Tag Archives: europe

I’m not knocking luxury

So. Hmm. That last post was a little misunderstood, I think.

Let me clarify. I’m not saying I don’t indulge in life’s luxuries. My husband and I didn’t choose to live frugally so we could sit in an empty room counting all of the money we’ve saved. We chose to life frugally, count every penny, and save when we can so we can afford some of life’s luxuries without putting ourselves into debt.

Case in point: Last May, after saving for three years, we finally took our vacation to Europe. We had a blast (despite the fact that I was 10-12 weeks pregnant and suffering the worst of my morning sickness). But I wouldn’t trade the trip for the world.

Did we need to go to Europe? Absolutely not. We wanted to take the trip, saved diligently, and paid cash. I’m so glad we worked so hard to save, and we’ll remember the trip for the rest of our lives. In my last post, I wasn’t saying that we should only ever spend money on necessities. I just think it’s important to recognize which luxuries we choose to spend money on, and draw a clear line between what’s necessary and what’s nice to have.

I’ve spent the last couple days editing photos (finally), I can finally share the pictures with you! I’m not looking my best, unfortunately, as I was quite ill. But there are lots of pretty buildings and scenery.

The photo below is us at the top of Notre Dame in Paris. Somewhere behind Tony’s head is the Eiffel Tower. Unfortunately, the tourist who snapped the picture for us didn’t tell him. Boo.

Click here for the slide show. Happy Wednesday!

Lessons learned after 2 weeks overseas

Before I share the fun stuff about our trip, I thought I’d share some of the financial lessons we learned on the trip. We planned ahead, and we did a lot of things right. But we also made some mistakes.

If you have a smartphone, turn off data roaming.

Luckily, I knew about this one before we left. I brought my iPhone with us to Europe, but I left it on airplane mode the entire time we were there. If I had left data roaming on, my phone’s automatic updates would have racked up hundreds of dollars in overseas roaming charges.

Fortunately, I still had access to wi-fi, so I could connect my phone to the hotel wi-fi to connect to the Internet for free. This was a lifesaver when we needed directions or information. We were also able to use the Skype app to make calls home basically for free. This was a huge moneysaver since calling cards are expensive and hotel phone fees are astronomical.

Don’t touch the hotel phone.

I wish I’d read the fine print on the card next to our hotel phone as soon as we got to the room. When we arrived in London, I realized that I’d forgotten to notify my credit card company that we’d be traveling abroad. We planned to use the Capital

One card for most of our purchases over there to avoid overseas transaction fees, so the last thing I wanted was for the card to be shut off for suspicious activity. I used the hotel phone to call Capital One collect. Capital One agreed to accept all long distance charges for the call. The hotel still charged us around 12USD just for using their phone. Ugh.

When I finally looked at the fee card, I saw that the hotel even charges fees for local calls. This was the case in all three of the hotels we stayed in. To be safe, just avoid the hotel phones all together.

Over-overestimate for food costs.

I pride myself on overestimating my budget most of the time. I like to build some cushion into the budget by assuming things will cost more than they do. Usually I’m pleasantly surprised to discover we’ve spent much less than we planned.

When we left for Europe, pretty much everything but food was paid for. I estimated $100 a day for us to eat, a number that I thought was pretty high based on our past experience, even considering the money we’d lose in the conversion. We typically spend very little for food on vacation. In this case, I was wrong, and we ended up going overbudget. It wasn’t by an astronomical amount, and it wasn’t a big deal because we’d built extra into the budget on top of my estimates.

Think hard before buying tourist passes.

A few months ago, I struggled with whether we should purchase London Passes for our trip. The London Pass offers admission to a ton of tourist attractions in London for one flat fee. The cost of the pass is much lower than the combined admission fees of all the attractions, but the catch is that it’s impossible to see everything in just a few days. I added up the cost of all the attractions we thought we’d see and compared it with the cost of the pass. It seemed like it would work out to be a good deal, so I went for it.

What I didn’t plan for was my pregnancy. Because I was tired and a feeling sick some days, we ended up seeing a lot less than we planned. In the end, we lost about 50USD on the passes. Blerg.

On the other hand, we bought Paris museum passes for 32 euros each and ended up getting 75 euros in admission out of each of them. Package deals aren’t always a bad deal, but you really have to do the math.

Despite these few hiccups, we stuck to the budget pretty well, especially considering how much we were able to do and see over there. If you’re planning a trip overseas, I hope you can learn from our mistakes to make your experience even more successful.

Photo by e01

One month to go

After months of counting the days, we’re finally in the homestretch. We’re moving in about 32 days, and five days after that we’ll be boarding a plane to Europe!

I wish I could say the months have flown by quickly, but honestly? There were times when I felt like we’d never get here. My hope is that with everything that’s going on right now, the next few weeks will pass quickly.

I keep feeling like I should be doing something to prepare for Europe, but all of it is finished. There’s nothing left to do but pack our bags and board the plane.

Moving preparations are a completely different story. Oy.

I haven’t begun to pack. I haven’t even begun to purge. But my biggest problem right now is our apartment.

After posting on Craigslist twice, I’ve had two people show interest in subletting our apartment. After a week each of negotiating, waiting for applications, and crossing my fingers, they both backed out. Two weeks later, and I still don’t have a subletter.

Someone came to view it over the weekend, and she was very interested, but she said the price to renew once the subleasing contract is up was out of her range. Even though I dropped the rent slightly, she’ll have to pay full price if she chooses to stay here beyond the end of my lease. I’m hoping she’ll decide to take it, but I don’t know.

If she does want to move in, we’ll probably have to bump our move out day up a week to May 1. That means I won’t have the week off work I planned to use packing and preparing. I’m not ready to think about that yet, so I’ll just wait and see what happens.

Just four weeks to go before the next chapter begins! I’m just hoping they go smoothly.

Photo by mojodenbowsphotostudio

Countdown to Europe & moving: 2 months to go

Can I tell you how excited I am that our trip is now absolutely, completely booked? Because I am SO excited. Everything is booked, paid for, and all of our travel documents are compiled together in a neat little stack on the bookshelf.

The last thing we booked? Tickets to see Les Miserables in London. I don’t even think I’m ready to talk about that yet because it’s possible my head will explode.

I should be relieved, but the amount of documents and confirmations and plans to keep straight are more than a little overwhelming, especially when I consider the fact that we’ll be packing up the rest of our lives approximately five days before we board our trans-Atlantic flight. Eep.

Speaking of moving. You know, that other thing we’re doing in May? I haven’t even thought about that thing. Yes, you read that correctly. I’ve been planning our 12-day European vacation for over a year, but we’re now two months from transporting our lives over 800 miles away and I haven’t even begun to compile a to-do list.

Well, I guess that’s not true. I’ve booked our movers and reserved a moving van. I know what needs to be done. I need to pack up three years of our lives — currently occupying over 900 square feet of space — and condense it all to fit in a 17-foot moving truck. I also need to find someone to sublet our apartment so we won’t end up paying rent in June and July. Ugh.

What I don’t need is boxes. Because I have a pathological fear of not having enough boxes when I need to move, I refused to throw away any of the boxes we used when we moved here. I also have kept every single box that came into this apartment that I felt might be useful in a move. It began as a single closet full of boxes, but they’ve now spilled out into our guest room. The floor is no longer visible. I open the door to the guest room, and all I can see is a wall of boxes.

Have I mentioned before that I despise moving? It’s pretty much my least favorite thing ever. From the nightmare of going through years of accumulated stuff to the limbo between packing and unpacking, moving makes me anxious, exhausted, and overwhelmed. I’m excited for the change, but I’m preparing myself for the worst this time since we’re not moving into anywhere permanent. I’m staring into several months of limbo until I finally get to unpack all of my boxes and begin decorating my new home.

Anyway, all of this is to say that I’m procrastinating. But on the bright side, did I mention our trip to Europe is completely booked? Because it is.

Photo by e01

Countdown to Europe & moving: 3 months to go

These countdowns seem to be coming more frequently now, but it’s only because time is flying. I’m not complaining, though. Everything is coming together now. I’m pretty much done planning for Europe. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for moving. I feel like planning for that has barely even begun.

Last week, our passports arrived in the mail. It’s exciting, and it’s a relief. We applied about 8 weeks before we’ll need them for our cruise to the Bahamas, so we’re lucky they were processed so quickly (less than a month).

The only thing left for us to do is book our train tickets. We’re riding a train from London to Amsterdam and another train from Amsterdam to Paris. We can’t book tickets more than three months in advance, but next week we’ll be able to reserve our seats. Once we’ve purchased our train tickets, we’ll have everything booked!

We’ve talked a little bit about an itinerary, and I’ve asked everyone I know who’s traveled abroad to tell me what we must see. Honestly, though, I’m wary about over-planning. I want to relax while we’re there, and I don’t want to feel like we have to be doing something every second. We’ve made a list of the things we absolutely must see. Beyond that, we’re trying to keep things as loose as possible.

There’s nothing much to report as far as moving goes. To be honest, I’ve been in denial about what I need to do. The guest room where visitors used to sleep? It’s completely overrun with boxes and various items with which we don’t know what to do. I’ve been talking about clearing some of this clutter for months now, but I’ve yet to do anything. I’m sure this will be like every other time I’ve moved — I’ll put off cleaning until it’s time to pack, and then I’ll drive myself crazy trying to get rid of stuff and pack boxes simultaneously. I’ll probably never learn.

But who wants to think about packing and cleaning when I could be planning for Europe? Besides, think of how fun it will be when it’s time for me to pack and I’m going through 3 years of useless junk!

Photo by pedrosimoes7

Tips for applying for your passport

We’re setting sail for our cruise to the Bahamas in 44 days, which means we’ll need our passports much sooner than we originally anticipated for our trip to Europe in May. I already planned to take care of that this month, but booking our cruise really pushed me to do it sooner rather than later.

Week before last, we put together all of our documents and headed to the passport application office on Tony’s campus (you can search for the office nearest you here). I was really nervous about all the hoops we’d have to jump through, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it wasn’t that difficult. The whole process took about an hour and a half, and I was able to do it on my lunch hour. We filled out the application in the office and had our photos taken there, too. You could cut your time in the office significantly by filling out the paperwork ahead of time and bringing in your photos.

If you’re dreading your passport application process for an upcoming trip, keep these things in mind.

It takes 6-8 weeks to process your application.

If you’re planning to apply for a passport, I’m sure you already know this, but it’s really important to keep in mind. I didn’t think about the timeframe until after I booked our cruise, but luckily we were still able to get our applications in 8 weeks before our cruise. We’re cutting it close, but I’m optimistic that it will be okay. If you can’t wait 6-8 weeks, you can apply for expedited processing with a 2-week turnaround, but you’ll have to pay an additional $60 and cover the cost of 2-day delivery.

Bring your certified birth certificate.

You’ll need a certified state ID or driver’s license and your birth certificate. Some hospitals issue a “certificate of birth,” but you’ll need a certified copy from your county, city, or state to apply for a passport. Look for a notary stamp and a signature from a county or city official to be sure. Also, you’ll have to send the original copy with your application. They’ll send it back to you when they’re finished processing your application, but be prepared to be without your birth certificate for a couple months.

You’ll need a 2″ x 2″ headshot.

You can have passport photos taken at many drugstores and photo processing locations. Passport photo regulations require that the photo be recent and in color with a plain white or light-colored background. If you’re in a hurry, choose a passport application agency that will take the photos for you. We paid $8 each to have our photos taken at the office, which is comparable to prices I saw at drugstores.

To save time, fill out the paperwork ahead of time.

You can fill out the passport application ahead of time and bring your completed application to the office. I wish we’d done this, because I made a mistake on mine in ink and ended up filling it out twice.

Bring a check or money order.

The total cost for each passport was $100, but it doesn’t all go to the same place: $75 goes to the U.S. Department of State and $25 goes to the application agency for processing fees. The $75 passport fee is payable to the U.S. Department of State and sent along with your application, so it must be paid in check or money order. You must have a separate check or money order for each application. The passport agency allowed us to pay the processing and photo fees in one lump sum on a credit or debit card. If you use an online bank that doesn’t offer paper checks (like ING), you can get a money order at the Post Office for a fee of $1.10.

Track your application.

About a week after you apply, you’ll be able to track the status of your passport online.

Overall, the process wasn’t as difficult as I expected. Cross your fingers that we’ll get our passports with plenty of time to spare!

Photo by clappstar

Countdown to Europe and moving — Four months to go

The end of the holiday season was particularly bittersweet for me. We’re moving and taking a trans-Atlantic vacation in 120 days, and it’s finally time for me to start doing all the things I’ve been putting off until “after the holidays.” It’s so exciting, but overwhelming, too.

I’ve been breaking everything down month-by-month to make sure I get it all done. Here’s what’s on my plate for January.


Last month I set a date for our move and booked the movers and the truck. We’re renting a U-Haul and hiring a moving company to load up the truck. I don’t know if I’ve written about this before, but honestly, even though loading the truck ourselves would be more frugal, hiring people to do it is the best $150 I will ever spend. We’re on the third floor, and it’s just us. Knowing that two professionals will be here to lug our heavy possessions down three flights of wind-y stairs takes a huge load off my mind.

Just before the holidays I also informed my boss and co-workers that I’ll be leaving in May. My plan was to make an announcement in March, but the other employee in my department is pregnant and due in June. I felt like it was only fair to let everyone know well in advance so they could plan for both of us to leave around the same time.

We’re also continuing to declutter, but that’s not going as well as I’d hoped. :( I’m hoping the New Year will motivate me to really start getting rid of stuff so we can lighten our load.


For Christmas, Tony’s parents got me a couple of frugal vacation planning books for Paris and London. This month I plan to read through them and make a to-do list based on the tips I find valuable.

Since our flight and hotels are already booked, there isn’t much left to do beyond deciding what to see in the cities and getting our passports. This month we’ll be taking care of the passports to make sure we have plenty of time.

Everything is coming together nicely. Here’s hoping it’s smooth sailing from here to May.

Photo by tahir

Europe Update: 5 months to go

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

Our trip to Europe is booked!

tour eiffelThe plan was to book our trip to Europe in January. But I started shopping around, and I found an amazing deal this month. I talked with a friend of mine (an expert in London travel who runs the Anglotopia blog). He said in his experience tickets aren’t likely to get much lower than this. So I decided to go ahead and book now!

Here are some things I discovered during the booking process that helped us save some money:

Fly on the weekdays.

Originally, we were planning to fly out on a Friday. But after comparing fares, we decided to push our departure back to a Wednesday. We’ll also be flying home on a Wednesday. This reduced our total flight cost by about $300.

Book international flights at major airports.

When we first started planning our trip, we thought we would be flying out of Raleigh. Now that we’re moving back to Indiana in the beginning of May, we were able to book our trip out of Chicago. This change saved us another $300-$500.

Book your flight and hotel together.

I’ve always been skeptical about “vacation package” offers on Expedia. However, as I planned to book this trip, I did a lot of comparing and put together a lot of different combinations. It turns out, they’re not kidding about those vacation packages. We were able to book nicer hotels than we could have afforded without the vacation package discounts. All together we saved about $400 on hotels.

Look at traveler opinions, not hotel class.

I typically don’t pay attention to hotel class when I’m booking. I just want a clean hotel in a convenient location. The negative reviews by other travelers on Expedia and TripAdvisor can tell you a lot about the hotel. Are other travelers complaining that the pillows weren’t fluffy enough or the receptionist was a little rude? If that’s the worst complaint next to a ton of positive reviews, you’re golden. But if a lot of review say the hotel is dirty or located in a bad part of town, I’ll move on. I’ve had really good luck in the past booking hotels with 4-stars+ in traveler opinions.

Weigh convenience with price when choosing hotels.

We could have reduced our hotel cost by staying in extreme budget hotels or staying far outside the cities, but I was really really nervous about that. We’re already going to be in a new country. In Paris, we won’t even speak the language. The last thing I want is to end up stuck in a filthy hotel for 5 nights or lost in the middle of nowhere with an hour bus ride into the city. We may have paid a little more than necessary, but we weighed our options, and it was important to us that we be in a safe neighborhood with easy access to public transportation.

For peace of mind, spring for the travel insurance.

We were on the fence about travel insurance. I did some research, and I thought it would cost us about $200 to insure the trip. Expedia offers trip protection for about $90 a ticket. We’ll be able to change our dates or cancel our trip for any reason without paying $150 a ticket, and the insurance will reimburse us for any nonrefundable costs. It also includes coverage for medical emergencies and lost baggage on the trip. For such a small amount of money, it was worth the peace of mind.

We spent $3500 on flight and hotels. This is exactly what we budgeted. It breaks down to about $1700 for flights and an average of $150 a night for 3-star hotels in excellent locations in London, Paris, and Amsterdam (cities that are notoriously expensive). We’ll spend 5 days in London, 2 days in Amsterdam, and 5 days in Paris. Then we’ll fly home directly from Paris.

And now it’s actually official. We’re going to Europe in 177 days!!! I can’t believe it’s actually happening! :)

Photo by ainet