Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Our Road Trip: The Costs

There's a big elephant in the room of travel blogging and its pockets are stuffed with cash.

If there is one thing that it is easy to avoid writing about, it's the cost of travelling. If you're like me and you read travel blogs, or even just look at your friends' vacation photos on Facebook, you've probably wondered 'how much does that cost?! how do they afford that?'

After your response to the question we posed to you last year - would you like to know what our road trip cost? - we decided to pull together some numbers for you.

Let me start by saying we know how incredibly lucky we are to be able to travel like this. Heck, these days you're even lucky if you have a job, can pay you bills, and feed your family. The fact that we get to explore a little bit of the world is an incredible opportunity; one that we do not take for granted.

We hope you find our numbers useful in planning your next dream vacation. At the very least, they might give you something rough to work with - a number to plaster on your piggy bank - as the first step in achieving your travel goals.

Since we live in Malta, we use Euros in our daily budgeting. You can find exchange rates for USD and CAD (as of August 2012, when we booked and paid for our trip) below.

In comparison, 13-17 day Gap Adventure tours in Western Europe cost €2,300-€2,900 per person.

Where we saved:
  • We are very grateful to Go with Oh and All-Paris-Apartments.com for sponsoring us in Paris, where we stayed for three nights in a fabulous artist's studio, free of charge. Thank you once again to Go with Oh, and to all of you who helped us win runners-up in their contest last Spring.
  • We booked hotels with free Wi-Fi and parking, wherever possible.
  • We researched free public parking and affordable private parking options before leaving.
  • We rented the smallest class of car available, which had good fuel mileage, saving us money on gas/petrol.
  • We parked outside of the city of London at a friend's flat, avoiding big parking fees (€35-€50/night at most hotels in London) and the €10 inner city congestion fee.
  • We researched museums with free admission beforehand (e.g. many of London's museums are free) and took advantage of our EU resident status to get discounted and free museum admission.
  • We purchased wine at supermarkets and saved by not ordering that extra glass at a restaurant or cafe - instead we would take our bottle and some plastic cups to a park, or back to our hotel if it had a terrace or dining area.
  • It was cheaper for us to take our rental car on the ferry from Calais, France to Dover, United Kingdom, rather than the train. So we did.
  • Following the implementation of new EU legislation, our roaming charges are now considerably less when travelling throughout Europe. However, if you do not have a European cell/mobile phone, but your cell/mobile phone is unlocked (tip: you can purchase factory unlocked iPhones directly from Apple!) you can purchase pay-as-you-go talk time and data from mobile carriers across Europe. This saves big time on roaming fees. We did this before the fair-fee legislation came into place, and now have SIM cards for France, Germany, Italy, the UK, Greece and Spain!
  • We set ourselves a strict €50/day food budget, and followed it. To save money we purchased staples - bread, crackers, olives, sun dried tomatoes, cheese, fruit, cherry tomatoes, wine, juice, and water - at grocery stores. In the end we actually came in under budget at €40/day. That's €20/person per day - no small feat!
  • When time permitted, we used our Tom Tom for Western Europe app for iPhone to route us through no-toll zones (although this often added hours of driving on to our trip and wasn't always practical). Although Tom Tom is an expensive app, it doesn't require data or a WiFi connection.
Where we splurged:
  • Driving was both a splurge and a savings. Our total car related costs - including rental fee, parking, tolls, and gas for 17 days - came to €1,125. In comparison, a 5 country 15 day Eurorail pass costs €500/youth or €770/adult + booking fees + public transportation costs to get to and from your hotel.
  • While we tried to keep our hotel budget under €100 a night, it is certainly possible to stay in hostels throughout Europe and spend €15-€50 per person per night. When you're travelling as a pair it's often cheaper to stay in hotels than pay the per person hostel fee.
  • We splurged on tickets to The Phantom of the Opera: £23 each (but booked the cheapeast seats in the house.)
  • We splurged on tickets to the Damien Hirst restrospective - £13 each - at the Tate Modern, but justified it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
  • We purchased the Tom Tom for Western Europe app for iPhone ($89.99) to eliminate the stress, fighting, and wasted hours that is navigating the old fashion way (hard copy maps).
  • We each checked a bag with Ryanair (we usually travel carry-on) and checked an additional third bag on the way home, since we did a little shopping (new rollerblades!) during our trip. 

Questions? Ideas? Tips for budget travelling?

What do you think is worth splurging on, and where do you save?

Comment below!

- Jess

29 comments :

  1. First of all, I'm really impressed with the info-graphic! What are you using to create it?

    You are completely right - most of us don't want to talk money and I admire you for putting it out there. It will certainly help others as they are planning even just as a rough guide as what to expect. I'm terrible with budget. In fact, we rarely ever draft a complete budget before travelling but I suppose we're fortunate enough to be in a financial situation that allows that. We also often pay for things like flights & hotel a head of time which spaces the expenses out and perhaps not such a big hit all at once.

    Our splurges often include food & hotel. I love going for nice meals so we usually do that at least once on a weekend away and more sporadic if we are travelling for a longer period. It's similar for the hotel - occasionally we splurge a little - but it depends on the location and the entire purpose of the trip. When we're somewhere for a shorter period of time, we'll pay a bit more to be semi-close to what we hope to see in order to cut down on transit time. Some trips, spending a little more gets you a lot more whereas others, it hardly makes a difference so we play it by ear and I research out all of the options.

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    1. Just Photoshop!

      Food and hotel are also my top things to splurge on, while Mike prefers to splurge on things like tours and adventure-activities :)

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  2. This is amazing and super helpful! This must have taken a lot of time. Fantastic job!!!!

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  3. We almost always used Travelzoo, Dealchecker, Hotels,com, AirBnB, latebookings, or other holiday apartment letting sites to book our hotels, and we rarely spent more than €65 per night. We did splurge once in London and stayed on Tower Hill for £105/night, but another time we stayed (by Russell Square) for £45/night. It was February, though, so not a big tourist season.
    I also rarely booked our hotels more than two months in advance (unless we were travelling during a school holiday, although we generally avoided that), preferring to wait for the discount sites to get deals. I just checked sites at different times for flights, booking whenever it seemed lower than usual.
    I do agree with buying basics at a grocery store, but we also ate out regularly- just off the main tourist paths. Local food and beer is a huge part of the experience, and you can't get the best of that from a grocery store if you don't know how to cook it yourself!
    We're big on history stuff, so I always looked for city passes/cards or holiday memberships and would compare their discounts/included sites with our "must see" list- if it made financial sense, we bought it. That saved us a ton of money in Venice, particularly, plus we got to tour the Clock which is a limited opportunity.
    Great tally-up, though, and your trip sounds like it was loads of fun!

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    1. Thanks for the tips! Do you use any last-minute discount sites in Europe? I have trouble finding them.

      And I definitely agree with balancing grocery store food and eating out - we only really ate grocery food on the road (when the alternative wasn't that 'authentic' or delicious) or in cities we had already been to.

      Love city passes!

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    2. Dealchecker is a UK-based site (we lived in England) and Travelzoo has sites based in several countries, but even the US and UK sites will sometimes show deals for hotels or activities in other countries. It takes some online "footwork", but deals can be found! I signed up for several weekly deal emails, and we got a great deal on a 3-day break to Budapest through Broadway Travel. We stayed in a 5* hotel on the edge of Plaka, across the street from the Olympieion (that had a huge, amazing breakfast included!) for stay-3-nights-get-1-free. Given that we were expecting to pay a bit more for safety purposes in Athens (we went during a period of EXTRA unrest, when the US was being protested some), it ended up being a good deal- and it was through Hotels.com! Latebookings works in Europe, too, as does AirBnB- all of my travel advice in my previous comment is from Europe!

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  4. love this breakdown. thanks for sharing! when my friends come we're doing 10 days of travel and already calculating how much we've already saved/spent haha

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    1. Haha it can drive you crazy to keep track, but it's also sort of fun :)

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  5. This is such a useful post! I haven't done a lot of traveling since college and I wasn't a very successful budgeter then, so I will definitely keep this in mind for our next trip!

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  6. This is a great, realistic breakdown. It's always interesting to see. I'm curious: how did you find driving in Europe? Being in the back of a car (taxi and that of a friend) a couple times in Germany was enough to make my husband swear he'd never drive it. But a road trip sounds fantastic

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    1. I don't drive in Europe, but Mike does both here in Malta and when we travel. He's a superb driver, and easily adapts between driving on the left or right side of the road (a lot of the time while driving our British (right-side drive) standard stick-shift car. But I definitely never could!

      However, driving definitely varies by country and rural vs. urban. Rural France was easy driving, but driving in Paris? Not so much.

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  7. Having been a Travel Agent eons ago, I was really impressed with your trip and the pictures and commentary you'd posted. But seeing this last entry and the breakdown and how well you did, it's amazing.
    Thanks for taking the time to do it for us all and more so making it so fun to read every time you did post.

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    1. That's so kind of you, thanks Donna! Thank you for reading :)

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  8. This is absolutely amazing Jess and so so helpful! It's nice to know what to expect to spend on accommodation etc if we ever make a trip to Europe (which I'm sure we will). I had big plans of writing down everything we spent in Namibia, and I think it only lasted for about a day. haha.

    xxx
    Jenna

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    1. Thanks Jenna! It can definitely drive you crazy to keep track of every single expense, I don't blame you for giving up on it! It can also take away the fun of travel, so we just sat at a cafe everyday and made a quick tally of expenses, in an effort to make it less depressing :)

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  9. I love that you did this! You're so right - it's so rare to see a post like this with costs broken down but it's so, so important!! I'm going to be in Europe all summer so something like this will definitely have to happen. I think my bank account will appreciate it :)

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    1. So exciting for you! Can't wait to see how your European summer turns out.

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  10. This is amazing! We totally agree with the traveling and the expenses. How do people afford all of that?! Well thanks for the break down. We are in hopes of taking a few big trips out of the country like this. New followers here! Thanks so much for sharing! Xo, M&K at brewedtogether.com

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  11. What a great breakdown! I always try and track expenses but eventually get tired and stressed about it while traveling. This will be really good for me to share with everyone who inquires!

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  12. Wow!! I really love this detailed review and your road trip sounds AMAZING. I also blog about travel and sometimes wonder how much about costs I should include. Usually if I get a great deal on airfare I'll let people know, but I'm thinking I should be a lot more transparent about how much I pay for everything in general. I discovered your blog through Jay's Norway blog not too long ago -- I love it and definitely will be coming back on a regular basis! Adding you to my blog roll right now!

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    1. Thanks for reading Oneika! I hope you'll enjoy following along :)

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  13. Jess, what a great trip... dig those honeycomb windows to the right of each section in the list. Very helpful and well designed outline. Thanks!

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  14. Great overview! That's mostly how I plan my holidays too. There are some things I will happily splurge on (for me, that's a nice hotel because I am a terrible sleeper) and others that I will try to avoid (e.g. going out to restaurants). In fact, I wrote a post about some money-saving tips when traveling through Europe just this week.

    I love that you're keeping it real by telling your readers about the costs =) And that layout is a blogger's dream come true!

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    1. Thank you! Sometimes a good night's sleep is worth splurging on :)

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  15. Okay, this was amazing. I usually think of budgets as ugly things with lots of numbers, but this is straight up gorgeous. I'm impressed that you were able to keep your hotel costs under 100 euro a night. We went to Spain last year, and even in the off season, this was a bit of a challenge. So glad that I found your blog!

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