Big Adventures, Small Budgets and the ‘Lucky’ Traveller
I’ve often been called ‘lucky’ for being a traveller, as if all my trips just fell into my balcony like rainbows and all I had to do was dance into them. I’d like to debunk that myth and explain how I made my latest trip happen, in this and a few more posts. Read on to find out what my latest trip expenses looked like, and how smaller budgets lead to bigger adventures.
In my two-month Italy-Germany-Slovenia trip this year, I spent EUR 2500 or roughly INR 1.8 lakhs, striking a balance between pinching every penny and overspending. My biggest expenses were food and flights, in that order. Here’s a rough breakdown:
Flights: Booking flights from Bangalore to Milan a few months in advance, I grabbed them at a great deal: INR 33,000 (USD 450) two-way. The fare doubled a week later, so I cannot emphasize enough the value of booking flights as early as possible. I used Google flights and Skyscanner to fish out the best deals, but I chose GoIbibo for booking because its GoCash system gave me INR 2,500 off on the ticket. Where there’s a bargain, there’s an Indian 😉
Food: Having access to a kitchen is a huge money-saver, especially as a vegan/vegetarian on a long trip. Friends with kitchens are friends indeed, and it’s easier to cook for two or three than to cook for one, so it’s a win-win. Some AirBnb’s come with kitchens as well. With my basic culinary skills, YouTube was always my secret ingredient (very sophisticated, I know). It can make a chef out of anyone with its gazillion cooking videos. Eating out everyday is a money-guzzler like no other, and I did end up eating out a lot as I was out all day most days. So food turned out to be my biggest expense and I had to take that in my stride. The simplest pizza (Marinara was my favourite) will cost you 4 EUR, and a Tiramisu (who can or should resist those?) another 4 EUR. Do yourself and the planet a favour by saying NO to bottled water. Use a handheld filter and you won’t have to spend a few Euros on water everyday. And if anyone tells you it’s rude to bring your own water in a restaurant (as I was told), tell them it’s ruder to bring plastic into the oceans. Environment > etiquette.
Transport: Public transport in small-town Italy isn’t perfectly on time, but I found it reliable and fun nonetheless. One-hour journeys cost about 4 EUR and tickets are sold at tobacco/newspaper stores called Tabacchi’s, marked with ‘T’ signs. Tickets can also be bought on the buses, but they cost more. On my first ride, I’d forgotten my ticket and the driver didn’t have any tickets on him, so he actually defended my right to travel ticketless when an official demanded to see my ticket. I love it when humanity trumps rules 🙂
For inter-city and inter-country travel I used FlixBus mainly. Tickets between 5 to 25 EUR, on-app bookings, full refund on cancellations upto 20 minutes prior to departure, phone charging points at every seat, Wifi and bathrooms onboard. Get a window seat and you’re all set for a happy journey. But in Ljubljana, Slovenia I found that a state-operated bus from the main bus stand was less than half the Flixbus price, with the same journey time, so I switched loyalties temporarily. Always helps to compare prices!
Look out for introductory offers of taxi apps like Uber, and get a free ride on them. I found a 22 EUR discount on Uber. BlaBlaCar and MegaBus had some great deals too, the latter even offering tickets at 1 EUR between big cities!
Accommodation: This would have been the lion’s share of my expenses if it weren’t for friends who let me stay with them. And of course, the Holy Grail of every budget traveller – Hostels. Ostello Villa Camerata in Florence, Lake Como Hostel and especially Hostel Tresor in Ljubljana (Slovenia) surprised me with their high value-for-money quotient. Booking hostels on the Hotels.com app was beneficial – much lower rates, pay-on-arrival and free cancellations.
View from Lake Como Hostel. Not bad for INR 1,500 a night (20 EUR)
AirBnB can take a bow for an artistic underground studio apartment I spent a few days in (30 EUR per day, https://www.airbnb.co.in/rooms/10134369?s=8XJ1TL0p), and its wonderful host A’Ishah. A new friend I’m sure to meet if we’re ever in each other’s countries again. The more I travel, the more friends I make around the world – my future hosts and guests in good measure 🙂
With my artistic AirBnB host A’Ishah in Milan
Smaller the budget, bigger the adventure?
Maybe the size of our adventures doesn’t have a direct correlation with the size of our budgets. Maybe the biggest adventures are more likely necessitated by the smallest budgets. Grace under pressure, mandatory minimalism, always-on presence of mind, resourcefulness, a bright-side mindset even when plans go awry, legs that can walk forever out of sheer practice, long bus rides, instincts heightened over time, deep gratitude for simple pleasures, conversation skills with absolute strangers even in languages new to you, hostel friendships, non-manufactured cultural experiences, a hawk’s eye for deals/discounts/scams – some of the many (in)valuables only a small budget can buy you.
So if you think a small budget is the obstacle between you and your next adventure, think again. If you squint at it from another angle, it has way more adventures lined up for you than all the hedge funds in the world could organize. If you’re ‘lucky’ enough to be a diligent, money-conscious, prioritizing traveller, that is. More on that in next week’s blogpost!