Summer travel in Europe - realistic?
March 13, 2017 1:03 PM   Subscribe

We (two adults) would like to spend 6-10 days out of the US, preferably in Europe, this summer... for $2000, including airfare. Is this possible? Extremely flexible requirements within.

We'd like to leave the country to celebrate a milestone anniversary. Our preferences:

- Probably Europe? But would also be interested in Central/South America if the destination was right. Have family or friends in Germany and Peru that could lessen accommodations cost.
- We could only spend $2000 on everything, airfare included. We are unfortunately from a middle of the country, mid-sized city with a non-hub airport, and no major hub closer than 7 hours driving distance, which seems to be making my preliminary airfare research ridiculous.
- I'm more into natural beauty, he's more into cities. We like hidden beaches, obscure museums, and everyday cultural experiences; he appreciates hiking, biking, and good public transportation. Iceland, Greek islands, and German forests/castles are appealing to me. He doesn't have a location in mind.
- Not blazing hot or incredibly crowded.
- Obviously we want to see the sights, but we are more into relaxing, slow-paced vacations than jam-packed, touristy sight-seeing. Just living the local life, walking around neighborhoods, eating simple local food.
- Flexible dates - can travel anytime between end of May and end of July.
- I've been to London, Paris, Rome, and Amsterdam so I less interested in those places.
- We are cool with budget accommodations and cheap food, but don't want to go full-on backpacker/hostel style.

I've planned trips before but always had more specific destination or date restrictions, so it was less a matter of meeting a budget and more a matter of getting where we needed to go. I'm feeling a little lost with this much open-endedness.

Is such a trip totally unrealistic for that budget? What resources/websites should I look into for planning? Did you take an awesome trip on a similar budget and want to recommend a specific locale?
posted by raspberrE to Travel & Transportation (22 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I think it might be doable, but not in summer. I'm a inveterate searcher for low airfares to Europe and also live in a non-hub city airport and it's darn hard to find anything under $700/rt per person in the off season. At the height of summer, it does get ridiculous. Even the discount Icelandic airline we just got service from here doesn't help during those times. (This is the reason that all my European travel has been done in January-March.)
posted by soren_lorensen at 1:15 PM on March 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

I subscribe to Scott's Cheap Flights listserv and get sometimes-daily emails notifying me of last minute, low-cost deals for the summer and fall. There's a free version and a premium one, and I'd suspect that even if you subscribe for years, the first flight you buy via the list will offset the cost of years of subscriber fees. (That said, I might peek around the website--or even write Scott himself--to ask if your particular origin city is worth it, as a subscribe, to figure out how frequently you'll get notified about relevant deals if you're flying out of it..)
posted by tapir-whorf at 1:26 PM on March 13, 2017 [6 favorites]

I think you could get a lot of that - including leaving the US, natural beauty, cities, obscure museums, everyday cultural experiences, hiking, biking, not blazing hot, walking around neighborhoods, and eating local food - by heading to Quebec province. Montreal is an international city, and Quebec City feels very European, especially the old city (though it is crowded). For small towns and hiking, you could head east to the Gaspe Peninsula or north to Charlevoix.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 1:27 PM on March 13, 2017 [11 favorites]

I don't think you can realistically do this. The airfare alone to Europe in the summer from a smallish non-hub airport is almost always going to be over $1000 per ticket. You'd have to find an amazing one-off deal to even afford the flight, without even considering the peak season hotel rates you'll have to pay.

You might consider Quebec, if you haven't been. Montreal and Quebec City are both culturally interesting and beautiful, and there's a lot of nature around there, too. You can fly into Burlington, Vermont and rent a car to cross the border - much cheaper than flying internationally. and it's kind of surreal too to drive from the US into a French-speaking countryside.

(Should have previewed. Go to Quebec!)
posted by something something at 1:39 PM on March 13, 2017 [3 favorites]

I was gonna suggest Scott's Cheap Flights, too--I've managed to get 400-500 roundtrip fares for Europe in summer thanks to his notifications...but I think the non-hub airport thing is gonna kill you there. You might want to sign up and take a look or check out his facebook page and see if it's worth picking up cheaper tickets from a larger airport & just finding a discount flight from your location to that airport.
posted by sprezzy at 1:49 PM on March 13, 2017

Cruise? Central America?
posted by Freedomboy at 2:17 PM on March 13, 2017

If you were close to an east coast hub, and able to pack on a day's notice, maybe. So, not doable.

nthing Quebec, and/or possibly New Brunswick and western Nova Scotia (Baie Saint-Marie) for Acadian culture.
posted by holgate at 2:18 PM on March 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

For airfare: You *can* get 2 round trip Norwegian Air tickets for under a $1000--I just did Boston to Norway on a random May week, departing/coming back on Thursdays, and found some tickets for around $750, total. Tacking on airfare from a mid-sized, non-hub midwestern city (Columbus, OH) would push it to about $1150 total.
posted by damayanti at 2:21 PM on March 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

My knee jerk reaction is probably not, and yeah, probably because of the airfare. My wife's family is in Europe and we've tried a wide variety of tricks/tips/strategies for getting to Europe cheaply, but we've found over the last few years that to get to Europe by air, planned in advance, it will generally cost $850-1150 per person. You can edge toward the lower end by being flexible about when you leave. You can edge it lower by being willing to change planes a bunch of times with delays. You can even edge it lower without delays/connections if you're willing to spend a night on either end of your trip in a major connecting city. (Tickets direct to Romania last summer were $1360 each, but when we added a day in Warsaw on either end, they dropped to $920. Plus, we got to see a little of Poland.)

But the really cheap fares to Europe, the ones that will get you over there for $500-ish per person? Those will take either good luck and a promotion or the ability to leave at a moment's notice to capitalize on a last second deal. The problem you'll have with the former is that everyone else is looking for those, too. And the problem you will have with the latter is that "tight budget" and "winging it at the last second" are not good bedfellows.

If you can edge your budget up even to say $2500-2800, you could do any of several countries in Eastern Europe though. Two adults can have a fine time in Romania for $75-100 per day, including meals and lodging.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 2:33 PM on March 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

You can fairly often get to Peru (Lima or Cuzco) from Chicago, Miami, San Francisco or Houston for ~$500 - add to that the cost of a regional domestic flight. Peru travel is relatively affordable - a little more in Lima or Cuzco, but the secondary towns are cheaper. Having friends there will help costwise and with getting oriented to things.

Not for nothing, US summer is an excellent time to visit Machu Picchu - the weather is great and clear. Cuzco is a World Heritage site with Colonial and pre-Colombian attractions. Lima's kind of crap in the southern winter (foggy, drizzly, damp), but it has the most innovative/important food scene in Latin America.

I spent a milestone birthday in Peru one summer a few years ago. It was a good choice.
posted by vunder at 3:36 PM on March 13, 2017 [4 favorites]

Is that $2,000 for both of you? If so, I'm going to suggest that Europe is out just because of airfare unless you really luck out with airfare and are willing to seriously rough it. If it's $2,000 pp, well, I've been doing a lot of research on Greece lately, and if you can get tickets under $1,200, you could probably make that work pretty well.

I would suggest looking into southern Mexico (Oaxaca, Chiapas) and Guatemala for places closer to home with cheaper airfare. Both are great for "wander around and experience local culture" type tourism (that's my favorite kind as well!). Both have lovely colonial towns that you could use as a base to explore surrounding villages, nice places to chill on the water (Oaxaca has the Pacific coast, Guatemala has Lago Atitlan), great food (Oaxaca more than the other places) and lots of good lodging options in the nicer-than-a-hostel-but-still-inexpensive category. Another similar option is Nicaragua, though that might be more expensive to get to.

The nice thing about choosing someplace like Guatemala is that you wouldn't have to spend your entire vacation frantically counting your pennies. Assuming you could get two tickets for $1,000 total, you'd have another $1,000 for food and transport, which would be plenty as long as you don't move around too much and might even leave you enough for some souvenirs or a side adventure.
posted by lunasol at 3:42 PM on March 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

I've been to Iceland twice, the second time on WOW Air, the Greyhound bus of the skies. Here's what we spent flying out of BWI to Reykjavik on our second time around, when we knew a bit better how to save money:

- Airfare total: $750 (yes, for 2 tickets), which includes only one 11-pound carry-on per person
- Air BnB for one week in a 1BR apartment in 101 Reykjavik with laundry and a full kitchen: $80 per night
- Off-books car rental of apt owner's 12 year-old Subaru for sightseeing: $400 for the week
- Parking: $30
- Gas for trip to Jokulsarlon Lagoon, by far the most worthy attraction in the whole country in my opinion: $100
- One night in one of the 3 hotels near Jokulsarlon, since it's 5+ hours from Reykjavik: $120
- Cooked most meals in our apt: $200
- Went out to eat a few times/road food/airport food: $300 (this is LOW for Iceland; it was our second time and we knew how to minimize)
- Blue Lagoon: $90
- Shopping for clothes and souvenirs: $400
- Museum & attraction fees: $100
Total: $3070

This precludes any organized tours, which I actually do recommend to ensure you're seeing the good stuff (NOT bus tours, and certainly NOT Golden Circle tours of any kind). Food in Iceland is hideously expensive because of the short growing season. On the cheap, I recommend delicious lamb/beef hot dogs from Baejarins Pylsur (hot dog) stand in Reykjavik or any gas station on the road.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 3:47 PM on March 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

Examples of lovely places I or friends have stayed in Guatemala or Oaxaca for under $40/night:

Simple room in a lovely lodge on Lago Atitlan
Friendly boutique hotel two blocks from the beach on the Oaxaca Coast
Cozy B&B in Oaxaca City

posted by lunasol at 3:50 PM on March 13, 2017 [4 favorites]

I think August tends to be a relatively cheap time to fly, at least based on my experience flying to London from the US. I was seeing tickets in the $700 range, but I'm also near a major east coast city airport. You also may have an easier time finding cheap accommodations at that point in summer.

One other thing to try is to see which major airport you can fly to for the least amount of money. It's possible that booking two separate tickets (one from your local airport to major hub, the other from major hub to your destination) may be cheaper than booking it all in one go. This also would give you the flexibility to use a different airline for each leg of the trip. I have no idea if this will help, but it's something to check out.

Also, you may find flights for late summer drop in price over the next couple months. I remember reading somewhere that the ideal time to buy tickets is like 6 weeks out for domestic and 2 or 3 months for international (or something like that).

With that being said, I imagine $700 is the cheapest you could get for the international flight. Not sure about the domestic flight, since that's really location dependent. Airfare for two people is going to make this really tough if you absolutely have to stay under $2000. It would definitely help if you have people you can stay with for free.

I will definitely nth Montreal as an alternate destination. Summer would be the ideal time to go because it gets quite cold other times of the year. I really loved it the one time I went.
posted by litera scripta manet at 7:28 PM on March 13, 2017

Definitely Scott's cheap flights. I dont know how small your local airport is, but there are sometimes regional sales where e.g. the whole west coast, from LA to Spokane, will have a deal to Bucharest. He has summer deals now, and for the next month or so. You would have to be flexible and it's not a sure thing, but there are so many low cost carriers in Europe getting to where you actually want to go isn't too bad. Going in may or early June would absolutely help.

Seconding the idea of figuring out which hub airports are cheapest for you to get to - probably whatever carrier is dominant at your smaller airport.
posted by foodmapper at 7:49 PM on March 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

The problem is that Europe itself is pretty expensive. I think you could do this in Greece or eastern Europe, maybe Portugal, but if you only have $800 for 2 people for 6-10 days for everything but airfare you'd better be OK with sharing bathrooms and eating ramen because that is backpacking money.
posted by fshgrl at 9:46 PM on March 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

The pound is very cheap right now - you say you've been to London, but it might be worth thinking of booking separately through a UK site for connecting flights out to Europe. Easyjet fly to a lot of European cities from London airports and Manchester. And occasionally you get a ludicrously cheap flight - I got £1300 in a financial settlement, and we found £350 return tickets from London-Tokyo and a £400 hotel for a week, when we thought we'd never be able to afford to go to Japan. Keep playing around with Kayak and the like.

Iceland is VERY expensive, but you probably know that. I know people who went and took shelf-stable food with them (tins of tuna and pittas) to save on a meal or two a day. Germany, on the other hand, is cheap - cheap to get around, food from supermarkets for a quick lunch tend to be cheap and fairly healthy, beer is very cheap. Berlin is very relaxing - we did a lot of walking and sitting with a drink - and the train network is good (neither of us drive so I have no idea how much car hire is) and will get you around cheaply if you book in advance.
posted by mippy at 5:19 AM on March 14, 2017

Came to agree with a lot of what ImproviseOrDie already laid out. It's the food there that's the killer. It's one of the only places that can make western Europe cheap food wise. I'd just say that if you're going to do the Blue Lagoon, the Golden Circle should also be on the list. Yes, it's touristy but there are reasons some things are. It's mind blowingly gorgeous. Still sad that Jokulsarlon Lagoon didn't work out weather timing wise. I think s/he meant that's 5 hours RT though as it's not that much past Vik, where we went, and that was closer to 2-3 hours.

I found Iceland Air to be cheaper ex-BOS on the day I went. Also worth looking into Norwegian for other destinations as they're doing flights from airports that definitely aren't hubs i.e. Stewart in Newburgh, NY. Maybe cheap flight from heartland to coast on Sprit or Southwest?
posted by TravellingCari at 4:55 PM on March 14, 2017

TravellingCari: Vik is not even halfway between Reykjavik and Jokulsarlon. It's 379km between Reykjavik and Jokulsarlon. Takes 4.5 hours on the clearest day with no traffic on the two-lane highway.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 6:01 PM on March 15, 2017

In terms of flights, I flew Boston - London on Norwegian for £65.30 a couple of weeks ago, and it was 100% pleasant and clean and tidy and friendly and efficient. So they're definitely recommended. The cheapest bet for crossing the Atlantic with them in August appears to be Providence to Belfast or Cork (cheap, as in $700ish total cost for both of you there and back), both of which have plenty of onward options. Belfast, I'd say, has more city attractions, and Cork probably slightly bests it in terms of countryside. And both have plenty of dirt cheap flights to central Europe, the Baltics and Eastern Europe, all of which have many cities and much countryside. Looking further, Providence to Bergen is also an option, and if you can't fly to Providence from your city, it's not too hard to make the connection by rail from Boston.
posted by ambrosen at 6:28 PM on March 16, 2017

How wide is your definition of "Europe"? If it doesn't go further east than Germany, I'd say stick with the Western Hemisphere. But if not, I would suggest focusing your trip on the Balkan countries. Beautiful scenery, mountains, beaches, historical cities, at extremely affordable prices from a US perspective.

Also, I would second the idea of making separate domestic travel arrangements to get yourself to a US hub. You can get amazing sale fares from NY area airports (try Newark, for ease of access) even in high season sometimes.
posted by leticia at 7:59 AM on March 18, 2017

Oh, also, if you travel really light, as in 1 carry on only ideally, you can take advantage of dirt cheap flights within Europe on discount airlines such as EasyJet (already mentioned above), Ryan Air, WizzAir, Air Berlin, etc.

If you haven't already found Rick Steves online, check him out and his "Europe through the back door" approach. He's gotten extremely popular and well-known through his PBS series, so some of his secrets are not so "best-kept" anymore, but his philosophy is still good and his website and books still have a lot to offer to the budget traveler.
posted by leticia at 8:05 AM on March 18, 2017

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