Back in the states

We kept a pretty low profile while in London. Lots of Judge Judy and gas station food.

The day finally came and we boarded our very empty plane back to the states.

A quick, not really, ten hours later we had made it to Miami. After a few basic checks we were officially on the other side of immigration and had made it back “home”. Whew!

It was pretty exciting to be back on US soil. Just something about the comforts of the known.

While in London the kiddos and Dad had convinced me to book a house in Orlando with a pool and  spa while we awaited our flight back to the cold white North.

Oh man am I happy I humored them! Ha!

Not only did we get a deal because, well, Airbnb’s aren’t exactly thriving at the moment but it has given us a chance to “self isolate”.  And of course it’s been pretty awesome to soak up some sun and enjoy the water.

We’ve got a few more days here and then we head north. We’ll face a 14 day mandatory quarantine up there, but it sounds like there’s still a ridiculous amount of snow on the ground so what else are you going to do, right?!?

Today we made a video recapping our European Adventure.

I’m so grateful we got this experience. Even with a health crisis at our heels. I mean would the Cunningham’s do it any other way?!?


Check out my new page “Europe Flights”

“Europe Flights”

Where to start:

When I first started planning our Europe trip, it obviously started with a budget. You can find lots of information on how to prepare for any trip HERE! So at this point, I’ll assume you’re all caught up, and we can move on with Europe specific planning.

First off, you’ll need to set your time frame and determine your locations. Then you’ll need to plan your route and decide what modes of transportation you will use. Simultaneously you should research lodging options and activities and keep plugging all this info into your spreadsheet.

I determined that we had about 7 weeks, and it was in our best interest, mostly for financial reasons, to fly to each new location. Train travel sounds like a dream, but it is expensive, at least for the short time frame I was looking at. Perhaps if you had months and several different countries, a Eurail pass might be beneficial, but every situation is unique, and you just have to find the sweet spot for what you’re doing. We are primarily hopping from city to city via budget airlines. We also plan on renting a car in a couple of spots. Once I determined that flying was our main mode of transportation, I hit Google Flights and started checking routes and prices.

How did we determine our route?

It took me a long time to decide what path we should take. I literally have columns and columns on a spreadsheet where I took each location and priced our flights in every direction. Here’s a little glimpse into the madness:

As you can see, we had a set of areas that we wanted to travel to, and it was just about finding the right order. Cost is always at the forefront of my decision making, but if the price difference is negligible, then I start thinking about flight Length, flight departure and arrival time, and overall flow of the trip. You may have an experience that limits your dates in a specific location, or perhaps prices are significantly higher at one time or another. All these things need to be considered when planning your route.

After I sifted through my research and got a rough idea of our itinerary, I was confident in booking our big flights. We decided to fly to London and fly out of Paris. This was mostly driven by cost. Overall the cheapest cities that I found to fly in and out of were London, Barcelona, and Paris.

Our Long Haul Flights:

We opted for Norwegian Air. It’s here that it pains me to say I overpaid for my flights, ugh! I hate it when that happens. I purchased our flights in late August for a February Departure and a March Arrival. I was so close. Basically, the flights went down about a week after I made my purchase. I overpaid but about $20 on our departure and about $40 for our Arrival. I was happy with the price I paid, but obviously, I could have saved a little more, I just get too trigger happy I suppose! Now that I’ve been tracking the price, I can see that the flights have been roughly the same since the beginning of September and don’t appear to be fluctuating.

Total for our Long Haul Flights:

Norwegian Air (No Seats/Cabin Bag 10kg)

MCO-LGW $160pp

CDG-FLL $189pp

Roundtrip $349pp

Family Total $1396

While it’s not the best price in the world, I still think it was a fair price. This does not include seat selection or baggage. Every passenger on Norwegian gets 1 bag at 10kg or roughly 20lbs. And while we did not pay to select seats, we did wind up getting seated together. In fact, it was one of the best flights I’ver ever taken. No frills, no food, no perks. But we were very satisfied.

Our Hopper Fights:

After we got our long haul flights booked, I was able to hit our reservations at both ends. For anyone who knows me, they know that I am horribly noncommital. But for anyone who understands budget travel, they realize that spontaneity and budget don’t go hand in hand. So for me, I start with the things I know are not going to change, leaving what little room I do have for spontaneity along the way.

The first flight I booked was from LGW-ATH. This was a must because no matter what, we had to get out of London, and once again, it came down to price. Based on all of the research, I determined that this was the cheapest way to get to Athens.

Easy Jet (Prepaid Seats/Cabin Bag 10kg)

LGW-ATH$34pp

Family Total $136

The next flight I booked was from RAK-TLS. Now, this is where it gets a little weird. We really hadn’t talked about Marrakesch, but one of us got a wild hair, and I ran with it. I happened to find an amazing flight from Marrakesch to Toulouse, France. Only $25 per person. I thought, WOW, this was a deal. Marrakesch is generally a little more expensive than say getting from Paris to Rome, so coming across something like this was awesome.

Plus, Olivia had gone on her European tour over the summer and really wanted to take us to some spots along the coast of France and Spain, and the only way this was going to happen was on a road trip. So, we decided that we would fly into Toulouse, rent a car, dip down into Spain and then drive back up to Paris. Back to the amazing flight, I decided to take a chance and book a flight out of Marrakesch even before I had a flight to the city, but I figured it would all work out.

Easy Jet (Prepaid Seats/Cabin Bag 10kg)

RAK-TLS $25pp

Family Total $100

Next up, I booked our flight from ATH-CIA. By now, I had a pretty good plan of where we would be staying and for how long. Marrakesch was still a bit up in the air, but once again, I only had us going as far as Athens, so we had to get somewhere, and Rome made the most sense. At the time of booking, we were either going to fly out of Naples or Rome to get to Marrakesch, either way, flying into Rome from Athens was way cheaper than Naples.

Ryan Air (Prepaid Seats/Cabin Bag 10kg)

ATH-CIA $34pp

Family Total $136

Lastly, I booked our flight from NAP-RAK. This one really got dicey. I track flights regularly, review historical averages, and scour the blogs for good prices. But sometimes you just get sucked into wanting to save even more. It’s kind of like a gambler’s mentality, ha! Anyways, I missed out on a good flight, and then the price shot up and wouldn’t come down. Day after day, I waited and refreshed with no luck. Then one day, the price finally came down, and I jumped on it immediately. This was the last piece of the flight puzzle. While it wound up being an expensive flight, I am pleased with the price we paid.

Ryan Air (Prepaid Seats/Cabin Bag 10kg)

NAP-RAK $75pp

Family Total $300

Check out my new page “Europe with Teens”

Europe with Teens

We’ve dreamed of visiting Europe for years, I mean, who hasn’t? And for 2020, we finally made it happen. The countries on our list:

England

Greece

Italy

Morocco (Yes, I understand this is part of Africa)

Spain

France

More specifically, we will be spending:

7 nights in London

7 nights in Athens

7 nights in Rome

7 nights just outside of Pompeii

6 nights in Marrakesch

6 nights on a road trip through Spain and France

3 nights at Disneyland Paris

and

7 nights in Paris

Obviously, Europe is a big place. But I think we are hitting the touristy highlights. Some would say that getting off the beaten path is a truer way to soak up the culture and have a meaningful trip, but when it comes to Europe, I think I’ll save that for my second tour. For now, I want to see what has made Europe famous, the Louvre, the Parthenon, the Colosseum. All the greats!

You also may be wondering how Morocco got put on the list. To be honest, I did want a little bit of an authentic experience, and I felt that Marrakesch may offer that, but mostly it came down to cheap flights. You’ll find plenty of budget specific information on each countries page.

As for the kiddos, they are now 15 and 13 and have really matured quite a bit since that first trek to Central America. They’ve been exposed to so much world history over the years, and we really hit the books and You Tube hard prior to our trip just trying to soak in all the history and prepare for actually being here.

During the summer of 2019, I really began to realize that my kiddos were starting to become their own little people. Actually big people. At 13 and 15 I just don’t have much time left with these guys, and quite honestly I wanted to do a big trip to capture this moment in time. Of course, we will continue to travel and vacation and spend time with each other, but you never again have what you’ve got right now, so you might as well do something with it!

Plus, Europe was the only general destination that I could get the kids to agree on, moreover they were both really excited about Europe. So away we went!

France Road Trip Days 3-6

Ok. We’ve got some catching up to do…

Day 3 and all hell broke loose.

After the president made his announcement it didn’t take long for things to ramp up in Europe.

We awoke to the news that Disney Paris was going to shut down and Airbnb announced a refund plan that would finally work for our pending reservations. Part of the reason we were dragging our feet was that we still had thousands of dollars in reservations that, at the time, we had no hope of getting back, but all that was changing.

It was time for action. We literally spent all day in the chalet desperately searching for a new plan. Every time we would come close to pressing go it seemed there was a new turn of events that muddled said plan.

Now I’m not saying that several thousand dollars wouldn’t have fixed our woes. It definitely would have. And if I’m being honest we could afford it, kind of, I guess. I definitely am not playing the victim card like so many of these lame articles I read. We’re not stuck, we’re just logistically challenged.

And the bottom line is we just didn’t want to shell out the cash and put ourselves in an unsafe situation. That may seem crazy to some. But for us, we were so concerned about reacting rather than devising a sound plan. And I have no regrets about not purchasing a flight sooner, especially after seeing the pictures and videos of the airport chaos.

We would have been one of those people. There was no way we could get back before the deadline so we would have been slammed in with the masses. We have managed to stay healthy through many days at Disney prior to leaving for Europe, and then trekking across 2 continents and 5 countries. We have been in control of our surroundings every step of the way.

All that would have changed upon our arrival into US Customs with hundreds of other travelers for hours on end, no thank you!

Of course, I’m writing this prior to return, so I guess we still have yet to see how all this will shake out for us, but we are optimistic.

We went to bed with the idea that we would fly back to London and catch a direct flight back to the states. The prices were far better than leaving out of Paris. The only problem was the flight was still several days away. But we thought we’d make the best of the situation and enjoy our little road trip through France. We would be able to lay low and not have a lot of contact with the masses. And wait for things in the states to calm down a bit.

We left the chalet and headed for San Sebastian.

This was our first experience with “the lockdown” of a country. As we walked through the quiet town it was becoming abundantly clear that things were progressing and fast. Most of the town was shut down or in the midst of shutting down. You would walk past one tapas bar and things were in full swing, crowds and plenty of pintxos to go around. But then there would be a long line of stores filled with frenzied workers trying to close up shop. The fliers posted around the town read that closures would start immediately and would run through April.

Upon attempting to enter McDonald’s, the only place we felt comfortable with trying to enter, we were quickly banished by the manager who again seemed frantic to get the doors shut.

Shoot, even McDonalds is shutting down?!?

After that, we got to the car as quick as possible and headed back over the border into France. As we drove along the deserted highway and traveled past the quaint towns we realized that our time in France may be coming to an even quicker end.

We were hungry but it seemed that every restaurant we passed was closed. We finally arrived at our destination, a little hotel just outside of Biarritz, and once again searched for food. We finally found a McDonalds that was open and stocked up on sandwiches. Wow, this was getting really weird.

On the beach in Biarritz, things were a bit more lively, nothing too crazy but it didn’t look abandoned.

We even found the crepe stand that Liv’s visited on her summer trip. We walked along the sand, picked up a couple of crepes and then went in search of hand sanitizer. We are big fans of soap and water but when out and about as we are so often lately hand sanitizer is a big deal. Of course, there was none to be found, the Pharmacist looked at us like we were crazy to even ask. It was a quiet drive back to the hotel, I think we were all feeling a little pressed to figure something different out.

Originally we thought that it didn’t really matter where we were, it’s not like there was any hurry to get back to the states, but when basic services start to fizzle out it makes you rethink things.

The next morning really did it for us. At this point, we had learned that the entire country of Spain was on lockdown, and from the looks of it, France was next. Not to mention the rumblings of the UK closing its borders. Yikes.

We knew all the restaurants were closed but word on the street was that grocery stores were still open. As we continued our way north, closer to CDG airport, we hit the same McDonald’s and found a very confused group of employees. They definitely weren’t open and again based on the fact that there were employees just standing around the front doors it seemed that there was a lack of communication on all sides. At this point, we gave up on cafes and restaurants in search of markets. That was looking grim as well. Every store we passed was closed. Finally, 2 hours later we came across France’s equivalent of Aldi, and they were open! Hubby and walked in and started grabbing a few things but within minutes we were told that they too were shutting down and we needed to check out immediately. We split up and grabbed the last of what we thought we needed, happy with our haul.

As we drove north we rehashed all of our options again. Once again looking at flights that were far from reasonable, and still not wanting to drop down into the chaos that was US customs.

We decided that with the potential shutdown of the border it was in our best interest to get to the UK ASAP. France was definitely headed in the direction of full lockdown and even if the UK followed suit they were probably a few days behind. So I changed our flights and got us on the next flight out of CDG to London. But first, we’d find respite in Rivarness, France.

Originally I booked this mobile home in an RV park because this was the portion of our road trip that we were going to tour the Chateaus of Loire Valley. It was still kind of fun to be at an RV park, a little bit of normalcy I suppose. I can imagine this place in the summer is quite popular! It was adorable. We had an easy night and no internet. So even if the world fell apart we wouldn’t know it until the next morning. There is definitely something to be said about not being dialed into the craziness. We made some pasta, that we had picked up at the Lidl earlier that day, and watched a dart tournament in French on the cute little TV. It was nice.

We woke up to a drizzly day. Just a couple of hours and we would be in the heart of Paris. I couldn’t leave France without at least seeing the Eiffel tower.

Here’s the outside of Chateau De Usse, dubbed the Disney Chateau. It’s said the Walt himself based Cinderella’s castle at WDW on this particular Chateau. It was beautiful outside, I can only imagine what it was like on the inside. And hubby had to deal with me saying “I feel like I’m in Cinderella” every time we hit another tiny french village!

Finally Paris!

We hopped out of the car real quick and took a few pictures of the Eiffel tower, and then at the giant roundabout around the Arc De Triomphe Hubby dropped me off and did circles while I snapped a few pics. Not exactly what we had come all the way to France for, but all things considered I think we’re doing pretty good!

In fact great. This is a big deal apparently. Probably one of the biggest things I’ve seen in my short little lifetime. And experiencing all this in foreign countries is an even bigger deal. But this is what sets people apart. These are the things that build character. And these are the moments that make you focus on what matters. The kiddos are handling things great, yes there have been a few tears, mostly frustrated ones from me, but all in all, our family has never been stronger!

Now, off to the airport! We dropped our rental car, headed for the gate, and anxiously awaited our flight. Despite the lack of hand sanitizer, not a drop to be found anywhere at CDG, it was a relatively painless process. And we even found coffee. Hooray for a hot cup of coffee!

Quickest flight ever across the pond. And if there were 40 people on the plane I would be shocked. It was easy enough to find our way through the Gatwick Airport, it was quite familiar after all. And our hotel is literally minutes away. We wanted to be as close to the airport as possible just in case. Four nights here and then it’s on a plane back to the states. I have many questions as to how all that’s going to go, it’s kind of impossible to actually talk to a person, but either way, I think we’ll make it somewhere that’s not here!

France Road Trip Day 2

Needless to say, it was less than a restful night’s sleep. I know we’re adults and all, but how in the world are you supposed to know what to do in this situation?

You don’t want to be foolish and take things too lightly, but at the same time you want to be vigilant in staying calm, cool, and collected in a state of chaos.

When we went to bed all I kept thinking was that this couldn’t possibly pertain to US nationals, at least not to the degree that was presented in the President’s speech. Could it?

We again conferred as we tried to drift off to sleep that between the flights we were just looking at and the questionable information we had we would sleep on it and tackle the day with a clear head.

We awoke early and immediately hit our phones for news, and of course lots of messages from friends and family. It turns out that the ban didn’t totally apply to US citizens. We learned that we wouldn’t be turned away but we would face a higher level of health screens at dedicated airports and possibly a quarantine if we came in after the deadline. As they said, more to come on this in the next 48 hours.

At this point, the flights were outrageous. Anything that would get us there before the hypothetical deadline was going to cost us at least $1700 per ticket. And anything affordable like $500 or less would require a minimum of a 37-hour flight on top of the 8-hour drive to the airport, so nowhere close to meeting the midnight curfew. And who knew at this point if Friday at midnight meant boarding the plane, arriving, in the air? Who knows?

I hid under the covers briefly but Hubby and I talked it through.

We were going to keep on keeping on. That’s typically what the Cunninghams do!

We figured that we would let all the chaos shake out and go from there. We had a great little place in the Pyrenees all booked and selfishly we have stuck it out for the payoff of Disneyland Paris. Either way, we felt like driving 8 hours to Paris and trying to figure out flights with the masses was probably not for us.

We packed up and headed for the mountains and honestly with every passing moment I felt a little more confident in our decision. I mean who knows if we have put ourselves at a major disadvantage but at the time it felt right.
As the day has worn on, and we’ve seen more and more information come about I feel absolutely content with our decision to stay. The airport in Barcelona looked like a madhouse, and CDG was even worse. We’ve read stories about 5k-20k flights, and based on the wait times at the airport, and the insane crowds of people in the videos, I am way ok with taking refuge at our little Airbnb in the hills.

What exactly are they going to do with all those Americans who show up just after midnight? I’m not sure, and I don’t exactly know that “they’re” sure either.

We’ll pay our dues when the time comes, but I would rather sit and wait, content in my little French bubble with wine and cheese, and wait for the chaos to die down.

Until then… As you know, it’s always an adventure!

Anyone see the hidden mickey? We obviously took it as a sign!

 

France Road Trip Day 1

So sad to say goodbye to Morocco. I can say without a doubt that we will visit again! I am in awe of this city. From the landscape to the people, Morocco has me wanting more, lots more.

In an effort to stick to our itinerary, we headed north to France. It seems that we got out of Italy just in time, but we were headed into the thick of the coronavirus, and unbeknownst to us, things were about to get a lot more complicated.

We landed in Toulouse, France, in the evening, ready to pick up our rental car and head for the Pyrenees. We had already altered our plans slightly, due to quarantine in Northern Spain, which was a little too close for comfort.

The flight was easy, rather full all things considered though. But no masks or chaos.

We disembarked, no health screens, and went through immigration with ease.

We picked up our rental car, headed for McDonald’s, I mean we’re gluttonous Americans how could we resist, and then carried on to our Airbnb.

It was showers all around and lots of laundry. Remember, we still had camel clothes! It was supposed to be an early bed, but I quickly found out that Trump would be announcing some pretty significant travel alerts for Europe, so Hubby and I eagerly stayed tuned in. Around 2 am our time the news finally came.

All travelers from Europe would be banned for the next 30 days, starting at midnight Friday.

Wow! WTF do we do now?!? Could this be real?

We talked it over. Looked at some ridiculous/questionable/disappearing flights. Between flights that were way too expensive and flights that were more reasonable but still wouldn’t get us there in time for the deadline, we opted to reconvene in the morning.