Today is Day 113 of our 176 day trip from Haliburton to Seoul. This means we’re just 4 days away from the 2/3 point in this adventure. While Paris seems a very long time ago, we can hardly believe we’re just one week away from flying to Asia for Christmas with the Brandons. When we started, Vietnam seemed so very far away, both in time and distance. Now, we’re almost there. (Although it is still 16 flying hours away…)
As you may recall, our two daily budget targets are $100 for accommodation and $200 for everything else. As you can imagine, we’re had cheaper days and more expensive days. We’ve had a few small surprises, but nothing catastrophic (touch wood). Last night, George and I looked back over the past 16 weeks to tally up the numbers, and basically it’s good news.
As it turns out, the Accommodation Budget can be calculated until the end of December, as everything is pre-booked. Please note we had 11 nights of free accommodation in Belgium and Holland, and Grandpa John was very generous while he was with Ursula and the kids. Taken together, these factors skew costs down for the first 3 months. Having said that, here are the numbers.
Month Budget Actual Surplus (Deficit)
Aug $700 $409 $291
Sep $3,000 $1,800 $1,200
Oct $3,100 $740 $2,360
Nov $3,000 $3,007 ($7)
Dec $3,100 $2,988 $12
Totals $12,900 $8,944 $3,956
As you can see, we were pretty much on budget for Nov and Dec, the only two months we didn’t get any freebies. Having said that, we knew about the free nights in Aug, Sep and Oct in advance, but still tried to hit $100 a night for the other nights. Looking back, the typical daily cost turned out to be about $120. This low cost of accommodation allowed us to spend almost three months in Europe while on a tight budget.
In terms of General Spending, we only know the numbers until today, Dec 14. Even so, they paint a similarly positive picture. A couple of points - John was also very generous with general spending, and these totals do not include what I spent while in Canada. Having said that, here are the numbers.
Month Budget Actual Surplus (Deficit)
Aug $1,400 $1,253 $147
Sep $6,000 $5,085 $915
Oct $6,200 $4,697 $1,503
Nov $6,000 $5,483 $517
Dec $2,800 $2,705 $95
Totals $22,400 $19,223 $3,177
As with Accommodation, our General Spending has been on-track or better. In fact, between the two, we’re more than $7,000 ahead of budget. (That’s good, because in the next couple of weeks I need to book 4 tickets from Seoul back to Ontario for next summer, and that’s likely to cost about $6,000.)
I think it’s fair to say that Ursula and I have slacked off on trying to save every penny, as we did for the first month or so. Now that we know we can stay on budget, we don’t mind going out for a few more meals, or signing the kids up for surfing lessons two days in a row. If we had continued the tight budgetary ways of September, we probably would have saved another few thousand dollars, but our goal was never to do this as cheaply as possible. Rather, we wanted to do as much as possible with available resources.
Overall, we are very happy with our budgetary status for the trip so far. Ironically, Ursula and I recently realized we actually spend less money per month travelling like this than we did living in Ottawa and Haliburton the past few years. (Ponder that one for a few moments.) I did, however, have a comfortable income in Canada, while now I’m just an unemployed gypsy drifting from place to place with my family…
To close, I’m writing this while sitting on the deck of a simple treehouse in rural South Africa, listening to the birds. Ironically, at $220 a night it’s beyond our accommodation budget, but because we’re cooking our own meals and staying on the property all day, we won’t spend much else and will still be under our $300 total daily spending limit. (Besides, my parents gave this to us us as Christmas presents, so it’s almost free!)
Anyway, life is good. We’re under budget (so far). Still happy we’re doing this. The adventure continues…
One thing I read about before we left, but have now learned first-hand, is that longer stays in fewer places is cheaper than shorter stays in more places. In fact, in many ways it’s not the number of days that drives costs, but the number of places. When I was planning our trip, I read an Australian family’s blog. They first identified the places they wanted to visit during a year-long trip around the world. Then, they decided to go for two years instead of one, because the overall cost only changed about 25%. I didn’t believe it then, but I do now. There are many reasons for this.
First, every time you move it costs money. Having said that, the cost of movement varies wildly depending on the deals you find. In 2015, the cheapest way to travel in most of the world is discount airlines, with Canada being a notable exception. And, the cost of a flight has almost nothing to do with distance. For example, it’s cheaper to fly from London to Morocco or Turkey than buying a British rail-pass or renting a car for a week. As such, if you had a two-week European vacation, it would be much cheaper to spend a week in an apartment in London and another in Marrakech or Istanbul, rather than travelling around Britain for a fortnight staying in hotels.
Second, if an apartment rents for $100 a day, it’s probably $500 a week, and about $1500 a month. Longer term accommodation is also more likely to be in residential, rather than tourist areas. This not only creates a more authentic experience, it also means things like groceries and restaurants are less expensive. On this trip, we’ve had excellent experiences with direct rentals through airBnB and VRBO, with one notable exception in Switzerland (which was the result of a misunderstanding rather than a scam).
Third, it’s much easier to save on food during longer stays. For example, when we’re in a hotel for a few days, we mostly eat in touristy restaurants. If we’re staying a week or more, we rent an apartment and buy groceries. If you’re staying a month, you can buy more staples (e.g. ketchup, jam, butter, etc.) and larger packages of food, thereby saving even more money. We also tend to eat in less expensive neighbourhood restaurants and return to places we really enjoy.
Finally, if you stay longer, you’re more likely to find deals on tourist attractions. For example, many cities have one “free evening” a week for museums, and while famous churches charge admission fees, Sunday services are always free. Transit passes are usually cheaper for longer periods, and you don’t try to pack so much into a day.
Looking back on this trip, if I could change anything, I’d drop a couple of places and spend more time in others. Ironically, when we started to plan this trip, we talked about staying in 6 places for a month each. Subsequently, we allowed ourselves to be pulled in many directions. As a result, we’ve seen places we wouldn’t have seen on the original plan (including Norway, Morocco, Istanbul, Barcelona and Dubai/Abu Dhabi). However, on our current plan we have also been on the verge of travel burnout a few times.
I guess these are what you call “first world problems”. We sure can’t complain. Maybe we’ll get the chance to do this again some day…