Biggest bang for the buck in Europe

By Rich & Joan Blacharski
This item appears on page 38 of the July 2019 issue.

We love to travel frequently and for several months at a time, so we spend a lot of effort on stretching our money. We’d like to share how we visited eight Central and Eastern European capitals for 50 days at a cost of $6,900 total for the two of us in fall 2016.

This total included $600 in airline fees. We used airline miles for business-class flights (Atlanta-to-Budapest and Bucharest-to-Atlanta).

Since our Hilton and Marriott points were being canceled due to lack of activity, we cashed in all of our points (178,000 from Hilton, 175,000 from Marriott) and combined them with cash to stay in Budapest, Bratislava, Vienna, Sarajevo, Belgrade, Sofia and Bucharest. We purchased our apartment/hotel stays through Agoda (

Our total cost for hotels was $1,800. And for food, train tickets, entrance fees, transportation passes, hop-on/hop-off buses and museum passes, we paid $4,500.

One of our purchases was a “10 travel days within two months” first-class Eurail Pass for traveling between cities, starting in Budapest, Hungary, and ending in Bucharest, Romania. We stayed five to seven days in each city.

We did extensive research, about 100 hours’ worth, via travel guidebooks (either purchased or borrowed from the library) and the Internet. We researched metro, subway and bus routes/passes, taxi fares, hop-on/hop-off buses, city maps, lists of attractions, museum cards and local tours. Hotel concierges were also very helpful, plus we visited the tourist bureau the first day we arrived in each city.

We tried to find hotels close to subway, metro, bus and attractions, as we love to walk. In Ljubljana and Zagreb we walked everywhere, but we almost always bought the transportation passes, which are economical and easy. (Foreign tourist bureaus in New York often send us maps and lists of attractions.)

This was a DIY trip, but we did buy a few cruises and day tours when we reached our destinations. For example, we bought a river cruise in Belgrade, Serbia, for very little money. Walking tours were purchased via local tourist bureaus, also at little cost. Most cruises and walking tours were included in the city’s hop-on/hop-off bus program or through buying a “tourist” card.

Our T-Mobile phones provided us with free Internet, including access to Google Maps and Google Translate.

One of the biggest problems when traveling is finding reasonable ways to wash your clothes. In Bratislava, we spent a day riding two different buses each way and then walking in order to go to a Flipper Wash (a coin-operated laundromat). The hotel found it for us and gave us directions.

Our Hilton in Vienna had one free washer and dryer. You just have to ask. Our apartments in Ljubljana and Zagreb, which were wonderful, included laundry facilities.

We used only seven of the 10 Eurail Pass days in getting from Budapest to Bucharest, so we had three travel days left over on our pass. We went to Transylvania and Sinaia, where we visited PeleČ™ Castle on Halloween.

We are experienced travelers who have visited over 130 countries. In so far as research goes, we treat each trip like a science project.

Atlanta, GA