Switzerland can be yours for fewer francs than you may realize.
The landlocked country offers limitless opportunities for sightseeing and experiences for those who love to get out and explore the natural world. From hiking through the snow in Leysin, to climbing a church tower in Bern or Fribourg, boredom has a scant chance of creeping in during a visit.
Ask a person what they think of when you mention Switzerland, and they’ll probably respond with: The Alps, chocolate, knives, and watches.
However, how do you respond when the person clutches his or her proverbial purse strings and responds with “a post-vacation diet of beans”, like a friend of mine did when I mentioned I was traveling to Lake Geneva with my parents last May?
My friend’s response was somewhat fair. According to Mercer, a human resources consulting firm, Geneva, Zurich, and Bern have found themselves in a Top 10 list of the most expensive cities for expatriates in 2013. A quick cost-of-living comparison on Numbeo, a site that itemizes expenditures such as meals at restaurants, transportation, apartment rentals, and groceries, among others, confirmed that our destination in Lake Geneva was going to be higher than Washington, DC and much higher than coastal North Carolina where my parents live.
Even though other countries in the euro zone surround Switzerland, its form of currency is the Swiss franc, abbreviated as CHF. Back when I was planning the trip, research confirmed that compared to the U.S. dollar, there was about a one-dollar-to-one-Swiss-franc exchange rate with a few extra pennies thrown across the Atlantic in the direction of Switzerland. The comparison gave me some relief that the trip wouldn’t result in being “travel poor” even though goods and services are more expensive than what I was accustomed to in Washington.
I argue that frugal travelers can live rich while on vacation when they subtract expensive hotels, extravagant meals, and pricey tourist traps, and add free outdoor sightseeing excursions, low-cost cultural activities, and flavorful regional meals at cafés, sandwich shops, and walk-up food kiosks.
Minus a few meal splurges, we used our trips to the Coop and Migros supermarkets to our advantage. First, we bought fresh fruit and non-perishables for breakfast and on-the-go snacks. Second, several supermarkets have restaurants where we ate salads, quiches, sandwiches, and hearty meals (served on ceramic dishes and not on paper plates or in wrappers) while overlooking Lake Geneva into France. Compared to full-service restaurant dining, we dined on fresh food for about 15-20 CHF per person.
Lodging wise, Geneva was out of the question not due to price, but availability. Affordable hotels and apartments just weren’t available for the dates we selected. Widening the search, I discovered Lausanne, the second-largest city on Lake Geneva. Staying in Lausanne proved to be the best choice because it offered easy access by bus, light rail, train, and boat to the sites surrounding the Lake since it’s location is a little more than halfway between Geneva and Montreux.
Out of our choices, the Ibis Lausanne Centre won. Like any chain, I had heard good and bad things and had experienced excellent service and cleanliness in one city, and near paltry conditions in another.
The Ibis Lausanne Centre is a newer property with modern room decor, fresh bedding, wood floors cleaned daily, a large shower, and best of all, a price tag that allowed for separate rooms for my parents and me. Much like its environs on Lake Geneva, the hotel is immaculate. It also offers an efficient check-in/out process and coffee service in the morning that complemented our light breakfast.
As a bonus, the property throws in a public transportation pass (Lausanne only) for the duration of the stay, which came in handy for those days when we were too sore to hike from the train station uphill to the hotel via Avenue de Beaulieu. The 3 and the 21 buses service the Lausanne Gare station and stop next to the hotel. Also, the Riponne light rail station on the m2 line is a short walk from the hotel in a bustling shopping district and in a six stops will take you Lake Geneva.
The only complaint was that the rooms didn’t cool off during the first few days of the visit. We were told by a front desk attendant that there was a hotel-wide outage with the air conditioning system. However, the issue was fixed within a day and lucky for us, the remainder of the trip was cool and rainy making sleeping at night comfortable in an otherwise stuffy room.
One word about the flight cost to Geneva…I am not United Airlines’ biggest fan. I’ve been delayed several times when traveling overseas and have found the response from employees to be lackluster as if delays are the norm and not the exception. However, my non-stop flight from Washington, Dulles was only $950, and my parents’ flight that originated in Norfolk and connected through Dulles was around $925 per ticket, making it a cheaper destination for the time of year over other destinations such as Paris.
Therefore, consider Switzerland and rest easy knowing that you can fly, buy, eat, and sleep without becoming “vacation poor”, thus allowing you to experience all that this stunning country offers.
In my next posts, I’ll discuss “leaving” the EU and high-altitude anxiety.
Interested in snaps from Switzerland and the Lake Geneva area? Visit the photo gallery.