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 kayak.com, farecompare.com 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?