Apr132017

Pale Blue Eyes Trip Overview: $327 SFO to Iceland, Lithuania, Latvia, Stockholm

My 11-day April 2-12 low cost airlines budget travel trip flying WOW, Wizz, and Norwegian Airlines took me to Iceland, Lithuania, Latvia and Sweden for $327 all-in round trip from San Francisco and back to Oakland, California. This was a ‘one carry on bag travels cheap’ solo traveler flight plan.

One of the main purposes of this trip was to test the feasibility of traveling on major low cost carrier airlines like WOW Air, Wizz and Norwegian to northern Europe in early April with only one small backpack. I paid no additional bag or seat fees on top of my low one-way ticket prices. Besides having to wear one pair of jeans and the same shoes for 11 days straight and carry a heavy winter parka I never wore once I left Iceland, I declare my experiment a success in ticketing budget flights, packing small and light, while staying at comfortable hotels for under $800 all-in for my total trip expenses.

I used Hilton, Club Carlson and Choice Privileges points, mostly earned from previous travel and about $100 in purchased hotel points.

Riga

Riga, Latvia

Flights

San Francisco to Keflavik, Iceland KEF

  • $70 one way WOW Airlines.

Keflavik Iceland KEF to Vilnius, Lithuania VNO

  • $71 one way Wizz Airlines.

Riga, Latvia to Stockholm, Sweden ARN

  • $38 one way Norwegian Airlines

Stockholm, Sweden to Oakland, California OAK

  • $148 one way Norwegian Airlines

$327 round trip total airfare

Hilton Reykjavik view

Hilton Nordica Reykjavik, Iceland view.

$118 Ground Transportation

Keflavik Airport KEF to Reykjavik, Iceland by bus cost 4,900 ISK $44 round trip (50 minutes each way).

Taxi Vilnius Airport VNO to city center 10 EUR/$10.75 (10 min) Arrived in Vilnius at 1:30am. Otherwise, only 1 EUR for public bus during daytime hours.)

Vilnius to Kaunas, Lithuania cost 4.50 EUR/$5 by train (85 minutes).

Kaunas to Klaipeda, Lithuania by bus cost 16.25 EUR/$17 (2hr. 15 min).

Klaipedia to Riga, Lithuania by bus cost 18 EUR/$19 (4hr. 30 min).

Stockholm Arlanda Airport ARN to city center by bus 198 SEK/$22 round trip (50 min each way).

$445 Total Transportation Expenses

San Francisco – Reykjavik, Iceland – Vilnius, Lithuania – Kaunas Lithuania – Klaipeda, Lithuania – Riga, Latvia – Stockholm, Sweden – Oakland, California.

Vilnius Bastion

The Bastion, Vilnius, Lithuania

Hotel Stays (10 nights)

$259 + 16,000 Hilton Honors + 43,500 Club Carlson + 10,000 Choice Privileges points.

Hilton Nordica Reykjavik, Iceland (one night) 16,000 Honors points + 7,408 ISK/$66 USD on Points & Money reward. Hotel refused my $25 Honors gift card I tried to redeem. Lowest room rate at time of booking = $171 USD.

Ramada Hotel Vilnius, Lithuania (one night) 3,000 Wyndham Rewards points + 62 EUR ($66) on GoFast reward. Room rate at time of booking 141 EUR.

Ramada Vilnius has great Old Town location and has a 5-star hotel rating. Ramada Vilnius won the Best Hotel in Lithuania award in recent years. Forget your preconceptions of the Ramada brand. Waitresses working breakfast buffet wore white gloves.

Best Western Santakos Hotel, Kaunas, Lithuania (one night) 63.45 EUR/$67.45. Earned $10 Best Western Travel Card, however, hotel refused my $20 in Best Western Travel Cards I tried to redeem. Great location though.

Park Inn Kaunas, Lithuania (one night) 13,500 Club Carlson points Business Class room upgrade with breakfast + 0.50 EUR city tax. Published rate was $130.00 per night for this business class upgrade room and lowest room rate was $83.

I would have stayed at the Club Carlson category 1 Park Inn Kaunas hotel two nights, if I had known Best Western would not accept my travel cards. This hotel is also city center location and fantastic reward night deal.

Radisson Blu Klaipeda, Lithuania (two nights) 15,000 Club Carlson points x 2 nights = 30,000 Club Carlson points + 1.00 EUR city tax. Another great city center location five minutes walk from Old Town.

Klaipeda

Klaipeda, Lithuania Dane River

Days Inn Riga, Latvia (two nights) 28 EUR/night = 56 EUR/$59.51 on Best Rate + 2,000 Wyndham Rewards points during triple points promotion. Expect to earn 3,500+ points from 2-night stay, thus getting back the 3,000 points I redeemed for 79 EUR savings at Ramada Vilnius.

I toured Park Inn by Radisson Residence Riga Barona, a new hotel opened in past six months. These are the most impressive Park Inn rooms I have seen anywhere. Each room offers kitchen facilities. Room rates were under 60 EUR/night on dates I was in Riga.

Clarion Stockholm, Sweden (one night) = 10,000 Choice Privileges points.

First time staying at this location and I enjoyed it very much. Swim Open Stockholm, an international world-class level swim competition happening at adjacent Stockholm city pool complex. Hotel filled with gorgeous athletes.

Kaunas Castle

Kaunas, Lithuania

Pale Blue Eyes

I am calling this trip my ‘Pale Blue Eyes’ tour due to my observation that I was one of the few people walking around with brown eyes in Lithuania and Latvia, where some 98% of 200+ people I tallied in Riga one morning had pale skin and some variation of blue eyes. The link is to a Latvia survey from 2010 finding 90% of Latvians had some variation of blue eyes. The Baltic nations have the highest concentration of blue-green-gray eyed people in the world.

Riga children

Children playing in Riga, Latvia park.

Packing Light

Wow, Wizz and Norwegian allow one 10kg/22lb bag to fly free on flights I ticketed.  My one small backpack 17”x14”x10” inches weighed 18 pounds stuffed with all my clothes and electronics.

A heavy winter parka was my only additional item to my small backpack. Aside from Iceland, I traveled comfortably without wearing the parka, a last minute change in clothing due to a cold temperature forecast in Reykjavik. Carrying my parka for 8 days through the Baltics and Stockholm was unnecessary extra baggage weight.

This overview is an outline of flights and hotels for my 11 day trip April 2-12.

I will be posting articles over the next couple of weeks with more details and photos on flights, hotels and travel in Reykjavik, Lithuania, Latvia and Stockholm.

Stockholm F9

Stockholm police van covered in flowers at memorial site of April 7 terrorist attack.

About Ric Garrido

Ric Garrido of Monterey, California started Loyalty Traveler in 2006 for traveler education on hotel and air travel, primarily using frequent flyer and frequent guest loyalty programs for bargain travel. Loyalty Traveler joined BoardingArea.com in 2008.

More articles by Ric Garrido »

Comments

  1. How did the packing work out for you? Would you have thought a 2nd pair of pants useful. (Can be locally purchased, you know).

    Also, not sure what kind of parka you took but it might have been worth ditching it after Iceland (especially if it’s an old one.)

    Would like to hear about any money saving food tips too. For example, did you get free breakfasts everywhere?

  2. @bluecat – I packed:
    1 pair Levi black jeans
    belt
    sweater
    4 t-shirts,
    2 long sleeve shirts,
    1 dress shirt,
    1 long thermal underwear,
    goretex rain coat,
    gore tex rain pants,
    1 pair exercise shorts,
    5 pair underwear,
    5 pair short exercise socks,
    3 pair long wool socks,
    leather gloves,
    neck scarf,
    wool beanie cap (essential winter travel accessory I purchased in Slovakia last December)
    winter parka
    Merrill hiking shoes.

    Laptop, two battery packs and charger, iphone, DSLR camera, water bottle, washcloth, razor, toothbrush, tooth paste, about 7 plastic baggies (5 qt size, two gallon size), spork, two plastic shopping bags (Europe requires payment for grocery bags).

    One of the plastic shopping bags was primarily used to carry my parka for the entire trip after leaving Iceland.

    The only thing I did not wear was the dress shirt and I did not use the neck scarf. I could have left parka at home (my original packing plan) and packed an extra pair of pants in the space of my goretex raincoat. Another pair of pants is only clothing item I wish I had packed, but no space. And of course, waterproof shoes would have been nice addition for snow days in Iceland.

    I layered wearing t-shirt, long sleeve shirt, sweater and rain coat for my upper body most days and took off or added clothes as temperature and weather conditions changed.
    Underwear, jeans, small socks, wool socks and shoes were my standard lower body covering.

    Even when temperature in 30s, I was comfortable with layered clothes. Changing t-shirts every day and wearing long sleeve shirt over t-shirt kept my sweater from getting stinky, even when sweating from 6 to 8 hours walking each day. There were two warm days when I was able to walk around for hours in a t-shirt.

    Most days I wore both small socks and wool socks, which kept my shoes from getting smelly. On two days when temperature in 60s, I only wore one pair of short socks and shoes got smelly. Those were also the days I did the most walking around Vilnius and Riga.

    I washed socks, underwear and t-shirts every few days.

    I only wore long underwear and parka in Iceland for warmth. My parka is a quality winter parka, no dumping it. Long underwear I wore in hotel rooms when I kept window open and it was too cold to be in shorts, but I wanted a change from my jeans I lived in most of the trip.

    What I would change: Second pair of pants would have been great. I checked jeans with smell test and they passed each day. Black jeans do not show much dirt. I had to wash off a little mud on my pants from Iceland.

    Unfortunately, I could not add more stuff to my backpack. It was stuffed. The only additions were paper city guides from each city and two t-shirts. Only my last flight on Norwegian back home to California allowed extra bag for free and I brought food for the flight in that extra bag. All three other flights only allowed one carry on bag and that was my backpack.

    I stuffed my rain pants and goretex raincoat in parka sleeves to carry on plane, leaving more room in my pack. Only items I purchased were two t-shirts in Vilnius. I had two older t-shirts I could have tossed if necessary.

    The only real addition I wish I had brought, and could have bought on trip, were more plastic bags. These were useful for transporting food when traveling through Lithuania and Latvia by train and bus. For example, I purchased a doner plate (meat, salad, fries) 30 minutes before boarding bus in Kaunas that the restaurant packed in styrofoam. I ate half at restaurant and dumped remainder of the food in one quart plastic sealed baggie for the 3 hour bus ride to Klaipeda. Plastic bags are great for transporting food. One gallon plastic baggie holds a whole roast chicken.

    Only hotels without free breakfast were Hilton Reykjavik and Radisson Blu Klaipeda. Funny thing is Radisson Blu asked me at check-in if I wanted to add breakfast for 8,000 Club Carlson points.

    I could have booked a Business Class room upgrade with breakfast for 7,500 points, if I wanted to spend the extra points.

    In the Baltics, I ate at restaurants everyday since prices so low. Lunch and dinner meals ranged $3 to $8 for Turkish doner meals to seafood main courses. Ate a few $4-$5 hamburger meals at pubs.

  3. Thanks for the thorough response.

    I like to pack a turtleneck “underarmour-like” (i.e., no logo) shirt that I can get at Walmart or Target: it’s great for layering and can be worn as a long sleeve “dinner shirt” too.

    I find I always need a second pair of pants and I go with zip offs. These convert to shorts (also good for the gym) and are much thinner than jeans (i.e., take up very little room).

    I like your idea of the bags. I usually pack a couple of freezer bags and also one of those drawstring garbage bags (with deodorizer built-in). I never pack a sweater…prefer a light rain jacket (Columbia Sportswear makes a nice black one). I definitely pack gloves too.

    But I really try hard to underpack, thinking that it’s fun to buy something if I need it (but not shooting for that as a goal!). I *always* seem to pack something that was not required and that generally irks me.

    Just got back from a week in China where the flights were about $500 for 2 cities. You could do even better with the fares I’m seeing from SFO.

  4. Normally I would pack zip-off pants too. Should have done that this trip. They were left out at last second when my bag filled up with other essentials.

    I love my sweater with two zip pockets. I need the pockets for my eyeglass and sunglass cases. It is my most frequently worn piece of clothing on winter trips with raincoat or parka.

    Lots of pubs are fairly cold in winter and I don’t want to wear my raincoat or parka inside.

    Told my wife we can load up on stuff this summer when we go back to Baltics and Poland. We are flying SAS and United and we will have free checked bag and carry-on. I can pack my backpack even lighter in summer, so I’ll have plenty of bag capacity for purchases.

  5. Excellent and interesting post ! You touched many places I have yet to go.
    I never wash socks, underwear or T shirts on a trip.
    I take my older stuff, discard it on the way, and buy new to take home.
    My favorite stock-up store for socks u/wear etc is Marks and Spencer in London.
    Like you, I do one pair pants, one pair shorts (in summer) one pair shoes, 2 x T’s long sleeve, 2 x short sleeve, 4 x underwear, 4 x socks, one dress shirt, Columbia rainproof roll-up jacket, one cap, one beanie and a ton of tech.

    Off topic: Just planning an AMS / UK London trip…using up my remaining Carlson points….then first time using IHG points in London. Club Carlson redemption is crazy high now. No property in London under 50k, and most increased to 70k pn.
    Probably going to try the newly opened IHG Staybridge suites Vauxhall, and the new Park Plaza Waterloo.

    Soren

  6. @Soren – I hate shopping for clothes, especially in winter when wearing winter gear for walking around in the cold and I get too hot in stores. Laundry is usually no issue in winter where many European hotels have towel rack heaters in the bathroom. My clothes usually dry within 8-12 hours.

    I found better deals booking IHG hotels on paid rates than using points for my last few trips in London. Mostly paid under $100 per night for hotels like Holiday Inn Kensington and Holiday Inn Commercial Road in Whitechapel area of East London. Enjoyed both locations.

  7. Ric said:
    I found better deals booking IHG hotels on paid rates than using points for my last few trips in London. Mostly paid under $100 per night for hotels like Holiday Inn Kensington and Holiday Inn Commercial Road in Whitechapel area of East London. Enjoyed both locations.

    S: Hey Ric, Yes I confer. I enjoyed your review of the HI Whitechapel. Not an area I would have chosen but definitely worthy of consideration. I am watching the old HI Kings Cross which is undergoing reno and re-branding as CP…for any value paid stay opps. You can’t reserve beyond 8/31 thus far. That area was severely on the lo down when I lived there…now it’s coming up.
    I was in LAS last week, a terrible city for IHG redemption – thru the roof and the quality of props poor. I’ll wait for the free night on the M/C re-up to snag a night at Palazzo or Venetian next trip.
    Still grieving Prince + death of democracy in the USA. Heaven help us.
    As always, Love the blog….Peace
    S

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