Back in our planning stages, I loved reading travel blogs to day dream, but the practical side of me was always wondering: how much did it cost? Here’s a brief breakdown of our average daily cost to travel through Europe. This figure does not include supplies or gear; costs at home; misc. fees like ATM fees; or most significantly, major transport (which we define as anything that takes us from one overnight destination to another, whether it be plane, train, bus or rental car). Basically, the average daily cost includes things like accommodation, meals, snacks, alcohol, activities, and minor transport like subways. Any oddities are noted below.
There are a lot of factors that affect costs, and I plan to write in the future about some of them, including tips we’ve learned for saving money. To give you a sense of our travel style, we are not eating ramen noodles and staying in hostel dorms, but we watch our spending. Where you stay has the biggest effect on the budget. In general, when it comes to accommodations, we always have a private double; we try to avoid shared bathrooms, but will share if we’re feeling cheap; we try to find clean, simple budget accommodation, which means a variety of hostels, pensions, apartments, guesthouses, and B&Bs; and we will sometimes spend $10 or $20 more to get a private bathroom, free wifi, better location, or overall nicer place. When it comes to eating, we always eat 3 meals a day and usually dessert or snacks; we usually order a drink or two with dinner, and occasionally have a few drinks at other times; we stay at places with free breakfasts if it makes sense, but tend to self-cater breakfast otherwise; we tend to eat out almost every day for lunch and dinner, but sometimes self-cater if we have a kitchen; we usually spend our most money at dinner, as it is typically our nightly entertainment; and overall, we tend to eat what we want and not skimp on food.
Hope that helps to put the European portion of our trip in context. Europe is definitely not as cheap as developing countries, but as you can see, it does not need to be outrageous. If you have any questions about our European costs, leave a comment or send me an email.
The unfortunate thing about Slovenia is that all public transportation goes through Ljubljana. We tried to figure out how to take a bus or train from Ljubljana, to Lake Bled, to Bovec in the Julian Alps, to Piran on the coast. We realized it couldn’t be done: all busses travel through Ljubljana, which would have required a lot of time backtracking. So we rented a car for the Ljubljana to Bled to Bovec leg, returned the car to Ljubljana, and took a bus to Piran. The car we rented was, um, interesting. We used a local company, which got us perks like a free GPS and Cockta (a strange tasting Slovenian cola), but also got us the smallest, cheapest car he had: a 2003 Fiat Multipla. European automakers should stick to what they know best, and that is not SUVs. We rented a rather strange looking SUV type thing when a group of us went to Normandy, but the Multipla really took the cake. It was bulbous and boxy at the same time, and had this strange shelf looking thing on the outside with teeny buggy lights. The guy at the rental car company kept telling us it was a six seater (as if this was a plus, being that there was only two of us), but we didn’t know what he meant until we saw the upright seat in the middle between the driver and front passenger. The Multipla was so ugly, even the Europeans were making fun of it. When it was parked in Bled, we saw a group of people pointing at it and peering in the windows, laughing. I wanted to yell out, really, we didn’t choose this car, it is just a rental!
Alas, as aesthetically challenged as it was, the Multipla performed fine, chugging up and around the fifty hairpin turns in the Vrsic mountain pass through the Julian Alps.
I don’t think I realized what a high pitch squeal I have, at least when cheering for sports, until we watched the United States play Slovenia in the World Cup. We found ourselves in Bovec, Slovenia on the afternoon of the game, which is a small town in the mountains consisting of less than 2000 inhabitants. The pouring rain dashed any hopes of watching the game at the big screen television set up on Bovec’s main street. We only had about two or three other options, so we ducked into a local bar and found a spot towards the back of the room.
We quickly realized that we would probably stay incognito until the United States scored, as everyone was focused intently on the game. Plus, despite all our tough talk on the way to the bar, I realized that I am a wuss and did not have the guts to barge in a bar full of Slovenians chanting, USA! USA! USA!
In the first half, Slovenia looked strong. We watched the bar go wild when Slovenia scored a goal.
Then, in the second half, it happened. The United States scored. Sean and I both let out cheers from the back of the room. Only the two people in front of us whipped around to face us and not the whole bar, as I had feared. Luckily, they were pleasant and did not run us out of the bar. Although I had notions of good natured ribbing and cross-cultural interactions, this World Cup business was serious, especially for a small country like Slovenia. No matter how good Slovenian athletes may be, there are simply less of them. For a country as small as Slovenia, who had a scrappy fight to qualify for the World Cup in the first place, it must be frustrating to not beat the United States in a sport that is so huge in Slovenia, yet so insignificant in the United States. I almost started wishing Slovenia could win, but then my American competitiveness and pride kicked in. As it turns out, Slovenia and America tied, leaving many of the Slovenians glum. What did you think of the game? we were asked. Slovenia was robbed, they said, even though it was the United States who had what would have been the winning goal taken away from them for no apparent reason. I’m just glad we weren’t around the following week when the United States scored a winning goal against Algeria at the last minute. America’s win caused it to edge past Slovenia to advance to the next round along with England. Luckily, we were long gone by then.
[And unfortunately, before I got to post this, the US was knocked out by Ghana. So that's that.]
Bovec is known as the adventure capital of the Soca River valley, so of course we had to partake in some adventure. We opted for rafting, the cheapest option, and something we had done once before on the rivers in Richmond, Virginia. (There are actually class III and IV rapids right by the city of Richmond). We chose a company that had good reviews and had been in business for about 20 years (we suppose since the fall of communism).
We ended up rafting with a big stag party – otherwise known as a bachelor party. I was the only girl in a group of about 12 Italian guys and Sean. If only I had pictures of Sean and I, surrounded by the Italians, with too small wetsuits and silly looking helmets. If the Italians were not drunk, they were certainly slap happy. There was much singing, roughhousing, and silliness, which pretty much set the tone for the trip. When we went rafting in Richmond, there were lots of rules, instructions, and seriousness. In Slovenia, it was the opposite. There were some instructions, and we wore life jackets, wet suits, and helmets. But about 15 minutes into the trip down the river, all trust in our guide was lost. He told us to prop ourselves up on the side of the boat so that we could paddle faster. Suspicious, everyone did as he said. Two seconds later, I found myself in the freezing cold river, sputtering and flailing around, along with everyone else in our raft – except the guide.
Being intentionally pushed overboard pretty much erased any credibility the guide had. Not to mention the guide’s directions for us to intentionally ram the raft onto rocks or the other raft with the rest of the Italians (both much to the delight of our Italian raftmates). So it was hard to know if our guide was serious when he said things like, anyone want to jump off that rock? It is about 700 meters high but it is really fun! or we need to paddle hard up here, because at least four people die here every year.
It was unseasonably cold and rained every day except one while we were in Slovenia, and this Saturday was no exception. The rain was constant while we were on the river. This company had advertised that they would go out rain or shine, and would never cancel, just delay if it was storming too bad. As we rafted down the river, we heard loud claps of thunder and saw at least one bolt of lightening. I kept glancing at Sean, wondering if the rain or shine policy really was a good idea.
We knew we were a long way from home when the guide had everyone get off the raft and flipped it up onto a rock. He instructed everyone not just to slide down the raft, but to run down it. Despite my wariness of the guide, I suppose I trusted that we would not land on a pile of jagged rocks or get caught in a huge undercurrent when our guide started doing backflips in the air into the water.
Although a risk taker I am not (not counting the part where I gave up a career and house to travel the world), it was fun to loosen up a bit and splash around in the water. Plus, actually rafting the rapids was pretty neat as well. The rapids were not huge, but fast enough to give you a little thrill as you sailed down the river. It was wild to be out there in rushing blue-green waters, tree covered mountains on either side, soaking wet, with pouring rain beating down on your face and roars of thunder overhead. Especially because we did not, in fact, get struck by lightening.
Part three: Bovec/Soca River Valley
As magical as Bled was, I was rather drawn to Bovec and the Soca River Valley. To get there, we drove the Vrsic pass through the Julian Alps: a road built mainly by Russian WWI POWs with 50 hairpin turns rising up and then down again through the mountains.
When you land on the other side of the mountains, you are greeted by the Soca River, a river with clear pale turquoise waters.
There are a lot of little towns in the valley, but we especially liked Bovec, a town with less than 2,000 people that is surrounded by mountains on all sides. More on our adventures in Bovec to come.
Part four: Piran
It is hard to ignore the call of the sea, so we headed south to Piran, a quaint town smushed onto a peninsula jutting out into the Adriatic Sea. Very close to Italy, we heard just as much Italian as we did Slovenian. The rain did not let up for most of the time we were there, confining us mostly to our room or a coffee shop, but when it did shine, Piran woke up out of its slumber. We were befuddled by everyone’s proclivity to lay out on rocks or concrete. All seemed very uncomfortable, but I suppose if there is no beach, you make own of your own.
We liked Piran, but it didn’t seem to have a lot of things to do. There were not many shops, and most sold touristy junk. Most of the restaurants served the same types of food, including sea bass upwards of $40. Fish may cost $40 in places like Pittsburgh when it is flown in fresh from far flung places daily, but I couldn’t understand how fish could cost that much in a town next to the sea. I later read that the Adriatic Sea has been overfished, forcing fishers to go further and further away. Piran may be worth a visit if you have lots of time, but we think out of the places we saw, the best parts of Slovenia lie north.