Travel on Budget – 4 Countries, 13 Days and Hidden Expenses

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” – Benjamin Franklin

This was my mantra as we aimed to take our first family trip overseas to Europe. Booking flights, lodging and planning excursions for two weeks across 4 countries for one person can be taxing. Multiply that by 6 and you’ve got a small scale tour group on your hands! Channeling my inner Rick Steves, Dave Ramsey and Bear Grylls, I weighed all the potential factors so we could travel on budget…

  • Airfare: After pulling together airline miles from credit cards and business trips, we managed to save 66% on regular plane ticket prices!
  • Lodging: Since we travel 6 deep and the kids are too big to sneak under a coat (there’s no shame in our travel game), Air BnB is our go-to. $250 a night target rates gave us more than adequate accommodations in some of the best locations in London, Paris and Brussels.
  • Inter-country Transportation: From London to Paris, Paris to Brussels and Brussels to Amsterdam. All these major routes are serviced by Eurostar and Thalys high speed train service at fairly reasonable prices. We even got breakfast on the 2 hour trip from Brussels to Amsterdam!
  • Meals: We aren’t a 4 course, caviar every meal type of family, but we do like to try new things. Figuring we’d spend the most for dinner, $250 a day for food was the limit.
  • Excursions: A number of key tourist sites like outdoor squares or relatively inexpensive museums such as the Louvre were on the list. For more pricey activities like a boat trip down the River Seine, we leveraged our credit card points. This saved us more than $1,500!

Assessing the Damage

Armed with a solid, fiscally responsibility travel plan, we had one of the best vacation experiences trying new cuisine, seeing iconic landmarks, posting 100,000+ Fitbit steps and even uncovering my wife’s Dutch heritage.

Since I’m a little obsessed with hitting financial targets both professionally and personally, I sat down the day after our return to the states to assess if I accomplished my mission…

  • Airfare and Lodging: These expenses were prebooked so all good there.
  • Meals: Despite some surprises here and there, averaged $225 per day. Check!
  • Excursions: Even with adding last minute higher ticket attractions like the London Eye, still hit the budget target.

Everything was looking on point until…I dug a little deeper into the transportation expenses. 100% over budget?!?!

Travel on Budget: Lessons Learned

After the pulse slowed a bit and the shock wore off, I was able to find the main culprits:

  1. Purchased high speed train tickets at the last minute. Had read the experts telling us to book at least a month ahead but didn’t want to be constrained too much by prebooking. However, this freewheeling spirit cost an extra 30-40% in ticket pricing.
  2. Leveraging the convenience of Uber. While we did use everything from regional rail, bus and tram, there were times when Uber XL became our friend…a little too much. In comparison to using public transit or our feet, we added another $200 in expense.
  3. Air BnB offers the comforts of home, but some amenities aren’t included. Availability of the basics such as toilet paper, paper towels and basic cleaning supplies are inconsistent from place to place. This accumulated to an additional $250-$300 in unexpected expenses.

In the end, the trip was worth every penny and still saved around $3,000-$4,000 through point and rewards programs. But we will definitely be paying closer attention to how we get around town during our next trip so we travel on budget next time.

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