This is the third post in our series that answering the question:
How do you afford to travel so much?
Our first post was about creating a mindset where travel is a priority. Then we talked about some analysis and trades you can do while planning your travel to keep it affordable. This post will take that mindset on the road.
Little Things Matter (On the Road)
Many people view travel as a treat. Don’t get me wrong, it is a treat to travel. But I think many people view it as an opportunity to treat themselves, that is, to splurge. On everything. With abandon.
If you view travel as a lifestyle rather than occasional treat, it becomes easier to forgo the splurges. Living more or less as you would at home when you are on the road can cut your trip expenses and make travel more doable. If you feel enabled to spend money like this is the last trip you’ll ever take, it might take extra time to recover.
Here are some ways that we think frugally on the road:
1. Eat local cuisine; Forgo fancy restaurants
I put a really high priority on eating local cuisine when we travel. I’m not in foreign countries to eat burgers or steak, or haute cuisine that I could get at some fancy restaurant at home. I want mee goreng, swedish meatballs, shwarma, and handmade empanadas made upstairs in grandma’s kitchen. Luckily, in most cases, eating local means eating street food or, at most expensive, pub food. So it turns out that eating local is often extremely easy on the budget.
With little kids in tow, fancy restaurants are sort of out of our league at the moment anyway, so we are doubly motivated to eat elsewhere – for the cost factor and the hassle factor. But even before we had kids, it seemed like many times the fancier the restaurant, the more generic the cuisine. We would usually set aside one meal of the trip to be our fancy “night out,” and (suprisingly?) these never turned out to be my favorite dining experience of the trip.
2. Self cater
Also related to food, self-catering is a great way to save money and get a local experience. A trip through the grocery store in a foreign country is a wonderful cultural experience, and you can often pick up local specialties (hello, Swedish smoked salmon) for much cheaper in the grocery store than at restaurants. You can also look for local markets for locally grown produce and freshly caught seafood.
We self-cater at least one meal per day. If it’s one of those countries that doesn’t eat supper until 10pm, and our kids just won’t make it that late, we’ll self-cater dinner and then make our lunch a “big” meal out – usually some kind of street food or local pub food. Usually lunch is a cheaper meal to eat out anyway. If supper is eaten at a more American-like hour (6pm-7pm), we’ll self-cater lunch so that we don’t have to stop and find something to eat in the middle of sightseeing. And if you make a grocery store run, you are always guaranteed to have snacks on hand, which with kids is so essential.
If our hotel doesn’t include breakfast, self-catering is a no-brainer with fruit, yogurt, juice, and cheese.
If your accommodation has kitchen facilities, so much the better – you can cook hot meals too. Pre-kids, if this was our situation, we’d be happy to cook about half the time and go out half the time. In the post-kid era, we are happy to cook the vast majority of our meals – again… low cost, low hassle, more vacation-y relaxation.
3. Be selective about attractions
This is a tricky one. Because I really, really want you to see what you want to see, and not worry about the price. Cultural attractions are one place where I don’t want to you skimp.
But if you only have time to see a few attractions and you have a wish list as long as you arm, paying attention to the admission cost can help you narrow your list down. Especially ask yourself how much your kids will get out of it and weigh that against the cost of admission. While I’m a huge proponent of continuing to travel even with kids that are “too young to appreciate it,” sometimes it might just be best to forgo a certain attraction until the kids are older.
Also – just be picky about which attractions you choose to spend money on. Is it something you could experience just as easily at home? Is it a facsimile of an real experience instead of a real experience? Is it something a local would do or designed just for tourists? If it’s not enriching you and/or your kids, thing twice about laying out the cash.
4. Turn simple things into attractions
As an alternative to attractions that charge admission fees, consider simple activities that can be deeply enriching but free of cost. As I mentioned in #2, going to the grocery store or market is a favorite activity of mine. Taking the kids to a playground or play area, watching them interact with local kids, and getting to bond with parents (sometimes in spite of a language barrier) has become a huge part of our travel lately, and no less impactful (maybe moreso!) than dragging the kids through castles and forts (though we do that too). Usually we spend at least one day in a new city simply walking around, people watching, and looking for ice cream. It’s amazing how you can get the vibe of a place just by being present – free of charge!
These are a few specific ideas, but there are many more like this. I hope you see the mindset here. We don’t treat travel as an excuse to blow a bunch of money and call it a treat. We try to be mindful, live our normal life, and get cool cultural experiences just by being among locals.