Post image for Europe Update: 5 months to go

Europe Update: 5 months to go

by Karen on December 3, 2009

tower bridgeNow that we’ve booked our trip, there’s not a lot for us to do this month. Our flight is booked, and we’ve chosen our hotels. Our travel dates are set, and we’ve paid for the trip.

It’s been almost a month since we booked the trip, and I only have one regret so far: I didn’t use Ebates.com* when I booked the trip. I could have earned 2% back on the trip, which would have earned me about $70. It’s not a huge amount of money when you look at it next to $3500, but every little bit counts. That $70 could have bought us a pretty extravagant dinner in London. So I’m kind of kicking myself now. But I want to pass the lesson on to you: if you’re booking through Expedia, it’s absolutely worth it to go through Ebates! Don’t make the same mistake I did!

This month is all about research. We’ve made a tentative list of all the things we want to do and see while we’re abroad, and we’re making final decisions about what we’ll have time to do.

I’m also looking at discount cards for London and Paris. Both cities have discount “passes” that allow you to pay a single fee for free admission to a number of attractions. The passes are really only worth it if you plan to see a lot of the attractions available, so we’re trying to decide if it’s worth the money.

We made a list of the things we want to do without looking at the attractions available through the passes. Then we compared our list with what the pass offers.

The nice thing about the London Pass is that you can order it ahead of time and have it shipped to you. If you choose the option with transportation included, you can get right on the Underground from Heathrow and travel to the city with your pass. This would be incredibly convenient. Considering what we want to do in London and the cost of transportation, we’ve decided that the London Pass might be a good option. We’ll probably end up saving only a small amount of money, but the convenience will make it worth while. I added up all of our costs, and we’ll save a few dollars a day. But we’ll be able to skip lines, and we won’t have to worry about picking up Underground passes. I also think we’ll do more of the things we want to do if we pay ahead and we’re not counting dollars while we’re there.

The Paris Pass also includes transportation, but the attractions offered don’t line up quite as well with what we want to see. We’re still considering the option, but we might end up skipping the Paris pass and paying cash for what we want to do there.

To pay for the trip, I opted for the Capital One card. We’re charging all of our expenses on the card and paying them off right away. The card is interest free for the first year, we won’t pay any overseas transaction fees, and we’re earning 1% cash back on all of the money we spend. When we’re overseas, I plan to use the card to pay for food and other purchases that allow Visa. We’ll carry a small amount of cash, but I don’t want to get hit with high fees for ATM withdrawals and currency conversion. I also don’t want to end up with a bunch of pounds and euros at the end of the trip, so I want to keep our cash to a minimum.

That’s it for this month! Planning has actually been much easier than I anticipated so far. And next month we’ll be applying for passports, which we’re really excited about!

As always, I welcome any advice from seasoned travelers!

*referral link

Photo by anirudhkoul

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{ 11 comments }

1 Kara December 3, 2009 at 10:28 am

I lived in London for about 5 months when I was in college and it was fantastic. I really miss it! If you get a chance, check out Portabello Market. I love Tower of London and the British Library. The V&A Museum is also really interesting. The Changing of the Guard is a little bit overdone and not something I would necessarily do, but it is one of those touristy things you could do if you really wanted!
.-= Kara´s last blog ..Gingersnap Cookies =-.

2 Marla December 3, 2009 at 11:38 am

I’ve been both to London and Paris – you are in for a wonderful trip! My advice – be super careful on the Underground in London – I had my wallet pick pocketed out of my bag and never felt a thing. I did get it back (with everything intact except missing the cash) the next day – the Underground police were lovely and helpful. Luckily I had only a small amount of cash, maybe $40 so it wasn’t a tragedy. All shops in London asked for identification when using cards so I guess stealing cards is no benefit. The Metro in Paris was much less crowded and pick pocketing didn’t seem like it would be an issue. Take advantage of the hundreds of little cafes in Paris that have simple fare – bread, wine, cheese, sausage – so inexpensive! It is one of my favorite memories! I also had the best yogurt of my life in Paris in a little coffee shop. Have fun!!

3 Kacie December 3, 2009 at 1:11 pm

Stink on the Ebates thing! I wish I said something sooner.

Also, if you can do your passports sooner, I’d say get ’em right away. I don’t know how fast they’re processed, but that would be one stinky thing to have to wait on!
.-= Kacie´s last blog ..Batch cooking day =-.

4 anne December 3, 2009 at 1:17 pm

Sounds like a great trip! I love how you already paid most of it off!

One tip for you:
My husband just applied for a passport. It could take up to eight weeks to process. Be sure your official photo shows your face well. He had to go back to Walgreens because there were shadows on his face. Luckily they didn’t charge the second time.
.-= anne´s last blog ..What do they think? =-.

5 The Non-Student December 3, 2009 at 3:56 pm

Just had to laugh: $70 would not buy you an extravagant anything in the UK! Thanks for keeping us updated.
.-= The Non-Student´s last blog ..December–it’s not just for holidays =-.

6 Andrea December 3, 2009 at 4:17 pm

The Tube (Underground) in London is fantastic! The maps are so easy to use and the stops are very convenient and virtually everything is clean. It is the perfect way to get around the city. Make sure to take a ride in one of the famous London taxi cabs just to say you’ve done it!

However, I dislike the subway system in Paris. The maps are confusing, the entryways smell of urine, the trains aren’t as nice, etc. But, it is the best and cheapest way to get around the city.

Marla did have a great tip of being weary of pickpocketers on any public transportation option in Europe. When you ride during peak hours you will be standing right next to others. So, guard your wallet and purse.

In Paris you don’t want to miss the Musée d’Orsay – the impressionist museum or Sacré-Coeur (absolutely the most beautiful church in all of Europe! I’ve been to 80% of Europe). Be wary of pickpocketers and beggars at the Eiffel Tower, they can spot an American tourist coming a mile away!

London is such a cool city with so many things to do. Seeing a show is well worth it and you can get cheap tickets with seats in the first four rows if you buy the day of the show. The Tower of London is fascinating. Take a day trip to Cambridge, such an amazing college town. Also, as posted above $70 will not buy you a fancy meal in either city! Wagamama has several locations all over London and is a great place to get lunch and relatively cheap (apparently they now have locations in the U.S. … but still it is a fun place!).

Have fun!!

7 Ronnie December 3, 2009 at 7:07 pm

You’re going to love London and because there’s so much to do you should take a look at our blog so that you don’t miss out on any good events while you’re here.

Also if you get our EPok London Pack you can get 2 for 1 offers and discounts at various restaurants. Because like others have said, $70 doesn’t go far in a good London restaurant.

8 jonathanwthomas December 4, 2009 at 12:41 am

Actually, for getting cash, ATM’s are your best option. Every exchange agent is a rip off. You get the best exchange rate via ATM’s – the day’s market rate. Also, in Britain, most banks don’t charge to use the ATM – Brits are offended by the idea of having to pay to access their own money when an ATM SAVES the bank money. So, you’d only have to worry about your own bank charging you. We bank at a credit union so it was only $1 a withdrawal and we made 4-5 withdrawals on our recent trip. If you plan to do a lot of markets – it’s good to keep cash in hand. But you can pretty much use a credit card anywhere. Just have a backup in case you have problems with the card. It’s also a good idea to let your bank know you’ll be out of the country so they don’t suspect fraud when they see a bunch of transactions from Paris.
.-= jonathanwthomas´s last blog ..Buying Brit: Trevor Sorbie =-.

9 Karen December 4, 2009 at 11:28 am

Thanks so much for the tips! The truth is, my biggest concern about cash is that if we lost it or it was stolen, that would be it. The cash is gone. So we really want to limit the amount of cash on us at one time. If a credit card is stolen, it’s easy enough to call the fraud department and have the charges reversed. Also, we have two credit cards on the same account, so we plan to keep one with us and one in a safe place back at the hotel.

10 Karen December 4, 2009 at 11:30 am

Thanks everyone for the heads up on costs in London, though some of you could have been a little nicer about it. :) I do know that costs are high in London, but I should clarify that our idea of “extravagant” is probably much more frugal than some of you would consider “extravagant.” So I do believe that we could have had a nice dinner, even in London, on $70.

11 imelda December 4, 2009 at 7:49 pm

Everyone has a different definition of “extravagant.” While Karen probably couldn’t afford dinner at a fancy, upscale restaurant, a $35 per person dinner while on vacation is a treat, at least by my budget. OTOH, I’m not really thinking about the conversion rate…. 35 euros is a nice dinner, $35 might be tight.

Anywho, Karen, I would advise caution about those city passes. I don’t know about London, but I have found both Paris and NYC city passes to not be worth the money. It depends on what kind of tourist you are — if you will be cramming as many paid attractions as possible into one day (not my idea of a good vacation), then you’ll get your money’s worth, but if, say, you’re only going to 2 museums in 1 day (which I think is a lot!), then you won’t.

Finally, have you visited the fodors.com travel forums? The old threads there are a GREAT resource for any vacation, and the people there are particularly biased towards Paris. Lots of wonderful information I used even when I was living in Paris!
.-= imelda´s last blog ..I’m a writer, I’m a writer! =-.

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