Friday, 12 November 2010

Cheap Holidays

I've had it on my list for ages to write about frugality and travel.  My main challenge is that I can't ignore the fact that any travel that is just for fun is a form of conspicuous consumption and a luxury about which millions of people might only dream.  Also, I'm no expert on the subject, just a wannabe still hoping to learn.  OK, so now I've got that off my chest, what next?

"Cheap Holidays" is probably not the same as "Frugal Travel".  The Brits like to say 'A change is as good as a rest.'  So, taking a different job for your two weeks vacation might be just as good as jetting off somewhere...OK, maybe not. 

If I really wanted a frugal holiday, I'd make a list of all the touristy things in my own area, prioritise by cost (free being at the top of the list) and work my way through them, taking a picnic lunch along with me.  I'd include a few things things I'm not normally interested in and go have a taster anyhow.  To make it a real a change, I'd make a list of new recipes I've been meaning to try, and schedule those each night of the week.  Having a blog to feed, I would also take copious photos (as with any other tourist destination) and write about each thing I saw.  [Yeah, OK, I keep meaning to do this...].

I suppose the next most inexpensive vacation would be to go camping (if you already had or could borrow the gear) or stay at a friend's house, some reasonable distance away by car or public transport.  I hear about house swapping, but I'm leery; also house sitting which might work out better.

If you want more than just a change of scenery, say, a different culture altogether, the next question I would ask is what you want to do:  see one place or tour?  Is it scenic countryside or exciting cities you want?  A couple of years ago I pulled a list of countries in the world off the internet.  Bill and I sat down and assigned A, B, C (or nada) priority to each country.  I pooled the list and we're working our way gradually through it, interspersed with trips to see family in the US and Australia.  

After selecting a destination (country or city), some research is needed:  How will you get there?  Where will you stay?  How will you get around in the location?  How will you eat?  What is there to see or do; which of these opportunities will you pursue? After that, what sort of luggage will you take and what will go in it?  Remember Rick Steves' saying:  You cannot travel heavy, happy and cheap:  chose two.

Bill and I don't have the same ideas about travel and I must admit to giving in to his preferences most of the time.  I would still consider trying youth hostels (you don't have to be young anymore).  I gather it is possible to get family rooms to yourselves and not sleep in a bunk room.  I like the idea of travelling with friends and sharing the costs.  On the other hand, I would only travel on that cheap edge in a Western culture; step out of that and I want a tour guide, at least for the first trip!

After Bill retires at the end of this year, I suspect we will look at travel differently. Time constraints will be gone, but cost will be a greater consideration.  It will be interesting to see how we travel differently: longer, further, less frequently, 'lower to the ground' (as I put travelling less like a tourist).

I have two resources to recommend one old, one new to me.  If your destination is Europe, Rick Steves is your man.  I've just stumbled onto this blog, The Professional Hobo.  It looks to be packed with tips and other links worth investigating. 

One of the places I really would like to see - well, two - are Moscow and St. Petersburg.  I remember the first 'Communist' I ever met, Rasti, a young medical student from Slovakia.  He's no more Communist than I am, but his father was and his first home and language was Russian.  He also spoke Czech, excellent English (learned by watching movies), some German and last I heard was working on Spanish.  We both really enjoyed talking together, each being a new experience for the other.  I remember having the sense of exploring what was previously 'forbidden', having insight into what I grew up with as 'other' and 'locked away'.  I'm sure this is what fascinates me about the idea of Moscow.  St. Petersburg is something different, more romantic.   I expect Moscow will be ominous and forbidding; St Petersburg will be grand and beautiful.  I hope one day to get to test these theories, but Russia is an expensive place to travel.

Looking at the $3,000+ tour that Rick Steves offers (I recommend his books for frugality, not his tours!), I see that he will take folks from Tallinn, in Estonia, on a ferry over to Helsinki and then on a train to St Petersburg.  He had me from ..."see Art Nouveau streets...".

We can take EasyJet to quite a few cities in Europe (or go to Liverpool and fly direct), then catch a train to Tallinn.  So far as my research goes, transport costs from Newcastle to St Petersburg might be as low as £369, plus travel VISAs, hotels and food.  I've no idea how realistic this is, particularly as the fares listed are only for the next 12 weeks or so, not in summer when we'd likely go.  Also, could we bumble around on our own safely or would we need a tour guide?

It just so happens that I used to work with a lady, Svetlana, who lives not far from us.  She and husband Alexei are unable to join us for Thanksgiving, but have responded with an invitation to come to theirs for dinner, which I'm really looking forward to.  We might have one or two things to talk about, given they come from Moscow.  My experience suggests the food will also be outstanding; Bill's been salivating for nearly a week now.


Jo said...

Rick's cousin from CA is in a group that provides a place to sleep for other members of the group. They have been to a number of places in Europe. They travel light, backpack or duffle bag. Have a place to stay, someone to talk to about where to go, what to do, and how to get around. They have really enjoyed it.

P&O Cruises promotional codes fan said...

Easyjet and other low cost airlines are a bit of a godspend. But You can also find offers on ferry crossings, and the get public transport across Europe, makes it a bit more interesting too as when u travel you see more landscape!

There's usually plenty of good offers online, if you know where to look ;)

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Shelley said...

Bill and I talked about whether one of these posts was 'spam' and why I published it. I now have a second comment in response to a very 'google-able' title of 'cheap holidays'. I'm pretty sure these are spam, but they amused me so I published them all the same.

There is another spam comment I got ages ago inviting me to visit a website - it just provided the website. I didn't much appreciate it at first, but upon visiting, there were some beautiful things to be seen (and purchases). Some related to the inter-war period I like, so I've not deleted it. I'll share that with you...eventually.