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 “London”

“London”

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 types of lodging fit your budget and style. Simultaneously you should research flight options and activities and keep plugging all this info into your spreadsheet.

 

CLICK HERE TO SEE HOW WE DID LONDON!

 

LODGING

Obviously, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out where we were going to stay. Typically down in Central America, it’s all about the hostel. But if you’ve read my budget travel tips, when you’re traveling as a group, hostels are not always the best value. Think about it, if the going rate for a bed in a mixed dorm is $10, you’ve already committed to spending $40 and you don’t even have your own bathroom. So it’s best to expand your search to everything from traditional hotels to renting private homes. We never stayed in a hostel during our European tour. Mostly we used Airbnb and Booking.com with a few random sites here and there. All the prices listed include taxes and fees.

LONDON – Hotel – Premier Inn St.Pancras – $85 per night

Click Here for Website

It took me a while to find lodging in London. It is a very expensive city. First I started with hostels but I found that on average a bed was about $15 – $20 per person with a shared bath. I also checked to rent from a private party but these rates were high as well. Somehow during my search, I came across this chain, Premier Inn. They’re everywhere in London. In fact, it was a little hard to determine which location we were actually staying at because there are two within 5 minutes’ walk of each other.

Ultimately we chose the St.Pancras location. Only a 10-minute walk from St. Pancras International/Kings Cross. And leaving from Kings Cross you’ll be to all the sites of London within minutes using the underground. Plus we were able to take the Thameslink direct from Gatwick to St. Pancras Intl., the trip was only about 30 minutes. There are also many eateries and markets within walking distance.

 

We also selected this location due to it’s proximity to the Original London Hop on Hop off bus tour stop. We used this tour as a means of transportation but more on that later.

We did opt to purchase the breakfast option which I highly recommend. It depends on what kind of traveler you are, but for us, sometimes we just like things to be easy. And waking up in the morning, knowing all we had to do was walk downstairs and there would be unlimited food waiting for us, was awesome! They have everything from croissants and coffee to juices and what they call a “full English” breakfast. It was definitely worth the money. The total cost for breakfast came to $180. That comes to only $6.40 per person per day. And believe me, for London, this was by far our cheapest meal of the day!

The staff was very helpful, they even printed our boarding passes, and let us check-in early.

ACTIVITIES

One of our major expenses was the London Hop on Hop off Bus Tour. We purchased a 3-day pass for $149, which covered all 4 of us for 72 hours. We opted for The Original Tour but I am certain all the lines are roughly the same. Our closest stop was only minutes away from our hotel and we could easily swap lines. We enjoyed the fact that it took you around the city offering views of many sites you may not see on the underground. They also offer the Thames river cruise, included in your ticket, and this was probably the highlight of our tour.

We didn’t have a very full list when it came to sightseeing in London, we were just happy to be there and see the sights, plus the activities in London seemed quite expensive and we were saving our budget for other things.

We did, however, love the free museums.  CLICK HERE to learn about all the free museums in London

Our favorite thing we did in London was a day with friends. They took us out to Greenwich and we enjoyed a traditional London Pie and Mash. Easy to get to on the underground, or on the hop on hop off tour. If you do anything in London go to Goddard’s at Greenwich they have the most amazing prices on these yummy savory pies and of course you can’t leave without having some custard. A must-do whilst in London.

 

FOOD

What can I say about the food in London? It is so stupidly expensive! My biggest suggestion is to load up at Breakfast and utilize the Tescos and Prets for their cheap on the go food. We also hit the market for things like snacks and treats, pretty reasonable prices.

Pret A Manger is great for sandwiches, wraps, fruit bowls, coffee, soups, and pastries. On average you can get a really delicious and fresh premade sandwich for around $3 to $4. Honestly, I wish more cities had this kind of grab and go food. Tesco Express has much of the same but it’s more akin to a convenience store rather than only serving food.

Otherwise, I can’t say much about the food in London. Now keep in mind we don’t ever go out to a nice dinner. It’s just not who we are. We like to eat street food and find cheap authentic local eateries. We found this to be quite difficult in London. When our friends took us to the Pie and Mash shop in Greenwich, we were sooooo happy! It was definitely the best food we had!

TRANSPORTATION

Like I said earlier we used the bus tour for a good portion of our transportation, but we also did a lot of walking, and of course, we took the underground. It did take me a while to find a direct route to our hotel. I don’t know about you but when I’m traveling to a new place I like to have my lodging set up and I like it to be as easy as possible, especially if arriving after dark. Departing is a different story, usually, you’re a little more comfortable with the area and feel a little more adventurous.

ThamesLink was a great find. One of the few routes that is direct from Gatwick. It was quite cheap only $70 round trip for the family.

Here’s where it starts to get complicated. Because the underground has designated zones and typically you’ll only be visiting zones 1 and 2 you will most likely need a dedicated train/bus ticket to and from the airport that you purchase outside your underground fare. For more information on the underground/travel cards/oyster cards CLICK HERE

I will say that the employees at the ticket office at Kings Cross were very helpful. She asked me how long we would be traveling on the underground and what locations we were going to. She then loaded a travel card onto an oyster card, and even set the children up with reduced rates, and put the appropriate amount of money onto each card. You can always top up your if you need more, and you don’t have to worry about putting too much on because they will refund not only your deposit but any remaining amount. You can do so at any underground ticket office, even at the airport.

TOTAL BUDGET

Lodging Total Lodging Per Night
$590 $84
Food and Misc Total Food and Misc Per Day
$673 $96
Transportation
$121
Activities
$149
Total London Expenses Total Per Day Total Per Person Per Day
$1,533 $219 $55

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!

London Day 6

Day 6…are you kidding me? I mean, on the one hand, it feels like forever ago since we left Florida, but I can’t believe we leave the day after tomorrow. But nothing can really top today. Our amazing friends from York came down just to hang out with us. We met about 5 years ago at the Magic Kingdom, near a Sorcerers Portal. Our boys hit it off immediately, and then we proceeded to spend the next week together. Sue reminded me yesterday that as we were saying our teary goodbyes in the Animal Kingdom parking lot all those years ago, I told her that I had no doubt we would meet up again. And sure enough, they made London an unforgettable experience.

Our first stop was Kings Cross underground, right by our hotel, to get us set up with some Underground passes. After we got squared away it was time to “mind the gap” and board the train. I can’t tell you how amazingly nice it was to be with people who knew what they were doing.

Our first stop was London Bridge area.

And then Bob had the best idea of all… Let’s hit the pub for some cider!

While at the pub their son, Jack introduced us to foosball. Sue and I hung back to sip our drinks, cider is delicious by the way, and keep chatting. It felt like we could talk for hours. But then the group called us over, and in a shocking display of sportiness, we walked away as undefeated champions! Can you tell we had a good time 🙂

Next up, Greenwich!

Another amazing perk of knowing people while traveling, they actually know where to find good food! We stopped in for a traditional London Pie and Mash! And it was delicious.

Liv’s and I split a cheese and onion pie, so freaking good! We were saving room for the big finale. Crumble and custard…yum!

For this, we each got our own, but wow, this was a lot of food! Everything about it was so good. Hot custard, a delicious crumb topping, and a nice balance of tart and sweet berries and apples. I was so excited to have an authentic off the beaten path experience. Good food, and good company, it just doesn’t get better!

Wait, it got better!

Needing to walk off our meal, we hit the Greenwich market. First stop, a sweet shop. The boys got to try the sourest sweets they’ve ever tried, we even hear about something called the Black Death. Apparently, it’s so sour they won’t even sell it to minors! HA! Another thing I loved at the sweet shop was our very American cereals and pop tarts on the shelf, partly due to cost, very expensive in the UK, but these aren’t treated as breakfast items, literally sold in a candy store. We also had the privilege of watching Liam make fudge. Part comedy show part foodie experience, so

fun!

Bob is my kind of tour guide. Before we knew it, we were headed to another unique experience. Who knew you could walk under the Thames!?! To the foot tunnel!

I love these little oddball attractions. Although not really a tourist attraction, just a mode of transit, but I thought it was so neat that we literally walked under the river.

On the other side, we headed back to proper London, and it was off to Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square, and Covent Garden. We hit the M&M’s shop, the Lego Store, and a couple of unique game shops. What an incredible day!

And after a wonderful day, our friends had to make the trek back north. We are so grateful that they got to come down and show us a great day in London. Back at St. Pancras station, we enjoyed a little McDonalds and said our goodbyes. What an incredible day!

 

London Day 5

With the kiddos busy with school, Dad and I decided to head out for a walk. Before we knew it, we were at the British Museum, another London freebie. We figured the kids wouldn’t be too disappointed, and honestly, I was pretty excited to tour this one.

First, we hit ancient Egypt, and to my surprise on display was the Rosetta Stone, the real Rosetta Stone, how cool is that. Honestly, I thought it was at the Louvre based on my homework, but I was obviously mistaken, how mad would I have been if we went all the way to Paris, and I realized it was back in London, ha! We also toured ancient Greece and Rome, saw some amazing mummies, a wing dedicated to currency, and ended with some modern pieces from England.

Having worked up quite a thirst Hubby and I just happened to pass a pub on the way back to the hotel, and we sampled some traditional English ale and bitter. This whole traveling with older kids, things kinda rocks!

Anyone up for Day 6?

London Day 4

It was definitely a wet day, but we weren’t going to let that stop us. We ducked into the underground station to wait for our bus, and before we knew it, we were off on another adventure.

We opted for a different route today, which would take us down to Tower Bridge, a must-see icon of the London skyline.

I must say this was petty impressive. I’ve been dreaming about this view for months now, and once we finally got there, it was pretty cool. Not only is the Tower Bridge impressive, but seeing the Tower of London, a building that is thousands of years old, against the backdrop of some of the most modern skyscrapers in the world is stunning.

Next up…Starbucks

Yes, there is no escaping this Western marvel. Plus, we were guaranteed a bathroom, I mean a toilette, a loo? Ah, well, who couldn’t use a coffee to warm up a bit.

With coffee in hand, it was time to jump on our boat for the River Thames Cruise, another perk of the hop-on-hop-off tour.

This was by far one of our best days out. I really enjoyed the river cruise, and of course, the Tower Bridge was amazing.

Today’s dinner. Franco Manca. Another cheap eats from the vlogs. We all got a basic Margherita. Tasty but nothing special, I can’t wait for pizza in Naples!

On to Day 5!

London Day 3

Today we decided to hit another free museum, the Natural History Museum.

 

Getting up close with this guy made it all worth it!

We meandered through the many exhibits, the crowds as Olivia put it was nothing compared to the Louvre, yikes! All in all, we had a great day.

No DC Smithosinian, though, but I haven’t seen a Dodo Bird before, so that’s something!

Today’s dinner. Tortilla. Basically, generic Chipotle, even though they have Chipotle here, ha, it was good but kind of odd.

Day 4, here we come!

London Day 2

So we made it through our jet-lagged night and managed a couple more hours of sleep. Now it was time for a traditional English breakfast.After we filled our tummies, we headed for the bus stop to tour the great city of London.We decided to give the traditional hop-on hop-off bus tour a try. With dozens of bus stops and several routes, we figured it would be a good way to get the lay of the land. From our hotel, it was a short ride to the heart of London.Trafalgar Square.

While here, we enjoyed the famous square, looked down the street towards Big Ben, and visited the National Gallery. There are so many free museums here in London filled with great works from all over the world, some of which are thousands of years old. Considering London is so expensive this is a great way to be entertained and help offset costs.

We finished off the day with a tour around Westminster, but it was so cold we didn’t stick around long. This should be the only location where it’s this cold, and because of our very small bags, jackets weren’t really an option. We’ve got some warm undershirts, but when it’s 37 outside, it doesn’t quite cut it. But we’re in London so who really cares!

Back at the hotel, we warmed up and then stepped out for a quick bite. Food isn’t cheap here, I mean it’s western Europe nothing will be cheap here, HA! We did find a burger place, and that did the trick.

So far, London is completely different than I expected. It actually reminds me of New York City. We’ll see what Day 3 has to offer.

London Calling…

Ok, so let’s get this European tour going!

After a great winter in Florida. It was time to wrap up the RV and head out on our 50-day European extravaganza! We spent the past week getting the rig ready for storage, packing for Europe, as well as Alaska. As we were packing up, it felt like we had just moved in, but so goes living life in seasons.

On Monday, we moved the kiddos into a hotel, picked up the rental car, and Dad and I finished cleaning the RV. It went pretty fast this year, so that was nice. Monday night, we joined them at the hotel, and by Tuesday morning, the RV was safely in storage.

With our Europe bags in tow, we loaded up the rental car and made our way to the Magic Kingdom for one last amazing day of Disney Magic!

We may say this every year, but we really think this was the last time for Disney passes. After 13 years, we just might have had our fill, but time will tell. In any case, we had a great time, and it was absolutely the perfecting ending to our time here in Florida.

Wednesday morning came quickly, and it was finally time for our long haul flight to London. We had a redeye out of MCO, so we leisurely left the hotel, ran a couple of errands, and enjoyed one last gluttonous American meal. We were all feeling a little anxious, as you do when traveling. In fact, one of the reasons I love traveling so much is that it pushes the boundaries of my comfort zone. I always tell myself that one of these days, I will be totally at peace when it comes time for a trip, but something tells me it’s just not in the cards. Honestly, my personality is not really conducive to traveling. I am an over worrier, a control freak, and highly anxious. But again, it’s for these reasons that I like to put myself in uncomfortable situations. I guess I like proving to myself that with a little determination, I can overcome my own craziness.

So after dropping off the car and getting through TSA, we had just about an hour before our departure. I was pretty sure we were ready, although at this point it didn’t really matter we were going! Like I said, this has been a long time coming, and when you plan for a 50-day, 6-country, excursion for a family of four, there’s just a tiny bit of pressure to make sure everything goes smoothly. And at this point, I wasn’t thrilled with my preparedness level. We didn’t even make it through TSA before we had three of the bag straps break. Are you kidding me?!? And this is why we always travel with zip ties, oh wait except for this time, shit! Luckily a nice woman offered us a few feet of twine, so Dad spent the majority of our time reconnecting the straps, HA! You can see we were off to a good start. I guess we’ll see how I did preparing for the rest of the trip.

I am quite proud of these little bags, I mean, if they hold up that is. Because I’m a cheap asshole, which is really the only way you can be when traveling on a budget, I forced everyone into a 10kg bag, and that’s it! You read that right. One bag per person with all of your necessary and, ahem Livs, unnecessary belongings. She’s lucky her brother loves her and travels light, I think a few of Olivia’s items might have spilled over, HA!

Now onto the plane!

After much consideration, I opted for budget airline Norwegian. If you stick to their low-fare option, you can fly pretty darn cheap. We also took the risk of not paying for seats, and to our surprise, we all got seated together, so grateful for that!

The flight was great. Quite honestly one of the best flights I’ve taken and I was really not looking forward to it! But it was comfortable, and the time passed quickly.

We’re in London, baby!

Immigration was a breeze. With a US passport, you head straight for the kiosk, scan your passport, smile for the automated camera, and off you go. Customs was just a room that you breezed through, and I suppose they would stop you if they saw a reason too. That was it, we were free in the airport, and after a quick trip to the loo and a glance outside to remind you that you weren’t at home anymore, it was time to head to the trains. Everything is well marked, so we headed for the platforms. With a little examination of the tickers, we decided that our pre-booked Thameslink train was due to arrive at platform 3. We did confirm with a “travel advisor” because why not, but we were correct in our thinking. Once on the platform, we once again read through the digital signs and determined we were in the correct location. About an hour later, we arrive at St.Pancras Intl. Hopped off the train and made the quick walk to our hotel. They even let us check-in early.

We were all pretty tired, but it was only about 1 pm, so we showered up and hit the city. We grabbed coffee by the University and hit the Wellcome Museum, free and way cool, we saw Napolean’s toothbrush, I mean, who can say that?!? Finally, about 6 pm we hit a Pret A Manger for some budget-friendly premade sandwiches and wraps and headed back to the room. We only made it to 8 pm and we all crashed.

Now it’s 4 am and Dad and I have been up since 1 am. I guess we didn’t do such a great job at whispering because 230 am rolled around and the kids were done sleeping too. So now we will sit and patiently wait for the breakfast buffet to open.

More to come!