At 104 days and counting to what we think will be one of our best trips ever — a Mediterranean cruise and a week in Provence — I’m starting to quake in my boots about the trip budget. We haven’t been very disciplined in saving and are not on target to make our budget. I’m no accountant but I know that gives us two choices. Raise more money or cut costs.
How do we raise money? Well how about letting complete strangers stay in my house? We happen to live two miles from Churchill Downs, site, of course, of the most exciting and famous horse race in the world. People in Louisville are renting mansions and suburban executive homes for rent to Derby visitors for untold sums. Hotels and motels across the city are price-gouging galore. The scruffy Days Inn off the interstate 2-3 miles from the track rings up at more than a thousand dollars for the 3 day weekend. So I’ve joined the party and put my house up for rent. I’m being pretty strict so I don’t know if I’ll have takers but if I do, that’s a thousand dollars towards the trip. That would cover our car rental in France, a few days’ worth of $6 per gallon petrol and autoway tolls, and our train up to Paris where we catch our plane home.
But that’s not enough. We’ll probably hold a garage sale in the spring. The class I’m teaching on travel in Europe will bring in some pennies. And it’s crack down on superfluous spending time. We’ve given up dinners out for Lent. Every time we don’t go out to eat feels like one extra meal we’re paying for in France or Italy, Turkey or Greece.
Even still, the budget is just too high. It’s time to make some hard decisions. What do we cut? And what is too integral a part of the travel experience to cut? Well, the shuttle from the ship at cruise-end to our hotel in Rome is €100. That’s over $130. I think we can deal with getting our luggage onto a train near the dock and then transfer to a taxi for about a hundred dollar savings. That’s an easy one. I’ve pored over car rentals until I’ve satisfied myself that the Peugot 207 from Hertz is the cheapest we can get. Our airfare is already free with miles. Our pre- and post-cruise nights in Rome are free thanks to Marriott and Hilton points. The cruise price is non-negotiable. I milked the travel agency for three bottles of on-board wine and a stateroom credit which will hopefully put a good dent in our on-board expenses.
The only places left for cuts is sightseeing, experiences and meals. (We already have zero budgeted for shopping so there’s no room for cuts there.) I’m of a firm mind that the sightseeing and experiences are *why* we travel. We don’t spend all that money to get so far from home to not enjoy the attractions. We’re spending one full fantastic day on a private tour in Provence visiting a chocolatier, visiting a winery for tasting and picnic, and taking a cooking lesson which we’ll then enjoy for dinner. We could dramatically cut the budget if we eliminated this, but these experiences will be the essence of our time in Provence. I can’t cut it. I don’t want to cut any of the things we’ll be *doing.*
Meals are another matter. Time after time we blow our budget on food. A truffle lunch in Alba, Italy, once cost more than our hotel for the night but I’ll remember it forever. We always go with the best intentions of spending less on food but when we see the day’s special scrawled on the chalkboard all intentions are forgotten. How can I go to the south of France in the midst of summer’s bounty and keep my purse strings tight? Life’s rough, I know, poor me.
I think it’s time to return to the discipline of our first backpacking trip. Brian was waiting tables while going to school and my job didn’t pay much better but we spent 25 days in Europe and came in under budget. A taxi was a luxury then — somehow it’s become a daily given now. We had daily budgets set in stone – if we exceeded it one day we had to counter it the next. We can do this again. We can have a Great Ten-Year Anniversary trip sans Michelin-starred restaurants. It’s the being there that’s the magic, the sharing of the experience. It’s no less meaningful over a baguette with brie than a four-course haute cuisine meal.
But still, do advise if you know of a way to bring in just a bit more trip cash. It would be nice to bring home a little something from the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul.