4 Week Europe Trip Costs + Merch Challenge Q2 2018 Update

4 Week Europe Trip Costs + Merch Challenge Q2 2018 Update

As a reminder, we’re trying to pay off our mortgage and take our family on a 27-day Europe trip with just t-shirt sales in what we call the Great Banks Merch Challenge.

I’ll be providing quarterly updates. This one is 2018 Q2 update:

The Current Merch Challenge Numbers

Final Trip Costs: Reminder that this was a 4-week, 27-night trip through NYC (2 nights), England and Wales (16 nights), Norway (5 nights) and Iceland (4 nights) for 5 humans! It was absolutely spectacular and the best use of money ever.

  • Flights: $2,035.48 – This amount includes :
    • Flight from Anchorage to NYC for a day before flying to England (we used Alaska miles for this leg + $28 in fees)
    • Flight from NYC to London (we used AA miles for this leg + $28 in fees)
    • Flight from England to Norway (paid Cash, SAS airlines – $355.63 for all 5 tickets)
    • Flight from Norway to Iceland (free layover for 4 days) to Alaska (paid cash – $2,123.85 for all 5 tickets)
    • – $500 – from our sign-up bonus on the Barclay Arrival+ card. Yay for a $500 discount!
  • Lodging: $2,859.50 – All lodging:
    • 3 nights in London, England – $677.01
    • 1 night just outside Reykjavik, Iceland – $250.49
    • 3 nights on the Golden Circle in Iceland – $681.03
    • $1000 worth of discounted AirBNB gift cards we’ve used to purchase lodging in England and Norway – $910
    • 2 nights in Bergen, Norway – $340.97
  • Transportation: $1,712.29
    • Norway Car Rental: $294.26
    • UK Car Rental: $364.71
    • Iceland Car Rental: $307.35
    • Airport Shuttle from Newark – $48
    • Airport Shuttle to Bergen – $26.35
    • Bergen Funicular – $36.39
    • Public Transportation Costs – $229.18
    • All petrol – $359.72
    • All parking – $46.33
  • Stuff: $1,487.17 – The gear (which we won’t have to purchase again for the next big trip!) plus the souvenirs:
    • Passport fees for the 3 kids – $315
    • Global Entry for all of us – Free (thanks Amex Platinum card!)
    • Travelable booster seats for all 3 kids (their normal ones are way too bulky to travel with but we wanted to be safe/legal) – $103.97
    • Travel Backpacks for the girls (Lui will use his small school backpack) – $204.30
    • GPS with all Europe maps (which we will use for all future Europe trips) – $149.90
    • Souvenirs (including an Icelandic sweater for me, a sweater for Mr. T and a jacket for me from the Dale of Norway factory store, a few Christmas gifts, a retro Iceland winter hat for Mr. T, a few new outfits for me and the kids from England, and the kids’ souvenirs) – $714
  • Experiences: $1,468.95
    • Empire State Building – $70
    • Tickets to see Matilda the musical in London – $348.15
    • Tickets to the Harry Potter Film Studio outside London – $183.73
    • Westminster Abbey Tickets – $62.63
    • UK Family National Trust 14-day Touring Pass – $104.79
    • London Eye – $160.72
    • Tower of London – $99.95
    • Wales Castle Explorer Family Pass – $60.07
    • York Minster – $29.64
    • Borgund Stave Church, Norway – $34.99
    • Oslo Passes – $260.18
    • Kerið Crater Entrance – $7.30
    • Geothermal Rye Bread Experience – $41.28
    • Public Toilets in Iceland – $5.52
  • Food: $849.47 – We bought mostly groceries, but did eat out occasionally. We were also spoiled by my parents for a week when we stayed with them (thanks mum and dad!).
    • New York: $171.25
    • UK: $390.98
    • Norway: $96.58
    • Iceland: $152.65
    • IcelandAir Airplane food: $38.01

TOTAL SPENT: $10,412.86

Thoughts: We went to 3 of the most expensive countries in Europe and stayed there a month! We weren’t attempting to be super frugal about this trip, but we cut costs where we could and really enjoyed it. I felt like I was living my best life traveling and teaching my kids during this past month. It was absolutely amazing.

Mortgage Costs: 

For Merch to cover the rest of our mortgage, we’re including any payments we make above our minimum monthly payments. So, these costs are the extra payments we made starting with the November mortgage payment:

  • $2,100 (November)
  • $1,700 (December)
  • $1,500 (January)
  • $0 (February)
  • $100 (March) – hopefully sales will pick up again soon so we can start shoveling money toward the mortgage!
  • $0 (April)
  • $0 (May)
  • $0 (June)


Current Merch Earnings (earnings are 2 months behind as that’s when we get and report the money):

  • June: $7.07
  • July: $218.24
  • August: $810.78
  • September: $1,065.67
  • October: $3,352.58
  • November: $1,837.50
  • December: $2,627.96
  • January: $1,076.85
  • February: $695.83
  • March: $783.40
  • April: $852.67
  • May: $854.17
  • TOTAL: $14,182.72

minus our total mortgage payments and total trip costs of $15,812.86

Merch Challenge Totals: -$1,630.14

Verdict so far: Still Positive

I’m actually pretty thrilled that the entire trip has been covered with just t-shirt sales! How exciting is that?!

Now, we’ve got 6 months left of t-shirt sales to cover about $23,600 of the mortgage (about $22,000 left on it plus another $1,630.14 that we’ve already paid toward the mortgage listed above). We may or may not be able to earn $23,600 in 6 months with t-shirts alone (last year, we earned about $9,900 in the same 6 months).

However, we are getting a little help from the state of Alaska. Our PFD amount has been decided for 2019 and we’ll each be getting $1,600 (a total of $8,000). Now, we tithe our PFDs as we do with all our income, so after tithing, we’ll conservatively say we can put $7,000 of the PFD toward our mortgage. $23,600-$7,000=$16,600.

AND keep in mind that our regular mortgage payments alone will bring our mortgage balance down to about $18,000 by the end of the year. $18,000+$1,630-$7,000=$12,630! TOTALLY DOABLE (maybe. i start second guessing every time i declare something like that!) Do you think we can do it?


June 2018 Plan Update


Dipnetting 2018: A Record-Breaking Catch!


  1. RootofGood

    Costs aren’t too bad. We spent 2 months in Europe and spent about the same (actually $8500) but didn’t buy any souvenirs nor did we pay for a ton of admission fees/entertainment. And it was mostly moderate to low cost countries that we visited (besides Italy and Netherlands). We got the flights for nearly free using United pts plus a couple hundred bucks in taxes. And a cheapo ryanair flight from Spain to Italy that we paid cash for.

  2. Maggie, that sounds like a lovely trip with your family! We’re planning a family trip to the U.K. next June (for a month). The plan is to spend two weeks in Ireland, 10 days or so in Scotland, and 5-7 days in England.

    Flights will be covered by points and we’re looking at Airbnb for a ‘home base’ in Ireland (Kilkenny, most likely). Tell me more about those discounted gift cards?!?

    Our budget is $10,000, but we’re not married to that if we have the opportunity to experience something extraordinary.

    Thanks for sharing this!

    • MaggieBanks

      Around the holidays especially, there are deals on AirBNB gift cards… you just have to keep your ear out. 🙂 If you have children, I recommend Brimham Rocks in Yorkshire! They can climb all over the place and the rock structures are stunning!

  3. What a wonderful adventure! I think you did great for a month with five folks, including a couple of the most expensive countries in Europe. It looks like you had a good balance to your travel; saving in advance where possible, but also enjoying yourself and the surroundings. According to your “bathroom fees” in Iceland, I think we have used the same bathroom! Best view from inside a bathroom ever, right???! You’re inspiring me to really get my ducks in a row for our domestic and (eventual) foreign trips.

    • MaggieBanks

      The bathrooms we had to pay for in Iceland were pretty lame. 🙂 Wish I had experienced whatever good view you’re describing!

      • RootofGood

        Best bathroom view ever: the fort in downtown San Juan, Puerto Rico. They have little arrow/gun slits in the wall (from the 1700s or whenever that section was built) and you can see 10 stories down the side of the fort, into the surf crashing on the rocks around the island and all the way out over the ocean.

        • MaggieBanks

          That sounds amazing. The women’s bathroom at the top of the Hancock Tower in Chicago has an AMAZING free view of the Chicago skyline! It’s pretty spectacular!

        • Now you’re making me want to visit San Juan just to see this view 🙂 Me thinks someone should create a “world’s best bathrooms” article. It’s probably already been written…

      • Lame-o! Using the loo at Thingvallir (excuse my amazing Icelandic) was gorgeous. Peeing where the North American and European tectonic plates meet…. very fun. Sorry you didn’t get the experience. Next time!

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