There are misconceptions as to what our travel looks like because we are on a travel budget, or perhaps because I enjoy farflung places so much. But the truth of the matter is, people don’t equate budget travel with luxury travel, and for good reason. But seeing as the luxury hotel we are in tonight is free (it’s actually making us money), I think we’re proof that it can be done. Our lifestyle is proof.
I’ll never forget this one time we were at a wedding, a few summers ago. It was a friend of Carrie’s from high school, and thus it was kind of a reunion of sorts, although isn’t it always a reunion in a tiny Ohio town?
Anyways, this doctor guy who was father of one of Carrie’s friends came over to talk to us. He must have been fascinated that we were full-time travelers but he sighed and said, “I could never do what you guys do!”.
I hear that a bit, and often for different reasons. Most commonly it’s how people would miss their community, or believe it or not, a lot of people just aren’t interested in travel and don’t get the appeal. Fair enough reasons though. But I asked, “why not?”
He said, “I could just never stay in the places you guy stay.”
Um… wait a minute.
Now if he’s ever been to my website (I doubt it) he might know that we try to live below poverty level. That doesn’t just include “travel costs” but food, entertainment, vaccines, health, etc… This sets the budget around $50 a day for two people.
If all you know is that we try to live below the poverty level, sure, you could assume that we stay in some sketchy places. But I seriously doubted that he knew that. Especially since we didn’t start that goal until July 2013, before a big Europe trip.
Maybe he just assumed by looking at me. Maybe he assumed we were taking a year off to “backpack” and stayed in hostels.
But let me set the record straight.
Tonight I’m staying in an InterContinental (a 5 star hotel) in Vienna (an expensive city). And during our Europe trip so far, we’ve stayed mostly at 5 star hotels, some 4 star hotels, and a couple Holiday Inns. (Although, we just came from Krakow and that Holiday Inn was a self-proclaimed 5 star hotel).
Needless to say, sounds like this guy was doing a lot of assuming. And while I don’t really give a darn, I’ve always thought about why he assumed we stayed in such terrible places. After all, the reason he gave for not wanting to travel like us was the places we stay.
What type of places do we stay on a poverty level budget?
Like I said, lately a typical hotel is an InterContinental, Radisson Blu, or Holiday Inn. Of course there are exceptions, like the non-chain hotel we stayed at during the Orbitz Cyber-Monday deal I posted about on Facebook ($100 off a hotel booking of $100+).
I’ve said both things before and they seem contradictory, but I believe both:
1) Hotels do not matter. I love travel, but I don’t love or dislike places based on the hotel I stayed in. It just doesn’t make a real difference to me.
2) We stay in 5 star hotels. The distinction is that we work online, and we work a lot. I want good internet, and a good work space. It doesn’t affect the quality of the trip, it affects the quality of my work.
That being said, my philosophy is kind of “why not?” about luxury travel, and let me tell you why.
When we were in Brussels the Radisson Blu was 44,000 Club Carlson points (and that’s for two nights if you have the credit card), and the Park Inn was further from the beautiful town center. So for 6,000 more points for two nights we stayed at the nicer hotel, but we also saved on public transit and time in commuting. Our hotel was seriously walking distance from any of the main sights we visited.
My point is that with points, 6,000 points is barely $5 of gift card fees from any store with the Club Carlson card. I didn’t earn my CC points from MS, but I mean to say that the difference in this case between the nice hotel and the 5 star hotel, is very minor. With points my only options were nice hotels in this case! Rough life.
Also in that vein, a friend I was just talking to was able to complete the “Into the Nights” promotion that gave 2 free nights at any hotel for $90 per account. Averaging $45 per free night, not including the points he earns! We’re not too far behind that, and these free nights can be used anywhere, including the ~$600/night IC London Park Lane hotel. Because, why not? And it’s $45 a night no matter where he uses it.
Is Carpooling “budget-travel”?
This may not sound like “luxury travel” at first glance, because it’s clearly budget travel. But let me tell you about 3 of my recent “carpooling” experiences with blablacar.com.
The one that got us to Vienna was from Krakow. The route from Krakow, Poland to Vienna is not an easy one since the Slovakian mountains are in the way. The train takes forever and isn’t cheap. Buses also take forever, as they have to route around, and they aren’t comfortable. There are no discount airlines, and barely any direct flights. The flights that do exist are expensive.
But carpooling the route would take 6 hours, not too much more than the entire flight process from start to finish. There were a number of options for the day we wanted so I picked the guy driving a Lexus. This fits into my “why not” policy. Same price, same route, better car. Makes no difference to me.
He picked us up at our hotel in Krakow, and dropped us off at the InterContinental. And it was just the three of us in a Lexus.
How is that any less luxurious than flying? Flying I have to go to the airport early, get my bags checked, with my beard there’s a 50% chance of being patted-down, I get crammed into crappy seats where my knees touch the seat in front of me, and after 40 minutes I get a can of sprite. Then what about getting to and from the airport? Taxi? That’s expensive in Vienna, so I’d much rather take the train.
So you tell me, which would you rather do?
I’ve learned a few keys to BlaBlaCar.com and one of them is routing. If the person is driving through your town, like if they were starting in Warsaw and going through Krakow, most of the time they aren’t going near the center. Therefore, check out the pick up and drop off points. If there are none, ask if they can pick you up. I did, and it worked out perfectly.
Obviously you can see the car too. I realized this matters when I was riding in a big van without heat over the snowy mountains in winter. Since then, I check the car. Our ride across Italy into Austria was in a BMW, and our ride from Warsaw to Krakow was in a BMW. Not a big deal, but not a bad thing.
Also, recently a driver was not going into to town and I had a few uber credits to kill… we took an Uber ride in a Mercedes out to the meet up point.
What countries do we travel in?
Something I hear seriously all the time is that the reason we can maintain such cheap averages is because we travel in cheap countries. This is nonsense I have to deal with on a regular basis, so please allow me to bring some facts into the picture.
25 countries are “first world” countries. Out of ~200 countries only 12.5% are considered “first world” countries. And guess what? That includes Greece. So if I spent time in Greece (which we did last year) then people would probably still say we travel in “cheap” countries. But most of the world is “cheap” by these standards.
Since I’ve traveled to well more than 25 countries, where are these other travelers going that aren’t cheap countries?
But the fact is, we spend a disproportionate amount of time in expensive countries. Here we are in Vienna, Austria for the third time in 14 months. Vienna is very expensive.
In fact, list off your head some of the most expensive places. Maybe London, Switzerland, Paris, New York, etc… We have been to all those places in the last year.
Poorest countries in the world? Well, those are all in Africa and we haven’t been to very many places in Africa at all.
This isn’t because I don’t want to go to Africa, I do. But it merely points out that we have traveled a lot in more expensive places. Again, not because I have to, but the point remains: clearly we don’t just travel in cheap places.
Wait didn’t you just say you were in Poland? Isn’t that cheap?
Poland is cheaper than Austria, sure. But this is my point exactly.
Somehow people tend to notice a trip to Ukraine or Panama and ignore the fact that I took my mom all across England for weeks, Paris for 8 nights, then across Austria. People remember the first, for whatever reason.
In fact, in the last weeks of blogging, I’ve mentioned being in Italy, Austria, Slovenia, Brussels, Amsterdam, Prague, Krakow, and Austria again. Half those are very expensive, and a few are cheaper.
Conclude what you will. We’re back in Austria for the next week.
The point I think you should take away, is that you don’t have to route your trip based on your budget. We’ve made cheap travel possible in expensive places.
Have we hitch-hiked, slept on beaches, or traveled in remote areas? Yes, but we love adventure. The truth of the matter is, we save more money in places with points hotels than we did in our trip to India, for example… by a lot.
I’m not saying out lifestyle is for everyone. But I certainly believe that you could spend less than us on a “vacation” if you’re not a full-time traveler. You might not need hotel promotions, when you could have left over points on your credit card. But we burn through millions of points a year and have to find new ways to earn. Easily, you can do cheaper than our hotel/flight goals if you know the tricks.
But not only is this not for everyone, I recognize that there are varying degrees of “secret” knowledge, skills, or points opportunities. But in general, I tend to write about the things that work well for us, with the goal of budget in mind.