Tuesday, June 3, 2014

France and Germany on $54 a Day (so far)

The front door leading to our Paris apartment.  This is our second visit so it'll feel almost like home.
I think the world would be a far better place if it didn't have numbers, but David does not share my philosophy.  He actually enjoys creating spreadsheets, relishes the opportunity to force figures into compliant columns, and basks in the glow of bank statements that balance to the penny.

In some ways his penchant for particulars is helpful because he is the one who keeps us on track, financially speaking, when we travel.  While I keep a daily  guesstimate in mind that's usually in the ballpark, David tracks the exact euro amounts in black and white.

That's how I know that, so far, we are spending only $54 a day per person for our trip to France and Germany.

But I'll bet you don't believe me.   I didn't either when David first gave me the figures. 

Not when a Women Traveling Together tour of Amsterdam, Belgium and Paris costs $491 a day.  When the man who shares much of my travel philosophy, Rick Steves, charges $323 per day for a tour of Eastern France, the area we'll be seeing. When even Untours, the non-tour company that arranges an apartment and transportation but leaves you to your own devices, charges $284 a day for a week's apartment rental in France and in Germany. 

I wouldn't have believed it if I didn't have the spreadsheet right in front of me.  But there are the numbers showing the amounts we're spending, or have already spent with deposits or pre-pays, for the shuttle from the airport to our apartment in Paris; for the apartments in Paris and Colmar, France, and Fussen and Rothenburg, Germany; for the castle tickets and museum costs; for the train from Paris to Colmar; for the eleven-day car rental with GPS; and for the hotel rooms in Triberg and Frankfurt, Germany.

I still find it hard to believe.  But I used a calculator on those numbers three times, and I got the same figure each time.  $54  Per person.  Per day.  So, if Mrs. McKinley, my ninth grade math teacher, and David are right and numbers truly don't lie, our trip literally costs a fraction, a tiny fraction at that, of what a tour company charges.

I suppose I hadn't realized before just how much tour companies need to add to basic costs for the local city tour guides, for those huge buses that transport forty people at a clip, for sprawling hotels catering to tourists, and for the salaries that must be paid to the tour organizers themselves.

But isn't it astonishing to realize how much you can save by doing the planning yourself? 
We'll visit this shop across the street from the apartment every day!
Of course, the $54 figure does not include food, but since David and I have a fail-proof way to save on costs, that will add only $10-12 per day per person to the total.  (Here's the article explaining our approach to eating in Europe.)  We also have to factor in gasoline for our rental car--never cheap in Europe where prices are roughly $8 per gallon--but, again, smaller, more efficient European models getting fifty mpg won't increase our daily budget by more than $5. 

So, there you have it.  For roughly $70 per day, we can tour Europe for 21 days for a total of approximately $1470 per person.  Compare that to the cost of a 21-day organized tour (Rick Steves offers a Best of Europe tour for $4,995 per person.), and perhaps you'll see why we travel independently. It takes a little more time to plan a trip ourselves, but we believe the benefits far outweigh the time investment. 

So come along for the ride if you'd like to see if independent travel might be right for you.  We'll post lots of photos of our accommodations, the places we see, and anything else we think might be interesting or enlightening.  You might just decide independent travel is a viable choice for you!

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