I apologize for any inconvenience. But, due to technical computer difficulties, I had to switch to a different blog. For some reason, this blog would not allow me to post Installment two. The new blog is my Orange County Register newspaper blog with a terribly long url. Please send me an email and ask for the url to the Register blog. TPBlake@aol.com. Or, you can try to copy this address into your browser.
Friday, April 2, 2010
Tom Blake Travel Series Europe 2010
Installment #1 – Making preparations to travel
My partner Greta and I love to travel. Several months ago, we decided to go to Europe this spring for a month-long stay. Our thinking is we want to travel as much as we can, while we are healthy enough to do so.
But now that we are older (I’m 70, she’s 68), taking trips to other continents presents new challenges and requires more conservative planning than in years past. For example, while there will be lots of walking for exercise, we'll be taking more taxis and buses than in the past.
We leave from LAX on Monday, April 12. I will be writing a series of articles that will focus on the real-life requirements and practical measures for traveling that people our age must consider. We will share our experiences, and how they differ from travel experiences when we were much younger.
Cost is a major consideration for us. Quite simply, we’ve got to keep our expenses in check. Airfare can take a big chunk out of a budget.
However, we had accumulated enough airplane miles through credit card purchases to cover both of our roundtrips. So, we were able to get seats by just paying airport fees and taxes. Plus, we knew that booking flights using frequent flyer miles has to be done months in advance because there is limited availability.
Off season is best for us
Going to Europe in the off-season improves one’s chances of getting seats on these limited-space flights, which worked perfectly for us because now that we’re older, traveling during the off-season is a must. We can no longer tolerate the intense summer heat and humidity nor do we do well with the large swarms of tourists one encounters during the summer months.
Our first stop will be Rome for six days. It’s been a long time since my last visit there—50 years to be exact—when four of my buddies and I in our early 20s stayed in Rome for 17 days while attending the 1960 Olympic Games. The five of us slept on the ground in a campsite a few miles outside of Rome.
Our accommodations this time will be quite different than they were in 1960. According to Greta, we must have a roof over our heads, hot water, and a place to stay that is at least within walking distance to the nearest subway stop (women always get the final say).
When we checked out the cost of hotel rooms in Rome, we were shocked. Three hundred dollars a night was almost the norm. For six nights, that meant close to $2,000. Ouch! That seems like a lot, but we had to remember the currency exchange rate between the dollar vs. the euro. When you spend one euro, the cost is between $1.40 - $1.50. A 200 euro per night hotel room becomes $300.00.
We decided to investigate http://www.vrbo.com/. VRBO is an acronym for Vacation Rental by Owner. The website lists rental properties in locations around the world, not just in major cities.
Greta and I own a vacation rental property in Santa Rosa, California, in the heart of the Sonoma Valley wine country, and we have had great success using VRBO to rent our Sonoma County property (http://www.vrbo.com/263464).
Saving money on accommodations
We were pleasantly surprised when we were able to book a spacious three-bedroom apartment a short distance from Vatican City for 660 euros vs the cost of a hotel, a savings of more than $1,000. In addition to the added space and quiet surroundings, the property owners have been very helpful suggesting tours and transportation. With VRBO, you can read comments from previous guests and decide whether a listed property sounds appropriate for you.
When planning trips to Europe, it seems that something arises in a country we’re visiting that causes us to question whether we should cancel our plans to go to that country.
Six years ago, we were planning to travel by train through Spain. Three weeks before we were to leave, terrorists bombed the Athoca Train station in Madrid, the station from which our train excursion was to begin. We asked newspaper readers whether we should cancel our trip. They unanimously said no, although we did rent a car instead of taking the train, and it turned out to be a most memorable trip.
This year, there is turmoil in Greece, where we will be spending ten days. Groups have been rioting in the streets over the economic downturn affecting that country. We’ll be as careful as possible and enjoy what Greece has to offer.
In the past, we’ve avoided organized tours and group activity. Perhaps the biggest acknowledgement that we are getting older is during this trip, we are taking our first cruise, not for the entire duration, but for 10 days. My biggest concern about cruising was that I’d be in the ship cafeteria whenever I get hungry, which is most of the time (that's why I have owned a deli for 23 years in Dana Point, California). I’ll let you know how the cruise turns out and whether I can discipline myself at the buffet table.
And there was one last bit of planning that was important. We watched the euro-dollar exchange rates for a few weeks before buying the euros we’ll need in the four countries we’re visiting.
Surprisingly, the Pacific Western Bank in Dana Point offered a price competitive with American Express and other currency exchange companies so we got them there. We paid $1.44 per euro this year. Two years ago, we paid $1.70, so look at all of the money we're saving! Euros can be purchased in Europe but often you pay a premium.
It’s time to shut the suitcases. The next installment will be sent from Rome.