So, some have asked, some haven't, and some have been far too polite to ask but really have wanted to know. How on earth did we afford to go off on European shenanigans for a month and a half? Sometimes, honestly, it's difficult to tell people what we did this summer. We feel like we have to apologize for it in some way. Oh, you went to Europe. You're those kind of people. A barrier goes up; we become “those people” who must have money squirreled away somewhere, even though those who know us pretty well must be wondering where on earth it is. I mean, they've seen where we live, for goodness sake. They know I consider anything without a 'Mart' at the end of its name on the expensive side and that I tote our little world around in a dented '03 Odyssey mom-van. The whole picture just doesn't compute. But I hate any barriers at all when I talk to people.
I know it's a dream for other people to do something like this, and I'll probably work on an article about “doing” Europe affordably. So, for those who are just curious or those who might try it, here are a few of the basics that made it possible. But in truth, it was the non-basics that settle in deep into our lives that began the journey.
- First, the detail choices. We stayed in a lot of private apartments while there, almost no hotels. (I think we spent two nights in hotels the entire time.) Lots of websites cater to travelers who want to rent apartments. They can be much cheaper for families than hotel rooms, particularly when you then shop at the markets and cook your own meals rather than eating out. The saving on meals is huge.
- We used public transportation everywhere. No taxis, rental cars, etc. Just feet, trains, buses, metros. Local travel is cheap travel. It's also more fun, adventurous, and fat-burning.
- We brought home little more than pictures. Lots of those. But other than that, who really, really needs a cuckoo clock or the Pope on a pair of boxer shorts? More 'stuff' is so unnecessary, particularly when you have to haul it all around in a small carry-on.
Then there was the big choice we made at the beginning of the year--that we wouldn't buy anything new the first half of the year beyond food and toiletries. We hoped that would make us debt-free by the time we left with some accumulation to spend, and we were right. You can save a lot of money by not spending any. Elementary, I suppose, but not so easy to put into practice! Just try it sometime. (See the January 12 archive to understand exactly what I'm talking about.)
But I think perhaps the biggest choice was one we made a long time ago. It was the one to give our kids experiences over things. They have never had Xboxes or Iphones or TVs in their rooms. We have never had new cars. No one here is exactly deprived, but there has been a certain unspoken philosophy that overrides a lot of decisions on where money goes and doesn't go. It's not a decision that's better or worse than anyone else's, just one that makes the difference when it comes to “can we afford Europe?”
For us, the answer is, can we afford to let the time we have with our kids go by and not experience what we can with them? I guess it's a more urgent question for me, since one of my parents was gone by the time I finished high school and the other ten years later. Do I have time to waste having things together when we can do life together? Like I said, it's not a better or worse choice. But it's a choice, and it's one that got us where we were this summer.
We're not those people. Not by a long stretch. I don't like barriers, which is, I guess, why I like to experience life with those kids.