Welcome to Travel Diaries, a Refinery29 series where we tag along as real women embark on trips around the world and track their travel expenses down to the last cent. Here, we offer a detailed, intimate account of when, where, and how our peers spend their vacation days and disposable income: all the meals, adventures, indulgences, setbacks, and surprises.
This week's travel diary: A 33-year-old software implementation manager revels in the preparation for her trip and ends up spending serious money on band-aides.
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Occupation: Software Implementation Manager
Travel Companion: L
Hometown: Dallas, TX
Trip Location: Milan and the Italian Alps (Merano and Tirolo)
Trip Length: 9 Days
Annual # Of Vacation Days: 15
Companion’s # of Vacation Days: 14
Costs: The flights from Los Angeles to Milan were $1,054 per person. L lives in LA, so I have an extra flight from Dallas (DFW) to Los Angeles (LAX) so we can catch the international leg from Los Angeles (LAX) to Milan (MXP) together. Last year, I traveled pretty substantially with work, so I cashed in some airline miles for the flight to LA (win!). You still get charged a few fees when you book travel with miles, so the DFW to LAX flight cost a grand total of $11.
We plan to take three separate train trips (Airport to Milan, Milan to Merano/Italian Alps, Merano back to Airport), and bought our tickets ahead of time, which totaled $118 per person.
Costs: We are traveling to 3 towns/cities in Italy and are staying in four different accommodations. Our first two days will be spent in the heart of Milan, and we are staying at a hotel. I cashed in some hotel points, and was expecting the cost to come in around $15 but the hotel ended up not charging us for the accommodation so our 2 nights here were free.
Then we are traveling to Merano, located in the Alps. We chose an adorable Airbnb for our two nights there, which will cost $179 each (you can spend a little more when the first two nights are practically free). Then we head a little further north to the town of Tirolo where we are staying in a Home Away for $51 each. Our last night in Italy will be back in Milan at the airport, which I also cashed in points for an additional $28. The complete total for accommodations will be around $258 per person.
Miscellaneous pre-vacation spending:
I might have gone a bit overboard here, but prepping for the trip is half the fun, right…? L and I decided to take a minimalist approach to this trip and only take a single carry-on bag for the entire week. These are all items I will use on future work travel, so it’s a valuable investment.
- Osprey Fairview 40L Backpack: $134; I didn’t want to mess with a roller bag, so I purchased this backpack. After searching a number of sites, Amazon had the best price on the bag.
- Eagle Creek packing cubes: $30; to make the most of my limited space
- Pack-it-Flat Toiletry Holder: $25
- TSA Approved liquids bag: $12
- Two 1oz. refillable Nalgene bottles from The Container Store: $2
- Travel/security daypack from Amazon: $26; The purse I have taken on international travel in the past had seen it’s last leg.
- My husband misplaced our travel converter, so I had to order a replacement :$20
Part of the minimalist traveller plan includes doing laundry during your trip.
- Laundry detergent sheets: $11; I found these awesome laundry detergent sheets that take up zero space and allow us to keep our landry nice and fresh
- To save on buying guides later in the trip, I purchased the Rick Steeve’s 2019 Guide to Italy for my phone: $14
- A travel blanket (I’m not sure airplane blankets ever get washed): $30
- trtl neck pillow: $30
- Lysol wipes: $3
- rechargeable battery: $22- Water proof shoes: $136; The forecast for the trip changed right before we left, and called for rain for most of our trip (Boo!). I made a last minute decision to buy some water-proof shoes so that I didn’t have to walk 10+ miles a day in soggy, wet shoes. I settled on this pair of Chelsea-style orthotic booties from Vionic which I was able to order last minute from Amazon.
- Water-friendly Birkenstocks: $39
- A guided tour to see The Last Supper: $79
10:00 a.m. – The trip is finally here! My husband drives me to the airport, and we have a snuggly goodbye. This is my first vacation without him, and it feels weird leaving him behind. Since I am only taking a single bag, there is no need for me to stop and check-in so I make my way to the security line. I have TSA PreCheck, and that line is completely empty when I arrive (yes!). I breeze through security and make my way to the airline lounge. I have a little over an hour until boarding for LA, so I munch on some free light breakfast and hot tea.
11:30 a.m. – The flight is boarded and we are off to LA. I get a little hungry mid-flight and buy a cheese plate ($9) to enjoy while watching Aquaman to pass the time during the flight. $9
1:00 p.m. – The plane lands at LAX, and my good luck continues. Our plane to London has already landed and is at the next gate over, which is also right next to the airline lounge. I make the short walk over to the lounge and discover that my airline perks have upgraded me to the first class lounge. Now this is what I call a great start to the trip! I have four hours to kill until the flight to London leaves so I download some movies and shows from Netflix to pass the time on the flight while chatting with my husband on the phone and waiting for L to arrive.
3:30 p.m. – L arrives at the airport and we meet up in the lounge. We haven’t seen each other in a few months, so we chat and catch up over free food and drinks from the buffet.
5:15 p.m. – We board the flight to London and get settled into our seats. We are in for a long overnight flight but the excitement of the trip makes the time pass quickly. We chat until dinner is served, eat dinner, and then try and sleep until we land. I make full use of the travel pillow/blanket/eye mask I packed.
Day Total: $9
1:30 p.m. – We land in London with an hour and a half to get through security and board our final flight to Milan. We de-plane and board a bus to the terminal. We then hustle through security and make a brisk walk to our next gate. We have just enough time for a bathroom break before boarding begins.
6:00 p.m. – We are finally in Milan! Or the airport at least. We make our way through customs, get our passport stamped, and then we are officially free in Italy! We booked a train ahead of time so we start looking for directions to the train station. Thankfully, it’s right outside the airport, so we find our way to the track and board our train for the Milano Centrale station (which is in the heart of downtown). Once we reach our stop, we make the 20-minute walk to our hotel. We get checked in and find our way to our room. I found out a few days prior to leaving that our room had been upgraded, and it did not disappoint! We have two bathrooms, a Turkish bath, and a breathtaking view of Milan. I could get used to this life. We clean-up, change clothes, and prep to go to dinner.
9:30 p.m. – We found out at check-in that all the restaurants in the surrounding area are closed, so we decide to eat dinner at the hotel. It’s our first night, and we treat ourselves. We order wine, entrées, and dessert which ends up costing $137 (oops…). We charge the food to the room, so we will pay when we check out of the hotel. After dinner we make our way back to our room to crash.
Verizon has an excellent travel plan that charges $10/day to use your normal plan while traveling internationally. I text my husband at every stop to let him know we arrived, so I’m charged $10 for the day. $10
Day Total: $10
9:00 a.m. – We wake up ready for a full day in Milan. After getting ready, L and I go down to the lobby for breakfast and order sweetbreads and espresso while we plan our day. One of the perks of having status with a hotel chain is getting freebies when you check-in. I had a choice of either extra hotel points or a free breakfast, and I chose breakfast so we can eat for free this morning. We discover this was the better choice because breakfast is a staggering 40 Euros (or $45) per person. Other than a booked tour that begins at 4:00 p.m. to see The Last Supper, our day is currently open. I glance through my Rick Steves guide to Italy for some inspiration and we decide to kick off our day by wandering over to the Duomo.
10:00 a.m. – After a 20-minute walk, we arrive at the Duomo Plaza and it is breathtaking. I start reading the Rick Steves guide as we walk around the perimeter and we decide it’s worth the money to get a ticket to go inside. They have a couple options, but we decide on the skip-the-line pass. That grants us access to the roof, inside the church, the catacombs, the archeological dig under the property, and the museum across the street. We spend the next couple hours oooh-ing and ahh-ing at how beautiful everything is. $28
2:00 p.m. – Our stomachs kindly remind us that we need to eat, so we wander over to a pizza place that was recommended in the Rick Steves book. We order a liter of water (water is not free in Europe), two pizzas, and espresso to round out the meal. We pay cash and split the total. $25
4:00 p.m. – We completely lose track of time after lunch and how close it’s gotten to our appointment to see The Last Supper. Google Maps fails us and takes us in the wrong direction, so we are late to meet our tour guide at Piazza Pio XII. After a quick phone call with the tour company, we catch up with our group. Piazza Pio XII houses the “Atlantic Codex”, which is a series of Leonardo da Vinci’s drawings. The library rotates the drawings on display, and today his engineering drawings are on display. Our guide then takes the group across Milan toward the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie (where The Last Supper is located) with a quick unscheduled pit-stop at another beautiful cathedral. We stop to take some pictures and then continue onward toward our final destination. We arrive before our actual appointment and it begins to rain, so we file into the church to look around and wait until we can enter the chapel where the piece is located (not to mention stay dry). Our appointment time arrives, and we anxiously make our way into the chapel for our 15-minute allotted time with the fresco. Our guide tells the history of the piece and the building, but we are all too mesmerized to really listen. We snap pictures until the staff tells us our time is over and ushers us out. We stop in the gift shop for a few minutes and buy a few magnets to take home. $15
7:00 p.m. – The tour ends outside the chapel, so we are on our own to navigate to our next stop. L suggests we stop by the opera house on our way back toward the Duomo to grab dinner, so we head in that general direction. It’s still raining so we walk to a covered area at the front of the opera house for a moment out of the rain. There is a lot of activity going on at the opera house, so we look to see if there is actually an opera playing right now. It’s opening night tonight! But can we get tickets…? We ask around and find the box office where we score nosebleed seats. We chat about our good luck on our way up to our seats to watch the performance. $15
10:00 p.m. – The opera was excellent, and after it ends we make our way back to the hotel. At this point in the day we have walked over 10 miles, and L’s feet are really hurting (I’m thankful I spent the extra money for orthotic shoes). We get back to the room and we both collapse and take off our shoes to unveil blisters and bug bites. L’s had a reaction to the bug bites on the top of her feet, and her feet are epically swollen so we skip dinner and opt to split a bottle of wine from the mini-bar (we’ll pay for it on the hotel bill tomorrow). We then head to bed hoping our feet mend overnight and are better for the days ahead.
Day Total: $83
9:00 a.m. – Feet are not better. I wake up first and go to take a shower. What I thought were blisters on both my ankles (I wore booties the day before which ended right at my ankle) have now swollen up and are crazy itchy. They pop and a stream of yellow liquid starts to make its way down my feet. Oh, that is gross! I finish up in the bathroom and go to wake L up. L is in baaaaaaaaaaad shape. Her feet are feverish, swollen to almost twice their normal size and her bites are also oozing. What the hell bit us?! I grab my phone and start googling to determine we’ve fallen victim to Blandford flies. The good news is that we don’t need to see a doctor, but the bad news is we are in for a few bad days with the bites. L can’t put weight on her feet, so I leave her at the hotel to find a pharmacy. There is a pharmacy a couple blocks away, and I start trying to speak with the pharmacist in broken English to find the stuff we need, and endure a lecture about wearing sunscreen (my skin is so fair it practically glows in the dark, so this is a common lecture…). I leave with a large bag of goodies: bandaids, bug spray, bug bite itch cream, foot cream, shoe insoles, and blister bandaids. $62
11:00 a.m. – We pack up our bags and get ready to checkout of the hotel. L bandages up her feet and manages to squeeze shoes on. I arranged for us to have late checkout from the hotel, so we leave our bags behind and venture out to a pizza place the hotel has recommended for lunch. We see a shoe store along the way and decide to stop by on our way out so L can try to find a pair of shoes she can comfortably wear on her swollen feet. The pizza is good, but our spirits are a bit dampened by our chewed up feet. L picks up lunch on her card. We are successful in finding a pair of knit sneakers that are comfortable for L which we quickly purchase and hobble back to the hotel to check out.
2:00 p.m. – We check out of the hotel and pay the bill of $164. L will pay for half after the trip is over, so my half will cost $82. After leaving the hotel, we slowly make our way to the train station with one last stop at a pharmacy for extra supplies. We are gearing up for five hours of train rides, so thankfully L can rest her feet for most of the day.
We arrive at Milan’s fascist-era train station and struggle to determine which train we need to board. We finally find someone to ask, and she tells us the train is about to leave and we need to run if we want to catch our train. Oh, great. We take off across the train terminal and barely get through the doors before they close and the train leaves the station. We collapse in a heap into our assigned seats. The hotel emailed the receipt (versus printing a hard copy) so I review the charges once we are on the train. It looks like the hotel only charged us for the food and mini-bar wine. There are no line items on the receipt for a room charge or additional taxes. This seems like a mistake, but we have already left Milan so I can’t go back and ask. $82
4:00 p.m. – Our train takes us out of the city and into wine country. We trade the tall downtown buildings for acres of vineyards, and it’s a beautiful ride. About halfway through the trip coffee and cookies are served, and we are happy for the extra caffeine. Even the train espresso is better than anything we get in the US. We exit the train at the Verona station and easily find our next train to Bolzano. This train is substantially older, and there are no announcements at the stations. We have to stay alert (thank you train espresso!) and pay attention to the station signs for our stop.
6:30 p.m. We reach the Bolzano station, gather our things and try to exit the train… but can’t figure out how to get the doors open. We try to ask for help, but the train starts to move away from the station with us still on board. No, no, no! Well, nothing we can do until we reach the next station. Someone exits at the next station so we can follow them off the train (and now we know the trick to opening the doors). This station is eerily quiet, but the view is breathtaking. We admire the landscape for a minute and then enter the station to buy additional tickets for a train back to the correct station. We try and find instructions on how to buy a new ticket, but there are zero english (or any other language for that matter) instructions on how to buy a ticket. We walk back outside the station, and we are the only people at the station, so there is not a person for us to ask for help. Great. After 20 minutes of struggling, we think we may have figured out how to buy single tickets and we think the correct train will be coming to the station in 10 minutes (there is a lot of guessing here, we aren’t really sure). We board what we think is the right train and pull away from the station. This train is much newer and nicer and comes with English instructions. Win!! And we confirm we are on the right train. Double win! $15
8:30 p.m. – We have one last train transfer that went smoothly, and finally arrive at our final destination in the Alps: Merano. Words truly cannot describe how beautiful it is here. We are nestled in the middle of the mountains and there isn’t an ugly thing in sight. It’s a 45-minute walk to our Airbnb, and L is officially over walking today and decides we are going to figure out how to ride the bus. This turns into a replay of buying train tickets earlier in the afternoon. No instructions, no people to ask for help, and a lot of guessing. We finally think we have figured out which bus to board and how to buy a ticket. The bus driver doesn’t check tickets, so I guess we are fine. We are on the correct bus, and end up at a station close to our flat. We get off and walk the last 10 minutes to our Airbnb. $2
9:00 p.m. I WhatsApp our hostess, who comes out to greet us at the front door to the flat. She is stunning and looks like she just walked off a runway. She greets us warmly and gives us a tour of our digs for the next couple days. The town requires a tourist tax, which we were required to pay outside of the Airbnb rate. I hand the cash to our hostess to cover the taxes. My stomach pipes up to remind me it’s time to eat, and we ask for dinner recommendations. The only place that is open is a pizza place down the street, so we drop off our bags and wander into town for our second dose of pizza for the day. $10
9:30 p.m. – This part of Italy belonged to Austria up until WWII, so the people speak German instead of Italian. I speak four words of German (yes, no, thank you, you’re welcome), so ordering dinner is a challenge. We muddle through and have an enjoyable dinner. The bill comes and we are floored at how cheap food is here! L tries to pay for dinner on her credit card, but the internet isn’t fast enough to process the payment so I pay for dinner with cash. $25
11:00 p.m. – We come back to the flat, unpack, doctor our feet again, and collapse.
Google Maps was a godsend today, so $10 was well spent to use my international phone plan. $10
Day Total: $206
8:30 a.m. – We wake up, get ready, and doctor our feet again. We are finally mending, but L’s feet are still swollen and my bites are still band-aid worthy. The purpose of our trip to Italy is an academic conference, which kicks off today. We buy another bus ticket and catch the bus to Schloß Pienzenau, the 13th century castle where the conference is being held. We arrive early and enjoy free lattes and fruit in the garden outside the castle. After we finish we take some time to wander the grounds. Pienzenau is known for the gardens surrounding the castle and they do not disappoint. Flowers are in bloom everywhere you turn, and we stopped to smell every rose we encountered (which were the size of your face). The conference kicks off at 10:00 am, so we spend the next handful of hours listening to panels. $2
12:00 p.m. – Lunch is being offered by the Pienzenau, and we feast on risotto with asparagus, chocolate cake, and more espresso (all our late nights are starting to take their toll, so we take every cup of espresso we can get our hands on). We run behind on paying our bill, so I pick up the lunch tab while L hurries down to the kickoff of the afternoon sessions. $50
3:30 p.m. – We skip the late afternoon sessions to visit a winery around the corner. We are a few tasting glasses in when one of the other conference attendees (a poet) pops in and joins us. We spend the rest of the afternoon drinking glasses of pinot and laughing with our new poet friend. L picks up the tasting bill and a bottle of wine for us to enjoy later.
6:00 p.m. – After shutting down the winery (everything in Italy pretty much shuts down at 6:00 p.m.), our poet friend drives us and another of the conference attendees back into town. He drops us in the town square and we walk the 10 minutes back to our flat to drop off the bottle of wine. We booked two nights at this Airbnb, but now that we see how close our next destination is by bus, we discuss staying an additional night here. I text our hostess to see if that is a possibility, and she is fine with extending the stay as long as we can pay cash for the additional night so we don’t incur extra fees through Airbnb. We are 100 percent okay with this plan, and I tell our hostess we will get cash for her tonight.
8:00 p.m. – We walk back into town and meander around looking for a restaurant for dinner. We decide on a German restaurant and order beer and food. This area is known for their dumplings, so that’s what I order. They arrive and are huge and rich. I do my best to clean my plate, but throw in the towel after finishing one and a half. L picks up the bill in exchange for me taking care of lunch. On our way back to the flat I stop by an ATM and take out the additional cash needed to say an extra night in Merano. $140
10:30 p.m. – After making it back to the flat, we decide to run a load of laundry. We discover that we have a dryer, but not a washer. Sink washing it is! L is moderating a panel tomorrow, so she works on her introductions while I’m washing clothes. Once everything is nice and clean, I toss everything into the ventless dryer. These work much slower than American dryers, so it will be four hours until the clothes are dry. We decide to go to bed and will pull everything out in the morning. We finally crash around 1:00 a.m.
I used my phone again today, so another $10 for international phone usage. $10
Day Total: $202
8:30 a.m. – This morning is a repeat of yesterday. Bus ticket, ride to the castle ($2), free breakfast, morning of conference sessions, lunch of vegetable lasagna with a fruit and sorbet dessert accompanied by more lattes. L and I pay for our own lunch today ($23). $25
3:30 p.m. – Our band-aid reserves have run low, so we slip out after L moderates the afternoon session to find a pharmacy and replenish. The town square shops are still open so we take some time to buy souvenirs. I hate buying junk for the sake of junk, so I’m on the lookout for a pretty piece of jewelry I can buy that will remind me of the trip. One of my coworkers requested a shot glass, and L spies a shop where I can buy one ($8). L and I stumble upon a great jewelry shop where we both buy something for ourselves. L gets a super cute gold with black enamel ring and I buy a white gold choker adorned with a cross and the tiniest Virgin Mary you have ever seen ($230). L is presenting the next day, so she wants to have dinner back at the flat so she can hone her presentation. We pickup bread and cookies from a bakery, and cheese along with an apricot saffron jam from the local grocery store ($10). I find locally-made chocolate that I pickup to take back to my husband and some spices for my mom/grandmother for Christmas ($15). $263
7:00 p.m. – Back at the flat we arrange all our goodies for an epic Insta shot before breaking open the wine from yesterday along with the goodies we picked up today. It was a perfect pairing, and I could eat the apricot saffron jam all day. It was the perfect end to the evening with us chatting about how thankful we are that we get another night here and are not spending our evening moving to another hotel. L is presenting tomorrow, so she spends the balance of the evening honing her presentation, and I wash another load of laundry.
$10 for phone usage again today. $10
Day Total: $298
7:45 a.m. – Today our conference will be held at the Brunnenburg Castle, which is the 13th century family home of the poet Ezra Pound, in the neighboring town of Tirolo. We are up earlier than the past few days to finish packing our bags, doctoring our feet again (L’s feet are almost normal size!), and checkout of the flat. Our hostess greets us to say goodbye, and we are genuinely sad to leave her and her wonderful flat. We hustle to the bus stop to catch the bus to Tirolo, and buy a ticket on board. $2
9:00 a.m. – We are the first attendees to arrive at the castle, which offers us a rare opportunity to have the place to ourselves and really take in the magnitude of where we are standing. We bump into Ezra Pound’s grandson (who owns the castle with his mother) and have a quick chat with him before wandering into the library where today’s conference sessions will be held. Ezra Pound’s library has the most amazing view we have ever seen. I don’t know how he got any poetry written here because I spent the day being mesmerized by the view of the valley below.
12:00 p.m. – L killed her presentation (proud friend over here!) and we are dismissed for lunch. We are on our own for lunch today, so we walk up the mountain to find a place for lunch. We find a restaurant on a terrace that looks promising, so we wander up (more) stairs and are seated. This is a heavily German/Austrian influenced area, so the menu contains mostly German food items. We order drinks (bier, Aperol Spritz), a liter of water, and entrees. I order the most amazing schnitzel I’ve ever tasted paired with white asparagus. We pass on dessert and L picks up the bill.
3:30 p.m. – The first round of afternoon sessions are over, and we sadly have to leave to begin our trek back to Milan. One of the other conference attendees needs to get to Verona to catch his flight (which is on our way) so he joins us. We say goodbye to all our new friends and make our way back up the mountain to the bus stop. My legs are reminding me that I didn’t spend enough time at the gym prior to this trip, and I’m a sweaty mess by the time we get to the bus stop. Our conference friend needs to get rid of his last couple euros, so he pays for our bus fare to the train station. We feel like masters of Italian public transportation at this point, so we have substantially fewer problems getting back to Milan than we did getting out of Milan.
5:45 p.m. – Our first train of the day leaves for the short trip from Merano to Bolzano, and we all doze throughout the trip. There is a group of drunk high school-aged boys on the train (the legal drinking age in Europe is much lower than the US) that serenade the rest of the train car until they depart at their station.
6:30 p.m. – We have a super quick, five-minute connection at the Bolzano train station, so we dash across the station to catch our next train to Verona.
8:00 p.m. – We get to the Verona station and have just enough time to grab lunch at the station with our conference friend before our train to Milano Centrale departs. L and I order waters and salami sandwiches which totals the exact amount of euros I have left (yes!). We say goodbye to our friend and make our way to the train platform destined for Milano Centrale station. $17
10:30 p.m. – The train to Milan is uneventful, but we get delayed which causes us to miss our final train of the trip, which should take us to the airport. We are delayed another hour waiting to catch the last train out for the night.
11:30 p.m. – At this point L and I are both dragging. Our lack of sleep throughout the trip has finally caught up with us, and the hour wait for the train feels like forever. We finally depart the Milano Centrale train station for the hour train to Milan Malpensa airport.
12:30 p.m. – We finally drag ourselves into the hotel lobby at the airport, quickly check-in, and collapse for a few hours of sleep before we depart Milan.
Google Maps is my security blanket, so I spent another $10 on my international phone plan. $10
Day Total: $29
9:00 a.m. – Today we leave Italy for home, and we are equal parts sad and exhausted. We check-out of the hotel, which was booked with points, so the bill is minimal ($56 total, but we split the bill so I only paid $28). Thankfully, our hotel is located on the Milan Malpensa Airport property so our walk from the hotel to the airport terminal is less than 5 minutes. Our flight plan is different than when we flew to Italy, so today we will be departing Milan Malpensa for Helsinki, Finland, and Helsinki to Los Angeles LAX, where I’ll part ways with L, and then I’ll take the final trek from Los Angeles LAX back to Dallas alone. We make our way through security and locate the Milan lounge to grab free food and coffee before departing. Poor L has started feeling under the weather, so there isn’t much conversation while we munch on free croissants and fruit. Time comes for us to board, and we get on our plane to Helsinki (the flight home takes a different path than the flight here). The flight is smooth, and L sleeps the entire time.
3:30 p.m. – We have a short layover in Helsinki, so once we land we have to move quickly through security and to our next gate which is on the opposite corner of the terminal. L is wearing out quickly and I can hear her dragging her feet as we walk. After clearing security we make a quick stop at another pharmacy (in case you are wondering, this is where all L’s money went this trip…) to try and get cold medicine. We are informed that you cannot get any medicine in Finland without a doctor’s prescription, so the best she can offer L is some nasal spray. After a quick moment of shock, she decides she will take whatever she can get at this point and we continue trekking to the other side of the airport.
5:00 p.m. – The flight to LAX is smooth and uneventful. L is miserable, but thankfully we both get some sleep on the ten and a half hour flight home.
6:00 p.m. (PST Time) – We have landed at LAX, and the passengers sitting in the row ahead of us let me in front of them to dash to customs since I have under two hours to clear customs and make it to the other side of the airport to catch my connection home. L gets trapped, so I don’t get an opportunity to say good-bye. :( My TSA Pre-Check also includes Global Entry so it takes me very little time to get through customs. I’ve never had to board another flight state-side after returning on an international flight, so I struggle to determine what steps are required before I can run to my next terminal. I stumble my way through the rest of the security measures and quickly walk to my final terminal of the trip. As I enter terminal four, I am notified that my flight back to Dallas is delayed. Ugh. I slow my speed and walk to the lounge for a glass of wine to pass the time before I board. L calls and we say good-bye before she finds her ride home. We agree we need to book another trip back to Merano ASAP because we miss it already.
8:00 p.m. – I am finally boarded and on my way back to Dallas. I sleep most of the flight home.
I text my husband each time we landed to keep him up to date, so I’m changed for another day of International Calling. $10
Day Total: $10
2:00 a.m. – My flight lands in Dallas. It’s too late for my husband to still be awake so I check to see the cost of an Uber. Because it’s so late the price is inflated to $50 (it should be around $35), so I decide to catch a cab home. I walk down to the taxi area and it’s the most hodge-podge group of “cabs” I’ve even seen. Not a single car is yellow or has the taxi light on the top. Almost all of them have off-center magnets on the door... I’m a bit concerned for my safety, but Uber doesn’t feel much safer at this point at night so I walk up to the first cab (which is a giant white panel van...not helping me feel any safer…) and get a ride home. The cabbie is nice and we end up having a great conversation on the ride home. I tip the driver, and the total comes to $40, which is less than what the Uber would have cost. My husband is actually still awake when I arrive home, so I get to say hello before falling asleep curled up in his arms. I miss Italy terribly, but being back in my husband’s arms is the best end to a long journey. $40
Day Total: $40
How did you prepare for this trip?
I read all the blogs I could find on minimalist and single-bag traveling (to a little bit of an obsessive level, if I’m honest…) to try and determine the best items to pack and buy for the trip.
When did you book your flight? Do you think you got a good deal?
We bought our tickets four months out. We originally were looking at booking a cheaper fare ($800), but the layovers were pretty brutal so we decided to opt for a more expensive flight that allowed us more time in Italy and less time spent roaming the airport. My husband traveled extensively prior to us getting married and has a number of perks I married into (now I travel more than he does…), so the flight L and I chose from Los Angeles (LAX) to Milan Malpensa (MXP) grants us a number of fantastic perks the cheap fare would not: free seat upgrade (hooray for more legroom!), free drinks, priority boarding, concierge assistance, and (most importantly) free lounge access that allows us to eat, drink, and wifi for free anytime we are at the airport. Was it the cheapest option out there? Well, no. Was it a good value for what we are getting? By the time you account for what we would pay for all the items we are getting for free, the extra money seems well spent.
Did you use credit card points/miles to pay for parts of this trip?
Milan had a number of large, American brand hotels so we chose our hotels there based on where I could use my points. Between three nights and two hotels, I cashed in 85,000 hotel points. The charges we had for those hotels covered taxes and any meals we had on the hotel property.
I also had an additional flight from DFW to meet L at LAX, and used 12,500 airline miles to pay for that leg.
Do you have credit card debt as a result of booking this vacation? If so, how much?
Credit cards are great to use when you travel (if there is no foreign transaction fee on the card) because they convert the charge using whatever the current conversion rate is. I used my card whenever possible on larger purchases, and ended up with around $300 on my credit card when the trip was over.
What was your favorite part of the trip?
All of our time in Merano and Tirolo was my favorite. L and I both live in big cities, so having an opportunity to soak in a quiet and slower pace of life was relaxing. Most of our time was tied up in the conference we were attending, and we both expressed a wish for more free time to wander about town and just enjoy being there. I think had we done that we both would have been much more rested upon our return home.
What was the best meal or food you ate while you were there?
Honestly, the night we snacked on wine and cheese at the flat was my favorite. We didn’t have a bad meal the entire trip, but after several days of consistently heavy food it was nice to have an evening of lighter fare without any kind of schedule to adhere too. Our flat had a great patio so we opened the windows and doors and enjoyed the quiet evening chatting and laughing.
What advice would you give someone who is traveling to the same location?
Heed the travel blog advice about packing good quality walking shoes. We walked over 10 miles in our first day in Milan alone, and the last day we were in Tirolo we climbed 40 flights of stairs (aka, we climbed a mountain). Once we got home, my Apple Watch notified me we had walked 86,000 steps during the week we were in Italy which averages to around 6 miles each day.
Also, if you’re traveling to London or Milan in May or June, take bug spray! We battled oozing Blandford fly bites for the first 4 days of the trip. Not only was it gross, but it was miserable.
Between L and I, we spent well over $150 on band-aids and pharmacy expenses because we weren’t prepared with good shoes (in L’s case) and bug spray. That money could have been much better spent on fun things like wine or activities.
Is there anything about your trip you would do differently in retrospect?
There were a number of blogs that warned against packing cotton shirts, but that’s what I owned so I packed a few, thinking I would iron them at the hotel. We didn’t have a single accommodation that offered an iron, so that was never an option. I had one shirt in particular I was never able to wear because it was too wrinkled. When you only pack 3 shirts to begin with, this becomes an issue. Thankfully I could do laundry and wash the other shirts I packed, but looking back I should have swapped it out for another shirt that would have packed better.
Would you stay at your hotel or Airbnb again?
Our Airbnb in Merano was amazing, and I hope to book another stay there. Our hotels in Milan were both nice, but if I were actually paying (and not using points) for the stay I’m not sure if I could afford to stay in either.
Where were you located in the specific city and would you recommend staying in that part of town?
In Milan we stayed close to the Duomo and city center, which was perfect. Anything we wanted to see was within a 20-minute walk.
In Merano and Tirolo we stayed in an Airbnb that was about a 10-minute walk from the town center. The mornings there were peaceful and quiet, but a short 10-minute walk brought us to an area with tons of restaurants and shopping. The buses in the area can take you just about anywhere else you might want to go, and at $2 per ride and $4 for a day pass it’s an easy trip just about anywhere.
Is there anything you wished you had time to do, but didn’t?
Merano is known for its thermal baths. We had planned to visit (we packed swimsuits and everything), but simply ran out of time. I’ve added it to my list of reasons to go back and visit.
Do you feel like you were there for the right length of time? Would you have come home sooner or stayed longer given the chance?
If there had been an option to never come home, I would have taken it and stayed indefinitely in Merano and Tirolo. The pace of life, people, and picturesque scenery were something I wish I never had to leave.
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