The High-Low Cost Of Travel

A while ago, I wrote a post that that mentioned the travel habits of Europeans versus Americans.  With our lack of vacation time and isolationist tendencies, it’s no wonder many Americans have never left the country. One commenter added that another major reason for this disparity is costs.  There’s a huge difference between a trans-Atlantic flight and inter-European flights. 

The comment inspired me to go back and tally up my travel costs.  Since I didn’t really keep tabs in my 20s or early 30s, it’s impossible to know how much I spent back then but I’ll try:

1 ) First Trip to Europe –  the poor college student with a giant backpack days (when the Euro didn’t exist and the dollar was strong!)

I think the plane ticket costed at least $1,000+.  I didn’t shop around at all. I just went to the Student Travel center and purchased my ticket.  Since I was backpacking for 3 months, I think it was worth it.  I believe I had at least $2,000 saved up for the entire trip.  I stayed at youth hostels most of the time, ate a lot of picnic-like lunches, and never went inside a discoteque.  I was more of the museum-going, cafe-people watching type of traveler.  I had a credit card but only planned to use it for emergencies.  Estimate: 3 months for approximately $3,500 including airfare — I really had no idea though and a favorable exchange rate made it possible.

2 ) 2nd trip to Europe

I’m sure I spent a lot more. I can’t remember how much more.  I was just happy that I could now afford a nice, budget hotel.   Although I didn’t really pay attention to finances at that point, the best thing I ever did was NOT charging vacations on my credit card.  Yes, I worked hard and deserved fun.  No, I did not want to pay for it months or years after the tan has faded.  Estimated cost:  3 weeks for $2,000 (?)

3 ) Subsequent Trips to Italy  – the “having an Italian husband has lots of perks” days

Other than plane tickets, we don’t have to spend much to visit Italy.  Some people spend more on domestic trips than we do on international travel.  I do use, and a host of other sites to find the lowest possible airfare. One year, I got two r/t tickets for $650 each, including taxes and fees, during high season.   I have no idea why this particular flight was selling for $200-300 less than other flights that pulled up on the same search. It was on a major airline, not unusually long nor with extra connecting flights.  Needless to say, I jumped on it. 

Of course, traveling still adds up.  We often want to do side trips.  We have to pay dogsitting costs.  We always want to eat well.  However, in Italy, it’s very possible to eat well at small affordable trattorias rather than five-star restaurants.  You just have to know where to go!  And of course, we eat many delicious meals at home.  Total: 2 weeks at $2,000 for 2 people (including airfare)

During my late 20s and 30s, I also travelled to China, Argentina, and Mexico.  We have relatives in China so we don’t have to pay for much other than airfare. It’s not cheap but I think you can find deals also.   Argentina flights are not cheap.  Right now, airfare to Buenos Aires is hovering around the $900 mark (not including taxes and fees).  Last time, I paid closer to $700 per ticket total.  I’m hoping that wasn’t a fluke.  We had a great time there and would love to go back.   You can eat very well for little and you can stretch your budget by staying at bed & breakfasts or apartment rentals.  As for Mexico, it’s just a hop and skip away from Los Angeles, so almost every Angeleno can visit for very little money.   To keep it budget-friendly and more authentic, we avoid mega-luxury resorts in favor of smaller towns and hotels.

Among Americans, I do consider myself well-traveled.  (I’m not counting Europeans and others with many more vacation days than I’ll ever get!)  I know people who have traveled more but many more that have traveled much less.  However, now that I’ve looked back, I realize that luck and sacrifice have played a big part in my ability to travel.  Most people don’t have relatives with guest bedrooms in far-flung places.  While my friends complain about visting in-laws in [insert domestic suburb here], I complain about visiting Italy yet again.  

We have also made sacrifices that allow us to travel.  We don’t own fancy cars or a flat screen TV.  We try not buy into the consumerist culture.  We also don’t own a home.  Of course we’re not renting  just so that we can travel!   However, a house in Los Angeles is very out of reach at this point and we don’t want to be house-rich and cash-poor.  I do understand that for most people, owning a home takes priority over everything else.

I still think that the poor student backpacking through Europe is an important rite of passage. I’m just not sure how feasible it really is in this day and age.  If you can only go to Europe once, that is the time to go. You get a long summer break.  It’s fun to meet other young travelers at youth hostels. No matter how materialistic you are, you can probably live on less at that age than any other time.

Among your peers, do you consider yourself well-traveled?  Do you wish you could travel more?  How much have you spent on traveling?

8 responses to “The High-Low Cost Of Travel

  1. Relative to other Americans, I know I’m well-traveled. I began very young (teens), financed on my own sweat and earnings, and accomplished inexpensively – not unlike your experience.

    More travel in my later teens (Europe and USSR), and eventually, a year of college in Paris (on scholarship), and subsequent travel back and forth to Europe in my 20s, for pleasure and work. All of that, long before marriage to a European in my 30s, trips which were more about visiting family and involved little wandering beyond homes of relatives.

    Freed from that in my 40s, there’s been some travel, but it’s tougher post marriage and raising children.

    I believe geography and education both play significant roles in the extent to which Europeans travel, certainly. You can cover a number of countries with those extended days of vacation – and do so as a family, and by car or train. That makes it much more of an integrated activity (“normal”), and far less expensive.

    The fact that secondary school education is also generally superior to public school in the US, combining cultural and language studies along with history encourages more travel as well.

    My two Euros. Traveling young, while you can, is invaluable.

  2. I like this! I am about to spend my first major travel money since graduating — first trip abroad.

    If I can get my act together, I will respond to this in a blog post!

  3. I’ve only been out of the country once on a trip to visit my husband’s mother country. Unfortunately, I would say I’m a typical American when it comes to traveling. Most of my friends have traveled abroad extensively, usually touring for their various creative endeavors. Does this make me a loser? 😛

    I was raised (cue tragic violins) in poverty in rural America, and international travel is just not something that was done, particularly by low-income families. It’s been difficult for me to change that mindset even as a decently paid adult.

    My first (and so far only) trip abroad cost me a little over a $1000 for everything–and we didn’t stay with family–for a 2 week stay.

    I used the same tricks abroad as I do here–catch deals in the off season right before the seasonal shift so you get decent weather with low costs, dine well but on the cheap, and don’t haul any crap home.

    I live in the LA area as well and have conflicting interests. I want to own a home (ain’t gonna happen here, I’m sure) and travel much, much more. Travel is #3 on the priority list and will move up to #2 when all my debt is cleared. (Send positive vibes!) At some point, my friends are going to blab yet again about this great area in New Zealand and I’m going to be able to join in the conversation.

  4. I love hearing about other people’s traveling experiences and expenses. Keep it coming!

    SP – Definitely hope to hear more of your thoughts!

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  7. There are lots of benefits in traveling. I didn’t start traveling till I was in my 20s. Perhaps it was the fear of the unknown and even fear of flying but since I went for my first holiday to Australia, I have never looked back.

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