backpacking across a continent on fifty dollars a day - sort of like travelling on a hope and a prayer!!
19.09.2012 - 17.12.2012
So how did we stay on budget, fifty dollars a day, with the arguably well known expensive stops in Finland and Sweden as well as a guided bus tour of Morocco on the itinerary?
- we couch surfed seven nights: to find out more about Couch Surfing go to couchsurfing.org. Often used by students as a place to flop for a night or three, we discovered the cultural joys of being hosted by locals proud to showcase their city. Twice I had my own bedroom and the other times we were either on mattresses or hideabeds in the living room.
- we volunteered for free room and board for five days - teaching English with Vaughan Town in Spain. Met some lovely people doing this. To find out more about volunteering to teach English in Spain go to vaughantown.com. You must be a native English speaker. Spain was already on our itinerary - you pay your own way to Madrid. Then on a Saturday night there is a free tapas reception. You must also pay your own accommodation on the Saturday night. Then from Sunday after breakfast until Friday after lunch all your (four star) accommodation and meals are gratis.
- we took two all night buses so did not have to book a hotel
So out of 89 nights 14 nights were free
- we ate some meals in our hotel room, just food from the grocery store. I bought plastic spoons, good for eating yogurt or spooning olive spread on bread.
- we usually chose our restaurants carefully, but ensured we had one good, typical meal in every country.
We chose to stay in private rooms with bath in hostels or in hotels with private bath.
Could you do it for less? Yes, you could stay in a dorm in a hostel, or you could stay in a room with a shared bath
- You could cook your own meals in hostels rather than eat out in restaurants as much as we did.
- you could drink fewer cappuccinos which was our splurge
- you could couch surf almost everywhere
- you could fly more with budget airlines rather than take buses or trains.
- You could take no taxis and always use public transport or walk
You could bypass Sweden and Finland and go to more eastern European countries like the Ukraine or Moldovia
I would spend more time in Serbia and Portugal if I did this over - very inexpensive but good quality.
Portugal is cheaper than Spain
Serbia is cheaper than Hungary or Poland
Things we learned
- There are free walking tours (tip encouraged) in most cities. Learn the highlights, get oriented, go early in your visit so you can go back to see sites in more detail
- The Metro bus system in Turkey has a free service bus that takes you to the centre of the city. Most bus stations in Turkey are outside the city or on the outskirts
- Spend a week in Rome - if you have never been there make a point of going.
- Hotels are often as cheap as hostels if you want a twin room with private bath. I used hotelscombined.com and booking.com and once expedia was cheaper,
Travel light - two pairs of pants and three tops is enough, wash light clothes in your hotel room. I bought a few cheap tops and scarves in Turkey to supplement my wardrobe.
Take a waterproof, windproof shell and a lightweight fleece that will fold up small.
Discount airfare with Ryanair and EasyJet are cheaper than the bus or train sometimes. I booked Krakow to Budapest for nineteen dollars each in advance, from home, as well as Rome to Madrid for under fifty dollars. You are only allowed one carry on (and purses qualify as carry on) or you pay extra for checked and this can cost more than your flight. I took along a small cloth tape measure to ensure our backpacks did not exceed the carry on limit which is 21.6 by 15.7 by 7.8 inches or 55 by 40 by 20 centimetres.
No food or drink is free on these flights. Who cares, they are short flights.
I used skyscanner to find the cheapest flight from Izmir Turkey to Bologna Italy which turned out to be Pegasus Airlines for this trip.
I budgeted fifty dollars a day for food and hotel, and one thousand dollars extra for transportation such as buses, cabs, trains, flights within Europe. I was successful on this budget. I did purchase some gifts and souvenirs which is extra. Due to carrying a backpack and being on a limited budget I purchased carefully and because of the time of year of our return, 17 December, I brought back all my Christmas gifts. I can honestly say that the fifty dollars per day and the thousand for transportation was achieved. We traveled in the shoulder season, cheaper than traveling in summer. Hotels are based on two people sharing and splitting the cost.
I am 63 years old and I traveled with my 36 year old son. We needed two beds and always tried for a private bathroom. Hello hotel in Bucharest, La Botanica in Portugal, TRYP Washington in Madrid, for example were clean, nicely appointed three star hotels for under fifty dollars per night. In our entire journey I think we spent four nights in hostels with a shared bath. These rooms are always cheaper than a private bath so we could have saved more money had we gone that route.
We found people watching, cafe culture, taking public transportation, shopping in grocery stores, walking from our accommodation to and from public transportation gave us a different perspective and feel for the country than staying in a fine hotel and always taking cabs. We were out and about with the common people, people in fact, like us. We spent time in public parks in many cities, sat on park benches, watched children play and old people take the sun. Staying with families, four nights with airbnb and seven nights with couchsurfing, gave us a better appreciation on how people live. We met some nice people this way and had lovely conversations.
Our trip was sort of the road less traveled, the Balkans, the Baltic, the Black Sea coast. However, if you look at the map you will see that it all made a nice route, starting out in Stockholm and finishing up in Lisbon. We flew with AirMiles, the carrier was British Airways, we were able to land in one spot and leave from another. British Airways was very good, both ways we had to change planes in London so we saw a bit of Heathrow. We got a meal and a snack and lots of drinks included in our second class fare. I should mention that the snack was a sandwich so it was satisfying. They give everyone a pillow and a blanket and there is decent leg room. You also get a toothbrush and toothpaste and earphones - I could not sleep coming back so watched three movies. Also we could check our bag for free.
You can't go everywhere in three months. We did not go to cities that Jeff, who has been to Europe five times previously, had already visited. Therefore, in Turkey we did not go to Cappadocia or Pamukkale as he had already been there. In Italy we did not go to Venice, they were having floods there anyway, but it was never really on our agenda. We had hoped to go to Greece but with the transportation workers on strike there we did not want to chance being stranded. Also Jeff had already been to Athens. In Spain we bypassed Barcelona and Granada for the same reason. All the other countries we visited were new to him as well.
I first went to Europe in 1974, backpacking on five dollars a day. We went to England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland and Holland. The second time was in 1986. We lived in Germany and traveled to France, Switzerland, Lichtenstein, Luxembourg, Belgium, England, Norway and Denmark. The third time was 26 years later, from 19 September to 17 December, 2012, and I backpacked for fifty dollars a day. We went to Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Serbia, Turkey, Italy, Vatican City, Spain, Morocco, and Portugal. This was the trip of my lifetime so far. A feast of memories.
Note, I am a card carrying couch potato. I did not work out before the trip. Still I managed to walk ten kilometres on lots of days and carried a backpack that weighed about eighteen pounds when we left in September and about 38 pounds when we returned to Canada in December. A lot of my purchases were made in Lisbon though. I was typically the oldest couch surfer my hosts had met and the oldest person in the hostel. We were outside most days for at least six hours. We did not carry a cell phone nor did we carry an umbrella. I took no jewellery (other than a cheap watch) nor make-up but did break down in Istanbul and purchased mascara I was so fed up with looking like an albino, but it did not help much. Most days I started off looking neat but by noon was bedraggled and my pictures show pretty messy hair from having my hood up or from being in rain or wind. I took one of those small fold-up scissors and periodically trimmed my bangs.
My blog was written over the course of our travels from Stockholm to Finland to Tallinn, Riga, Vilnius, Warsaw, Krakow, Budapest, Serbia, Brasov, Transylvania, Sofia, Istanbul, Florence, Rome, Seville, etc. Seventeen countries and about forty cities and towns where we either stayed or visited on day trips.
Traveling light, traveling the way we did, I am very proud of myself. If I can do it, you can do it. I hate camping and "roughing it." On a normal vacation I like to stay in a good hotel, minimum three star, prefer four star. But in order to afford this trip I needed to stretch my money. Therefore, the trip was a choice and the way we traveled was a choice. Every day was a new day, a new adventure, places to go, things to see.
I would do it again. Next time maybe it will be Greece, the Ukraine, Moldovia, Belarus, Turkey, Serbia, Cypress, Portugal, Norway and Warsaw.
A few days after returning home I went for a pampering facial. The esthetician commented that my skin looked good, and asked me what I used. I said "I haven't been using a thing". I haven't worn foundation or anything else for over three months and I've spent at least six hours a day outside. "I just backpacked across a continent and I am 63 years old."
By this time there was lots of attention to our conversation and the chorus of "Good for you!" warmed my heart. "On fifty dollars a day!" I beamed. Another round of "Good for you!" I was on a roll. The next thing they are going to do is pat my head. Still I sensed a new respect from the bevy of young girls surrounding me. I looked at them benevolently with my glowing skin and rhymed off the seventeen countries we had visited.
Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Italy, Vatican City, Spain, Morocco and Portugal. Damn, I'm good!!
Yes it was an incredible journey unless you think about the KonTiki crossing the Pacific in 1947 or consider the incredible journey of three Canadians and some kittens in 1956. Strapping nine telephone poles together with rope, they embarked from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. 88 days later they had crossed the Atlantic and landed in Falmouth Harbour, Britain. Why hasn't somebody made a movie about this? Think of the adventure, the drive, the passion of these three men: Henri Beaudout, Gaston Vanackere and Marc Modena. They were the first to cross the Atlantic on a raft. Somebody, do something, while they are all still alive to tell their story!
Still, mine was an incredible journey.