I went to the Zurich bank where my friend Helmut is an assistant director, and told him I wanted to write a story on how an American could eat, sleep, and travel on local public transportation in Switzerland for $35 a day. I handed him a sheaf of notes and receipted bills. "I make it out to be just over $35," I said.
He ran the figures through a computer, got a printout. "You are wrong," he said. "Based on the current exchange rate of 1.65 francs to the dollar, this legendary American can do it on $32.87 a day, and perhaps just a bit less if he uses travelers' checks, which pay a slightly higher rate."
There you have it. When it comes to money and its periphery benefits, you never challenge a Swiss banker. And that is what it cost me after sampling lower-category hotels and clean pensions for eight days. First of all, stay away from the large cities (the exception being Zurich) and posh resorts.
Before you leave home get a first- or second-class Holiday Rail Pass for either eight or 15 days. The cost for an eight-day pass is $106 first class, $ 75 second class.
Start your Swiss odyssey by going to an Official Tourist Office, located in most Swiss towns. Tell the representatives you want an inexpensive, pleasant room, with or without private bath (even so you will find a shower in your room) , breakfast and automatic service charge included.
In Zurich the official Swiss Hotel Guide lists small hotels charging 30 francs for bed and breakfast
For lunch, there are some inexpensive options. Go to a discount supermarket chain (Migros or Coop) and, for $3.50 or less, buy the makings of a picnic -- ham or beef or cheese, two rolls, a portable sweet dessert. Or look for a place that posts its plat du jour for around 4.50 francs.
When you are ready for your evening meal, $10 to 11 will buy a good one at a small restaurant, particularly in the countryside. In St. Moritz Bad I went to the Pizzeria in Restaurant Sonne and ate well for five francs.
In Zurich you can eat inexpensively at the University of Zurich's student restaurant which is only a 10-minute brisk uphill walk from the city center.
Swiss public transportation in superb. In the large cities trams are used, in towns buses. For longer trips, try postal buses or trains. Keep away from using taxis, other than in an emergency. Five liters of gasoline, or one gallon , is $5.50, the reason for exhorbitant rates.
Get a list of events in the city or town that you visit -- some, such as outdoor concerts, will often be free.
I would advise you not to buy gifts, other than chocolates, for if you do you will exceed by far the $32.78 limit that came out of Helmut's computer.
And to wrap this story up, I again pass along Helmut's advice: In changing your dollars, use American Express or other similar bank travelers' checks because they bring a higher rate of exchange than dollar bills. At this writing , some Swiss bankers are predicting that the exchange rate on the US dollar will climb a bit. And if that happens, maybe you can do Switzerland on $30 a day.