Thursday, December 2, 2010

Shake it up.

This morning, I found a flight for the itinerary that we want for $1068.

The only problem? A 12 hour layover in Charlotte, NC!

We would arrive in Rome on Friday instead of Thursday, effectively losing a day, but also skipping a night in a hotel.

What to do, what to do???

For me, it's not that bad a deal - I've been to Rome before and don't mind arriving at 9am, spending a day, and then moving on to Siena on Saturday. But we're traveling with people who have never been to Rome, and I feel like it's kind of cheating them out of seeing Rome.

Also? The super cheapo flight I found from Venice to Dublin that cost $40? Is now up to $130! Boo! And WTF!

Some re-thinking may be in order.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Europe Itinerary: Italy only.

While BF, MW, and I are still seriously considering doing both Italy and Ireland next year for our friend's wedding, there's a larger group of us going and most are just going to do the Italy portion.

So, I've been playing with two itineraries for them, based on getting into Rome all at the same time, and ending in Venice and/or Rome.

Itinerary 1:
Wednesday: depart LA for Rome
Thursday: arrive in Rome, evening in Rome
Friday: Rome, evening with the bride!
Saturday: bus to Siena, Siena
Sunday: areas around Siena, San Gimginano, etc.
Monday: Siena, WEDDING!
Tuesday: train to Florence, walking tour of Florence
Wednesday: Florence, museums in the morning, afternoon trip to Pisa
Thursday: train to Venice
Friday: Venice
Saturday: depart Venice for LA (we would depart for Ireland this day)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Ticket price puzzle: Part 3

It's been another 7 weeks since I documented ticket prices, so I thought I'd give it another go even though I found the article about buying tickets in January. Once again, I used the dates of June 15 - July 1, and, well, ticket prices are holding stead at "way too high." But! The good news is that they came down just a smidge!

Prices, as of 8/4/10:
- LAX-Rome, Vienna-LAX: $1466.88
- LAX-Rome, Dublin-LAX: $1332.52
- LAX-Rome, Stockholm-LAX: $1432.00

Prices, as of 9/21/10:
- LAX-Rome, Vienna-LAX: $1406.64
- LAX-Rome, Dublin-LAX: $1331.62
- LAX-Rome, Stockholm-LAX: $1331.62
- LAX-Rome, Venice-LAX: $1418.51

Friday, October 22, 2010

Tipping in Italy

Another day of checking travel blogs, another awesome find that's totally appropriate!

Budget Travel posted an article about tipping in six situations in Italy - and after reading it, I realized that I have been over-tipping!

The article goes into the reasoning behind tipping at a restaurant, and it's an interesting read, but here's the quick and dirty:
•Pizzeria: €1 for each person, unless you are alone, then leave €2 or €3
•Restaurant: About 5 to 10 percent
•Taxi: Round the bill up, if you're feeling generous and the taxi driver took the short route
•Hairdresser: About 5 to 10 percent
•Hotel porters: €1 to €5
•Bar: Maximum €2
I love Budget Travel.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Europe airfare: The search continues.

I recently found a pretty great article on summer airfare to Europe on, and they've quelled a little of my anxiety about how much our flights will cost for next year.

The article, Summer Airfare to Europe, helps answer the question I've been contemplating since we found out we were going to Italy: When to buy our tickets. The short answer? Sometime between January, at the soonest, through March of next year. But what I found most interesting about this article was the table it has - it's a graph that shows the prices of airfare for the first half of 2009 vs. the first half of 2010.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Budget (woes)

As I may have mentioned, I'm a planner. I love to plan. And one of the aspects of planning is budgeting. While watching my "money" slip away as I build a budget is never fun, I still like to play with numbers and estimate what things will cost.

So, I couldn't help but build some budgets for this amazing trip we have in the works.

Of course, I sort of pad my budgets, and I base them on budget hotels, meals, etc. Hotel rooms? $150/night, though I'll be looking for $100/night. Food? $50/day, though we'll probably end up snacking for one meal a day, or buying stuff at the market instead of a restaurant. I think I'm pretty close on transportation, but I'd much rather come in under budget, than have something come up and be ridiculously more than we'd planned.

Here's the disclaimer of how I budgeted food. Breakfast = $10/person. Lunch = $15/person. Dinner = $25/person. I looked at what days we'd need what (arriving in afternoon, no dinner the night of the wedding, etc.) and came up with the food totals.

Monday, October 18, 2010 Walking Tour Maps

I was recently trying to map out a walking tour that I once did in Rome, and in the process I discovered It's a European site that allows you, among other things, to map out your own tours by entering the locations you want to see.

You have tons of options, too - you can visit the places in the order you enter them, or have the map "optimize" for you. You can choose your method of travel - car, foot, or bicycle. And you can see it on a map as well as have written directions. It also calculates the amount of time and distance your itinerary reflects!

I did a quick sample one for Rome when I was writing my last post, and did a tour starting at the Colosseum and ending at the Spanish Steps. Stops along the way include the Mouth of Truth, Castel Sant'Angelo, Piazza Navona, The Pantheon, and Trevi Fountain.

This specific trek is 7.7 km long and estimated to take 2 hours... obviously we'd take longer so we could stop and see stuff, detour, take photos, eat gelato, etc. But I really love this site, and I have a feeling I'll be using it whenever I want to customize a walk!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Need to see list: Rome, Italy

Fountain of the Four Rivers, Piazza Navona


I've started to think about some of the things I want to do there on our trip next year. While I've been to Italy, and spent extensive amounts of time in the three main cities we'll be visiting, we'll be traveling with people who haven't been - and so it becomes a balance of checking out things that they want to see, and us not doing things we've done before and can skip this time around. Obviously, this means that at least for certain things, our group might split up. But, there are some things that never get old (no pun intended!) - the Pantheon, Piazza Navona, Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, and of course, the Colosseum.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Saving tips for a big trip

Saving for a trip can be tough, especially in this economy and with all the other expenses we have in our day to day lives. Since I have a big trip coming up, I thought I'd share three of my savings tips for travel.

A while back, I saw a commercial about that debit card that rounds up your purchases to the nearest dollar and sticks the extra change into a savings account. I thought it was a pretty neat idea, so when I was trying to find a way to save some extra cash for Italy next year, I came up with my own version of it. My "ESA," or "envelope savings account."

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Ticket price puzzle: Part 2

On August 4, I checked ticket prices for the dates of June 15 - July 1 as a test to see what prices might be like for the dates we'll be in Europe next year. It's been six weeks, so let's see what's happened to ticket prices.

Old prices, as of 8/4/10:
- LAX-Rome, Vienna-LAX: $1466.88
- LAX-Rome, Dublin-LAX: $1332.52
- LAX-Rome, Stockholm-LAX: $1432.00

New prices, as of 9/21/10:
- LAX-Rome, Vienna-LAX: $1406.64
- LAX-Rome, Dublin-LAX: $1331.62
- LAX-Rome, Stockholm-LAX: $1331.62
- LAX-Rome, Venice-LAX: $1418.51

I added the LAX-Rome-Venice-LAX option in there because a couple people who will be traveling with us are most likely going to go home from Venice instead of doing the second leg of the trip. I'm pretty shocked at how much that ticket is coming in at right now! Crazy!

I'm also a little surprised at the rest of the results. Vienna came down $60, but Dublin only came down $0.90!?!? What's that about? And, Stockholm came down the most with a drop of almost $101, but Stockholm is pretty much out of the picture at this point. In fact, we've basically decided on Dublin.

I tested the dates for May, which is farther away from our actual dates, and the prices for the Dublin route came in at roughly $1100. Maybe this means the prices will come down next month?

This is not cool, airlines! I need ticket prices to come down some more over the next month (we'd like to book our tickets Oct/early Nov), because if they stay this high, it's really going to blow my proposed budget out of the water!

Friday, September 10, 2010

ATL Redux

My trip to Atlanta from a few weeks ago was pretty uneventful - it was for work, and I was literally there for about 30 hours. But I liked the city, and packed in tons!

Hotel room - 7th floor and nicely air conditioned!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Airline tickets: Where to buy?

I have a question for you seasoned travelers out there.

Where do you buy your plane tickets?

Do you use one of the discount sites? Book directly through the airline? Whatever is cheapest?

I'm still looking at prices for next year's trip, and so far, all they've done is go up. They'd better drop at some point, or we could be blowing through our budget faster than we thought!

And then I ran into a dilemma.

See, Orbitz offers "price assurance." You buy a ticket, then if someone books your exact itinerary later for less money, you get a refund. Sounds great, right? But the catch is that little, five letter word - exact. What are the chances of someone flying from LA to Rome, then home from Dublin? Unless they're traveling with me, not very likely!

So, what to do? Do you try to find a cheaper flight, and spend the money, risking it dropping several hundred dollars later? Or do you to pay a little more up front, on the off chance that someone else books that same itinerary and you get a refund?

Right now I'm looking for the cheapest possible ticket, but I'm curious if anyone has used the Orbitz price assurance with success.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Itinerary (v3)

Changes again and again. I love the process of planning a trip. And in my obsessive organization, I will most likely document our planning process on this blog. I'm ok with that - how 'bout you?

Here's the newest version of our itinerary - it's customized for me and BF, and our friend MW who has expressed lots of interest in Ireland!

Wednesday: flight to Rome from LAX
Thursday: arrive in Rome, night in Rome
Friday: Rome, night in Rome
Saturday: train to Siena, night in Siena
Sunday: Siena, day trips to San Gimignano and surrounding areas, night in Siena
Monday: WEDDING! Night in Siena
Tuesday: Train to Florence, night in Florence
Wednesday: Florence, day trip to Pisa, night in Florence
Thursday: train to Venice, night in Venice
Friday: Venice, night in Venice
Saturday: Venice, night flight to Dublin, night in Dublin
Sunday: Dublin, rent car, drive to West Coast, night in Ballyshannon
Monday: West Coast of Ireland, night in Ballyshannon
Tuesday: West Coast of Ireland, night in Ballyshannon
Wednesday: West Coast of Ireland, drive to Dublin, return car, night in Dublin
Thursday: Dublin, night in Dublin
Friday: Fly home from Dublin, arriving on Friday night

So, it's changed rather significantly, but I think it works. It has a quicker time in Italy for those who are coming for the wedding, but only want to stay for a week, and then it allows for people to split up and/or do their own thing after Venice. Plus, it balances the trip for BF, who was a little worried that he wasn't going to get to pick anything on the trip. :-)

Ticket price puzzle.

Since we (as a group) decided we want to get our airline tickets for next year's trip within the next few months, I've been researching prices. I've never quite cracked the "when to buy" puzzle for international travel. So I've been testing out different dates with different locations to see what our best option will be.

We're currently considering three places to go after Italy.
- Vienna. I'd like to go back, but BF isn't totally sold.
- Dublin. BF really, really wants to go back to the West coast of Ireland.
- Stockholm. A friend has an old roomie who could show us around.

I'm currently testing out the dates 6/15 - 7/1, since it's not 11 months of the date we want to come back yet. I want to test as close as possible, because of course, we'll be going at the height of tourist season.

Here are the current ticket prices, as of 8/4/10:
- LAX-Rome, Vienna-LAX: $1466.88
- LAX-Rome, Dublin-LAX: $1332.52
- LAX-Rome, Stockholm-LAX: $1432.00

I was kind of surprised that the tickets from Dublin were the cheapest! $1300 is still more than we'd like to spend - we were hoping for more like $1200 at the maximum, so we'll wait it out a little and keep checking.

Do you have any ticket buying tips for us?

Friday, July 30, 2010

Already revised.

Our itinerary for next year's Europe trip is already shifting and evolving.

The Italy dates are still pretty solid - we'll be traveling there for a wedding after all, and a bunch of us will be on that part. But the rest is all sorts of up in the air!

We had previously planned to go to Vienna after Italy. But then we started thinking - we could go anywhere, really! We could go to Stockholm and see Candy K's Swedes. We could go to Vienna as previously planned and see my friend Wolfi for the first time in a while. We could make a trek over to Scotland and see the highlands. Or we could go back to Ireland and see more of the North West coast we loved so much last year.

We have a little bit of time to play around and daydream, and it's been so fun to do so. Obviously, we need to figure out where we're flying in and out of before we book, but the possibilities are endless!

If you were (or are) going on this trip with us, where would you go after Italy??

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Great Philly Cheesesteak Adventure

One of the best things we did while on the East Coast in October was extend our stay in Philadelphia in order to check out the best places for Philly Cheese Steaks. A college friend who has relocated to Philly took us around to the two most famous places, along with HIS favorite place. KK and I split a cheese steak at each location, and at the end decided which one was our favorite based on overall taste, meat, bread, and location.

The three places we visited were: Pat's, Geno's, and Jim's. (Apparently, in order to have a good Philly cheese steak place in Philly, your restaurant has to be named after a person.)

Pat's was first on the list. The first thing we had to learn was how to properly order a Philly Cheese Steak. Fortunately, we had this handy dandy "how to!"

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Group travel is... tough?

Planning a trip with a group can be tough. There are so many things to consider - people's tastes, what people want to do and see, where to stay, where to eat. It's exponentially easier when you have a group of friends like mine - we're all pretty flexible, and we're not against the idea of "subgroups" going and doing their own thing for a while. We're low key people, and I have a feeling it's going to make planning our trip to Italy next year for our friends' wedding a fun process rather than a tedious one.

The one thing to keep in mind is the constant changing of plans - take, for example, the itinerary. Granted, the itinerary I posted for the trip was SUPER rough, but it's only three days later and things are already changing. When I did that itinerary, I was thinking that the majority of people would want to do their own thing after being in Florence. I knew one friend wanted to visit the people she worked for in the Alps, and thought it might be fun to detour there. But I forgot that about half the people going have never been to Italy, and that for them, Venice might be more important than the Alps. So I took the two days assigned to the Alps, and put them in Florence and in Venice instead. That way, my one friend can still go visit her people, but others have more opportunity to explore the areas they're interested in. I also made a split on one day - some people want to stay in Rome a day longer while some want to go up to Siena with the bride and groom.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Italy 2011 - A tentative itinerary.

So I just found out that one of my bestest friends in the world is going to get married next year in Siena, Italy! I am SO stoked, and less than 24 hours after finding out, I'm already planning my itinerary.

Wanna see what I'm thinking? I thought you might!

The wedding is in late June, on a Monday. The bride and groom are planning on going to Rome for a few days before the wedding, and having people who want to meet up there so that we can all caravan to Siena. So this itinerary is based on that - and the fact that BF and I want to make a great trip of this and go for a solid 2 - 2.5 weeks.

Flying out on a Wednesday night, and arriving in Rome on a Thursday. We're thinking of flying into Rome and flying out of Vienna.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Galway, Ireland

We were only in Galway for 20 hours or so - we dropped off our rental car around 1pm on a Sunday and were on a train back to Dublin at 10am the next morning. But we did rather enjoy exploring and running around - even though it rained pretty steadily the whole time!

Galway is a college town. Lots of bars, lots of tourists, lots of kids 18 - 23. It wasn't really the place for us, but I can see it making a great base for checking out the surrounding areas. We checked into our hotel, grabbed lunch, then walked. And walked and walked and walked. We walked along the "Claddagh," and kept mostly to the coastal areas that most tourists were avoiding. It was invigorating and lovely, and we were so thoroughly exhausted when we got back to the hotel that we had some tea and just crashed. Plus, it was Sunday, so a lot of things weren't open. I think we even skipped dinner that night!

Main shopping drag in Galway

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Sean Og's pub, Ballyshannon, Ireland

The best find of our trip to Ireland was a pub in the small town of Ballyshannon called Sean Og's. We arrived in Ballyshannon late on a Friday night and checked in to our hotel, then wanted a bit of nightlife. And oh, boy, did we get it! We wandered around Ballyshannon and stopped in at another bar for a drink, but no one was all that friendly, so we kept moving. Then we found Sean Og's.

Sean Og's - Ballyshannon, Co. Donegal

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Driving in Northwest Ireland

We spent a good chunk of our trip in Ireland in the Northwest part of the country, and we were SO happy we did. There are far fewer tourists, and it's far less "touristy." I decided to do a photo post of our driving adventure, because it was simply gorgeous.

The first lake we happened upon - it was huge! We drove next to it for about 30 minutes before we got to this point - and we were barely near the middle of the lake!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Ireland: Driving on the left.

Once we got to Galway, we rented a car. The functionality of it was fairly perfect - you get off the train in Galway, leave the train station, turn left, walk half a block to the main square, cross one street, and you're at the Budget Rental Car office. Easy peasy, even in a light rain.

Our little car, on a "two way" road by Lough Eske in Co. Donegal.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Dublin, Ireland

Let's cut right to the chase:

Dublin is... a city. I don't mean that in a bad way - cities have their fair share of charm and excitement - but there wasn't a "WOW" factor to it for us. I think when we planned the trip, we were hoping for green and countrysides and epic views, and Dublin wasn't that. I was elated to be back in Europe - in a place where tea was an acceptable alternative to coffee, and people drove on the left side of the road, but other than the general feel of being back in Europe, Dublin didn't do a whole lot for us. For one, we didn't meet all that many Irish people in Dublin. There are tons of transplants - so many people from different countries and cultures! Which was great in its own respect, but we were chomping at the bit to get a good feel for the country.

The first thing we did when we got off the plane was have a beer. Well, BF had a beer, I had coffee. It was only 9am, after all, but we were on vacation!

The first Guinness!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Flying Aer Lingus to Ireland

The first thing I noticed about flying to Ireland last year was that flying to Europe as a 27 year old is much different than flying to Europe as a 20 year old. I was not expecting to be jet lagged - and it took a bigger toll on me than it used to. But it didn't matter too much, because hello, we were going to Europe!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Buying tickets to Ireland, plus our itinerary!

In June of last year, I started to get the travel bug. Bad. It made me obsessively check Travelzoo, and Kayak, and all of my other favorite travel sites. We had considered a trip to Ireland for a while, and when I started seeing air fare rates drop on Aer Lingus, we decided it was high time to do it.

After monitoring for a few weeks, we found a fantastic deal: Los Angeles to Dublin, round trip, for $482 per person, after taxes. We booked directly through the Aer Lingus website - Los Angeles to Chicago to Dublin, and back.

Then, it was just about figuring out our itinerary. We wanted to get a good taste of Dublin, but we didn't want to spend all of our time there. We wanted to see the country, and decided that renting a car was our best option. My boyfriend wanted to see the North West of the country, I wanted to see as much coast as possible.