We are often asked how we can afford to travel. Now that it has become our way of life, we don’t think we can afford not to travel! The short, yet dissatisfying, answer is “we make it work”. The long answer is a bit more complicated. I will address a little beyond the short answer, but will have to put more effort into the breakdown and costs for the long answer…so I suppose that makes this the medium answer!
We are budget travelers. I am a very bad budgeter, so I can’t tell you that all we do is completely hinged on our budget, but I have very specific amounts that I am willing to spend on certain things. These things are housing, entertainment, actual travel costs, and a few other personal items. It also consists of a lot of work – researching, scheduling, contacting, negotiating, and sometimes changing gears when the situation calls for it.
Our goal is to spend less than $2000USD per month. Occasionally, it doesn’t happen. Doesn’t sound like much, especially for a family of 8, does it? (Honestly my usual goal is $1500/mo, but lately we have gone over and I’ve had to use some discretion in spending.) So, now you want to know how it is done? I will try to explain and some folks will think it isn’t worth it and some may be encouraged. No matter, to each his/her own!
We travel with only our backpacks and a couple of computer bags/daypacks for the electronics. We travel with only 3-4 outfits and 2 pairs of shoes each, which keeps our clothing costs very low and our packs lighter. If we buy something new, something else has to go! I did buy some much needed clothes here in Greece at the street market and now have an abundance of clothes, some of which will have to find new homes! We hand wash if we have no washing machine, or do a load every few days if we have one.
Our food costs are usually the biggest expense, but no surprise there, with 4 teens and a 20 year young man in the clan! We are usually vegetarians now – I know many of my friends are exclaiming loudly that the Bacon-Lover-of-All-Bacon-Lovers has given up her carnivorous ways and the end of times has drawn near, but I have most of the time, but this is not an absolute. We will eat meat when we go to restaurants or with other people. This not only keeps our food costs manageable, but makes better use of fresh foods which in turn has been great for our health! (I am not advocating a vegetarian diet for better health – I believe that including meat in our diets can be just as healthy, but while we travel, we tend to adopt a more vegetarian lifestyle and it’s not only simpler, but more efficient.) Greece has been really great for fresh foods due to the weekly street markets that rotate areas each day – we have eaten more peaches in season than ever before! – and we utilize the Wednesday street market just outside our door and the market on Saturday a few blocks away (watch our Youtube channel for the video on our shopping excursion.) The food costs are much higher here than in some other countries, though, and one of the reasons for our impending departure, along with transportation and some personal things that have arisen. Our food costs have been almost double than in Montenegro and Serbia, so it has been a little overwhelming at around $900. We rent actual apartments or houses, so we have a kitchen and appliances for our food and meal prep.
I never spend over $700USD per month on housing, if at all possible, and with few exceptions, it’s possible. I often negotiate a monthly rental at substantial saving over the nightly or weekly rates. It is a little time consuming, but saving $1000’s is often possible for a few hours time!
Transportation is not always needed, as we tend to ride Shank’s mare (I couldn’t help but throw in that tribute to my mom – it means to walk, for the younger crowd!), but will use public transit other times. The public buses in Thessaloniki are high at 1Euro ($1.12USD) each way, so we try not use it too often as that will run the whole family about $18USD just to make a trip into the city. It’s about 2 miles from our apartment to Thessaloniki downtown, so it’s a longish walk, but not undoable on a cool day. On a hot day, we take the bus!
For long haul traveling, we use the budget airlines that are so amazing in Europe, trains, and buses. We are looking forward to some boat travel but haven’t made it work, as yet. I do not spend over $50USD per person, luggage included, for any travel, except when changing continents. That is another thing, but I still have managed to keep costs super low at those times, also.
We do not always visit every tourist attraction in every place we go. My thought is that we visit what we can and what’s important to us now. We can always come back when we need/want. We walk and explore for fun and education, visiting anyplace that catches our attention. We recently visited the Museum of the Macedonian Struggle (Proxenou Koromila 23, Thessaloniki, Greece) and it was a gold mine of history and Macedonian culture. It was inexpensive, not too large, informative and interesting (also has clean restrooms!), and we enjoyed it immensely.
This European travel has been a learning curve for us. We have frequently needed to rethink some of our plans and make new ones to accommodate our finances or personal desires. It has always lead to the most awesome experiences, but takes time to learn the best way of doing one thing or another. Large family travels aren’t for everyone! It takes time, determination, and sometimes even a little humility to plan these things, but I have just refused to consider that this would be an impossibility for us, just because of our family size. I believe it has paid off and getting easier and stress free as we go.
Much of our time is spent in the usual pursuits of life, so while we may not visit some of the really expensive tourist destinations, we also get to really live in each place we visit. We meet people, serve people, study, write, work, explore and enjoy. We not only slow travel, but we live slowly, which in this age of hurrying has really become an important part of our travels. We don’t have set schedules for a lot of things, we take joy in the simple things – have you ever taken your kids to a tiny unused amphitheater in Thessaloniki, Greece and listened to them recite Shakespeare? Did you walk along the Adriatic Sea early in the morning after picking up some hand made “burek” for lunch from the local bakery? Have you slowly walked through castles or ruined forts, playing knights in countries you never imagined visiting, much less live in? That is what our budget traveling has allowed us to do. We do it slowly, with meaning and thoughtfulness, differently than those who travel on vacation, but no less lovely, in a way that is important to us…