The Times West Virginian

July 23, 2013

Jackie and Madison Fitch explore Europe on a budget

By Debra Minor Wilson
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — You can visit Europe on a tight budget if you want.

You just have to do some research, said Jackie Fitch of Fairmont.

Her daughter, Madison, graduated in June from Fairmont Senior and will study international studies this fall at Fairmont State. What would be a more perfect graduation gift than a trip to Europe?

So Fitch did some research and, for about two weeks, she, Madison and her friend, Erika Edwards, got a taste of Europe their way.

On their own schedule. On their own budget.

And they had a blast, she said.

“I wanted to let her see the world for a little bit,” Fitch said.

After visiting Iceland, Belgium, Wales, Ireland, Scotland and England, Madison can say she has.

And they had a blast,  Fitch said.

They did the touristy things, like visiting Paris and London. They also went to some more out-of-the-way places, like Iceland, Wales and the mecca for all Beatles fans: Liverpool.

“That was awesome to see where the Beatles started,” Fitch said.

She found an online travel service (“the best thing to happen to people who don’t have a whole lot of money,” she said) that cut their costs from $7,000 for three round-trip tickets each to only $3,000 for the three of them.

First on the “go-to” list was northern England, Scotland and Ireland. A friend suggested since they were practically there, why not jump the English Channel to visit Paris?

“Why not? We were there for an adventure,” she said.

They made a wish list of places to visit. For her, there was one definite destination: Edinburgh, Scotland, where her father had had a picture taken of him 60 years ago in front of a statue of an ancestor, philanthropist Thomas Guthrie.

“I got to see the same statue that he did. People try to find their history and I got to see mine.”

She loved the countryside.

“It was clean and beautiful and hilly and awesome. It was more than I could have conceived.”

They weren’t that impressed with Paris or London, although they did the typical “touristy” things like visit the Eiffel Tower.

But she was thrilled that Ireland, where they visited Belfast and Dublin, was exactly what she thought it would be.

“You hear about the Irish and singing in pubs. It’s true. And we saw where the Titanic took off.”

They took rail excursions through the lush countryside, which was “clean and awesome.”

“We’re not rich. But this was well worth it. The memories. If we never go back, at least I can say I was there.”

She learned to drive on the left side of the road and was stopped by police “only twice,” she said.

“There were three lanes. The lane I was in I thought was slow. No, it was the fast lane. The slow lane is where our fast lane is. And there is no speed limit. You can go 100 (mph) if you want to. It’s very confusing. I have calluses on my hands from driving.”

She found people in Europe to be “just like us,” she said. “Everywhere we went, the hotel staff was excellent. And there is no tipping of anybody. Cabs, waiters, if you give them a tip, they give it right back.

“This was a trip of a lifetime. It was great for Madison.”

You can have a trip just like this, she said.

“You just have to do some research. Maybe you don’t want to go to that many countries.”

Liverpool was “different,” she said. “You can walk to where the Beatles started.”

They saw statues of the Fab Four. The Cavern (the tiny club where they honed their musical skills) is still open, she said.

“We didn’t go in, but I don’t know why. I guess we were always in a hurry. But we did get some souvenirs from a Beatles shop.”

They cut costs by renting a car. This way they could go where they wanted, when they wanted.

They rode the ferry from Belgium to the White Cliffs of Dover in England. The girls did the “Dr. Who Experience” while Fitch strolled through a local park.

“You honestly have to be on a tight budget, but you can do it. We pooled our resources together. If you just want to go to a few countries, that’s the best way to do it.”

Email Debra Minor Wilson at dwilson@timeswv.com.