Despite all of my grousing, I really do love to travel. I love to see new places and try to get a sense of what life is like there, the small or big ways that it might differ from what’s familiar to me.
I was never really much of a sightseeing guy. My previous trips have consisted more of interacting with locals and sampling restaurants, bars, and cafes than going to museums, monuments, and the like. I really don’t enjoy most museums. If I never see another painting of a poor, bloody, suffering savior, it will be too soon. The Prado was not for me. Fortunately, I went for free.
You can plan your visits to coincide with free admission to cultural institutions. I wanted to go to the Mezquita and Alcazar in Córdoba for free, but I didn’t get the inside dope until too late. I had one more morning by the time I went and it was a holiday morning and, so, neither place was free. I paid. I saw. I groused. But, in hindsight, I’m happy to support the upkeep of these treasures. Trusting the bulk of my admission doesn’t line the pockets of corrupt opportunists.
Additionally, you can still enjoy the local scene and cuisine without eating and drinking out every day and night. I cook a lot when I travel. I will have one or two big meals in a restaurant to get a taste of a place. I’ll go to a bar or two, have a drink or two, but I’ll otherwise buy a bottle of local wine.
I won’t have a kitchen in Paris, which is a real bummer, but there are probably worse places to be forced to go to restaurants. 🙂
Another way to save money is to walk. I just spent a week in Prague and only took the metro for the first time to get to the airport. On the way, I met a woman from Argentina who had done the same thing. We also both had the same impression of Prague. It was great to meet her, speak Spanish, and laugh about why we’re the seemingly only two people who aren’t over the moon for this place!
We talked about getting ripped off and how many of the Czech people we encountered were really rude to us. And neither of us is the typically annoying tourist. We don’t ask stupid questions. We don’t waste people’s time. It didn’t matter. The majority of the natives with whom we dealt had no use for us besides taking our money, which is why I didn’t buy a Turdlnek or anything else on the street. My one restaurant experience was shepherded by some “local” expats and, so, was really pleasant. Otherwise, I just bought groceries and cooked myself delicious meals in the huge kitchen I had at the Airbnb. She said that she did the same thing, at her hostel.
Traveling alone obviously helps with savings. My entire seven weeks abroad hasn’t yet approached the cost of last summer’s two-week Eurotrip with my girlfriend. Being lonely is a drawback, but there’s a big upside to being beholden to no one, and, if loneliness ever strikes, it’s a great motivator to go out and meet new people. My only real interpersonal concern is just to be polite and courteous to people. I can go where I want, do what I want, and there is no mitigating influence besides my own hunger, thirst, fatigue, or other natural, biological needs. It’s so liberating.
Had I a companion in Sintra, I would never have been able to hike the way I did. Unless my companion were just like me, but mine have never been. Frankly, I doubt I’d like a partner who was just like me. That probably speaks volumes, but it’s true. I like difference. I don’t need someone to be my perfect mirror. I prefer if they aren’t. Of course I want company, in some ways, but I’m really figuring out that doing some things alone also has a lot of value. I’d like to be able to switch at will between traveling alone and having a companion, but that’s not been my luck.
It’s important that I recognize the value in the experience I’m having, though. If there is one thing I should glean from this exercise, it is to appreciate my present and not hope and pine for more, or better, or different. If I really want more, or better, or different, I need to actively pursue it. I really haven’t been applying myself to those pursuits. I’ve mostly been hoping things drop in my lap and then grousing when they don’t. That’s a complete waste of time and energy, and it really detracts from being able to enjoy my environment. It is not a behavior worth keeping.
I wouldn’t be able to do any of this if I weren’t smart with my money. I am not sitting on an enormous pile of wealth, jetsetting around in first class while drinking champagne and snorting flour-like substances off the buxom regions of stewardesses. I am flying economy. My most expensive accommodation was $40/night. My most expensive restaurant dinner was shared with my friend Nickelina, whose own blog you should read, and it cost is $60. We had two glasses apiece of really nice (to us) red wine, a sampling of pickles for an appetizer, I had steak and she had a vegetarian pasta dish, and we each had a dessert. It was all lovely. Delicious. And, compared to New York, especially, it was inexpensive to enjoy a really lavish meal.
People don’t seem to grasp that travel doesn’t have to be some astronomical expense. My plane ticket here cost $250. My last-minute ticket to Budapest to see Nickelina was less than $100. My ticket to Paris was $47. As I mentioned, my nightly cost of accommodation has been $40 or fewer. In Granada, I spent $13 a night and it was really pleasant and comfortable. I paid $17/night in Barcelona. None of these places were hovels. They were the homes of really nice, cool, welcoming people who weren’t out to take advantage of anybody.
Some places are totally raking us over the coals. My host in Prague admitted to me that, were I to pay by week for my room, I’d cover the rent for the whole four-bedroom apartment, which cost $1,000/month for him to rent. A freaking four-bedroom in the heart of Prague’s Old Town! My one-bedroom in Flatbush, Brooklyn cost more than that. So, while I’m paying 4x the market rent for my Airbnb, I’m still paying less per day than I did to live in Brooklyn. But it rankles me a tad to pay such an inflated price. Two times seems fair. Four times feels really cynical and opportunistic.
In Amsterdam, Lauren and I paid so much for so little. It really depends on the city you visit and the character of the host. Some people just want to take advantage of you. That’s life. I recommend avoiding them. Or, if you know you’re being taken but it doesn’t mathematically upset you, as was the case with me in Morocco and Prague, then go right ahead; it’s still cheaper than a hotel.