel agent and ask for the cheapest fare to and from your destination. You can also do it online. The advantage of booking through an agent is that you don't have to pay the fare until about one month before departure. But you check the price online to make sure you are getting a better deal from the travel agent. Our SIA return flight was RM3400 per person. Air Asia's normal fare is slightl below but if you add food , baggage, and the flight to KL, SIA was cheaper! (and on top of that we get to travel on Airbus 380 and enjoy excellent on board service) Check also the flight itinerary, you'll need that for detail planning.b) Itinerary: We flew in to London, stayed 3 nightsand took a train to Paris. Two nights in Paris then we took a night train to Rome. Two nights in Rome then off to Pisa for one night.
Next stop Florence, two nights and continue to Venice for one night. Last stop Milan for two nights then fly back.
c) Accomodation.A quad room costs about 12o euros= 30 euros per person per night. This is with bathroom attached. You have to read the reviews first before you book. The best thing is to get ones which are near the railway station so that you can check in your luggage first thing on arrival. Its also better to find a place near the Metro station so that moving around would be easy. There is usually a Metro Station near the Railway Station. For Florence and Pisa, you won't need the metro as you'll be doing a lot of walking. Its better to contact the hostel/hotel or B&B directly to book. You need to provide credit card details but they will only charge you if you cancel less than 3 days before the date of arrival or sometimes only if you don't show up. Usually you just pay them when you are there. The ones I stayed in are all very clean and safe. If you need the names, do drop a line in the message box.
d) Transport.
You have to find out about getting around, the local transport. Also getting to the hotel, tourist sites, airport etc. You can actually do an estimate on how much you will need to spend on local transport. Also find out about about getting from one town to the other. For London to Paris I booked the Eurostar. Paris to Rome I booked through Rail Europe. And for the Italian towns, check out the Trenitalia website. They have 30% discount if you book 14 days in advance.
e) Food
It is quite hard to estimate how much you will need to spend on food. It depends on how much you eat and whether you want to splurge. Sandwiches and pizzas for takeaway will be very cheap. Sit down meals will cost more. But the menu for the average european meal is way too much for us. (Look at this breakfast!)You can share when you order set meals to avoid wastage. Or order each course separately. If in doubt go eat at McDonalds. But then when you are in Europe you would want to taste their local cuisine, wouldn't you? Why go for American food?In Italy go for Tratoria signs..they serve local cuisine. But sometimes you can try Chinese food. It is cheaper than European food. I put a budget of 25 euro per person per day but ended up using half only. And we do eat sitting down! In Europe if you stand and eat you pay less! Even smartly dressed Europeans will stand and eat. Nothing embarassing about that. At first we didn't quite like the idea especially when we were tired walking. We prefer to sit down and be served.When you sit down there is a cover charge of 1 euro or more per person and there is a 10% service charge.
I hope this has got you interested. If you are, do drop a line in the message box...I'll add more details in the next post...if I can find the time to do so.............

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