So, bad news for me, y’all — I have the travel bug like crazy but no trip on the near horizon! The Detroit Crew is planning a trip this year, but our next (hopefully!) planned one isn’t for over a year, so I’m going to console myself with pretending I’m in the middle of planning a trip. Wanna come along? A smooth trip takes a lot of planning time up front, but totally pays off once the trip rolls around. (Plus anticipation is half the fun! Well, ok, maybe not half. But it’s not insignificant.)
First up: budget! We’re all planners and budgeters over here, but for a long time (before my first trip) I didn’t have the slightest clue about how and what to budget for a European trip. It made it feel inaccessible to me because I didn’t know what I was getting into. Maybe I’m looking in the wrong places, but I haven’t seen actual dollar cost broken down a lot. So today I’m going to break down how we travel, ways we economize (and ways we don’t!), and then actual dollar amounts of how much we spend/budget.
General overview of how we travel: we are “fat budget” travelers (yes, totally made that term up). What I mean by that is we are not staying in hostels (mostly. The Detroit crew has done it. The Louisiana Krewe draws the line, ha!), but neither are we staying in fancy hotels. Or usually hotels at all. We go for clean, comfortable, safe, rooms that are reasonably close to what we’re doing but may be a little basic. We eat out some, but not every meal. We only do one sit-down meal a day (more on that later), but if we’re in Italy we don’t skimp on gelato, and when in France we don’t pass up a patisserie. Ever. We are flexible and shop for a great deal on flights, but may sacrifice some convenience. It’s a constant balance. Bottom line is we try to spend our money on things that really matter to us, so it goes further!
General ways we economize: it’s way cheaper to split lodging with other family or friends, even if you have to get bigger rooms because of it. So we try to travel together. Usually planning ahead for trains and other transportation results in cheaper tickets too. I’ve already mentioned eating on the cheap. Flexibility in travel times helps too (also more to come, but the more kids I’m traveling with the more I’m willing to pay for good travel times…sanity, people, sanity.).
Ok, so time to talk turkey! Our last trip to France, for two adults, a child, and a baby, cost about $3500 for two weeks. It’s a rough number because we were splitting some lodging and transportation costs with my father, but I added up receipts and it’s close to accurate. We got a deal for airline tickets, and with a some flexibility (i.e. less than ideal flight times) paid $1,750ish for the four of us to fly to Paris. (3 x $500 each, plus another $150ish for fees for the baby, plus a hotel on the way back to catch a flight the next day. Even lap babies aren’t totally free on an international flight.) We then paid just over $400 to rent a car for 10 days, plus gas and tolls; train tickets may be cheaper or comparable, depending where you’re going. Lodging was the second largest expense. We paid an average of $130 a night (keep in mind some of this was the total cost for 3 adults and 2 children). This will vary too, of course, depending on how big a city it is and how close in you are. (More on this to come also.) Food and tickets made up the rest of our budget. (If you’re doing the math, yes, I know it’s not adding up. We split some of the traveling and lodging costs with my father and I don’t have that amount written down any more! Sorry…)
In our experience thus far, bringing small children along for the trip doesn’t add a great deal more expense (other than the plane tickets). A couple doing “fat budget” could totally get by on $3,000 for a couple of weeks, especially if traveling with another couple. A family of say, 5, should be able to get by on about $5,000-$6000 for food, transportation, and lodging. Activities would probably be additional (not including that in the budget because it varies so wildly from city to city and person to person.) Plus, in my book, if you’re taking a two week trip, you can take half your regular monthly food and transportation budget and apply it to the trip for “free”, because you’d be spending that at home anyway. Generally speaking, whatever you’d spend on a trip in the States is what you’ll spend in Europe; only the plane tickets are more. Plan your personal spending preferences accordingly.
There are so so many variables when it comes to budget, and I’ll be breaking it down a little more in future posts as well as we talk about each step in the process, but there’s a starting point. Anybody else care to share some budget thoughts? Anything else in particular you’d like to see covered?
Next up– picking destinations and booking flights!