When I was young, I always thought how wonderful it would be to travel to far away places. To hike mountains in another hemisphere, ride a camel, or sail around tropical islands. To walk the cobbled streets of towns and cities, and see the same sights that I’d read about in books. But really, I thought, how would I ever be able to do all that? Travel was for the wealthy. Wasn’t it?
|Sunset camel ride on the beach in Broome, Australia|
Funny, isn’t it, how you can get things so wrong when you’re a kid?
Hubby and I are not wealthy; we travel quite a bit, especially now that we’re both retired. And after each trip we are always amazed at how easy it is to travel for extended periods without breaking the bank.
|Village of Vettica Minore, on the Amalfi Coast|
If you’ve read my blog before, you’ll know that deep down I’m a numbers person. I love to add things up, crunch numbers, look at graphs and pie-charts, all that seemingly boring stuff. And each time Hubby and I come home from a trip, I total what we’ve spent, every last cent, and see if we’ve stayed within our budget.
This last trip, we travelled for twenty-three days in Italy. When we came home I added up our expenses: airfare, car rental for two weeks, gas for the car, accommodation for twenty-two nights, all food, tours, and incidentals, in short every single cent we spent from the time we left for the airport on September 21 until we arrived home on October 15. We’d spent just over $8,600.00 Canadian dollars. Gad. That sounded like a lot, until I started to break it down.
|Walking the ancient stairway from Agerola down to Amalfi|
We paid for our flight from Ottawa to Venice, and home from Rome with our Aeroplan points. When we travel we pay for as much as we can on our credit cards; we both have travel points cards. Might as well earn air miles while we’re spending. We each take a couple of hundred of whatever currency we’ll need, in this case Euros, with us, and use our debit cards at ATMs to get more cash, as needed, as we go. We usually take turns, I’ll draw cash out of my account one day and a few days later it will be Hubby’s turn. So by checking credit card statements, and tracking ATM withdrawals in our bank statements, I can very easily keep track of exactly how much we’ve spent, in Canadian dollars.
|Gigino the master pizza maker in San Lazarro Square, Agerola, on the Amalfi Coast|
If I take our airfare out of the mix, our trip cost was a little over $7400. CAD, or $3700. per person. That includes all other forms of transportation (car rental, gas, transfers to and from airports, plus vaporetto, bus, ferry, and subway tickets), all accommodation, all meals (including lunches, dinners, wine, coffees, pastries, snacks and other treats), tickets for museums (in Venice, Florence, and Rome), incidentals like souvenirs, and all tours. We did walking tours in Venice and Florence, and hired a private guide for a morning in Rome. The guided tour of Rome was a bit expensive, but was one of the best experiences of our trip. If you plan to be in Rome for the first time, we’d highly recommend Lucca, who was suggested to us by good friends.
|Post Sunday lunch goodies from Pasticceria Avitabile Mauro, San Lazzaro Square, Agerola|
Our Italy trip was a bit unusual for Hubby and me. We did not stay in self-catered accommodation. On most trips we try to cook for ourselves if we’re going to be in one location for more than a couple of nights. In France in 2015, we rented a flat in Paris for six days, and a cottage in Provence, outside of Avignon, for five days. But this time we chose, instead, B&B’s, small hotels, and Agritourismos, which is what the Italians call farm-stays. We booked almost all of our accommodation on-line before we left home, and we were really happy with our choices. The Agritourismos were fantastic. In Urbino we had fresh truffles for dinner and a view across the hills to die for, in Norcia our room was a converted farm outbuilding, and it was rustic and gorgeous, in Manoppello and Agerola our hosts had vineyards, and we sampled their wine, even taking a complimentary bottle from our hosts in Agerola with us to Rome. That’s the wine Hubby is enjoying on the rooftop terrace of our hotel on our first night in Rome.
|First evening in Rome, enjoying a glass of wine compliments of our hosts in Agerola|
The theme here is that while we don’t travel in luxury, we don’t suffer, either. We prefer small, unpretentious places, which are neither backpacker hostels nor expensive five-star hotels or resorts. We’ve learned a lot over the years. For our first big trip, back in the early 2000s, we used a travel agent who booked our flights, arranged car rentals, tours etc, and booked several of our accommodations. But we found that we made better choices on our own once we’d landed, consulting local tourist offices, and choosing small motels, rustic cabins, and even cabins in caravan parks.
We found that the cabins in caravan parks in Australia were our favourites, one even had a Jacuzzi. We cooked our own food at the communal barbeque area, and met lots of interesting people. I remember the first night we did that, I had stayed at the cabin putting together the salad, and opening the wine, while Hubby carried off the steaks to the barbeque area. Before too long he was back to get me, and the salad, plates and cutlery, and wine. We had a wonderful time eating and chatting with two young doctors from the UK, and an older couple from Tasmania.
|Piazza Navona, Rome|
These days, with arrangements so easy to make on-line, we plan and do all our own accommodation bookings. A few years ago a friend told us about Auto Europe, and now Hubby makes our car rental arrangements with them over the phone. We’ve used them all over the world; they’ve never let us down, and the price is very good. Our two week rental in Italy, picking the car up as we left Venice, and dropping it off at the airport as we arrived in Rome (Hubby did NOT want to drive in Rome) cost us a little over $500.00, including the extra cost for the GPS.
|Strolling the Fiume Tevere, with the Vatican in the distance|
Of course everyone has their own preferences for travel. We’re not “cruisers”… as someone asked us in Rome. We don’t take packaged trips, nor trips that are fully guided. We prefer to chart our own course, pick up a short tour (sometimes for a few days, sometimes a few hours.) We have a limit as to how much we can listen to guides, so even though we’ve found most to be helpful and knowledgeable, we pick and choose where and when we take advantage of them. We’ve never opted for an all-inclusive resort, and rarely for any resort at all. In 2008 we decided to treat ourselves and, enroute to New Zealand, stayed for three nights in a beautiful resort on Mo’orea in Tahiti. Ha. Not our favourite travel memory. Gorgeous, fancy schmanchy room, good breakfast, staff with a little too much attitude, and other guests who seemed loath to strike up a conversation. And very pricey, not very appetizing dinners. After our first night, we opted instead for the charming and casual pizza place down the road, chatted to the young waiter who was from Mo’orea and wanted to talk about Canada, and counted that we’d learned a lesson.
|Part of the ancient city wall, Parco degli Scipioni, Rome|
One of the things I did when I was adding up our final trip costs, this time round, was to look at how much it costs us to live when we’re at home. I mean, think about it: groceries, wine and beer, gas for cars, Hubby’s golf, my coffee and lunch dates with friends, dinners out, when you add it up it’s not like we live for free at home. Of course I didn’t count utilities and stuff because we pay those regardless. Our credit card bills for the time of our Italy trip were somewhat higher than normal… but not that much higher, and not enough that we had to dip into our travel savings account. In fact we laughed that we’d just travelled for over three weeks in Italy and covered it with our regular monthly pension income. Now we’re wondering why the heck we have a travel savings account at all.
|Ms. B. on a Vespa. When in Rome.|
Of course, travel hasn’t always been as easy on the bank account as it is now. When Hubby was first retired and I was still working, I took two leaves of absence, a few years apart, so we could travel, both times for three months to New Zealand and Australia. Now, those trips were expensive! Mostly because each time I was off work for a full semester from February to June, plus the summer, without pay. I’d saved for two years before each trip to be able to live on my savings while not working, to keep paying into my pension, and to pay for our extended health and dental plan which was attached to my work contract. Hubby always paid for the big ticket items like airfare, car rental, any resort bookings, and pre-booked tours, and we split the other accommodation expenses, and food etc along the way. Being retired, he received a “salary” while we travelled, while I watched my bank account dwindle, and dwindle, and prayed I’d make it to my first pay cheque in September. Now that I’m retired too, travel is much easier. We go when we want, come home when we feel like it, and we both have “salaries,” which while not overly generous, still replenish our bank accounts each month, whether we’re home or not.
Now I’ve yakked your ear off for long enough, my patient friends. That’s if any of you are actually still reading. Ha. Hubby is waiting for me to go for our Sunday afternoon walk.
But, I want to leave you with a small moment we enjoyed in Rome. Our hotel was next to the opera house, and each night a street performer played his violin on the corner below our window. Except for this night when he was joined by a man in a white shirt and dark suit, who emerged from the opera house, sang a song with the violin player, and then ambled on up the street.
Have a listen. The last bit is the best. Of course I had to stop filming to put down the phone and applaud, the sound of my clapping echoing down and across the street, until they saw me at my window, and laughed and waved.
I’ve watched that little video countless times. It always makes me smile.
Sometimes I can’t believe I’m so lucky as to be able to travel as much as we do. Sometimes I want to pinch myself. Like when we’re walking down an empty street on Murano, under a full moon, and the church bell starts chiming; or sitting at a wobbly restaurant table on an ancient stairway in Vieste watching as a woman leans out her second-floor window to bring in her washing and chats to a passerby below; or calling a cheery “Buongiorno” to Gigino, the owner of the restaurant we ate in the night before, as he strolls along the street with his morning coffee and his groceries; or waving back at the singer and his buddy the violin player that night in Rome. Those moments are the best. You can’t factor moments like those into a travel budget.
They’re priceless. Don’t you think?
In case you’re interested I’m including some links below to accommodations in various places in Italy that we would heartily recommend. We booked most of these on Booking.com, except for the Murano Palace, but I’ve included links to their websites where possible. Plus a link to find Lucca the driver in Rome. If you have any questions about any of these leave a comment below, or you can drop me an e-mail here, if you’d prefer.