The RomaPass – Cost-Savings Analysis

by Karen

In Paris, we purchased the Paris Museum Pass to visit an unlimited number of museums within 6 days, and thought it was our best purchase there. We heard that Rome had something similar, called the RomaPass, and decided to get one. Unfortunately, its rules and usage is not as clear as the Paris pass.

Whereas the Paris Museum Pass allows you to visit any (listed) museum for an unlimited number for times during a set period, the Roma Pass has these rules:

– costs 34€ per person
– activated on your first visit to any site or first use of public transportation, expires at midnight on the third consecutive day
– unlimited use of public transportation (a 16.50€ value)
– allows you to visit your first two museums/attractions for free
– any museum you visit AFTER your first two freebies are subject to a discounted entrance fee
– allows you to skip lines at some museums (not necessary in early December, but I’d imagine crucial in peak season)
– all major attractions & museums are covered, EXCEPT anything inside Vatican City (it’s not a part of Rome!)

Now, this sounds like a really great deal! That is, until you look at the admission fees for these attractions & museums, as well at the cost of public transportation: this stuff’s already pretty cheap! And the discounted prices to museums aren’t really significant. So did we end up saving money buying a Roma Pass?

Here are the general costs of public transportation (as of Dec 2013):
– Single ride ticket: 1.50€
– 1-day Metro pass: 6.00€ (4 rides)
– 3-day Metro pass: 16.50€ (11 rides)
– 7-day Metro pass: 24.00€ (16 rides)

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Shameless plug: Our YouTube Channel

http://www.youtube.com/sohflo

We’ve been doing a bad job of filming videos during our trip, and when we do, we’ve been doing an equally worse job of uploading them! On top of that, we’ve been adding repetitive YouTube-approved background music to each video! 😀

Anyways, if you haven’t noticed the links in our sidebar, we DO have a YouTube channel, and we try to update it whenever we can obtain a fast wi-fi connection. Please visit and enjoy! 🙂

http://www.youtube.com/sohflo

Quick notes about Iceland

Random thoughts about Iceland over the past week, hopefully they’ll be useful for anyone thinking of travelling here!

– Everybody speaks English very well. And the locals seem pretty friendly. It’s pretty safe to walk around at night.

– Downtown Reykjavik is very walkable. You can probably walk anywhere within 30 mins of where ever you live. Our hostel isn’t near the main street, but we can walk there in 20 mins.

– The international airport is 40 mins away from Reykjavik. There is no public transportation, just shuttle or taxi or rental car. You can book a shuttle when you get to the airport lobby, they leave 40 mins after your flight lands, so you want to get out and get your luggage ASAP.

– We’ve never had to use cash at stores or eateries, we’ve used credit cards the entire time. The only time we’ve had to use cash was to tip our tour guides.

– It’s really cold and rainy in September. Bring waterproof shoes, jacket, and pants. And wear layers. People here like wearing woolen knits.

– It can be really intimidating when you go into a store and you see price tags like 1980 ISK (Icelandic Krona) for a roast chicken (totally making that up). I don’t know what the conversion rate is, but (BAD MATH ALERT!) I generally just truncate the last 2 digits and guess how much it costs in US dollars. For example, think of 1980 ISK as $19.80, and currently the krona is weaker than the dollar. So your roast chicken can’t cost more than $19.80.

– Also, if you see a price like 5.000 ISK, it doesn’t mean 5 krona, that decimal is just a separator for hundreds. Just think of it as a comma, like 5,000. So it’s really around $50.00.

– Tours are really expensive, but might be the best way to see more of the country and get out of Reykjavik. Renting a car is ok, just remember you need insurance (especially weather-related ones), and gas is at least $8/gal.

Do NOT book your Aurora Borealis/Northern Lights tours in advance. Book them on the day you want to go, after 6pm. Because these tours are so popular (one company has a fleet of 10 buses each carrying 50 people), you will not have difficulty finding a spot. Also, the companies may decide to cancel the tour for that night if the weather forecast is bad, and 6pm is usually when they make their decisions. So it is best to call companies at 6pm and ask if there is a tour that night, before you pay for a ticket! Almost all companies also have a policy where if you don’t see it, you can rebook it again for free, as long as they don’t cancel it that night. We booked ours months in advance, didn’t see anything the night we went, and had the tour cancelled for the rest of the week due to bad weather. Waste of money, blahhh.

– You can pretty much book any tour 1 or 2 days in advance. There are really so many companies to choose from, and no shortage of seats. We’ve booked our tours after 9pm the night before, and haven’t had any major problems getting stuff done. The Golden Circle is the most popular one. The Blue Lagoon “tour” is also very popular, but is really a shuttle bus to a (fancy and luxurious but awesome-sounding) spa.

– Museums, stores, and attractions can close early during the winter (like 5-6 pm) but have longer hours in summer.

– Food in Iceland can be very expensive (1500 ISK for a drive-thru burger & fries). But if you wanna eat like how they did in the old days, you can go to the supermarket and get flatbread, cheese, and some type of preserved fishmeat (lox, sild, etc). There’s something about Icelandic flatbread where a single slice has a mega-crap-ton of protein. We’re actually pretty full after a single serving of flatbread (looks like a pita pocket) with jelly and some cheese spread. Also, skyr is a type of yogurt that has high protein too that is made in Iceland. We’ve been eating from the same stash over the past few days.

– “Takk” means “thank you”.

Iceland, Day 2 – More Reykjavik

Walked around more of Reykjavik again today. Crossed a small lake, and into the Parliament area. Apparently there’s a town square where the locals held a “Kitchenware Revolution”: during 2008 after the economy sank, a bunch of people took their pots and pans and banged on them in the town square to protest the government.
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We strolled towards the waterfront again to check out the Opera House and ships docked in the harbor. And lo and behold, we found the hot dog stand! (This time I took a photo of the intersection for reference).
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The opera house is called Harpa. Apparently when it was being built, it caused a lot of controversy because it was really expensive and the economy was going through a slump. Now it’s highly regarded as a city treasure, and could be considered Reykjavik’s main concert hall. It’s a big building, and I’d recommend seeing it at night when all the lights turn on, it almost looks like a bunch of blinking pixels from a distance. There was a conference happening inside for ICES, some oceanography/undersea exploration committee, and for a while it felt like I wasn’t in a foreign country because everyone spoke American English.

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So this was an morbidly odd attraction: on the waterfront was a maritime exhibit celebrating all ships that sank off the coast of Iceland from 1870-present.
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We stopped by a place called Volcano House that serves as both a cafe and a museum about volcanoes. They have a small (free) hands-on exhibit showcasing different rocks from recent eruptions, and an hour-long documentary about eruptions from 1973 and 2010 (not free).
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We spent a bit of time in the cafe, as it also doubled as a tour booking center, and rescheduled our Northern Lights tour, and booked an additional day tour to see the Golden Circle. I’m actually getting a bit nervous about how much we’re pre-spending already, as the cost of these tours is actually quite expensive. We are considering renting a car this weekend and going off on our own to see various sights, but since gas is expensive and I can’t drive manual, I’m wondering which would be more economical. =/ We’d still like to see glaciers, waterfalls, and take some time to jump into a thermal pool, eat whales & puffins, and get our toes nibbled at by parasitic fish.

Anyway, to round up the night, we ate at a restaurant called Icelandic Fish & Chips, which likes to emphasize their organicness. The fish texture was quite good, and the potatoes were nice, but overall the whole plate was bland–but for a reason! They happen to sell special sauces on the side for your fish & chips. I chose coriander & lime, and Mark picked truffle & tarragon. I ended up adding salt to my plate. But it certainly tasted fresh! And to be quite honest, I’m not entirely sure what a “organic” fish should taste like…
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And here’s a mural that reminded Mark of the Ridiculous Fishing iOS game:
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Using money overseas while traveling

English: Visa Electron debit card Svenska: Vis...

English: Visa Electron debit card Svenska: Visa Electron betalkort (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(See the bottom of this post for any updates!)

A friend of mine living in France recently gave us tips on how to use money while traveling abroad. Some of it was stuff we’d already prepared for, but there was a lot of new info we hadn’t known (all of this is hearsay, as we have yet to experience any of this, but we trust their judgement!). We’ll definitely update this blog with more info once we experience it firsthand.

Credit Cards

Much of Europe uses a chip & pin card, so you should sign up for one before you go (the American Airlines Citibank Card is one we signed up for that offers chip & pin to its customers). However, after a phone call with one of our Visa card companies, any store in Europe that accepts Visa credit cards will also accept a magnetic stripe card. France & Spain widely accept credit cards. However, many places in Germany, including Berlin and Frankfurt, do not. Also, many places that accept credit cards will offer you the option of being charged in US dollars, or in their local currency (euros, pounds, etc.). Always insist to be charged in local currency, because they might charge you hidden conversion fees when switching to US currency.

Money / Cash

Never change money at the airport, you will always get the worst rates. It may be best to withdraw money at the ATM outside of town, or exchange your cash in town. It’s not recommended to carry a lot of cash around with you anyways. But it is handy when you come across small towns or villages that don’t have credit card acceptance.

ATM / Debit Cards

This is something we just learned over the weekend. Apparently when withdrawing money overseas, your financial institution will charge you international withdrawal fees, oftentimes it will be an outrageous amount. For example, we learned that our banks (Chase and Wells Fargo) will charge $5 per withdrawal, and in the case of Chase, an additional 3% of whatever amount you withdraw. That’s pretty stupid! This is also on top of whatever the foreign bank will charge you. I’ve also heard that Bank of America doesn’t charge you a fee if you withdraw from one of their partner banks, but the other bank may charge you something.

This makes it sound like using ATM cards is the worst idea, and you should carry tons of cash before you go travel. Nope! After doing some quick research, I discovered that the best ATM card to use while traveling is the Charles Schwab card. You will need to open a checking account with them, but it has no fees, and no minimum (it is tied to a brokerage account with also has no fees and no minimum). The cool thing is that they don’t charge a fee when withdrawing from overseas ATMs, and if the overseas bank charges you, you DO pay a fee upfront, but Charles Schwab fully refunds you at the end of the month. Apply for it as soon as you can, it can take up to 2 weeks for your debit card to arrive, we had to rush to the local Schwab office yesterday to get our application expedited (4 business days, $15), since we leave for Iceland in a week.

Those are all the tips we’ve found, we’ll definitely share more of our experiences with using money as we go along our trip, and write up another article about applying for credit cards with frequent flier miles.

Update 9/25 – Success! We managed to obtain our Schwab ATM card the day before our departure. However, it tool 3 business days for money to transfer between banks, so plan accordingly! We were able to withdraw money from an ATM in Iceland without any issues.

Article: How to Travel Full-Time for $17,000 a Year (or Less!)

Great article that Mark came across. The two major expenses the author talks about are accommodations and transportation. She links several websites that offer free lodgings (in exhange for services or volunteer work), and discusses credit card options for accruing frequent flier miles. Worth a read!

http://www.wisebread.com/how-to-travel-full-time-for-17000-a-year-or-less

How to Travel Full-Time for $17,000 a Year (or Less!)

Groupon

Hadn’t thought about it before, but Groupon is a great resource for looking up cheap activities while travelling. I used it during our last trip to Hawaii, and seems like it would be feasible for all countries on our trip! The only downside is that they will spam you to kingdom come, and most of their deals involve liposuction or spa therapy.