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Italy and France on a Shoestring Budget … Even in the Summer

The Deal Detective is SmarterTravel’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.

Sharon writes, “Dear Deal Detective, I am taking my son to Europe for his 16th birthday and I am on a budget. Although I live in Pennsylvania, I can leave from the New York area. Newark has a great airport for me because I have direct bus transport. We want to visit Paris and Italy. I have lodging in France so my needs are more for Italy. Also what are fun things for a teenager to do in Paris? Travel time is from June 12 to 23. Your assistance will be so appreciated.”

I never get tired of questions concerning travel as a gift. I can’t imagine a better way to celebrate a special occasion than a vacation filled with extraordinary adventures and memories. Plus, I love playing a small role in turning a vacation dream into a reality.

Your question also raises several challenges, such as flights to and from the destinations and transportation in-between. Instead of guessing which route you might take, I’m going to show you (and my other readers) several different options of how you can see both destinations within one visit.

I don’t know the exact amount of your budget, so I’m going to lowball it a bit just to be safe. Your desire to see two countries raises the question of transportation. For instance, you have to decide if you want to fly round-trip to and from one destination—which is typically the cheaper option—or fly open-ended, i.e. to one location and then back home from another. The latter option requires purchasing two separate one-way tickets that can tack on a bit extra money. Plus, you’ll have to book transportation between the two destinations, such as a car rental, train, or a connecting flight. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s break down each method to see which is the most economical.

Your first option is to fly round-trip from New York to either Paris or a city in Italy. I priced round-trip flights to Paris leaving June 12 and returning June 23 starting at $890 per person (with taxes and fees), or $1,780 for two.

Your second option is to fly open ended from New York City. I priced one-way flights to Paris leaving June 12 starting at $538 per person (with taxes and fees), and one-way flights returning June 23 from Rome to New York starting at $501 per person (with taxes and fees). The total price for your flight would come to $1,039 per person, or $2,078 for two. Granted, you must also take into consideration the destination you choose to arrive and depart. For instance, flying to or from Florence will be more expensive than Rome.

Now that you have an idea of what airfare might cost you, you’ll now have to book transportation between cities. Once again, you have several options to choose from, such as renting a car, taking the train, or flying a cheap low-cost carrier. Or you can simply skip the hassle of planning and just book all your transportation in one swoop by purchasing a multi-city flight. I priced airfare starting at $1,454 per person (with taxes and fees), or $2,908 for two people, which includes flights from New York to Paris, Paris to Rome, and then Rome back to New York. This price tag may be a bit on the heavy side for a lowball budget, so let’s see what else we can find to cut costs.

The transportation between your destinations can really break the piggy bank, so it’s important to compare prices before making any hasty decisions.

For starters, train travel is a breeze in Europe, and gives you the time to sit back and truly enjoy the surrounding countryside. However, it will not only take longer to get places, but the overall price can take a bite out of a budget. Eurail offers regional passes for France and Italy that start at $345 for an adult and $265 for a kid (without taxes and fees) for a four-day non-consecutive pass to be used within two months. This would give you the freedom to choose several different stops along the way, because travel in both countries is unlimited. The total cost for train travel and round-trip tickets to Paris for the both of you would be $2,390, while open-ended tickets and the train come to about $2,688 for two.

You can always opt to rent a car and drive yourself where you would like to go. This may allow even more independence than the train, but you’ll have to factor in gas prices, insurance, driving directions, and parking. I priced cars starting at $33 per day, or $500 (with taxes and fees) for your entire stay, in France through Hotwire. A one-way car rental, picking up in Paris and dropping off in Rome, starts at $854 (with taxes and fees) for your travel dates. The total cost for round-trip airline tickets for two and a car-rental comes to $2,280 (without gas and parking costs), while open-ended airfare for two and a one-way car rental runs about $2,932 (without gas and parking costs).

And finally, if you want to save time by flying but don’t want to spend the extra cash, you can book a ticket through a low-cost airline like Ryanair. I priced flights from Paris to Rome starting at about 30€ (about $42 U.S.; check for current exchange rates) per person (with taxes). Don’t forget to take into account additional fees, including baggage, onboard food and beverages, and possibly even the bathroom. Plus, be aware that most low-cost carriers in Europe fly into smaller airports that may be a good distance from a major city. The total cost for two round-trip flights from New York to Paris and two round-trip flights from Paris to Rome comes to about $1,948. The total cost for two one-way tickets from New York to Paris, two budget-cost tickets from Paris to Rome, and two one-way tickets from Rome to New York comes to about $2,162.

Out of the three transportation options, the cheapest route is to book round-trip airfare to Paris and fly with a budget airline between cities, but that doesn’t mean that it’s the best for you. Once you decide how you want to get there and get around, you can then book your lodging. A vacation rental is a great way to save money if you are staying in one place for more than a few days. Plus, it will give you the added bonus of living like a local in a foreign city.

As for things to do for a young lad in Paris—and I fully admit that I may be biased—the opportunities are endless. It’s Paris! Sitting in a cafe can be terribly exciting. Granted, I have never been a 16-year-old boy, but I can’t see how the museums, food, river cruises, architecture, shopping, and culture couldn’t be enough to keep one entertained for a few days. For further insight into what the kids are up to these days, you can contact the Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau.

I wish your son a very sweet 16, and I hope your trip turns out to be all you imagined for the two of you.

As for my other readers: What have I missed? How do you visit more than one country in a single visit on a tight budget? Please weigh in on the best way to see the sights on a shoestring.

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