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Planning Europe on a budget

It’s no secret that Nic and I aren’t making a ton of money, but we also want to see so many different places. So sacrifices will have to be made in order to see Europe on a budget. Like staying in a 215 sq. ft. apartment. :) We also know we’re going to have to cut back on some aspect of traveling. And we’re absolutely okay with that.

Over the weekend, we were talking about how being in Europe is so crazy – we’re getting to see things we never thought possible. I’ve never had the desire to travel Europe before because of how expensive it is. But now that we live here, we just can’t pass up the opportunity. Because who knows when we’ll be back again! Which means we’ll probably make our food in hostels or find cheap places to eat, skip the bars (not like that’s our style anyway), and we’ll find our entertainment by walking around and exploring – instead of shopping or taking guided tours.

We also bought a Bahn 25 train pass. It cost €25 ($33) for a 4-month card and gives us 25% off most train travel within a network that includes Germany, Netherlands, Brussels, Austria, Italy, Denmark, Switzerland, Poland, and Czech Republic. And while train travel is fun, we’ve realized that it’s not always the cheapest way to go. Plus, sometimes with connections, it can take a long time. Flights, as most of you know, are cheap throughout Europe. For longer trips – like to Amsterdam or Athens, we’ll be flying there instead. Amsterdam was €90 ($120) roundtrip, and I think Athens was €170 ($225).

In fact, I’ve just figured out most our travel itinerary until the end of May, and while it could still change, this is what it tentatively looks like:

  • February 24-26 – Munich, Germany
  • March 15-18 – Geneva, Switzerland
  • March 30-April 1 – Vienna, Austria
  • April 5-9 – Athens, Greece
  • April 12-17 – Malaga, Spain
  • April 21-23 – Munich, Germany
  • April 24-27 – Milan, Italy
  • April 28-30 – Venice, Italy
  • May 5-7 – Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • May 25-28 – Berlin, Germany

Whew! And that doesn’t include day trips within the region either. For June-August, we still have Stockholm, Prague, Corsica, and Copenhagen on the agenda. Maybe Barcelona and Rome too. I might also try to hit up London and Ireland as a solo trip. But then again, maybe not… the Olympics will mean an expensive gong show in London. Aaaaand I also might like to venture to the Canary Islands, but only because it’s $100 for roundtrip airfare. :) 4 or 5 days there as a working holiday would be nice. But it will depend on cash flow, of course.

Your turn: tell me about your favourite place in Europe – could be as vague as a country, or as specific as a cafe in a random town. :)

Why I chose to live in a 215 sq. ft. apartment

Well, some of you know that Nic and I now have a place to live! :) Last week we went to view a unit, and as of February 15th, we will be living in a small 215 sq. ft. one-room apartment. It’s on the top floor of a 5-floor building, located in a beautiful neighbourhood about a 20-25 minute walk from downtown. In fact, I wrote an article on Moneyville earlier this week about it – but boy did I get slammed for that idea! I even did a radio interview on NewsTalk1010, but instead of it actually being a story on why I decided to live in a tiny apartment (and the benefits of small space living), the two announcers pretty much just made fun of me for 5 straight minutes. Awesome.

To be honest, I’m a little bit shocked at all of the criticism. There were some harsh comments – some of them racist (!) – but those ones got deleted rather quickly. Here are a few that I’d like to share and respond to.

My response: We chose to live in a small space, and yes, I’m proud of our decision to cut back in this area. I’m not here preaching small space living and minimalism – I’m talking about understanding your needs vs. wants, and how you want to live your life. Of all people, I realize that it’s beneficial to earn more money to make my life better – which is how I’m able to afford to come to Europe in the first place! I have worked my butt off earning multiple streams of income over the last 5 years. And sure, I’d love to “make a few extra hundred dollars a month” – we all would – and I’m trying as hard as I can to grow my business. But if and when I do make that extra money, I’d rather spend it on travel and exploring Germany and the rest of Europe, than on a bigger apartment.

My response: Seriously? There is “absolutely no reason to cheapen one’s living accommodations to save a few bucks”? What about when you’re in debt, or you want to save money? We chose a small apartment in one of the most desirable areas in town. There are no cockroaches, the apartment is clean, and the neighbourhood is beautiful. What we value right now is pretty much everything other than our apartment. I have a mortgage, and BF isn’t getting paid that much – so we had to make a choice. You can’t have everything that you want in life.

My response: I’m not bragging, I’m just trying to make a point that we don’t NEED as much space as we have here in our homes in North America. My choice is based on my lifestyle, just as your choice to have a massive deck is based on your lifestyle. I fully believe that 215 sq. ft. is functional for us, and I don’t see why we would pay to have more space than what we need.

My response: Comments like yours used to really get to me, but they don’t anymore. You don’t have to read my writing, but you do. You also don’t have to take the time to comment, but you did. Maybe you don’t agree with everything that I write about, but I’m doing my job by generating discussion.

If a big apartment or a huge deck is what makes you happy, then go for it. If you want your $5 latte from Starbucks every day, fine by me. No judgement here! We’re all different, and we all have our priorities, and I am extremely grateful that I know who I am, and what makes me feel fulfilled in life.

A big home won’t make me happy – which is why I’m living in a small 1-bedroom townhouse in Vancouver (even though I could have afforded a bigger home). My “dream job” won’t make me happy, so I’m doing the next best thing to ensure that I satisfy what I love to do most.

These are the choices that I’ve made. I’ve chosen to live in a small, cheap apartment because 1) I have a mortgage to pay at home, 2) we barely have any stuff with us, 3) we won’t be spending much time in the apartment anyway – other than to sleep and eat, and 4) we want to save as much as possible in order to go exploring on the weekends. We are also trying to accomplish one 3-4 day trip each month, as well as travel for most of August. It just wouldn’t be possible if we were paying more rent. And I don’t know about you, but I’d rather spend my time hanging out in Zurich, Amsterdam, Prague, Stockholm, and Venice, than in a bigger apartment. :)

Trip Recap: Paris, France

We only spent about 40 hours (2 nights) in Paris, but I think it’s safe to say that we made the most of our time there. It’s a beautiful, romantic city – and we definitely want to go back before we leave Europe this year. One day just wasn’t enough time to see everything we wanted to see.

But maybe next time we’ll go when it’s a little bit warmer. :)

Here is a breakdown of our trip – in terms of money that I spent, as well as the things that we did. (It should be noted that we don’t split the cost of everything down the middle. We keep things pretty even, but it’s always a rough estimation.)

Cost

Accommodation: $72.54
Food: $78.12
Transit: $16.57
Entertainment: $39.83
TOTAL: $207.06

Accommodation

We booked our stay at Hotel Saint Sebastien through HostelBookers.com because it’s usually the cheapest place for booking hostels. It’s even cheaper that HostelWorld.com most of the time! Plus, it came with free wifi and breakfast in the morning. :)

As a side note, if you register for Great Canadian Rebates, you will save an additional 2% on any stay booked through HostelBookers.com when you click through from the GCR website. The same goes for train tickets in Europe! :) Basically whenever I buy anything online, I look to see if I can click through using my GCR account. If the merchant is listed on GCR, I will get a percentage of my purchase back as a cash rebate. It definitely adds up, and it’s free. So you can’t really beat that!

The hotel itself was functional. It wasn’t fancy by any means, but apparently for hotels/hostels in downtown Paris, you’re lucky if you can get anything decent in the “budget” category. But really, how much time are you actually going to be spending in your hotel room? We spent most of our time outside exploring the city. :)

I would consider staying here again, but will probably try a new hostel when we go back to Paris at some point this year.

Food

For breakfast, we just ate the free food in the hostel – which consisted of tea, croissants, and bread. Lunch consisted of just snacks on the go. We had too much to see, and didn’t have time to stop anywhere.

Dinner the first night was at Au Royal Couscous, and it was just okay. We didn’t have many choices, since it was late at night and we didn’t have reservations anywhere. Dinner the second night was at some hole-in-the-wall pizza place. It’s true, the wine was ridiculously cheap everywhere we went – and delicious too.

I’d say the highlight for me was eating a huge pistachio macaron as big as the palm of my hand. It was absolutely divine, and worth every penny.

Transit

We saved a ton of money by walking everywhere and taking the metro, instead of cabs. The Paris transit system is pretty great, but it’s also really confusing – even for Nic, whose first language is French. I don’t think I could have figured it out if he wasn’t there with me.

It took us about an hour to take transit from the airport to our hotel, and once we were in the city, we just went by foot. Good exercise, saves money, and you get to see more things. :)

Entertainment

Since we only had one full day in the city, we decided not to go inside any museums (we’ll save that for the next trip to the city!). But we did get to see the Arc de Triomphe, Louvre, and Notre Dame Cathedral – all for free. We paid to take the stairs up the Eiffel Tower (I think the price was about €12 per person), because, come on. You can’t not go up the Eiffel Tower when you’re in freaking Paris. I also paid €20 total for us both to ride La Grande Roue (ferris wheel) because I thought it was fun and romantic. And there was no line-up. Haha!

Anyway, I’ll leave you with a few photos:

 

 

 

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