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Is Europe really THAT expensive?

I am looking into a trip to Europe the last week of June and the first two weeks of July. (I have received excellent advice in another post in this forum!) It will involve Rome, Cinque Terre, Florence, Venice, Munich, and Berlin. I am flying there from a major city in Texas.

For two adults and two kids (teenager and just under 10), I am looking at about $4,150 per person or about $16,600 for all of us. Yikes! Is this to be expected?

Airfares are consistently $6500 - $7000 for all four of us. I am estimating the following:
Hotel: $175/night ($3150 total for 18 nights)
Meals: $150/day ($3,000 total for 20 days)
Train travel: $1,700 for whole trip (estimated with https://www.ricksteves.com/travel-tips/transportation/trains/cost-maps)
Tickets and other costs: $100/day ($1,800 for 18 full days)

Is this reasonable? I am not expecting deluxe accommodations, and I am planning to mostly DIY on everything. I know I can do picnics or store-bought stuff for some meals, but don't want to rely on that for every meal.

Posted by Jazz+Travels
Chicago
2977 posts

Yeah the dollar is weak right now 1 euro = 1.23 usd.
But you might be missing something in your approach to your biggest expense i.e. your flight costs.
Paying on Average $ 1600-1700 per person is outrageous.
You should tell us where exactly are you flying from and maybe someone savvy here will figure out a cheaper way.
And the longer you wait on the air the worse the price.

Posted by Peter
Fort Nelson, Canada
231 posts

Yup, it is that expensive.

I assumed you are quoting this in $US, so converted it to $CAD, and found that based on our average costs over 8 trips you are about 20 or 25% lower than my number. We do the same as you mention...picnics when appropriate and preparing some meals in apartments, and accommodation is nice but certainly not deluxe.

Edit: For the record, the exchange rate at this very moment is 1 euro = $1.57 CAD

Posted by Russ
Paradise
4043 posts

The flight prices seem high but otherwise... the dollar is weak, your destinations are popular and expensive ones to start with, and you are traveling around a lot from place to place in high season.

As long as you have no non-refundable flights or rooms booked, you might reconsider some/most of your destination choices. Do a tighter travel circle.

Rick suggests that the heat, humidity and expense of summer travel in Italy isn't worth it. You might have a look at destinations in France, Germany, and the Czech Republic instead. Also, consider apartments. I was just looking at a 3-bedroom apartment with 1,000+ square feet in northern Bavaria - 4 nights for less than €200 for August dates.

Posted by CJean
Ontario, Canada
1083 posts

I don't think your total estimates are too out of line, but I wonder how accurate your subtotals are, and what you're basing them on. That being said, you're planning to visit at the busiest time of year- ergo also the most expensive.

  • where are you looking for flights and prices? I hope it's somewhere like Google flights or kayak, which check over a wide platform to give you the best selection. And are you looking at return flights or multi city? Since we don't know your departure/arrival cities, it's impossible to comment further.

  • hotels- probably should have been booked by now. Quad rooms are hard to come by in a lot of European cities. This price seems low, unless you're willing to stay in the burbs or less desirable neighbourhoods. Or are you staying Airbnbs?

-trains - this looks really high to me, especially since 4 of the places are in Italy. Their least expensive, advance purchase tickets are cheap! What site are you using? For Italian train tickets, use the trenitalia website (and the proper Italian city names) to look at train times and fares. You should be able to buy them now, for the best savings.

Meals- that's pretty bare bones. Hopefully you'll have breakfast included with your hotels.

You also haven't accounted for daily city travel (bus/metro/taxi), or incidentals or souvenirs.

Posted by Nancy
Corvallis OR
4592 posts

I hate to say it but for June/July (peak) travel those airfare prices are not unusual if you're flying from something other than a major market airport and if you want something other than 2 stops and a long total travel time. I had to pay $1500 to fly from Portland (PDX) in July and that was 6 years ago - I limit my flights to no more than 1 stop and less than 15 hr total travel time. It's an unfortunate fact of life for some of us.

I don't use RS train cost map because, like the Rome2Rio website, it is based on full price last minute purchase of tickets. If your itinerary is set, tickets can often be purchased ahead of time on the rail companies' website for much less.

Some days you may spend $100 or more for admissions, etc. but on other days you may not spend anywhere near that much. I also think you can lower your meal costs somewhat by either getting hotels with breakfast provided or by eating in if you have rent an apartment. Shopping at markets and having picnic lunches can also save a lot.

Yes, Europe is expensive and I think it's wise to maybe over-estimate a little bit so you're not caught short, but there are lots of ways to economize. Do some searches on here because there have been several threads about tips on how to save money.

Have you purchased flights yet? If not, maybe give the folks here where you are flying from and maybe they can give you suggestions on where to find cheaper flights.

Posted by Chris F
Basel, Switzerland
5610 posts

Train travel: $1,700 for whole trip (estimated with https://www.ricksteves.com/travel-tips/transportation/trains/cost-maps )

Those maps assume you are buying tickets on the day at the station. In most cases you can get substantially cheaper fares (½ to ¼ price) by buying in advance direct from the railway company website. For example, Munich to Berlin.
** The map quotes USD 170
** The DB (German Railways) website ( https://www.bahn.de/p/view/index.shtml ) is quoting fares for tomorrow at between €115.90 and € 135.90, depending which train you choose.
** For a random date in June (25th) DB is currently selling tickets for most trains at €19.90, one at €67,90 and one at €95.90

The hotel price you quote sounds OK for 4 people. Some places cheaper than others. How much per night would you pay where you live?
You might be able to squeeze on the food, but you should be enjoying new culinary experiences, not being mean with yourselves.

Posted by Mona
NorCal
1625 posts

If you could give your preferred airport in Texas maybe some people could help look at creative airport and fare ideas. There have been some deals this spring and also some "normal" summer fares.

Your budget is mind boggling high to me and we typically travel with other family members anywhere from 3-6 people for 3-4 weeks.

Posted by khbuzzard
Maryland, USA
392 posts

It depends a lot on what standard of service you're looking for, what you're planning to do, and how flexible you can be with your plans. You certainly can spend that much, but I've never spent anywhere near that much per person per day on any of my trips to Europe - and I'm hardly a bare-bones budget traveler.

Others have mentioned that your flight prices seem very high. I just bought a round-trip flight from Washington DC to Zurich in late June for $610. Try searching different combinations of airports to fly into and out of - even if it means doing your itinerary in a slightly different order. Keep an eye on flight prices - they go up and down a lot. If you can't get a good deal on flights, do your trip at another time - maybe even next year.

Meals: That works out to $18 per person per meal, assuming you get breakfast at your hotel. That's a pretty basic meal in a sit-down restaurant, I'd say - but keep in mind that there are also informal cafes and street food vendors, which can cost a lot less. And of course supermarkets, which you mentioned. There's a lot of middle ground between full-service restaurants for every meal and picnics for every meal.

Trains: I find the train price maps on this site to be highly misleading. They're generally the prices for the walk-up fares, which I personally never pay - I've saved as much as 80% off the prices on those maps by buying tickets in advance. It takes some research and planning to figure out how to get the best deals, and you lose some flexibility by being locked into taking a particular train, but I find that the money saved is well worth the effort.

Posted by aarthurperry
262 posts

I am not sure what airlines or sites you have been checking but a quick check of Icelandair got a RT price of $875 leaving Sun Jun 24th and returning July 17th.

As for accommodation I strongly recommend checking out AirBnb it will save you money.

It can be done much cheaper than your estimates.

Posted by acraven
Washington DC
8293 posts

If you use Rick's rail-fare maps for your estimates, they will be the most you would pay if you walked up to the counter on the day of each trip and bought the tickets then. That's not an affordable way to cover long distances, though it's workable if you're taking short hops between small towns in a limited area. You should use either Trenitalia plus the Deutsche Bahn or trainline.eu (which covers both countries) to get your prices, but understand that the fares for your dates will creep upward if you don't buy the tickets right away. And those tickets will be non-refundable/non-changeable, so you must be very sure about your plans before buying.

I thought your airfare estimate was high, but I've taken a quick look on Google Flights and I'm seeing figures similar to yours for multi-city flights into Rome and out of Berlin from both Dallas and Houston. I guess there's a lot of demand from Texas this year and not a lot of competition in the marketplace.

Posted by traylaparks
925 posts

Authorized - I think for $4,150 per person, your family could have a really nice, if not luxurious, two week trip to Europe.

It's easy enough to find hotels in Germany and Italy with room rates that include breakfast - so fill up and you can probably skip lunch. You can use the savings to buy wine - I'd need plenty of wine if I was traveling with 2 kids!

Texan to Texan, I like to buy train tickets on loco2.com. There's no markup; you can select your seats; and it's very user-friendly. Be sure to select "Euros" from the drop down menu. You can have them email you when tickets on your preferred dates are available for purchase.

https://loco2.com

Posted by khbuzzard
Maryland, USA
392 posts

I thought your airfare estimate was high, but I've taken a quick look on Google Flights and I'm seeing figures similar to yours for multi-city flights into Rome and out of Berlin from both Dallas and Houston. I guess there's a lot of demand from Texas this year and not a lot of competition in the marketplace.

On the other hand, you can get a round-trip from Houston to Munich or Frankfurt for $1100-something - and Kayak advises me that prices are likely to fall within 7 days. These are good quality flights on British Airways/American Airlines, one stop each way, nothing too crazy.

If you want to see Germany now and save Italy for another time, that could potentially save you a lot of money.

Posted by David
Florence, AL, USA
4981 posts

Hard to give advice without knowing where you are flying out of and in to.
If you can get to Austin, Norwegian Air Shuttle is flying into London Gatwick much cheaper than you're talking. From there, you can get to and from just about any European city in 2 hours or less for $100 on EasyJet. Norwegian is finally getting enough Boeing 787s in their fleet to go to MidAmerica even if just in a limited basis.
Your intraEurope itinerary is covering all of of miles. Flying to Munich and Berlin would be warranted.

Posted by heather
Chicago
129 posts

Airfares in the summer are horrendous and are high because of the summer holidays, I don't know if you can perhaps plan a layover to lower the airlines price but right now your airfare does not seem so much out of line. Please watch out for the lower cost airlines like WOW, they can save you money but if something goes wrong, many times you're SOL.

The amount of time and places you are traveling to( 6 cities in all) also increases the cost. Is there a way to cut the vacation down to two weeks and perhaps either visit Germany or Italy? Just remember unless you are old or infirmed, you and/or the kids will go back to Europe again.

Finally, check to see whether the hotels you want to stay at offer breakfast included or at a low price. I've found it's easy to load up on a good breakfast that will tide you over for a late lunch or early dinner. Also don't overlook buying some fruit or sandwiches in grocery stores.

Posted by Tom_MN
Minneapolis, USA
1749 posts

Basically agree with everyone but remember that for me 24 days with a family of 5 and poorer exchange rates $1.34=1 euro) cost $14,000 in 2014, that included the more expensive UK (Germany and Italy sim prices to US). So your total cost isn’t bad even if your individual items seem high. You will need apts to get that $175 since 2 hotel rooms will be more. Try for $1000 airfare although this would have been much easier in October. I commented on your earlier post that there’s no 100 day sweet spot for fares to Europe, 6-8 months out is a better time frame to buy for all but the busiest markets.

Posted by fredandkell
Atlanta, GA
108 posts

Yes, it's expensive, and I hate to say it, you're kind of late booking Europe for summer. Some of the hotels that I booked a few months ago for my July trip are now sold out. The flight does sound a bit expensive, though. Have you looked at a) flying open jaw [into one city, out another, also called a multi-city itinerary], or b) flying into/out of alternate airports (like Dallas vs. Houston, Amsterdam vs. Berlin, etc.). I have personally found that Zurich and Istanbul are two of the cheapest flights and/or have the best Skymiles availablity to/from Europe (at least from Atlanta). You can take a cheap inter-Europe flight from most cities. For example we are flying from Barcelona to Geneva for $50/pp on easyJet.

I also agree with other posters, if you can give us your preferred airports and dates, we can help you search and see what we can find!

Posted by Mira
Midwest
1498 posts

My numbers are in line with yours, except for flights. I go 2 weeks, not 3 so spend much less but the daily is close enough. From Chicago I usually pay about 1000 per person for air. If I can fly from Toronto I can do 700.

I do think your flight cost is high, but not ridiculously so. I would not pay more than 1500, though.

BUT a trip can be done for much less. I highly recommend Airbnb. With kids you get more space and a place to store snacks. Even if you don’t “cook” having a kitchen saves money. I stay in pretty nice ones for $200 or less - 2 or 3 bedroom, often a terrace or deck, great location. There are more simple but still good ones for a lot cheaper in many cities.

I think your train costs may be high, too. I’d go online now and price point to point tickets for your dates. The farther ahead you book the cheaper (on high speed routes).

Posted by Lo
Tucson
2508 posts

Reasonable? I guess that's in the pocketbook of the beholder. You definitely can save money by planning farther ahead, especially for airfare and trains. And you are going in high season. So considering the timing, I'd say it's not unexpected.

One time I read that a typical per person per day cost for adults is $150 - $180 -- not counting airfare. I think if you do the math, your estimated costs without airfare for 21 days are pretty close to that. I didn't count the 10-year old. I did 21 days X 3 people X $150 = $9450 + $7000 for airfare = $16,450. RS gave the $150 - $180 pppd number but of course, I can never find that little tidbit when I try to look for it. I do know that range was spot on for my husband and I, depending on the country.

I think the $1,700 for trains also seems high. I'm assuming you are looking at the point-to-point ticket map. I hope you're not planning to use Eurail passes. I think (someone will correct me if I'm wrong) the map has full-price walk-up ticket prices.

If you can plan ahead more, you can save a lot of money by buying early, but you will be committed to the train and time you pay for.

For example, using Trenitalia I tested 3 adults, 1 child (at 10, there is a 50% discount, but I didn't go far enough to find out about all the options), going 5 April from Roma Termini to Firenze S. M. Novella, leaving after 10:00 on a Freccia (arrow) fast train. The price was 122,70 Euro for all of you. The Regionale price was 117,00 Euro, but the journey takes 3+ hours and has train changes.

Skip ahead to 26 June and the Freccia price drops to 69,70 Euro. There are no Regionale trains loaded yet. That's a huge savings if you can plan ahead. Based on clicking on the I for information, I got all excited about the Familia and Bimbi Gratis options, but then I noticed they don't seem to apply to any of the Freccia trains. You might be able to take advantage of those options on other trains.

I adore the Freccia trains. There's just something about that screen showing that we're going 250 kph that fascinates me. But they don't go everywhere.

BTW, I tested the trip from Venice to Munich for 10 July using DB Bahn. Trenitalia would only go to Innsbruck. I have been on that route through the Dolomites. It is absolutely stunning, but the total journey with no train changes takes about 7 hours. As with Trenitalia, the cost for the 4 of you (kids are kids ages 6-14, so your teenager might qualify), dropped from 159,80 Euro for 5 April to 79,80 Euro for 10 July for the exact same train. You can buy a ticket for this train from DB Bahn.

If you do some testing on DB Bahn yourself, be sure to click on Show Details and click on Intermediate Stops and especially on Map View. It shows the route of the train. In fact, you can use DB Bahn for any train schedule or route in Italy and do the same thing. You just can't buy your Italian train tickets from them. I love seeing the maps and dreaming about what I'll see along the way.

However you do this, y'all are going to have a great time.

Posted by Tom_MN
Minneapolis, USA
1749 posts

Comment on Lo: Never buy Austrian train tickets on trenitalia.com, use bahn.com for tickets to Munich.

Posted by Sam
Green Bay
11615 posts

There are ways to finesse the flights, but takes some extra time. Using Austin as a "major Texas city" you can get round trip tickets to Newark for $200 per person on Southwest. Spend a night at a lovely Newark airport hotel on each end of the trip, guessing about $200/night. Then you can get a nonstop on United to Milan with a nonstop return from Berlin for under $1000. Now you've got your flight cost to $5200. $1300 is nothing to sneeze at.

Posted by Ilja
Seattle
4163 posts

It depends which country. There are big differences. Scandinavia, Switzerland - very expensive, Great Britain - still expensive, then Germany, Austria, Italy. Spain, Portugal, Greece - cheaper. All former communist countries are cheaper; the farther to the east - the cheaper. There are big differences in airline prices, too.

Posted by Brad
Greeley, CO, USA
468 posts

Hi after 6 trips that is about the range we spend every trip. Boys are 16 and 20 now. A car will run you 700 less than that, if you are willing to drive. We always drive. You will be lucky to do meals for 4 for that per day. We eat alot at McDondalds and other fast food. Both boys are 6.3 and my 16 year eats, well like a 16 year old. Get hotels with free breakfast that will save a ton.

Have you bought airfares. One reason they are expensive is that you waited too long. I start looking 330 days in advance. We are done flying anyone except Norwegian from Denver. They are the cheapest. We figure 1k a day for everything.

Posted by vftravels
S.F. Bay Area, CA, United States
1446 posts

My wife and I usually spend $6,000-7,000 for a two week trip, but it's just the two of us and we go shoulder season. We also don't cover as much ground. Italy and Germany in big cities tend to be on the expensive side. The exchange rate doesn't help. Looking for places to stay for four people, $175 per night in high season does not sound off the charts to me. As others have indicated, apartments could be your pathway to a more reasonable cost. As a point of reference, my wife and I are doing a Poland-NE Germany itinerary this spring. We paid $1,300 each for the flight; if we wanted to go the next week it would have been 2X the price. We paid $1,500 each to fly into Porto and out of Lisbon in September-October 2008. That's the most I have ever paid for a flight. Often flying in high season and to destinations to as well served by various carriers, costs top dollar. Covering a lot of ground costs you too. I think the answer is for the itinerary you have chosen at this time of year, you could very well pay a bundle.

Posted by horsewoofie
Phoenix, AZ
280 posts

Trayla, Thanks for the Loco.com link. It’s very easy to use, only research for now.
Kathy

Posted by JC
Portsmouth
1217 posts

It's no more expensive than travelling to the US. I find costs comparable between the UK and US although there are some differences particularly with groceries. Beef is significantly cheaper in the US but free range/organic chicken is far more expensive in the US in comparison to the UK. Eating out is comparable.

Your flights appear expensive, we've paid not much more for business/first flights with BA London to Miami this August so unless you're avoiding economy I'm sure you can find cheaper.

Posted by Jennifer
Tunbridge Wells
1918 posts

You are travelling peak season, so prices will be high and unfortunately, you have left it rather late to be looking at accommodation. You are also intending to move on rather a lot, which will take time and money.

One way of reducing your spending would be to spend a week in one destination, then you could hire a cottage or apartment, not stay in a hotel, then you could cut some of your food budget and laundry bills by not eating out for every meal.

Venice is eye wateringly expensive and I’m not sure that your children are old enough to fully appreciate it, so I would consider dropping this. It’s a place better covered off season to avoid queues.

I think that Italy is more expensive than the UK, other than London.

Posted by Mira
Midwest
1498 posts

I want to add that my trips in the US are similar per day, except for the airfare. Train fare is replaced by rental car and gas. Hotels are sometimes cheaper, sometimes more. Food is the same - yes, I could eat McDonalds every meal and save money but you could do the equivalent in Europe. That's unpleasant on the stomach, though!

As for Europe, I spend less in Spain (other than Barcelona), Sicily and Greece (except for Santorini). I assume I would spend more in Switzerland and Scandanavia but have not been so can't say for sure. Italy is fairly expensive - Venice the most so, Rome not so much.

Posted by Tom_MN
Minneapolis, USA
1749 posts

Adding that train fares for children under 15 often free, but no more than half fare. The older teenager may also qualify for a discount. Both Italy and Germany are generous with train discounts for children, even on the low advance purchase fares.

Also: We have had McDonald's everywhere but it is not really much of a cost savings nor even the cheapest place to eat. And the automated panel ordering (at least in France) is stressful and hard to get what you want, and you will have to pay up front to a person anyway since no PIN on credit card.

Posted by Brad
Belmont Bay, VA
9943 posts

At least you're budgeting. That's a good start.

I usually pay much less per person for airfares but it depends largely on where from, where to and when. As a general rule, search both flexible dates and flexible airports. Is it worth it to drive 100 miles to save $1,000? That's something you have to decide but try lots of take off airports, landing airports and adjusting up to a few days to see if you can find a better price. I set up alerts and watch for awhile to get an idea of a good price. I won't use Google flights anymore, they're price alerts seem oriented toward getting you to jump on tickets rather than giving you information you can use. I start at Kayak but also check individual airline sights, Cheaptickets, etc.

Hotel prices are generally lower in Europe unless you want luxury. I traveled with three kids and only paid more than 150 euro a couple of nights (as a planned splurge). I regularly rent small studio apartments now on Airbnb for under 50 euro per night. I travel spring and fall, however, and prices go up for both flights and lodging in the summer.

Food depends a lot on you. If you rent an apartment and shop at a grocery store, it's not bad. If you eat at kabab stands or get a sandwich from a deli (in the back of German grocery stores, Charcuteries in France) it's not more expensive than eating fast food in the US (except sodas are a lot more).

Tickets is where I go over budget. I used to be picky and only pay to see things I really wanted. Now I figure I won't be back soon. If I'm even a little interested, I'll try to see it.

Posted by khbuzzard
Maryland, USA
392 posts

Fortunately, McDonald's isn't the only option for a cheap, quick meal - in the US or in Europe.

Posted by selkie
649 posts

Hotel prices are generally lower in Europe unless you want luxury.

Germany in particular where the modern budget hotels have to compete with the private rooms at hostels and smaller bed and breakfast operations. Two double rooms at an Ibis or Motel One might hit your price point if you can take advantage of any non-refundable rate discounts. (The Accor chain that runs the Ibis brand has lots of sale rates and you can sometimes catch a good one with them)

Posted by Mira
Midwest
1498 posts

One thing that people traveling with children find is that rooms for 3 or 4 are harder to find and more expensive than at home. A majority of US hotels have rooms with 2 queen beds and if you have 4 people who can share 2 beds then...you are set in most hotels. The room rate is what it is, for 2 or 4 people. In Europe you need to find rooms specifically for the number of people you have. You can't put 4 people in a double room- the hotel wouldn't allow it and there would be only one bed (or 2 singles) anyway, so 4 wouldn't fit. So you need to find a room meant for 4, which are less common. Many "budget" hotels only have singles and doubles. Quad rooms are either expensive or get booked very fast. It's a very real difference in hotel size/policy/standards that takes some getting used to.

Hence my suggestion of apartments. Airbnb or ones found on booking.com. They often have 2 bedrooms, or a bedroom and sleeper sofas in the living room. I do spend $150-$200 a night on these, but wouldn't have to - there are plenty that are cheaper

Posted by Lee
Lakewood, Colorado
16547 posts

With advance purchase, assuming the second child to be over 14 (multiply by 2/3 if under 15), Venice to Munich can be as low as 120€ (about $150) for 3 adults, one child 6-14, and Munich to Berlin can be 75€ (~$92). (How does that compare with your estimate?) For the best rail prices into and in Germany, use the German Rail (Bahn) website.

I'll let those more familiar with Italian Rail estimate Rome to Cinque Terre to Florence to Venice, but I'm sure they can beat your guesstimate.

Rick's handy-dandy chart, unfortunately, assumes you take the most expensive train without any discounts. It is a "worst case" scenario. Much better prices are very possible.

BTW, your itinerary is almost all big cities or major tourist venues. They are the most expensive places to stay and eat.

How do you count days and nights? 18 nights would be 19 days (17 full day between the nights plus 2 partial days on arrival and departure). I would usually count 18 nights as 18 days because the two partial days add up for meals as one day (at worst 2 lunches) and for sightseeing as less that a day. How do you get 20 days with only 18 nights?

Posted by Susan
San Francisco
5435 posts

As David in Al and Brad in Co said, Norwegian might be the way to go for flights. Could possibly cut the amount you budgeted for flights in half.

Posted by ferrin
Nashville, TN, USA
247 posts

Agree with Mira:

One thing that people traveling with children find is that rooms for 3 or 4 are harder to find and more expensive than at home. A majority of US hotels have rooms with 2 queen beds and if you have 4 people who can share 2 beds then...you are set in most hotels. The room rate is what it is, for 2 or 4 people. In Europe you need to find rooms specifically for the number of people you have. You can't put 4 people in a double room- the hotel wouldn't allow it and there would be only one bed (or 2 singles) anyway, so 4 wouldn't fit. So you need to find a room meant for 4, which are less common. Many "budget" hotels only have singles and doubles. Quad rooms are either expensive or get booked very fast. It's a very real difference in hotel size/policy/standards that takes some getting used to.

I think you may be in for some rude awakenings when you try to book hotel rooms for 4. There are not as many options for us. Start looking now!

Other thoughts:
Yes, it is expensive, I think. But if you can get the airfare a bit lower, you'd be doing really good w/ that estimate, esp for 3 weeks. I paid about $1,100 each for us to go from Nashville to Prague, and Amsterdam back to Nashville. Bought in December.

i think $100 a day for tickets is a high estimate, bc you may not do museums every day, but it's good to budget it. Some tours/outings may cost even more.

We spent approx $12k(!) for our 10 days in Italy last May/June. My kids were 11 and 13, so similar to yours. I used a travel agent and we did all train travel and stayed in hotels. I probably paid more using a travel agent but I was intimidated and had not yet discovered this forum. We ate on the cheap a lot. Pizza by the slice, panini shops, vino della casa...only a few splurge meals, and the dollar was stronger than it is now which helps.

This year I planned our Germany trip (w Prague and Amsterdam at either end) with no professional help except the very helpful RS forum and the rest of the internet, and I think it will come in at around the same cost ($12k) but we have 3 extra nights (13 instead of 10) so I think I am a pretty good travel planner. ;)

Posted by Authorized Customer OP
14 posts

Wow, thank you for all these insightful comments. Here's specific responses to a lot of topics:

  • Flights: DFW to FCO on June 25 (arrive on 26th), then TXL to DFW on July 13 or 14. I have checked Google Flights and Kayak and also checked directly with a few airlines. I cannot find lower costs unless I accept really awful flights, like ones going 25 hours or with bad carriers (e.g., ones that are deceptively over-unbundled with their pricing) or hacker fares that are difficult to deal with (e.g., very short time to retrieve bags and get on next flight). I think these sites do a good job of also reviewing costs of flying to another airport first I also checked one-way costs to assure that I am selecting the best days. These are a Monday and a Friday (or Saturday with July 14th), and adjacent days are significantly more expensive.
  • Heat: We're from Texas. We deal with it all the time. :-)
  • Hotels: I am having moderate luck finding quads so far! Airbnb wasn't that useful. It seems that Airbnb's main value is against high-end stuff. I'm going for modest accommodations as near city centers as feasible, and Airbnb isn't helping much. I suspect that as I go to Munich and Berlin, I may be able to find much lower cost lodging? Or maybe I'm dreaming?
  • Trains: I did see that RS's train price guide is high-end costs. I did plan to reserve in advance, so my actual on train transportation could be considerably lower. Thank you for sharing how much lower they could be!
  • Meals: My average means $12.50 per person per meal. I anticipate that being average, with some more, many less. I am also watching for included breakfast but not prioritizing it. We'd be happy with low cost, store-bought or corner cafe quick foods.
  • Cutting vacation back: I have resisted that idea since flights alone are so high, almost half the whole trip cost. My thinking is that if I am paying this much (holds arms way apart) for flights, reducing the rest of the trip won't have a huge effect on total price.
  • Car renal: I see lots of advice to avoid renting cars due to cost of parking, hassle, and risk of getting into those poorly-marked ZTLs in Italy. I'm not opposed to it, though.
Posted by vftravels
S.F. Bay Area, CA, United States
1446 posts

Munich is an expensive city for accommodations too. Berlin used to have the reputation for being cheap by the standard of European capitals, but not so much any more. I'm seeing $125 for doubles in May, which admitted is still cheap vs. New York or San Francisco. But for a quad in July I am thinking you'll be well above that. Since you are visiting mostly big cities a rental car really does not make sense in terms of logistics. On the positive side, there are many whole in the wall eating places in Italy where you can inexpensively get a slice of pizza and a beverage.

Posted by Mona
NorCal
1625 posts

Is there a reason you aren't considering Icelandic Air? They have flights out of DFW into Milan and out of Berlin Tegel into DFW for about $811 pp.

Also check the Hotel Ambassador in Berlin for a very good location and price. When we want a budget friendly time in Berlin we stay there.

Edit: I see that IA has a one day layover in Iceland but you could build that into your trip perhaps.

Posted by Fred
San Francisco
8810 posts

If the exchange rate is still decent, then Europe is not expensive. Of course the present exchange rate vis-a-vis the $ is less favourable than that of last summer or the summer of 2016. Traveling in the US is far more expensive with regards to accommodations. If I go to Wash DC I can expect to pay from $180-220 for a single/double occupancy, likewise in LA or New Orleans.

When I travel to Germany solo, I pay in Berlin less than 43 Euro for a single, in Munich in the summer 45 Euro. In Düsseldorf 65 Euro. In Paris for a 2 star hotel, I pay 86 Euro.

If I choose to stay in a 3 star hotel in Germany, then it's 65-80 Euro. There are hotel chains in Germany if you are there from mid-July to August, the rate is at its lowest for the year since that time period is viewed as the slow season, ie, a 4 star hotel room for a single could conceivably be 79 Euro when normally it could be over 110 Euro. In Vienna I reserved a single at a 4 star hotel for 92 Euro. If I were there on this trip in July, that price could be reduced by 10 Euro

My flight this time is $500, the B&B in London at Kings Cross for a single is 84 GBP, much cheaper (even with the deteriorating exchange rate) than I would pay or did pay in New Orleans, DC, or other cities in the US. Inexpensive places are available depending on when you are over there, (My recent trips have been early to mid summer), and that you know what to look for. Due to present family considerations I have not been back from mid-July to mid-August, which I used to do.

Apart from the flight cost in Economy, I know traveling in the US or just in Calif would far more expensive

Posted by Lo
Tucson
2508 posts

I hope you are using Booking.com to search for your lodging. It is great for searching by number of adults and kids. When you put in the kids, you'll get a drop down box to put in their ages. Then you'll know if they are really kids or not.

You can choose the type of lodging, including apartments and B&Bs as well as hotels. You can filter by price, by review score and by lots of other criteria. I never use stars because they're not used for apartments or B&Bs. Last year was the first time I actually rented through them. In the past I've only used them to identify possible lodgings and then booked direct.

I'll say straight up that I'm not an Airbnb fan due to a terrible experience with my first rental through them and the fact that they sometimes charge more for the same rental than other resources. It seems like that name is being used generically like Kleenex for tissues or Coke for soft drink. You can also find apartments through HomeAway, VRBO, Booking.com and any number of other more local resources. Owners sometimes list on multiple resources.

I'm not sure if this is your first trip to Europe, but one comment you made about getting your luggage and getting to the next flight led me to believe that traveling light, carry-on only is not on your radar.

I'm going to recommend that to you, especially since you will be moving around so much. You do not want to be lugging lots of luggage around. There will be no one to help you get on and off trains, up and down stairs to your lodgings or anywhere you might have to walk with it.

Many people who participate here pack for a week and do laundry along the way. We sink wash in the room, use a self-service laundromat or have it done for us at a laundry. I have done this for years. You tote what you bring, regardless of size or age.

Here are some helpful links:

Packing Light

Sarah Murdoch's Packing Light & Right

Packing Forum

Enjoy your continued planning and the trip itself.

Posted by Tom_MN
Minneapolis, USA
1749 posts

Several comments:

AirBnB is indeed the most expensive due to high fees, try Homeaway/VRBO (same thing) but they now charge fees too, also try TripAdvisor for rentals. They all work. Some local markets, Rome, Copenhagen, etc., have local rental agencies so you can look for those.

Definitely look at IcelandAir and just train down to Rome from Milan. They will provide free food for children but adults must pay or carry food. Their Light economy fare does not include a checked bag.

Look at an internal flight, say Rome to Munich or Berlin, these can be cheap. Then you are not tied to an itinerary exactly linear, say something like Milan>>Venice>>Florence>>Rome fly to Berlin>>Munich, then you can play with different transatlantic flight cities for a better fare.

As to rental vs hotels: some people find the thought of cooking on vacation a ghastly premise and will never stay in apts, others find the extra space and ability to stagger bedtimes very relaxing, like the ability to wash clothes at will, and love a simple breakfast at "home." I find that eating out in Europe is frustratingly time consuming and gets old, and prefer cooking and eating out less often, but then if I could stop eating and still biologically function I probably would.

Car rentals: unless you are taking a predominantly rural vacation and staying away from cities these usually don't make sense. If you are willing to adjust your goals to less urban areas then yes it is a cheaper way to travel for families than paying 4 fares.

Posted by khbuzzard
Maryland, USA
392 posts

Do not underestimate the value of a good hotel breakfast. If you're envisioning the "continental" breakfast served at many US chain hotels - where you get some packaged, preservative-laden muffins and donuts, rubbery reheated scrambled eggs, and maybe a make-your-own waffle station if you're lucky - it's so much better than that. A good breakfast spread will include fresh bread and rolls, quality cheeses and cold cuts, fresh fruit and even fresh vegetables, yogurt, granola, and more. Not every hotel is this good - some economize by serving packaged crap - but many are.

When you can eat heartily enough at breakfast that you can get by with just a light snack for lunch, that saves you the better part of $100 a day, according to your budget. You may pay a bit more to get a hotel with breakfast included, but not usually $100 more, I don't think.

Posted by Going234
289 posts

The reason your airfare estimates are so high may be because you are pricing one-way trips to & from Europe. You will likely get much cheaper rates if instead of selecting one-way fares, use the multi-city fares.

Posted by Tom_MN
Minneapolis, USA
1749 posts

The reason your airfare estimates are so high may be because you are pricing one-way trips to & from Europe. You will likely get much cheaper rates if instead of selecting one-way fares, use the multi-city fares.

No, it's multicity, and the flight to Rome is a non-competitive nonstop so that's driving up the fare. FYI: Many airlines only sell one ways, so there's no advantage to booking round trip with them: Icelandair, WOW, Condor, Norwegian, Thomas Cooke, and maybe others, do not sell round trip tickets.

Posted by JC
Portsmouth
1217 posts

When you can eat heartily enough at breakfast that you can get by with just a light snack for lunch,

I'm the opposite! A big part of my reasons for travelling is the food and I will almost always forego the hotel breakfast (even those buffets of cheese, cold cuts etc are still cheap and low quality) and eat at a place that excels at a good breakfast and then follow it with a good lunch and the same with dinner. Eating for me is about enjoyment not sustenance.

Posted by khbuzzard
Maryland, USA
392 posts

JC: To each his or her own. I'm all in favor of eating for pleasure too, but I'd rather save my money for one memorable meal a day (because I ate one at the hotel and economized on the second) than try to find spectacular culinary experiences for all three meals. And maybe we stay in different places, but I've definitely stayed in hotels (and not terribly expensive ones, either) that excel at a good breakfast.

Anyway, this, like all money-saving tips, is something you can take or leave. But if you choose to reject money-saving tips for whatever reason, then don't be surprised if you're spending more money than other people are.

Posted by Brad
Belmont Bay, VA
9943 posts

About what Mira said regarding hotels:

IMO online searches are overwhelmingly suited for two adults to a room. They don't do nearly as well for finding rooms for families or odd sized groups.

Contacting a hotel directly is so much better for traveling as a family. I took three kids and a wife from Amsterdam through Germany and Austria and ended in Rome (with a leased car). I made only a few reservations ahead of time. Mostly I traveled with a list of potentials, then called ahead the morning before arriving to check for vacancies. You rarely need reservations unless you want something very specific.

When I contacted the hotel. I'd tell them what I needed rather than what I thought I wanted. I'd say, "I need a place for 5, two parents, three children, boys 16 and 12 and an 8 year old girl for three nights". I'd let them suggest what they had that would fit my needs. I'd then ask the price and if it was good, I'd book and tell them when we would arrive. Sometimes we stayed at hostels, boys in one room, girls in another. Other times we had family suites or two separate bedrooms in a hotel. Often hotels would give us a two bedroom apartment they owned. The price was always reasonable, often cheaper than reserving ahead.

My phone service now lets me call 60 countries for free so I can call ahead with questions about rooms, prices, vacancies. I've found phone works better than email and picked my service based a lot on that.

Another good alternative is Airbnb. I only started booking with them within the last two years but they're good for telling you exactly what the place has and whether it will accommodate your family. The only place I'd avoid Airbnb is in big cities like Paris that are starting to clamp down on residential short term rentals.

Posted by selkie
649 posts

As to rental vs hotels: some people find the thought of cooking on vacation a ghastly premise and will never stay in apts, others find the extra space and ability to stagger bedtimes very relaxing, like the ability to wash clothes at will, and love a simple breakfast at "home."

And then there is the middle ground of the extended stay or 'aparthotel' where you can kick back and eat your takeaway meal on hotel-provided dishes that are washed in the hotel-provided in-apartment dishwasher.

I love extended stay hotels, especially the ones that are breakfast included, and book them whenever I'm going to be some place for more than about two nights and the price and location make sense.

Posted by JC
Portsmouth
1217 posts

But if you choose to reject money-saving tips for whatever reason, then don't be surprised if you're spending more money than other people are.

Oh I'm fully aware that I spend more on food than some other people do but I accept that and I choose to do so. Just as other people choose to spend significantly more on clothes than I do, each to their own. I was simply giving a different take on what people consider as acceptable considerations for money saving.

I also save money by not subscribing to expensive tours, preferring to research and educate myself but everyone is different and we all have our own priorities.

Posted by Authorized Customer OP
14 posts

Thanks for the additional info! To address a few more things that were brought up:

  • Iceland Air or other creative options: Ah, now I see their routemap includes Milan! I'll see what that could mean. Thank you!
  • Booking.com, Airbnb, VRBO, etc.: I'm using various sites to find lodging. Thank you for the suggestion. I also feel that Airbnb prices are higher than they should be.
  • Emails for finding lodging: I have had many cases where hotels' web sites say that nothing is available, yet when I email them and they reply back, they magically have the quad that I need! I went through the RS Italy guide and emailed all 2 and 1 star hotels in Rome. I think I have almost 10 rooms to choose from based on the responses, and this is for dates in late June!
  • Luggage and packing light: It is my intent to pack light. We will see what I can manage. :-) Wouldn't surprise me if we still need 1-2 checked bags.
  • Rural areas: I considered this, but based on advice from a lot of places, I don't think I could keep the kids entertained in a lot of rural areas. That said, we are NOT averse to rural areas. We camp with Boy Scouts all the time, and in Colorado, we typically stay out of the big cities. But I am not confident I can make rural areas work well for the kids in Italy or Germany for a first-time Europe trip.
Posted by Tom_MN
Minneapolis, USA
1749 posts

Rural: European countryside is full of castles and ruins and history and lots to do. Even the countryside can be fairly populated and have great restaurants and shops. It’s not corn, pickups, and chewing tobacco.

Posted by Authorized Customer OP
14 posts

I just checked what Iceland Air offers. It looks like the only way that will work is to fly into Milan. Including the cost of a train ride from Milan to Rome, I'm saving about $65 per person. To do that, I have to I cut my trip 1 day shorter and deal with a train from Milan to Rome.

Posted by Mona
NorCal
1625 posts

How about tightening the trip up for the2 countries you are now focusing on with some city and outdoor time. You may be able to get RT DFW tickets to FRA for about $1,000 pp. that would save almost $600 each for starters. Then I'd do this boxy route with a family rather than the long linear route that has much higher fares.

2 nights on the Rhine with a day boat trip to see castles.

4 nights Train down to SW Germany to a charming town on the Bodensee. This area abounds with beautiful scenery, a bike around the lake culture, lake excursions, etc.

3 nights Train down to Milan for the duomo, Leonardo science museum, Sforza castle (or Lake Como)

3 nights in Venice to wander

3 nights Train up to the Dolomites and stay in Merano, vineyard walking, river biking, spa town

5 nights Munich could stay a week with kids. English Garten exploring, science museum, Dachau day trip to Salzburg, etc

2 nights Dinklesbuhl/rothenburg/heidlesburg on way back to Frankfurt via train for flight home

I know it doesn't go up to Berlin or down to Rome but because the airfares are so high this late in the game, this might help stretch your budget and give you a varied, kid friendly European adventure.

I've just thrown these # of nights and specific locations out there. I've been to all of them and there are kid friendly and unique experiences in all of them. Do your kids have specific hobbies or interests?

Planning is fun but frustrating at times, I know...

Posted by JC
Portsmouth
1217 posts

and deal with a train from Milan to Rome.

You make it sound like a chore! Taking the fast train from Milan to Rome is an easy, comfortable and stress free method of travelling and will take you from the centre of Milan to the centre of Rome in three hours.

Posted by Brad
Belmont Bay, VA
9943 posts

I should have also said, it depends on where you go. Spain and Poland are noticeably cheap. Scandinavia is expensive. Switzerland is off the charts. Big cities like Paris, Rome, London, Madrid, Barcelona, etc. are significantly more expensive than the rest of the country.

Posted by heather
Chicago
129 posts

Eastern Europe-Croatia, Hungary, etc. are cheaper than many places in Western Europe and less crowded. Could be an option.

Posted by Bob
Département 71
168 posts

The main thing that jumped out at me was the budget for meals. Perhaps your family is less interested in food than some, but I view food as part of the culture to experience when I travel.

At today's exchange rate you're budgeting 30.25 € per person per day. That seems a bit low to me. I would recommend raising it by about 50 percent to 45 € per person. That would give you, per person, 5 to 10 € for breakfast, 10 to 20 € for lunch, and 15 to 30 € for dinner. It would be easy to spend less than that on any particular meal. And it would be easy to spend more than that on any particular meal. But I think it would be a reasonable budget to target for the trip.

But then again, I like good food and the occasional nice restaurant.

Posted by Authorized Customer OP
14 posts

Thanks again everyone for these great and helpful responses. We decided to punt for this summer. In addition to the cost surprising us, we're running late on booking everything. On top of that, we would prefer our children to be a bit more mature before we try this. We may try again for a summer 2019 trip, and we may watch for opportunities for shorter and less expensive getaways.

The good thing is I learned a ton from researching what to do. I feel far better prepared for attempting this trip in the future.

Posted by Mona
NorCal
1625 posts

With all of the desire and research you've put into this trip it should make planning a summer 2019 trip a little easier. For starters, since you've done so much homework with airfares and know what a "typical" airfare runs out of DFW, you can start checking again when new fares are posted 330 days in advance of when you want to fly next summer. That way you'll better spot a sale or get creative with Icelandic Air.

Also if you are serious about 2019 you can have the year leading up to it be a year of travel gift giving for birthdays and holidays to help spread your costs out. We've given luggage, train tickets, museum cards, travel books, etc out to family members in the year preceding a big family trip.

Posted by Mira
Midwest
1498 posts

I think that early planning is even more important for families/groups. I am willing to bet that early this fall you will see good airfare for May 2019. People dispute this but my experience is that booking early (6-10 months)lands the best fares so start watching when fares are posted (about a year ahead) and buy when it’s reasonable.
Also look at other airports you can drive to or combine flights (cheap domestic flight to somewhere like NY then many hours later an international ticket at a much lower rate than going from Texas). If you do that leave plenty of time so a delay in your flight to NY doesn’t make you miss the international flight.

Also the cheaper hotels with family rooms are in high demand so booking early helps.

Posted by Joanne
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
113 posts

As a family of five, we almost always book our hotels or apartments (fully refundable just in case) at the end of summer the year before. We also book inexpensive tours then as well (we prefer private tours and when you can get them for 200 euros for the full day, well, its worth it before these wonderful guides get booked up). We book our flights in Jan usually. Sign up for notifications when schedules are released for trains. If you book them as soon as reservations open, they can be very reasonable. Do research into restaurants. Many have menus posted online. You can find some very nice, inexpensive places to eat in most locations. But $150 a day for four is very very low. Think of where you eat out at home and the cost. You can't do it for $150 a day I would think unless you're cooking it yourself.

Posted by Mike L
Detroit, MI
239 posts

For comparison, look at my costs. I have no travel companions. I am taking a 14 night trip (to Greece, 1 night on the flight to Greece, 13 nights on the ground) in October. l expect to spend $2,800 to $3,100 total. Let us assume a rough ballpark estimate of $3,000 US dollars. 3,000/14 = about 214.29 per day for me. 214.29 x 4 people = about 857.15. You say you expect to spend $16,600 for 18 nights. 16,600/ 18 = about $922.23. That is only $65.08 more per day than I will spend. This is just a rough ballpark estimate. I predict that you can’t expect to spend much less than your $16,600 estimate; if each adult contributes half the cost, would your personal cost be just $8,300?

Suppose you limit yourselves to no more than one meal per day in a fancy restaurant with table service, eat the breakfast your hotel provides, and buy the rest of your food from grocery stores? Good grocery stores I bought from in ltaly included a fruit section, and a deli counter with some prepared foods; I went to Italy in July 2017; they had stricter hygiene standards than we do - they provide disposable plastic glove you are supposed to put on before touching produce, or an employee has to give you the produce. You might be able to reduce your food costs by a few dollars per day. At least be careful about what you order in restaurants so that you don’t spend MORE than your $16,600 budget.

Posted by diveloonie
Eagle River, AK
380 posts

If you fly Iceland Air, they do have children's prices. I do think you are wise to wait another year. With little ones, you need to really plan and prepare.
We are taking our two (11 &14) for their first Europe trip.
We fly out of Anchorage on Iceland Air to Oslo, Norway and return from Glasglow, Scotland.
Fares for adults were $1,200pp and that was booking over 6 months in advance. Now those same tickets are $1,800pp
My best tip is to book very far in advance!