When you are living as an expat in Europe, the travel possibilities are mind boggling. France, Sweden, Poland, Morocco, Italy…I could go on and on. When you know you have a finite amount of time, the pressure’s on. Really, I could happily spend our two years here just enjoying Switzerland. There’s so, so much to enjoy here! But we thought we should take advantage of living so close to so many other countries. Shouldn’t we? At school pick up and drop off, typical conversations overheard include things like “When we were in Morocco over the weekend…” and “We have to catch our flight to Oslo right after school…” and “Can you email me the deets on your apartment in Prague when you get a chance? We need to find a place to stay for our trip.” It can really make your head spin. Are we not travelling enough? Should we be booking more trips? How can people afford all of this travel? Am I robbing my kids of life experiences by staying home on the weekend?
Finding a good balance between exploring your home country and taking advantage of travel opportunities is tricky. We have found that for us, travelling while we’re here is a must. Once we move away from Europe, the costs of travelling here will go up because airfare is so expensive from the U.S. So we decided early on that we were going to travel. A lot. Not as much as some people, and not enough to blow our life’s savings, but a lot more than we ever have before. That being said, our budget certainly limits us! We have to look carefully at airfare, gas prices, and lodging before we can commit to going anywhere. We usually don’t stay in hotels because, as a family of five, it’s just too damn expensive. So, I rely heavily on websites like HomeAway (https://www.homeaway.co.uk/), Airbnb (https://www.airbnb.com/) and Booking.com (www.booking.com) to find apartments for us. If you take a little time and dig around, you can find some sweet pads for not a lot of money! I always read thoroughly through the reviews because that is where the goldmine of information lives. If an apartment is not yet reviewed, we simply don’t stay there. I don’t know enough about these cities to guess. The reviews give you great tidbits like what the hosts are like, if the location is good, how clean the apartment is, any surprise charges not included in the original listing, and even tips on what to see as a tourist.
Prioritizing helps, too. For example, when visiting an expensive city like London, we wanted to go see the Lion King. This meant that we had to skip Harry Potter. I knew that my kids would love to see both, but we couldn’t afford both, and the Lion King definitely was the higher priority in their eyes. Making lists of everything you want to do on a holiday and then prioritizing to fit within your budget is a great way to save money.
Transportation costs factor in, too. Flying to Venice for spring break sounds really nice, but it would cost us $1500.00. Taking the train may take longer, but at around $600.00 total, it saves us heaps. On the other hand, taking the train to Paris was going to run us around $1300.oo, so we drove for the cost of gas and parking (around $300.00 total). Looking at all transportation options in order to choose the cheapest one has definitely saved us lots of money.
Finally, reading up on inexpensive or free things to do in each place is the simplest way to save. Parks are the best places to take kids and they are almost always free! And free is always in our budget.