Extra Expenses of All-Inclusive Travel

Recently my partner and I are jetted off to a wedding in Jamaica for our first big trip together and my first vacation in nearly six years. Excited was understatement for how I was feeling!

When deciding on the trip, money was our obvious deciding factor.

International trips do not come cheap, and this one is no different. Since I am quite green in the world of travel, there were multiple expenses I didn’t think of until they inconveniently popped up.

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Traveler’s Health Insurance. No one wants to worry about getting hurt on a trip abroad. Accidents happen whether we want to acknowledge them beforehand or not, and the insurance doesn’t cost much. The last thing you want is some big time debt to look forward to when you break your ankle dancing after one too many beverages at an all-inclusive resort.

Getting to the Airport. Whether you get a cab, someone is nice enough to drive you (and you hopefully pay for the gas) , or you pay for park and fly, it’s likely not going to be free to get to and from the airport. Especially if you live a few hours from the closest airport like me!

Vacation clothes. This can get out of control quickly if you let it. Beach wear is something I don’t own much of, so a few bathing suits, some dresses and a cover-up later my wallet was quite a few dollars lighter.

Excursions. Many resorts offer extra outings to enhance your visit. I am not into super touristy stuff anyway so we probably won’t do much, but if you are the type of person that wants to get off the resort and explore the surrounding area while you’re there, be prepared to pay extra for it.

Tipping. As someone working in the service industry, this one is a-ok with me. Considering how much American money is worth down south, it takes a very small tip by our standards to keep employees happy and extra helpful.

Spa Access & Services. Most resorts offer amazing spa treatments but beware of the price– they are as much, if not much more than treatments you’d pay for at home.

If you are planning on travelling in the near or distant future, it’s important to keep all costs in mind. Create a travel budget and ensure that you include anything that will add on extra costs, so that you aren’t struggling to foot the bill later.

How To Travel Solo

After my Ask Me Anything post, a reader asked me for tips about traveling solo. I’m not sure if this is what they’re looking for, because it’s really hard for me to write about travel without getting overly sentimental, but here’s what I have come up with:

Stay somewhere other lone travellers gather. There are literally hordes of twenty-somethings from every nation aimlessly wandering the well-beaten tourist paths in absolutely every major city in the whole world. These are now your people, and it is in your best interest to join up with them as soon as possible. These friendships will be easy-going, because more likely than not they’ve been on the road longer than you and are well-acquainted with goodbyes. They will appreciate your company for an afternoon or three weeks straight, and no one’s feelings are hurt when you make alternate plans. They will give you ideas and guidance, but more importantly, they will share their stories and you will learn so much more about the world by seeing it through someone else’s eyes.

You will get lonely. It will probably be less than you expect, but there’s no way to avoid it entirely. It will happen when you stumble on something amazing and there’s no one with you to share it with. It will happen when you’re lost or bored and have no one to bounce ideas off of. You will learn to be quiet in a way you have never been quiet in your whole life. Even those weekends at home that you shut yourself in to your apartment by yourself, you still always had the option to end your solitude at any moment by simply calling a friend, but abroad you will have days or weeks of uninterrupted introspective silence where you will literally have nothing better to do but become acquainted with every nook and cranny of your crooked soul. You will not like everything you find, but you will find everything.

Go with the flow. Opportunities for new experiences will come up when you’re following carefully laid plans. Stray with great enthusiasm from the path you’ve outlined for yourself. All the experiences that have changed me and made me grow when I was travelling happened because I elected to do something unexpected. It’s how I ended up in Nice. It’s why I flew into Amsterdam. It’s why I extended my stay in Munich. You don’t really know what’s waiting for you out there until you arrive.

Do the stuff you really want to do. I’m a traveller, not a tourist. By that I mean I can rarely be found at the postcard locations that make up the unwritten checklist of must-see items people seem to believe will magically transform them into a deeply cultured and worldly person by witnessing firsthand. I always pick 2-3 things I want to do in a city, then leave the rest of my stay as free time. My favourite place in Paris is a Mexican restaurant, not the Eiffel tower. My favourite part of my stint in Germany were the beer gardens, not the World War II historical sites. It’s not your job to follow any prescribed checklist of “must-sees” abroad. You’re not here to have anyone else’s traveling experience, you’re here to have yours.

Don’t be fucking stupid. Don’t follow strangers to places you’ve never heard of. Don’t engage creepsters even they’re pretending to be friendly and give you directions. Don’t do illicit drugs or drink copious amounts of alcohol to the point you cannot find your way back to your hotel room. All the dangers that lurk in bars back home, like roofied drinks and over-aggressive men, exist abroad but are amplified by unfamiliar surroundings, language barriers, and cultural differences. Increase your normal level of wary caution of strangers to one of deep suspicion, and don’t feel like an asshole for doing so. Traveling solo means being alone often, but there’s no reason to make your independence into a death wish. Whatever your normal level of self-protection is back home, triple it and never let your guard down.

Prepare for the scary moments. The more you travel, the more likely it is you will have a truly miserable experience. From missed flights to lost baggage to getting sick on vacation, it’s best to not only acknowledge these are possible outcomes of your delightful vacation, but expect and plan for them. Unless you’ve actually lost a limb or are at death’s door, don’t let a bad experience screw up your entire trip. Just hide out in your hotel watching bad TV until you’re done being sad or sick and then get on with it.

Let yourself hate things. Not all traveling will be magical. You will not be impressed with every destination or historical monument, even if you feel you should be. You will be underwhelmed. I thought Brussels sucked. Whatever.

Understand that your experience will be a product of your personality and the time you travel. Your memories are more flexible than you think, and you will remember your trip differently 1, 2, or 5 years later. The rough edges will be worn down, the benign moments that provided profound insight will suddenly be clear, and you will see yourself in distinct before-and-after pieces with borders so stark you can practically trace them with your fingertips. Traveling alone will change you, but you went alone because you wanted to be changed.

Solo traveling is your conversation with the world. The more foreign the destination and the more gruelling the trip, the more words will be said.

And this is really the reason to travel solo: to foster that unshakeable sense of self-sufficiency that will carry you through those terrifying moments of ambiguity that are sure to assault your life in the future. I love to travel solo because I love to understand myself and the world without any other voices in my ear. Having a clear understanding of yourself in unfamiliar circumstances is more than an invaluable life skill, it’s practically an art form. It’s worthwhile to hone it to perfection — with the understanding that perfection is unattainable.

Destination Weddings: The Great Divide

Just as the expenses for the two weddings my boyfriend and I are attending this year are all paid and accounted for we were in for a surprise: good friends of ours are tying the knot in the Caribbean sometime in early 2014.

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Of course, my frugal self immediately thought that we would have to miss out on it. Quickly realizing I am in a relationship in which we make decisions together as a team, we discussed the matter together. I let him decide whether or not we would go as they are his good friends more than mine. If he wanted me to go with him, we decided together that he would help me with the cost of the trip since it was fairly expensive. Since we were planning on taking a more inexpensive this spring already and he’s pretty financially secure compared to my mountain of debt, he was happy to pay the bit extra on top that this particular trip would cost us.

Couples usually have a destination wedding if they want something low-key. The resorts often do most of the planning so that you don’t have as much to stress and worry about. The whole process is a lot shorter than some of the big weddings I’ve seen being planned years in advance. There are a range of exotic locales to choose from for guests to enjoy and make beautiful memories with family and friends. Couples often use the locale as a place to return to for important anniversaries.

For people that normally travel to an exotic location at least once a year it is not a huge financial ordeal for them to attend a destination wedding in place of their annual trip. If you are a family member or very close friends you may decide that it is worth it to go all out and pay for the trip to be there, even if it’s a bit more than you would normally spend for the sake of the once-in-a-lifetime occasion. If friends and family are spread out throughout the world already, then travelling would be required even if it was held where the couple lives.

But for the indebted (or those of us with smaller incomes) it can be tough to find the cash to pay for the trip without totally wrecking one’s budget.

People may feel obligated to go but cannot afford to. They may be upset that they simply cannot go and will not be able to enjoy the wedding day with the couple.

The bride and groom in turn must be ready to accept that a large number of invited guests will not be able to attend the wedding, and that they won’t be as in control of the details of the wedding.

Would you have a destination wedding? Do you love or hate them?

Travel: Now or Later

As I see a good friend of mine off for a trip of a lifetime to Bali and Thailand I am so joyful and excited for her experiences to come, with a small side of inevitable jealousy. Who wouldn’t want to go to an exotic, beautiful place and have the time to fully experience it? In recent years I’ve become more and more interested in travel (reading about Bridget’s amazing trips helps!), but my budget has kept me from going anywhere yet.Whenever the subject of travel is brought up it seems like everyone has an opinion on where you should go, what you should do, and when it is the best time to do it.

Some people believe that you should travel while you’re young and have fewer responsibilities; others think you should wait until retirement when you no longer work and have some ample retirement savings to fund the trips.

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If your travel plans include extreme sports or a lot of hard physical activity, it might be best to go while your young body can handle such an adventure. Getting older does not necessarily mean a loss in mobility according to the 80 year old yogis I see on Pinterest contorting into pretzel-like positions, but even taking the best precautions cannot guarantee you protection from illness and disease as you age.

Finances. The bane of my traveling experiences thus far. If you are in a lot of debt like I am, it may be best to put traveling priorities on the backburner. This does not mean you can’t travel anywhere while in major debt, but you should take some time to consider if it’s the right choice. Even if your debt load is small and you have the urge to take off you could always use a trip as a motivating reward for when you finish repaying it. Even better yet, you could go overseas to teach English in Asia or elsewhere and make good money while getting to experience a bit of the world. I have a few friends that did that and absolutely loved it.

At the end of the day, no one can decide what is best for your life besides you.

There is not one cookie cutter answer for every single person to either travel while young or old. I myself am doing a bit of both. My small travel savings account is kicking and I put money into it whenever I can spare a bit after the bills are paid and debt payments are made. I plan on going to a few of the places I’d like to go now, and go to a few of them once my potential children have flown the nest. I may choose some of the more inexpensive trips for now such as traveling up the east coast of Canada and heading out to the west coast. Once expenses permit I plan on going on a few trips outside of North America such as Egypt, Great Britain, South-east Asia, and a few destinations in mainland Europe.

Have you put traveling on hold while paying down debts? Would you rather travel while you’re young, or wait until you are older?

How I Save Money on Vacation (and How I Don’t!)

I’ve been vacationing a lot lately. Call it what you will — a quarter life crisis, extreme debt fatigue, insanity — but I managed to spend 4 out of 6 weeks traveling from the end of June to the beginning of August. Basically, I decided to uproot my life and move across the country. Before I actually left on my road trip, I spent a week each in North Carolina and Toronto. And now, I am writing this in the middle of my two week vacation/move across the country. Let’s go with insanity…

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Anyways, I’m learning more about my travel tendencies including where I save and where I splurge when it comes to travel. Check out my cheap travel hacks as well as the things I refuse to skimp on.

How I Save

1) Lodging. Hotels are ridiculously expensive. Even the crap hotels can break the bank. I’ve found a couple of ways to combat this.

Some people scour the web for great deals and plan way ahead of time. While I admire these people, I’m not one of them. To be honest, I don’t even know where I’m staying tomorrow night.

My two favorite ways to keep lodging cheap (or free!) are couchsurfing and travel rewards from credit cards. Couchsurfing.org connects travelers all over the world and allows members to request to sleep on the couch (or extra bed or sleeping bag) of other members. Sounds creepy, but we’ve had great luck with it (as I write this from a Couchsurfing host’s extra house — yeah, they gave us a whole house for two days). People in general are decent, remember that.

Travel credit cards are amazing too. We spent 6 nights in Canada for FREE using reward points. I know a lot of you have credit card debt, have you cashed in your rewards yet?

2) Souvenirs. This one is pretty simple, I just don’t buy them. Your loved ones don’t need cheap t-shirts with a tacky screen print of a place you visited recently. They just don’t. They also don’t need key chains with their names on them or half a coffee cup because _________ was so expensive. Just…no.

Actually, I don’t really shop for anything that isn’t consumable on vacations. So pretty much just alcohol. I really like getting local alcohol.

3) Tours. I don’t go on bus/ferry/boat/whatever tours. Why? Well besides the fact that they are filled with your grandmother’s friends and screaming children, they are ridiculously overpriced. Chances are, you are healthy enough to walk. Educate yourself on the sites you are seeing online and burn some calories.

How I Don’t

1) Food. Okay, I do save a little on food. When I travel, I focus on independent, low to medium range priced restaurants. I don’t go to crazy expensive places but I enjoy the local places. I’ll shell out the extra few bucks to avoid chains and I don’t pack my meals. #SorryNotSorry

2) Beer. I will occasionally order wine or cocktails, but I usually order beer on vacation. Once again, this is all about experiencing the local market. This is how I order beer on vacation, “What do you have that’s local and light*?” Server rattles off three or four options. “Okay, I’ll take the best one.” Super easy and I try some great beers this way. *Yes, I am a light beer drinker. I am not ashamed.

How do you save money on vacation? What is your favorite splurge? What’s the dumbest souvenir you’ve ever given or received?