Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Europe trip recap

If you're reading this blog and you feel like you've been whiplashed from Italy to Britain to some weird industry event called Seatrade -- well, you have. Due to jetlag, I failed to explain that soon as I landed in Miami I headed right over to Seatrade, an annual industry convention.

And now, I'm back in my office at 1 Herald Plaza, the yellow egg-crate overlooking Biscayne Bay (though not in my personal office, which overlooks the legal and education reporters), busily cranking out a story on Vatican City for Easter and finishing up my tallies for the Europe trip.

Herewith, the final tally. For more details on traveling to Europe this fall, check out Sunday's Miami Herald in print or online. (Hey, it looks snazzier in print, I'm telling you.)

Our report:


    If you're going to Europe this year, travel off-season.

    That was the lesson from my recent trip to Italy and England. Even at a time when the dollar has hit new lows against the euro … ités now trading at $1.53 per euro … prices are manageable if you travel out of season, eat modestly and resist the urge to splurge too often.

    Just what months count as "off-season" may vary according to your destination. But you can be sure that wherever you're going, you'll get cheaper prices if you travel before May 1 and after Sept. 30.

    In Rome, for example, we snagged a clean, convenient hotel room for $115 in February … a price that went up about $20 on March 1. Far from the city, in the southern region of Puglia, the cost for a comfortable room in a B&B was about $75. All had private baths.


    Food-wise, we looked for clean, local restaurants, opting for those with a touch of style but without too many flourishes. Menus posted out front helped us determine costs before we walked in. We resisted the temptation to order everything on the menu and instead opted for a single dish per person, sometimes splitting both an antipasto and a pasta. That proved enough food unless we were ravenous … and cost as little as 15 euros in the countryside and 25 euros in Rome, including a glass of wine and a bottle of water. (Note that bread and "cover" cost extra, as will bottled water; eau de tap simply isn't offered.)

    The same was true in England. London brought big prices; the smaller towns of the south were considerably cheaper. A night in a Winchester motel cost about $120; in London, it was $175 and up.

    In both countries, the stiffest costs were for the rental car. Including taxes and insurance, we averaged about $45 per day for the rental in Italy, slightly less in England. Gas was the real wonker; the day we drove from Rome to Puglia, about 325 miles, we used about $130 worth of gas. The trip average: $85 per day for gas and car rental.

    City museum fees cost 10-15 euros per entry … or $15-$23. In the countryside, museums were often free or cost only $3-$5.

    In Rome, our average cost per person per day, based on double occupancy, averaged out to about $110. In the countryside, where both food and lodging were cheaper, the cost was about the same, even when we added in the rental car (stick, of course) and gas. Costs were similar in
    England.

    Of course, none of these totals includes shopping. You may have a hard time resisting, especially in Italy. But at these prices, you might think twice before you scoop up that giant ceramic platter. You can't carry it on board, anyway.

    A few lessons from the road:

  • Hotels are cheapest when booked through websites like Hotels.com, Venere.com and Lastminute.com. Prices are prepaid, so we were protected when the dollar dropped during the trip. (When we e-mailed the hotels directly for rate quotes, we found them more expensive than booking with the above sites.)

  • City passes that include public transportation and some museum entries can save money … but they don't always. Think realistically about what youére likely to do before you buy the pass.

  • In cities, public transportation is far cheaper than a taxi. Most cities offer day passes that include both metro and buses. (In Rome, youéll pay about $6; in London, about $7.)

  • Train tickets are often expensive, and even with the price of gas, if youére
    traveling tandem, you may be better off renting a car for that jaunt into the countryside than taking the train.

  • Car rental generally is cheaper when you prepay via a discount car rental site … but not always. It pays to shop around on the Internet.

  • Lodging and food are both considerably cheaper in the countryside than in cities like Rome and London. But you can snag good-quality meals in big cities if you eat your big meal at lunch and avoid the temptation to go gourmet.

  • Small things can add up. When the dollar is trading at $1.53 to the euro, that ice cream costs $2.50, the espresso $3 and parking $4.50. Don't even consider a latte.

    The really good news: Even at the current exchange rates, some things are a bargain. In Italy, good-quality local wines averaged $4.50 for a lusty glass of house red. When you figure a glass of wine in Miami costs $8-15, you might as well keep sipping. It will take the edge off your credit card bill.

1 comment:

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