The Deal Detective is SmarterTravel.com's resident bargain hunter, Kate Hamman. She's always on the lookout for new travel deals and invites you, dear reader, to submit your own questions.
Marion writes "I was just informed that I must take one week without pay before the end of the year. I'd like to combine my one week of paid vacation with this one week of unpaid to go somewhere interesting with my husband. I'd like to keep the budget to less than $300 per day for two middle-aged folks who like art, food, and magnificent scenery."
The first place that comes to mind when I think of art, food, and scenery is Europe. Whether it's sipping a cappuccino at a cafe steps from the Louvre in Paris, having a gelato by the Trevi fountains in Rome, or enjoying a picnic in Bilbao, Spain, before visiting the Guggenheim Museum, Europe just embodies these three things effortlessly. With so many incredible places to see, planning a vacation may seem daunting. But don't despair, because a little research will go a very long way into making your vacation a dream getaway.
The first step in deciding where to go is accepting the fact that you can't see everything in one two-week trip. It's better to spend your time in one, or possibly two, locations rather than trying to do a whirlwind tour of several countries. We'll focus our energy on three places which will be a good fit for this type of travel: Italy, Spain, and France.
Italy is a smorgasbord of romantic architecture, inspiring history, captivating museums, and delicious eats. When planning your trip, begin by searching several of the vacation providers such as go-today.com and EuropeASAP. For instance, I was able to find a package deal to Rome with go-today.com that starts at $699 per person for travel in November (other travel dates are available for a higher price), and includes six-nights lodging, round-trip airfare from New York City or Newark (other departure cities are available for a higher cost), daily continental breakfast, airline fuel surcharges, and hotel taxes and fees. You must book by May 29.
This package is only for half of your allotted travel time, but you can extend your stay for a bit extra. The cost for the original package (without taxes and fees) for you and your husband comes to about $1,400 ($200 per day for seven days), but you'll only end up paying about $600 more if you extend the package to include another week. This brings your total to about $143 per day for lodging and transportation, leaving plenty of extra cash to spend on museums and food. Once you've found a package that matches your budget and where you want to go, spend some time getting to know the destination.
Spain is often overshadowed by its neighboring countries, but can stand on its own as a top vacation destination. Most travelers choose Barcelona as their final stop, but Bilbao is a major contender when it comes to art, architecture, and food. You can book an Independent Holiday with Europe ASAP starting at $779 per person (without taxes and fees), which includes round-trip airfare to Madrid, three-nights' hotel in the city, seven-day car rental, hotel breakfast, hotel taxes and fees, and unlimited mileage. You will have to plot your course and book your own rooms during your seven days on the road, but this package falls well within your budget.
However, if you'd prefer to forego your own planning, you can always opt for a guided tour of the country.
For instance, Gate 1 Travel offers a 14-Day Crown of Spain package starting at $2,099 per person (without taxes and fees) for land only ($2,549 for land and air without taxes and fees), which includes 12 nights' accommodations (three nights each in Madrid and Torremolinos, two nights each in Seville and Barcelona, and one night each in Granada and Valencia), all transfers, 17 meals (12 breakfasts and five dinners), sightseeing by motor coach, wine with all dinners, English-speaking tour guide, and entrance fees. Along the tour, you will visit the Prado Museum in Madrid, the City of Arts & Sciences in Valencia, and the Cathedral of Seville in Seville. The package, with airfare from New York City, is a bit more than you initially planned on spending, about $392 per day for 13 days, but it's a lot more bang for your buck for all that you get to see.
Finally, France is the ultimate destination for food and art lovers alike. The different regions provide a plethora of flavors and artistic history possibly unmatched in the world. However, you don't have to wander too far outside of Paris to get your fill of delicious delicacies and creative culture. Virgin Vacations is offering a Paris at its Best City Getaway starting at $649 per person (without taxes and fees) in November, which includes round-trip airfare from New York City or Newark (other departure cities are available at a higher cost), six-night hotel accommodations, daily continental breakfast, hotel taxes and fees, and mandated fuel surcharges. Once again, you can extend your return flight and hotel stay for an additional $322 per person, bringing your grand total to about $139 per day for you both for 14 days. You must book by May 29.
These are only a few suggestions on how to book your trip. You can opt to forego any package and simply book each part individually. Many airlines are offering sales on flights to Europe, and it's always wise to compare prices. It will also be up to you to find your hotel, and reading reviews can go a long way in finding the right fit.
The world is a very big place, and you can honestly find art, food, and scenery in even the most unlikely destinations. This is why I ask my other readers to share their favorite locations that embody these three things. I am only one detective, and I need your help to solve each and every case. Please comment below.
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All prices, dates, and booking details listed here were valid at the time of publication. Some information may have changed since that time.