Wednesday, August 22, 2007

How to (still) afford travel to Europe

Checklist, before every trip:
- passport
- Itinerary/ hotel information
- call bank to order 1000 euros
- clothes/ packing
- trial size section of local drugstore
- tell neighbor
- tell family
This plays out once every 6 months in my house. Where am I going to or rather where have I gone to?
- the sassi caves in Matera
- the trulli villages of Alberobello
- the baroque city of Leece
- the Cinque terre
- Santiago de compostela
The list is very long and getting longer every 6 months. It reads like my version of 100 places to see before I die....or my list of Unesco World Heritage sites visited.
Europe is the crown jewel of travel and it has never been easier, though made harder by the falling value of the US dollar. Back in the early 1900's and before, traveling to Europe wasn't that easy but adventuresome people still did it. Back in the days of steamships, one traveled with huge steamer trunks and servants. Francis Galton's 1892 book on the "art of travel" documented bringing along livestock for carrying the luggage and for food. English sons were sent on long trips through Europe, especially through Italy to learn the language and culture, the art and architecture, 'the Grand tour' they call it. Today we make 2 week whistle stops to at least 10 cities of Europe. Regardless of how long our trip is, today, with low cost air carriers in Europe, fast trains, practically no borders and common currency, it has never been easier to visit Europe, on a 'grand tour' or a whistle stop. What are you waiting for? How easy does it have to get? Funds or the lack of? Well, this is for you, read on....
This article has never been more timely with the US dollar falling against the major currencies of the world especially the English pound and the Euro. When I say European travel, I mean the kind where you land in an European city at the airport and you make your way through a particular section of one country or through many countries, come out in another city in another country (open jaw) and fly home. I am not referring to visiting places as a shore excursion on a cruise. I am not referring to travel where there is a bus waiting to take you places.
I am referring to independent travel, where you work out your own itinerary, book your own accommodations and our own mode of travel- to walk, take the local bus or train or boat or fly from city to city. When we think of this form of travel, we think of college students backpacking through Europe. I've seen that in Europe and I'm envious. Why should that be relegated only to the 20 something. It is something a 30 or 40 or even 50 something (like me) can do. Maybe we've never done it before and don't know how to do it. There are a myriad of guidebooks out there that teaches us how to be independent travelers. For years these guidebooks have people crisscrossing the globe and collecting information so that we can be our own travel agents. Following a guidebook for the first time can be intimidating. The best way is not to be too ambitious the first time. Work out a simple itinerary that you feel safe with and one that you can manage confidently. There will always be trepidation. I've done this for 14 times the last 7 years. I still leave on each trip with a lot angst and trepidation. I started out with a very simple itinerary and now have moved on to more complex ones. Each trip is still new to me or has new elements and the trepidation is always there. When I started I stayed at more expensive places but then the value of the US dollar was higher. My choice of accommodations has 'deteriorated', I look for the low end places such as hostels with no bathrooms en suite. You have to hike to go to the toilet or to take a shower, lock your room and bring your valuables with you if you are traveling alone. I've walked down hallways in my undies because I didn't want to put on my pants in the wet bathroom. This was at a hostel in Rome, just as a guy in the next room came out. It didn't bother me.
Mind you, when you read articles in travel magazines, when they say the room costs $300 per night, that is my allowance for a whole week. It is off putting, at that rate, no one except the super rich can travel. What about you and me, the struggling worker. Does that mean European travel or world travel is out of our reach? My friends tell me they can't travel like me anymore, meaning schlepping it but then they don't travel, period.
I have the worst case of wanderlust and so any reason to save money for a trip and during a trip is paramount.
Saving money at home
1. Be merciless about not spending
- no Starbucks coffee, drink delicious coffee in Europe.
- no eating out- wait till you get to Palermo
- no movies, write a skit of your best life, the life you really want to live (and live it).
- no glossy magazines, no People magazine, no OK magazine etc.
- write your own life story, live out loud in your own life.
- no soda (I drink tap water) I have an empty bottle that I carry tap water in.
- pack sack lunches
- no vices- no lottery tickets, cigarettes, alcohol.
- cut down on car use, whenever possible walk or take the bus (I do), a tank of gas lasts me a long time, I only drive to work and I don't need to service my car that often.
- think hard before buying anything, do without, use it up or wear it out. The sneakers I'm wearing has lasted me 4 years, I will only replace it when it is worn out. I've been known to buy a pair of new sneakers and throwing away the old pair at the store, it was that worn out!
- limit use of paper towels, use dish cloths instead.
- eat at home, cook simple meals. Sometimes I eat take out only if the portions are large and I can make 2 meals out of it.
- wherever possible don't pay anyone to entertain you, entertain and amuse yourself and each other. Theme parks visits can be expensive.
- go to the library, read your newspapers, magazines and books there and maybe use the computers there too. Some libraries loan out music and movies too.
- Reread some of your old books, read the bible, that should keep you busy for hours. Pray. I can't read anything about Tibet or Tibetans without praying a lot. These Tibetans are so religious and each time I read about them praying, I have to stop and pray too. They put us to shame.
- work more, or take up a second job.
- fix things at home, repair things yourself and be a do-it-yourselfer.
- entertain at home.
2) Saving during the trip
- use the Internet, check out travel websites.
- use guidebooks especially Let's Go, it gives cheaper accommodations that is more to our taste and always near train and bus stations.
- use bus or train services, most buses are at the same place as the train stations, not always.
- find food at a market, I eat a lot of picnic lunches, reserving the main meal to dinner, if breakfast is included with your room, load up especially on coffee, don't drink too much if your bus trip is over 1 hour, trains are ok.
- choose a room with no attached bathroom, you can save at least 20 euros a night.
- do your own laundry, when I shower I put my dirty clothes at my feet, as I lather, I stomp on my clothes and my clothes and I get washed together. Hang them in the room to dry. The only time we were not allowed to hang our clothes in the room was in a hostel in Rome. Notice said, do not hang wet clothing on furniture. You can hang them on hangers dangling from windows, be sure they are secure, I have had a skirt fly away before. In winter and spring, the radiators are usually on, they're great for drying clothes, be careful they can scorch your clothes.
- walk a lot, learn to use the metro or bus around town.
- don't eat at touristy places, walk to some blocks away.
- don't shop. I take lots of pictures, something I don't skimp on.
- write and sketch and bring home memories.
- stay with relatives. In London I have 2 aunts that I stay with.
I'm sure there are many more saving tips. These are the things I do religiously.

No comments: