In just a little over two weeks from now, I will be leaving for yet another wonderful trip. I will be “Biking & Barging” in The Netherlands, transfixed by the fields of tulips and daffodils near Amsterdam.
After a fun-filled week in Holland, I will head back to Scotland once again for a couple of months to pick up where I left off last year romping around in the Highlands with my dear cousin, Lindsay.
Last year when I was staying with him about midway during my four-month trip, I was sitting there enjoying myself when suddenly I realized, ‘Oh no! My vacation is already half over!’ Then I remembered and reassured my optimistic self, ‘However, looking on the bright side; I still have half of it to enjoy!’ I felt better, yet, having spent half of the vacation already I also wanted to make sure my actual expenditures were still in line with my travel budget plans so I could make sure I was on track. Since I was on such a long trip, it could be disastrous if I didn’t keep an eye on it. Luckily, I was right on track and had actually been spending a little less than expected.
When people hear how long my vacations tend to be (anywhere from 1 – 4 months) they often ask, “Isn’t that awfully expensive? Wish I could afford a four-month vacation touring around and visiting castles in Ireland, Scotland, England & Wales all summer long! How can you possibly afford that?”
Years ago I would have had similar thoughts, and never imagined I would actually be able to do as much travelling as I do, nor that it doesn’t require I have access to a small fortune either!
“How do you manage then, Claudia?” you might be asking…
Well, in a number of ways, actually, which I plan to share with you in this post.
The starting point is proper “Budgeting.” One needs to allow, or provide for, a particular amount of money in a budget that serves as a plan of action for achieving one’s desired objectives.
What are my desired objectives?
To travel as much as possible on a limited amount of money I have set aside over the years just for that purpose.
You might be thinking that I’m made of money or have a huge amount of it set aside for travelling, but I’m here to tell you that isn’t true.
I don’t tend to spend a lot of money while I travel. I am not extravagant and I certainly don’t stay at extravagant places nor spend money while I’m travelling “living it up.” If “living it up” was my desired objective, I would have taken just one single trip, spent the whole wad of money I had saved for years and then be resigned to stay at home the rest of my life. That’s not what I desire. My desired objective is to travel as much as possible for as long as I am physically able to so.
Many people I have talked to about this subject, and who know from personal experience, have advised me to travel often while I still can before I get too old to do so. They have also expressed regret that they didn’t do more while they could. I am 65 and quite fortunate to have good health but I don’t kid myself either. I am getting older daily. I have noticed I am beginning to slow down a bit, in incremental and almost indiscernible ways so I don’t want to take that for granted.
I realize there are already a number of things that I no longer can do that I did in the past. Swimming in the ocean is one example. I used to spend a lot of time in the waves, body surfing, etc.
Just a few years ago I went to Hawaii with my granddaughters. We were frolicking in the waves along the shore break, which previously wouldn’t have been any big deal for me, but this time, I realized I didn’t have the muscular strength I once possessed to swim safely and made a note to self not to swim beyond where I could stand because I knew I no longer had the stamina for that and it could prove dangerous for me. Therefore I don’t spend a lot of time in the ocean anymore; I have found other ways to amuse myself.
My interests have also changed from my youth. I am much more interested in history for example. Before I found meandering around a museum all day long extremely boring and an extremely tedious way to spend my time. At that time I much preferred to be outside engaged in more active endeavours. Now I really like museums, castles and cathedrals and can’t seem to get enough of that sort of thing. The lesson being, life is a smorgasbord and each stage of life offers up new, diverse, differing and tantalizing entrees when you are ready for them.
I usually forego extravagant and expensive activities generally speaking, although I do like to pick one special thing to splurge on during each trip, but once it is satisfied I revert right back to my frugal ways. I don’t buy souvenirs or trinkets nor eat out in restaurants on a regular basis. I spend my hard-earned travel stash more modestly.
Museums, for example, are almost always free, or at the very least, offer wonderful discounts to senior citizens off their already relatively low-cost entry fees. Engaging in free and low-cost activities allows me to economize and therefore allows me to travel more frequently. Just what I want! There are a plethora of free sights or very inexpensive activities to enjoy and usually, they are not crowded at all.
By doing so, I still have a great time and never do I feel cheated or like I am going without in the least. As an added bonus, I have realized I tend to get to know the place, and the people in it, much more intimately than I did in my youth; and it is not from the vantage of most “typical tourists.” Instead, I end up having a much more down-to-earth and uniquely personal experience.
So let’s get back to the budgeting tactics I practice. When planning a vacation and preparing a budget for it, I want to know how much I should expect to fork out (on average) every day. I look at the total costs, not just what I actually spend day-to-day while travelling. The following average daily costs are based on my individual spending habits. On my list are 8 categories I spend money on to take a trip:
1. Transportation (i.e.; Airfare, Trains, Buses, Tolls & Ferries)
2. Food (eating out at restaurants & groceries)
4. Car rental and Gasoline
5. Gifts (one each for loved one back home and one special memento for me!)
7. Entrance fees to sights & attractions (also includes any annual membership fees to associations, such as The National Trust of Scotland, for example, which gains me free entry into all of their properties. After visiting 3-4 locations the membership has paid for itself and I get to see so many more!)
8. Miscellaneous (including personal toiletries)
It differs for every person and lifestyle, naturally. I don’t know what your lifestyle is, but I do know what mine is after studying it and keeping track of it for years. I’ve been keeping track of my spending habits and using a budget most of my entire adult life. Therefore, I know what my personal daily lifestyle is.
I’m not a big spender, (in fact, I tend to be rather ‘frewgal’) and also live well within my means. Old-fashioned a lot might say, but I’ve learned I sleep a lot better and stress a whole lot less about finances by doing so. I don’t carry credit card debt. I do use my United Miles VISA religiously to pay my monthly bills and buy things I need (groceries, gas, etc.) so I can get airplane award miles to cash in later. I pay my monthly credit card bill in full each and every month, thereby, avoiding interest and additional finance related fees. Using award miles for plane tickets offsets the huge cost of airfare in the transportation category above. It takes very little effort to earn the award miles, but is definitely worth it for the free round-trip airplane ticket to Europe! That’s a huge saving alone in itself!
I only buy things using my credit card if I already have the money in the bank to pay for them. If I don’t, I don’t buy it. Period. Instead, I save my money the old-fashioned way and wait until I do have enough to buy whatever it is I want (delayed gratification at its best!). The only exception to carrying any debt, however, is that I do carry a mortgage on my house and have a monthly car payment, but even with those monthly bills, I am still living well-within my means and managing to set aside a few more saved dollars each month into my travel fund!
I’ve been a judicious ‘saver’ most of my adult life. Having done so, I have a nice nest egg for retirement and also some funds allocated for travelling and exploring our beautiful planet. Just because I have funds to travel with, however, doesn’t mean I go hog wild. Not in the least; I can’t afford to do that, nor do I really care to. I simply maintain my regular day-to-day lifestyle, and my daily budget, while travelling.
For instance, I figure, I have to eat every day, no matter where I am; at home or somewhere else in another country. Although I like trying a lot of different kinds of foods that I am not accustomed to while I’m travelling, I still eat basically the same amount of food each day. I seldom go out to restaurants when I am at home; it’s a ‘treat’ I afford once in a while with a friend or family member. Usually, I prepare my own food at home, from scratch. I love to cook and I like variety. I find cooking is a pleasurable event and try new recipes along with the tried and true “reliable favorites.”
My daily lifestyle from home fits very nicely with travelling IF I have a grocery store nearby and a place to stay where I can cook most of my own meals in a self-catering kitchen. I also intermix that with eating out in a wide variety of reasonable and affordable restaurants, cafes and enjoy delicious and affordable pub-grub. I also like to pack lunches to enjoy a picnic during the day while I am exploring and that alone saves me a lot of money.
Food and lodging can easily be two of the largest expense categories while travelling, so finding ways to trim that part of the budget is desirable. I certainly don’t go without, but trying my best to economize where I can.
Which brings me to Lodging…
Growing up it was customary in my immediate family to spend our vacation time or spending holidays visiting our many family members in various locations on the west coast of America. I have continued that tradition in my adult life. I simply love to visit family when I am traveling and make a point to include them in my plans. From what I gather, not many do this, nor do they want to, but I treasure it. I can’t imagine not visiting them if I am in close proximity. It wouldn’t feel right (almost rude) if I didn’t and I would miss out on a wonderful opportunity to see them. Who knows if I will ever have the chance again? It allows me to stay connected in this fast-paced world, and often I get to know their town and area through their eyes, as a “local,” which offers up unique ways to experience their neck of the woods as it really is.
Many times, they also extend an invitation to spend the night in their spare bedroom or on the couch, which is very generous to be sure. It also gives us more time to hang out together, share more than one meal and enjoy quality time together getting to know each other better; definitely sharing a few extra laughs as well. Their kind gesture of offering a place to sleep really helps in the lodging costs category and I am not one to turn down these generous offers whenever possible. I try to not wear out my welcome though by staying too long, (ya know, they say that fish and company go bad after 3 days) and I really try to “leave no trace,” (no signs that I’ve been there nor messes made by me for them to clean up). So far, they all keep inviting me back for yet another visit so my efforts seem to be working.
While touring around Europe, I also really enjoy staying in hostels, particularly ones which are associated with the Youth Hostel Association (YHA). It is a very inexpensive way to spend on lodging, with an average cost of about $12.00 per night’s stay. They are clean, safe, friendly places usually located in the heart of what I want to see and experience and more often than not, housed in a very interesting and unique repurposed building that was, once upon a time, an estate house, an old hunting lodge of a king, or some other interesting specimen of historical value.
Almost all of them have self-catering kitchen facilities and extremely helpful and friendly staff. If you don’t want to cook, they usually have a kitchen that offers inexpensive prepared meal options one can purchase and many also offer a limited bar for refreshments and snacks as well. Often times they also sponsor tourist activities such as local walking guided tours, and at the very least offer discounts at local sights to their guests through their local affiliations. Many also include self-service laundry facilities too which comes in extremely handy when travelling a long time or with limited clothing options. No matter where you are, there always seems to be clothes that need laundering!
Hostels are also full of interesting like-minded travellers from places across the globe. I have made friends with a lot of people because of the hostels’ open and friendly environment which encourages a community feeling and opportunities to mingle and get to know one another.
Some offer private rooms, but generally speaking you share a room with bunk beds with 4-8 others of the same sex, and also share bathroom facilities. There is plenty of opportunity for privacy, while showering, etc. If you can get along with others, play nice and keep your “belongings” confined to your bunk and your designated little storage closet, hostels are great. I really enjoy the hostels. I don’t need a room to myself, I am just sleeping when I am in the bedroom. When I wake up I don’t hang out in my room; too many things to see or do! I didn’t come all this way to hang out in some room by myself. I am travelling and therefore out and about as much as I can. As long as I have a clean, comfortable and safe place to sleep, I am one happy camper.
Another way I save money on lodging is that I bought into a timeshare unit on the island of Hawaii many years ago. I never stay at the resort I bought into, but instead always “bank” my week. Hawaii properties offer “high trading power” because they are much more desirable than other locations. I save my weeks and find resorts in other countries I plan to visit instead. The timeshare is part of RCI, which has thousands of properties worldwide to choose from so my options are quite vast.
The resorts are usually at least 4-star and come with all the usual amenities one would expect. The rooms are like little apartments, or suites, with 2-3 bedrooms, full kitchens, etc. This is one example of a way I afford to splurge on something upscale without high costs attached!
If I am by myself it ends up costing me about $40-50 each night for a whole 7-day week because of the yearly maintenance fees I pay at my resort. Not bad. If I include others then, of course, the per night/per person rate also dramatically lowers with each additional person. When I take my granddaughter, Grace, to Germany next year we will be staying in one of those resorts in Bavaria.
I also have another week available in my resort bank and am currently searching for yet another weeks’ stay elsewhere in Germany or even Austria & Switzerland since we will be in such close proximity anyway. Why not?
With all of the above tactics employed to keep costs down while I am travelling, I have been enjoying 3 consecutive years of very enjoyable long trips. Because I keep track of all my expenditures and make an effort to stick to my budget, I have found that I am able to maintain an average cost per person/per day of $100! If I want to travel somewhere for a month, I know I will need about $3,000 for 30 days. I can rest assured that ALL of my travel needs and expenses are covered and it’s affordable for me.
This all takes an effort of course; time spent tracking expenditures and “budgeting,” which a lot of people don’t like to bother with. It is not one of my favorite past-times either, BUT, it’s something I do regardless of whether it’s pleasurable or not. It’s kind of like doing the dishes; I don’t particularly “enjoy” that task either but it still needs to be done if I want to have clean dishes and utensils to eat with. The rewards reaped far outweigh the effort spent.
Budgeting for travel is time well spent for me and it can be for you as well. Discovering ways to minimize the costs is fun, and is a creative process in itself. I really enjoy first dreaming about a future trip somewhere, then creating that trip by budgeting for it, and finally, making it a reality by actually going on the trip I planned and budgeted for. As an additional bonus, to top it all off with a cherry, getting the opportunity to share those travels with you on this blog!
In closing, I hope you have learned something new, or perhaps that I have inspired you to dream about a trip somewhere for yourself although you never imagined it possible because of high costs. Maybe by sharing how I manage it, you can apply similar tactics to make it affordable for you to also enjoy. If there’s a will; there’s a way!
I am grateful for life’s lessons which have taught me the value of budgeting & saving; making it possible for me to reach out for dreams I once thought impossible.