Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Price of 21 Days in France and Germany


Louvre
We spent 21 days exploring France and Germany. We visited Paris and the Alsace region of France before heading to Germany's Black Forest; the Bodensee (known as Lake Constance in Switzerland); the Bavarian city of Fussen and its castles; Reutte in Austria; Dachau, the former concentration camp; the Romantic Road villages; and the medieval walled city of Rothenburg ob der Tauber.
Arc de Triomphe du Carrousal
Along the way, we enjoyed at least eight museums and two castles, toured a winery, drove the autobahn and winding country roads, went for a gondola ride, powered a luge down a mountain, took some guided city tours, rode the rails, meandered through markets, devoured the best food each country had to offer, and enjoyed every moment except for the train strike in France.

So, what did it cost?   Before you guess, let me remind you that a similar length tour with either Women Traveling Together or Rick Steves would cost you $491 and $323 respectively per person/per day.  Even Untours, which simply rents an apartment and gives you the phone number of a contact person, charges $284 a day for a couple.  (Click here for the article explaining those tours and their prices.)

But David and I didn't spend $400, $300 or even $100 a day.  Surprising even ourselves--given our luxurious accommodations (Information about each rental is linked below.), our sporty car, and our unrestrained enjoyment of the best food we could find--I spent only $87 a day* while David spent just a little more.  Because he didn't have Barclay Card points to cancel out his share of the car rental, his daily cost was $97.  Still, we were both below $100 a day and far below the cost of an organized tour.
Colmar, France
Next to airfare, lodging is the most expensive item for any European trip. That's the reason so many people opt for $40-a-night hostels where twelve strangers share a room, sleeping in bunkbeds and sharing a bathroom down the hall. (Increasingly, private hostel rooms sleeping only two are available, but a couple must still share a public bathroom down the hall.)   Yet we spent less than most backpackers and had complete, often luxurious, apartments for an average of $35 a night per person. (We also rented an "airport" hotel before our early flight out of Frankfurt for $35 each.  Again, you can see how lovely our places were by clicking the links at the end of this blog post.)

Our lodging was cheaper than a hostel and better than a four-star hotel!

Renting a car may seem like a splurge, but that was the only way to see the many villages in the Black Forest and along the Romantic Road.  We traveled 1222 kilometers and spent €142 on gasoline, (But nothing on tolls.  There are no tolls despite the excellent condition of all roads in Germany.), but we feel the pleasure of seeing so much of the German countryside was well worth the cost.

Pedestrian=only street in Fussen, Germany
I want to emphasize, though, that, while keeping the price low is important so  Tightwad Travelers can enjoy four times as many trips as someone taking an organized tour, the most important reason for independent travel is that it's simply the best way to enjoy and learn about a country.

We learned the history of all the regions we visited as we were planning our trip last winter, and we explored all the places on our list at our own pace.  No tour leader demanded we have breakfast at 7:00 so we could climb aboard a bus for a three-hour ride.

When David was felled by a bad cold, he spent the day in bed without fearing he'd miss an important site.  Our itinerary, unlike an organized tour, was flexible with enough "give" to accommodate sickness or frequent whims. (Kissing sounds like an interesting town.  Let's see what's there!)

And when we shopped the local markets and grocery stores, interacting with the clerks and buying locally produced products, we felt, if only for a few days, like natives, not tourists.  That's a great feeling no tour can give.

So, all in all, David and I think this was another one of our great trips.  We spent little more than we would have spent for a beach vacation in the States, yet we saw some of the best places in two countries, learned a great deal of history, luxuriated in comfortable accommodations and ate regional specialties every place we went.   No one can ask for more than that!

NOTE:  Need more advice on how to plan your own trip?  My book, Europe on a Dime:  Five-Star Travel on a One-Star Budget will help you organize your own independent trip to Europe.

*The $87 a day includes all transportation (taxis, bus, train, car rental and car rental expenses) except airfare (airfare cost $508 because I was able to use frequent flyer miles), museum and tour costs, food and incidentals.

Link to our Paris apartment.

Link to the flat in Colmar, France.

Click here for the pine place in Triberg, Germany.

Here's a tour of our palace in Fussen, Germany

Our last stop in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany.

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