Team Clark returns from winter meeting in Italy


Once each year, I take my staffers on a staff adventure (aka winter meeting) based on wherever in the world goes on sale. This year, it was Italy for $658 roundtrip. Last year, it was South Africa, the year before that Hawaii, and before that, Shanghai.

Things were inexpensive, relatively speaking, in Italy because of the European financial crisis. That included accommodations, foods and transportation — unless you had a rental car like me and then you were being killed by the price of petrol (gasoline).

We visited Venice and Florence. And the way my staff trips work is that I give each staffer a housing allowance, and each person can stay wherever they want.

Travel economics, Italian style

For example, my senior producer Kim paid $118 a night in Venice and $90 a night in Florence. Meanwhile, associate producer Joel paid 75 Euros at a bed & breakfast that looked like an Italian prison on the outside and in the lobby, but his actual room several floors up was gorgeous!

As for me, I paid $134 a night in Venice and $89 a night in Florence after doing Priceline for both cities. That took some work, and I had to do repeated bids multiple times to get the rooms, but I ended up with 5-star accommodations (more like 4-star by American standards). Then my wife and I also had a night in Milan at a 4-star that was more like a 1-star!

Meals were extremely reasonable, even cheaper than a U.S. restaurant meal for the equivalent food — except for my beloved Coke Zero! An 11-ounce can cost more than an entire bottle of wine at an Italian restaurant! So I started drinking water and getting a 1.5 liter bottle of  Coke Zero at the supermarket that I chugged as I walked down the street.

Gas was expensive, as I mentioned. I paid $9.65 gallon (that’s right!) and I was driving around in a little Ford Fiesta. I haven’t had the guts to break down the per mile cost. And then there are the toll roads!

Can you still find cheap summer travel in an era of high fares?

I’ve had more questions than I can recall recently from those who want to go to Europe. Airfares are so ridiculously high because the airline cartels have price-fixed the rates from the U.S. to Europe. That’s why I’ve been telling people to look to fly to Asia instead where there are still real deals.


Or you can always try to redeem frequent flier miles to Europe, or try to play the waiting game and see if the airlines end up lowering fares. Just know that when you arrive, that part will be cheaper than in recent years.

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