August 23, 2016

How I Travel: How Much Does It Cost?

How do I afford to travel as much as it seems like I do? It's all about my baselines. This post outlines how much I am willing to spend, and, at the end, you can see some of my real trip financial statistics. 

So, how much do I spend on every trip?

In short: not very much.

I have always lived by the principle that my finances determine my travels - and I have applied that to every area of my life, not just traveling.

Yes, this could be a "How I Live" post rather than "How I Travel." Apply it however you like!

It's all about my max limit: what I am willing to spend. If some part of a trip is more expensive than my max, I change something. The change could be the destination, the trip dates, where to sleep, or even not to go at all.

Moreover, there are several areas of our lives where we have cut back extensively and hardly spend anything at all. Since becoming Americans abroad in 2011, we have gone to the movie theater on average once a year, spend no more than $250 per year (that is the combined total for both my husband and me, and includes everything from winter coats and boots to socks and underwear) on clothing, and altogether absorbed our "gift" budget into the travel line. We cut each other's hair for free, we only download free apps, and we haven't had a monthly cell phone bill in five years.

Those have been our choices. But our "chances" have been the fact that we haven't had to pay rent or regular bills since our second year of marriage. We have had such low-paying coaching jobs that our housing and utilities have usually been thrown into the contract to make the agreement more reasonable. Add this to my accidentally amazing habit of treating credit cards like debit cards, and we have never been in debt.

These chances help us a ton!

The biggest dents to our budget? Sushi and sending postcards.

Let's get to it: how much do I spend on my trips?

1. Transport max prices
Transatlantic round-trip flights: 800 USD
Domestic round-trip flights: 200 USD
Trains one-way: 40 USD
Buses one-way: 25 USD 
Car rentals per day: 20 USD

2. Lodging max prices
Hostels shared rooms per night: 30 USD
AirBnB entire homes per night: 60 USD
Hotels per night: 80 USD (probably why we never stay at hotels!)

3. Food max prices
(Here's the thing about food: you're going to eat no matter if you're at your house or out and about. Because we normally end up staying in places with kitchens, we just buy groceries for breakfasts and dinners and eat out at lunch.)
Groceries per week: 50 USD 
Restaurant dinner per person: 30 USD

4. Finding the shortcuts
-Traveling somewhere I can stay for free with friends.
-Being flexible with travel dates at least three days before or after.
-Researching every mode of transportation to decide what is the most cost-effective and time-efficient.
-Exploring the places that are around my home base.
-Saying, "YES," to as many spontaneous invitations as possible!!!

You may have a similar or dissimilar max price list. The most important thing to realize is we almost never max out every budget line of a trip. If the plane tickets are a good deal, then our lodging budget can linger in the max range. In Berlin, my trip was so cheap (see below), I ate like a queen the whole weekend! I knew I could fly to Morocco, Norway, and Sweden in 2015 because I had free places to stay.

My Real Trip Stats from Last Year: Transport & Lodging

Glasgow, Scotland: 44 USD
3 nights for 40 USD (+180 USD AirBnB discount), 4 USD bus from Edinburgh

Wassenaar, Netherlands: 190 USD
6 nights for free, 190 USD flight from Glasgow
(I get paid to go there to work a volleyball camp. Super free.)

Madrid, Spain: 362 USD
7 nights for 242 USD, 120 USD round trip flights

Berlin, Germany: 75 USD
3 nights for 35 USD, 40 USD round trip buses

Milan, Italy: 165 USD
3 nights for 90 USD, 75 USD round trip flights

Vienna, Austria: 40 USD
5 nights for free, 40 USD one-way trains
(Marc had a basketball tournament there, and I met them there then returned home with the team.)

Ljubljana, Slovenia: 99 USD
3 nights for 39 USD, 60 USD for combination of round trip trains and buses

Prague, Czech Republic: 85 USD
2 nights for 40 USD, 45 USD for round trip buses

Paris, France: 75 USD
25 nights for free (I have lots of friends!!), 75 USD round trip flights

Algarve, Portugal: 550 USD
13 nights for 400 USD, 150 USD round trip flights

Florence, Italy: 75 USD
2 nights for free, 75 USD round trip flights

One year of amazing adventures in several countries (thank you, Europe!) for approximately 1760 USD. Even with the largest costs of our two major trips to Spain and Portugal, I floated around the continent for less cost than most people will spend on their two week European tour.

For seventy-two nights away from home, the average nightly cost was only 12.31 USD - nowhere near my max limit. I averaged 114 USD on round trip airfare and 38 USD when I took trains or buses.

I don't start the year with these crazy ideas about how to go to as many places as possible. I know when my free weekends are in advance, and I do some cursory research to see if any place is affordable at the right time. If it's not, I don't go!

Where will I go this year?

Probably Spain and Portugal. Gotta get to Paris and the French volleyball tournament in Annecy in the spring. Would love to go to Denmark and Sweden next summer. After those general ideas, it'll be whatever places and prices match up the best, IF they do at all.

The best thing about being an expat is that even if we wouldn't get to fly anywhere this year, we live in Europe. And that means everyday feels like an adventure - for free!