A few weeks ago a blog reader asked me: how do you manage to travel so often and to so many places? Quite a pertinent question, especially as I am on holidays at the moment – in Spain!
I would say that my travels are thanks to both priorities and privilege, and my answer to the blog reader went something like this:
- Geographic location! Living in Belgium it is quite easy (and cheap) to travel to the neighbouring countries – France, the Netherlands and Germany. Our day trip to Germany and The Netherlands last Sunday didn’t actually cost us a cent since we don’t pay for fuel for the car and our friends invited us for brunch and the drinks (in other words, we didn’t “go Dutch” with our Dutch friends 😉 ).
- Also as I have studied and lived in so many different countries (7 so far) and as I stay in contact with my friends, it means that when travelling we rarely stay in hotels. Of course it isn’t completely free to stay with friends – we always bring gifts and make sure that we take them out for dinner at least once – and offer to pay for groceries etc. And we are always willing to house visiting friends (except for at the moment as our apartment is tiny).
- Being married to a Spaniard means that I “have to” go to Spain 2-4 times a year, and of course I go to Sweden as many times since I am Swedish. We stay with our families and don’t have to spend money on expensive hotels and meals out.
- When we lived in Puerto Rico, thanks to O’s work, we usually combined his business trips to the US with holidays and used his air miles for my plane tickets (he still complains about not having any air miles left over). It is actually also the way we used to travel in my family when I was a child – my mother and us kids would sometimes tag along when my father went on work-related trips. In the summer of 1982 we visited Paris where my father had a conference (or training) and then we continued [driving] to Bretagne (Brittany) and back home via Switzerland to visit my father’s uncle and his Swiss wife.
- In Europe we usually drive or use low-cost airlines – planning ahead and booking tickets when they are cheap. When I was a student I criss-crossed Europe by train and it is still one of my favourite ways of travelling. In the BeNeLux*-countries there are (I hope still!) reductions in train ticket prices on the weekends.
- Plan your holidays around the public holidays! A colleague of mine used to complain that I seemed to have more holidays than him – it was just because I combined public holidays with taking [fewer] days off. Every year in January I used to check when Easter, 1st May, Ascension, Pentecost, 21st July, 15th August and 1st November would fall (weekday and dates) and then plan the holidays accordingly.
- In conclusion: it’s all about budgeting, visiting friends and family and using long weekends for shorter trips…
There is always room in the travel budget for a Lonely Planet guide (for the record: I haven’t been in South America, Argentina, Egypt, or East Africa – the books have been gifts or in anticipation for travels that have fallen through)
When I check my old calendar, I notice that pre-Puerto Rico-move I used to have at least one trip or visit from family or friends per month. I don’t feel that we have fully taken advantage of living back in Brussels yet but fortunately I have the following trips planned for the rest of the year:
August: Currently in Spain staying with O’s sister and niece in an apartment my sister-in-law has rented by the seaside (south of Barcelona). On Sunday we will head to Aragón, O’s region in Spain where we will stay with his parents for a week. We drove down to Spain, staying overnight with my Swedish friend L and her French boyfriend in Provence.
September: Girls’ weekend in Geneva with my French, Irish, Danish and Swedish girlfriends. Staying with French P and checking out her husband’s new cool bar! I am flying in and out of Geneva really early on Friday and Monday morning, the cheapest tickets mean getting to the airport before 06. Later on in the month O and I are going to a secret location for the weekend – staying with friends and flying with a low-cost airline meant that our tickets were about 100 EUR for two (and are my birthday present for O, hence the secrecy even though he might not read this post…).
October: Swedish-Cypriot wedding in Cyprus! We are going for one week and renting a house with friends, which is cheaper than staying a hotel.
November: Nothing concrete yet, but might go back to Provence for a weekend to visit our friends who are becoming parents in a few weeks’ time. Will either travel by train or low-cost airline, depending on what is cheapest…
December: We are celebrating Christmas in Sweden and will probably drive the 1000 km to my parents’ home.
We should also try to squeeze in visiting my German sister-in-law in Munich, American-Italian friends in London, friends in Ireland and in Amsterdam, Swedish-Norwegian friends in Oslo etc but some of those travels will probably just have to wait until 2011….
My father’s uncle lived in Switzerland for over 50 years and we would go there every summer to visit him and his wife. One of my best friends lives in Geneva and I will always have a space on her sofa (or floor)…
That is how I can manage to travel so much and often! I don’t deny that I am privileged, with having a maybe generous travel budget, as well as wonderful hospitable families and friends, that permit this lifestyle. However, don’t make the mistake to think that I am used to 5-star hotels and all-inclusive resorts – I have only been on one charter (package) holiday in my life (to Marrakesh in Morocco). Oh, and the Caribbean cruise we went on last December? A last minute deal – travelling just before the school holidays, not having to pay for the plane ticket to Puerto Rico (geographic location again), not drinking any expensive cocktails or doing any gambling meant that we didn’t spend that much money.
*) The BeNeLux countries are Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.