Originally we had thought to try and hit three countries while over there, seeing as how we don't know if or when we may ever go back. The original three were France, Italy, and Greece. Now France and Italy were both shoe-ins, but Greece was more of an extra name thrown out there. After reading about Greece, and talking about it, we decided that it wasn't really on our top places to go to. (Sorry to die hard Greece fans, it's really no offence, we just wanted to go elsewhere). So after more discussion, Lindsay and I figure Switzerland would be an awesome place to see, and it made sense considering the area we are looking to cover, and the time restraints in seeing it all.
So we had our three, and I started planning. It became dramatically clear that if we want to actually enjoy ourselves and see all the places that I had plotted, we would need at least a month overseas. The 'hitlist', as I refer to it, was quite ambitious as I have come to see, so over the past months I've had to whittle away a handful of destinations plotted, to allow time to see the places that rank higher on the "HOLY CRAP THAT'D BE AWESOME TO SEE" list. Places that got cut we're (in case you know the area and are curious) Giverny, Amiens, Caen, St. Malo, Carnac, Bordeaux (which may seem odd, but there were great reasons), Toulouse, Arles, Gordes, Roussillon, Pompei and Herculaneum (which broke my heart to do, but again, good reasons), Assisi, Bologna, and Cinque Terre (another tough cut). Like I said, ambitious.
The biggest upset was once I started to crunch numbers. It became clear that in order to afford this trip, we'd have to cut Switzerland and bring the trip to three weeks, instead of a month. It was a tough one to accept at first, but the prices in Switzerland for the kind of hotels we are considering (Two or Three Star), are simply too high, and the extra week of staying anywhere is just too much extra. Plus meals, gas, etc..., it adds up pretty quick.
So, as it is, here is our trip itinerary:
We decided pretty early, after researching and comparing costs to 'lease' a car in France for the three weeks. This is actually a very interesting thing that a few car companies in France will do for travelers. It's called a 'Buy-Back' program, where they'll essentially lease you a brand new car for the time you're there (18 days minimum), and buy it back once you're done. The buy-back is already signed for before you take it off the lot. The benefit of this is that it's much cheaper than renting a car, and you don't have to worry about insurance or liability, etc, it's all covered. The reason they do this is because of a tax on new cars in France. It's a ridiculous tax that alot of people over there can't afford. So, these car companies have created a loophole with the buy-back system. Once a new car has been leased, it can be resold without the tax. This works for everyone and the French government simply doesn't care.
The only other option for travel was basically to purchase Eurail Passes, which allow a variety of packages for using trains throughout Europe. It's a great deal if you're covering alot of territory, but the cost differences between leasing the car and the Eurail package we'd get is quite slim. There are a tonne of pro's and con's for each method, but the pro's won out for the car and just made the most sense to us.
As I mentioned, we'll be staying in mainly two-star hotels for cost reasons, but the ones I've considered have great reviews and great value, so I'm not concerned about that anymore. The nice thing about going as cheap as possible on the hotels, is that it frees up money to blow at nice restaurants and such. Also, since we're going in March, it's considered the low season and prices are much lower than throughout April - September, which is high season mainly. Also, we can be thankful for much smaller crowds everywhere we'll go. The downside is obviously the weather, but it's a small price to pay.
It's so tough waiting, but I'm sure it'll be worth it. Here's hoping our loony sky-rockets this year! (it'll make our trip exponentially cheaper!) Cheers.