Intro Trip Report: ~48 Hours in Switzerland

My cousin and I were debating last Tuesday on where we could go for the weekend to do some winter landscape photography. It just so happened that some time had opened up in both our schedules to make this happen. And it would be pretty much our one last hurrah in a while with my cousin expecting his second child (congrats to him).

The places which were on the list for our consideration were: Iceland, Norway (Lofoten Islands), Banff, Death Valley, Yosemite, and Zion. Both Iceland and Norway were eliminated right off the bat because the weather wasn’t just cold, but rather blizzard like. I absolutely love Banff this time of year, but temperatures were well below 0 Fahrenheit up in Canada. As much as I love the Canadian Rockies, I don’t want to risk frost bite for some images.

Frozen Waterfowl Lakes along the Icefields Parkway

This left us with Death Valley, Yosemite, and Zion. The warmth of Death Valley was particularly enticing for us given our awesome experiences in the park recently, but we quickly shot it down because we were ready to suffer the cold for some of that wintry magic.

Death Valley National Park

Our choice seemed obvious enough, Yosemite was even expecting snowfall during our planned weekend getaway. Searching for award tickets we found that flights to Fresno or Las Vegas were actually more expensive on miles than Europe was with incredibly inconvenient departure times. American was demanding 28k miles for the nonstop flight between Dallas and Fresno each way and there was no flight back on Sunday. We later realized that it happened to be the MLK long weekend as well, which meant lots and lots of people in Yosemite and Death Valley.

Then came the idea of going to the Lauterbrunnen Valley in Switzerland (the better version of the Yosemite Valley IMHO). If you have followed this blog for a while now, you are already well aware of our obsession with Switzerland. The idea of photographing the scene below during the winter was something I just couldn’t contain my excitement for at all.

A farm in the Lauterbrunnen Valley during the summer

We quickly checked on flights which were surprisingly wide open for a Wednesday night departure and Sunday afternoon return. The forecast in Switzerland was absolutely phenomenal. It would be snowing all of Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (the day of our return). The stars were truly beginning to align for us to make this trip happen.

Flights:

And so just a couple of hours before our intended departure we bought round trip flights to Zurich using a combination of United and Air Canada miles we had saved up. We could’ve done the return in economy, but since we have no further travel plans we swung for business on the return. It would be easier on our work schedules anyway.

Here is the breakdown on cost for our flights: 

32.5k United miles per passenger for DFW-EWR-ZRH in Economy

55k Aeroplan miles per passenger for ZRH-EWR-DFW in Business

Our Proposed Itinerary 

We quickly charted an itinerary for our trip, which pretty much included any place in Switzerland which had seen snow recently. The entire trip came out to something like 850 km over 52 hours, which is insane, but worth it in a country as beautiful as Switzerland.

Transportation ($175 per person total):

Given our itinerary we decided to get a rental car, which would save us the trouble of connecting trains with all our camera and video equipment. The cost for a 4×4 Standard SUV from Hertz was $350, which included mandatory winter tires and unlimited kilometers. This wasn’t terrible considering the cost was split between the two of us @ $175 each. Train tickets themselves would cost north of $300 for each of us, not to mention the fact that you can’t just pull over to take pictures.

Of course we did end up having to pay $60 for tickets from Lauterbrunnen to Kleine Scheidegg, but that was a cost we anticipated ahead of time, which put us at the break even point with the Swiss Rail Pass.

Cost of Fuel (~6 cents per km per person or $60 total per person on this trip):

Do note that diesel or petrol in Switzerland are quite expensive so you may just want to avoid wintry roads altogether and get a more compact vehicle for a smaller price. Gasoline in total cost $120 over the course of our 1000km or so journey around Switzerland.

Overnight Stays (~$70 per day per person):

We stayed at Airbnbs (my referral link) for the 3 nights we were in Switzerland, the cost which came out to around $400 for 3 nights (for the both of us). We could’ve elected to stay in hostels, but for $40 bucks more per night, it seemed reasonable to ensure ourselves our own space. Since it was our last trip in a while we didn’t cut corners everywhere. Both of our places had nice views of either the mountains or the Old Town in Interlaken. Unfortunately I don’t have images of these places (I will have videos later on my Vlog), but the place we rented in Interlaken ended up being an absolute steal for the price.

Food (~$25 per day per person):

Switzerland is an expensive place and in my experience good food comes at a high cost outside a few fast food places. We tried to keep a tight budget with the food because this is really well Switzerland can hit you hard. If you intend to eat out at restaurants everyday and consume alcohol, you indeed have to be a wealthy person. However, if you intend to forgo some booze for a couple of days and full meals at restaurants, Switzerland isn’t really that bad at all.

One of the positives about Switzerland and Germany is that both countries are full of McDonalds and Burger Kings, which feature food that is considerably more upscale than anything you get in the US. Burger King in Switzerland has a fantastic veggie burger (not one of those tasteless impossible patties) made of black beans, corn, sesame seeds, and a few other ingredients. And for $10-$12 all in you can get a side, a burger, and a medium sized drink.  We weren’t that interested in greasy fries so we were able to knock the price down to around $8-$9 per meal per person.

For breakfast and all of our other meals we picked up some bircher muesli ($3.50), ramen noodles ($2), sandwiches ($3.50), and a 6 pack of Coke Zero ($9) from local Co-Op supermarkets. We did pick up some chocolate in Chur to bring back to the US, but we ended up having some after a hike or two. This stuff was also much less expensive at Co-Op supermarkets as compared to the airport.

The one meal we did have at a restaurant wasn’t all that great for the  $46 we spent on it. It included a 28 inch thin crust pizza, some sauteed vegetables, and coke zero. It was reasonable for a restaurant meal in Switzerland, but we regretted not having walked to the McDonalds nearby for the veggie burger.

Where could we have cut cost?

We really could’ve gotten a compact car with snow tires and save a couple of hundred bucks on our entire trip. However the plans we had in place involved high alpine passes like the Bernina Pass where not having a 4×4 or a trusted vehicle can really get you in a pickle. And if we had decided on one specific area of Switzerland, we could’ve certainly just done the Swiss Rail Pass and saved ourselves the fatigue of driving. There is no doubt that the Swiss Rail Pass would’ve been the better option if I were traveling alone through the country. 

Bottom Line:

There is no doubt that we are extremely fortunate to be able to do a trip to Switzerland at least once in a while (let alone once in a lifetime). I’m not saying that Switzerland is a cheap place to travel for landscape photography or winter activities, but it certainly can be done at a more reasonable cost if you plan ahead of time and know where to go for what. I believe this trip cost us around $600 each (not including the travel credits we used up, which brought it down much further). For Americans, I don’t think this country will ever become cheaper than it is right now given the currency exchange rate @ 1 CHF = 1.03 USD. Anyway setting all this aside, Switzerland is still by far the most beautiful country I’ve seen to date.

Stay tuned for the day by day trip report…..

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If you are interested in seeing more of my work, check out my photography website or consider following me on Instagram. Message me for details on prints for this image. A full trip report and cost breakdown are coming up shortly.

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