Europe on a budget: Should we add Italy to our trip?

When we started planning our Europe trip, we wanted to visit London; Paris; and Florence, Italy. After I started crunching numbers and planning a tentative itinerary, we decided that the added cost and extra travel time made Italy an impossibility.

Since then several people have urged me to reconsider our decision to nix Italy. Two of them even recommended Italy over Paris if we had to choose.

I don’t want to eliminate Paris from our plans, but I’ve started looking for a way to make Italy work. It will probably be at least a decade, maybe even two, before we can make another trip like this. I want to make sure we don’t have any regrets.

I’ve found some options for how to make it work, and now I’m trying to decide what to do.

There are three problems with adding Italy: the added travel costs, the additional time it would take to travel to Florence from Paris, and the inconvenience we’d have to endure to make it all work.


Flights out of Chicago (near where my family lives) are about $150-$200 cheaper per ticket. By driving the 800 miles to Chicago, we’d reduce our plane ticket costs by almost $500. We’d also be able to bring the dog along and leave him with my parents while we’re gone, which means we’d save the $350 cost to board him.

Here’s the breakdown. These prices are based on a May 2009 trip, so they’re obviously subject to change, but I’m using them as a basis for comparison:

Flying out of Raleigh NC:

Plane tickets: $1500
Train ride from Paris to Florence: $450
Dog boarding: $350
Total: $2300

Flying out of Chicago:

Plane tickets: $1100
Train ride from Paris to Florence: $450
Travel costs to and from Chicago: $200
Total: $1750

Flying out of Raleigh NC (without adding Italy):

Plane tickets: $1400
Dog boarding: $350
Total: $1750

We could add 2 days in Florence without increasing our travel costs if we fly out of Chicago. Now that we’ve eliminated the money constraints, our decision comes down to time and convenience.


I was concerned that the 12-hour train ride to Florence would mean losing a day of sight-seeing. Then I discovered that we could travel overnight by train in a sleeper car, which means we wouldn’t lose any time while en route to Florence. (Anyone traveled in a sleeper car before? Is it comfortable enough to sleep through the night?)

Unfortunately, we’d still have to build a couple days of driving into our trip. Our original plan was 6 days in London, 6 days in Paris, and 4 days at home before returning to work. Adding Florence and flying out of Chicago would give us 5 days in London, 5 days in Paris, 2 days in Florence, 2 days of driving, and only a day and a half to relax before going back to work.


Then there’s the most obvious problem: driving 800 miles to get home after all of that travel is going to be brutal. We know that. The question is, would it be worth it to suffer through in order to experience another country? I’ve always wanted to visit Italy, and I don’t want to miss out on this opportunity. But I do realize we’re going to be seriously inconvenienced.

The final consideration is our dog. I was nervous about boarding him for over two weeks. It just seems like such a long time. I would be a lot more comfortable leaving him with my parents (he’d receive better care, and it’s free!)

So what do you think? Is two days in Italy worth the inconvenience?

8 thoughts on “Europe on a budget: Should we add Italy to our trip?

  1. anne

    I traveled on a sleeper car a few times. It was very comfortable. The convenience of waking up in your new destination is well worth it. I’ve never been to Italy but a lot of my friends have… they all say they can’t wait to go back!

  2. Kacie

    How smart of you to look for another airport to fly out of! You’ll save money there plus being able to have your dog with you and maybe even a free ride to the airport.

    You’ll probably have to stay the night halfway both times, right? What might that cost?

    This is a trip of a lifetime for sure. But, you don’t want to overdo it and be exhausted by the end of it. You don’t want to feel like you have to go go go just because you’re there and you don’t know when you’ll be back.

    I hope you can come up with an itinerary that’s a good pace for you.

    Kacie’s last blog post..What do you do with unspent budgeted money?

  3. Kzeh

    Absolutely, go to Florence! Unlike Paris and London, it’s a walkable city (you can do the entire thing in two days) with some of the beset food you can imagine. Seeing the David and visiting the Uffizi are completely worth your time.

  4. carla

    it’s worth the inconvenience, imo. since i know that if i ever make it to europe, it will literally be a once in a lifetime thing. i would want to see everything i had my heart set on, even if it did mean a little inconvenience.

    carla’s last blog post..Birthday Recap

  5. susan

    i say no. we’ve talked before and as you know i am a HUGE fan of paris. it’s THE place i would visit in europe if i could go to one. I love italy and have been there a bunch, but i would bet by the time you get there you’re going to be so exhausted you’re not going to hit the ground running like you would if it didn’t happen on the tail end of the trip. the first time i went to paris, i did a combined paris and florence trip. florence was like eh. compared to paris that is. but i’ve been back to florence since, and loved it. the pace and feel is so different between anywhere in italy and paris. plus, i feel like to really get to know any place, you need to be there for a few days. 2 days is SUCH a whirlwind. and finally, i am one of those people who needs lots of time to recoop after a trip, so the drive alone would kill me. but i admire your planning and committment! and of course, the consideration of the doggy :)

  6. jj

    Can you fly from Paris to Florence, or to Pisa or another city close to Florence? You would save a lot of time and there are tons of cheap inter-europe flights (ryanair).

    I am partial to Italy (have been there a bunch of times) but Paris was nice too.

  7. Margot

    It sounds like you can’t make a bad decision – leisurely travel is nice without feeling like you’re racing around to cram things in, but seeing Italy would obviously be amazing. My primary comment is to consider reevaluating your overall perspective and long-term goals regarding international travel. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t expect to return to Paris again (or wherever) in the next 1-2 decades! (Unless you decide you don’t want to.) Even if life is busy with work, kids, tight budgets, etc, you can still always find some time for international travel if you choose to do so. As you know, it need not be expensive. And travel with kids is totally feasible and need not change the budget significantly. I’ve found that a week in Europe can be just as easy and low-budget as a week of vacation in the U.S., especially with good airfare sales.

  8. Karen

    Thanks for all of your ideas!

    Kacie – It is possible for us to make the trip in one day. We’d probably try to get there in one day, and maybe stop in a hotel on the way home depending on how we’re feeling. In the past, we’ve used AAA and other discounts to get a hotel room right on the highway for about $60. So that cost was included in our travel costs.

    Susan – We are definitely taking the amount of time we have to see the city into consideration. I agree with you that 2 days doesn’t seem like enough time to really experience the city.

    Margot – You’re absolutely right. I would LOVE to be able to take a family vacation to Europe. We probably wouldn’t try to make the trip with small children or babies, though. I’ve seen what my sisters go through just taking a day trip to grandma’s house. I can’t imagine caring for babies or small children in another country! But yes, we’re definitely hoping to take our children to Europe someday when they’re old enough (10-12).

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