After more than two years bumming around beaches in a retired budget travel lifestyle with relative ease in Mexico and Central America, we wanted to experience new parts of the world this year. Part of our plan had us in Portugal, Spain, and northern Italy for three months – from mid-February to mid-May.
Here’s an update on how our budget held up.
First, we raised our budget.
We spent $2,000 a month in our first couple of years, with everything included: our rental property back in the U.S., housing abroad, pay-as-you-go health care, food, entertainment, excursions, sightseeing – everything. For our time in Western European we had expected to increase our spending from 25 and 50 percent, because we knew we would experience higher prices.
Budget challenge #1: housing.
One of the challenges was the housing costs. We were spending $500 to $600 a month last year. In Western Europe, to maintain our preferred standard, we paid $1,000 to $1,200 a month. For those readers who don’t know, we like to rent an entire apartment – whether it’s a one bedroom or studio.
The way you could cut housing costs would be to share living space by renting rooms instead of entire apartments, staying in hostels, using workaway or voluntouring situations, or making couch surfing or co-living arrangements – which are wildly popular with millennials right now.
Budget challenge #2: sightseeing costs.
The next challenge is when you are in these great places of Western Europe, you want to see the great museums, art, and architectural sites. Entry fees cost what they cost in a culture-rich environment. We couldn’t go to Rome and not visit the Vatican Museums, for example.
We cut costs as much as possible by going to free museum days when we were able to, we sought out free concerts and inexpensive live music options; we rode public transportation to see the sights; we took free walking tours, and then did more walking after online research of the cities where we lived.
Budget challenge #3: higher cost of living.
A third challenge is the general cost of living. The cost of a nice dinner out in Rome or Seville or Lisbon is comparable to Chicago or Philadelphia or San Diego.
We cut costs by eating out as a treat, not a daily event; we shopped at grocery stores and local markets (which is why we need a kitchen), we packed picnics and snacks for long sightseeing outings.
The budget tally reveal:
We spent a total of $11,408 during our three months in Western Europe.
But wait! There’s less!
We want to subtract a few extra costs that were not really part of our living expenses.
I (Ellen) spent: $350 on a spiritual conference; $600 on prescription eyeglasses and sunglasses; $230 on a single gift for a special friend we met on our journeys. Other budget travelers won’t have those expenses.
So, subtract those costs and the actual living expenses for our three months in Western Europe drop to $10,278. We know couples who spend around that amount on vacations for a week or two — and then they have to go back to work.
Overall, we feel ok with what we spent, even though we averaged about $400 per month over our hoped-for budget. We are happy we’ve seen sites and had experiences you can’t get anywhere else on Earth. There’s only one Domus Aurea, only one Sintra, only one La Sagrada Familia, only one Dali Theater and Museum, only one Venice.
We realize our budget of about $3,000 a month was a lofty goal for our lifestyle preferences. To balance it out, we have a lower monthly budget for less expensive destinations later this year, like the Balkans and Southeast Asia.
And one day we’ll go back to Europe when we hit regular retirement age and we can loosen up our purse strings a little. (Germany, Scotland, England, Ireland, Switzerland… so many places left to see!)