We’re Too Fat For Germany!
In case you haven’t noticed, when it comes to traveling, we tend to go to countries that are “out there”, and don’t fit the traditional paradigm of American tourists. Our adventures mostly consist of things like motorcycling on the Congo-Nile trail in Rwanda, trekking to see the mountain gorillas in Uganda, Kristen sneaking into Cuba before it was legal etc. So, what the hell are we doing in beautiful Northern Germany?!
The answer is visiting family… And working on our obesity…
Half of my family is German, and it has been far too long since I had connected with them. We are here in the winter months, so it is relatively cold (42F today), rainy, and lacking the summer bustle of the tourism industry that is standard for the region with its extended beaches, cafes on the water, and luxurious hotels catering to foreigners looking for a place to dump some cash.
We have spent most of our time visiting with family, walking around on the waterfront of gorgeous towns and cities including Bremen, Bremerhaven, Cüxhaven, and Otterndorf. We have visited historical buildings and sites, and modern shopping areas. Amongst our travels we have spent very little money so far (5 days so far of our 10 day trip) and I wanted to provide some insight into why this is, because I think it is a specific circumstance for us, but likely replicable to nearly everyone for at least one part of the world.
We will provide a cost breakdown at the end of the month when we publish “34 Months Until Freedom!” to provide more details on our expenses and investments for the month, but 5 days into our trip here I can provide some specific details on what we have spent so far.
Reap Some Rewards On Travel
$1,500 for airfare. These 3 round trip tickets were purchased through Vayama (A third party site we often use to book airfare). It is important to note three specific things with this purchase 1) we purchased the tickets on Rory’s American Express Skymiles Card 2) since we flew through Virgin Atlantic we will yield 150% Skymiles on the air transportation. (2,250 miles) and 3) since my mother paid us back in CASH for her ticket (thanks mom) we made 750 FREE Skymiles. Not too shabby huh? Just wait until I tell you how I made $6 for doing nothing more than swiping a card at the right time.
Saving Money On Airfare
My mother typically pays $1000 for a round-trip ticket when she visits family here, we were able to pay half of what we would normally pay for this air transportation for a few reasons.
We flew out of Boston International Airport which is quite a distance from where we live in Maine. We drove my Toyota Prius to Portsmouth, New Hampshire and took a bus line that has hourly buses to the airport in Boston. This company provides FREE parking, (we have left a vehicle here for 30+ days before) and round-trip bus tickets to Boston International Airport for $34! We would probably pay that even if the parking wasn’t free… Just to avoid the chaos of driving in Boston.
We flew into Hamburg (via London) rather than Bremen (which is closer to where my family lives) AND we came a few months before the tourist season peaks. These few tweaks to our transportation plan (and not really an inconvenience at all) saved us about 50% on our airfare! My uncle was willing to pick us up from the airport in Hamburg, but if he wasn’t we found that for under $20 each we could take a train from the airport in Hamburg to Cüxhaven.
Saving Money On Ground Transportation
As I said, the ground transportation cost was a few hours and less than $10 in gas travelling from Maine to the bus station in New Hampshire, and the $34 per person for round-trip bus tickets from there to Boston. We put this ground transportation cost and the gas fill up on my Chase Freedom card, which carries a current 0% interest rate for a promotional 15 months AND gives a usual 1% cash back on all purchases. However, they are currently offering a promotional 5% cash back on all gas and ground transportation purchases. So, between putting all three of our bus tickets on this card and spending the roughly $20 in gas purchases this trip, we will be making $6 of FREE money cashback. Since we pay off our credit cards every month so we don’t incur interest, and will pay off this card entirely before the 0% promotional interest rate expires, we will have truly made $6 that we otherwise would not have simply by skimming through what would otherwise be junk mail in our email, and swiping the correct card accordingly.
Saving Money On Housing And Food
How much have we spent on housing and food so far this trip? $26. How is that possible in 5 days? Well, to be honest we are ashamed it’s not a 0 figure for us this far into the trip. We bought convenience travel food on this trip, which we try to minimize or eliminate. We bought Starbucks coffee in London, and Burger King at a travel stop driving to New Hampshire on our travel day. The rest has remained at zero expenses because we are staying with family. They are providing our shuttling from town to town (as well as being our own personal tour guides… which is nice!) and are providing a free place to stay at night (as well as unlimited food and beer!) Towards the end of the trip Kristen and I intend on taking a train to Hamburg and spending a night or two in a hostel, so we will not have this luxury for part of our trip, but suffice to say, its been nice for our finances so far, not to mention has really been amazing to spend that amount of time with family instead of away from them.
Some Thoughts Before More Riesling And Smoked Meats
I wanted to get these thoughts out there before they become jumbled numbers and statements in a later blog because I believe wholeheartedly in the philosophy of networking. Although this trip will be relatively inexpensive due to my connections in Germany, it is ACTUALLY relatively inexpensive because of networking, planning a few things ahead, and using the right tool for the job.
If you want to save some money on your next trip, ask yourself the following questions.
- Where do I want to go?
I often find that there are peak seasons and off-peak seasons… No matter where you go in the world. Rates for housing, transportation, and services will correlate to those seasons. Can you choose a place to go that is not in its peak season?
- Do I know anyone there?
Anyone who is a backpacker (cheap traveler) for any length of time can name a few people in almost any country in the world. If you are a beginning traveler, my recommendation is to be social in your travels, you will find likeminded people who live in places you may want to travel. Being able to stay with someone is the ultimate plus, it gives you a more authentic and personal experience with that place. Even if staying with someone isn’t an option, reaching out to them and asking them their advice on ways to save money as a tourist IS always an option. I have found locals ALWAYS know how to save money where they live. So, ASK!
A fun exercise you can do is to sit down and make a list of friends and family you know around your country and around the world, maybe you will choose to go on vacation in one of those places.
- Can I Optimize The Travel Itself?
Airfare and ground transportation are a constant if you are travelling. Would you rather pay $500 or $1000 to do it? Does the difference in cost create such an inconvenience you are willing to pay more? Is there a method of payment or method of travel that further optimizes your experience or expense? Don’t get us wrong, we are penny pinchers, but on a 10 day vacation in a really cool spot, we sometimes choose the FASTER route even if it costs drastically more than the other option. Sometimes the extra day in a location is worth the extra $50 on airfare to save you the 12 hours of riding a sweaty bus that might break down in East Africa, or sitting in a ferry terminal for half the day in the Caribbean.
A good exercise for optimizing your travel is to list out all of your options, train, bus, airplane, layover, no layover, using skymiles to book, not using them etc. Then list the costs and times and other conveniences or difficulties that come along with those options. Your solution and cost will present itself based on the weight you place on cost, convenience, or time.
Network Network Network!
The old saying of “It’s not what you know, but who you know” doesn’t just apply to employment… It certainly applies to optimizing your travel experience. In 5 days I have reconnected with family members and their friends, although they all have their base connections in Germany, many of them live elsewhere now, and have invited us to stay in places like Switzerland, or invited us to take a motorcycle trip from Spain to the Sahara in Morocco (I know, boring right?) And we have returned the offer of staying with us in Maine should they choose. Make those connections in your travels and you will not only optimize the EXPERIENCE of your journey, but the FINANCES of them.