This article is a travel planning piece to show how a budget traveler like me flying from San Francisco Bay Area can travel to Romania for 10 days next winter or spring 2018 via Stockholm for about $1,200 to $1,500 all-in, including all airfare, hotels, ground transportation and daily living expenses.
No shared hostel rooms or bathrooms either. My plan is based around Hilton Hotel brand stays in Romania.
Over the past 16 months I have focused my travel on Central Europe in Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Bulgaria with about 2 months in total time spent in different cities in these countries. Hungary is a country I visited in 2002, but only stayed in Budapest for a few days.
Romania is a country I have not yet visited. For the past year I have been considering travel to Romania.
2018 looks like a good time for me to go to Romania.
Two week trip San Francisco to Romania for under $1,500 all-in?
Airfare to Romania
Preliminary trip planning research indicates I can fly to Romania from Oakland, California with Norwegian for about $372 round trip via London Gatwick or $425 flying to Copenhagen, Denmark.
I anticipate fares dropping in January. Last January 18, I purchased WOW Air SFO to Copenhagen for $69 one way and Norwegian Airlines Stockholm ARN to Oakland for $115 one way for a total $184 round trip January flights to Europe.
I flew to Europe again in April on another WOW Air $69 one way SFO to CPH purchased Jan 18 and purchased a $151 Norwegian Air ticket Stockholm to Oakland on March 28, five days before flying the WOW Air ticket to Iceland. I stayed 11 days in Iceland, Lithuania, Latvia and Sweden for $220 round trip. I skipped WOW’s Copenhagen flight and flew Wizz Air directly from Keflavik, Iceland to Vilnius, Lithuania for $70.
Wizz Air to Romania
Wizz Air is a Hungarian registered low cost carrier. The airline flies to many regional airports around Europe. Like Ryanair, Wizz Air has many low cost flights under $30 one way. Flights on many routes are not daily.
Wizz Air has low cost flights from London Luton LTN, Malmo, Sweden MMX and Stockholm Skavsta NYO to Cluj-Napoca CLJ, Romania, the second largest city behind Bucharest. I list these cities specifically because WOW Air and Norwegian tend to have low ticket prices to London, Copenhagen and Stockholm.
Malmo Airport is easily accessible from Copenhagen Airport by train in about 45 minutes. Copenhagen to Malmo MMX is the easiest and quickest airport to airport transfer compared to Stockholm or London.
Lonely Planet guide to Romania states most tourists wish they had planned to spend more time in Cluj than they allowed. This university city has a reputation for great pubs and hangout cafes.
Getting to Romania $427 round trip
Oakland OAK to Stockholm Arlanda ARN
Stockholm Skavsta NYO – Cluj-Napoca CLJ, Romania
Stockholm transportation and hotels
Arlanda ARN Airport is north of Stockholm and Skavsta NYO is south.
Flygbussarna is the cheapest transportation option for bus travel from Arlanda Airport to Stockholm city center 99 SEK one way and then Stockholm City Center to Skavsta Airport 139 SEK one way. There are no round trip ticket discounts.
476 SEK = $56.84 USD for Stockholm airport bus transportation.
Also need one hotel night on arrival in Stockholm and two hotel nights before departing Stockholm. Clarion Hotel Sign is about a 300 meter walk from the bus station located above the Arlanda Express train terminal. Clarion Hotel Sign is 10,000 Choice Privileges points.
Clarion Hotel Sign April 14 = $73.34 USD (cost to buy 10,000 points during current Choice Privileges 50% bonus points sale.)
Clarion Hotel Sign April 14 = 10,000 points = $74 to buy points.
Clarion Hotel Sign April 25-26 = 20,000 points = $148 to buy.
$220 total for three hotel nights in Stockholm, Sweden.
Since this is my preliminary research on Romania, I will look for an itinerary requiring only one hotel night in Stockholm each way to save one night’s hotel expense. Flying via Copenhagen can cost even less with Clarion Collection Hotel Temperance Malmo, Sweden only 8,000 points with breakfast and dinner.
Airfare: Oakland to Sweden and Romania, Sweden Airport transportation and hotel expenses = $700.
I anticipate lower ticket prices on Norwegian or WOW might drop California to Stockholm from the current $368 to under $250 round trip in the next three months. Eliminating one hotel night in Stockholm would drop the price another $74. My objective would be to get this component of the trip down to around $500 for my actual spend.
Romania hotel expenses
Hilton has 9 hotels in Romania, Wyndham has 10 Ramada hotels and Best Western has 6 hotels providing extensive geographic coverage. Bucharest area holds 8 of 25 hotels. There is only one Ramada in Constanta on the Black Sea coast.
Romania Hilton and Wyndham 19 hotels mapped with reward rates (Sep 14, 2017).
Hilton Honors Category 1 hotels in Europe (24 hotels) (Sep 14, 2017).
Transylvania, much more historic than Dracula
My interest is visiting Transylvania in central Romania. While the region is popular for Dracula tourism, the primary interest for me are the Transylvanian Saxon villages established in the 12th-13th century when the Hungarian Kingdom invited German settlers to establish frontier towns in Romania to protect the southern borders of the empire. Ottoman invasions of the early 1500s conquered the Hungarian Empire and controlled Romania until the 19th century.
The Mongol Invasion 1241-1242 decimated many villages in Romania and the Hungarian Kingdom. Villages were fortified following those events and today UNESCO recognizes seven of these Transylvanian Saxon towns as World Heritage Villages with fortified churches in Transylvania.
DoubleTree Sighisoara is only 5,000 points per night or 20,000 points for 5 nights. Hampton Cluj-Napoca and Hilton Sibiu are 10,000 points per night or 40,000 points for 5 nights. One issue is Hilton Sibiu is a couple miles out of town.
Ramada Brasov is 3,000 Wyndham points + 24 EUR on a GoFast Reward. I earned 15,000 Wyndham Rewards points this month for two hotel nights paid through MasterPass.
These six hotels provide many options for staying in 4 of the 7 UNESCO World Heritage locations for about $20 to $60 per night through Hilton Honors and Wyndham Rewards.
Hilton Points Purchases at $5 per 1,000 points.
There have been several opportunities in 2017 to buy Hilton Honors points at the rate of $5 per 1,000 points. The most recent promotional offer ended Oct 5, 2017.
20,000 points for $100 buys a 5 night reward stay at DoubleTree Sighisoara. 40,000 points for $200 buys a 5-night reward stay in Cluj or Sibiu.
10 nights in Romania with Hilton points can cost as little as $300.
$30 to $60 per night + 3,000 Wyndham points can place you in a Ramada in any of these four World Heritage cities.
Romania Trip Budget: $1,200 to $1,500 for 15 day trip
$370 San Francisco/Oakland to Stockholm Norwegian Air round trip. (Probably closer to $250 with lower winter fares available by Jan 2018 for Jan to April flights).
$220 for 3 nights Clarion Stockholm (buy 30,000 points). Find a better flight itinerary to eliminate one of the Stockholm nights and save $74.
$57 ARN-Stockholm-NYO-Stockholm-ARN airport bus transportation (4 bus tickets).
$60 Wizz Air round trip ticket NYO – Cluj-Napoca CLJ, Romania
$300-$360 10 nights in Romania with Hilton and Ramada.
$1,010-$1,070. Closer to $800 if I refine itinerary to spend less time in Scandinavian hotels and find lower priced flights to Europe.
$325 for 13 days @$25 per day expenses: I figure $4-$7 per restaurant meal 2x day; $10 or less for beer; $5-$7 for bus travel between cities.
That is my style of travel.
These are my estimated expenses, but can you replicate it for your travel?
Everything here can be replicated by most any traveler, except for the hotel points discounts.
I plan my hotel travel around earning and burning hotel loyalty points. I spent $160 to stay at Days Inn Nice and Ramada Plovdiv, Bulgaria this month to earn 15,000 Wyndham Rewards points.
I purchased Hilton Honors points last month at $5 per 1,000 points in anticipation of redeeming for Romania Hilton Honors stays in 2018.
For a couple, all expenses double, except hotels.
Cash for Daily Expenses
One point of caution. Cash is more reliable than credit cards in Central Europe.
I would likely plan for $250 to $300 in ATM cash withdrawal upon arrival in Romania if staying 10 days as a solo traveler. My tendency is to have too much cash left over at the end of my trips in Central Europe, whereas, I generally need additional trips to the ATM when in Amsterdam and London due to spending more than anticipated.
In Prague this month I withdrew 3000 CZK, about $136 for four days and nights. I spent 1,000 CZK on gifts in the airport an hour before my flight and flew home with 700 CZK. I took out $60 in Bulgaria for 4 days and nights, but then I needed to take out another $60 worth of Bulgarian currency due to shops not accepting credit cards where I purchased gifts. I spent about $60 cash in Bulgaria on jewelry and scarves for my wife and t-shirts for me.
On average, I ate two restaurant meals daily, mostly Asian and Turkish, and drank 4 pints of beer in pubs each day. Meals were $4 to $7 and beer $1.20 to $2.00 per pint in Prague, Sofia and Plovdiv.
My main tourist activity is walking around neighborhoods and parks taking photographs when the weather is good and visiting museums when the weather is bad. The weather was all good in Prague and Bulgaria and I stayed outdoors most of the day.
While this trip planning budget is focused on Romania, a similar budget will cover two weeks in Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Bulgaria. All these countries have multiple hotel chain deals available with hotel loyalty points.
Airfare to Stockholm, Copenhagen or London is cheap from many places around the USA for under $400 round trip. Getting from those cities to Central Europe is usually less than $100 round trip.