Our family holidays this year made me feel special, lucky (and smart!). In the end I felt we had achieved something quite against the odds. We were an average Portuguese family who spent 9 days on vacation in Switzerland. Not usually an option.
If there’s one thing you learn quickly as a tourist in Switzerland is that everything is very expensive, and it is not a currency problem. The Swiss Franc and the Euro are almost equivalent. Prices in Switzerland are so expensive that, despite high wages, Swiss who live near the border cross to Germany on weekends to shop because the prices are much cheaper.
A vacation like ours was is possible for tourists on a budget but you will do lots of Internet searching and planning. And you will need at least some of the tricks I want to share with you, so you can also feel special, lucky and smart on your next vacation.
The top 5 items that your travel budget will go for (without any special order) are:
To find an economic way to travel to your destination try using one of the sites that group information from the airline’s own sites. Personally, I like Skyscanner and Google Flights.
Be flexible with your departure and return dates (and times!). This helps you to find the best budget options as there seems to be no logic in the price scheme. Sometimes a longer trip will actually save you money! In the case of our recent vacation in Switzerland, our return flight to Portugal went through Milan giving us a 25% reduction in our overall price. For our family of 4 that was serious savings.
Local transportation is the factor that most benefits from really good planning. Everywhere you go the local transportation has its own rules and special prices. There are always alternatives, but with very different costs and it is not always easy to see which is the best transportation option at the first glance. Added to all that is the uncertainty - you never know for sure how long you will want to stay at each attraction and missing a connection can be expensive.
In the case of Switzerland, we decided to do our traveling always by train. Swiss trains are very reliable. In all the time that we were there, we only saw 2 delayed trains. On the first occasion, the train was 3 minutes late (which in Portugal wouldn’t even be considered a delay), and it was announced in the train station panels. On the second occasion, on our way to Italy, the train had to wait twice for trains coming from Italy that were late… This made us reach the destination in Italy a full 7 minutes late… quite out of the norm for Swiss trains!
But, Swiss trains are not cheap. A simple trip can cost 5 or 6 times more than we would expect to pay for the same distance in Portugal. The value is that quality, timeliness, tranquility, silence and cleanliness of the toilets are guaranteed, even in second class. Some trains even have special carriages for families with a small playground on the second floor … our kids loved that! Parents find it especially easy to miss the Swiss trains, in spite of their price.
Tips for Train Travel in Switzerland
Round-trip tickets are valid for 24 hours. One-way tickets are only valid for 2 hours.
In Switzerland, certain train tickets include the bus service on your destination. That is worth checking in advance.
The good news is: Children under 6 years ride for free!
If you are traveling with young people between 6 and 15, you can buy an annual pass called “Junior Karte” for just CHF 30 (Yes, an annual pass for under 30€!). This pass is valid as long as the youngsters are accompanied by an adult.
And if you are traveling with 3 or more children in the 6-15 age group, you only need to buy 2 passes. After that, your accompanied children can ride for free.
As you might expect the options for adults are not as easy. There is an annual pass called the “Halbtax” which costs CHF 185 (around 160€). With this pass adults pay 1/2 price for all tickets. The problem is that for a 9-day vacation the price is too high. We would have had to carry out trips costing more than 320€ per adult… Supersaver tickets are available for the following month and can be bought in advance through the train company (SBB) website or their app. Supersaver tickets are often a good option as the discounts can be as much as 50%.
In Switzerland, a perfectly normal meal in a perfectly normal restaurant costs what we in Portugal would expect to pay per person for a wedding party. On our holiday, we opted for healthy meals (salads and juices) which we bought in the supermarket and ate in one of the many parks, (preferably next to a playground…). Yet, even that cost the equivalent of a meal in a normal restaurant meal in Portugal …
We also cooked and ate many meals at home, in “our” garden… more about that later!
Tickets for Attractions and Shows
Your family knows which sorts of attractions make memories on your trips. For the most part, we crossed museums and cable cars off the attractions menu because of price. In Switzerland, there are breathtaking views and plenty of fun to be had even in the valley.
The Rhine runs along the border between Switzerland and Germany and we decided one thing we could not do without was a boat ride! We got a good deal on a RailAway offer and did the boat trip from Stein am Rhein to Schaffhausen. By going downstream, the trip takes 1h15 instead of 2h05, and is still done at a leisurely pace.
In Schaffhausen we visited the Munot, a round fortress that dates from 1564. It can be reached by stairs and has a covered footbridge across the moat. The views from the top are great and admission is free.
Returning from Schaffhausen by train we stopped over at Schloss Laufen where you can see the Rhinefall, it is the largest waterfall in Europe (in terms of water flow). You can see the waterfall for free from the landing point of the boat trips to the center of the falls. Taking boat trips or viewing the falls from other points will cost money.
Also not to be missed is the journey by train through the Alps to Italy on the Bernina Express. This train trip from Chur to Tirano is in itself UNESCO World Heritage and takes you through bridges and historic tunnels, reaching over 2000 meters above sea level. Right by the train you see mountains (up to 4,000 meters high), with snow even in July, glaciers and beautiful lakes.
Money Saving Bernina Express Trick
Buy your tickets as if you are starting your trip in Freiburg (Germany) with Deutsche Bahn. This is quite a bit cheaper than booking your tickets through the Swiss railways… 29€ instead of about 80€ per person. Then, you board the train halfway through the trip. I learned this from an online blog and can confirm it works.
We were lucky enough to be able to go to the “Züri Fäscht” in the city of Zürich, a festival that takes place every three years. Everything seemed to be happening at the same time and throughout the city - fairground, bars and restaurants with music of all kinds, air show, circus shows, sports, diving, and more! We opted for a peaceful (and free!) ride on a solar power boat in the “Zürichsee” (Lake Zurich), also one of the festival’s attractions.
If you are interested in visiting Zürich during “Züri Fäscht” the next one is July 5-7 2019!
None of the previous tricks makes me nearly as happy as my accommodation trick. During my family’s nine days in Switzerland, we spent eight nights on a home-exchange holiday with Intervac. We also spent one night in a hotel in Chur, just before boarding the Bernina Express at 8:32 in the morning.
During our home exchange we lived in a fantastic house in Winterthur. It had 4 floors, garden, swing, toys and books for the girls and everything else a family needs in a home. Staying “at home” provided some unexpected opportunities for fun, such as catching large snails for a snail “race”!
So, for eight nights of accommodation we paid only the annual cost to be a member of Intervac. Of course, we also provided for our exchange partners with good conditions for a fantastic vacation of thier onw at our home in Madeira.
The last night, the one we spent in the hotel in Chur? Oh, that cost us €157 - which was more than double the cost of our annual Intervac membership! But, this is Switzerland. Our €157 entitled the four of us to: one room, with 2 single beds and a bunk bed, on the 3rd floor of the hotel. The price included electricity and internet (essential!) but there was no elevator, no bathroom in the room, and a notice in the common bathroom to let us know: “broken shower - use the 2nd floor “. We each paid €5 to rent a towel.
We did miss our home-exchange house on that last night in Switzerland. We missed the space. We missed the comfort. But most of all we missed feeling at home.
When we talk about home exchange with people who are not familiar with the concept, their eyebrows raise and all sorts of objections immediately surface.
But, as soon as the discussion turns to the “new” Sharing Economy, the same people suddenly get truly interested, They understand.
The Sharing Economy is making something you have available to others, when you yourself are not using it. Think about how you loan your neighbor your electric drill, garden tiller or car, when you are not using them and in return he loans you his tools, etc when he is not using them. We all know that this is a very economical way of getting things accomplished around the house.
And it is pretty much what we do when we exchange our homes for vacations. We are applying the “NEW” Sharing Economy concept to the home we, and others around the world, live in. When you are on vacation and not using your house there are other, very nice people around the world who are on vacation and not using theirs either. Why not share?
It is really simple. When sharing someone’s home the same rules apply as when sharing tools with your neighbor: Return it in as good or better condition than when you found it. Home exchange is the modern (and most economical) way to travel the world. Home exchange makes sense!!!!
Dear Maria Angeles:
Thank you very much for all the information.
I’m the second-generation of Intervac members in my family and I see how things have changed. In the past, my parents received a lot of letters from foreign families with brochures from foreign places and, at most, two or three pictures of the house.
Now, I see that my parents were very ahead of their time!
Today, I am the one exchanging my house to travel with my own family. This will be our first exchange and we are looking forward to it with great enthusiasm. My parents never had a problem during thier nearly 30 years of exchange. I hope to have the same luck with my exchange to Britain.
Letters like this are “honey to our eyes”. I am sure our member’s parents must be very pleased by that compliment too. It is true that there are very few complaints and there is no more comfortable way to see the world with your family.
Kids love home exchange. It is exciting for them to stay in someone else’s home, to play with different toys and explore a new neighborhood. Parents love home exchange with children - there’s lots of room and plenty for them to do.
In fact, kids love it so much that when they grow up and have kids of thier own, many continue the home exchange tradition. They want to offer their own children the chance to make warm travel memories and foreign friends of thier own.
Photo Credit: Richard Benson The Flying Scotsman - Photo taken at the Doncaster Works Open Day 2003 where this Scotsman was built eighty years prior.
The thing about home exchange is that you get to see and do things that you otherwise don’t have time to see or do. Railway fans how about a trip to England this year? The Flying Scotsman made the news recently by returning to work transporting travelers from London to Edenburgh after ten years and £4.2m worth of restoration.
A National Treasure
The Scotsman began it’s story in 1862 as the “Special Scotch Express”. A comfortable service linking the capital cities of England and Scotland. Weekdays at 10:00 a.m. a train departed London King’s Cross and Edinburgh Waverly simultaneously, crossing paths in York with a half an hour stop for lunch the Scotsman ten and a half hours after departure. A day’s trip to be sure, but a thrilling one compared to other ways of travel.
By 1888 the trip time had been reduced to eight hours.
The current Scotsman, the one you can see today was built in 1923, is 21 meters long and nearly 4 meters tall. It’s maximum speed is 100 mph (161 km/h) and was officially named The Flying Scotsman in 1924 after the Times started calling it “The Flying Scotchman” in 1875.
In the 1930’s travel on the Flying Scotsman had taken to the opulence and style of the time like a duck to water. The fine ladies onboard could “retire” to a room away from the gentlemen for quieter pursuits, a hairdressing salon provided haicuts and shaves and the a newstand had the latest newspapers. There was a luxurious restaurant car in the style of Louis XVI and in the bar awaited The Flying Scotsman’s very own cocktail.
The Flying Scotsman Cocktail
1 1/2 ounces / 60 ml Scotch whisky
1 1/2 ounces / 60 ml sweet vermouth
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1/2 teaspoon superfine sugar
3 or 4 ice cubes Source: Epicurious.com
The Flying Scotsman - The Film
Icon that it is, the Scotsman is also a film star. Here the film Trailer from the 1929 film starring Moore Marriott who apparently “had no teeth in real life and took four different sets of false teeth with him in order to achieve variety in his characters”, Pauline Johnson, Ray Milland - Academy Award winner for his role in The Lost Weekend directed by Billy Wilder, and the otherwise forgotten Alec Hurley,
That really was “back in the day” and the actors and Miss Johnson herself did their own stunts on the moving locomotive. Have a look, that is Pauline Johnson you see walking along the edge of the moving train wearing high heels.
Allegedly Sir Nigel Gresley, chief engineer of the LNER, was so concerned at the unsafe practices shown in the film, such as the decoupling of the locomotive from the train while in motion, he insisted that a disclaimer was placed in the opening credits explaining that such things could not happen on the LNER. The notice stated “For the purposes of the film dramatic licence has been taken in regard to the safety equipment used on The Flying Scotsman”. Film historian John Huntley claimed that Gresley subsequently forbade any further filming on the LNER until after his retirement.
Over at The Arts Desk they have a nice clip of the restored version (DVD) of the movie which was shown in Glasgow in 2011. If anyone knows where I could buy a copy, I’d love to hear from you in the comments!
Off to America!
And so, you’d think that after all that glitz and glamour the Scotsman would settle down to a routine, but you’d be wrong. In 1969, the famous locomotive did what all famous folk do and went to America for a tour. Then to Australia. Then back to America where, this time, sponsorship fell through and the Scotsman was stranded.
I was about eight years old and remember my father, at the breakfast table, reading in the paper about how Alan Pegler, then owner of the locomotive had gone bankrupt and William McAlpine stepped in to save it and ship the Scotsman back to Britain. It was 1973 when the Scotsman made it back home again - and after a little relaxing on Britain’s rails - another overhaul - another trip, this time to Australia, it became clear that owning an iconic locomotive is hard on the wallet. In 2004 came the last in a line of “new owners”. This time British Railways, bought it with money donated by locomotive lovers all over Britain and a little help from Sir Richard Branson put them over the top.
See the Scotsman
After this week’s happy return, the Flying Scotsman will continue to delight railroad locomotive fans as a working museum exhibit and the oldest mainline working locomotive on Britain’s tracks.
Today to travel via Flying Scotsman will send you off from Edinburgh at 5:40 am and deliver you precisely four hours later at King’s Cross. You will have stopped just once at Newcastle and enjoyed all the conveniences expected today; Wi-Fi, device charging points and a variety of catering options.
The book: Murder on the Flying Scotsman by Carola Dunn takes place on the Scotsman of 1923
Other Famous Flying Scotsmen
Eric Liddell was also known as the Flying Scotsman. His life and story are the basis of the film Chariots of Fire.
And then there’s The Flying Scotsman a 2006 German/British film about the Scotish bicyclist who broke the world’s 1 hour record on a bicycle he designed and made himself out of scrap metal. An old washing machine, I think…
Steam Locomotive Daytrips
Finally, wherever your home exchange in Great Britain takes you this year Steam Dreams can fix you up with the Flying Scotsman or you can take your pick of historic steam locomotives with daytrips and destinations all over Britain. Their new brocheure is due out in April.
Happy Home Exchanging and if you see the Scotsman, leave me a comment. I’d love to hear about your trip!
I wonder how I can search for those who want to go to Sweden? When I do my filter I can search on selected countries but the members I get on the list are not always interested in an exchange with Sweden.
Try this: On the search page, under the section “Preferences” > Reversed Search there is a check box “only show listings interested in my area” That should only return members who have Sweden (your area) in their Destinations Wishlists.
Our search engine will also show you members who have “Europe” in their list. Please, don’t hesitate to write to these members too. They are very open about their European destination and your home might be just what they are looking for.
What would you say are the most important things I can do to make my listing attractive to other members?
Be sure to add lots of photos of your home and your neighborhood. But, also add photos of yourself and your pets. You can mark these to be visible for members only if you are uncomfortable with the idea that visitors to our site could see them. Also, it’s very important to keep your exchange dates and your destinations wishlist up-to-date so that our search engine can work to help you find the perfect exchange partner.
Lots of you have asked us for an easy way to know if you already contacted a member about an exchange in the past. Up until now, you had to click on the listing to see if there was a contact history involved. Now, you can see that directly in the search returns. Any time you see a listing with a green checkmark beside it, you know you have already been in contact with that member.