Europe on $10 a day

Europe for $10/Day (in 1977): Part 1

I’m super excited today to introduce my very own mother! As Mr. T and I were planning our travels, my mom found her journal from her backpacking trip through Europe in 1977 and starting telling me crazy stories. I told her she just had to write some up! So today, while Mr. T and I are off doing our own (less crazy) traveling and while my mother is busy chasing my three children around the Oregon Coast, enjoy reading her perspective about what inexpensive travel was like without the variety of travel resources we have today! 

I grew up in a tiny town on the coast – nice enough, but rainy and windy in the winter and drizzly and windy in the summer. For some reason, no one ever seemed to want to leave this place; not in my family anyway. I wanted to go to Europe. That meant two things to me: The Eiffel Tower in Paris of which I owned a poster. It was the first thing I put on the wall in my Freshman dorm room at the state college. The other thing it meant was Dickens and AustenThackeray and Eliot. I was crazy about 19th century English literature and I wanted to be in those bucolic places described in those novels. Of course, in Dickens case, it was squalid more than bucolic, but that meant London and as I became a teenager, I was very keen to be in
London. Who wasn’t in the 1970’s?

According to Ed Hewitt writing at Independent traveler.com, guidebook author, Arthur Frommer wrote a book in 1957 about seeing Europe for $5 a day and meant it to be for American GIs in Europe who read it and made it and Frommer Guidebooks famous. Twenty years later, I saw a book touting travel in Europe for $10 a day and figured on a young teacher’s salary, that was for me. I had some time off in the summer and some money and a roommate with a flexible-hour job that paid well so the two of us decided to do what thousands of young travelers were doing in 1977: backpack through Europe.

We Flew from Seattle to Iceland, then Scotland for refueling and finally landed in
Frankfurt. We were on a small charter plane for educators so the price was good, the plane small and no door between us and the pilot – just a blanket so since we were the only nondrinkers in the group and everyone else was partying, we sat by the blanket and chatted with the pilots the whole way over.

NO COUCH SURFING & NO BNBs

We decided to join the other young backpackers with Youth Hostel Federation
membership and rail passes for Europe and Britain. I had our itinerary complete with a comprehensive list of must-do museums and concert halls. My roommate was along for the adventure. Since she was a superior mathematician, she took over budgetary duties. We started out strong and organized. We had reserved a holiday inn Frankfurtdouble room at the Holiday Inn, Frankfurt complete with free breakfast buffet for maximum efficiency at $51. When we arrived in Germany, however, we were confused as to how to find the hotel so we spent 5 hours riding buses, trains and walking until some concerned senior citizens in a bus pointed out that we could have caught a free bus at the airport to take us straight there. Why didn’t we know this?

I confess to feeling a bit intimidated by our lack of language skills. Another senior citizen on another bus informed me that my German was the worse he had ever heard. I had always preferred French, but that did not help us in Germany. Most of the Youth Hostels were located way out of town and since we often got into our destinations very late, it was challenging to get to the hostel and even more challenging to find a bed once we got there. There were times such as in Florence where our large hostel outside of the city was so crowded we had to sleep in the hallway with the mosquitoes. In Bern Switzerland, the Hostel was lovely but didn’t open until 6:30pm so because we were there on very rainy days we shivered in the park until we could get back into the Hostel where we talked all night with the
other guests and then had to be out of there by 8am. The next morning we left our Youth Hostel and walked a few blocks to church. It was still pouring. Our luggage consisted of one small Jansport backpack each. These packs were smaller than kids take to school these days, but we loved them. We could jump on and off those trains faster than anyone and we could sleep on them at the Youth Hostels as we listened to all the stories of people having their backpacks stolen.

Into these small packs we were able to stuff:

  • 1 pair of nice shoes
  • 1 skirt
  • 1 long sleeved shirt
  • 2 teeshirts
  • 1 pair capris
  • 1 pajama tee
  • one dress for church
  • underwear

We also had water proof purses (The Fanny Pack had not yet been invented) for other incidentals like money and journals for example. Our passports we wore in hidden pouches around our necks. We switched clothes back and forth with each dressesother at will. Each Sunday we attended church and as we entered the church we were wearing our jeans, sandals, shirts and jackets with hoods. We disappeared into a bathroom and came out all dressed up. That always amused everyone and we met a lot of people that way and got a lot of dinner invitations too. This particular day we did not get a dinner invitation, however, so we spent all day at the train
station – eating, reading, sitting, eating, walking around, eating – anything to stay out of the torrent until our Hostel opened at 6:30pm.

Word of mouth worked as well. In Munich we ran into several American students who told us about a big circus tent just outside of town where we could sleep on the ground for $5 including a small mattress and blanket. We walked to the Karlsplatz and attended a violin concert of Bach and Handel in a beautiful church for free. We walked to the famous Hofbrau Haus to check out the German ambience where we struck up a friendship with a family from Texas who invited us to join them for dinner. Festive and free too! Finally, we found the tent which looked like the RailRoad Station in Gone With the Wind, but found our student friends who had saved us a place. It was crowded, they left the lights on all night, it was raining inside the tent and it smelled like a very tired Hofbrau Haus. We stayed up most of the night talking to people. This all sounds difficult and in many ways, it was. However, it was part of the adventure and we were loving it. In spite of that, we often decided to find a small pension or hotel where we could get some sleep.

LUXURY AT GOOD PRICES

We arrived in Salzburg, Austria around 11am. We had noticed that all the stops had
tourist information booths listing places to stay so we selected what appeared to be a safe and affordable pension and set out immediately to find our room for two for $15. We dropped off our things and took off for the city. This time we even took a map. We were learning. We walked down to the old part of the city – Mirabelle Platz and Mozart Platz and the Centrum. It was beautiful. Huge palaces and fountains and gardens. Tourist buses drove by us as we chugged along, but we were young and loved being outside and free to come and go as we liked. We
visited Mozart’s birthplace and heard some chamber music from a garret on the roof. We walked the narrow cobblestone streets and heard a trio playing English songs and walked along the river to get back to the pension where we dined on schnitzel and cake. That night, exhausted, we slept under big feather-down quilts.

We arrived in Venice about a week later at the same time. We came into Santa Lucia
Station and our first sight was water – everywhere. Walking out of the station we saw in front of us the Grand Canal. No cars; only boats and all the people were laughing and talking. We walked along the water to Pension Casa Frollo and rang the bell. An elderly Italian lady took us through a country garden and a sitting room full of flowers and showed us two connecting rooms for $16 total. What joy!

We headed back out to San Marcos and a large piazza with outdoor restaurants and little bands playing Italian and American music. We walked through the narrow
streets and looked into the shops. Everything was so inexpensive. We were told that things were even more so in Florence so we didn’t buy anything – yet. We saw some people going into a library and it seemed free so we followed them. The next thing we knew we were in the middle of an art lecture in Italian so we snuck out and went in search of food. Several hours later we emerged onto the dark streets and made our way back home trying to avoid the mosquitoes. We loved Venice.

When we first arrived in Italy, we seemed to attract a lot of pinching from a lot of Italian men. All the backpacking guys we met were really only interested in conversation and then moving on. All of us had agendas and we were all on our way somewhere and appreciated the freedom to be friends and move on. Not so with the locals apparently. When one of the Italian casanovas reached out and very casually pinched my roommate on her breast with full fist, we began to pray for some help.

Along came Mark from Hawaii.

We met him on the train and as we came into Venice, we asked if he would like to join us through Italy. He agreed and we know that made the Italian experience so much more relaxed for us. We were also able to afford better lodging with Mark joining in so he was truly an answer to prayer.

All three of us decided to check out the French Riviera. Nice was beautiful, but very
expensive. One must buy a ticket to lay on a mat or sit on a beach. In spite of that, we decided to skip Switzerland and lay around the Riviera for about five days. I hated to miss Suisse, but we were both physical wrecks from our travels; so much walking; so little sleeping, one of us had a sore ankle and the other was covered in mosquito bites. We found a very nicely situated, affordable pension so decided to stay.

Unfortunately, due to a conference, everything in town, including our pension was reserved for the next week so we moved on to Cannes where all we could find was expensive, but nice places to stay so we decided to go out to dinner too. The last time we had our own bathroom was back in Frankfurt and we seldom went out to dinner. We ordered chicken which was the only thing on the menu at all familiar. They seated a Swedish guy next to us who spoke English and who worked for the European Space Agency so we all passed a pleasant evening talking – mostly about Hawaii. People would ask us where we were from and we’d tell them and they’d look confused like where is that, but when they found out Mark was from Hawaii, they were usually astounded and amazed that they could now tell their posterity they had spoken to a true Hawaiian.

COMING TOMORROW: Part 2 – Music and Arts + The UK leg! 

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Europe for $10/Day (in 1977): Part 2

10 Comments

  1. The Green Swan

    How neat, thanks for the perspective on traveling back in the day! Can’t wait for part 2!

    • MaggieBanks

      Aren’t her stories awesome? And these are only some of them!

  2. Donna

    Ah, the good ol’ days

  3. Thank you for sharing this great story with us! These types of tales always make me wish that I had done more traveling before having kids, but then again, who knows how much debt we would have now if we had taken our spendy habits to international venues. I guess we will just have to look forward to seeing the world in a different phase of our life.

    • MaggieBanks

      Showing your kids the world has tremendous value as well! These stories are awesome, but they are not as important to me as the actual memories I have traveling WITH my mom.

  4. Britt

    This is so fun to read! I love all the details you remember. My husband and I backpacked Europe for five months in 2010 and while we didn’t quite survive on $10/day, we had very similar methods as yours for keeping costs low. I am so excited to read part 2!

    • MaggieBanks

      Journals! I am a big believer in them, though I’m horrible at keeping one (though, thanks to Mom, I’m very careful about keeping one while I’m traveling!)

  5. What a fun read! I especially love the photos too. As someone who can barely say hello and thank you in French or German, you’re leaps and bounds ahead of me!

    • MaggieBanks

      I’m amazed too, since the stories I hear involve my mom flunking out of German… 🙂

  6. Great writing about treasured memories! A rich chapter of your life, no doubt.

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