Way back in this post, I mentioned Europe and our intention to travel there to celebrate our 5th wedding anniversary — we bought plane tickets and everything. Originally, our plan was to fly into Germany and do a loop of the Bavarian region of Germany. Next, heading south to Venice, cutting across to Slovenia, meandering back up through Austria, and finally flying back out of Germany.
One problem: flights out of Montana trend pricier because we’re not a major hub. I thought I could outsmart the system. So I bought a round-tripper from Denver to Munich. Only $655 per person! Trips from here to Denver typically run cheap, I remembered, so this will be great.
Trips through Denver to other locations run cheap. Direct flights do not. On top of this, making sure the flight itineraries lined up became an issue. However, I found an early morning flight that would get us into Denver well before our flight straight to Munich left. No sweat. 5 months later, I received an email. It was from our friends at American Airlines informing us our flight out of Denver now left six hours earlier!
We could not make that flight without flying into Denver the night before, getting a place to stay, etc. which would really balloon our costs. This wasn’t cool. If I cancelled the tickets, we’d most likely be on the hook. So what did I do? I started Googling the shit out of the internet. Guess what! American Airlines, like all airlines, has a little manifesto called a “contract of carriage.” In this contract, it states that if a flight is changed by more than four hours, you’re entitled to a full refund. Huzzah.
So I called up American Airlines and told them the situation and how I wanted to cancel the tickets. The spokeswoman informed me that if I cancelled the tickets, I would get a credit for half the cost and could use to book another flight.
I thought “what?”
So I told her “in your contract of carriage it states that if a flight schedule is changed more than fou…”
She quickly cut me off “oh. Let me transfer you to another representative who can help you get your full refund.”
She knew. They probably don’t expect the average Joe digging into their insane contract of carriage but I am no average Joe! I have way too much time on my hands, lady! So I received the full refund.
However, since five months had passed, the original flight had gone up considerably in price. Undeterred, I thought “we can go anywhere in Europe and it will rock.” Turns out, flights to London are cheap. Mrs. Fi gallivanted around the UK already, but I thought as a landing spot, we could do worse.
Europe, Take Two
Though we wanted to visit Scotland, we decided that was a trip of its own. Our new itinerary of Europe included England, Holland, and Belgium. History! Canals! Tulips! Beer! Chocolate! Fries! We embarked the last week of April. After flying out of Montana, we took a direct flight of Salt Lake City-London. 12 hours overnight. I read so much on coping with jet lag. I planned getting 5-6 hours on the flight and arrive raring to go.
I slept maybe 45 minutes. Not even out of excitement. It’s just insanely uncomfortable trying to sleep on a plane. I have long legs and planes consider the ideal passenger be 5’3″. There was a baby two rows behind us who cried intermittently. I packed ear plugs, travel pillow, and a sleeping mask. Did not help. I do struggle with some anxiety issues and this flight just exacerbated them. Upon arrival, I was nearly full on panic attack. I excused myself to a bathroom after landing and when I finally calmed down and came out, poor Mrs. Fi was the only passenger on the plane.
We hauled our luggage off the plane and started our trek to security. I stopped several times to rest because Heathrow is a nightmare of hallways that feel like miles when you’ve been awake for 26 hours. Mrs. Fi’s patience wore thin. We finally made it through security, found the terminal with the trains and headed into the city. Thus began our three-week adventure in Europe.
So what did it all cost? That’s what you came for, after all. Let’s get to it! But first, some disclaimers.
This trip was in celebration of our 5th wedding anniversary. Thus, while we are budget conscious people, we intended to indulge more in comfort than would be typical of us.
Second, we used credit card points, AirBnB referral discounts and other means to cut down our spending. So I’ll try my best to highlight those savings but I may forget here and there where we found discounts. So if you tried to duplicate our trip, it probably wouldn’t cost the same.
The first number is the budgeted amount and the second number is the actual amount!
Plane Tickets $1,300/$1,178
Since our original flight to Germany cost more, we anticipated spending more. Upon booking our flight to London, not only did it cost less, but we racked up more credit card points in the five month gap on our Capital One Venture card knocking $637 off the total cost. Cool! Note: we used Google Flights to look for our flights. I haven’t found a better site, honestly.
Flight Insurance $100/$132
Typically, we eschew flight insurance domestically but on international flights, we’re not taking that risk. The original cost of $95 went up to $132 after changing our flight itinerary. This is because the ticket now included flying out of Montana instead of just Denver.
We looked at everything. Hostels, VRBO, AirBnB, hotels, regular BnB’s and consistently AirBnB beat them all in cost and amenities. We wanted private rooms/bathrooms. It’s not super romantic sharing a room with 6 strangers. Maybe that’s just us. We did book an entire flat in Amsterdam through VRBO. However, the 2nd day in London I received an email from the owner stating the reservation was cancelled because she sold it. Knowing she was actively looking to sell her flat would’ve been good information to know before we booked.
Scrambling, we couldn’t find anything remotely affordable and private in Amsterdam on such short notice. So we booked a room at the Ambassador City Hotel in Haarlem. Haarlem is 15 minutes away from Amsterdam by train and the cost, while higher than our original booking, was reasonable enough.
This is part of the discrepancy in our budget vs. what our real cost was. Part of it was also due to the fluctuation of the Pound and Euro. It really worked out for us though. We loved Haarlem and it was a great location to get to Amsterdam, Keukenhof Gardens, and Zaanse Schans.
Budgeting for this was a shot in the dark. We intended to use Europe’s exceptional public transportation system and didn’t use a taxi or Uber once while there. We also walked a ton (around 7-10 miles per day). And we rode bikes in three different cities. A great way to get around the compact towns of Europe. Still, trains, buses, and a boat trip across the English channel add up in cost. We used the Oyster Card in London (a must) but bought separate train and bus tickets in Holland. They have something like the Oyster Card but it’s costlier and we didn’t travel intercity as much so it was unnecessary.
In Gent, we bought a city pass which included 48 hours (we were there 2 1/2 days) of unlimited bus and tram rides. Awesome deal. Probably the only city card worth getting for us. The London and Amsterdam passes are hella expensive unless you are spending 10+ days in each place. You can’t possibly see all the stuff it gives you access to!
Oh god. The food. So much and so good.
Did we whiff on some selections? Yes. But overall, top-notch. These countries probably aren’t known for their cuisine but there’s so much migration of cultures in Europe you can find great authentic food everywhere. I will also say this: I dig the traditional English breakfast. Their bangers are the weirdest texture but I liked them.
Mrs. Fi and I debate which meal was best. The little French place in Cambridge? The Tapas Bar in London? Maybe Soup’r in Gent? But hands down the worst was this vegan restaurant in Bruges. I mean, A+ on presentation but it was gross. Disappointing since we really enjoyed a vegan buffet at a little place in London. I’m not going to name the restaurant. The server was incredibly kind. This was just not our cup of tea. They also snuck in the hottest pepper I ever tasted. No warning. You try being adventurous…
This category included site-seeing, museums, tours, and more. So where to begin? The highlights for us were a punting tour in Cambridge, the Keukenhof Gardens in Lisse, Netherlands, the canal ride in Amsterdam, Castle De Haar outside Utrecht and the Blue Forest in Halle, Belgium. London has so much to do and see and I certainly enjoyed seeing Buckingham, Big Ben, London Tower, and all the other big sites. But the crowds, the dreary weather, and cost probably dampened my enthusiasm for them. We aren’t huge on museums as we prefer getting out and experience the cities and nature but we did visit a few and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam is impressive. Take a look at our favorite places here!
Not much to say here. We’re not shoppers, though Mrs. Fi did buy some new clothes. We did get a little cold and sort throat for a few days over there and needed cough drops. They have some dope cough drops — so strong!
The typical trinkets and postcards for family. Amsterdam is hilarious because even though marijuana use is strictly regulated (I don’t think I caught a whiff of it the entire time), the souvenir shops have everything with a pot leaf on it.
House/Dog Sitter $500/$500
My brother house sat and took care of Russell (our black lab). I think they really bonded because every time he comes over to the house now, Russell freaks out (in a good way).
So there it is! We went over our budget by $365. There’s not really any regret there though. This was definitely a trip many would consider once in a lifetime and it is a privilege being able to afford it while still pursuing early retirement. There are many ways to see the world on all kinds of budgets. I would consider our budget moderate for two people traveling for three weeks through three countries that trend pricier than other European countries like Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, etc. It can be done cheaper and it can be done for a lot more–it’s all about preference.
With that, we certainly plan to go again some day. For now, I think our next big trip will be in our backyard as we’ve never been to Glacier National Park! Insanity. That ends next year.