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how to pay for travel lifestyle

I'm fairly new here, but it appears that there are many retired-age folks and/or people who have a LOT of trips under their belts on the RS discussion boards. My husband and I have zero travel experience and another 15 years of working full-time before we can retire. This is the month each year where we like to review our household budget for the year, hence, this question. We hope to start exploring the world in the coming years.

I would love to hear how others plan and budget for trips abroad (e.g., Europe and Central America are our future destinations). We have a mid-level type of travel planned - flying coach, staying at B&Bs or 3-star-level hotels, etc. We envision RS-style trips as opposed to cruises. For the two of us, we are estimating 12K USD for a 2-week trip. Our home airport will be SEATTLE. Thanks for sharing your insights.

Posted by
186 posts

My #1 tip is to sign up for and use an Alaska Airlines credit card for everything. The miles add up and you can get your airline tickets on partner airlines using miles. And then, start pinching those pennies where you can (library vs buying books, eat at home vs out, bus/ight rail vs driving and parking, etc.) Once you go on a trip you are even more motivated to save for the next one. Cheers to you! Trip planning/dreaming is free and is my favorite past time.)

Posted by
2361 posts

I don't know how you spend your money, of course, but I have always made travel my priority.

I mention this because my sister makes offhand remarks about how she wishes she could travel as much as I do. She and her DH have a second home, and get new cars frequently.
I drive a 2008 car, and no longer have a mortgage. I do understand that there is some luck involved, but I have generally made better life choices. BTW, I just smile/shrug when she makes comments.

Posted by
737 posts

No way do you need 12k for a 2 week trip. Not at the level of travel you posted.
We are retired but did a lot of travel before that time. In the last 5 years our average spend on travel had been $13k a year. We usually do 2 international trips a year. We travel in the same style you posted. That 13k also includes domestic trips, including driving trips. So since 2018 we have been to Scotland, Africa, Spain, Malta, Paris, Sicily, Puglia, Germany, Crete, Morocco, and Croatia.most of those trips were about three weeks.
When we were working we adopted an attitude of - GO. Meaning that we went to places even though it was only for 7-10 days to fit into our allowed vacation time. That had us going for shorter timeframes to Hanoi, Prague, Istanbul, Costa Rica. These short trips were better than not going.
If we saw a deal, we went.
I encourage you to keep your eyes open and if you see something you can fit in - GO. If you have not traveled, everywhere is new. The world is in your lap. No need to think it through or plan a big itinerary, if you have never been and the timeframe is there and the price is good, you go.
There is no need to think even beyond a single city if it for a week. Paris, London, Rome. All good for that.

Posted by
8614 posts

When I was employed I’d put 1 pay check a month in a travel fund. I’d also book my flight in May for the November sojourn. Prefer traveling in off season.
Travel solo and booking a Fall trip was like having a carrot at the end of a stick. A reward of sorts.

Preferred carrier as London is most often my destination; Virgin Atlantic, Premium Economy seat.
This year, this next trip will fly Upper Class. Why not?

Happy 2024 and safe travels one and all.

GO! Explore! Have fun!!!

Posted by
279 posts

I never thought my husband and I would be able to afford to travel internationally before we retired. Then, about 10 years ago, we took the Dave Ramsey course (which I highly recommend). We paid off our house quickly, drive paid-for vehicles, don't have other debt, don't eat out a lot, and otherwise live below our means. I also choose to work an extra job to save money for traveling, which I understand may not be possible for others.

Basically, when all our friends are spending money on coffee, drinks, clothing, etc, we are brewing our own coffee at home, shopping for adult beverages in cases at the store, and buying perfectly good used or new clothing off ebay. We do not feel that we are sacrificing anything, as we would live this way anyway. Live below your means. And, yes, we still max out our Roth IRAs and contribute to our work-sponsored retirement accounts. Dave Ramsey will show you the way!

Posted by
8315 posts

I started putting aside a certain amount of money every month into a dedicated travel account. I still do that even though retired. I consider travel part of my monthly budget. I am strictly pay as you go. No money in account, no trip……. I also am a planner and bargain hunter. That helps.

After I had been retired about a year I discovered that I had too much free time on my hands for my liking. I started back to work as a substitute teacher. I still really enjoy spending time with children and youth. I am basically a day laborer. I decide what days I work and what days I don’t work. It is usually 1-2.5 days a week when not traveling. This also helps the travel budget.

Finally, I travel more now because I can. We have all noticed that sometimes health or other issues can come up as the years go on.

The tip about taking advantage of credit cards is good. I am also in the Seattle area and Alaska is a good choice. In addition I have Chase Sapphire Reserve. The advantages here are travel insurance, lounge access, and the ability to transfer points (miles) to other airlines. I’m headed to Istanbul in business class next October with miles transferred from this card.

Edited to add: I didn’t think about it until I read the post above mine, but I think entering retirement debt free has probably made it easier for me to travel as well. Retirees without debt burden have more options for their income.

Posted by
35 posts

I agree with the other replies. I don't eat out a lot in expensive restaurants at home or when traveling. I also don't recommend waiting another 15 yrs. Start now with simple, well-planned trips to the places you most desire. Tremendous amount of free info online that I scribble into a pocket size compilation. A nice airbnb with excellent reviews and you can scramble your own eggs vs a lavish breakfa$t buffet at a hotel. Fresh bread from the bakery around the corner and you're eating like royalty!! Admittedly, I spend more on an upgraded class of flight, or seating, these days. I recently got a terrific Travelpro carry-on in great shape from the local Goodwill on senior day (20% discount) for FOUR $$! I could be gone for MONTHS in Europe as a mid-sixty-year-old on $6,000!! Go for it.

Posted by
505 posts

When we decided to make European travel a higher priority 20+ years ago, we opted to be more frugal in other ways. Flying from the westcoast means allowing for some jet lag and total time just to get there so we try to go for 2-4 weeks. We drive older cars, don’t have a lot of fancy gadgets, etc to free up money for travel. When we travel we pay for nicer lunches which can be cheaper than dinner. Credit card points are used for hotel stays. Our one splurge in recent years is Business Class for my partner in particular, as he has some health issues that BC just helps to make the travel to and from Europe more comfortable for him.

Posted by
119 posts

When you are young, you don't have the money to travel.

When you get older, you have the money, but not the time.

When you get even older, you have the time and the money, but you don't have the energy.

Don't wait until the third phase: get out there now and travel! You can do it cheaply if you want.

My suggestions:

  1. Apartments can be significantly less expensive than hotels. Someone told me about booking.com before a trip to Europe a few years ago and we love it. (apparently, Booking.com is especially useful for lodging in Europe.) In addition to being cheaper than a hotel, having an apartment also means you don't have to eat every meal out. Eating meals out sounds great, but having a low key dinner at home - saving that half a pizza you didn't eat and having it the next night - is actually a nice change.

  2. There are some services that find cheap flights. I subscribe to three of them and got highly discounted airfares: $320 round trip SFO to Barcelona a couple of years ago, for example. These are great if you have flexibility on when you travel or where you are going. I saw discounted flights to NYC (less than $300) and we are going in a couple months. We got a free room at a Marriott using hotel points. Someone else mentioned getting Alaska points, those might be good for you since you are in Seattle. Anyway, the services I know of are Going, Thrifty Traveler, and Jack's. I highly recommend Going (at least try out their free option). I hope this is ok, I'm not trying to do advertising for them, I don't work for them or have any connection, but it really has saved us a lot of money on airfare. (These are not consolidators, they don't sell flights; they just send you email alerts when prices get abnormally low.)

My biggest advice would be to not make it into a really "big deal"- just book a one week trip somewhere, see how much you like it, and if you like it as much as you think, you'll figure out ways to make it less expensive and more frequent in your life. Good luck!

Tony

Posted by
4010 posts

Since airfare will most likely be your biggest expense, use Google Flights to check and track airfare, if you have a specific destination and timeframe. It has limitations but is useful to help you see what your cost there will be. And keep an eye out for sales. Be knowledgeable and ready to jump on a good price. I saw some really great American Black Friday sales for Feb. & March that would work for me (DFW). So know your market. What will cost me $1,500 for summer, I got for my kid for $500 for March.

There are also some countries are are less expensive than others. It’s ok to start there. Spain, Hungary, parts of Greece, Albania, Poland, Bosnia, Montenegro, the Baltics, and I suspect Romania and Bulgaria, are all less expensive over all.

Booking.com is a great resource to give you ideas about what lodging costs will be in various places. You cannot stay in London for the same price you can stay in Winchester. Be knowledgeable. I also balance hosting costs over a trip. I might stay somewhere nicer as a splurge and balance the total cost with a hostel or university stay (looking at you, Ireland).

Those are a few ways to manage your expenses. But saving monthly, since you are still working, is obviously how to pay for them. And living debt-free is key for me. Not everyone is able to do that. But like others, I drive an older paid for car and live in an older paid-for house that could use upgrades if I weren’t choosing to travel. I rarely buy clothes that are not for travel. Just choices, habits, and priorities. Mine wouldn’t work for everyone, but they work for me.

There’s no way a trip for 2 weeks, done with budget in mind, should cost $12,000. So it may be easier than you think!

Posted by
1388 posts

I too have a while to go before retirement from work and from my bloody mortgage. My strategies for saving $:

  1. Eating out less if possible. Cooking at home can be fun and should be healthier. This also reduces healthcare costs.
  2. Use airline miles wisely. Get credit cards strategically for accruing lots of sign-up bonus miles. I have paid for consultations for this type of service. It's $ well-spent.
  3. Use Google Flight to track air fares.
  4. I don't care for brand name hotels. Any place that is clean, safe, and convenient works for me.
  5. Buy clothing that is good for traveling--quick drying, no or minimal wrinkles, moisture-wicking, easy to launder...so that you don't waste time and money on laundry when abroad. Travel clothing usually isn't cheap but it's a great investment. Watch out for good sales.
  6. Buy good luggage that lasts a long time and is difficult for bed bugs to hang onto (hardsided luggage).
  7. I drive a Toyota Prius. Don't need any fancy cars that are expensive to repair.
  8. In winter, I bundle up even at home to save $ on heating. I have not used my heater for almost 10 years. I live in Northern CA. I save more than enough for a 2-week Europe trip annually this way. If you must use heating, lower the thermostat temp.
  9. When making home improvements, make energy conservation a priority. I don't live in a palace, but a humble residence.
  10. No lavish parties, ever.
  11. Don't use a dryer to dry clothes, if possible. I line dry my clothes and this helps make fabrics last longer.
  12. Don't spend too much on makeup and jewelry (which I don't wear anymore). Don't go to nail salons.
  13. When abroad, shop for things that are much cheaper locally than in the US.
  14. Invest wisely. I don't day trade and invest in things that I don't understand.
  15. Make your own coffee, even if you are a coffee snob. Starbucks and everything sold at cafes are expensive.

Saving $ does not mean you have to be frugal. It's just about spending $ smartly.
Happy travels!

Posted by
11119 posts

We have always lived below our means so there was/ is money available for travel. We saved while working.
In retirement, Pre- Covid we took two International trips a year, mostly Europe and Asia. We are about to start back up again and will go on the trip we had to cancel, Iceland.
We use miles for flights if possible, Premium Economy flying home from Europe, Business class flying there. Same for South America and North Africa. Business Class both ways for Asia, . We are in much better shape when we land using Business Class. We don’t waste days recovering from jet lag. You can upgrade your flights to Business with miles.
We also traveled while working, sometimes adding onto an existing international business trip.
By making travel a priority, it will happen. Start putting money away, especially bonuses.

Posted by
2311 posts

My saving for travel was similar to what has already been described. I lived below my means in many ways mentioned - reading library books instead of buying new, thrifting for clothes/household items, making meals and coffee at home, camping/staycation vacations instead of flying somewhere, upgrading car/technology only when necessary (all while still fully funding my retirement savings btw). That isn't to say I haven't splurged here and there or only ate top ramen and beans. But I make choices every day that work for me. I also met with a financial planner who made me a very specific plan that paid off all my debt as quickly as possible, including my house (fully paid off) and funding so I could make big purchases with cash (e.g. new car). That plan really helped me focus and get it done. You're in a perfect spot career wise to do that kind of analysis and a professional can be helpful with that.

There are many other ways to save - I had a friend who quit smoking and put the money he ordinarily spent on tobacco into an account for travel. He pays for a decent trip each year that way (habits are expensive!). As I mentioned on one of your other posts, I set aside the cash back reward from my credit card into an account specifically for travel. You don't have to game the credit card system though - the airline reward card I had was far more hassle than benefit and the energy required to keep on top of it was more than I wanted to invest. Now that I have more time I might look into it though - to each their own.

Though I just retired, I am quite a bit younger than the typical retirement age. While working I managed to take a big trip (2-3 weeks) every other year for the past 20 years. The cost usually wasn't the biggest issue, but rather finding the time off from work due to the seasonal nature of my job. For me, flying a very long way for a one week vacation isn't my kind of thing, so I chose to take longer trips less frequently. Now that I have more time, but less income, I'll have to reevaluate my approach.

And there is no right answer, only the answer that works for you and your family situation. And kudos to you for thinking ahead!

Posted by
3093 posts

Welcome to the Forum, Kathy!
Planning is half the fun of taking trips.
As others have said, a lot of us here live fairly frugally in order to travel.
I have a car that will have its 18th birthday this year, but I have it serviced regularly to keep it safe and it does me fine.
I don’t buy books or magazines as we have a wonderful library system where I live.
Our house is paid for.
I don’t take many small expensive trips; but one, two if I’m lucky, trips to Europe per year.
Tickets for airfare and in country transport are pre booked well in advance to save money, and I stay in vacation rental apartments.
Everything is paid off before I depart , and I have no debt post-trip.

You will soon get into the trip planning and saving-up- for- it mode…it is all worth it when you get your first view of the Colosseum or the Eiffel Tower!

Posted by
3230 posts

We charge any and everything to a Mastercard linked to my AAdvantage account. As soon as we have enough miles for two RT trips to Europe in business - off we go.

Posted by
1506 posts

I agree with treemoss2, you can travel for two weeks for a lot less than $12 thousand. We travel for about three weeks and spend about half that. It depends on what kind of restaurants you want, Michelin stars or small restaurants popular with locals; 4 or 5 star hotels or small B&Bs or apartments. You are in control of how much your trip costs. As noted by the other replies, you are also in control of how you save for travel. Lots of good information in the replies above.

Posted by
6781 posts

Rick Steves has written and spoken about this question for decades:
Travel is so expensive, how do you find the money for a trip?

His simple answers were true years ago, and are even more so nowadays.

It's simply a question about priorities in how you spend (and earn) your money, both at home and when abroad. I recall hearing about "getting by" and doing without things. For example, some folks will go out and spend thousands of dollars on furniture for the living room; they have a nice, new, leather sofa, matching chairs, a big-screen TV, the works. That same person will grouse that there's no way they can ever afford a trip to Europe. Meanwhile, Rick spoke about making do without a matched set of furniture - maybe even sitting on the living room floor for a few years - no big-screen TV, etc. (many of us still have "bookshelves" assembled from cinder blocks or plastic milk crates and a few boards...) and instead can go to Europe if they watch their money. It's all about your priorities.

When you do manage to take that trip, don't stay at five-star hotels, go out for extravagant meals every day - stay in less expensive places (many of us made our first trips to Europe sleeping in hostels or even lower-end places). Unfortunately, "social media" has so warped society's collective consciousness so badly, people now think that travel (like everything else) has become a competitive sport, so everything you touch must be made from Carrara marble, and all your food must contain gold dust or saffron, because that's what gets clicks... A $2 cup of coffee habit (or even a $5 one) every day mounts up. I know people who spend enough at Starbucks in six months to pay for a nice trip, yet they grouse about the cost of flights. That's a choice they make, consciously or not.

This is old advice from an old guy, but it was true before and is even more true today. I think so many people today have gotten into the habit of spending tremendous amounts of money automatically on needless things (luxuries, really) that they seem to think are essential.

Most people I know rarely cook their meals at home: everything is from a restaurant, and often delivered. Ch-ching. Got an expensive new phone? Big Ch-ching! How about all the monthly subscription things you're paying for? Ch-ching, Ch-ching every few weeks! Most people I know aren't even aware of all the money they're spending, and they just assume that all those recurring expenses are for things that are requirements (hint: most are not). Streaming services? Ch-ching! Visits to your favorite bar? Ch-ching!!!

There are a million things that most people I know now consider as "essentials" that certainly are not...the examples are countless.

Unfortunately, unless you know of a way to go back in time and choose different (wealthier) ancestors, the simple, old advice is still true. You just need to set your priorities, do your best to earn more, but assuming you can't move that needle very much very quickly (and most people can't), you gotta take a hard look at the spending side, and make adjustments there accordingly.

Sadly, there's no "one crazy trick" that was "banned from the internet!"

Posted by
635 posts

For the two of us, we are estimating 12K USD for a 2-week trip

My advice is that instead of waiting for others, just dive in and plan a virtual trip - you can get prices for just about everything without leaving your couch or desk. This will give you insight for what it actually costs to take a two week trip.

You could start by using one of the itineraries for a Rick Steves tour that appeals to you as a template - modify it to suit your interests, then price it out online using resources such as Expedia, booking.com, airline websites, the Man in Seat 61 for train travel, etc,

To save money, plan to travel in the spring or fall. For example right now you can book a flight from Seattle to London in April for around $1,000 each on Virgin Atlantic. Go online and research hotels for London, Oxford and Bath. Or York and Edinburgh. Then research train fares. It should pencil out to much less than $12,000. If you haven't traveled, the UK is a great place to start, as the language barrier is much lower.

For $12,000, another option is to book a RS tour - you could do many of them for that amount, including airfare. Or try one of his My Way tours. But it isn't necessary to spend that much.

Read RS's Europe Through the Back Door, then read his guidebook for the area you'd like to visit. Learn how to use the Search function for this forum to find detailed information. It doesn't cost a thing to develop these trip planning skills, other than your time and a connection to the Internet.

Posted by
843 posts

The $12K will buy a lot of travel if airline miles are used for the flights. It would have covered our whole 35 day loop around Eastern Europe in 2018 for example (but things are cheaper there and are more expensive everywhere now).

Since you are still working I presume that you can pick your 1 week/2 weeks of distance vacations each year for an off-peak period rather than the summer, which can cut costs in many places and the crowds. Using Booking.com you can plan an idealized 2 week hotel itinerary with a good idea of the costs for the kind of hotel you want. AirBnB may be cheaper... or apartments. Experiment a bit. Just make a few plans for various destinations to see how prices really work. European railroad sites can give an excellent estimate of travel times and costs. The Man in Seat61 website has great advice on all train travel in Europe.

A friend's advice ten years before I retired was to start taking trips as soon as possible. They would be shorter than I would like, but they were training runs. And if they were a bit too costly I would be back at work immediately after to eat pasta more often and pay off the balance. And planning the next trip with a bit more perspective on costs in different places. If I didn't hit every bucket-list item I knew I could come back another time... Notably, the places I had never been remained more enticing for the next trip than backtracking except in a few cases.

Plan to have fun as soon as possible!

Posted by
15 posts

No one has mentioned HomeExchange- I use this platform and earn points for my guest rooms in my home or if I know I'm going on a trip I offer up my home for points.
I've used it to travel in Puerto Rico often (I live here) as it enables me to travel locally for next to nothing.
I've also used it to travel abroad- most recently in Ortigia where I stayed there for 5 days for the cost of the cleaning fee only.
Happy to answer any questions. I love it!

Posted by
1991 posts

We too are not near retirement and travel internationally a few times a year. We rarely eat out/order in as that is just so expensive. I also cook from scratch almost exclusively because premade/frozen dinners are again expensive. We make our own coffee at home.Think about what subscriptions you have, whether it is magazines, wine, makeup kits, etc and see if you really are using those. If you are working in an office vs at home, can you take the bus vs driving? We have the Amex Platinum card that does cost almost $600/year, BUT we get more than that back in benefits. Streaming, flight credits, lounge access, and best of all 5x travel and restaurant points so it really adds back up. We are sitting on over 800k miles right now without doing anything different than we normally would. We drive vehicles that have been paid for for years, and drive them until they die. I plan our vacations myself so that I am not paying a travel agent and I can find my own great deals. When looking at hotels, check their Facebook/instagram pages. We recently booked a hotel for Amsterdam for next month and I was really debating because of the cost, and then my daughter checked their instagram and they had a promo code that included breakfast. That was a deal at 52 euro for the two of us a day, and it made that hotel come in at a lower cost than the other hotel we had been booked at. I almost always use booking.com, and get the genius discount. I try to only book places that I do not have to pay upfront or have free cancellation up until the last moment, just in case.

Think outside the box a bit too. We have been to Iceland a number of times, but last summer we opted for a camper van and it saved so much money!!! We were there for 17 days this summer and spent just over $7 total, including flights, big excursions, the camper etc. With the camper, we cooked almost all of our meals. The grocery stores have some excellent things that are premarinated so we didn't need extra spices etc and kept the cost down.

Also, Iceland Air has some screaming deals, so get their emails. We love doing their "free" stopovers on the way to other places in Europe. In 2022 we went back to Iceland twice for a week each time, once for $1600 for the two of us (airfare, upgraded hotel and a few excursions) and the other time it was just under $2K. Once in February and once in October, and we saw the northern lights both times.

I head to Iceland and Amsterdam next month with our daughter and to give you an idea, we are flying Iceland Air from SEA to Iceland, and staying there before heading to Amsterdam. Our flights and hotels for 8 nights comes to a total of $3275 for both of us, and that includes upgraded seats that were $360 of that.

Posted by
1643 posts

As others have said, don't wait. You never know what life will bring.

My mom died at age 59. I had a health scare when I was approaching that age, so I've learned not to take the future for granted.

As many others have said, we make travel a priority. I don't go to a hairdresser or get manicures or pedicures. I buy clothes on sale or on consignment. Even much of our furniture was purchased on consignment.

We buy our vehicles slightly used and drive them for years before replacing them.

We've lived in the same home for 32 years. (Moving is expensive!) It's been paid off for a while.

We quit smoking many years ago and rarely drink anymore, so we don't spend money on those things.

I use coupons and shop sales.

We don't really deprive ourself a lot. Our home is nice, we collect art, we eat takeout sometimes, and we go to the theatre. But we prioritize our spending.

We also don't travel luxuriously, although we don't stay in the cheapest places, either. We do our research. We don't travel in peak season, and we don't travel business class (although we'd love to, but can't justify the cost). We probably spend between $5 and $6 K Canadian for a 3-week trip, and that's for both of us, including flights.

Posted by
2477 posts

We started taking once a year trips in 2017 (minus 2020 for obvious reasons). We had traveled before kids several times to Europe but took did not again until our youngest was in college. We are both still working.

We do not spend $12,000 on a two week trip. So possible to do it for less. We have paid about $1100-$1300 a piece for coach tickets so no bargains there. Some things that do make a difference.
1. Where you go. England is more expensive than Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Greece. Switzerland is more than England. We have tended to travel to less expensive countries where we can often have accommodations for less than $100 a night. We are going to England this coming May and one cost saving thing we are doing is staying in a room in a private home. We have done it before ( in US and Canada too) and it has always worked out. We are doing that in Oxford which we found to be more expensive than London and staying in apartments the rest of the time.
2. Don’t eat all your meals out. We actually get tired of eating out and usually pick up sandwiches for lunch and go to sit down restaurants for dinner about 1/2 the time. We like to stay in apartments for stays if three or more nights and this will do take out or make something very simple. Going to dinner in Europe tends to be an evening event and we prefer to not do that every night.
3. Be careful with transportation. Don’t assume you need to drive. Europe has far better public transportation than the US. Gas is expensive and usually renting a car is more expensive. If we rent a car, we minimize how long. If you are traveling on a fast train, buy tickets ahead of time to save money.

Posted by
735 posts

another 15 years of working full-time before we can retire

One piece of advice I can offer is to sit down with your boss/supervisor and talk about how you'd like to make travel a priority in the coming years. Make sure they are on board with a work-life balance that accommodates this. This means not just the time off you've earned, but that they are willing to work with you for spur-of-the-moment travel, if there's a great deal (for example). I had a terrible boss who literally hated that we traveled as soon as the vacation days were earned. They made a big show of approving my vacation time, and really making life miserable when I wanted to travel. As many have noted, this is about priorities in life and people can be very petty when you make choices that are different than theirs. Of course, I left that job and found one were I -- and my love of travel -- was supported.

But whatever you do, don't wait! If travel is your dream, start now. You won't regret it!

Posted by
13869 posts

What Liz in PA said about others making comments about traveling so often resonates with me. I hear that as well....and just keep my lip zipped. Even long ago and far away (1980's, lol) when traveling with my ex-spouse, people at each of our workplaces would say the same. I've made travel a priority. Covid also taught me that I need to carpe the heck out of the diem for as long as I can. I'm mid-70's so my days of solo travel are numbered. When I have to stop traveling I don't ever want to feel that there was some place I wanted to go but didn't.

I've never been one to enjoy eating out around home so I save that for my travel time. I cook at home every day and frankly enjoy a break from that. I'm traveling solo so usually choose to stay in hotels and again I go with 3* for my comfort. Food-wise I can eat pretty inexpensively and often prefer a sandwich from a carry out place eaten in a garden over sitting in a restaurant at midday.

I enjoy independent travel as well as taking tours and I'm willing to spend money on that enjoyment. Same with seeing things at my destination. I go to every museum or cathedral or venue that sounds interesting to me. I'm not going to have a strict budget on vacation so that I am not able to take advantage of things I can't see at home.

I like the suggestion to go ahead and plan your trip and see what it budgets out at. From Seattle you can probably get flights to many places in Europe for around $1500-$1600. I fly from Spokane and I'm generally in that price range. IF one of the frequent flyer programs or credit card programs works for you fine, but do your initial budget using money so you can get your head wrapped around numbers. If you can save it at the end, all the better. Figure 50 whatevers a day for food/transit/venues -so 50Euro, 50 Pounds, etc. That gives you a ball park. IF you are foodies, bump that up. If you are inexpensive eaters still use the 50 and you'll be ahead for extra gelato, hahaha!

Have you read Rick's Europe Through the Back Door? That is a good place to start. I am also one that uses the library a lot but this book is inexpensive enough I'd go for a paperback copy. And for some reason I think this would be better in paper than as an e-book.

Have a joyous time planning...and really you can go some place this year! Depending on what your work schedule looks like, early Nov might be a good time for cheaper everything!

And welcome to the forum!!

Cross-posted with History Traveler and wow, that post makes so much sense. Yes, there are bosses who just don't want you to do anything different! I'm glad you found a better work situation.

Posted by
2303 posts

My husband and I started traveling to Europe in 2000, when we were 27. We prioritized travel over other expenses. No fancy coffee every day. No fancy cars. We opened a travel savings account and put whatever we could into it each month.

I would start by pricing out a trip. That will give you a more realistic budget. We’re a family of 4 living in the PNW. I budget $5-6k/week, depending on where we’re going. So you can definitely travel for less than $12k for 2 people for two weeks. Lodging and airfare will be the big expenses. We budget 100€/day for food for 2 people, and often come in under that. We use an Alaska Airlines credit card and used miles to go to Frankfurt for Christmas markets this year on Condor Airlines. 100k miles +$200 RT for 2 people from our little airport in Oregon. Probably less from Seattle.

Where you choose to travel makes a big difference. Paris is always expensive, as is Switzerland, and Munich during Octoberfest. Don’t travel during the summer if you can avoid it. You can probably get RT air for $800-$1000 from Seattle. Apartments can sometimes be a better deal than hotels. If you’re going to big cities, do not rent a car. Hotel star ratings are different in Europe, so don’t be confused. Stars are awarded based on amenities offered (pool, spa, restaurant, etc), not on the quality of the hotel. Three stars will be pretty swanky. But may lack the character most seeking a “RS-style trip” look for. A reasonable budget for non-swanky, but nice, hotels is probably 150-200€/night for most places.

So, hotels: 200€/nt x 13 nts = 2600€
Food 1400€
Airfare $2000 (2200€ for ease)
Puts you at 6200€
Plus activities, transportation and shopping: 1000€

Very rough estimate, but gives you an idea.

Posted by
27004 posts

I agree that for most people (not doctors, corporate lawyers, etc.), it's about prioritizing travel and spending less on other things. My TV is a low-end hand-me-down I got for free from a relocating friend in 2006; my former TV was 25 years old at the time. I've never owned a car. I have many, many books, but over 99% of them were purchased for 75 cents or less at used-book sales. Different people will have different opportunities for trimming costs, and I acknowledge that folks with children (I have none) will have significantly greater challenges.

For any younger folks who may be reading this: Investing excess funds in the stock market (a low-fee index fund is best) when you're young can pay off massively by the time you're ready to retire. I didn't start doing that until I was 31; I'd be way ahead now if a chunk of my savings had gone into the market starting five years earlier. Corollary: Don't graduate from college with a lot of debt you'll be paying off for decades.

As I moved through my career, gradually making more money but not ever in a particularly high-paid management job, I never spent more than the value of the pension I knew I'd have at retirement age. Everything else went into savings (mostly into the stock market). That wouldn't be a reasonable goal for most people, I think; raising children is expensive. But as already mentioned, folks making regular runs to Starbucks or the like have, by definition, an expenditure that could be eliminated, as do people who buy a new car every X years.

In sum: Most people who are serious about traveling really need to look at every expenditure and ask whether it can be trimmed. Before I headed off on my summer trip this year, I eliminated my cable-TV service; it was way too expensive, given how much TV I was watching. I know I was way too slow to take that step. I didn't replace cable with a streaming service until the Black Friday deals rolled around this year. I took advantage of a few short-term, deeply discounted offers I'll keep for a few months (total cost probably less than $30), then I'll cancel them. Then I'll wait for the next bargain-basement opportunity, because I record things to watch later and will never run out of things to see. My savings from that one change are over $1000 per year.

One other thing: When I travel, I book the cheapest decent hotel room I can find in a reasonably convenient location. I don't have a hotel budget that gets spent on every trip. When I'm traveling in an inexpensive country, my hotel rooms are cheap; they aren't nicer-than-I-find-necessary places just because they are deals compared to the costs in London, Paris, Rome, etc.

Posted by
2303 posts

Open an Alaska Airlines credit card and use your annual companion fare to travel to Costa Rica, Belize, or Guatemala in Central America.

Posted by
2317 posts

Hi Kathy, welcome! My husband and I are in our 40s and also a long way from retirement.

I haven’t read the other replies yet, but I’m just going to jump in and say that $12,000 for a 2-week trip is probably way overestimating what it will actually cost for the travel style you’ve described. We have always flown coach, stay in 3–4-star hotels, and usually eat at cafes or mid-range restaurants. We’ve been on 4 trips so far ranging between 9-16 nights, and the cost has ranged between $4500-$7500 per trip. We don’t have any airline or hotel points. We also never felt like we were depriving ourselves or roughing it.

I have my recent trip reports listed in my profile that might give you an idea of some of the hotels and restaurants we utilized.

Posted by
7311 posts

Unless it’s a super-expensive location (like Scandinavia last fall), we’ve still usually been able to find lodging for less than the equivalent of $120 a night. That seems yo contribute to having money for the rest of the trip. We fly economy, and have made extensive use of frequent flyer (Avios) points with British Airways, our primary airline for flying from Denver to Europe. We gain additional Avios points when we make purchases using a British Airways VISA card from Chase bank. Now retired, our income’s less than when we were working, but saving some money, driving older cars, and not putting huge investments into home maintenance/upgrades have always helped provide travel funds. Look at the house … it’s not a showplace by any means, but money that some folks put into their abode, we’ve used for travel.

I wonder, do you have children? Parents are spending money with kids that childless people don’t.

Posted by
16122 posts

A few years back, when we were still working, my husband figured out how much we save by not being at home for three weeks while we travel (that is the usual length of our Europe trips). That is, the money we are not spending on groceries (food and wine), gas, hot water for showers and laundry, the Amazon Prime movies we are not watching, etc.

I will let someone take a stab at guessing before I say how much it comes to, per day.

Posted by
2166 posts

DON'T WAIT! The last trip my husband and I took together was for FOUR WEEKS and we spent a total of $9,350 visiting Vienna, Budapest, Ljubljana and Lake Bled, Trieste, Venice, and Italy's Dolomites, all by public transportation. (We flew into Vienna and out of Zurich.) My husband died earlier this year at age 76, after being unable to travel since age 73. I am so grateful that I insisted we start traveling when we were in our early 50s, having known so many people who waited "until we retire" and were never able to go. We did not have children and followed many of the tips that others have offered.

Now, I am traveling solo and have trips planned to Mexico and Costa Rica in the next couple of months. I am startled by how inexpensive these countries are to visit compared to Europe (airfare is part of it), so you could easily start soon with your Central America wish.

Posted by
2166 posts

@Lola - Very good point! I can't wait for your number.

Posted by
7202 posts

Welcome to the forum, Kathy! I fit into your category of question with over a dozen trips, and we’re retired.

Our first trip international was for our 25th anniversary.

My parents were extremely frugal but not tightwads. We never paid for something we could do or learn to do ourselves. When I married, my husband & I lived similarly. I’m an engineer but stayed home with our kids until the oldest started college. I returned to engineering, and that’s how we afforded our trips. We’ve always lived on one income and any extra money was put into the principal payment of our home loan to significantly drop the number of years that we had a loan. We just had one car for many years and never bought a car that needed a car loan. I cooked all of our meals mostly by scratch for years. (When I went to work, I explored the freezer section much more in the grocery store!). Our family vacations were visiting our parents in Montana & Iowa, and we liked to camp while we lived in Oregon.

My love language isn’t gifts, so I don’t need a lot of stuff. And, we both take very good care of our stuff, so we’re rarely replacing anything major.

We have a nice home now and do splurge on some things, but we’re both generally very happy just living everyday with friends, neighbors & family activities.

I travel like we live. I don’t need the expensive hotels, and just being with locals, riding the inexpensive trains and enjoying a few cooking classes, gorgeous churches and smaller city museums & photographing the architecture , etc. makes for a wonderful vacation in Europe!

Posted by
7202 posts

”Make sure [your boss] is on board with a work-life balance that accommodates this.”

Set yourself up for this to be successful ahead of time, if possible. I don’t think I ever really asked - more like I announced that I would be gone for 2 1/2 weeks. I coached a lot of engineers on their projects during those first five years we traveled, so I set their project timelines for completion before I left on our yearly European trips. I was commended by my VP for it because of the consistent results, and I told him the reason for the timing. : )

Posted by
7496 posts

We waited through 20 years of marriage, raising kids, getting established before we traveled. We started out with a Europe trip every other year (but for ~3 1/2 weeks), then yearly after 10 years or so, plus I started traveling to Europe for business at least once a year. We also managed a number of Mexico and Caribbean trips, everything planned ourselves.

How did we afford that? Well, as others said, we made travel a priority. Currently we both have 10+ year old vehicles, live in a house much more modest than our peers, no RV, no boat, not too many vices. Those savings went to travel (well, after retirement investing).

As for costs, as others have said, you can go for much less than $12K/2 weeks. Not counting airfare, the two of us travel well for around $2K per week, and of that, we figure we would have spent almost half that at home, so the impact to budget is lessened. Overall $6-7K for two weeks and airfare is closer to the mark. Go on a tour, yeah, figure closer to the $12K.

I also concur with those that say do not wait. We were lucky to retire early, just before 60, planning on longer, more trips. Well, Covid happened causing postponements, picked up another property that competes for my time, some other life needs with family further infringed on travel, and recently I had a nasty fracture that took me out for the last 4 months plus not up to speed for another month. You just never know. I am just hoping we have another 10 good years of active travel.

Posted by
16 posts

Wow, thank you so much everyone. Great ideas and happy to know we're already doing lots of good things. Yes, we are living below our means - and also drive a 2015 Toyota Prius :) We're about to pay off our 2nd vehicle (we share 2 vehicles among us and our two kids ages 19 and 15). We have another 8 years left on our mortgage, and we are already using an Alaska Airlines mileage card - so great to know we are on the right track. We do take an annual trip to visit out-of-state family which has traditionally used up our companion fare.

We are thankfully able to live debt-free (I'm a University professor, my husband is a data analyst). But there are some small things we can cut back on - subscriptions to newspapers, streaming services, those types of things that could probably add up to $100-$200 a month. We don't eat out often - maybe twice a month. We're contributing to our retirement at the max level. Our oldest is a freshman in college/living at home, our youngest will finish high school in a couple years. We're also remodeling our bathroom this spring (seriously needed, not an extravagance).

I am especially encouraged to hear so many of you say we can travel for much less than what we anticipated. I'll work on pricing out flights, trains, activities, and lodging options to get a more realistic idea of what a trip would run us. Thanks again all.

Posted by
7202 posts

Kathy, nice to hear that you’re already on the right track towards being able to travel! You might want to check out some people’s trip reports. Occasionally a traveler will note what their trip cost. The more popular cities & destinations will cost more than others - sometimes 2-3X higher. When my adult daughter traveled with me last year, it was her first time, so we stayed in some of the more expensive locations. Here’s the total of what it cost us. I paid for the shared lodging. I’ll attach the trip report for reference for you.

”For the 15-day trip, my expenses were $3660, and $1030 for my daughter, plus our airfare & trip insurance. These expenses included staying in nicer Italian-style hotels, B&B’s or small apartments in the center of the historic districts, riding the trains & ferries – just an occasional taxi, a variety of activities & meals, plus having the best gelato & tiramisu - yum!”

https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/trip-reports/mother-adult-daughter-italy-trip-aug-sept-2022

Posted by
2317 posts

I should have specified that when I said above that our trips ranged between $4500-$7500 per trip, that is including our plane tickets.

Posted by
464 posts

Wow you got flooded with so many great suggestions…you must be bleery eyed! It’s about how you take care of the money you do have. And yes…Dave Ramsey always helpful too. We have been retired 6 yrs. Before that we saw most of the US National Parks and with kids. We have tended to travel more than most people we know. Many people prefer their same beach vacation. Not our style. So much to see!!
People that drive new cars and have second homes and say they can’t afford travel make their choices. I too cook scratch meals…eat leftovers. No nails or spas. Coffee at home. We still manage to donate and tithe. So many ways to be frugal. It’s harder for you yet with expenses with kids at home and college. But do make some travel happen. Don’t wait…don’t always put it off. Comparison shop on travel sites. Go to library. Get maps. Study and know what interests you. Stay with this travel forum!
We only fly economy…even internationally. We cruise in inside cheapest cabins. No extras or any packages. Cruising can be a great reasonable way to see many new places in less time. Land trips wonderful also! We do both. Rick Steve’s guide books are our first go-to for all our European trips. It’s good you are planning and finding your travel passion! Nothing better!

Posted by
206 posts

Hi Kathy,
Congratulations for thinking ahead! Thanks for posting this query, it’s a great thread. So many of us feel the same way about travel being more important than getting a new car or eating fancy meals at expensive restaurants.

Our first international trip was a guided tour of France in 1994, not through Rick Steves.. That got the ball rolling, but we couldn’t get overseas again due to work and family priorities until 2015, Rick Steves best of Italy. That tour is out of this world, btw.

In between our overseas trips, we traveled a lot in the U.S. for my business in our big van, in which we camped. Traveling our country was fun and hard work but so wonderful. We tried to visit museums and points of interest on our off days.

We are in our 60s and child free. My husband is a wonderful budgeter, and we have a frugal but happy lifestyle.

We never paid for TV after cutting out cable 30 years ago. We borrow DVDs from the library.

“Travel” clothes-some are heavy, expensive and not practical for me. But layering clothes is always helpful at home and when traveling.

I am a substitute librarian and it’s good to have money coming in, yet no regular job with heavy responsibilities. My husband is retired. Someday soon I will be too. But our upcoming 39 day trip next spring to Europe will be expensive and every little bit helps.

At the time we took our first overseas trip, we had two weeks off from our full time jobs (I hadn’t quit my day job yet). We paid off our mortgage early and we don’t carry debt. We just don’t like the feeling of being behind and would rather do without whatever thing it is and save our money for travel experiences.

We always flew economy class, but my body can’t take those seats any more. So enjoy it while you can! We are fairly fit and we enjoy Rick Steves guided tours. We don’t wish to drive overseas, so guided tours are nice and take away stress.

In expensive places like Switzerland, we find a grocery store and have feasts at reasonable prices, just as we would at home.

What I like about your budget of $12,000 is that if you are sensible with your splurges, you will have money left for your next trip-so put it aside for that purpose. If/when you get a raise, if you can afford to, start or continue to make deposits into the travel account. My husband always saved his raise money since he figured he could get by on what he had earned before the raise.

Posted by
357 posts

My husband and I have used B and Bs in the past, primarily in the UK and Ireland. (However, our recent trip stays were mostly in small inns and hotels. It seems the little mom & pop B n Bs are disappearing.) Some stays were in some very homely abodes (even a couple of the inns we stayed at this time) which reminded me of staying at a grandmother's or aunt's in the 60s. One place in Ireland we only had a room in a tiny home...On one of our unscripted days, evening was suddenly upon us. The hotel was booked so we stopped at a cute little house with a BnB sign on the main road (on a peninsula in northern Donegal). Usually the BnBs (and also some hotels) have large breakfasts which carry us well into the day. We then have second main meal and if needed, snacks (nuts, maybe cheese & crackers, fruit) to tide us over until the second meal or in place of an evening meal. Sometimes were were able to get by without much snacking, essentially skipping a meal each day.

Posted by
8115 posts

I don't have time right now to read all of what's been written. Let me just say we don't begin to spend $12K on our two week trips.

My wife's hobby is finding cheap airfares. We seldom pay more than 50% or 60% of normal airfares that most travelers are paying. We find rooms on Booking.com or stay in places we've stayed at before.

We've been traveling to Europe for 50 years, and we've been to just about every big city 4-5 times. We've only missed Lisbon and otherwise have been from Russia and Scandinavia to as far south as Israel. We take 1-2 big trips per year usually.

My wife is now mobility challenged, and we travel with her personal electric scooter. She's not missed a beat. We did find this June that she couldn't well manage Venice so she stayed back by the train station in an apartment while my granddaughter and I hiked the island.

We have also taken cruises many times, and found it to be a very good travel bargain. When we find cities and countries we especially like (Montenegro and Croatia for example) we'll go back there in the future.

After so many trips to Italy and Venice that we cannot remember, we are about fed up with the big city crowds and the high cost of rooms. Future trips will be to more off the beaten path cities. We've already seen the popular travel sites. The Londons and Paris' will be to fly thru--and not stay there any longer.

We get one flight per year off the credit card rebates. We do not save for trips specifically and we don't do any budgeting. We travel as cheaply as possible, and deal with any credit cards when we return. Fortunately we have the $ to travel often as long as we travel frugally.

Good luck in your future travels. We're so thankful that we've had such great times and have so many crazy travel stories. Like the time my wife unintentionally breeched security in CDG and they emptied the entire airport wing and unloaded 650 people off two jumbo jets--and their luggage. Hundreds of people missed their connecting flights back in the U.S.--but we made ours.

Posted by
4565 posts

To Lola's point, when budgeting for retirement, I definitely underestimated the budgeted categories I wouldn't be spending money on while I was traveling: gas, clothes, groceries, heating/cooling, all but a baseline of gas and electricity. All that money can be reallocated to travel without affecting my regular monthly budget.

Posted by
99 posts

I'm not retired yet, we managed to go abroad once a year, roughly two weeks at a time during summer when prices are high. Daugther still in HS.
My strategy is opened a saving acct for vacation fund, put money religiously. We no longer have mortgage so that helps. I looked for cheap airfare. Checking the prices often. It pays off. We got airfare seattle to dublin via iceland for 685 each for august 2024. That's a huge saving for family of 3.

Posted by
1912 posts

I am an old lady who did not have the opportunity to travel until about 15 years ago.

I am lower income but had a nice savings from clinical research studies for my insomnia. The savings is not as much as it was once.

All year long, I budget, budget and budget some more. I live frugally. I do not drive. I do not have any pets. I do not smoke but have an occasional drink.

My one luxury is my one cruise a year and I plan many months for my one cruise. But I also have to travel on a tight budget if I want to continue to be able to take one cruise a year. I also spend about three or four days pre-cruise. I make a big deal about my one cruise.

You might change your mind and consider a cruise which can be a very good value and I would be glad to talk to you further about cruises if you think you might be interested.

Do you have a rewards credit card? Think about getting one or a new one so that you can get the promotion.

Do you have to wait until retirement? You and husband must get paid vacations. Why not go to Europe or Central America on vacation while you are still young and I assume healthy. Believe me, you do not know what your health is going to be like in 15 years. I hate to bring this up but you may not even be alive in 15 years. Travel now. Plan on a vacation this year and try smaller. Try a week first. Go to one place for a week and get your feet wet. Then you can get more adventurous..

R S tours look like a great time at reasonable prices for all that you get.

I can tell you that the experienced travelers on this site are going to be very glad to help you.

Why not make a 2024 Resolution to take a trip but if at all possible avoid traveling during the summer or holidays.

Posted by
4286 posts

I retired at 64 1/2 (27 years teaching high school is enough, off-peak travel not an option for teachers) but at age 70 my husband still works more than 40 hours/week and travels a lot for work. Don't retire at 62 and don't wait until you retire to travel. When traveling before retirement, plan a two-week trip in a way that includes 3 weekends. As other posts have said, we almost never ate out at home(until we bought our house near Charleston), still drive my now-14 yr old Prius, cleaned my house myself, never had my hair professionally colored, have never had a manicure, wear my clothes until they are stained or have holes in them, and buy my makeup at the drugstore. We only pay for the expensive screening service during football season and then take the less expensive option until the next football season.

RS Tours sound great, but we can travel much less expensively on our own. Gate 1 Travel has well-priced tours that several of us recommend. Taking a tour means you have a better idea upfront of what it's going to cost you. If you go on a tour that includes most of your meals and you eat frugally for other meals(example: eat a big, usually included, breakfast, and a light lunch. Eat your big meal at lunch and snack for dinner. Buy sandwiches at local grocery stores) , you will save a significant amount of your normal home food budget and if your commute is costly, the money you spend on gas when home)

We haven't done this, but some hostels have private rooms. Monastery stays are great in Rome, but people say to book with the establishment directly rather than through the Monastery Stays website. Rick Steves has an app with tours of cities and museums that would save you the cost of a guide. Travel with as little luggage as possible for maximum flexibility in transportation(trains, subways-many European cities have amazing public transportation!) Shopping is overrated as an activity and you have to find room in your luggage to take the stuff home.

Posted by
2386 posts

Some places are more expensive than others, sometimes much more. Where do you want to go, do? Capitol,cities are expensive, country villages usually aren’t. My wife and I travel in Germany for about 150 Euro per day total. This past fall it was probably closer to 125.

The advice about credit card frequent flyer miles is good. It is the signup bonus where the value really lies. I think I have only paid regular fare once of my last 9 transatlantic flights.

Posted by
1991 posts

Kathy--It sounds like you have a good start:). You are in the hardest time financially with kids in college and almost there. I was a SAHM from when the kids were born until our oldest went to college, and even then I just did a p/t "mother's hours" job. I did not start my own business until the pandemic. So one income during all of this, and the college years were tight. We paid for their education, so that was their gift. We almost always fly economy. Sometimes I will spring for first class domestically, but that is rare. For overseas flights, I would say 90% of the time we are main cabin, but every once in a while we bump up to comfort plus. We cut cable and the landline a couple years ago and just stream now and that saves us quite a bit. Our kids are the ones that actually got us going on that, lol.

Posted by
4506 posts

Some more thoughts:

I am amazed what people spend on work lunches and think nothing of it. That money really adds up ($1000s per year) and is a really common expenditure, more so than daily coffees I think, well I don't see that nearly as often.

Also make sure that you actually enjoy traveling by trying it out now. We talked old friends into joining us in Europe and they were so eager, but the reality of walking in the rain, seeing endless churches and museums, waiting for buses, the confusion at train stations (there's always some level of confusion) it all wasn't for them and they are done with travel. It's not all thrilling like an Instagram account implies. Many people alternate between short trips to Vegas and Florida because that's what they ultimately want to do and it suits their attention spans, irrespective of money or time.

Posted by
6257 posts

I started putting aside a certain amount of money every month into a dedicated travel account. I still do that even though retired. I consider travel part of my monthly budget. I am strictly pay as you go. No money in account, no trip……. I also am a planner and bargain hunter. That helps. After I had been retired about a year I discovered that I had too much free time on my hands for my liking. I started back to work as a substitute teacher.

What Carol NR said. I've always had a separate travel account that I put money into, and continue to do so now that I am retired. And like Carol, I've decided to work as a substitute teacher. It gets me out of the house, keeps me moving around, helps the schools out (most schools are desperate for subs), and gives me money for my travel fund. Everything I earn goes into that fund.

I realize if you are both still working that this may not be possible, but there are many ways to earn extra income. And there are many ways to save money for travel. But you really need to make it a priority.

  • Start early looking for low-cost airfares.
  • Come to the forum on a regular basis and ask about budget hotels and lodging. This forum is where I found out about Premier Inn hotels in the UK, which are relatively low cost yet very clean and comfortable, and you find them all over the UK.
  • Don't eat out all the time. Grab a prepared meal at a grocery store and have a picnic in your room.
  • Find places that offer free breakfasts, then have a late lunch or early dinner instead of 3 full meals a day.
  • Many museums and attractions throughout Europe are free. Take advantage of that. Spend a day in a park with a picnic lunch and enjoy the local ambience.
  • Find low-cost transportation options. Germany has the Deutschland ticket that lets you travel anywhere in Germany for €49 a month.
  • Stick with less expensive countries in the beginning. The UK and Scandinavia are both very expensive. Germany, Austria and the Netherlands are more mid-range, and places like Hungary, Romania and Poland are on the lower end of costs.
  • Read some of the blogs out there like The Savvy Backpacker, who has been writing for decades and gives lots of good tips on keeping costs down (and it's not just for backpackers). The Man in Seat 61 is an invaluable resource for those wanting to travel by train in Europe. And of course, this site has lots of articles on how travel on a budget, like Affordable Europe and many more.

I've been a solo budget traveler for decades, and have had incredible experiences. You don't need a lot of money to travel well. You do need some planning, a budget and flexibility but in the end, it's all worth it.

Posted by
714 posts

First thing: Take advantage of your employer's pension if by chance you are lucky enough to have one. That was the best decision I ever made. It's already returned 500% more than I ever contributed. Contribute the max to your 401K plan and make sure to get the employer's maximum contribution.

We made enough improvements to our new home (built 1995) to get out from under PMI in the second year.

When the mortgage rates fell to their lowest rates 20-some years ago we refinanced from a 30 year loan to a 15.

Then we paid 2 months every month and got out from under the loan in 8 years time. That saved over $100,000 in interest.

Next we aged in place. Our property tax increases have been restricted by MI's Headlee agreement. If we purchased this home right now it's taxes would be 300% more.

We took advantages of tax incentives to replace HVAC, add an automatic standby generator, new roof, etc all before retiring.

We made our own lunches and brought our own coffee to work. I realized how much I could save by not walking to the cafeteria for Starbucks every day. We have never spent too much for eating out and entertainment expenditure is reserved for only the most important events. Membership in the Henry Ford ensures activities year round at Greenfield Village/Henry Ford Museum.

We keep an older larger SUV with no remaining payments to use for transporting larger items or larger groups. Then we keep a newer small vehicle for more economical normal trips. We pay cash for them using my retiree Ford X Plan.

Our only expenses in retirement are property taxes, transportation, food, dental & medical care (Medicare certainly reduced those). Oh yes....lawn care/snow equipment, etc. DIY.

Doing the math - I have an inheritance, we have 2 SS incomes, my pension and I'm sitting on my 401K until withdrawals are required. With no mortgage, no car loans, and lower insurance rates we have significant resources for travel.

I'm not looking forward to the required minimum withdrawals from the 401k because we don't really need them and the tax implications of high brackets. Luckily MI will no longer tax them by that time.

Textbook Suzy Orman, Money magazine discussions among my very smart comrades in IT data warehousing, and continued good fortune in our health and vitality.

.

Posted by
2317 posts

Suzy Orman

I forgot about her! Now I'm off to YouTube clips of her yelling at people on that show she had where they called up to ask if they could afford stuff.....

Posted by
879 posts

Kathy, I hope that you and your husband will be able to travel to Europe and CA while you're still young. My husband, kids and I have traveled extensively in Europe. Walking the sights can be very challenging--cobblestone streets, steep paths without guard rails, etc. [I'll never forget the hike at Tintagel Castle in England when my kids were 2 and 5!] Aging can result in bad knees, hips, etc. Too many wait until it's too late.
One thing that I think hasn't been stated in the comments is that many are able to travel because of work travel--my husband's work included flying to Korea and China in business class which gave him a load of frequent flyer miles. When he went to European meetings, I traveled along--his flights, meals and our hotels were paid for which not only resulted in FF miles but also cut down on the hotel bills. So, if you're wondering why the Joneses get to travel so much, it might be due to the work perks.

Covid helped our bank account because we did not go out at all! We also live in an area that does not have restaurant delivery which meant we cooked/baked a lot! (Thank you, New York Times Cooking)
We just returned from a 12-day trip to Costa Rica with our two sons, daughter-in-law and two grandsons --$5,000 for United Economy air fare with two FF tickets; $4,000 for home rentals including daily maid service [11 nights]--4-bedroom, 5 full baths and a 3-bedroom, 3 full baths home with pool and direct access, by walking, to Pacific Ocean. I haven't tallied the tickets to Monteverde Cloud Forest, Manuel Antonio National Park or the zip lining, horseback riding, car rentals etc., but I'm fairly certain this trip was not much over $12,000 and it was for 7 people! The US dollar is very strong compared to the CR colones.
I hope you have as much fun planning as many of us here do--it's a large part of the fun.

Posted by
16122 posts

OK, I see no one has taken the bait and guessed what figure my husband came up with for our “travel savings”—-the usual expenses at home we are avoiding, like groceries, gas for the car, hot water, etc.—-while we are away from home. Of course many living expenses continue—-the mortgage, insurance, basic utilities (electricity to keep the fridge and freezer running!)—-and so on.

But what we are not spending at home comes to —- drum roll ——$50 a day. For our usual 3-week trip, that amounts to a $1000 credit toward our travel expenses.

As for those travel expenses, I wholly concur with those above who suggest that $12,000 is very generous for a 2-week trip to Europe. You don’t need to spend that much to have a great trip (unless you are thinking of signing up for a guided tour).

Of course, it depends to some degree on what countries you choose to visit, as some are more expensive than others (Norway comes to mind). And travel style is important—-apartments and cooking “in” are much less expensive than staying in hotels and dining out. And train tickets can add up if you do a lot of moving around, especially for longer distances. Also guided tours and other activities one chooses can be expensive.

We tend to travel mostly to the UK, Italy, and Switzerland (we have been to many other places in Europe but these are the ones we return to). We mix apartments and hotels, depending on length of stay (3+ nights deserve an apartment where we can have more space and privacy, do laundry, and enjoy the experience of shopping locally and the challenge trying to cook with the minimal equipment offered in most rental apartment.

I try to plan a fairly compact trip, and we save a lot of €€€ by buying our train tickets well in advance to get the discounted prices. We don’t generally book things like private walking tours, cooking classes. And when we do go out for dinner, we try to choose small, unpretentious family-run restaurants (no Michelin stars needed) and keep the bill to around 60-80 € with wine. Easy to do in Italy; in the UK and Switzerland we have to be more flexible and pay more.

With those parameters, our expenses for independent travel generally come to the $2000/week figure others have mentioned above. For us that does not include flights, as we fly with miles.

And it does not include the cost of the multi-day guided hiking tours we have been including in our travel since we retired—-those are pretty much double the daily cost of independent travel, for the 6 or 7 days of the tour. But at our age, we feel it is worth it for the safety factor, as we like fairly strenuous hiking in remote areas. With the guides, we are able to enjoy the hikes without worry about getting lost, or in over our heads in terms of rugged terrain. We also enjoy the camaraderie of the other guests (I imagine that factor is what draws people to the Rick Steves tours, although those are a much larger group).

Posted by
5570 posts

Kathy, we've traveled extensively around the U.S. and the Caribbean. I was about 50 when I started to travel to Europe. For us, it was my husband's work and activities of our family that kept us in the U.S. My first trip was when my second son was studying Budapest and my 1st son and I traveled with him for a couple weeks when he was done in Budapest.

I get so annoyed with my family members that are actually bitter about our travel. Life is about choices. Yes, we've been blessed, but we also drive our cars until they die. We've done a lot of camping trips. A coffee at a coffee shop is a treat. We don't do takeout. Now we are able to take two international trips a year, plus Hawaii, and then what I need to do to see my kids that live out of state. We stay in modest properties especially in Europe (which actually suits us better anyway). I've become pretty good at finding good flight options. We use public transportation when it works for the itinerary. We stay at places that include breakfast or have an "in room" breakfast of instant oatmeal or similar. We occasionally splurge at restaurants that are really special otherwise we eat where the locals eat.

Travel doesn't have to be expensive, but it is a choice.

EDITED TO ADD: We've never spent 12K for a 2 week trip. Even when we did a Viking Cruise with our own extensions on each end, we were well under 12K. I plan all our travel and do all my own research. Our last trip cost us about $6000 for about 26 days. For us, except for the airfare, travel anywhere in Europe has been less expensive than similar travel in the U.S. Certain countries are more expensive than others. Inexpensive countries we've traveled include Poland, Hungary, Spain. Sicily was an incredible bargain. We've been able to do Germany, France, Austria fairly inexpensively. We've been able to do Italy fairly reasonably. Switzerland, The Netherlands, Iceland and Luxembourg were a little more pricey than other places.

Posted by
635 posts

The UK and Scandinavia are both very expensive

Actually, with the British Pound where it is right now, the UK could be a relative bargain post-Brexit compared to where it was a few years ago. Book a Premier Inn a bit out from the city center and you may find London quite affordable. Numerous flights to London from the US can make London less expensive to reach than other points in Europe.

Posted by
103 posts

This is such an amazing thread -- going to bookmark it!

In total agreement here that spending $$$ on travel is a lifestyle choice. Back when I started to go to Europe a couple of times a year, I didn't have much money. I know this isn't a great recommendation, but at the time, I would seek out low-interest promotions on my credit cards, book my trip, then carefully pay off the costs over 6 months so. Not a perfect tactic, but it got me on some wonderful trips that I'll never regret -- including with my mother, who died at 64 (oh, the trips we would have taken...).

Like other folks here, I've had people say, "where do you get ALLLLLL this money to travel so much???" It cracks me up -- I have a 10-year-old car, buy my clothes on Poshmark, and tend to buy second-hand furniture, while they go on pricey cruiises and shell out $500 for hotel rooms.

I would like to point out to the OP and other folks that depending on your finances, you may not want to live a totally threadbare life so you can travel. I work hard and I don't like scrimping too much, so I still get my $6 lattes and have good dinners -- just less of them so I can balance out the travel budget.

Posted by
103 posts

Depending on how you travel, I could travel for about 2 months or more with 12k.

I travel off season, when possible. For example, we (husband, teen, and myself) went to Italy for about a month. We flew out of Seattle for this trip last December/January.

Airline tickets were about $600 each. We flew Aer Lingus round trip to Rome.

We rented a beach front one-bedroom apartment in December for about 850€ / month (Yes, cold and rainy.) We were not in a major tourist city. We did day trips around Tuscany.

We ate out about once a day. We went to the market and purchased food for easy breakfasts and a lunch/dinner meal. Breakfast was at the apartment and one other meal depending on our day. Food was no more expensive than at home and the restaurants were cheaper. We spent 30-50€ when eating out in a restaurant, including alcohol.

The most expensive part was Rome. We stayed at a hotel for a couple of nights at the beginning and end of our trip. The food was not expensive but because of New Year's the hotels was around 200€/night. We did some touristing such as the hop-on-off bus for a couple of those days, visited some sites, and probably spent under 300€ for the touristing.

We traveled by train between Rome and Tuscany. The most expensive train tickets were about 60€ between Tuscany and Rome. The day trips were less than that.

I do not rent a car when traveling internationally. I use public transportation, except when in places like Rome or Paris, when I use the tourist bus since it goes all of the places I want to see, especially if it is my first time. But I also don't do all of the typical tourist things. I do lots of things that don't show up in a RS guide, LOL.

I realize that this is not a typical trip, but this is how I usually travel and it has afforded us to travel more often and for longer.

Posted by
8414 posts

Sounds like you've gotten a lot of good advice, and are making the right financial decisions. At your stage in life, I suggest that you meet with a certified financial planner, who can look at the big picture of your finances, and advise on your financial security in retirement. They'll be able to show you what you afford to spend on your priorities, including travel.

Once you go on your first trip, and following the suggestions here and the RS guidebooks, you'll see you can do a lot for less. It takes some skill and research, like learning how trains and public transportation work, but other than the airfare, it's not much different than traveling in the US.

Posted by
3741 posts

I won't offer financial advice, because everything worth saying has already been said; but will instead encourage you to do a one week "first trip" overseas to dip your toe in the water. A "trial run".

To add to what markcw said.....

The UK and Scandinavia are both very expensive

Actually, with the British Pound where it is right now, the UK could be a relative bargain post-Brexit compared to where it was a few >years ago. Book a Premier Inn a bit out from the city center and you may find London quite affordable.

You could start with a one week trip to London with day trips. This would get you accustomed to travel. You could then in a future trip do a multi-country itinerary for a longer period.

You should be able to do one week in London for about half (or less), or perhaps one-third, of what you mentioned in your original post. The Premier Inn hotels mentioned by markcw are an excellent value/inexpensive. There are also small family-run hotels in London that are inexpensive. Plus some good youth hostels with family rooms--inexpensive. Plus you can stay in university dorms when school is not in session. Rick Steves London guidebook will have all the scoop on money-saving places to stay and to eat, plus information on attractions.

Posted by
71 posts

Lola- I love that your husband crunched the at home numbers. I do that too and subtract that amount from my trip budget costs. . I just ball parked it each time but food at home, gas driving around and etc. does add up.

Posted by
7311 posts

A cost-saving strategy for meals is to look for a kebab place. Cheap and filling. There are so many take-away places throughout Europe now that they should really have to qualify as “local” food!

Posted by
17771 posts

I got a good education then worked 60+ hours a week for 40 years; spent money wisely but enjoyed life. Was lucky or smart enough to see a good deal in Budaoest 15 years ago, bought it and leveraged it to reduce travel costs.

Here is an idea of costs. Not perfect but a good guide for comparative costs https://www.budgetyourtrip.com/

Posted by
735 posts

....encourage you to do a one week "first trip" overseas to dip your toe in the water. A "trial run".

I think this is really smart and a good idea. I might suggest closer to 12 days to 2 weeks, just so you really get a sense of European travel, including time to recover from your first international jetlag. London could be great because it avoids the language barrier on your first trip, and while expensive, it doesn't have to be with some planning and pre-work. I would say similar for Paris (plus the language issue, of course).

Having said that, a huge city on your first trip might be overwhelming. Imagine not really having much U.S. travel experience and deciding on New York City for the first trail run. Could be great; could be too much.... You'd really have to decide for yourself.

An alternative might be to settle into a region that is a little more low-key, and yes, a little cheaper. I notice Seattle has direct flights to both Frankfurt and Amsterdam. If it were me and my first time, and I had up to $12K to spend, I might do a simple train-based loop through Holland and Belgium -- three stops of three- to four-nights each. Or similar through the Rhineland in Germany and France. It would be a nice way to explore, learn about train systems, spend a little less than a major city (especially on accommodations), and really absorb some classic European experiences.

Ultimately, just be honest with yourself about your threshold for new. If a train loop seems overwhelming, go with the single big city and some day trips out and back; If the big city seems overwhelming, consider a region that is slightly less frenetic. This is YOUR trip....there is no right or wrong answer! Just take the time to research, read books, look at pictures, watch documentaries, etc. and see what really sings to your heart... And within that process, you'll also get at your original question -- what kind of money do you need to spend?

Posted by
16 posts

Seriously you guys - thank you so much for all this info. My goodness, it's overwhelming!

That Budgetyourtrip site by Kayak is pretty cool. Thank you for that tip. Based on that site, if we did do a 3-week trip with one week per country (England, Italy, Croatia), plus separate airfare projections - that site estimates the cost for 2 to be around $9500. It's also interesting that the site projects a week in Norway as one of the cheaper countries (compared to England, Croatia, Italy, Sweden, Austria, or Germany). Only Denmark was more. Obviously airfare (which is not included in the site) could be a big variable - being novice fliers, we're more likely to choose a well-established airline with good reputation and prefer to use Alaska Airline mileage program if at all possible. We also won't be able to take advantage of last-minute deals due to planning ahead and work/family stuff. I realize those restrictions may cost us more.

I also appreciate the suggestions to start smaller/manageable just trying a 10-14 day trip. This really might be the approach we take - we're not city folks, we're not extroverts, so you're right - diving straight into London or another metropolis might be more stressful than fun for us. Hubby really wants to get the "biggest bang for our airfare/time to get there" though (e.g., he balked at the idea of doing just a one-week trip), so we'll probably find a compromise approach. Who knows - we may end up trying out a RS tour for our first time - this could check his box for really wanting to eat our way through some part of Italy, without needing to deal with all the stress of planning every detail, navigating public transportation in a foreign language, etc.

We do have a savings plan aside from our retirement plans (it's just been going to other things like home improvements and kids' college funds) and I now totally understand that if we chose to make travel a priority, we could (thankfully) make it happen. We live a simple life and are not a 'high-maintenance' family -- not eating out, buying coffees, getting mani-pedis, cosmetics, jewlery, not into fashion or trends, etc. Still wearing the same Birkenstocks we bought in college 25 years ago bc they've been re-soled numerous times ;) So this can and will certainly happen - we're about to pay off our second vehicle this year, and the mortgage will wrap up before we hit 60.

First just need to get those passports! Thanks again all.

Posted by
4506 posts

we're more likely to choose a well-established airline with good reputation

I don't think there are any disreputable airlines flying from Seattle to Europe. Check but American has pulled back from Seattle and with all your good choices to Europe I would not want to fly to Chicago or Dallas first just to fly American to Europe. Although Alaska airline miles in addition to American I believe can also be used on Icelandair. For a first trip concentrate on the logical choices (Delta, Air France, British Airways, Lufthansa, Icelandair) and just take the cheapest flight.

Posted by
737 posts

You are restricting yourself from travel based on predetermined desires. Your husband wants more bang for his buck, meaning he wants to go longer, which is more costly. Since your original query was how to pay, that complicates the issue. Also trying for that Alaska Airlines is a restriction. Also a week in three distant locations. Although that would make you feel you got bang for the buck it is really a way of saying if I cannot have it all, I will not do any.
I know quite a few people who have never traveled and probably never will. Because they want all you want. They will never get it together to do all that. They don’t have the time or the money. Their dreams of wanting bang for the buck, an itinerary that includes it all, and the sheer weight of planning such a trip when they are such neophytes is overwhelming. So they never actually manage to go.
These forums are populated by people who probably started traveling because they started with manageable trips because they wanted to travel. Now they post and they have experience and you hope to be in that company. But, you are not yet there.
You cannot make a traveler out of a non traveler. You need some passion to drive you along that path. In the end (or your start) it is all about fitting your passion into what's real.
Do you really want to do this? To travel? Then you have to be able to get excited about it. That excitement can be started and enhanced by a trip that is doable for you. Or at some point the dream only remains a dream. Next thing you know that 15 years until you retire is in the rear view mirror and you did nothing. You don’t want to be the person at the gathering that says they always wanted to see Italy, but never did. Don’t say that to me, at least, because I will then ask you why? And, then you will have to answer. Ouch!

Posted by
8414 posts

Airline choices are the one area where you should consider more than just the lowest airfare itself. If you need to go absolutely the lowest cost thats one thing. But for some of us, we need to consider the convenience of non-stop flights versus connections, where connections are, the timing of the schedule (early morning versus afternoon, e.g.,) and the comfort level you can abide. Sometimes, there are other fees that budget airlines tack on that add up.

And if the airline doesn't fly to the city of your intended destination you have to take into account the extra cost in time and money to get to your actual destination, and maybe back if you book round trip. It's good to know and understand how to book multi-city fares when planning a trip covering multiple locales, for that last point.

PS the option of taking an RS tour is a good one for a first time. They do try and emphasize learning skills so that you can travel independently later. We traveled independently for years but decided that the RS tours hit our sweet spot and prefer them. It's nice not to have to do the research and planning for all the logistics and there's still plenty of free time on your own. The costs may look higher than you might be able to do on your own, but that's looking at strictly the dollar cost. The value of having the guides and not having to deal with transportation and some meals, means you have time to do and see more.

Posted by
2690 posts

Kathy, you post very thoughtful interesting threads. I travel solo on a budget both independently and on RS tours. You have received really good advice. But what I don’t see, or maybe I missed it, is to be sure to buy travel insurance that, at the bare minimum, provides medical and evacuation insurance. Policies that include trip cancellation and interruption will reimburse non-refundable costs, if you choose not to self-insure those. The policy costs should be added to your travel budget.
Look through the search feature for insurance plans and websites or ask on a separate thread.

Posted by
1991 posts

Kathy--Alaska is a partner with Icelandair, and Icelandair is usually significantly cheaper than the other airlines, but they are very good. The one thing with Icelandair that you need to be aware of is that their carryon and personal item size are smaller than flights on Alaska etc so you would need to pay attention to that. At SEA, they are quite strict with it, and unless you are flying Saga (their version of first class) your items will be weighed and measured. So it is a bit different than most airlines, but we have always had good luck with them and are using them again for an overseas trip in a few weeks. Another thing I would do is go to the Rick Steve's headquarters in Edmonds and spend some time reading the books and getting advice. They were so helpful with us when we were just getting started with traveling to Europe. I used a travel agent before that, and going there was so eye opening and it was wonderful to plan everything ourselves after that.

Posted by
2477 posts

I actually agree with your husband. We made one eight night trip to Spain when our daughter was doing a semester abroad. We had to rope family into staying with our younger two kids and that was all we could manage. We were glad we went but decided 10-14 nights was a much more sensible length of time. It just is a fair bit of trouble and expense for such a short time.

That said, I wouldn’t do three countries far enough apart that flying makes the most sense. Go for simple. Take trains. It isn’t hard. I don’t know any other language other than English and manage well. It is much more work to drive. Pick countries with very good train systems to start.

Plan to return!

Posted by
16122 posts

For the 3-country trip you propose (England, Italy and Croatia), using your Alaska miles, it would be simplest to fly roundtrip to London with the miles, and pay for the internal flights (London to Milan or Rome, and Dubrovnik back to London) separately. That way, you can be much more flexible, and the intra-European flights are quite cheap, especially to and from London. From Italy to Croatia you could take a ferry, or fly if you prefer (but the ferry can be fun).

Or, since you can book flights one-way with miles, fly TO London with the Alaska miles, pay for the flight to Croatia and the ferry or flight to Italy, then use miles again to book the return flight from Italy (Rome or Milan).

The advantage of this plan is that you can fly straight through, and not have to spend a night or two in London again on the way back. (You would need to do that if you booked London roundtrip, because it is too risky to fly on a separate ticket to meet your long haul flight back to the US on the same day as that flight.)

If you choose option, I suggest making the return from Italy because the flights from Dubrovnik offered on the mileage program are few and limited by dates.

So here is what you can get with your Alaska miles, looking at the one-way trip to London from Seattle:

American Airlines, 22,500 miles plus $19 per person in Economy. This flight will have a stop at a US airport on the way.

British Airways, 32,500 miles plus $316 in Economy, or 47,500 miles plus $316 in Premium Economy (something to consider for greater comfort on the overnight flight). This will be a direct (non-stop) flight. (There also may be an option for Business Class for 60,000 miles plus $916, but that may not be within your budget, and those Business class seats rarely show up on the Alaska Airlines website).

Iceland Air, 35,000 miles plus $186 in Economy. this flight will have a stop to change planes in the middle of the night in Reykjavik.

If you book your return flight from Italy, the cost will be slightly more, but you won’t have to pay for the separate intra-Europe flight. For a return flight from Rome, I am seeing:

Iceland Air, 35,000 miles plus $232 (one stop in Reykjavik)

Iberia, 35 K plus $87 (2 stops, Madrid and Chicago)

American Airlines, 22,500 miles +$78 (one stop in the US, usually DFW or Philadelphia)

British Airways—-I could not find a flight in Economy with miles

Aer Lingus is also offered, but they charge an exorbitant number of miles—-60,000 for Economy

Posted by
16 posts

Thanks Lola - I'm slowly accumulating estimated flight costs in my planning spreadsheet - your work here really helps! Thank you! I had already envisioned the RS approach using an open-jaw flight plan into London and out of Croatia or Italy, realizing that there are no direct flights to Seattle (unless I've overlooked them). There are lots of possibilities and "tough" decisions to make! It's exciting :)

Posted by
3230 posts

I haven't read every post on this thread, BUT, one very good way to pay for a travel lifestyle is to get a job that requires airline travel. The company or client pays for your trips, and hopefully you get the points or miles credited to your frequent flier account.

Posted by
4506 posts

Iceland Air, 35,000 miles plus $186 in Economy. this flight will have a stop to change planes in the middle of the night in Reykjavik.

It will be in the morning, about 5:30-8 am, not in the middle of the night. The return voyage switch westbound is late afternoon.

Also, because of high fees BA redemptions often don’t make sense.

Posted by
1183 posts

This is a good thread. It is very interesting to compare people's different strategies and budgets.

Good health, availability of time and money are all limited resources and in descending order of importance. Travel whenever you are able to do so.

I find planning a vacation to be the most interesting part of the process, figuring out where to go, more importantly, what time of the year and how long in each city. We find that 14+/- days to be a good length. Longer would be better but it's not so easy to take so much time off work.

Sept, Oct, Nov are great months to travel in Europe. It is the shoulder and start of low season, less expensive, less hot and less crowds. Also, the weather in Vancouver gets very rainy and dreary, so it is a nice time to get away on a vacation.

Ideally, we like to stay 5 to 7 nights in any particular city/hotel. Our minimum stay is usually three nights. One or two nights days are not enjoyable in my opinion. We end up spending too much time moving around, changing hotels, sitting in a train, etc and not enough in the city itself. Personally, I would not want to do three countries in 3 weeks.

Once we have a general idea of what we would like to do, the first big step is finding and booking the airfare. I like using Skyscanner and playing with the different combinations of departure and return dates. Selecting dates a few days earlier or later can make a huge difference in the price. We also prefer to fly open jaw so that we don't waste time doubling back or returning to a city for a wasted one night stay just to catch a plane home.

Once we have booked the airfare, we then book the accommodations. Booking.com, Expedia, Airbnb, VRBO are all great resources for checking out maps, locations, photos, prices, etc. However, wherever possible, we try to book directly with the hotel or property operator in order to save on fees.

As we book the accommodations, we also arrange how we will travel between the different cities, via train, plane, rental car, bus, etc.

The last step is figuring out things to see and do to fill our days in each city. We have a general idea, but usually, we decide what to one or two days before, keeping in mind that some attractions require booking in advance. This way, we can select things to do depending on our mood and the weather. We never get fussed about seeing everything because there is never enough time to do so.

We also never get to fussed about eating at a particular restaurant. If some highly recommended restaurant can be conveniently fit into our plans, we will eat there. However, we usually just find a place wherever we happen to be whenever we get hungry. A lot of times, we just open up Google maps and select a place that's within a 5-minute walk of where we are standing.

We did a two week trip to Spain in 2022 and a two week trip to Portugal in 2023. Our average daily cost (for all expenses including airfare, accommodations, meals, entertainment, etc) was less than €200 per person per day. In Spain, it was just the two of us and we stayed in 3 or 4 star hotels. In Portugal, we traveled with two other couples and we rented large three bedroom apartments in Porto, Lisbon and Lagos and rented a car for four nights in the Algarve.

With some careful planning, I think you can have a very nice 2 week European vacation for much less than $12,000. If you can do it for half that, you will have money to go on another 2-week vacation the following year.

Posted by
16122 posts

”Iceland Air, 35,000 miles plus $186 in Economy. this flight will have a stop to change planes in the middle of >the night in Reykjavik.”

It will be in the morning, about 5:30-8 am, not in the middle of the night. The return voyage switch westbound is >late afternoon.
Also, because of high fees BA redemptions often don’t make sense.

I meant that it will be the middle of the night for the passenger, who will still be on their home time clock. For a flight from Seattle, this stop will be around 11-12 pm Pacific Time. Even if they were able to get to sleep on their usual schedule before the stop, it is unlikely they will be able to get back to sleep for the remaining few hours of the flight.

It is true that BA redemption costs are high, and may not be a good value in Economy. But for Premium Economy (which has the exact same fee as Economy) and Business Class, it is pretty reasonable, and For SEA to London the flight is much more comfortable than the Iceland Air one.

Posted by
3206 posts

Pay yourself to travel just like you pay yourself to save (or I hope you do). Remove the money before it is even in your hands.
Don't wait to travel as the future makes no promises.
Travel independently, it is much less expensive than a tour.
Start saving CC points for accommodations or transportation.
Don't buy a fancier house or car or whatever you think you might need to show off to the neighbors or your friends. (This is not specifically meant for you.)
Don't wait. I always liked to travel but I upped my game in 2000, at least once per year. Unlike my friends that couldn't quite afford (their words, but their husbands could always afford a new tractor, golf course club or something) to travel, allegedly, were caught off guard by covid. They are now entering their 70's...not sure when they will travel for.the.first. time and it won't be at their physical peak.
Gosh, $12,000 would get me at least 2 1/2, 16 day independent trips to Europe at my comfort level, which isn't as low as it used to be... Price your wants out on your trip vs your needs and figure out which items, at which level, will make you happiest. Don't wait.

Posted by
691 posts

Good thread, lots of helpful advice.

One strategy that I haven't seen mentioned that we have done for a long time: every time you get a pay raise, bank the amount of the raise and continue to live/spend at the same level (or use it to pay any debts, if you have those -- add on to mortgage payments, etc.). We have been living/spending at the same income level for probably 15 years and have saved (and are still saving) all the $$ over our income from 15 years ago. It sure adds up.

Posted by
11273 posts

Lola, I love that your husband included avoidable costs from home as travel budget when away. Mine has used that rationale when he wants to ship wine home. "Hey, we're not buying groceries or gas for a month, so let's ship a case!"

We endeavor to live a more modest lifestyle than many of our friends. We bought a house that is far less than we could "afford" according to mortgage brokers, have one car for the two of us, don't eat out too much when not traveling.

When we travel we stay fewer places for longer times, almost never rent a car, stay in apartments and cook several nights a week which is less expensive as well as healthier. A few years ago I figured we save at least $500.00 a week by eating in 5 nights out of seven, all breakfasts, and a couple of lunches. Average cost per day for a week in France last year, <69.00 Euros. Average cost per day for 4 weeks in Switzerland. <99.00 CHF.

Where you go also matters. Obviously rural France was far less expensive than Switzerland and the exchange rate at the time was very close.

Posted by
24 posts

There are some GREAT ideas on this thread. I'll add what has allowed my husband and I to travel to places we only dreamed of. We are in our mid-50s, and won't be able to retire until we are mid-60s. We make a comfortable income, but have lived paycheck to paycheck much of our lives (while raising our kids).

One thing that allows travel is that we prioritize it. We don't have a swimming pool, hot tub, lake cabin, expensive new car, boat, jet skis, etc. - all things that would be great to have, but all that cost a lot to maintain. Instead, we choose to put savings each month into our travel savings account, so that we can see places all over the world and aren't tied to our "things". This is just what is important to us.

We love the Rick Steves travel style - great, family run hotels in great locations. While his tours I KNOW would be amazing, for us, we find we can travel for less by using his books and website to plan our own trips. We use his itinerary suggestions/accomodations/restaurants, and of course all his "skip the line" advice. Our trips have all been amazing. We also appreciate exploring on our own and getting lost at times!

About 10 years ago we both opened our first top-tier travel credit card (Chase Sapphire Reserve), and both earned the massive signup bonus at that time. We used those points to pay for a 2 week trip to Italy (Tuscany and Amalfi Coast) - we paid for all flights (overseas and in Italy), car rental, and accommodations with our points. We couldn't believe this was possible. Since then we have continued to open cards, ALWAYS using them responsibly and not carrying a monthly balance, to earn bonuses and use those points to pay for our trips. Even doing this, we still have excellent credit. We travel internationally once a year for 2 weeks, and then take 2-3 short domestic trips, most of it paid with points.

Understanding how to maximize travel points and find great travel deals has become a part-time job for me - the time I spend allows us to travel! I highly recommend "The Points Guy" and "Thrifty Traveler" websites to learn how to do this - they both have great articles on how to get started. I spend several hours a week reading and learning the ins and outs of traveling using points - and for us, it's time well spent. We wouldn't be able to travel like we do unless I did this.

Posted by
2386 posts

Look at selling items you no longer need. It can be anything. years ago I sold 6 old Surfer magazines for $100 on ebay !

Posted by
14904 posts

I have been traveling full time for nearly 10 years. While that's different from what you plan to do, there are some tricks I've learned that save me thousands of dollars every year. Especially in the beginning:

--Start a travel savings account now. Every pay period, decide to put in a certain percentage of your take home pay into the account. Make sure the account earns interest and keep reinvesting the interest. You'd be surprised how fast this adds up.

--look into travel credit cards. If you don't carry any credit card debt then look into getting travel branded credit cards. These will earn you points. You don't need to travel to earn points. Just use the card.

Some people like the Chase or Amex travel cards. I prefer getting individual ones for airlines and hotels. Figure out which airlines you will probably use the most from Seattle and look into those cards. Many airlines are part of alliances and you can use the their points for flights on other airlines in their alliance. (Seattle folks can correct me but I believe Alaska/American Airlines/British Airways allow you to book on each other's flights using points. So if I have AA frequent flyer points I can book on British Airways via the AA website.)

First and foremost, the signup bonuses are important. Usually, if you spend x amount of dollars in a certain time period you will get a large amount of points/miles. Sometimes enough for a free flight. And there is really no extra cost to you.

Then use the card for everything. And I mean everything. For every dollar you spend, you get points. Over the years, by doing this, I estimate I've saved over $25,000 using points and miles. Some cards even offer double or triple miles when used at hotels, restaurants, gas stations, grocery stores and more. And of course, use the airline branded cards for buying tickets on that airline. You might get extra perks like free checked bags, priority boarding, upgrades, etc.

My suggestion for someone who only plans one or two trips a year, stick with an airline card over a hotel card. It used to be where you could convert hotel points to airline miles one to one but those days are over. Now the conversion rates are not very good. Many airlines will allow to pay in both points and cash if you don't have enough miles for a free ticket. (Or let you buy miles but only do so when they are running a sale.)

It goes without saying, join all the airline/hotel rewards progams. It's free. Plus, you will start getting emails from both the Rewards programs and the credit cards about special deals sometimes not available if you don't have the card or belong to the program.

To give you an idea of how these things work.....a few weeks ago, I flew from Frankfurt to Aberdeen (Scotland) with a change of planes in London. I used my BA points. The flights combined were 30,000 points and the fee was 2 GBP. It could have been less miles but I flew business class. I arrived late and still had a train journey to go. But I decided to stay at an airport hotel where I used hotel points and it cost nothing. I even got an upgrade. So the whole trip basically cost me $2.50.

Posted by
16122 posts

Speaking of selling things, both Patagonia and REI have a website where they accept used gear in good condition. You get a voucher (essentially a store or website credit) rather than cash, but you can use that to pay for travel clothes or gear that you need, in the regular store as well as the “used gear” area.

https://wornwear.patagonia.com/

https://www.rei.com/used/shop/gear

You can get nice bargains on clothing and gear on these websites if they have what you want—--usually less than half the price of new. I am currently awaiting the arrival of a pair of hiking shoes, duplicates of ones I have now and really, really like. I am curious to know what the original owner didn’t like about them, if she included the optional note.

Posted by
12 posts

I’m a little late to the game in this conversation, and I don’t know if what I will add here will be of any use. I am not the same kind of traveler that you are - I’m a budget tripper. But budget travel is what allows me to travel, and the things I do aren’t unique to budget travel only.

Booking.com, like many already stated, has helped me find everything from really nice apartments in central locations (adult family travel to Venice and Florence) to the hostel I will be staying at during my upcoming solo Edinburgh trip in two months (this will be new for me). I’m 45. The point is, I’m willing to do what it takes to travel, even hosteling at my age.

Google flights is great and what I use, but I have a list of places and I check for flights during each of my possible times off to each of those places. I check multiple times a week for weeks or months on end until I find a price I can’t pass up. I am checking economy of course, but the same principle applies to nicer seats - if you want it, are you willing to put in the time to find the good deals? And then you act. So recently, I was looking for trips to Amsterdam, Edinburgh, and Germany (Frankfurt and Munich). I had possible time in March and April, so multiple times a week - as fares change every few days - I took a few minutes and checked outgoing flights from Las Vegas and Salt Lake City (the two closest airports) to each of those destinations, and of course playing with dates slightly. Edinburgh won this time. Lodging and airfare for a week is just over $800.

If food experiences are important, then don’t give that up, but if it isn’t the most important part, stopping by grocery stores and buying what looks good (whether you can read the label or not) have been some of the most memorable travel experiences I’ve had solo and with others. Street food and to-go food can also be inexpensive but still delicious and healthier than what we have in the states. I still plan to have at least one nice meal (not fancy though) in each location, but my money (and time) goes so much farther when food is planned that way.

Public transportation is of course a huge money saver. I’ve only ever rented a car once on an international trip, and it reminded me why trains, trams, and buses are so wonderful (low stress) and efficient. Plan for public transportation the first trip or two until you understand what parking looks like in cities and smaller towns in Europe (and then make it a point to remember to observe this on trips). The stress of driving and finding parking in another country can be a lot and is not like the US in many cases.

Is the priority to go on longer trips or to go more often? Mine is to go more often, so I plan shorter trips (still a week) and live and plan my time that way. It’s easier for me to save that way too - $1800 vs $7000 (the most expensive trip I took, which was a two week Rick Steves My Way trip - sorry, Rick!) Also, OFF SEASON!! Cost and crowds have trained me well. I’d rather wear a winter coat on a trip in November, December, or April and have a place more to myself than dripping sweat in a cute sundress during the crowded summer months while bumping into other sweaty people.

As many of us responding have stated, we are willing to do lots - extra jobs, extra time, cut expenses in one or more areas at home, drive older cars, cut expenses in one area of the trip to free up money for something we value more on the trip, traveling with others to split costs, etc. so we can do this often. Not everyone, but there are more of us than what the glamor of a destination may make it appear. Make a list of what you prioritize while on vacation so you can look for ways to spend less on what you don’t. I’ve loved every trip I’ve been on, and I go as inexpensively as possible, so spending more doesn’t automatically equal a better trip. Whatever type of trips you like, have so much fun!!

Posted by
41 posts

We are a one-income household with a teenager in Southern California. But travel is a priority. Every month, I put $250 into a savings account dedicated to travel. To save money, we shun all holidays and drive our Toyota cars for 20+ years. When my son got his driver's license, I gave him my car and started walking and taking the bus to work. Over the years, I've gone to Europe five times -- three times by myself, twice as a family. If I get extra $ (tax returns), they go into the travel fund. We have now saved enough for all three of us to go to Sicily/Paris in May. I think $12K for a two-week trip for two people is a great budget. Just try for the shoulder season for better fares. Enjoy!

Posted by
1912 posts

there are also ways to pay for travel by earning money through travel.

There are persons who take beautiful photos and later are able to sell them. Other persons make YouTube videos and earn some money off of them.

You can buy things abroad and later sell them at home earning some money to pay off your last trip or pay towards the next trip

You can do this at the hobby level or if you are more ambitious, do this as a one person home based business. The latter would be more complicated and require more "work" but you could pay for a trip as well as be able to deduct expenses like air fare from your taxes.

Posted by
14904 posts

You can buy things abroad and later sell them at home earning some money to pay off your last trip or pay towards the next trip

Keep in mind you are only allowed up to $800 in declared goods before you have to start paying customs duty.

Posted by
2285 posts

You can buy things abroad and later sell them at home earning some money to pay off your last trip or pay towards the next trip

Traipsing the " goods " all over Europe, stockpiling the goods at home, setting up Etsy, Kijiji, and eBay. Packaging and shipping the goods upon sale ...

Forget it.

Posted by
1912 posts

Frank II

Correct but one can do it at a hobby level which might be buying much less than $800 per trip or advancing into a business. The latter would require a lot of "work" but some people might love it and it would pay for travel.

I know people who have done both.

I will give you one example. I know of. a man who went all over the world and I mean everywhere buying beads.. I am talking about beads that you use to make jewelry or other creative project.

And he had a wonderful shop in Austin where he sold these beads. It was the go to place if you were looking for beads.

This man traveled free going all over the world. And he made a very nice living.

But it was a lot of work. And this is an example of doing it as a business.

Another example. I know of a. female who went to India frequently. While there, she picked up gold jewelry and other items which she would resell at a profit when returning home. She did this more at a hobby level and may have not earned enough to thoroughly pay for a trip but earned enough to help pay towards a trip.

The sâme could be applied to those who go to Europe. Visitors to Europe could buy jewelry or collectibles at markets or wherever and then resell at a profit . It could be. money used to help pay for a trip or become a business which would require a lot more "work" but pay for travel and a decent income.

It is not for everyone.

Posted by
1912 posts

Hi periscope

Definitely not the life for everyone but for those who do it, they seem to love it. It is "work"

Posted by
2 posts

I travel VERY cheap. I walk a lot, from town to town, through the woods and farms. I eat simple food, not too much. I go to the public gardens, look at architecture from the outside, try to talk to people (I'm shy). I don't have the mental stamina to do the "points" thing. I tried WWOOFing, in the hottest August on record, in Spain, and I've gotta say, that was the cheapest and most boring time I've ever had. Never again, but worth a try. I bought my hiking shoes on eBay for $35, and when I finished my hiking in Barcelona I cleaned them up a little and left them on a park bench, and wore my normal at-home shoes the rest of the time.

My last trip cost about $100 a day, Boston to Barcelona round trip airfare included. Sadly, I only stayed 2 weeks. I can probably do it for less per diem next time, 4 weeks in Sept-October 2025.

How I find the money (I'm very low-income, low-budget, cheap date): I sold some equipment that I (not we) owned, I put a chunk into a 5% CD for 15 months, I put $15 a week from OUR budget and $5 a week straight from my paycheck.

Posted by
156 posts

I am also a budget travler. Like some others have mentioned, it is possible to travel on about $100 a day. The key is to plan, plan and plan some more.

Posted by
9419 posts

Two things to add…

First, Paris is not expensive. There are plenty of budget hotels (Hotel Margnan, Hotel Diana, for example) and studio apartments you can rent for $80 ish per night. Street food is great, a savory crèpe for $8 is a full meal… lots of other inexpensive, great food in Paris. Café Med on Ile St Louis (in the heart of the city) has a good 3 course dinner for $17, for instance.

Second, for Italy, staying in convents or monasteries is very budget friendly.

Posted by
616 posts

Dunno whether they still exist, but we once benefited from the following pair of situations.

Firstly, there used to be the possibility of flying as an 'Air Courier'. London and Hong Kong seemed to be the main hubs for this, but NYC also had a presence that way. My experience back in the '80s involved flying to Amsterdam from Toronto. Typically, the traveler was only allowed to bring a carry-on case, as their allotted luggage space below was being used by the courier company for time-sensitive documents, valuables et al. Flight cost was cheaper by 75%.

Secondly, one could join the peace organization SERVAS and experience a home-stay as part of that. We stayed with some Japanese families that way, and later hosted a number of European visitors.
I am done. the memories