My wife and I leave for our honeymoon in two months! When we got married last year we knew there was no chance we could go on our dream honeymoon for a while having just spent so much money on our wedding. Instead, we decided we would go a few months later in the Spring so we could save money. Winter was lousier than usual in terms of Minnesota weather but as Spring approached we realized we were not yet ready for our trip to London and Paris. This particular adventure required a lot more planning than our previous vacations which were mostly road trips. This time we would need airline tickets, passports, foreign currency, hotels (we often stay with family and the best American hotel chains are less common in Europe), public transportation, language barrier preparation (Beth is fluent in German but neither of us speak any French), and of course money (Europe is expensive). We originally planned to go in May but in late March it became apparent that we needed to reconsider. Although I had done a bunch of research over those long Winter weekends indoors, absolutely nothing had been booked. Rushing to buy plane tickets and book accommodations just wouldn’t be my style so changing our dates was an easy choice. We decided at that point to get serious about finding a flight. Prices were moderately high in the Spring but even higher during the Summer months. I doubled my efforts and tried a number of strategies to find a good deal. After some time we locked in on September when the Summer rates were reduced but hopefully the weather would still be pleasant enough to travel. I discovered that airlines often run specials for certain days of the week. At the time (and possibly continuous for all I know), Icelandair was offering discount rates for flying on a Tuesday. I don’t know why and I didn’t much care. All I saw was a nice discount! We managed to find a few different options for departure dates with trip duration of nine to eleven days, either leaving or returning on a Tuesday. We picked one option that worked around holidays and family gatherings and booked it. With the deal from Icelandair we managed to save $300 per ticket! I never thought that we could get to Europe for under $1000 (each) without rowing a boat.
The first big task was finally complete and it was a big relief. All of my planning to that point had just been figurative. Now we had trip dates and an empty calendar of eleven days that we could fill however we pleased (excluding travel time of course). What I am about to write may seem extremely nerdy but if you’re familiar with me or my blog you know that is inevitable; I have a spreadsheet for planning this honeymoon. I use spreadsheets to plan all of our trips but this one has surpassed all previous incarnations. I have tabs for each planning need including Flights, Accommodations, Sightseeing (one tab for London and one for Paris), Calendar/Itinerary, Costs and a To-Do List. Once we set the dates of our trip it became possible to start creating the itinerary at last. Now I could look for available places to stay instead of just price-shopping. I searched high and low for a hotel where we could comfortably stay without breaking the bank. In London that is no easy task. It is hard to be picky when working on a budget but there are several things we both steadfastly require in a hotel. First, a real bed. To me a real bed means no couches, no futons and one single mattress (not two twin beds pushed together to make a queen like we had in Fayetteville, NC). Second, a clean room. If Tripadvisor reviews say bugs were found in the room I can stop reading instantly and move on. A hotel with decent cleaning standards is a minimum. Third, a private space with secure access. I don’t want to share a room with one or more strangers and I don’t want to wait in line forty minutes to take a shower. Hostels and hotels with shared bathrooms are much more common in Europe than they are in America but thankfully there are plenty of places with en-suite options. Besides these three requirements everything else like microwaves and spa-tubs is just frosting.
In a perfect world we could afford a luxury suite on the top floor with a spa-tub and fantastic view. In reality, after thoroughly searching several travel websites (Travelocity being my favorite in terms of ease of use) I came to the conclusion that if we were going to get an affordable hotel room in London it would be below our standards, overpriced, or both. We simply are not working with the funds necessary to choose one of London’s finest hotels. Because of this, I also spent hours combing through Airbnb, a room-for-rent website similar to the travel sites but for private residences instead of hotels. Hosts on Airbnb often (but not always) live in the apartments or houses where they have a spare room. This gives them added interest in maintaining high quality living conditions with less overhead costs of a hotel. You can search Airbnb based on price, amenities and location. I really like their interface compared to that of the big travel sites. It can be difficult to search listings on Expedia and Booking.com because there are so many hotels available and you cannot always tell where a place is when in list view. I found several appropriate rooms for rent on Airbnb and was able to do so using the map view to make sure I was looking nearby all the big attractions. Another great benefit of using Airbnb over booking a hotel room is that the pictures online are verified to be the room you get when you show up. With hotels, the pictures are not always representative of all the rooms available. I found several options that exceeded my basic requirements and picked one South of the London Bridge. The place I chose was aesthetically pleasing and offered a private bathroom and a shared kitchen. You’ll rarely find a hotel room with a full kitchen!
I haven’t found a place for us to stay in Paris yet but I am definitely leaning towards staying in another private residence. If you’re reading this from your posh Paris home and have room to spare, give me a shout in the comments!
In other news, today I figured out how to enable thumbnail pictures with each blog posting on my homepage. It had been bothering me for quite some time how boring the homepage looked without them but I had searched the overall layout settings without success. I finally looked it up on the six-lettered, omnipotent being that is Google and had my answer within two minutes. Within another five, all of my previous posts now had featured images and my homepage was alive with color! I am new to blogging and am still learning new things about this little website that has made it all happen. If you read my ‘About’ page, it says I started this blog in an attempt to wake myself up intellectually. Really, though, I think I was just bored. I needed a hobby and I wanted it to be both constructive and inexpensive. Before blogging, the only things I could consider hobbies included computer games (I like Red Alert 2, Sim City 4, and Roller Coaster Tycoon), fantasy football (one of my favorite hobbies but a seasonal one), dreaming of buying a house, and browsing Facebook, Yahoo and Google constantly. None of my hobbies met both criteria. This blog became a way for me to write, constructively engaging my mind and in the cheapest way possible. It feels good to write, even if very few people ever read my words. It gives me something to do outside of work and helps bridge the gap between vacations. Two months and counting. Damn, I can’t wait!
Thanks for reading! I will post another update on our trip planning soon.