Europe on a Budget

The Robinsons in Holland

“You can travel in Europe for the same amount, or even cheaper, than in the U.S.” So say Jerry and Nonette (Non) Robinson, a retired Canyon couple who have learned to do Europe on a budget.

Both former teachers (Jerry was also a coach), the Robinsons’ fascination with Europe began in the late 80s when they got hooked on the PBS travel films of Rick Steves. They wanted to do Europe the way Rick did, visiting ordinary, sometimes out of the way places and people.

Jerry’s first trip was a week-long excursion in 1993 (Non wasn’t quite ready to travel abroad). Jerry enjoyed Europe immensely, but decided he enjoyed it best when his best friend could join him. So they continued to raise their children and visit Europe on TV.

Until 2011. Non had just recovered from a bout with breast cancer, and they

Manarola in the Cinque Terra

decided it was now or never. They bought tickets and set out for what would become a yearly two-week-or-more excursion to the only overseas location they cared to visit (by the way, Non has remained cancer free).

In eight years, the Robinsons have visited over a dozen countries and traveled well over 100,000 miles. How do retired teachers afford the kind of travel most of us only dream of? They have their secrets.

  1. “It takes research, lots of research,” says Jerry. I am surprised when he tells me that one can stay overnight for less than $100 and find in-Europe airfares for as little as $40 (one-way from London to Amsterdam).
  2. For convenience and price, trains are the way to go in Europe. “You’ll have to learn to read train schedules,” says Jerry, “but you can bring them up on your cell phone in English.” The Robinsons buy a Select Saver EuroRail Pass where they choose the countries and the number of days they will be traveling.
  3. “Limit eating out,” say the couple. They stay at places that provide breakfast, but buy picnic supplies at local markets for lunch (where I’m sure reading the labels is a job) and save the dining out for evening. “Of course there are always several dips of gelato mixed in the day somewhere,” says Non.
  4. The Robinsons have become experts at finding transportation deals between the states and Europe. For instance, they find transatlantic cruises or “repositioning cruises,” which is what the big lines do every fall and spring to get their ships into place for the coming season. “We’ve done Ft. Lauderdale to London for $899 a person,” says Jerry. And that’s a 15-day cruise with all the amenities.
Vernazza in the Cinque Terra

Finally, the Robinsons have other advice for getting the most from your trip. They say to go in the spring and fall when you will avoid the crowds. “Never go in August,” says Jerry. “That’s when the Europeans take their vacations.”

Jerry and Non avoid group tours and over-visited places. They recommend walking the back streets and alleys, which I guess is what Rick Steves did. Jerry can’t give me a most beautiful place (“There are too many”). Non points to the Cinque Terra, a group of villages on the northwest coast of Italy.

Visiting with the Robinsons has taught me a lot—not only about Europe but about dreams themselves. Dreams are powerful things. Dare to dream, and you just might find a way to make that dream come true.

Jerry and Non did.

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