Or is that Flip-Flop Travel?
We like to see other places and live different cultures (at least somewhat). We like to experience new things together. We have plenty of time. And we have a budget to watch (doesn't everyone?). Luckily, we've also discovered that there are a lot of aspects to luxury travel that we plain don't like. So what is worth spending money on, and what do we spend time and effort on instead?
- Flights: These can add up to half or more of the overall trip cost, so we spend a lot of effort to keep them as cheap as possible, adding in our (very much required) checked bags, and keeping layovers to a minimum. We definitely got spoiled living in the San Francisco bay area - three international airports to choose from meant most of our flights were direct, and on the less expensive side. Now in Albuquerque, we always have a jump to a hub, then onward. (At least our city *has* an airport! Those who live in the capital, Santa Fe, have to drive an hour as well!) One thing the flight cost affects is how long we stay somewhere - if we stay longer, the cost of the flight is amortized over more vacation; so... we stay!
- Housing: We aim for as many apartments (kitchens!) as possible. Next in line are hostels. Most of these charge extra for sheets and towels - if we have room, we bring our own (in our very much required checked bags ;-) ). Hunting for what we want and need takes a *lot* of effort, and quite a bit of plan B type thinking. Apartments to let don't have the same guarantees as hotels - and you pay in advance. Not having a concierge also means we have to research activities and make our own reservations for can't-miss-this museums, etc.
- Food: Some travel advisors say to eat at least once at a multi-star restaurant to get a taste of "the best" local food. We've done that, but we have also had great luck at little bistros; we get our taste like this, at lunch, more and more often. We also swing through the central markets and farmer's markets looking for interesting picnic supplies - these are great for day trips (plus, you get fantastic conversations with the sellers)! Most often, we look for different ingredients and cook our own! My favorite questions are: "what is this?" and "how do you prepare it?" Not only is this the way we like to eat, but it is considerably easier on the bottom line...
- Transportation: Sometimes renting a car is worth it, but if we're staying in a city center, then no. Usually, buses, metro, and trains work very well. However, sometimes research does not pan out! My Sicily research said there were hourly buses to everywhere we expected to go, but it turned out the schedules were really very inconvenient (we spent 5 hours at a sunny beach due to the bus schedule - not as fun as it sounds!)
- Tours / sightseeing: Certainly we spend some here - this is a big part of being Somewhere Else. However! Do I absolutely have to cruise the canals of Venice on a gondola (100€), or will I enjoy a vaporetto (7. 50€) just fine? I don't have to go inside every interesting-looking church; plenty, especially in Europe, have extremely interesting features outside, and many are open to the public; a few are worth paying a few euro to enter the crypt (although it has to promise something spectacular enough for me to overcome my claustrophobia). If I have a limited amount of time in a town, I do some research to find the key places (for me) to see - I know I don't care for a certain type of art, so why spend any time in that type of museum? In Italy, I would love to visit the site of ancient mosaics, but it is hard to get to; it's on the maybe-but-unlikely list, and I do a virtual visit via Google maps (yes, I love researching vacations!). I have been on guided tours, and I love them! But I also really enjoy researching a place and planning my own path - so, win-win!
- Souvenirs: We have downsized enough that I don't want a lot of extra stuff cluttering up my space (and demanding a lot of cleaning). If we get a souvenir, it has to be functional as well as evocative. One of my favorites is a string bag from France - iconic, and only a couple of euro (plus, easy to pack!) at a local grocer's. Something my brother got me into is rocks! Yes! I like beachcombing as it is, and looking for a special (small) stone to take back is very gratifying :-).
- Insurance: mainly because we don't have a lot of time constraints, and we stay a while in (nearly) each place we visit, we find that travel insurance isn't worth it. Usually, if we miss a flight (for example), we would only risk a shorter stay at a destination. In the past, we used this, and were glad we had it. If we had a tight schedule, we would definitely look harder at this.
Last year, we went to France for just over a month. Our budget broke down like this:
- 33% Flights (to and from Marseille, no other French locations)
- three legs, plus a drive to get there; exhausting!
- 12% Housing (one apartment plus 3 nights hotel)
- we got an amazing deal on a small apartment on the beach!
- 14% Transportation (car rental plus a few trams, trains, buses)
- we needed a car because of where we stayed; after that, it made sense (for 2 of us) to drive to sites
- 21% Food
- no fancy dinners, a lot of picnics, and a few lunches out
- 4% Sightseeing
- a lot of walking tours
- 10% Unexpected (car damage, replacement passport)
- ack! This really cut into our touring time (that hurt the most)
- see, now insurance would have helped, but really only to a break-even point
- 6% Misc
This year, our budget for 6 weeks of Italy (+) was:
- 49% Flights (California, Stockholm, Florence, and Sicily)
- a lot of effort, but we flew a *lot!*
- 21% Housing (two apartments, 1 night hotel, 3 nights hostel)
- also a lot of effort
- 9% Transportation (no car rental; trams, trains, buses)
- we actually did hitch rides with friends that rented a car for part of the time; we probably would have rented one in advance if we had known about the poor bus/train schedules in Sicily
- we could have trained between some places, but flew instead
- this is higher that it would normally be due to long-distance day trips from Florence
- 17% Food
- this was a pleasant effort :-) with lots of cooking and street food
- Stockholm was significantly more expensive than Sicily, and we weren't there long enough to cook our own
- 2% Sightseeing
- we paid a bit extra to make sure we could visit Florence museums when we expected to (Uffizi and Accademia)
- 0% Unexpected (yay!)
- 2% Misc