People always tell us: I could never do that! And I just don’t understand it.
We tell people that we are going on vacation abroad and they look at us from the corner of their eye while saying things like:
“We just don’t have that kind of money” ⠀
“I can’t take time off”⠀
“I’ve always dreamed of going, but I just don’t know if I could plan such a big trip” ⠀
And I get why you might believe these things, but they’re not true! At least for the great majority of us.
So, while this is by no means an exhaustive list of tips and tricks, Josué (my husband and biz partner) and I are taking some time on this post to share some of our favorite strategies for taking the trips that have made our relationship come alive with excitement and adventure (without breaking the bank)!
Are you ready?
Okay, first things first: THE MONEY MYTH
Now I say “myth” respectfully, because I realize for some people, gathering the funds is more challenging than for others. But most of you reading this can make marginal shifts in your day to day life that would allow you to save money, not just for travel, but for a debt-free life! (But, we will chat about that in a different post)
Our last trip to Paris for one week cost us $2,500 including airfare for two, lodging, transportation, food, tourist spot entrances, souvenirs and even a snazzy photoshoot! And there are definitely ways to reduce this even further, especially if you go to a lesser known town, the outskirts of a city or a rural countryside for an equally enchanting and somewhat more relaxing trip.
The first step to reaching this goal is creating margin between your earnings and expenses.
Don’t check out here! This is important!!
An important rule of thumb is not spending everything you earn!
If you’re looking to create margin, here are some ideas to start:
Ideas to cut spending:
- Make your coffee at home. ($5 a day for every working day of the year is already $1,305)
- Eat from your groceries instead of drive-thru, including lunch!
- Reduce your energy costs (e.g. watch your a/c use, turn off unnecessary lights, switch to energy efficient lightbulbs, reduce oven use, less loads of laundry, etc.)
- Get creative with date night/family night “in”
- Get rid of subscriptions you barely use. (That includes that gym membership you don’t use. You can work out at home!)
Ideas to make extra cash:
- Have a garage sale!
- Freelance your skills in your down time (e.g. www.upwork.com, www.fiverr.com)
- Re-sell your gently used clothes online (e.g. Poshmark, Plato’s Closet)
- Rent out your belongings! (e.g. equipment, gowns)
- Sell crafts (e.g Etsy)
- Rent out a room in your property (e.g. Airbnb)
THE TIME MYTH
For the great majority of destinations, one week is more than enough to explore and rest, equally. While the state of Florida does not require employers to provide vacation benefits to employees, whether paid or unpaid, if you work a regular 9-5, odds are you have some days off. If your time is paid, you are in a good position since you will not be spending your usual lifestyle expenditures while you’re away. However, if your time is not paid, it just takes a little extra planning. Make your year-long savings goals to include your income for the week off.
If you do not work a 9-5 and have more of a 24-7 job (a.k.a. Stay at home parents or solopreneurs). Taking time off is about:
1. Community– a “village” of people you do life with that have gained your trust and friendship in order to support you by babysitting, house sitting or pet sitting.
2. Resources & Systems– programs such as day care, extended care or in-home nannies to work in tandem with your community. A team of seasonal or permanent team members that help you run your business while you’re away. Automation that makes operating your business easy, without you staring at your screen.
3. Priorities– At the end of the day, time is the only commodity you cannot earn or gain. You can only prioritize and steward it well. If your priority is cultivating your marriage or even want to take the kiddos with you to explore and learn about our world, you must make a decision to prioritize it against all odds.
THE FEAR OF THE UNKNOWN
Finally, you’ve saved all year and prioritized your time. Now it’s time for the juicy details for making the most out of your money and your time.
We love Scott’s Cheap Flights! They send us weekly emails with alerts to unusually inexpensive flights for anywhere in the world at any given time.
If you’re not attached to where you want to go and are simply up for adventure, this is an awesome tool. If you are fixated on where to travel to, find out when the “off-seasons” are for your destination and search Google Flights for those months.
Take note: they are “off-seasons” for a reason. Most of the time it’s simply not ideal weather. A little pre-planning when packing or booking excursions will go a long way for this. We went to Paris in the rainy season and only used our umbrella once. Don’t let that scare you!
We are big fans of Airbnb! We love it because you get a more authentic experience in the heart of places where the people of that town/city really live. That advantage, in turn, exposes you to the best hidden gems in terms of food, entertainment and ambience overall. Add to that that Airbnb is relatively inexpensive in comparison to most hotels and you get a much more personalized experience if you filter for “superhosts” when searching.
Some tips when choosing your Airbnb:
- Filters are your friend! Don’t fall in love with homes outside of your budget by not putting parameters on your search.
- Always book places with a kitchen! We will explain later how being able to cook your own meals will make a big impact on your budget.
- Don’t stop at the first page of results! There may be hidden gems that aren’t as popular on later pages.
- Read everything that the host provides, which often includes valuable information such as how much Uber’s are to popular locations, whether kitchen utensils are available, whether they live onsite and have pets on the property, or if they have other equipment for rent such as bikes or scooters!
- Look at all the pictures for the listing. As a general rule of thumb, the listings that begin with pictures of the surrounding areas have poor properties versus those that start by showing you the inside of the home.
- Read multiple reviews! Look for reoccurring comments among guests, especially for recent stays.
European cities have excellent public transportation systems that are often quite affordable!! If you are purchasing train tickets that are viable for several days, they often need to have your signature and photo attached. In order to avoid fines or penalties, make sure you take your picture in the available, nearby photo booths to attach to passes. We purchased passes that had unlimited rides for both the train system and the bus system for one week. This allowed us to roam the city without being concerned for renewals. Take note, that the weekly passes expire on Sundays, regardless of when they were purchased. Just make sure you plan according to station/bus stop operating hours.
Uber rides are sometimes convenient, particularly for getting to and from the airport with luggage. However, generally speaking, Uber is more expensive abroad and we recommend you avoid relying solely on it for the entirety of your vacation. Schedule your ride the day before you will need it, since the price could vary drastically. We like using our Amex points for gift cards, among them are Uber cards. But be sure to read the fine print or make a few client service calls to make sure gift cards can be applied in the country you are headed to.
Most importantly, get ready to WALK…a lot! If you’re like us, coming from Florida, you get everywhere you’re going by car. So, get ready to get your steps in while you’re in a city like Paris. This is actually great because you get to absorb more of what’s happening in the streets such as sidewalk musicians!
Car rentals– we have not found it to be worth it to rent a car abroad for several reasons:
- You underestimate how different driving styles and road rules can be in a different country
- Public transportation is usually quicker and less prone to delays (e.g. traffic, weather, etc.) which really only serve to alter your plans
- You’re not on vacation to: drive, to get lost, stressed, etc., my friend.
I realize not everyone considers cooking a part of a relaxing, vacation experience. But, for us, cooking is an integral part of immersing ourselves in the culture of the country and making even a short period of time somewhere else, feel like home! Granted, we don’t cook every meal abroad but we certainly try to make at least one, sometimes two, of our daily meals ourselves. That leaves room for a balance in budget and experience.
We shop at local markets where you can still get a taste of local food without dining out at restaurants. Almost all of our breakfasts are at home since that paces our mornings to feel less rushed to get out the door. But in a place like Paris or Italy, bakeries line the streets and you can always grab pastries to go.
Our lunches are almost always out since we are exploring the city during the day. We plan for half of our dinners at local hole-in-the-wall spots and one very nice fine dining experience. The rest of the dinners are at “home”.
We choose places based on recommendations by our Airbnb hosts, people in town or extensive online research before arriving.
Making an itinerary ahead of time will position you to look for nearby places to where you will be at any given time so you never make a sudden “hungry” (and expensive) last-minute decision.
Suggesting places where to go depends on whether you are adventurous, want to hit all the touristy spots, want to see hidden treasures, have physical limitations, want a more relaxed schedule, among other considerations.
So I will just say this:
- Decide together how much activity you want to have. Having different, un-communicated expectations for your time off is the easiest way to have a bad vacation.
- Make a long list of ideas
- Narrow down to up to 3 main activities per day
- Create a schedule that groups these activities in trios based on proximity to one another, time it takes to navigate the activity and level of energy exertion. (Aka don’t group all the walking experiences in one day or all the museums in one day etc)
- Have a backup plan ALWAYS! The weather can change. There can be unexpected closures or maintenance issues. There can even be political restrictions (e.g. strikes). Always have a plan B so your time is not wasted and you are not disappointed.
And if you need a photographer in Paris, connect with our friends Olga and Kirill on Instagram @Paris_OKPhoto or book them directly at www.okphotoparis.com
We had a mini session with them at Trocadero for our anniversary and it was affordable and absolutely breathtaking. Not to mention they are experts in town and recommended an awesome jazz club we LOVED in the Latin Quarter called “Le Caveau de la Huchette”.
Clearly, I can talk you up to any trip. But I really hope, more than anything, that this inspired you to at least begin to consider your options as you think about your next vacation. It IS possible! It just takes a little bit of intentional planning and you can start scratching countries off your bucket list next year!