Is it worth it to vacation for a week in Europe/UK?
March 9, 2018 8:38 AM   Subscribe

I am finally considering taking vacation, and would love to go overseas. However, I may just have a week to take off (possibly two if I’m lucky) and considering either London or Amsterdam (or Iceland because the tickets are not super expensive.) it would be in June. I’m flying from the east coast and have never flown outta the country alone before. Is it worth it to go overseas for a week? Or is that a waste with the travel time? What are some weeklong US alternatives if so? Budget snowflakes inside.

I would hope to leave on a Saturday or Friday if possible, and arrive by Sunday. Some of the plane tickets say that the flight would take over 12 hours with layover though. I wanted to do either Amsterdam, Iceland, or the UK, and I have found some one week itineraries on the internet so I’m sure it’s possible. I want to sight see, take pictures, eat good food, and relax. A friend lives in the UK so I have a place to stay in one city. This would be a solo trip, I’m not sure if that complicates more time issues for traveling around without a partner to help.

Would you say it’s worth it? Plane tickets are now $600 and under for round trip with some of the deals, which I think are about normal.

I am unsure how much to budget for the trip. After research, for one person, who is trying to do it relatively cheaply, it looks like one week would be $1500? Or maybe that’s too little? If it is not as expensive as I think, I may be able to extend my trip and stay longer. I plan to stay in Airbnb’s or hostels.

If this is a waste, any recommendations for a week long trip in the US? I’m looking for cities to sight see but also have some activities and relaxing options. It’s pretty general. Hopefully not an inferno since it will be June. I have been to Chicago, San Fran, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Nashville, Portland, LA, and Denver.

Thanks in advance !
posted by socky bottoms to Travel & Transportation (30 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I wouldn't pass up a trip to London especially since you'd have lodging covered for the trip. If you can time your flights right, you can sleep on the plane.

As for big cities that aren't on your list that offer lots of things to do: Boston, Miami, Washington, DC, and Seattle.
posted by mmascolino at 8:48 AM on March 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

Absolutely worth it! Jet lag will eat into your available time, but you can see and do a lot in even five solid days. In fact, I'd say five days in Amsterdam might be a bit much, unless you are really committed to Dutch history or art. Neither Iceland nor London is cheap, but there are more cheap options in London than in Iceland. $1500 excluding airfare should be all right if you stay in budget accommodations (I was just recommending the Jesmond in another post) and mostly eat from grocery stores, which may not be quite as fun as some of the other options but will be fine.
posted by praemunire at 8:49 AM on March 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

If you're staying with a friend, $1500 seems like a lot for a week -- unless you are planning on eating at expensive restaurants the whole week and buying a ton of souvenirs. It would really depend on what specifically you want to do, but I would budget $1000-1100 depending on that (and if including flight at the rate you mention), especially if only for a week. I like the Lonely Planet websites for making my own itineraries -- it's more fun to read ahead than to pay for expensive tours, etc, in my opinion. Also, if you are trying to save money, Airbnb is a great resource -- especially if you are going to be out and about most of the time, you really just need a place to crash, so just rent a room somewhere via airbnb - look at reviews and pick the most convenient one. Note that Europeans hosts, in my experience, don't really treat Airbnb like a hotel as some do in US -- but do you really need that if you're not going to be sitting there all day?

Under $600 RT is very good, especially for June. And no, a week is not a waste of time. I'm European and make the trip 1-2 times a year to see my family that lives out in the middle of nowhere with limited vacation time available to me. It's a little rough, sure, but if you schedule it so your trip goes over 2 weekends instead of 1 it'll give you some extra time for actually being there. I'm always in favor of trying new places, even if it means just a day trip - I think travel is so good for your brain in so many ways. Do it!!

A few more tips:
1. Bring your own snacks. Airport food is generally not healthy or filling. I like to bring things that can last the trip, like apples, nuts, dried fruits, and Rx Bars. Once you get to where you are going, go to the grocery store and pick up more snacks so you are not spending a ton on food while you are out. You can even make a meal for the way to Europe - just put it in a disposable container so you don't have to lug that around while traveling.
2. Speaking of food while you are out, don't go to all the touristy places. At least in Italy I've found that if you make your own route to get to monument X you'll avoid all the pricey touristy places that are found along the route that signs give you.
3. Do you know about Scott's Cheap Flights? If not, google it! They have great deals on there for all sorts of trips. I have a feeling once you take one international trip, you will want to do it again ASAP :)

Have fun!

P.S.: I loved London (just visited for the first time this winter). Totally worth it!!!
P.P.S.: To deal with jetlag: caffeine! You only live once. Stay awake and think about sleeping extra when you get home.
posted by dubhemerak3000 at 8:54 AM on March 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

A week in a city or three in Europe sounds lovely, and if you can stay with a friend in the UK, do it! After airfare, hotels are generally the next most expensive thing about traveling.

Your friend could probably name a week's worth of places to eat to help you fairly accurately budget for the food, and if you're trying to make it a cheaper trip, you could make your breakfast and lunch at your friend's place, and eat dinner out.

Then look up places you'd like to go in the area, look at the cost to go to those places and figure in some extra money for souvenirs and gifts, and you should have your budget!

Traveling solo can be nice, because you can do exactly what you want to do, and when you want to do it. Do you want to spend a day in a museum or two? Do it! Prefer to wander the city idly, popping into shops and sights that pique your fancy? Why not?

If you're looking for US adventures, I'll happily and gladly promote the southwest, particularly New Mexico, an often overlooked corner of high desert beauty and history, which means it's not a crowded tourist destination. You can fly into Albuquerque or Santa Fe, get on the train between those cities and bop around the major central locations, or rent a car and wander far and wide.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:55 AM on March 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

Quadruple P.S.: If you do go to London, I do recommend paying the price to see Westminster Abbey and paying for an in person tour (that part is only like 5 pounds). I found that to be absolutely worth it.

I also re-read your question -- if you are going to multiple cities, $1500 sounds reasonable. Definitely rent rooms, and not "entire places," on Airbnb, though, to make that work. Or, if you're traveling light, you could look at hostels, too, which are a great place to meet all sorts of interesting people along the way.
posted by dubhemerak3000 at 9:01 AM on March 9, 2018

A week is a long time to spend in Amsterdam itself, but the Netherlands is small enough that you can day-trip to other cities. That would increase your transportation costs a bit, but the country's small size (and excellent public transportation) also means you don't need to stay in central Amsterdam, where hotels will be the most expensive. And bike rentals are very affordable!
posted by neushoorn at 9:09 AM on March 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

You don't say where you are coming from in the US. That is a really good price for a flight. The travel will be long but I think if you just go one place (I'd go to London and stay there) I think it would be terrific. There's no end to the stuff you can do and the cost would be inexpensive. I'd see what your friend's situation is (i.e. would it be okay to stay there the whole time, or maybe getting an AirBnB in a different part of the city for a few days) and you can spend some of your allotted money on food/gifts for them as well as yourself.

I've been to London twice in the past two years and getting there, the time thing works in your favor, it's a little tough when you get back. I mostly got an app for my phone and was off to the races taking public transportation around and visiting libraries. It's very easy to get around with an Oyster Card and it's easy to do on your own. I think it's worth it.
posted by jessamyn at 9:12 AM on March 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

Absolutely worth it! Not sure where you are coming from in the US, but from the East Coast, it takes a roughly equivalent amount of time for us to get to California, and a time change is involved. It's hardly any bigger a deal to go to Europe, and well worth it - yes, a little more jet lag each leg but nothing that should be an obstacle. Each day will feel much longer and richer than most days in a domestic location.
posted by Miko at 9:24 AM on March 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

Definitely worth it—I took two week-long overseas trips last year myself. If you concentrate your time in one or two areas rather than moving around to several locales, a week is plenty of time to do some sight-seeing and also get a bit of time to just relax. Flights to the US West Coast won't be all that much shorter.

In order to make the best use of your available time I do recommend getting a non-stop flight instead of choosing one with a layover. Most of the cheaper flights from the US to Europe I see have sub-optimal layover schedules, where the stopover is just long enough to get bored with spending a bunch of time in an airport but not long enough to visit the area outside and still feel comfortable getting back for the connecting flight.
posted by 4rtemis at 9:32 AM on March 9, 2018

I live on the west coast and I'd still consider it worthwhile to "only" go to Europe for a week, despite the travel time. In the last few months I have been to London for 5 days (perfect amount of time), Amsterdam for a weekend (plenty), and Iceland for a week (perfect because I did a road trip but if I were just sticking to Reykjavik this would have been too much time, TBH).

posted by joan_holloway at 9:32 AM on March 9, 2018

Iceland is amazing, but it is also incredibly expensive (easily equivalent to London prices, if not significantly more, especially for things like alcohol) - and IMNSHO better experienced when you have the time and $$ (or fellow traveller to share costs) to rent a car and get out and about rather than relying on coach tours, etc.

I wouldn't pass up the opportunity of free accommodation in London - that cuts a major cost, and gives you a lot more cash spare for food and transport, which should be your major costs as a lot of the museums and galleries and so on are free.

I can offer no opinion on Amsterdam.
posted by AFII at 9:34 AM on March 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

I would find it worth it for a week, even if it's a shortened week of 5 days with two days travel, I'd find it worth it.
posted by zizzle at 9:36 AM on March 9, 2018

If you can get a direct flight to London from where you live, it's really not that different than flying to California from the East Coast.

Is it worth it to go overseas for a week?

I travel quite a bit, probably three or four months total a year. I find that after about a week I start really itching to get home and be in my own bed and space for a while. So to me, 9 days or so in Europe (including travel days) is probably about the sweet spot of maximizing experience time and justifying the cost while not going so long that I'm thinking that I'd rather just be home. YMMV.

Also, unless your work schedule is flexible, you shift sleep schedules easily, or your management is extremely forgiving, budget at least one day of rest when you get home before trying to dive back into work.

Consider what you really want to see - there's beautiful nature, high end food, and things like art museums just about everywhere, but if you want to see long-term historical areas and ancient buildings, there's only so much you can see in the US. As a friend that loved Europe put it to me, the college dorm he lived in there was older than the United States.

any recommendations for a week long trip in the US?

New York City isn't on your list yet. Have you done that? You might also look at the Finger Lakes or the various artist colonies in upstate NY.

Detroit has art museums as well as many things related to automotive history and puts you near the Great Lakes.

The greater Seattle area is worth considering.

Maybe Salt Lake City with a trip to the national parks.

If you want to consider Canada, there's Montreal, Quebec, Vancouver, and (if you're willing to forgo the city aspect) the Banff area or Nova Scotia.

Similarly, if you enjoy the outdoors, you can easily spend a week in Iceland by itself.
posted by Candleman at 9:45 AM on March 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

My first solo trip was to London for a week, and it was great! Most of the museums are free, I ate breakfast at my hotel and brought granola bars for one other meal, then splurged and had a fancy lunch or dinner each day, and it was still pretty cheap.

That said, if you have an option to get out of London and go to a friend's city, that would be wonderful, as the countryside is different an beautiful. So yes, absolutely, go!
posted by ldthomps at 9:48 AM on March 9, 2018

I love visiting London--have friends there who are usually working during the day, so I can vouch that it is a very fun city to explore alone. Just get an oyster card so that you can easily tap on/off of public transportation, and you can get all over the place. The parks and museums are free, and you can pick up pretty good ready meals in Waitrose or other grocery stores (I think Waitrose has the best variety for the price), so you can save your money--I like to go to a couple of nicer dinners and/or bars while I'm there, and eat cheap during the day!

A week is perfect for one major city and a couple of day-trips; one day trip I LOVED from London was going to the New Forest and seeing the wild ponies. Most of my trips have been 6-8 days and I've been exhausted on the return trip but otherwise fine. Try to work it so you take a red-eye over and get yourself home in the late evening so you can get home and go to bed.

$600 RT is an amazing deal; I'm usually excited if I see anything below $900 RT, but I am usually flying SFO/LHR.
posted by assenav at 9:50 AM on March 9, 2018

Just a heads up that 26th May - 3rd June is a school holiday and touristy places/AirBnBs are likely to be be busier/much more expensive that week.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 9:59 AM on March 9, 2018

of course it's worth it, and it's perfectly typical. I've rarely been able to take more than a week's vacation at once while employed since I entered the workforce twenty years ago and I've gone to Europe a lot since then.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:14 AM on March 9, 2018

I recently did about a week in Iceland and Amsterdam. It's amazing and was totally worth It. I took a red eye out of Boston and slept so wasn't too tired for the weekend in Iceland. Was an early morning flight to Amsterdam so a long Monday, but well worth it. Timed it to come home Thursday night so I had only one wrok day and then the weekend to recuperate, and I was fine.
Coincidentally also did about a week long domestic trip. I flew to Denver and rented a car and explored Wyoming, South Dakota and Nebraska. Completely different from Europe but both amazing.
posted by TravellingCari at 10:20 AM on March 9, 2018

My family and I have done all three of your proposed destinations. In fact, last summer we did Iceland AND Amsterdam on a 10-day vacation. The main tourist highlights of Iceland are easily doable over a long weekend; we spent a day in Reykjavik and a day doing the Golden Circle/Blue Lagoon and felt quite satisfied by the experience, so a couple more days to do, say, the ice caverns, or see some of the other huge waterfalls, or such fills out a 5-day trip nicely.

Same with Amsterdam. There is just about enough tourist stuff to keep you busy for 5 days or so. We saw the art museums, the Anne Frank House, took a dinner cruise on the canals, saw the Hidden Church, walked all over the city, etc. all in 5 days.

London is a much different beast, but if you plan your visit well, you can cover a lot of stuff in 5 days. We've been twice, but after each trip I felt like we had seen/done quite a lot, with the understanding that there was so much more we could see.
posted by briank at 10:28 AM on March 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

I just did a weeks trip from Europe over to the west coast and it felt very relaxed (relaxation was part of your goal right?) because I went to stay with a friend who lives near the airport and I didn’t have any layovers and I had no plans in particular- I just went for some better weather and to see my friend. The jet lag was awful coming back (West-east) but maybe wouldn’t be as bad for you since it’s the other way around and less hours difference. Definitely worth it but if it’s relaxation you want then avoid more than one city/language (there is stress involved in learning how to buy and use a travel card for example, how to get to your place to stay, how much things cost, how to use the key to get into your place) if you’re an unseasoned Traveller or someone who gets stressed out by things then don’t make an ambitious plan, see or stay with your friend in London and just walk around and eat good food.
posted by catspajammies at 10:58 AM on March 9, 2018

I think you should do it! Iceland is especially doable since it's a shorter flight, but free lodging in the UK sounds equally attractive, and the flight is only a couple hours longer. As long as you don't overschedule yourself and give yourself an easygoing first day, you will still have a great time.

As for costs, I just spent a week in Iceland for $1000, and Iceland is famously expensive. I got a super cheap flight, was very frugal, and split costs with a travel buddy. Yes, it was worth it - in fact, one of the highlights of my life thus far. $1500 sounds absolutely doable if you're staying in affordable accommodations and know how to travel cheaply.

One last note - if you want to sight-see in a city rather than spend time in nature, I would go to the UK or Amsterdam, not Iceland, which is mostly rural.
posted by toastedcheese at 11:38 AM on March 9, 2018

Yes, definitely worth it. No matter how long you stay, there will always be things you didn't have time to see or do. But it's better to have a smaller number of great memories of a place you really want to go than none at all.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:17 PM on March 9, 2018

A couple years ago I did a trip where I flew into London and out of Amsterdam, within about a week - so a full week in either city strikes me as more than enough time. London is super-expensive for hotels so if you have a free place to stay, take that opportunity while you can.

I will second that Holland is so so so much more than just Amsterdam - there are plenty of other cities worth exploring in the region (Utrecht/Delft/Rotterdam/Den Haag/Haarlem etc), and you can even go down to Antwerp/Ghent/Bruges area in Belgium in a short train ride. There are also very cheap busses loved by backpackers but those can take more time and be less reliable.
posted by Gortuk at 1:17 PM on March 9, 2018

Go go go! $600 RT is an incredible round-trip fare for Europe in June (at other times of the year I'd consider it a good but not extraordinary fare, but summer is high season for US-Europe travel).

Having been to London and to Amsterdam (but not Iceland), you can't go wrong with either, but I'd recommend London. It's a very friendly city for Americans on their first time abroad, but still culturally different enough to be very interesting. If you want to shake things up a bit you could always do day trips to places like Oxford or Cambridge, or Bletchley Park (WWII codebreaking).
posted by andrewesque at 1:38 PM on March 9, 2018

A week is a perfect amount of time to see a major city. If I were you, I'd go to London. Pick one or two day trips that you're interested in (or one overnight trip if there's something you really want to see and is more than 2 hours away). For the other days, pick 1-2 sites to see each day. I find that's a good happy medium between packing too much in and feeling aimless. Spend the rest of the time just wandering around and soaking up the culture, ducking into pubs, eating great Indian food, etc. For instance, one day you could go to the Tower of London in the morning and Spitalfelds Market in the afternoon, and spend the rest of the day wandering around the immigrant/hipster neighborhoods of that part of the East End.

If you're excited about Iceland but don't want to go deep, you could do it as a stopover on your way to London. Icelandair offers packages for this exact purpose. You could do this instead of a day trip from London.

Oh, and if London is not the city you have a friend to stay with, I really recommend airbnb, partially because London is expensive, but also because the "downtown" area where most of the hotels are is pretty corporate and boring as a place to stay. I stayed in Islington and Shoreditch and loved both.
posted by lunasol at 2:55 PM on March 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'd say that's a decent spot of time to spend in one city in Europe. London is obviously a great place to go, though I hear Iceland is one not to miss. I suppose it depends on whether you want to holiday in the hustle and bustle or in a more rural environment.

If you end up staying Stateside, New Orleans is having their tri-centennial this year. It was a blast when I visited at the turn of the century. I get goosebumps at the thought of what's up the city's sleeve for such a milestone!
posted by arishaun at 4:22 PM on March 9, 2018

Chiming in to say that you should consider Lisbon!

It’s as close to the US as Europe gets and you can fly direct from Newark (and possibly other airports on the east coast). Helps with minimizing jet lag and making it more doable in a week.

I think it would tick a lot of your boxes in terms of having sights to see, good food, and also a relaxing vibe to the city. You can easily spend 5-6 days there, especially with a day trip to Sintra. I’ve been to Lisbon three years in a row and still want to go back. Also, Portugal is an inexpensive country compared to most other places I’ve been in Europe.
posted by bkpiano at 6:36 PM on March 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

A week in London from the East Coast is totally doable. Two of those days are taken up by travel. One of those days can be the South Bank area with all the touristy bits. Another day or two is museums (we have so many that are free and great!!) You can do a day trip out to Bath or Brighton. And lots of cheap places to eat if you lean on your friend for advice or come back here for another question.
posted by like_neon at 12:13 AM on March 10, 2018

After you arrive, the major expenses are lodging and inter-city travel (car rental, trains, more flights).

Location is an important factor in lodging--is the place you're staying in close to things you want to do? If not, is it close to public transit? If you find a place to stay that's cheap, but you end up spending a lot of time each day walking to a metro stop, it's not as attractive a deal.

Of course, if you have a friend to stay with in the UK, that by itself might be more valuable than any other factor.

Day trips by train are great from most cities in Europe. Sites like can give you an idea of the time and cost involved.

Two things I research before I go are museum pass offers and public transit passes (like the oyster card mentioned above). Both of those are big conveniences, and help with budgeting.

In North America, either Montreal or Quebec City are destinations I like. Either is worth 4-5 days, at least, if you're just staying in the city.

One place I've been that would be a great city destination for someone travelling outside the U.S. for the first time is Santiago, Chile. I enjoyed Santiago a lot, it's easy to manage, atmosphere is great, people are nice, great metro system, nice restaurants and museums, and it satisfied my amateur-photographer needs. A couple of credit cards, a bit of Spanish, and you'd be set to explore on your own. Only downside for your scenario is that you'd be unlikely to get super-cheap plane fare there comparable to what you're finding for Europe.
posted by gimonca at 7:40 AM on March 10, 2018

I would go to London to stay with a friend, esp if it is your first trip out of North America. It will be fun to experience a new country with a friendly person alongside you. London has a LOT to offer from the point of view of culture, food, beautiful parks, history and pomp.

I would give Iceland a miss at this time. It's a white-hot destination right now. Hotels are most likely all booked up already, and what is left is either the dregs, or horribly expensive. I have been to Iceland many times as of 2010 and been keeping track in the news about the touristic goings-on. Please don't misunderstand: it's a gorgeous country, but totally overrun with tourists thanks to cheap flights like WOW for $99 from North America. Avoid until it all calms down.
posted by seawallrunner at 4:50 PM on March 11, 2018

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