Who doesn’t dream of lying on a white-sandy beach, with a pink drink with an umbrella floating in it in one hand, and the latest sci fi compendium in the other? (While the former is nearly universal, I recognize that the latter may not be – insert your literary poison of choice).
The question is, how do you manage to dovetail the urge to run for sunnier, less-responsibility filled hills for a week or two, once or twice a year, and still pay the rent/mortgage/groceries/iPhone data plan?
Here are a few suggestions to making those sunny shores less a dream and more a reality:
Here’s the big one: Plan ahead
If there’s a dream destination that you’ve always wanted to go to, make it happen. You aren’t going to look back in ten years and regret making the dream a reality. But I guarantee you’ll sigh wistfully and wish you could go back in time and actually do it. So pick a date, and spend an hour researching how much time you would need and what an actual budget would look like. If the Eiffel Tower is your must-see, start with airfare.
The best time to go is usually ‘shoulder season’ , which is right before or right after the busy season. Oftentimes, it will be spring and fall. My favourite time to travel is usually May or October – weather is generally nice, things are cheaper and there aren’t hordes of people. Pick some rough dates, and search a couple of airlines directly, and before you calculate the airfare, open a second browser window and type in ‘coupon codes Air Canada’ (insert airline of choice) and see what pops up. You’d be surprised how often you can save 10% in less than five minutes – and 10% of a $1000 bill is a substantial amount of croissants in a patisserie!
Once you’ve narrowed down your airfare costs, then you can mull over your lodging choices. There are more options than you think, from online apartment rentals such as airbnb.com or vrbo.com, to couch surfing, hostels, house swapping, and of course, the usual charming little French hotel. The fastest way to stretch your dollar is to have cooking facilities available. If you’re staying for more than a few days, it’s worth the extra money to get an apartment or a room with a kitchenette.
In addition to giving you more flexibility in terms of what to have for breakfast and being able to pack a proper lunch so that you don’t have to duck out of the Louvre at a crucial moment only to stand in line to buy a $15 baguette (true story), it also means that you don’t have to go out if you are temporarily travelled out and just want toast. There’s also the fun of wandering around a foreign grocery store attempting to identify the vegetables and thinking ahead about what to make.
Some of my best travel memories are of making dinner together with my husband when we were one place or another, in the little apartment kitchen in Budapest, or the kitchenette in the castle in Tuscany where we had rented a suite. The additional cost of the kitchenette was made by staying in for only one dinner, and over the five nights we were there, it was a financial boon. The money we didn’t spend on a breakfast that was just a matter of meeting a need was money that we splashed out on a dinner in the little bistro that was slightly out of our budget.
Once you’ve gotten your airfare and transportation divvied up, make a list of five major sightsthat you want to see, whether that’s the Louvre or the Sacre Couer, or a side trip out to Versailles. Spend half an hour and go to the websites and see how much the train will cost, what the admission rates are, and if there are any discounts for being a student, or youth under 26. Note those numbers.
Next, add in your spending money. Here’s where you need to prioritize. Figure out what your true love is, and concentrate your funds on that. If you’re a huge art fan and your dream is to bring back a little oil original of the Seine, painted by a man in a beret on a sunny Tuesday morning, great! Be aware that you will need to make allowances elsewhere. You can absolutely meet your priorities for your trip, with a little give and take. If you’re a huge foodie, figure in for one or two truly fabulous meals and do a lot more walking than taking the Metro. To continue with our example of France, most French cafes will note the price of the price fixe outside the restaurant. It’s usually a set meal and comes with no real substitutions, which is something that takes some adjustment from our North American mindset. They’re usually quite good value, though, and if you go for your main meal as lunch rather than dinner, you can do quite well. Figure for 50 euros or so a day, providing that you’ll skip the madly overpriced hotel breakfast and go to a local patisserie or cook your own, and that you’ll make lunch or dinner at least once or twice in the five to seven days that you’ll be there.
Once you’ve spent some time dreaming and getting your trip priorities aligned, add it all up. Add 15% for the ‘just in case’ fund. Divide that number by 52, and that’s how much money you need to set aside every week. Now, that money can be money you’ve pulled from other spending (David Bach’s ‘latte factor’ springs to mind), or additional money that you’re bringing in (more on that topic later).
Pin a picture of the Eiffel Tower by your bed or beside your computer screen…somewhere where you’ll see it and remember often that you’d rather be sitting at a streetside café in Montmartre than buy another pair of ballerina flats or another video game involving tanks (depending on your priorities).