Grant McWilliams

Travel Blog

Travel Blog

Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Over the course of this summer I mentioned several times the cost of various places we traveled to. As I write my trip journals I put things in perspective. Here's our costs for each city. This is our total daily budget for 5 people including accommodations, food, local transportation and admission to museums etc.. I'll be writing more in the trip journals later.

 

Nimes, France $168
Paris, France $180
London $370
Lubljana, Slovenia  $175
Zadar, Croatia $165
Split, Croatia $165
Ciovo, Croatia $165
Florence, Italy $225
Bologna, Italy $235

 

Notes:

Nimes - We rented a 2 bedroom house in Nimes and our budget probably could have been $20 cheaper but it was the beginning of the trip so we spent our entire daily amount.

Paris - We rented a 2 bedroom apartment in Paris. This includes daily metro rides, entrance to museums and eating out every 3rd night.

London - this got us one room in someone else's apartment and an air mattress. Our budget would have been $25 higher if we didn't eat free breakfast provided by our host and take the bus instead of the subway. This paid for NO museums or churches.

Ljubljana - We got a 4 bedroom gorgeous apartment in the historic center and 50% of our meals in restaurants. If we booked for a week we would have saved $50 per day.

Zadar - We got a 2 bedroom apartment in the historic center. We were able to eat out several times. No long term discounts.

Split - We got a 2 bedroom apartment near old town. Had I booked earlier we would have spend $30 less per day. No long term discounts.

Ciovo - We got a 3 bedroom apartment 40 meters from the sea. We cooked all of our meals. Had I booked earlier we would have spent $30 less per day. No long term discounts.

Florence - we rented a 1 bedroom apartment with a mini-kitchen. We ate out 50% of the time, didn't use public transportation and didn't pay for any museums.

Bologna - we rented a 1 bedroom apartment. We ate out 50% of the time, didn't use public transportation and didn't pay for any museums.

 

Summary:

The cities in Croatia and Nimes, France come in about the same price with Ljubljana and Paris being a tad higher. The two Italian cities are a good $50 more per night and the one extreme is London at roughly double the group average. Ljubljana could be a killer deal if we stayed a week. Croatia gave no discounts for longer stays. Paris was a bargain because we stayed 3 weeks. Had we stayed only for a couple of days it would have added $50 to the price. 

 

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I've just returned from a 10 week trip to Europe and have uploaded all of my travel photos. I've attempted to put descriptions in each gallery but I'll never have the time to label each photo unfortunately.

We flew out of Vancouver BC direct to Paris France. We then hopped the TGV to Nimes where we spent a week before returning to Paris for 3 weeks. We needed to get to Croatia from Paris but flights from London were half the price and my mother's family came from England so we combined the flight and a trip to Thorbury England to see the old dead dudes together. There's a much longer story in there but it will have to wait....

Our flight to "Croatia" was actually to Trieste Italy where we took a taxi to Villa Opicina where we got a Slovenian taxi to Ljubljana. We stayed there for 3 days before taking a train to Zagreb Croatia and a bus from there to Zadar Croatia where we spent a week.  A bus took us from Zadar to Split for 5 days and then we moved to the island of Ciovo to rest and relax.

We flew from Trogir/Ciovo/Split to Florence Italy where we had two days and then a highs speed train took us to Bologna for two days and then we flew back to Paris and on to Vancouver BC again. The Amtrak Cascades train took us home.

I'll do a real blog post later (or even a series) outlining the trip itself. Until then here's the link http://grantmcwilliams.com/travel/photo-gallery/europe-2015

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For Valentine's day weekend I take my significant other to Canada. Well, that's not the plan usually but in the Seattle area we don't have a lot of other choices besides Canada and HippyVille (Portland) if we want to get out of town. Last year we took the Victoria Clipper to Victoria BC. This year we took the Amtrak Cascades to Vancouver BC.  Due to site maintenance the photos have just now gone up - vancouver-bc-2015

By far my favorite way of getting to Vancouver is by train. There's two trips per day, it only takes about 3 hrs from Everett, the view of the Puget Sound is wonderful and it's comfortable. Usually tickets run about $20 each way. I know you can drive it in about the same amount of time but it's just not the same. Culturally Vancouver isn't THAT much different than Seattle although it seems to be a bit more cosmopolitan. The three things that give Vancouver somewhat of a "foreign air" is the Canadian Currency, the Metric System and the number of people with French accents. However, when we drive to Vancouver it doesn't feel that much different than going to Portland or Spokane because you're isolated from the people around you. When you take the train you rub elbows with the locals, use the Skytrain, Seabus, Aquabus and regular buses to get around. It FEELS like you went somewhere.  I highly recommend it.

When I stay in Vancouver I like the little quaint hotels and my favorite is the Victorian Hotel on Homer. It's sort of a bed-and-breakfast flavored hotel but you have to book ahead as it's not big and they fill fast. Check booking.com for the best deals (often cheaper than the Victorians own website). They also have ONE family room with three beds which we works well when the whole family is with us. They give you a nice breakfast and the service is good. Something happened when I booked though and I made the reservation for March instead of February and the Victorian was full when we arrived leaving us without a room. The nice lady at the Victorian set us up with a room at the Kingsman Bed and Breakfast. The one rule I've learned when a hotel is full and they reserve you a room somewhere else is that other room won't be as good as the one you wanted. Why? Because they will NEVER book you in a hotel that's a better deal then their own or you wouldn't come back! The other room will either be more expensive or won't be as nice. In the case of the Kingsman it was both more expensive and not as nice. It's called Bed and Breakfast and I suppose if you think a man handing you a bagel in the morning is breakfast than the title is fitting. The beds are in very dark depressing hallways and the there's ONE (count it) bathroom/shower on every floor so get up early if you want to be clean. The ONLY nice thing I can say about the Kingsman is it's across the street from Medina Cafe which has long lines in the morning. From the windows of the Kingsman you can keep an eye on the line so you can get quicker. 

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I've done articles before comparing the Seattle to Portland travel options of driving vs. flying vs. the train. Although my initial impression was that driving would win on cost and flying would win on speed I was wrong. All three methods take the same amount of time from downtown to downtown if being fair (ie. you need to put gas in the car, get through security, wait in line to board the train etc..). The train ended up being cheapest for up to 3 people and by far the most enjoyable. Flying lost every comparison. When you fly you have less usable time, more interruptions  (light rail, security gates, boarding, wireless disconnect, de-boarding, light rail) and more discomfort (small seat, TSA) so it lost in every aspect. The Amtrak Cascades won in most aspects outside of freedom once arriving at the destination and frequency.

The reason I'm writing about this again is that Hipmunk a travel search engine has added Amtrak to it's search results. What's also interesting about Hipmunk is that it includes an Agony filter. You can sort by least Agonizing trip. I'm not sure what criteria Hipmunk uses but I'll show the results for Seattle to Portland trips. Also keep an eye on the prices for a round trip ticket. The trip with the least agony is also the cheapest.

 

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When I'm in France I can use my VISA card for purchases but the old style magnetic strip cards have been all but phased out over there and replaced with "chip and pin" cards that are a great deal safer. Anybody with $20 in their pocket can buy a machine to read the data off a magnetic strip card. Most establishments and all ATMs in France will still read the magnetic strip cards but as time goes on it gets more difficult to use them. On occasion they'll be refused and other times the cashier just doesn't know what to do with them. The last thing you want when you're in a country that doesn't speak your language is to have a cashier asking you questions while 20 angry customers wait for you to stammer. However, I've always been able to work around all of this by taking out enough cash for the day and using it as backup if my card doesn't work.

However, there is one situation where cash and a magnetic strip card won't help - Velib. Velib is a very cool bicycle renting system in France. Every 300 ft or so there's a station with a ton of Velib rental bicycles. You rent the bike and ride it to your destination then turn it back in. The first 30 minutes is free so if you're just going from place to place you may never pay anything. Or you can just keep the bike and pay by the hour. However they only use Chip and Pin credit cards keeping me on my feet. That is until now.

Travelex, the money changing people have introduced what they call the Chip and Pin Passport which is effectively a prepaid VISA card that has a chip in it just like the European ones.

To purchase one you got to a Travelex store and load the Chip and Pin Passport Mastercard with the amount of Euros or Pounds Sterling that you need. After your trip if you want to reclaim any remaining money you return to the store and they'll give you cash back. I'm not sure where Travelex is making their money but considering their bussiness is buying and selling money I think they view this prepaid cash card the same way they view money exchange - you're buying foreign currency from them, they're just giving it to you on a card. I'm sure the cost is in that process and not the card itself.

Visit the Travelex website for details.

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I've always wanted to just mess with the TSA since they're completely asinine half the time but I'm always in a hurry it seems. This tote bag would be good fuel for the fire though. I'm sure they wouldn't think it's very funny and would insist on going through all of my bags just to express their opinion but I think I might try it anyway..

Even funnier (and more disruptive to my travel plans) would be to tape on tin foil shaped scissors etc... I'm not sure what they'd look like in the X-ray machine but it might be fun to find out.

TSA isn't that careful anyway so they might not notice. I did an article quite some time ago about a third party company testing airport security. On average they were able to get fake bomb parts through security 25% of the time. That means that every four terrorists through security could blow up a plane.

There was a time where we had bottles of liquid in our bag and they pulled us aside and hand searched the bag. Once they found two they threw them away and sent us on our way. When we got to the hotel we opened our bag and took out the rest. Another time they swore they saw sissors in a friends bag so they took everything out until there was nothing left and still said they saw scissors but since they couldn't find them they let us through anyway. What if they saw a gun but couldn't find it, would they let us through?

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If you fly Southwest Air you can for a limited time sign up and get 4 credits. For those who don't know 16 credits gets you a free flight so getting 4 free is the same as getting 25% of a flight. I know it's not much but it will get you closer to a free flight on Southwest 25% faster than if you don't sign up.

I figure I have miles with 12 airlines now in "loyalty" programs so I might as well add another. Besides if other promotions come out I may be able to work closer to a free flight without even spending a dime.

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Every time I go through security I feel this way. Credit to xkcd.com

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