About 18 months ago my sister Susan, my daughter Lisa and I went to Paris for a short trip. Susan had noticed a deal for a 4 night trip, including airfare and hotel, for $399 being offered. She called me, asking if I thought Lisa would like to go with her. Squashing my irritation of not being included, I cheerily offered, “I bet she would! Call her!” and then grumbled to Graham about not being invited. But after they talked they each sent me an email, very much inviting me and hence, we went. It was a great trip!
So the first question most people have is how my sister found such a deal. I’ll tell you that in a moment.
Because, actually, that is NOT the most important question. Whenever you find a “deal” whether it is a fly/stay package like the Paris trip or an “all-inclusive” price at a resort or cruise, you need to know what else you will pay! What are the hidden costs?
The Cruise Critic website is chock full of information about cruises, individual ships, ports of call and much much more. If you plan for a cruise you need to consider:
• shore excursions offered by the ship (you can find tremendous savings if you search out land-based tour offerings),
• alcohol and other beverages (some ships offer pre-purchased beverage cards and may also permit you to carry a cooler on board with soft drinks),
• casino gambling (just better stick to a set budget if you feel you can’t avoid the casino),
• spa (there might be onboard discounts on a day when the ship is in port),
• shopping (no bargains on board),
• laundry (expensive so pack enough and do it at home),
• the fuel surcharge (they may claim to have not raised their cruise rates but the fuel surcharge rises and falls with the cost of oil).
• In addition, for a cruise you need to remember to budget at least $10 a day per person of your party for tips to the dining room waiter ($4) and assistant waiter ($2), and the cabin steward ($4). These people work hard to provide good service and their wages are low.
Many all-inclusive resorts include a lot of no-cost amenities. For example, Sandals clearly states that you do not need to bring cash, because even the gratuities are included, but if you want to take any tours outside of the resort (in other words, go SEE something of the country you re visiting), plan to spend more. And not all resorts include everything, like Sandals does. The base price of any resort can vary significantly. So read the small print and be sure to add in the costs of those aspects that are not included which you would want to have.
So, let’s go back to December 2009 and the trip to Paris. Yes, the trip cost more than $399 per person. The first thing my sister did was upgrade the hotel to a better location on the Left Bank. That raised the cost to $429 per person, still a great deal. Airfare alone usually costs more. The price included a continental breakfast. We had to purchase our other meals.
So, then came the planning for what we would do once we were there and that is where I got to work. I started by asking my trip companions what they wanted to see and do. Lisa had been to Paris before, like me only for a few days, so she had some ideas of what was fun and we might want to do and other places she had seen that she had no interest in seeing. Susan had quite a long list.
We had an interesting discussion about the Louvre. I asked her why she had included it and she said that “everyone goes there.” I asked her why she in particular wanted to go and she vaguely said she wanted to see “art”; that Paris is known for art. I reminded her she does not go to art museums anywhere, either where she lives or when she travels. I promised her that we would see art, either in galleries or we would go to another, more accessible museum if it rained. As it turned out, the museums were on strike when we were there so if the Louvre had been the only thing we planned we would have had to adjust on the spot.
My goal, as it is for all our trips, was to see Paris as few tourists do. I ended up arranging two half-day tours with Richard Nahem, an ex-pat from New York City. Richard has a tremendous eye for what is beautiful and special, as is evident in this photo of his.Eye Prefer Paris is his blog and if you have not yet checked it out, please do. Read through back issues as well. It was the one about the Russian cemetery that made me realize how much Richard notices and what quality he could bring to our visit.
With him, we visited back streets of St. Germain and of the Marais. In addition, we also took cooking lessons from another ex-pat, Charlotte Puckett, who grew up in Charleston, South Carolina.
These planned events left enough free time to walk and explore…..we took a boat trip on the Seine, visited Napolean’s Tomb at Invalides, and went shopping in Printemps. All my planned activities cost $1200 for all of us.
So, this deal at $429 per person ($1300 total) ended up costing in total about $2400 (for 3 people) plus personal shopping. Could we have done it for less? Sure! There are so many tour books of Paris that you can walk around yourself and read descriptions. I personally value the expertise of a private guide. The cooking class was an experience few tourists ever enjoy and we will do it again! But the trip could have been enjoyed tremendously for a total of under $700 per person.
Okay, so how can you find travel deals? Several websites compile deals and send out subscription emails on a weekly basis. Generally, they are deals offered by some organization that has pre-purchased seats and beds and can pass on the additional savings to you. Some trips are during off-peak travel periods, like our December trip to Paris. These are ideal for people not tied to a school calendar, as you can visit a location at a time where there are few crowds. Here are the websites I check out weekly because I subscribed to emails that usually arrive on Tuesday or Wednesday:
This week, some of the offerings include
• Information on reduced airfares and hotel stays in many cities as well as many other fly/stay offers.
Go, read, dream…..just remember to read the small print, add in the other costs and call me for help planning what to do when you get there. Because the enjoyment of an area is not just getting there–you need to plan to enhance with activities that interest you and discover the place where you are.