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?

The cost of a month in Paris

The entry you’ve been waiting for!

I pieced together my spending paper trail from all my credit card and bank statements, and this is how I spent my money in France:

Whether or not that was too extravagant depends on how you look at it. I went into the trip without a budget or spending plan, which probably would have made a tremendous difference in the end cost, but ultimately I’m not bothered by the total. I’m really glad I didn’t backpack it, staying at hostels or couch-surfing (seriously. I met 2 guys that we’re doing that). My apartment was incredible, as was all the food, and so are the clothes I came home with, so I’m going to say the experience was worth every penny.

So some of the above is paid for, but the majority is not. I’ve thought about doing a huge transfer from my savings and wiping out the remaining balance, but making such a dent in my bank account makes me a little sick so instead I’m going to stick with my original plan and pay what I owe over the next 2-3 months (so it will be gone right before I have to start making payments on my student loans!)… so for the first time in nearly a year I’m carrying consumer debt! Yikes!

I did the math, and it makes sense monetarily, too. I transferred what I owe to my line of credit which has only a 6.75% interest rate which is lower than what a good majority of my investments have returned over the past year, so my money is better kept in savings & investments at this point. If this balance was on my credit card at 19.95% or whatever, heck yes I’d kill it in about five seconds flat, but thankfully I’m not in that position.

Just so we’re clear I’m totally 100% an advocate of saving up first for a big trip, not just randomly deciding to spend nearly $6,000 with very little thought or planning. What I did was insane, and I don’t recommend it. The fact that I have to make $800 debt payments for the next three months SUCKS but… well, I spent a month in Paris, and that was pretty damn cool.

Even if you have to go home when it’s all over..

But is it such a bad thing to live like this for just a little while? Just for a few months of one’s life, is it so awful to travel through time with no greater ambition than to find the next lovely meal? Or to learn how to speak a language for no higher purpose than it pleases your ear to hear it? Or to nap in a garden, in a patch of sunlight, in the middle of the day, right next to your favorite fountain? And then to do it again the next day?

– Eat, Pray, Love

(sorry Britt!)

Paris Day 30

Today my transit pass stopped working. I was really confused because had bought it for the month, but apparently the 31st doesn’t count. I looked at reloading it but the smallest amount I could put on was one week at that was €40! what the heck France? The whole month was only €110! Well. I’m way too cheap for that sort of extravagance, so I decided to walk to the Musee d’Orsay. Despite being the coldest day I’ve seen this month, I’m still happy I took the long way to the museum so I could enjoy the streets of Paris one last time. The walk took me through les Jardins des Tuileries:

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To the Seine:

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Where I always stop to admire the locks on the bridges, and wonder about the people that put them there..

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I arrived at my destination, where admission was FREE for Tuesday! It meant waiting in line for an hour to get in, but since it was my last day I sucked it up. In line, befriended two guys traveling from the USA. One knew a lot about art, and that helped me enjoy the museum more than I would alone. Unfortunately, you can’t take photos inside so I don’t have anything to share but it was pretty cool.

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Look at those trees bend in the wind! Brrr.

After the museum, I went back to my apartment and finished packing my things. I showered, grabbed dinner, and the manager came by to return my damage deposit (€500! How happy am I to see that?). My stuff is packed and ready to go, and I think I am too, even if the only thing that’s allowing me to leave is the promise to myself that I’ll be back soon. Maybe I can find a way to visit D next year? Maybe I’ll eventually pursue my silly dream of being a single mother in Paris ;) Almost all of tomorrow will be spent on a plane, and almost of the time I’ll be annoyed because I feel like the flight home always seems 10,000x longer than the one going to my destination of travel. By the time I’m 1 or 2 hours from Edmonton every minute feels like an eternity.

At least I bought a box of macarons for the trip.

Paris Day 28 & 29

(Note: not sure why photos are coming up sideways; stupid wordpress app. Something to fix when I get home!)

I spent at least three hours in the cafe on Sunday. As usual every other place was closed, so I took the opportunity to fight with my resume. Besides, there were pancakes.

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My resume needed an update. It hasn’t been touched in over a year and frankly, it just looked bad. The design was poor and it read like a list of foursquare check-ins for my life: “department of chemistry, May 2007″. After reading some resume tips in books and online, I made some improvements. I’m going home to my part-time job, and while I can live on that income, I’d like to have more ;) I’m looking for a full-time position within the company, but I would consider one outside as well. Or maybe full-time where I’m at plus a second part-time job on top. I know I said I wouldn’t do that because I got so burnt out with graduate school + a job, but I’m starting to think I’d really like to shake those student loans sooner than later. Unfortunately, what I owe is a huge reason why I even have to return home and continue working. If I was totally debt free, I could live on my savings and continue traveling for… Well, probably a whole year.

Of course I’d be broke at the end of it though, which would kind of suck.

Monday I went to the Louvre, mostly because I had become convinced that Charmaine would end our friendship if I didn’t become cultured. I stomped my way through like a child dragged against their will. There was beautiful and historical things:

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I wanted to avoid the Mona Lisa, but I accidentally stumbled upon it:

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Now, I know everyone says it’s not worth the hype, but it kind of was for me. Which just goes to show how weird I am since I didn’t even want to be in the Louvre in the first place.

I did eventually find something I liked though: there was an exhibit devoted to the history of the museum. It was awesome! They had a collection of original drawings for the design and profiles of all the influential people that built or visited the museum. It was really cool. I think the Louvre itself was far more interesting than the works it contained. I only saw a fraction of the content of the museum, and I felt it was overwhelming. Every painting and sculpture is interesting, but there’s 53875823781 of them assaulting your vision at once.

I went here…

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And also saw two of these..

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And pondered the oddity of shoving a mall up against historical museum. I love Starbucks, but it felt so ridiculous after Botticelli and Rembrandt. Can you imagine the Louvre 100 years from now? Maybe they’ll incorporate the consumerism into an exhibition of its own, leaving the shops where they are and giving tours, “after seeing the Mona Lisa, Americans found it necessary to reconnect themselves within their commercialized society by flocking to the franchises they all hold most dear…”

I treated myself to vegetarian pizza and called it a day.