Europe 2014 – Prepare for Liftoff, Part One

Hopefully followers of this blog will now understand why this idea of a long trip to Europe to celebrate/initiate our transition from full time work is a path that makes sense for us.  From my first trip in 1977, Europe has been the launching pad for personal reinvention as well as great destination to visit.  That being said, until our move to North Carolina, we traveled extensively in the United States, the western portion in particular and that will be a major focus for us once we return home later this year.  But for now, Europe is how we light the afterburners and launch into orbit.  So to speak.

Planning for a trip of this magnitude takes a lot of time and much attention to detail.  It’s not as arduous as it sounds as we had a lot of time leading up to it; in fact for most folks planning some form of retirement a certain amount of extensive thinking goes into what that will be.  For me it comes easily when I’m riding my bicycle, or behind the wheel of car during a long day’s drive.  That’s when the general corpus of the trip takes form.  Do not underestimate the value of the internet as an engine for research and idea formulation when planning; indeed I now marvel at how much we were able to accomplish in the past with nothing but the ability to make a long distance phone call as your primary tool.

The rest of the planning is the gravy.  As I’ve mentioned to a number of folks, I read a New York Times blog post that referred to a study conducted in the Netherlands and published in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life that showed that the largest boost in happiness comes from the simple act of planning a vacation.  It turns out that it’s the planning for and anticipation of a trip that causes the most amount of joy.  All of those moments you spend planning, the little chunks of time researching, dreaming, and conceptualizing takes you away from your daily life for a bit, a satisfying bit.

For us, the single most time consuming and involved planning revolved around transportation.  We’ve utilized just about every form of transportation in our previous trips as summarized below:

Year Trip Length Mode
1977 4 Months Bus, hitchhike, train, and buy a used VW Van in Amsterdam
1979 4 Months Hitchhike, Magic Bus
1981 2 Weeks Magic Bus
1982 5 Weeks Train
1984 5 Months Purchase VW Rabbit through VW for Delivery in Frankfurt
1992 1 Month Rental Car
1998 3 Weeks Train and one flight on Ryan Air
1999 1 Week Rental Car
2002 1 Week Rental Car, Hiking, and Train
2007 2 Weeks Rental Car

 

Obviously, the length of the trip plays a big role in determining the transportation mode.  Also your style of travel and the amount of gear you will have.  For our upcoming trip the desire to camp, have our bicycles, and the freedom to go where we wanted when we wanted meant we would need a car.  Given this decision point, our options would be to 1) rent a car, 2) purchase a new or used European car and then sell it back before leaving, 3) purchase a European car from a dealer here in the States for delivery there and have it shipped home as part of the purchase, 4) Ship our own car over and back.

Renting a car, while attractive has limitations, primarily getting one large enough for our gear and the cost and hassle factor of hauling that gear by airplane.  A number of creative options exist for car rental, ranging from the known players like Hertz and Avis, to manufacturers programs that essentially sell you a car and then buy it back.  AutoEurope Buy Back Cars and Renault Euro Drive are two of these.   A Renault Kangoo or Grand Scenic would run from $5,723 to $6,100, including insurance and emergency road assistance.  The Kangoo runs on diesel and it touted as getting around 50 miles per gallon.

Purchasing a European based car and selling it back when leaving for home just has too many variables to consider, including the risk of buying a car, whether you can actually register it in the country it is purchased in, the hassle of selling it back and like with a rental, the issue of having you ship all of the gear.

European Delivery is a very attractive proposition, particularly if you are already thinking about buying one of the eligible cars.  Your choices are Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Porsche, and Volvo.  The general deal is you order the exact car you want from your local dealer (it will be built for you) and receive a discount off the retail price of 5-8%.  Almost all of the companies provide one or two nights free stay in a nice hotel near the factory (for a fee you can have the car delivered to a dealer in another city), tour of the factory and some level of concierge service (a shuttle from the hotel).  When you are ready to go home you drop the car back off at the dealer, they ship it for free and a month or so later you pick up the car at your dealer.

In the past it was common for many of the manufacturers to offer one or more free round trip airfares as well (we received one free round trip on Lufthansa when we bought the 1984 Rabbit), but only Volvo still offers this incentive.  They are quite generous and provide two on SAS airlines, a compelling inducement if you like this brand of car.  Up until early 2013, I was pretty sure we were going to buy one, either an XC60 SUV or XC70 Station Wagon.  We visited the dealer many times, I built innumerable versions of each at the Volvo website, we agonized over what color it would be, figured out what options we would select.

By late winter our thinking began to change a bit, influenced by a number of factors.  These would be:

1)     For all intents and purposes, this new car is a replacement for our 1998 Ford Expedition.  As we own a great little BMW 335 Coupe, I don’t actually need the new car to be anything but an updated version of the Expedition, but with much better gas mileage.  The Expedition has about 108 cubic feet of storage behind the first tow of seats.  The XC60 has 67 and the XC70 has 72.  Sufficient capacity to carry our gear, and to hold some passengers while traveling became a concern.  The Volvo XC90 has comparable capacity to a Highlander, but it is a model long in the tooth and we were advised by the salesman at the dealership not to consider it, as most of the technology in it was several years out of date.

2)     We keep our cars a very long time, averaging over 10 years per vehicle.  So we have to like the car enough to want to drive it that long.

3)     The thought of having to pay for and ship two bicycles, four or so extra bags of gear and then trying to figure out how to store the boxes the bikes would go in began to weigh on us.  If we shipped our own car over, one of the options would be to put it into a container, which means you can load the car with all of your stuff.

4)     Although Volvo has a great warranty (4 year and 50,000 miles) and maintenance program (5 years and 50,000 miles) the companies long term viability might eventually be an issue, given they’ve changed owners a couple of times in the last few years.

5)     All Volvo’s run on premium fuel, a forty cent per gallon penalty each time you feel the tank

6)     We just couldn’t fall in love with our Volvo choices as we had with some other purchasing options.

 

The car we’d long liked, and would eventually purchase, is the Toyota Highlander Hybrid.  It has 95 cubic feet of storage behind the front seats, much more than the Volvos.  It averages 25.5 miles per gallon on regular gas versus the Volvo’s average of 20 per gallon on premium.  For the Europe trip alone, the Volvo would run nearly $2,000 more in gasoline expense.  Over the life of the car, approximately 150,000 miles, the difference in gas expense would be about $9,000.

Image

The Highlander with its Bike Racks on Top

Finally, Toyota is one of the leading manufacturers in the business, with a network of dealers worldwide and a reputation for a high quality product.  When you combine this with being able to ship a fully packed car over and the gas mileage differential, we easily fell into the decision to buy the Toyota.

Image

The Highlander with a Cool Hitch Step

Links

NY Times Blog: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/02/18/how-vacations-affect-your-happiness/

Vacationers Happier, but Most not Happier After a Holiday: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11482-009-9091-9

Auto Europe Buy Back Cars: http://www.autoeurope.com/buyback_home.cfm

Renault Euro Drive: http://www.renaultusa.com/

Volvo Oversees: http://www.volvocars.com/us/sales-services/sales/volvo_overseas_delivery/pages/default.aspx

Toyota Highlander: http://www.toyota.com/highlander/#!/Welcome

 

 

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