Planning Ahead

What? Again...Again?


Planning Ahead


I went from someone who never wanted to leave the United States, or at least the English speaking world, to a travel junkie somewhere between 2004 and today.  Anyone who has read my travel blog can watch the progression from when my wife literally dragged me out of the country in 2004, to this, our fourth planned trip to Europe in around five years. We didn’t go in 2007, and our upcoming trip will happen days before 2009 begins. 


This time my wife Jane and I will go to Rome for 10 days to celebrate 25 years of marriage.  This will be our second trip to Rome as a couple without any family or friends with us.  Jane and I have been raising kids for 30 years straight without a break, so trips longer than a weekend alone have been very rare for us.


The main reason we stopped traveling for a while after the 2006 trip is that our youngest daughter, Casey, was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder shortly after we returned from Rome the last time.  We have had a really hard time as a family learning to deal with the illness.   I was very resistant to planning this trip, but Jane kept reminding me that 25 years of marriage in this day and age is so rare that it really should be celebrated.  We talked about various ideas, including bringing Casey along with other family members so we could monitor her.  We also talked about just doing a trip inside the USA to somewhere like Yellowstone or Seattle.  But, the pull of the eternal city was just too strong and when July rolled around (the month we were actually married), we decided to plan a trip to Rome together for December.


Caring for Casey can be very draining.  She takes a lot of medicine, and it doesn’t always work.  She is prone to occasional rage behavior, and often refuses to go to school.  She has gotten so out of control at times that she has required hospitalization.  The idea of leaving her for ten days while we visit another country makes me very uneasy.  But, there is a point where you really have to do some things for yourself and the good of the marriage, which has been under considerable strain the last two years.  We have family members who are used to dealing with her, and the plan is to try to get five of them to share time taking care of her.  This would be my Mother, Jane’s Mother, Casey’s older sister Erin (24), and Jane’s two sisters Donna and Sue.  We hope to develop a plan where she will move between these five people and with any luck we can go on the trip, and Casey will be okay between her Grandmothers, Aunts and older sister.


Every time we have traveled to Europe, we have bought trip insurance from TravelGuard.  This type of insurance is very affordable.  The basic policy we bought insures the trip for cancellation or interruption under certain circumstances.  It pays you back for expenses that can’t be cancelled like the cost of airline tickets.  We have estimated that approximately $1500.00 for each of us would be at risk.  To insure that amount, the cost from TravelGuard for the “Savvy Traveler” package is less than $37.00 each.  There are other packages that include provisions to cancel for almost any reason, but I don’t think we would have booked the trip unless we had every intention of going.  We buy one of these policies for almost every trip we take, and have never had a claim.  Hopefully, we will not be sorry for taking the less expensive coverage, but I with Casey being the only consideration, and the fact that we have five responsible family members at home to care for her, I think that simply insuring Jane and I in case we get too sick to travel is probably enough.


These policies also include a lot of side benefits.  For example, once we leave on the trip, if one of us gets sick while in Rome, they will pay uptown $10,000 in medical expenses for each of us.  If we experience an airline delay, they will pay $250.00 each, which we could use to get a hotel if there were a long delay.  If our baggage or travel documents are lost, they pay $500.00 each.  If the baggage is delayed they will pay $100.00 each (so we can buy a toothbrush and some clean underwear, I guess).  If we have a medical emergency, they will pay up to $1,000,000.00 (important if your health insurance does not follow you outside the US). 


On our first trip to Europe, a representative from a hotel chain swindled us.  I was impressed when I called TravelGuard for help from Florence, Italy.  They offered to find us new hotels, to have us picked up and taken to a safe place, and basically provided excellent emergency assistance at a time when we really needed it.  We ended up eventually recovering our money from the hotel chain, so we cancelled the claim.  However, being able to call for help in an emergency is definitely worth the $37.00 each.  I would never take a trip like this without a policy from TravelGuard.  For more information about TravelGuard click the box below:


A few months ago, I read that Alitalia Airlines would start offering five non-stop flights a week between Los Angeles and Rome.  This really interested me, because on our prior trips we had to fly into other cities and either take a train or change planes.  We were able to get round trip tickets right into the Fiumicino (Rome, Leonardo Da Vinci) Airport for less money than we paid in 2006 to Swiss Air when we had to change planes in Zurich.  Including all taxes and other charges, we paid $1006.00 each.  In 2006 we paid $1060.44. With the increase in fuel prices between 2006 and 2008, I was really surprised to be able to get a flight like this for less money.  While I enjoyed flying over the Alps last time, it will be really nice to just land in Rome and not have to go through security and change planes after a 12 hour flight from California. 


When we arrive at the Rome airport, we plan to stay the first night at the Hilton Rome Airport hotel.  This hotel is located in the airport complex.  You get off the plane and use a network of indoor moving sidewalks.  It is quite a trek, but it is nice not to have to worry about finding the right hotel shuttle, or taking a cab.   Even better is that I am a member of Hilton Honors, which is a rewards program for people who stay frequently at Hilton properties which include Hilton, DoubleTree, Embassy Suites, Hampton Inn or Homewood Suites, I get points that we can redeem for free rooms.  Whenever we stay at a hotel for business or pleasure, I always try to book into a Hilton property.  I have accumulated around 300,000 points in the account since we were in Europe in 2006.  A night at the Rome Airport Hilton costs 35,000 points.  We elected to stay the first night that we arrive in Rome, and the last night before we fly home.  I stay at Hiltons frequently enough to where I have a gold card, which provides me with a free upgrade when available.  At the very least, if an upgraded room is not available, they give us access to the towers lounge where they have complimentary snacks and drinks.  In 2006, we did the same thing and in the evening would go to the lounge and snack on cheese and finger food and drink free wine. They also had a computer in the lounge with internet access so I was able to check into our flight ahead of time. 


There is a temptation, since we will arrive in Rome around noon, to just go to the apartment.  But, staying the first and last night at the airport eliminates a lot of stress.   What we will probably end up doing is seeing how we feel when we arrive.  It will be noon local time, but back home it will be 3:00am, so even though it will be daytime, we are going to feel like we stayed up all night.   We have handled this a few different ways in the past.  The first trip to Europe we decided that in order to get on local time, we should just stay up.  To keep ourselves awake, we took a trip to Disneyland Paris.  This was really miserable, and in the photos we look like we want to die (or at least sleep).  


On the second trip, we gave up and took a nap and got up in the early evening and had dinner and did a few things.  The third trip, we arrived in Rome at night and just went to sleep and got up the next morning, but then we felt like we had lost two days (the day flying, and the next day sleeping).   Then we lost another day flying back.  We only had 7 days total last time, so it felt like we only had 4 full days to do anything.  This time we will be gone for 10 days, so we will get 7 full days in Rome, which makes the whole thing a lot more worth the time, money and effort.


Since this time we will arrive in the daytime, we will probably take nap, and then get up and take the Leonardo Express (a train that goes between the airport and Rome Termini Train Station), and have dinner in Rome, then come back to the hotel for the night.


The next morning, we will get our luggage and take the Leonardo Express to Termini station.  When we arrive, we will buy two weekly passes called "carta integrata settimanale" that provide unlimited trips on the Metro (subway), buses and trolleys. The cost is 16 Euros (about $25.00) each.


Just one Metro stop away from Termini Station is the Principe Eugenio apartment that we have stayed at on our other three trips to Rome.  This apartment is like a home away from home to us now.  Even though the neighborhood is becoming less Roman and more Korean each time we go, it is right next to a Metro stop, and within walking distance to the Coliseum.  Hotel rooms in Rome are usually small and expensive.  The apartment gives us a bedroom, bathroom with a shower, full kitchen and living room for only 85 Euros (about $130.00) per night.  To match the amount of living space in a hotel, one would have to book a suite, which would end up costing between 200-500 Euros ($300-$800) per night.


We are hopeful that our favorite neighborhood Ristorante called “Il Padellaccio 2” will still be operating a few streets over on Viale Manzioni.  For breakfast we sometimes cook in the apartment, or go out for cappuccino and croissants at one of the local bars. For lunch we try and find different restaurants to try, but normally for dinner we go to Il Padellaccio 2, where they treat us like old friends.  The food is excellent, and the service is typical Italian (you don’t go in for a quick meal, you are there for the evening).   


After dinner, on the way back to the apartment, there is a Gellateria that has been in the same location for over 60 years called Pallazo Del Freddo.  I love the riso (rice) ice cream there topped with fresh whipped cream.  Jane usually tries something different each time. It is always good and made fresh every day.


For transportation beyond Rome, we will likely purchase point-to-point train tickets.  On longer trips we have purchased Eurail passes, which are very convenient and can save a lot of money under certain circumstances.  This trip we plan to mostly stay in Rome, and will probably take one side trip to another city, probably Florence this time.  It takes about an hour and a half to go from Rome to Florence on one of the Alta Velocità (high-speed) Eurostar Italia trains.  First class tickets using an advance purchase discount called the Amica rate ends up costing about 41.00 Euros per person each way.  If we didn’t mind it taking about twice as long to get there and back, we could take a slower IC train for 26.40 per person, each way.  We usually book our point to point tickets on the website. But, if you need more help and don't mind paying for the service, click the box below for a website that does a good job walking you through eurail passes and point to point tickets:



It’s getting easier and easier to plan these trips, and as we become more experienced, the trips become more affordable.  We are estimating that for ten days in Rome including flights, transportation, meals, and spending money that the tip will cost us about $2500.00 per person.  This is based excel spreadsheets I made up after each trip we took in the past, and does account for the fall in value of the US Dollar against the Euro.  With the way we are doing these trips now, they are probably cheaper than doing a cruise.  It has just taken a lot of hit and miss learning, plus research.