Friday, February 18, 2011

I'm a Planner

Like, Big Time.  When I start thinking about a vacation, I immediatley start looking into flights and hotels and excursions and rental cars and...well, you get the gist.  When I went backpacking through Europe 7 (!) years ago, I didn't really have the "real" backpacking experience of showing up in a random town and just finding a place to crash.  I carefully researched and booked all my hostels before I left the country.  I bought my EurRail pass ahead of time and knew what trains to take when from which station.  But that's what I needed to do.  The "real" backpacking experience would've made me anxious and uncomfortable, and I fear I would have enjoyed my trip much less.  I can roll with the punches, but I can't fly by the seat of my pants. 

What's the point?  Monday night, when Matt and I were at a nice Italian restaurant having our first married Valentine's Day dinner, we were seated facing a huge fresco of a Tuscan vineyard hillside.  I said to Matt, "I wish I was actually looking at that right now."  We started talking about taking a trip to Italy.  It's not the first time we've discussed it.  His family is from a region in Italy called Abruzzo, and we've forever been talking about going there to see where they lived.  I've told him about a hundred times that I'm going to take him to see Rome and the Colosseum and the Sistine Chapel.  I experienced all of that and want to share that with him.  I quickly calculated in my head approximately how much I thought I spent on my backpacking trip, adjusted a bit for inflation, and added flights (my mom paid for my flights as a graduation gift).  I came up with a number and presented it to Matt and it was like a lightbulb went off in both of our heads: "Uhh...we could totally do that."  So we talked about taking a trip to Italy next Spring - May or June.  That would give us 14 months to save up the same amount of money that we saved in 8 months for the honeymoon.  Even with Matt's hours cut back at work, we can definitely put that away.  And then some. 

So, how early is too early to start making actual, concrete plans?  I mean, now that we've really talked about it and put down a financial goal, to me, it's time to plan.  It's time to look into hotels and start figuring out flight options.  It's time to look into discount tickets to museums and day trips.  We can't book flights yet (I can only book up through February 2012 right now).  But is this Spring too early to book flights for next Spring?  The earlier you book, the better deal you get, right?  If we wanted to travel in January 2012, we could get 2 flights to Italy for $880 right now.  That's insanely cheap for flights to Europe.  Especially for multi-city flights. 

Here's what I'm picturing: Fly into Florence, and spend 3 nights.  To me, Venice is a day trip from Florence; not worth spending a night there.  Rent a car in Florence and drive to Pescara (it's in the calf of the boot, in Abruzzo) and spend 1 or 2 nights there.  Not sure what all there is to do is Pescara, so I have to research that a bit more.  Then drive to Sorrento and spend 3 nights there (the Amalfi Coast was the one thing I really regretting missing on my trip there).  Then drive up to Rome, spend 3 nights, and fly out from there. 

I've found some pretty good websites for booking cheap hotels and b&bs - and  I found Cross Pollinate because I was looking at the website for my favorite hostel in Rome (The Beehive, an absolutely fantastic place!) and they are part of this community of B&Bs, guesthouses, and apartments in Rome, Florence, Paris, Barcelona, and London.  They are cute little places and they are cheap.  Like, $80/night cheap.  Matt and I are not fancy people and figure we'll only be using the places to store our things and sleep, so all we need is a bed, bathroom (preferrably ensuite, I mean, we are going to be 33 and 35 years old, a bit old for sharing public showers!), and safe place to store our luggage.  We don't need a whole bunch of amentities.  The beauty of the places on Cross Pollinate is that most of them include breakfast!  So that's one less meal we'd have to purchase every day! 

I also found (through the fabulous Weddingbee) a website for cheap car rental in Europe -  Their cheapest cars (by, like, $200/week) are manual.  I learned how to drive on an old VW Jetta and have driven a VW bus and a Porsche (for those not in the know, that means sticky German clutches!), so I'm pretty comfortable with that idea.  It's the driving and parking in Rome that makes me nervous!  Have you seen people drive there?!  Yikes.

The best guidebook I ever found was Mona Winks, by Rick Steves.  I still have pieces of it from my first trip, and if you send the pieces and $5 back to the publisher, they'll send you a brand-spankin-new copy!  Hopefully they'll still replace it, seeing as my copy is now 7-8 years old and they no longer print that book. 

So anyway.  When is too early to start making real plans?  Any websites or guidebooks to recommend? 

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