It's pretty easy to feel stranded when you live in Canada. The cost of travelling is high (it costs me more to get to the airport in Toronto than flying between two countries in Europe) and vacation time is short, so most of the time, you don't dare adventuring beyond an overcrowded Caribbean resort. But fear not! If you can arm yourself with a bit of courage (to boldly explore new frontiers and new civilizations...hehe... sorry I just had to), I can get you across the Atlantic with more or less what you would spend down south.
1. Paradise Lost - The Azores. Portugal. You'll find these beautiful, almost untouched volcanic islands in the middle of the Atlantic, about 1300 km from the coast of Portugal (an approximate 5 hours direct flight from Toronto).
If swimming with wild dolphins, windsurfing, diving and exploring pristine nature are your ultimate cravings, this is the place for you. Do me a favour and google images of Ilheu Vila Franca da Campo on Sao Miguel. Do it! *Mic drop*. Best months to visit is between May and September, with most travellers expressing a preference for the latter, because of warm water and stable climate.
A 7 day Expedia package including a direct flight from Toronto, a four star hotel and breakfast will set you back about $1000 per person. That's if you're a smarty pants (which I know you are) and you book about 6 months in advance. Food is very affordable and mostly locally grown, so take the opportunity to dine out and mingle with the locals. Maybe pick up a word or two of Portuguese.
2. Island in the Sun. Sardinia. Italy. Sardinia has some of the best beaches in Europe, including Cala Goloritze, which is one of the most breathtaking things you will ever see. The best time to visit in end of May and beginning of June. In Europe that time period is still considered extra season, so you get the benefit of low prices and warm weather while avoiding the crowds.
If booked in advance, an Expedia package including flight, hotel and breakfast will set you back around $1300 per person. The food...do we really need to talk about the food in Italy though? I'd start exercising my pasta eating abilities about NOW, just to be prepared. The concept of all inclusive is pretty much non existent in most of Europe, which gives you the opportunity to go explore, find memorable amazing eateries and make memories that will last a lifetime.
3. City Adventures. Amsterdam. You might think (and rightfully so) that big European cities tend to be very expensive to visit. They usually are, but it just so happens that some of them are slowly becoming more and more accessible to visit. Case in point, Amsterdam. The best time to visit in oder to avoid tourist mayhem, is between April and May.
A round trip plane ticket from Toronto to Amsterdam will cost you as low as $500. You'll find the best deals with WOW, a new Icelandic airline that recently introduced a series of very affordable flights to Europe. As for your stay, check out Motel One, a chain of chic boutique European Hotels. A one night's stay in a double room usually varies between 50 and 70 Euros depending on the city you're in.
I think one of the best things about Amsterdam is it's unbelievable public transportation system. You'll be able to not only easily roam around the entire city, but also visit the vicinities. Maybe (if you feel super adventurous), even hop on a plane and visit and neighbouring country.
Some tips for travelling to Europe:
- Book waaaaaay in advance. Europeans tend to book their summer vacations starting in November. So expect the prices to go up and the best places to be completely filled up if you book later than that. If you're worried about something coming up and not being able to go on your trip, buy yourself some trip cancelling insurance that usually costs around $100.
- If you're planning to spend your time on an island, rent a car. I tend to like to book my stay at places that are outside the main towns or villages because of the extra quiet and lower prices, and a car is very useful to get around. Plus you get to discover places you wouldn't otherwise.
- Buy a local pre-pay card for your phone. Last time I went to Europe I bought a pre-pay for 7 Euros, which had tons of data and international calling. That definitely beats roaming charges!
- Research some places to eat before you travel. Like I said, all inclusive is a foreign concept in Europe. It will save you some time, money and frustration if you do some reading beforehand. Most of the time, the best food is super affordable and off the beaten track. I like to print out a map of where I'm going and mark some good places to eat on it. That way when I'm out and about and I get hungry, I can take a peek at the map and see the closest restaurant.
- Don't forget to get a little bit lost! I stumbled across the best places when I was just aimlessly exploring. It's nice to have a schedule of things to see and do, but sometimes you just have to find your inner adventurer.
Are you planning any European adventures? Which places would you like to visit?
Have a brilliant day!