There I said it.
Period. End of story.
I am that dorky tourist leaning on the Eiffel Tower. And I completely
plan on taking a picture of me "holding up" the Tower of Pisa.
My first experience in Europe was in 1997 when I was on a summer missions trip to Russia. Although that was a great, life changing trip, it left something to be desired. A lot to be desired.
In 2009, my husband and I went to Paris for our 10th wedding anniversary. It was BEAUTIFUL. Yes the Metro was dirty. (and smelled like pee in places) Yes. It was crowded. Yes. It was expensive considering the devaluing Dollar. But it was Paris.
I remember the morning we arrived. We took the train into the city, checked into our hotel, and immediately jumped on the Metro to Isle de la Cite. We came up out of the Metro and I stood there looking at Notre Dame thinking, "I can't believe I'm really here!" All the months of planning and saving came down to that very moment. And I was in love.
This weekend I mentioned that my husband and I are planning a trip to Europe this summer. Woo-Hoo! Before our trip to Paris, I began planning our 2nd trip to Europe.
I'm sick. I know.
During the winter of '08-'09 I began planning our trip to Paris. I knew where we wanted to go and I knew the approximate dates. (mid-late June) It all came down airfare. And anyone who has travelled to Europe knows that airfare is the biggest cost of your trip. I finally decided that Delta had the best rates at the time so I opened up a Visa/Skymiles account through US Bank. They were running a promotional 25,000 skymiles award with a new account.
I DO NOT LIKE CREDIT CARDS. I don't believe paying for your vacation on credit is really taking a vacation. I like to pay CASH for vacations. When I opened the Visa accounts, I had cash in the bank for the vacation. I paid for my airfare with the Visa and IMMEDIATELY paid it off.
So back to the story... At that time we had a total of 25,000 skymiles. But within a month of having the Visa I received a letter from US Bank stating that they were no longer partnering with Delta and that if I wanted a Delta Skymiles Credit Card, I would have to sign up for an American Express card. Great. So I cancelled the Visa and checked into the American Express card. They were running a similar promotion of 25,000 skymiles for new accounts. So this time I opened two. One for me. One for the husband. By now we had a total of 75,000 miles.
By now it was getting close to our trip to Paris. We were reserving our hotel rooms with the card and earning double miles. We purchased train tickets to Loire Valley and to London with the card, meanwhile paying it off every month. During this time, Delta ran another promotion. If you were travelling to Paris through Minneapolis/St.Paul airport, you could earn an extra 2000 miles each way. Hello! We each earned just under 10,000 miles with the trip itself, plus the extra 4,000 a piece. By the time we came back from Paris we had over 100,000 skymiles! Add onto that total the amount that we had earned from making all of our reservations, we almost had enough skymiles for 2 "low" rate tickets to Europe. I paid $75 to transfer miles from my skymiles account to my husbands, which Delta doubled giving us a total of 122,000 miles.
Its important to note that once we reached our goal, we have cancelled the credit cards. We still have our skymiles accounts, but are paying for our new trip with cash.
Like I said before, getting to Europe is not cheap. However, once you are there how much you spend is really up to you. You can stay at 4-5 star hotels, eat at swanky restaurants and easily spend $10,000 in a week. Or you can stay at hostels, eat from street vendors and spend significantly less. I'm not rich enough to stay at the Ritz and I'm too scared to stay at a hostel, so I guess that puts me somewhere in the middle.
Now comes the fun part...I knew that if I could just get to Europe for under 122,000 skymiles, I could get practically anywhere I wanted to go for pretty cheap. And keep in mind that airfare for under 122,000 skymiles during the summer months is nearly impossible. After checking out the fares to the most popular cities, (Paris, London, Rome) I began looking at smaller cities (Zurich, Berlin, Brussels). Finally I found it! "Low" rate tickets from Ohio to Brussels, Belgium for 60,000/pp/round trip +$59 tax, in June! I can get anywhere from Brussels. Hop on the Eurostar to London or Paris. Take a cruise to Scandinavia. Drive to Germany. Or just fly to another destination.
And we have chosen to fly to Italy. We are not leaving the airport in Brussels. We are getting on a 2 hour flight to Rome. I just checked on Orbitz while writing this and they offer roundtrip airfare from Brussels (BRU) to Rome(FCO) for $8! Granted, you have to pay $66 in taxes for a total of $74, but that is much cheaper and much faster than going by train. So far my total out of pocket costs for this trip is $341. Woo-Hoo!
Here's where I need your help. Our vacation is 2 weeks long. We have already decided that we want to spend the first week in Italy (Rome, Amalfi Coast, Florence/Pisa and possibly Venice). We have to decide what to do for the 2nd week. Here are the options we are considering:
1) Stay in Italy. I'm sure there is plenty to do...
2) Take a cruise to Greece and Turkey. Expensive, but we don't have to worry about getting to each destination.
3) Go back to France. Maybe see the French Riviera and make our way back to Paris before heading back to Brussels.
4) From Rome just start heading north through Italy into Austria and through Germany on our way to Brussels.
Please help me decide!!!