Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Photos from the Berlin Photo Tour (It's About Time...)

Nearly six months after an amazing Photo Tour of an abandoned Tuberculosis Clinic on the outskirts of Berlin, I've finally had a chance to edit the photos and post them to Flickr. Apologies for my tardiness, I'll blame the delay on life in general which always seems to be too busy. 

For more information on the incredible lineup of photo tours provided by Go2Know, check out their website (using Google translate). 

More photos are available on our Flickr page, which you can always reach via the little pink stamp graphic over on the right hand sidebar.

I'm so pleased with how the pictures turned out, and how wonderfully my Nikon D60 handled the low light conditions. The photography tour was a wonderful experience, one I'd love to participate in again (if only we lived closer to Berlin!).

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Monday, June 10, 2013

All About Budgets Week 4: Budgeting for Our Upcoming Trip (or how we tried to put all this preaching into practice)

Wrapping up our month long series on all things travel budgets, we've got our preliminary budget for travel later in 2013 and into 2014. If you missed our announcement late last week, Travis and I are excitedly heading back to Europe September 6th to explore it's more Eastern countries and venture into Turkey and the Mediterranean! 

Valetta, Malta - one of the many places we're excited to be visiting on our upcoming trip (via)

After the decision was made in favour of more travel this fall, the first thing we looked at were our bank accounts and settled on a figure we were comfortable spending this time around. With this number in mind, the itinerary planning and research began and it has been a whirlwind of ideas and tough decisions these past two months. Now, with a rough itinerary and preliminary budget, the trip is becoming more real each day and the countdown has begun! (We're now under 100 days until departure!)

As we should've/would've done before our last trip (if we were good travel bloggers), we have decided to post all of the boring financial details of our trip this fall before we leave instead of 4 months after we get back.

- All costs are for 2 people
- Amounts listed for Accommodation, Transportation, Activities, and Food are per day
- Additional Flights figure covers the cost of transportation/flights between major destinations (ex. Budapest to Istanbul) not included in Transportation category

The savvy reader may have noticed that our overall budget this time around (of approx $17,000) is just under that of our last trip (at $20,000), however we are actually extending the duration of our trip by almost 35 days (and possibly more) - this is the type of math we like!

But it is realistic? Can we lengthen our trip and still trim more than $3,000 from our budget? Even though we are returning to Europe (one of the more pricey destinations for backpackers), our decision to visit less-expensive regions, including the Balkans and Turkey, looks like it should amount to large savings - at least when compared to our previous trip through much of Europe's most expensive regions.

We are also working hard to save money using lessons learned the hard way during our previous trip last fall, which we hope to share with you soon!

And while we are uncomfortable spending much more on this trip, it's also important that we remember it is only a preliminary budget. We understand that this figure will fluctuate during the planning process and it's likely things will come up, good and bad, that push and stretch at our budget, once we're on the road. Also, Travis hasn't accounted for a single football game yet (he's hoping to see a game in almost every country this time)!

For now, with almost 13 weeks until departure, it's comforting to have a rough itinerary and working budget - it makes the trip feel all the more real. 

If you missed any of our four week series on travel budgeting, you can catch up on all the juicy details using the links below...

Week 1 - Saving for Travel
Week 2 - Estimating Costs Abroad
Week 3 - Tips for Sticking to your Budget

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Thursday, June 6, 2013

Where we're off to next!

After some subtle foreshadowing here and there, Travis and I are over the moon to announce we are throwing on our backpacks again and hitting the road starting in September this year!

After returning from Europe just before Christmas, we weren't sure what the future had in store. Although we love the new and interesting experiences traveling brings, we weren't certain we wanted to be away again for so long, or could continue along this course of procrastination from careers and responsibility. However, after job hunting for a few months, and living back at home with our parents (as our house is still rented out), the decision became easier until one Saturday, just a few weeks ago, we bit the bullet and purchased two one-way flights for early September. 

A few days later, I spotted a job posting online and (jokingly) sent it to Travis questioning if it was too late to change our minds and settle down - what it confirmed, if we had any last minute doubts, is that we both want nothing more than to continue to wander aimlessly for the foreseeable future. 

And with that, there was nothing left to do but start mapping out a preliminary itinerary.

A few of the cities and regions that have made the cut, do you recognize any of them?

As with all trip planning our itinerary grew and grew as we listed more and more exciting places to see, however in the end we settled on Europe - again. If our family and friends weren't so supportive (read: if I hadn't already snapped a few times on innocent recommendations from those wanting to live vicariously through us), I'm sure they would question our motives further. 

"Why Europe, you've already been there, don't you want to see the rest of the world?"

In a simple answer, yes, we want to see and do absolutely everything on this planet, and then some; However, the reason we've chosen to return to Europe is quite logical (we think). After looking at our list of dream destinations, and considering how our ability to travel will be restricted once we settle into careers and the like, we found that none of the other places we want to visit strung together as perfectly for a prolonged trip as Europe. 

With that thought, a compromise was born, to head back to Europe now and see as many of the regions we missed the first time around while also trying to step outside of our comfort zone whenever possible. 

With that goal in mind, our preliminary itinerary currently looks like this...

Vancouver to Berlin with a stopover in Iceland - Poland - Hungary - Slovenia - Czech Republic - Germany - Bosnia & Herzegovina - Serbia - Romania - Turkey - Sicily - Malta - Tunisia - Scotland 

**We should take the time to point out that we haven't set a return date yet...our trip will most likely end sometime in February, but the date will depend on flight prices, how well we stick to our budget, etc.

We'll include the individual cities and a map on the "Our Trips" page as soon as we find time to do so. Although I'm sure tweaks here and there will be made, we are very excited about how this is shaping up!

As for the rest of our dream destinations, they will unfortunately have to wait.

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Monday, June 3, 2013

All About Budgets Week 3: Is It Possible to Stick to a budget while traveling?

If you've been following our series on budgets over the past couple week's you are now well versed in our budgeting process and how we managed to save in order to afford to travel in the first place. This week we're going to share our budget and actual expenses for our four month trip that took place in fall of 2012 through some of Europe's most expensive cities.

Don't let the spreadsheet send you running - it simply shows where we went and when, as well as how much we spent on accommodation, transportation, activities, and food. The total costs listed are for two people, and the number in parenthesis is our average per day cost. For example, for six nights in London we spend $540 for accommodation, or $90 per day.

Click on photo to enlarge

- Cities within the same country are grouped using colour.
- This total cost does not include our round trip flight from Vancouver to London of $1200 each.
- An asterisks (*) signifies a night spent traveling (via train or bus) and therefore accommodations and activity costs are spread across fewer days than transportation and food costs. 
- Transportation in Montenegro is misleadingly high as it includes the cost of a flight from - Santorini to Kotor, there are much cheaper ways to access the country.  
- Activity costs in London include tickets to the Reading Music Festival, a total value of $782. 

As you can see at the bottom of the spreadsheet, we spent a total of $18,345 over the four month trip ($20,745 including our flights to and from London/Vancouver). This breaks down to an average of $63/day for accommodations, $32/day for transportation, $17/day visiting attractions, and $38/day for food, which fits almost perfectly with our pre-trip budget shown as the last line of the spreadsheet above. 

To get an idea of which areas were most and least expensive, we tallied our costs by country in the spreadsheet below. We've also added a little bar graph for visual help if all these numbers hurt your head as much as they do mine.

- As with the first spreadsheet above, transportation in Montenegro is misleadingly high as it includes the cost of a flight from Santorini to Kotor and activity costs in London include tickets to the Reading Music Festival, a total value of $782. 
- The only city we visited in Portugal was Lisbon, Vienna in Austria, Berlin in Germany, and Paris in France, therefore these costs are also a good picture of how expensive those particular cities are
Looking at all this information, a lot of our suspicions about the priciest/cheapest destinations are confirmed such as:

  • Overall, large cities are more expensive to visit than small (Madrid compared to the small cities in Andalusia for example)
  • Visiting the best known, most visited cities will cost you - Paris, London, and Rome are not cheap
  • There are deals to be found in areas like Croatia and Montenegro (countries that are still trying to overcome the stigma of civil war), as well as Greece with its struggling economy. 
  • Belgium was surprisingly affordable, further proof that some of Europe's most expensive cities are within reach if you are willing to visit in the off-season. 
It turns out, we did a pretty good job of setting a realistic budget and then sticking to it, making our first prolonged trip a financial success! Although it wasn't easy at times (Paris can be crazy expensive) it was worth it. Each penny pinched meant more money to return home to, and in turn, more money to put towards our next trip. 

Next week we are going to wrap up all this budget talk with our new 2013/2014 travel budget for our return trip to Europe this fall!

If you've missed the first two installments of our 4 part series on budgeting, you can catch up with these posts on estimating how much a trip will cost and how we manage to save for travel

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Monday, May 27, 2013

All About Budgets Week 2: Estimating How Much Your Trip Will Cost

If you were afraid I was going to start pulling out screenshots of excel spreadsheets and complex formulas you can breathe easy. Although I do love a good colour-coded spreadsheet, the basis of any budget is simple addition and subtraction This makes it just as easy to track with a pencil and paper as it does with a computer - you just have to make sure you actually DO plan and track your spending.

Last week Travis and I discussed how we saved up for our four month trip through Europe and mentioned that, before anything else in the planning process, we first decide how much we are comfortable spending. Then, once our budget is set, we can get creative trying to save money in some of the more expensive cities. However, before we can try to find ways to save, we first need to find out just how pricey some of these cities cost to visit. After all, how do you know your saving money if you don't know how much something normally costs?

Setting aside the budget we came up with last week, we then turn our attention to the actual countries and cities we want to visit. With a little research, it's possible to get a good idea of how cheap or expensive a destination is, and how much it costs to get there, before confirming it on your itinerary. We break the budget down for each country into the following four areas: Accommodations, Food, Transportation, Attractions.

Easily one of the largest chunks of a traveler's budget, accommodation prices can vary significantly in each city, and unfortunately price doesn't always equate to quality. We've stayed at some lovely family run pensions and bed & breakfasts for a great price and some dingy hotels for more money than we'd like to admit.

When it comes to estimating accommodation costs in a city we like to turn to or to help with the research, using approximate travel dates to account for seasonal variances in prices.We like these sites because the reviews are, from our experience, pretty reliable, and we can filter the reviews based on our specific traveler type (we're a young couple and have different requirements than my parents, for example).

**Just a quick note on customer reviews on travel websites: Ensure you read the review, and not just glance at the star or scale rating. We've found some wonderful places that people rated poorly because of issues we aren't concerned with such as too many stairs or the lack of an elevator. We are young and don't mind climbing some stairs to save money; however, some travelers may need the assistance of an elevator or dread the idea of walking up a half dozen stories to their room after a full day of walking. 

So how do we actually figure out our budget for a city? Well we type the city and approximate dates in whatever aggregator we are using (be it Booking, Skyscanner, Agoda, etc). We then sort our results by price (in our case, by price for two people) and begin looking at the results. We tend to scroll down until we've passed about 3 or 4 places that have our minimum rating (for booking that's usually an 8/10 - again refer to our note above) and take that price as our "budget" for the city. 

        The 4th good place in Sarajevo we passed on the page gave us our budget of 40 dollars/night for Sarajevo
It's also important to point out that one of the best ways to save money is by booking early. Many websites now have rooms offering FREE cancellation - so if you are fairly sure of your dates and spot a good deal, you can book it when you feel like it and not have to worry if your plans change or a better deal pops up!

In some countries and cities food is one of the main attractions (think Piri Piri in Portugal or pasta and pizza in Italy), and Travis and I love to try new cuisines. Keeping this in mind, we also try to balance the cost of eating out with the cheaper option of grabbing a baguette and some mortadella from a local market. The way we figure it, you might as well have a splurge on a real authentic meal once every couple days rather than eat three mediocre meals every day.

Fresh food from a market in Campania makes a cheap alternative to a meal out.

To estimate food costs in a city we tend to rely on Wikitravel, and although it isn't always the most accurate, it is good enough for estimating costs to determine if a city is affordable on our budget. As a rough guideline, we've found that for us $40/day is a reliable estimate for most of the expensive European countries, while mid-range countries sit at about $35/day and the cheapest countries are about $30/day (for both of us).

The thing to remember about food is that it is one of the easiest portions of your budget to control on the road. In Paris where everything was extremely pricey, we frequented the grocery store and affordable ethnic restaurants instead of fancy french cafes. It was a decision made in the moment to save our budget and allow us to spend more on shopping for Christmas gifts to bring home. In contrast, when we found affordable restaurant meals in Greece we ate out regularly, taking advantage of the affordable fresh seafood and local specialties. Although it's important to estimate how much you'll spend to feed yourself each day, remember that it can be quite flexible, especially with the addition of a kitchenette or kitchen access in your accommodations.

With accommodation and food prices filling up our budget, we turn our attention to transportation, where there are a few different areas to consider. Although your initial flight into the area will take up a significant portion of your budget, we spend more time researching how to get around within a city or country without breaking the bank and rely on for this initial flight purchase. 

While we try to walk as much as possible, it's a great way to save money, intracity travel, or getting around within a city, is an important part of budgeting for larger city centres where attractions are widely spread out. To estimate our costs, we not only look at the price of a transit pass but also how much we are likely to use it. While in London, we relied on the train system a lot to access the various museums and attractions, and as a result we budgeted accordingly. However in Seville, Spain, we walked everywhere and didn't have any intracity transportation costs.

When it comes to travel between cities within a country, or country to country, we rely on Wikitravel and Google searches to determine who the main transportation providers are operating in the area, be it train, flight, or bus. It's then possible to look up routes and estimate costs. 

The last category of our budget is attractions, or the wonderfully fun things you came to this far off place to do! To estimate how much we will likely spend in each city, we like to start with a rough list of everything we want to see and do using sites like Wikitravel and other travel blogs. This list also helps us determine how long to spend in each city and how much we will rely on transportation. 

Once we know what we'd like to see, we can easily tally up the entrance fees and costs. We've also found that we never get to absolutely everything we'd like to see and do, and lots of attractions in a city can be free, so we rarely overspend in this section of the budget.

After we've generated a solid estimation of the costs to visit the places on our itinerary, we like to total them by country as well as overall, to get a good idea of which areas are pricey and which are cheap, and then it's time for some tough decisions. Likely, a particular city or country is significantly more expensive than others, or getting to one of your destinations is difficult or over budget, or perhaps worst of all your entire trip is way over budget. When it comes to planning our next trip, we've gone back and forth on the idea of returning to Greece for the simple reason that it is much pricier to get to in the off season. 

Although it isn't easy to eliminate a destination purely for financial reasons, we try to take comfort in the fact that we will one day make it back, even if it is for a shorter visit when we have careers and families and responsibilities.

Finally, after all this estimating, we take our total and divide it by the number of days we will be away to get a per day cost, broken down into each of our four categories. We found that having this daily number in the front of our minds made it easier to casually track how well we were sticking to our budget while on the road and also ensured that our budget was part of the conversation when making purchases big and small. 

You may have noticed we don't have a spot in the budget for the gifts and souvenirs you will likely want to buy while away, the reason being that it is purely discretionary and therefore controllable. We also try to keep this spending to a minimum because of a lack of space in our backpacks. Although not included on our initial estimate, we do track this spending, as well as all spending, once we are on the road. 

Well there you have it, the not-so-short-story of our budgeting process. For reference, we planned to spend $150 per day for 120 days during our trip last fall, broken down into $60 for accommodation, $40 for food, $20 for transportation, and.$30 for attractions (this is an average per day cost, some countries/cities are more or less expensive).

Next week we'll share our 2012 budget and actual costs for four months in Europe and discuss which destinations were the easiest on our pocketbook and which left us feeling financially drained. 

If you missed Week 1 of our budgeting series, all about saving for travel and why setting a realistic budget is so important, you can find it here.

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Hey there!

Calli and Travis returned from a four month trip through Europe more excited than ever to hit the open road. Who knows where they'll end up next...

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