Monthly Archives: June 2012

Raw Data from Our Journey

I know that we have a lot of people checking out Kidding Around Europe hoping to track us and see what is going on with our trip.  The reality is that while we are out on the road we simply do not have the time and resources to keep KAE updated with all of the latest stuff.  Likely once the kids are older, this will not be so much of a problem.  With them being so young, we lose our entire evenings dealing with child logistics and there is little time left to write.  What time there is is spent struggling with Internet access problems, desperately trying to get pictures and videos uploaded and trying to write my own blog which has the raw details of our trip that we need to record so that we are able to write KAE properly.  It is exhausting.  I am actually writing around three thousand words per day on our trip while we are on the road but sadly that is not making it here to KAE.  At this point we will be writing most of the updates here remotely once we have returned.

In the mean time there is a ton of stuff for people to read and watch if you are really interested in keeping up with us.  We have three main external resources of “unfiltered” content that we will be using to assemble KAE so if you want, you are welcome to check them out.

My primary blog is Sheep Guarding Llama and I am diligently keeping it updated.  Tons of reading and long winded, but lots of details and stuff and gives you a lot of insight into us.

Our photos are all uploaded to Flickr as we go so check out the Sheep Guarding Llama Flickr Europe 2012 Photostream.

Our videos, all 1080p, get posted as clips, unedited, to YouTube.  These are not very popular, as you can imagine, and range in style from quick grabs of a cool fountain or a pan of a great vista to the kids on a playground.  Some neat stuff if you dig through.  Scott Alan Miller on YouTube.

Keep checking back, we will be adding to KAE regularly.  But if you are bored, check out our other feeds to see what we are up to!

Sticker Shock

Most North Americans traveling to Europe seem to be met, to some degree, with sticker shock.  There are several factors contributing to this.  The biggest factor is, of course, that Europe is a tad bit expensive but prices are very hard to compare between countries for many reasons.  It is not so much that prices in Europe are so much higher but that they are quite different.

A huge difference in how Americans see prices and how Europeans see prices is in how taxes are disclosed.  In Europe, the price that you see is the price that you pay.  A four Euro sandwich costs you four Euros.  It’s that easy.  You look at the price and can have your money ready – just hand over two two-Euro coins and the sandwich is yours.  In the US, for example, you look at a four dollar sandwich, get to the counter and are then told what the real price is as tax(es) is added in afterwards and tax rates vary from town to town so knowing what they are ahead of time can be difficult.

Europe is famous for its high sales tax (VAT) but in my experience it is not much higher than sales taxes in the States and, at times, I have even seen it be around half of common American tax rates.  Hotels, a big deal while traveling, are a great example.  The price of your European hotel might seem excessive but when you go to check out and realize that your eighty Euro per night hotel costs actually eight Euro per night you will be very surprised.  It is not uncommon at all for hotels in the States to have tax rates levied against them approaching twenty percent (and in some cases even higher.)  This means that one hundred dollar per night hotel room in New York might easily cost you one hundred and twenty dollars when you go to check out.  That is a huge price difference.

The use of “real” prices in Europe makes things sound more expensive when comparing stickers but makes the actual transactions a bit less expensive than you believe.  In reality it is a far more honest system and allows consumers to actually compare prices of things and makes it impossible (or nearly so) for vendors to fudge the numbers and use tax as a way to overcharge you.  In the US they just add on a surprise tax at the end, hope that you don’t notice and there is nothing that you can do about it since you don’t know what the tax rate is and what taxes may or may not apply to you.

Travel to Europe almost always involves visiting heavily touristed areas of large, wealthy cities.  The average European travel experience is going to involve eating in the hearts of Paris, London, Rome, Berlin, Florence, Venice, Nice, Madrid, etc.  A European traveling to the US or Canada would likely have a similar experience.  Go to our own major tourists centers, New York City, Los Angeles, Montreal or Orlando and try eating at sit down restaurants right in the heart of the city in the spots with all of the tourists (Times Square, near the most popular museum, inside Walt Disney World) and see if prices in the New World are not just as crazy as those in the Old World.  Often the price jump is simply caused by comparing tourist prices in Europe to regular prices back home.

European prices will also swing dramatically based on the relative strength of the Euro and the Pound primarily versus your home currency.  In general the Euro and especially the Pound are quite a bit higher in value than the US or Canadian dollars.  So something listed as two Pounds might equal three dollars.  The need to do the conversion can be scary and confusing and it varies not just over the long haul but will change during your trip.  Having prices fluctuate but five percent in a single week of travel has happened to me, fortunately it was five percent in my favor and suddenly my trip became more affordable rather than less.

Europeans also do things differently, or know how to do things in Europe, than Americans.  For example, beer is much cheaper in Europe than in the States while soft drinks are extremely expensive.  Going with local beer can save a lot.  And knowing to order tap water, always, is important.  The cost of bottled water, always offered by default, can be extreme and a complete waste as tap water is often superior to bottled water in quality, especially in Europe where tap water is extremely good.  Little tricks add up over the length of a vacation.

Getting used to how prices are written in Europe, being prepared for exchange rates to fluctuate and remembering that you are likely “acting like a tourist” will go a long way to helping you to mitigate fears of high European costs.  Europe really is not that expensive, but being a tourist anywhere, is.  Getting away from eating three sit down meals per day, avoiding tourist traps (at least for food) and heavily touristed regions, getting away from the big city centers – there are ways to make Europe every bit as affordable as other parts of the world.  Real people live here and eat here and do things in Europe every day.  They just are not likely doing them in the same places and in the same ways as the tourists.

Soft Drinks in Europe

Coming from American (or Canada) you are likely used to having abundant, cheap soft drinks available at every turn.  Soda, especially cola, but all kinds are everywhere.  Every gas station, every restaurant.  They come in huge sizes and cost next to nothing.  It is a staple of American culture.  Arriving in Europe a lot of Americans will go into “soda shock” because, quite simply, there isn’t any.

Okay, that is a bit dramatic.  There is soda available everywhere in Europe but not anything like there is in North America.  Soda selection is small, the sizes served are very small and always come from bottles not from a fountain and the price is absurd.  Europeans do drink soda but in very small quantities and as a special treat – not as a regular component of their fluid intakes.

You may think that you will just hit the grocery store and pick up cans or a two litre of soda to meet your needs.  But even in a grocery store a two litre of Coke or Pepsi that might cost you as little as eighty nine cents back in the States might set you back three Euro (think four dollars) in Europe.  Doable, but a large expense and that is just the grocery store price.

And don’t expect free refills.  That is unheard of in Europe since drinks come from bottles, not from a fountain.

I’ve asked Europeans about this and they feel that it is simply a cultural thing – prices are high because Europeans don’t drink the stuff.  In Europe people drink water, beer, wine, tea and coffee primarily.  Soda just is not a natural part of the diet.  Considering that beer and wine and available to almost all Europeans by the age of sixteen the cultural introduction to soft drinks that happens so strongly during the teenage years in American just doesn’t exist in Europe.

Traveling with kids who are accustomed to drinking soda regularly might be tough.  I highly recommend working on cutting the habit a bit before traveling so that the lack of soda is not part of the culture shock experiences when stepping off of the plane.  For kids this most likely means moving to drinking mostly water.  Thankfully tap water is clean and safe in Europe.  When we travel, even with the one year old, we use tap water everywhere without concern.  If anything, European tap water is better than water in most of the US.  And just like in the US, bottled water is ubiquitous so if you do not want to risk tap water you always have options.  Bottled water is probably more common in Europe than in the US and you must be careful because in restaurants it is bottled water by default, not tap.

Another important note about soda: if you do want soda and are used to drinking diet in the US, it is called light in Europe.  So a Diet Coke at home is a Coca Light in Europe.  Weird, I know.

In addition to different names, the selection of soft drinks in Europe is a little different.  The US has a much broader selection and some drinks rare in the US, like Fanta, are quite popular in Europe.

If you feel that soft drinks are a requirement, feel free to order them.  They are available.  But be prepared for a lot of differences especially around how much you will pay.  Americans are so accustomed to using soft drinks as the cheapest step up from tap water than having this role be replaced with beer in Europe can be pretty surprising.

For adults traveling in Europe consider moving your soda habit to beer and wine to be “native” for your trip.  This allows you to save money compared  to soda, experience local specialties wherever you travel and experience European life a bit more up close and personally.