Anyone who knows me well knows that budgeting is not my thing. So when I travel, I tend to go in with the following game plan: Live like a queen for the days that I am out of town and then, when I get back, work overtime and only eat soup until I replenish my savings. With that in my mind, I thought that this blog post about my trip to Austin, Texas, would be the perfect opportunity to attempt conscientiousness with my travel spending. Having friends to stay with for free was an awesome way to start my new thrifty ways!
My fiancé Sean and I both subscribe to Scott’s Cheap Flights, a service that sends email alerts about flight deals. We didn’t end up using a flight deal from the service, but the emails helped to spark ideas for traveling and give a baseline on the average flight cost to certain areas. Because I work for a public school, I can only take long vacations over holidays. When we found an affordable flight to Beijing ($100 under the average cost) scheduled over Thanksgiving, we had to jump on it. We added Hong Kong to the itinerary for a few hundred more dollars. We spent $762.65 per person for the flights through JetBlue and its affiliates, Hainan and Hong Kong Airlines, which included two free checked bags and several meals. On the flight back, we ended up having to pay $15 each to sit together since our flight was changed and we didn’t know that we needed to re-assign our seats.
To visit China for more than three days as a U.S. citizen, you need a special visa, which you obtain by visiting the Chinese consulate in New York. Sean’s brother Dan lives in New York and went to pick these visas up for us, which cost $200 per person. The visas allow for multiple entries and last for 10 years; we are already planning a trip back!
I live in Washington, D.C., and my best friend from college lives in Chicago. Since we graduated, we’ve alternated between me flying to Chicago and her flying to D.C. to stay with her parents in suburban Maryland, but this fall we thought we’d try something new — a joint trip to a different city. For some reason, we chose the most expensive city possible: San Francisco.
It wasn’t until Alicia texted me in July that Megabus had uploaded its fall schedule, with plenty of $1 rides available, that I booked my trip for Sept. 22 to Sept. 24. Finally, I wouldn’t have to pay $50 or $60 for two crappy bus rides. Although I had scheduled the trip to visit my friends who stayed in Washington, D.C., after graduation (hypothetically), it was mostly for the $1 bus ride from New York to Union Station.
I recently traveled to Chicago for Riotfest with my boyfriend, which was a fantastic three-day punk, indie and ska music festival, but the overpriced nature of music festivals was certainly a struggle. Here’s how we spent while we were there.
A day late and a euro short is a good way to sum up my trip to Europe.
OK, OK, it wasn’t so bad, but I’m only sitting down to write this now, two weeks after my plane touched the Philly tarmac and my credit card bill is still more than I would like it to be.
I traveled throughout Switzerland, Germany and France for 15 days from Aug. 26 to Sept. 10. I made stops in Basel, Munich, Berlin, Paris and Bayeux, exploring, shopping, EATING!, and connecting with old friends. Even though I’m not pleased with my lack of budgeting (I made a valiant effort for the first week), I wouldn’t trade the experiences I had for the world.
In general, my plan was to:
- Only spend 25€ a day on food
- Stick to a rough budget of 50€ a day on “stuff” (activities, shopping, etc.)
- Chill out, it’s vacation! Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do, and pay the credit card bill later.
I had already paid about 500€ for my lodging and transportation, so that didn’t really factor in too much to my budgeting. My plane was paid since I had to work in Switzerland at the front of the trip, but I had to pay fees to reschedule my personal vacation to accommodate the work trip. Those ended up being about 400€, so I just told myself to pretend that was the flight cost. Which would have been a real steal.
I opened up a Bank of America Travel card for this trip. I don’t have international transaction fees, and I gain points that I can put toward my travel purchases! I ended up making back about $150 using this card. No yearly fees either. I also have an American Airlines account, so I’m racking up those miles.
The trip was so long, I’m going to break up my wins and losses by city.
- Spending Win: I really enjoyed my trip to the Vitra Museum. I bought a day pass and I got to see really beautiful industrial design and a room full of the most important chairs from the past 200 years.
- Spending Loss: Everything in Switzerland was insanely expensive. I was blowing my budget by 10€ a day. Thankfully, I was only there for a few days, but jeez. Two plates of melted cheese, some pickles and a beer cost me 50€! Yeah, that was dumb.
- Spending Win: I loved my hostel. It was cheap, clean, and a nice mix of social and quiet. Wombats was great; I would totally recommend. I bought Birkenstocks in Munich! This was an expense I had been planning for, so absolutely no guilt here. Also, I visited Dachau concentration camp. Museums and historical sites are always going to be worth the money for me.
- Spending Loss: I wasn’t planning on buying bras abroad, but I absolutely had to. After a week of wearing my old ill-fitting bras for 12 hours a day, I needed support. I was dying. But my lack of planning cost me about 150€ for the good French bras that fit me. To explain further, I am a little person with big boobs and I will splurge on bras that actually fit. I didn’t feel bad about needing bras but I would have preferred to buy them in another month where I’m not already dropping massive amounts of money.
- Spending Win: I lived in Berlin for six months a few years ago, so I had friends in the area. Friends mean couches and couches mean not needing to pay for lodging. Woo!
- Spending Loss: Similar to the bras, I didn’t think about how Europe is rainy and cold even in the dead of summer. So I had to go on a hunt for a raincoat (in the rain). I ended up buying a Marmot coat that I was happy with for 100€. Cha-ching.
- Spending Win: I had a great meal with my friend that we cooked ourselves using vegetables from a veg stand. We ended up paying about 2€ for a bunch of carrots, potatoes and onions. So cheap!
- Spending Loss: I bought too many metro tickets. It was only a loss of 10€ but I felt silly. I gave them to my friend as a parting gift.
- Spending Win: I splurged on a hotel that was super fancy because I wasn’t impressed with any of the hostel options in Bayeux. It was the off season so I got a suite for 100€ a night. For reference, the hostels were 30€. Definitely a treat-yo-self moment, but I loved the bath and I felt refreshed after a few days in a grimy Paris hostel. Also, I got a delicious three-course meal for 25€. I accidentally ordered two courses of cheese, but damn. So good.
- Spending Loss: I bought Vans before I left for the trip, thinking they would last the whole thing. Nope. On my D-Day tour, it started pouring. That’s when I noticed there were holes in the top of the shoes and you could see my wet-socked toes poking through. They were the only walking shoes I brought, so in a panic I bought 50€ off-brand sneakers from a store on Bayeux’s main street. I’m not happy with them; they’re uncomfortable and I probably won’t wear them much here. A total spend of desperation.
I spent about $2,900, which is about $400 more than my budget. Ah well. C’est la vie. I’ve paid off about $2,500 using savings, so I’ll just have a credit card balance for a month or two. I’m not happy about it, but it’s manageable. Frankly, it was worth it.
- Jemma 🦄
My weekend trip to Montreal felt more like a brief stint in France. From the French architecture to the actual language spoken, the seven-hour drive could have just as well been a seven-hour flight. Of course, the accent is different -- my friend Carly had spent a year in the south of France and was surprised to learn French-Canadian words that were dialect specific -- and people spoke English, but Montreal felt foreign.