Coming Home and Leaving Again

We’ve now been home two months, and now we’re heading off. I’ve been offered a job that is sending me to New Zealand for a week so we’ve decided to make a trip of it and we’re all going. One week of work in Auckland and then we’re getting a camper van and touring around NZ for 10 days.

Being home has been hard. We knew it would be. The kids have settled into school now, we’ve moved into our house and we’re both working again (our empty piggy bank is oinking ‘thank you’). But have we been glad to be home? In many ways, yes. But for me, truthfully, I’ve really struggled with it.

We’ve loved having our garden back, we’ve planted a lot of fruit & veg, and we can’t wait to start eating them. We’ve been harvesting our grapes and peaches and eating them with relish. The kids have been making the best use of our spacious backyard, something they missed in the European cities. They can often be found out there playing soccer, or just walking around looking at insects or plants.

One of the most exciting things about returning was to catch up with all the amazing people we love. This has been much harder than we expected. Everyone’s lives are so busy (including our own), and finding time to catch up is not easy. This has been a stark reminder of everything we were trying to escape in the first place, that we’re so busy filling up our lives with work, school, extra curricular activities, that it’s hard to make time to spend quality time with the people in our lives. We spent so much of the last year in Spain, where a day (even a work day) is organised around coffee or lunch with friends, or a stroll with family. Real connection between people remains a high priority and people listen with their full attention. Nobody seems to be thinking of where they need to be next or their long list of tasks to complete by the end of the day. This sounds like a harsh judgement of Australia, but it is intended more as a compliment to the Spaniards, who, even in this busy, digital age, have maintained this incredible sense of interpersonal connection by valuing it as a vital part of the fabric of their lives. This is not affecting the kids so much – I believe kids are better at connecting with one another than adults – but I for one am grieving for the community and society we felt so strongly in Spain, even as unknown travellers.

We’ve made a conscious effort to not fall into old routines, and that has been refreshing. We’ve made time to enjoy our family time together at the end of every day, although we’re all missing each other a lot. After 24 hours a day together for a year, I feel like a part of me is missing when the kids are at school or I am at work.

Heading off again is exciting, and I’m so grateful that we’ve been able to do it again so soon (thank you to a very well-timed work offer). Our bank account is bottoming out – our financial advisor told us the other day that he’ll have to start guilting us out of this travel-bug soon or we’ll end up unable to support ourselves in the long run. He added that we need to be careful that we have enough money to do the things in retirement that we’ve waited our whole lives to do. At least we don’t have to worry about that part – we’re not waiting, we’re doing those things now! But his warnings need to be taken seriously, we don’t have anything to fall back on, and we need to earn some money instead of constantly travelling to afford to live, but when the opportunities come up, we feel we have to take them if we can. We know that our wanderlust will have to be reined in as the kids’ education becomes the priority, but for now, we’ll take the ebb & flow of life and squeeze every bit of juice out of life that we can.

Checking into my flight this morning without Cass and the kids felt strange and unusual. Thankfully they’re only a day behind me and I’ll see them tomorrow in Auckland. I’m looking forward to reconnecting with that life I’ve been pining for since we came back home. Spending time with each other, being curious about the world, meeting new people and experiencing everything we can about this planet is much more precious to us right now than the minutiae of life. So that’s why after such a short time after coming home, we’re leaving again (even though we probably shouldn’t).

 

 

 

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A traveller’s defence of social media

Before I start, I’d just like to make it clear that this isn’t going to be some Chris Crocker-style advocacy on behalf of social media. To be honest, despite the fact that I am a regular user of various social media platforms, I’m really not much of a fan. I use ‘em, but I really don’t like ‘em all that much.

At best, they’re a distraction, but at worst they actively work to reduce the quality of people’s personal relationships and their lives more broadly. I don’t think I’m alone in admitting that many’s the time that I’ve sat down to a day’s work and before starting, opening up my browser for a quick check of Facebook before getting stuck into writing, only to crawl out some time later, wondering where the hell the morning went.

There’s been a lot of attention lately on the negative influence social media has had on the way people engage with each other. Its detractors claim, quite justifiably in my opinion, that social media supplants genuine, meaningful communication with simplistic, superficial interactions. It’s also accused of leaching our lives of meaning by encouraging an endless, unfulfilling pursuit of ephemeral affirmation, in the form of positive feedback loops, echo chambers, ‘follows’ and ’likes’. Don’t even get me started on “fake news”!

Hell, even some of the people responsible for creating the complex, interconnected environment in which nearly all of us are now embedded are seriously conflicted by how it’s unfolding. Consider, for example, former Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya, who is one of the more prominent people to come out in recent times expressing regret for their role in the ongoing degradation of the fabric of society, which he attributed to the inherent, deliberate design and continuing rise of social media platforms such as the one he helped create and refine.

So yeah, social media is just another modern-day symptom of humanity’s tendency to deflect from the real, substantial issues of the day and instead focus on transient and unsatisfactory gratification and the justification of one’s own opinions. But despite all that, it does actually have some good points and can even be quite useful, as we have recently discovered during the latest leg of our family vagabonding adventure around the Iberian Peninsula.

Nomad Family AndorraFor the past eight months we’ve been a nomadic family, having sold most of our possessions, rented out our house in South Australia and taken up a transient lifestyle exploring Europe. In an effort to fund this slightly utopian lifestyle, we started a blog. It’s both a tool to communicate our adventures to remote friends and relatives, and a tool by which we’re hoping to make some small income and extend our adventures a little bit longer than our original savings would allow. With this goal in mind, we’ve also developed a social media presence as a means to disseminate our efforts to as broad an audience as possible. We selected Twitter and Instagram as our channels of choice (please feel free to visit, like and/or follow both, while I go and wash my hands). In today’s hyper-networked world, this is just a necessary evil and it’s one that we’ve embraced both consciously and cautiously, knowing full well that it’s basically mostly bullshit.

I guess at this point I should start my defence, even if it does make me feel just a little bit dirty…

Three recent events have shone a light for us on some of the positive aspects of social media, which have made me feel just a little bit better about our participation in this labyrinthine and often dystopian modern digital landscape.


1] Back in our pre-nomadic lives, we subscribed to and paid a considerable amount for a wide range of sedentary services, including healthcare, Internet and phone connections, and our local automobile club. We suspended or cancelled the majority of these services when we hit the road, but after a few months we discovered that one of them had continued to withdraw a regular monthly fee, despite the suspension of our membership.

That was money we needed, to pay for essentials like tapas, Airbnb accommodation and surfboard hire, so we immediately went online to find out how we could a) stop the payments, and b) organise a refund of the money that had already been erroneously withdrawn. This particular organisation still hadn’t even enabled online payments by the time we left Australia, so it was no real surprise when we discovered that the only way to contact them was via phone – they didn’t even have a generic email address. Remember, we’re on the other side of the globe, so given the amount of time we’d have to spend on hold during a typical phone call to this organisation, we’d end up spending the equivalent of what had already been withdrawn just waiting to speak to someone.

But hold on, do they have a Facebook account? Of course they do – everyone does these days.

A quick message to their page and within four hours the payments had been cancelled and the wheels were in motion for the payments to be refunded. Hashtag-winning!

Cobbled laneway Spain

2] Not long ago, a week in fact, we were returning home through the dark, winding alleyways of Lisbon after a day of exploration, when I looked down and spied a wallet on the cobblestones.

 

 

“Bugger,” I thought. “Someone’s going to be annoyed that they lost that.”

A quick scan of the contents revealed an array of credit cards, ID and around €90 in cash. Thankfully, I’m an honest kind of guy. I determined that the best course of action would be giving the wallet to the first policeman we bumped into or, failing that, going to the station first thing the next morning and handing it in there. We didn’t encounter any police on the rest of our walk, but when we arrived home I took another look at the owner’s ID – a Californian driver’s licence with an LA address. “What the hell,” I thought. “Let’s do a quick Facebook search.”

I kid you not, within 30 seconds I’d found the owner’s profile and sent him a message. Within 10 minutes we were talking to each other via the phone function in Messenger. And within 45 minutes I was in a nearby plaça shaking hands and returning a wallet to a very relived Californian. He was leaving Portugal for the UK the next day, but hadn’t realised he’d lost the wallet until he got my message. He hadn’t even had time to cancel any of the cards! This was a genuine good news story with a happy outcome that would have been virtually impossible to accomplish in the days before social media.

3] The day after this happened we suffered every traveller’s nightmare by being pickpocketed. One of Lisbon’s light-fingered low-lifes managed to undo two zips on my wife’s handbag and remove €20 and one of her credit cards without her even noticing. It wasn’t until a concerned citizen drew her attention to it that she realised she’d been robbed.

Panoramic view of Lisbon

Lisbon – a beautiful city, but keep a close eye on your belongings.

Thankfully it was only a small amount of cash and the card was one we hadn’t used even once while travelling, but we still needed to cancel it post-haste before the Artful Dodger had a chance to rack up a debt that we’d have to chase through our travel insurance – an experience that nobody looks forward to.

Once again we jumped on the laptop, only to discover that while we could put a temporary block on the card through the bank’s online portal, we couldn’t cancel it without speaking to someone in person. Sigh.

There was a reverse charges number that we could call, but not relishing the prospect of sitting around on hold – time during which the thief could be using the card – as well as the very real possibility of being charged for the call by our Spanish mobile provider (who really reads the T&Cs when they sign up?), we once again turned to social media for an alternative solution.

About one hour after we’d sent the first message through Facebook, my wife’s phone rang and we discovered a representative of the bank, calling to help her through the cancellation process. It took about 10 minutes, during which the rep was very helpful, expressing both sympathy for our circumstances and envy at our adventures outside of this one unfortunate event.

By lunchtime we were back out the door with a renewed caution of petty criminals and a grudging sense gratitude and respect, both for our bank (a much more sophisticated breed of criminal, I’m sure you’ll agree) and social media – two entities for whom we’d previously only felt contempt and a lingering resentment at having to engage with them at all.


So there it is. Despite its countless failings and ongoing role in the erosion of of individual lives, personal relationships and the very structures that bind our modern society together, social media – specifically Facebook in this instance – does have some benefits, particularly for international travellers.

The scoresheet is still heavily weighted in the negative, but these three examples offer a fragment of redemption, at least in our eyes. In the end, however, no digital conversation can or will ever beat genuine, face-to-face interaction, a fact that is reinforced for us daily as our vagabonding adventure continues.

Five great books about Spain

One of the ideal ways to learn about a place you are visiting is to read books about the region you will go. Both fiction and non-fiction can provide valuable insights into a country, and reading about it can enrich your travel experiences.

While we’ve been living and travelling in Spain, we’ve read a number of books about various topics related to the country. This list is by no means exhaustive, there are so many great books out there about Spain, but we obviously haven’t read them all so here are a couple of our favourites that we have enjoyed.

Ghosts of Spain: Travels Through Spain and Its Silent Past

Written by Englishman, Giles Tremlett, who has lived in Spain for a long time, this book provides and intriguing look at the history of Spain and modern day life and how they are interconnected. After reading this book, we looked at Spain in a new light, sometimes for the better, and sometimes not. However it brought understanding to a lot of aspects of Spanish living that had previously confounded us. If you want to learn about the intricacies that make Spain what it is today, this is the book for you.

Travels with My Donkey: One Man and His Ass on a Pilgrimage to Santiago

A great read for the whole family. La Chica especially liked this one, and she was laughing out loud reading it on the train. The title says it all really, Tim Moore decides to walk the Camino de Santiago with a donkey and writes about his hilarious adventures, highlighting all the difficulties that come with travelling with a stubborn donkey.

Don Quixote

I need to admit here that I haven’t read this book for a few years. However the story of Don Quixote is so embedded in Spanish culture, that we are constantly reminded of it as we travel through Spain. Following the misguided Don Quixote and his squire Sancho Panza travelling through the countryside, this book is a classic Spanish story that cannot be ignored. It’s a book that I intend to read again very soon.

 Homage to Catalonia

Orwell famously joined the Spanish Civil War to fight the fascists. This book gives a vivid account of his time in the battles and the fear that was prevalent in Spain at the time. This is not an easy read, as Orwell refers to so many different interest groups, the majority of them just acronyms, so it is sometimes difficult to understand which group is on which side of the battle. However, it is worth a read, particularly given the current political climate in Spain.

The Tomb in Seville


If you like reading about the Spanish Civil War, this one is the most accessible one I’ve come across. Following the true story of the author, Norman Lewis, and his brother-in-law who set out on a pilgrimage to a tomb in Seville, the two men find themselves stranded amongst the Spanish Civil War. While making their way across Spain (via Portugal), they provide an intense look at what the Spanish Civil war was like for those outside the major cities.

Also…

I’m currently reading La ridicula idea de no volver a verte in Spanish by Rosa Montero and I absolutely love it. The owner of a bookshop in Oviedo recommended this book about Marie Curie and the death of her husband. I haven’t included it in the list above because it isn’t about Spain as such, but if you are looking for a great modern Spanish author, Rosa Montero is one to check out. Many of her books have been translated into English.


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Apps to make travel easier

Not so many years ago, travellers around the globe could be observed standing on busy street corners flicking their eyes from the map to the street with a constant look of confusion on their faces. Then they could be seen making their way to the nearest phone box, tourist office – or later an internet cafe – to contact accommodation, book a show, or find out the train timetable. Thankfully those days are behind us – well, except for those older tourists who still faithfully cling to the old ways.

Smart phones have a few (only a few, in my opinion) redeeming features in modern life, and one of them is the ability to travel with greater ease, not to mention security. For Cass and I this has been the major difference in travel logistics from when we were young, solo backpacking tourists in the early 2000s. Since taking to the road back in April we have experimented with a wide range of apps to assist in almost every aspect of the travel experience – buying tickets, weather forecasting, communicating with loved ones on the other side of the globe or finding a good place to eat. The following five apps are those that have made travelling easier and have allowed us to break out of that old paper-map-wielding-tourist mould.

Galileo

Maps are vital for travel, especially if you are like us and like to travel off the beaten path. Galileo is the perfect fit. While we sometimes use Google Maps for getting easy directions to follow en route, it’s not the best app when you have no service, or when you want to find a walking trail to an intriguing lighthouse you’ve spied atop a hidden headland. Galileo is our go-to map app.

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The purple line is the Camino de Santiago de Norte

The vector maps can be used offline (you can download entire countries as you need them) and the walking trails, bike paths and small roads are usually more accurate than Google Maps (especially in less populated areas). You can save your favourite places, make bookmarks and record where you are travelling in real-time.

For me, though, the most fun feature is that we can download files from websites, tracking devices and use them while travelling. Before walking the Camino de Santiago, we downloaded the Camino del Norte map onto Galileo. Whenever we couldn’t see an iconic yellow arrow or scollop shell, we could easily find the route even when we were out of service range.

WhatsApp

Not used as frequently in Australia, WhatsApp is a must-have for travelling in Europe. Everyone uses it, and everyone has it. For those that don’t know it, WhatsApp allows you to message, voice call, video call and send photos on a secure encrypted platform. It is a vital tool when contacting accommodation or people you meet. It’s also useful for contacting home, as the video call function works better than Skype. As it uses data instead of your mobile service, it saves money too.

Home Budget

I use this app for budgeting and keeping our spending in check. The best feature is that I can easily change between currencies. I can also track how much is in my bank account and it is useable offline. I’m sure there’s other great apps for this same purpose, but I have been using this one for years and it hasn’t disappointed yet, so I’m sticking with it.

There’s more about Home Budget in our article on travelling Europe for €25 per day.

Duolingo

Nothing irks me more than a tourist that doesn’t even bother learning how to say hello, goodbye or thank you in the local language. Over the years, I’ve encountered too many people shouting a slow, simplified English at locals in an attempt to communicate. In nearly all the countries I’ve been to (one major exception, but I’m not going to country-shame), if you try and speak a little of the local language, people instantly become more helpful and willing to converse with you in whatever way they can.

Cass likes to learn on the ground as he goes, (and that works for him) but I’m a planner, so I like to do it in advance. Usually a few weeks before we get to a country, I use Duolingo to learn some basics in that language. It’s been helpful in most places and I can now have a (very) basic conversation in a number of languages – a Jack of all trades, master of none.

Trip Advisor

I’m reluctantly including Trip Advisor, as it is not usually how I’d like to travel. I don’t like an algorithm or a guide book telling me the places to go or what to see and do. This is one area where I don’t like to plan. I like to arrive in a place and discover what there is to see and do by walking around and talking to people.

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But, there is a major advantage to Trip Advisor. For our first few months travelling, we found eating out very difficult. We love to cook at our accommodation, but it isn’t always practical. Our kids were fussy eaters (thankfully this is taking a turn for the better – after nine months on the road!) and to further complicate things, I don’t eat a lot of meat. Spain is a very omnivorous country, and most of the places we can afford to eat include meat in every dish.

After a few months, we started using Trip Advisor to find places with vegetarian options, as well as something that our kids would actually eat. The filters made it much easier to find nearby options and some of the best places we have eaten have come from Trip Advisor recommendations.


 

There’s a multitude of great travel-oriented apps out there, and we use a whole lot more than those listed here, but these are the core group that make our lives a little bit simpler every day so we can focus on enjoying the real adventures.

Our travelling Advent Calendar

Anyone who knows Cass knows that he’s not that into Christmas. Before we had kids, we just took it as time to spend with family and ignored the rest of it. Since the kids have been born, he’s had to relinquish some of his grinchyness, and I’ve taken it upon myself to keep some fun and magic alive for the kids at Christmas time.

While we have no religious connection to Christmas, for me it’s still a special time at the end of the year where you can take some time out from normality to enjoy the company of loved ones and reflect on what the year has meant to us. In Australia our Christmas fun usually means a tree made from the branch of a eucalypt with handmade decorations and lots of social gatherings. The kids always beg me for a chocolate advent calendar (and I always cave in).

This year we are travelling. It’s now 21 days until Christmas and we still don’t know exactly where we’ll be. (How exciting?!) I’ve been thinking a lot about how to incorporate some Christmas fun into our travelling. Without descending into materialism or sugar-induced peaks and troughs, I wanted to have an advent calendar of sorts that would fit in my suitcase and wouldn’t be about more plastic crap.

Some of my friends and family over the years have created the most beautiful advent calendars, crafted with care and thought – some sewn, some painted. I love to make things as much as anyone, but I needed something compact and portable.

So this is what I’ve come up with.

The kids each have a small envelope. Each morning when they wake up, there’s a new note inside. The notes are like vouchers. They can use them whenever they are ready (even after Christmas) and they have written on them some of the things the kids love to do, but they don’t always get the chance. They are both different so they can also trade them with each other if they want to. The aim is to give them things that bring us together, don’t involve buying a toy, and aren’t all about poor-quality compound chocolate.

Some of the things that have been on the notes so far:

  • Play a game of cards – the idea is that I’ll drop whatever I’m doing to play instead of telling them I’m too busy.
  • Choose what to have for dinner tonight – this is a good one in our family as dinner is a constant source of argument.
  • The parents will cook a fancy breakfast of your choice – they haven’t cashed this one in yet – I’m pretty sure they’ll ask for French Toast.
  • Choose a movie to rent on iTunes for us all to watch together
  • Choose a treat for us all to share at a pastelería

I’m still brainstorming what to put on the rest of them, but I like thinking of the ideas as much as the kids love opening them in the morning.

Yesterday, La Chica said to me, ‘Mum, why haven’t we done this sort of Advent Calendar in Australia? It’s so much better!’

It looks like this might become a tradition that sticks.

A craft beer pilgrimage in the heart of London

It’s been said that there are three sure signs that you’re a hipster – 1) Denying that you’re a hipster, (so basically you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t), 2) claiming to have done all the cool stuff before it became cool, and 3) having a beard, apparently.

Now, I have a beard, I grew it years before all those would-be-lumberjack, sculpted-facial-hair-and-excessive-tattoo-sporting inner-urban fashionistas made it cool, and I’m definitely not a hipster. But I don’t mind a bit of craft beer…

Which is why I found myself, one weekend in August, meandering along an alleyway in Sarf Lundun with a group of fearless companions on the trail of the Bermondsey Beer Mile. The accepted wisdom is that you start the Mile from the southern end, near South Bermondsey Railway Station, and work your way in a vaguely northward direction in an ever-increasing state of inebriation until you fall into the Thames.

No, hang on, that was just me. .. most people who do The Mile are far more responsible and genuinely interested in sampling the diverse array of beer styles and varieties available from the microbreweries found along this informal but increasingly popular trail. From fruity hops-laden IPAs, to rusty malt-heavy porters, or dense whole-meal-in-a-glass stouts, anyone who’s ever enjoyed a quiet ale will be able to find something to their taste somewhere along the route.

We started our odyssey not far from South Bermondsey Station at Fourpure Brewing Co. It’s worth noting that this area the heartland of one of England’s most notorious football clubs – Millwall – and Fourpure is just around the corner from the club’s home ground. Over several decades Millwall fans have built a reputation for brute violence and general hoodlum-ery. We were advised by our intrepid guide to tread carefully while in the area because it was a match day at The Den. The local pubs were overflowing and most patrons had the club coat of arms permanently inked onto their bodies somewhere.

I have to admit to having a bit of a soft spot for Millwalleans, despite their thuggish reputation, ever since one of their number confronted three knife-wielding terrorists with only his fists during the Borough Market attack in June this year, with a cry of “Eff you, I’m effing Millwall!” (censored for the benefit of sensitive readers). This show of foolish bravery in the face of mindless violence saved the lives of several people at the scene, but did little, perhaps, to soften Millwall’s reputation. It did, however, make me feel much more well-inclined towards them as I passed through their sovereign territory, although it didn’t mean that our host’s advice went unheeded as we tip-toed our way past The Blue Anchor under the watchful eyes of 50 or more tattooed Lines loyalists, who were in the process of getting lagered up before the big game.

But I digress…

Over the course of the next five hours our journey took us on a circuitous route shadowing the elevated rail line through the light industrial laneways of London’s inner-south. I won’t bore you with detailed descriptions of the premises, or wax lyrical with masturbatory tasting notes. To be honest, the details get a bit blurry after the second stop (must have been a bit of a virus or something). Suffice to say that I didn’t taste a bad lager, ale or stout during the whole adventure, and I tasted more than a few.

Apart from Fourpure, which was a great start that really set a positive tone for the day, highlights from an afternoon dedicated to the appreciation of the brewer’s art include:
Brew by Numbers, whose unique method of categorising their brews through a combination of numbered codes to designate the individual batches – e.g. 08(style)|05 (recipe) = Stout|Oyster – was rendered completely incomprehensible by the several hours of alcoholic consumption that preceded our visit. Their coffee porter, however, was probably my favourite beer of the whole outing.
EeBria – Not actually a brewery, but rather a distributor of fine ales etc. But their taproom is definitely worth a visit, both for the friendly experts manning the taps and the table games, which kept our little ones occupied while we got down to the serious business of beer tasting.
Partizan Brewing – Don’t actually remember anything specific about them, but I’m sure they were great. Does that still qualify as a highlight? Probably not. Onwards!
Anspach & Hobday – By the time we arrived at A&H the Beer Mile was in full swing and there were folk spilling out onto the street. Luckily we were able to snag a table inside and thoroughly enjoyed both the atmosphere and the booze on offer.

We finished our run across the road at the Marquis of Wellington, where we filled our bellies with pizza and delicious Greek street food and tapped our feet along to the seriously talented duo playing inside. Live music was just what we needed to wind up what was a genuinely entertaining trek.

We came seeking beer, and this we found by the gallon, but the thing that struck me most profoundly during our excursion was how effectively the small businesses of London have taken up residence in this corridor and many others like it across inner-city London. A zone that in other cities would remain a sterile, under-utilised transport corridor has been turned by a growing community of entrepreneurs into a thriving artery of commercial and creative enterprise. I’m guessing that the rents for these spaces are relatively low compared to other areas of London, given the wide array of small, independent, outside-the-box outfits that inhabit them.

Apart from the various micro-breweries we came to the area to visit, we also discovered a number of awesome little food producers, distributors and/or importers that made our day on the Beer Mile even more of a fully-fledged culinary experience. Our favourites among these were:
Crown & Queue cured meats, whose Hoghton Loin and consummately prepared scotch eggs were the perfect complement to our liquid diet.
Käse Swiss – Their well-stocked counter of odiferous imported Swiss cheeses drew us to them on wing-ed feet from half a block away.
The Little Bread Pedlar, where we were able to grab a couple of incredibly crusty & delicious baguettes just before they closed up for the day, enabling us to both line our stomaches and reinforce our collective belief that life’s just too short to eat mediocre bread.
The Ice Cream Union – Seriously delicious, small batch frozen delights that had the sweet-toothed among us groaning with satisfaction.

All up it was a really fun day out – good company, great beer and some excellent little surprise finds that made it the perfect way to spend a warm sunny English summer afternoon. One of three that we experienced in the six weeks we spent in the UK.

 

Five days in Andorra – with no snow

Earlier in the year we granted La Chica’s wish to celebrate her birthday by climbing the Eiffel Tower in Paris. So when El Chico’s seventh birthday came up in October, we gave him the chance to choose the destination.

El Chico’s main Birthday desire was to throw a snowball; neither of our kids have ever seen snow. His shortlist was down to Alps and the Pyrenees when he heard about Andorra. Being only 468 km2 and the 16th smallest country in the world appealed to his love of eccentricities, so it was decided. That’s where we would go.

As the months progressed, it became evident that we were going to be there too early for snow. We glued ourselves to weather forecasts, asked around and made a decision to hire a car so we could drive to snow wherever it may fall. When the birthday finally came around, the closest snow we could drive to was three countries and more than a day’s drive away.

So there we were in Andorra, a country that revolves around the snow season, with no snow on the horizon. The hillsides are covered in ski slopes, our apartment came with a ski storage facility and many restaurants and businesses remain shut during the non-snow season.

We weren’t sure what to expect, or what activities we would be able to do, but from the moment we arrived Andorra proved itself to be one of the highlights of our travels so far. It was cold, but the sun shone almost the whole time we were there.

So, what is it about Andorra that carved itself into our hearts, without a skerrick of snow?

Walking

Andorra’s walking trails are some of the best we’ve come across in Europe. There are long trails traversing the entire country, there are smaller trails leading up to alpine lakes and there are trails that connect the towns and villages. They are all well-marked and take you into the hidden heart of Andorra. We did a variety of walks. All of them magical in their own way. Our two favourites were:

Parc Natural de la Vall de Sorteny

This was a tip we were given by a local and it was incredible. From here you can take a number of walks. We chose the one labelled ‘Botanical Walk’. Heading up the hill beside a steady stream with a number of waterfalls, there were options to divert from the wider fire trail and head onto rocky single trails that lead you into the forest and along the streams. There are towering sculptures and panoramic views. If not for our intense hunger, we would have stayed longer. The kids played creating cairns and nature art and loved exploring the narrow trails.

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Vall d’Inces

I stumbled across this trail on my morning run and fell in love with it. So after running it in the morning, I brought the family back and we walked it with a picnic lunch. We took a different route up to the campground and the kids giggled as they hopped over the board walks crossing the streams. After our picnic at the top of the world, the kids climbed and played on the rocks while we sat on the grass and soaked up the sunshine. The air up there was clear and the sun shone brightly through it. All in all it was a perfect day out.

Rock-climbing

For a birthday present for El Chico, we booked a lesson at Bloc Cafe Indoor Rockclimbing. We had a private lesson for the four of us with an excellent instructor who gave taught us some useful techniques we wouldn’t have known otherwise. He also gave us a number of  tips for places to explore in Andorra. Although I’m definitely not a natural, both the kids took to rock climbing like ducks to water. They then attempted to climb every rock surface they could find in Andorra. They’re hooked. If we had stayed longer, we would have booked some outdoor climbing. Something for next time!

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Lookouts

The Mirador Roc del Quer is a spectacular lookout that is well known by travellers to Andorra. It was worth dealing with the crowds even in the off-season, as it was a mesmerising sight looking down on the valley of Canillo. The sun was at that golden angle that makes everything glow. I bet it is also a gorgeous spot at dawn, another thing for next time.

We found a number of other lookouts on our drives around Andorra. Each of them had their own beauty and woah-factor. Sometimes we even just stopped at random moments on the side of the road for a look. Andorra is a truly picturesque country from every angle.

Shopping

Andorra is a Co-Principality ruled by two princes. One Prince is the President of France and the other is the Bishop of Urgell in Spain. The unusual form of Government in Andorra has led to some similarly unusual tax implications. Up until 2016 there was no Income Tax or Capital Gains Tax. At this stage Andorrans are still without Value Added Tax (VAT) found in many other EU nations leading to a steady influx of people coming to Andorra for cheap alcohol and cigarettes. This has led to some very interesting shops peddling their tax-free goods.

I would never usually suggest shopping as an activity to do while travelling, it’s just not my style, but Caves Manacor is something that needs to be seen to be believed.  Categorised on Google as a supermarket, Caves Manacor is unlike any supermarket I have experienced. Three stories packed to overflowing. The first floor packed to the brim with every type of alcohol I could think of, a salami tasting wall, a cheese corner and a giant area of chocolate and lollies including chupa-chups bigger than my head. The second floor is full of copper stills and other cooking items and the third floor is reserved for tobacco products. There is not a spare space anywhere and I feel like you have to go here at least once if you are in Andorra.

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Eating

Many cafes and restaurants were closed until the ski season, but of the open eateries, Cafe La Neu was our favourite.

On our way back from Sorteny (see above) we had worked up an incredible appetite. We spotted Cafe La Neu as we drove down the hill and what a find! Some of the best food we ate in Andorra was at this cafe and the price was perfectly affordable. They had excellent choices for the fussy kids and vegetarians in our family. Excellent food, excellent service.

On our last day we were so sad to leave and wish we’d booked an extra few nights. Just as expected it snowed exactly one week after we had left, but we had such an amazing experience that we wouldn’t change it for anything.

Some extra travel tips for Andorra:

  • Getting there – There are no airports or trains into Andorra. You’ll need to arrive by car or bus.
  • Getting around – Hire a car. There’s a lot of buses that travel in and out of Andorra, but the best parts are best explored by car. Traffic along the main road can be a nightmare even in off-season, but car is definitely the easiest way to get around.
  • Getting off the beaten track – Try leaving the main road that heads from Spain to France. Our rock-climbing instructor told us that the true beauty of Andorra lies in the country outside of the tourist areas. It turned out he was absolutely right.

DISCLAIMER: We are not affiliated with any of these towns or attractions and were not paid nor given any free tours, accommodation or food. We paid for all these journeys with our own money and these are our own opinions. None of the links on this page are affiliate links.

If I was the Airbnb host I would…

A traveller’s perspective on how to be the best host

Now that we’ve stayed in over 20 units, apartments, houses, farms, caves and shacks, we think we’ve really got the knack of how to get the best out of Airbnb (and other accommodation platforms). Now we’ve started thinking about it from the hosts perspective, ‘If I was the host I would …’

So rather than rant to each other about how we could be the best Airbnb host, we thought we’d share our experiences in the hopes that some hosts out there might read it and take note.

If I was the host I would…

… List all my facilities and amenities accurately

We use filters like they’re going out of fashion. If you don’t have wi-fi, we won’t find you. If you are out of our price range, we won’t find you.

If you want more people to find your property, make sure you have listed all the facilities you have. And the more facilities you have, the more people will find you. Wi-fi is a non-negotiable for us as we work while travelling. Please also make sure it is usable. In some cases we’ve found it actually comes from a restaurant across the road, or it needs resetting every ten minutes. This does not count as having wi-fi.

… Not worry about instant book

Some people believe that offering ‘Instant book’ is going to get more travellers applying. We don’t care either way if you offer it or not. What we do care about is that you accept/deny our booking within 24 hours so we have plenty of time to find an alternative.

(Traveller tip – Airbnb actually offers a discount on other properties if your booking gets denied. We have had some of our best accommodation this way.)

… Be the host with the most

Some hosts let you in the door, then walk away. That’s fine. No problem. But if you really want a 5 star rating every time, a few small touches can make a difference. Here’s some examples of what people have done for us to go that extra step:

  • Fresh flowers on the table on arrival
  • Providing tea and coffee
  • Leaving some milk in the fridge
  • Giving excellent recommendations of local restaurants (we always ask hosts this, but we like it when they volunteer the information)
  • Provide brochures on fun things to do in the region, or talk through some suggestions
  • Have a first aid kit
  • Leave a ‘guide to the house and region’ in a few languages
  • Send directions and other information in an email or message a day or two before arrival
  • Have a book swap
  • Fresh towels
  • Have a well equipped kitchen – more on this below
  • A bottle of local wine

… Make check in simple

We’ve been left waiting over an hour by a host. We’ve had a host give us the wrong key and then it broke when it didn’t turn and he hit it with a brick. (Actually they were both the same host). We were then locked out (with our luggage locked in) for two hours on a Sunday night while we waited for a locksmith. The moral of the story is, check in should be relatively easy.

We’ve had self-check in with automated doors, where you push a button on the message you received from your host and combination locks where the key is inside a cubby hole. Whatever the method of handing over keys, the important thing is that the host is not late to meet the guests, two sets of keys is excellent, and please be available from the time listed on your Airbnb listing. We always aim to arrive at the listed check in time, so being available at that time is important.

… Provide some simple basics

We’re surprised how many places don’t have these simple items, if you want to be a great host, make sure you have each of them:

  • Free, good quality wi-fi
  • A washing machine (especially if travelling families are coming your way)
  • At least one good sharp knife
  • A decent sized saucepan
  • A colander/strainer
  • A frypan
  • A cutting board
  • Dishwashing detergent
  • Salt, pepper and oil
  • Enough plates & cutlery for the number of guests you may have
  • Working bedside lights
  • Enough pillows (a few more than the number of guests is best)
  • Towels
  • Bathmat
  • Enough toilet paper for the stay

… Be a decent human being

We’ve had some excellent relationships with our hosts. We love to chat to locals and the host is the best place to start. These conversations have led to us finding local treasures, we’ve been given local delicacies, garden produce, given discounts at a surf school and had some very rich conversations. We would never expect any of that, and it comes equally from our hosts being decent human beings, and us being interested in people’s lives.

Some hosts do not behave like decent human beings and we’ve had a handful of unfortunate experiences. Thankfully this is the exception rather than the rule.

 

But also, if I was the host, I would NOT…

… Allow anyone to enter your property while guests are staying there

We stayed at one place where the host stored the linen for his other properties. A staff member came in each morning to collect the linen. We felt like it invaded our privacy and we told our host that it did. Our host didn’t respond to our complaint.

… List amenities and facilities that I don’t have

We choose our places very specifically based on amenities and facilities. If you don’t have something and you say you do, we will be disappointed and more likely to give you a poor review.

… Ignore requests for things to be fixed

We had one place where the lights and the roller shutter in the bedroom didn’t work, so there was no light in that room for the entire day or night. After contacting our host, nothing was done about it and we had missed the Airbnb refund deadline. If your guest wants something fixed, fix it.

… Have appliances that don’t work

At one place, the washing machine flooded the laundry every time it was used. Our clothes came out bleached, and ruined half our wardrobe. We’ve experienced dishwashers, washing machines, coffee makers, lights and plenty more that haven’t worked. Check that all your appliances work before your guests arrive.

… Arrange deliveries to arrive while guests are staying

Ironically, as I write this, the doorbell has just rung and we have something being delivered in our apartment. Our host has arrived with the delivery to let us know, but we would have liked a bit of warning.

Ultimately we’ve mostly had wonderful hosts, but we are very picky about where we choose to stay. I’m sure hosts have just as much to say about travellers as we have to say about hosts.

If you’ve had any experiences as a host or a guest, we’d love you to share them in the comments section below.

 

Cycling Towards the Horizon

Traversing mountains, swimming in oceans, and getting lost in forests has increased our deep commitment to travel with  minimal impact. In an attempt to take it to the next level, our new favourite method of transport is cycling. We now travel with some cycling gear and hire bikes in every town possible.

It all began when we were given the opportunity to housesit on a farm in England, we decided not to hire a car. This was a major decision because our farm was four kilometres from the nearest village and 24 kilometres from the closest town, Taunton. It was a chance to stretch our pedalling legs, so without thinking it through, we made the decision to cycle there from Taunton and use bikes as our primary transport for the next four weeks.

Cass did a lot of research and found a bike shop, On Your Bike in Taunton, who fix up old bikes and sell them for charity. They also train and employ disadvantaged people (people with disabilities, ex-services personnel and homeless) to be bike mechanics. We loved their values, and they agreed to hire bikes for us and the kids.

There were a number of obstacles we needed to overcome. The biggest was working out how to carry our luggage. We travel light (see What’s in our luggage?) with approximately 40kg between four of us, but our bags are not pannier bags and it was too much to ask the kids to ride that far with extra weight. Cass and I would need to carry it all.

On Your Bike had a trailer for hire, but it wouldn’t fit everything, so we decided to buy an additional new trailer to put the rest of the luggage in. After researching all of our options, we decided to buy a 2-Child Steel Bicycle Trailer for our luggage (we successfully sold it afterwards on Gumtree).

We arrived in Taunton the day before our ride, so we could prepare the bikes, buy helmets and some lights and just get organised. We are so glad we did, because it took us the whole day to get everything together and go for a little test ride.

On the morning of our ride, we had a tight schedule. The people we were housesitting for had to leave in the middle of the day, and we needed enough time to learn about looking after their animals. We really needed to arrive by 11:30 am so we got up at 5:30 ate a buffet breakfast, and headed off.

There was a misty rain as we set off but it kept us cool as we rode. Cass had one trailer with half our luggage, and I had the new trailer with the other half, and a bag with all our snacks on my back. The trailer was hard to pull. Hills I could usually ride up with ease were very difficult, and I had to walk up many more than I would have liked.

The first half went well, we rode at a good pace and were enjoying ourselves. Cass and I were nervous about the ride and whether the kids would make it, but being in the open air and seeing the English countryside was a good antidote.

12 kms in and feeling hungry (but good)

After a snack break at the halfway point, the rain set in. The temperature dropped dramatically, and our raincoats were only keeping our top half dry. The hills started increasing (as we expected from our meticulous route planning) and the kids were tiring. We started questioning ourselves. Had we made a terrible mistake?

After a lot of hard pushing, under the dark clouds and heavy rain, we finally reached the last kilometre. We knew this was a continuous uphill climb to our housesit, and we very slowly trudged up feeling tired, uncomfortable and not really enjoying it anymore. We had no choice but to keep going, and much to our incredulity, we finally made it. The kids were amazing, remained positive and were so relieved when we arrived. They nicknamed the last hill ‘Giant’s Hill’ and called it that every time we saw it after that. I told them they were my heroes.

For the time we were away, we only took the kids to the nearest town once as their faith in riding was a bit diminished by the ride up Giant’s Hill in the rain. Cass and I did the trips over the hill to the closest supermarket. With the kids we did small rides down to the creek, or to the nature reserve for a bushwalk, but kept the rides small so they could renew their love of riding.

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You can find secret swings when riding a bike.

When we returned to Taunton it was all downhill without any rain and the kids absolutely loved the ride. We stopped to pick blackberries, look at horses and eat our snacks with beautiful vistas.

When we returned the bikes, the kids were sad to see them go. They lamented it for the next few days. We kept our helmets and other paraphernalia and then hired some more bikes in Cambridge.

We were treated to some lovely weather in Cambridge and cycling was the perfect way to get around (no hills either!). We saw so much more of Cambridge than we would have otherwise, and we were able to ride to the Orchard Tea Gardens in Grantchester, where we drank tea under the apple trees.

A few of my favourite things – tea, apple orchards, sunshine – after a beautiful bike ride.

Now the kids want to ride everywhere, and we hire bikes often. It can be difficult navigating the traffic, and making it all work, so here are some lessons we’ve learned along the way:

  • A strong peloton goes a long way – We ride in single file with one adult up front and one at the back. There’s a number of reasons this works; we are more visible to drivers, the kids feel safe sandwiched between us and we can adjust our speed based on how the kids are going. The one at the front has to navigate and watch for traffic for themselves and the first child, while the one at the back can stay in pace with the slower ones.
  • Teach the kids the road rules while on the road – This seems obvious, but our kids knew the rules in theory before we started. We constantly go over them before we set out, but it is a different thing when they are on the road thinking about steering, pedalling, changing gears and dealing with traffic. It is like everything they know goes out the window. El Chico constantly heads straight into a roundabout without looking for cars, or sometimes even noticing that it is a roundabout. We stop at every corner and wait for everyone to catch up, talk about what we need to do at the corner, then go across in pairs so that we aren’t holding up traffic.
  • It isn’t a money saving venture – For four bikes it sometimes costs more than hiring a car. We don’t have to pay for petrol so it probably comes out even. The benefits outweigh the costs though, as it’s a beautiful way to travel. You are out in the world on a bike, rather than being removed from it inside a car. And your impact on the places you are visiting is diminished.
  • Check your maps – A lot of places have dedicated bike lanes and paths. These are invaluable with the kids because you don’t have to worry about the traffic, you can stop and smell the flowers and go your own pace. Galileo Maps are very accurate when it comes to cycle paths and footpaths, (and can be used offline) and Google Maps has a function where you can show a layer of the dedicated cycle lanes and paths.
  • Gears are best – The kids always find it easier when they have gears. They don’t always use them, and we find it frustrating, but when they have fixies they struggle up the hills.
  • Think about your equipment – Some bike hire shops provide you with lights and locks, but not all of them, so we now travel with lights, locks, helmets and some occy straps.
  • Fuel up – Riding makes the kids hungry (this is good for us because our kids are usually fussy eaters), so we need to have a big stash of healthy snacks in our backpack
  • Bikes + trains = more fun – In our experience, you can take bikes on trains in both England and Spain at no extra cost. This means you can go more places and take your bike with you to ride around at the other end. Many of the Spanish trains have a carriage where you can chain your bike to a dedicated rail. Although a word of caution, we did get in trouble once for trying to take bikes on a long distance train (we were only going to the next stop and didn’t realise it was any different).
  • Water is your elixir – Don’t underestimate how much water you need, especially in hot climates. A good rule of thumb is to have one litre per person per hour of riding.
  • Enjoy it – Riding is such fun so relax, enjoy and explore!
DISCLAIMER: We are not affiliated with any of these towns or attractions and were not paid nor given any free bikes, tours, accommodation or food. We paid for all these journeys with our own money and these are our own opinions. Some of the links in this article are affiliate links. 

Europe for €25 per person per day

Now we’ve been away for five months, and our savings are looking slim, I thought I’d have a look at what we’ve been spending and how it compared to our original budget, and it turns out we’ve been comfortably sticking to €25 per person per day. We’ve stayed in 26 towns, cities and villages. We’ve visited the coast, the mountains and the forests. We’ve ridden bikes, trains, buses and driven cars. We’ve been to three countries. We’ve slept in castles, farms, beach houses and a cave. All for €25 per person per day.

Here we’ll share our budget and give you some tips that we’ve picked up on the way.

As a self confessed ‘compulsive organsier’, I keep a daily tally of where we’re spending our money. For the last four years, I have been using the Home Budget app. Over that time it has accumulated a lot of statistical data on our spending and, nerd that I am, I find data incredibly useful. The app has continued to be useful while travelling as it allows me to use multiple currencies.

So looking at the app today, as a family of four, we’ve so far spent just under €100 per day (or €25 per person). Sure, if we were a couple with no kids, the figure would be different, similarly for solo travellers. Actually I believe it could be cheaper without kids. We spend way too much money on bouncy castles at fiestas and ice creams after a hard travel day. Maybe we should have a ‘morale booster’ line in our budget, vermouth included!

Towards the Horizon - €25 per day (pp)

Our original budget has been edited here to reflect our actual spending over the last five months. Available for download at the bottom of the article.

So here’s a rough breakdown of what we spend (per month):

Home/Accommodation

Maintaining our home in Australia – €155

We are renting our house in Australia. This spending includes rates, maintenance on the property and other fees and levies that we have to pay.

Accommodation – €880

When travelling this is always the biggest expense. We’re very lucky that we’ve been able to stay in my sister-in-law’s house when in the south of Spain. When we initially set out, we were planning for it to be our main base. However on the road we discovered that we prefer moving around and seeing new places so we’ve only stayed there a few times. We have found some very cheap accommodation solutions that we have used regularly.


Ways to make it cheaper:
House-sitting

We have house-sat the equivalent of 2 of our 5 months. Some of this has been through previous connections, but some has been using house-sitting websites. Our two preferred sites are Trusted Housesitters and Nomador. Both cost money to sign up, but the €30 or so is worth it when you get a few free weeks of accommodation. There are obvious other benefits too, such as getting to know a new place like a local, or spending some time on a farm. The kids especially enjoy having time with animals.

Share economy

Airbnb is a great way to stay somewhere comfortable and cheap. If you’re happy staying in some out-of-the-way places, you can get some apartments really cheaply. Our two favourites were in small towns, Porrua and Lleida, where we stayed for only €19 per night for all four of us. Being flexible with your destinations is key to getting these amazing deals.

Workaway is another good option, we’ve only done it once so far, but for working approximately 5 hours per day, you are provided with food and board. It is a lot of fun on a farm, which is what we did, but some people want help with child care, or with teaching their kids English.

Loyalty programs

Hotels.com, Booking.com and hotel groups have loyalty programs that offer major discounts. Booking.com give you 10% off all bookings after you’ve booked with them five times. This can save you more than €80 in a month.


Utilities

Phone and Internet – €65

When doing our research when we arrived, it quickly became clear that our cheapest and easiest way to access the Internet when wifi was unavailable was to use the hotspot on our phone. We both work online so Internet is vital to our income. We bought a pre-paid SIM with 3GB included per month. Over summer there has been a deal where they give you 3GB extra per month for free, so that has worked well. Sometimes we have to spend some extra money for data if there are a few video conferences chewing it up.

Our Spanish SIM is fine for France, as it costs us €1 per day for each day that we use roaming, but we tend to keep it off most days and use wifi where we possible. In England we bought another new pre-paid SIM.


Ways to make it cheaper:

Filter accommodation choices by availability of wifi, and only use your phone when required. Cass and I bought the same brand of SIM card so we can call and message each other for free.

Use Whatsapp. Not as common in Australia, but very common in Europe. You can message, call and video call using data instead of your phone credit. This has saved us a lot of money. Almost everyone in Europe has it, so it is good for contacting accommodation hosts or people you have been put in touch with.


Food

This is one place where my budget really didn’t match what we have ended up spending. Eating out is so cheap in Europe and we don’t have to do the dishes, so we do it way more than we would in Australia. Culturally, people always meet out of their home too, so it is easier to catch up with people. On the flip side we’ve spent much less on groceries than we expected so they have cancelled each other out.

Groceries – €340

We try to shop at markets, fruiterias and panederias wherever possible. Partly because it keeps the cost down, but also because it is fresh and delicious.

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Markets have the freshest and the cheapest food.

Eating out – €495

This also includes breakfast but it is rare for us to buy it out. We tend to eat breakfast at home most days.

Other (coffee, ice cream, beer etc) – €205

An important part of any budget.


Ways to make it cheaper:
Eat like a local

Get off the tourist route and find a restaurant or bar two streets back from the places touting menus in English. They are usually a couple of euros cheaper for the same plate of food.

Menu del dia

Most restaurants offer a menu of the day for a very cheap price. In smaller towns you can get a three course meal with drink included for €8. In more touristy areas they can be up to €15. We love eating this way as we try traditional local dishes and the choices are limited, which is easier than staring at a menu. Most places can accommodate someone who doesn’t each a lot of meat, but you have to ask.

Tapas

In many parts of Spain, particularly the north and in rural areas, tapas come free when you order a drink. In some places this can be enough food for a meal. Ask around for a good tapas bar in your area.

Pack your lunch

A no-brainer really, but when we pack our lunch (in Spain bocadillos of course), it costs us €5 for a meal.


Goods

Clothing – €30

Kids grow, so this is a necessary part of our budget. Thankfully clothes are much cheaper in Europe than Australia so we don’t spend a lot. Also, our limited luggage space means we can’t buy anything unnecessary.

Books – €10

We don’t want the kids’ education to suffer so occasionally we buy books. Cass and I both love to read too, so we are often on the lookout for second hand bookstores. The deal is that we each only carry one at a time, so for every one we buy, we have to donate or swap our old one.


Ways to make it cheaper:

Book swaps are excellent and can be found at most major cities in small cafes. We are starting to branch out into Spanish-language books now so it’s getting easier to find free or very cheap books.


Work items – €5

Sometimes it costs a little to maintain our work. It could be an app subscription or some printing. It doesn’t add up to much.

Entertainment

Movies, shows, museums, galleries, bouncy castles etc – €70

We usually prefer the free or low cost museums the most, so they don’t add up to much. We splashed out in London and went to see Matilda the Musical and we’ve been to the movies a few times (good Spanish language practice). Wednesday is cheap-day at the movies here and it costs €16 for all four of us.

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Dodgem Cars at the Fería.


Ways to make it cheaper:

Seek the cheaper places, they’re usually better anyway. While everyone else is going to the castle with guided headphones, choose the more run-down one that has a lower entrance fee.

Note: don’t skimp too much on this budget. This is one of the fun parts of travelling. When I travelled around Europe in my 20s, I missed a lot of fun things because I was so concerned about paying for them.


Transport

Flights – €60

This doesn’t include our original flight to get here, but we’ve spent some on flying to England from Spain so this stays in our budget. If you want to include your original flight, your budget will be much higher than €25 per day.


Ways to make it cheaper:

Try comparison websites such as Skyscanner. If you are flexible on dates you can get some very cheap deals. Make sure you pay for your luggage at time of booking though, as it is much more expensive to have to pay for it at the check-in counter.


Trains, buses, cars and bikes- €500

Depending on how you travel and how often, this can blow out. We have rented a couple of cars, but we’re trying to limit our impact on the environment so prefer trains buses and bikes.


Ways to make it cheaper:
Rail passes

Eurail passes can save hundreds of euros in your first trip and Children Travel Free.

In England our friend suggested that we buy a Family Railcard, where we received 30% off when travelling during off-peak periods (after 10am). It cost £30 and we saved that on our first trip. It lasts for 12 months so it’s definitely a good investment. We saved hundreds of pounds over our two months in England. Train companies don’t advertise these deals well so it is worth asking and doing your research.

Travel slowly

Travelling slowly and less often is the key. We try to stay a week or more in one place to reduce our transport costs.

Relocation deals

Many car and campervan hire companies have cheaper hire to relocate the vehicle to where they need it to be. We’ve done this a few times. Hunt them down, they’re very cheap.


Travel Insurance plus other medical expenses – €205

This is one area you don’t want to take the cheapest option, but you can do your research and find a great deal. We opted for travel insurance that was linked to our credit card (note: we don’t use this credit card for anything other than car hire and accommodation deposits, that way we don’t pay any interest or fees. We don’t believe in funding travel using a credit card). You can decide how much cover you feel comfortable with, but with kids we opted for one with excellent coverage so we don’t ever have to worry about it.

This line also includes the insurance on our house in Australia.


Ways to make it cheaper:
Do your research.

Take the time to really understand what you are getting and for what price. Compare the deals without the help of a meerkat tool, use your own brain. You need to keep in mind that the comparison websites get paid to promote certain products.

Know how much excess you are willing to pay. This will help inform what product to choose, and make sure you have the equivalent of your excess saved up somewhere safe at all times. The higher the excess you can afford, the cheaper your cover.

Know your policy.

When in the middle of a crazy situation (you travellers know what I’m talking about) it’s nice to know how your policy works. It brings a sense of calm to a potentially difficult situation. Also, knowing that you’re travel insurance covers certain vehicle hire insurances means that you don’t have to opt for the more expensive option at the car hire desk.


Miscellaneous – €25

This is where we put odd expenses, like a donation to charity, paying a busker, a birthday present, or the cost of sending postcards home. It’s good for random things that come up.

The budget listed above is based on what we are actually spending each month. Sure, some months we spend more than others but this is a total of all our expenditure for the five months divided by five (to arrive at our monthly figure). It is possible to travel Europe for €25 per day per person. We’ve been doing it for five months now. We’d love to hear more of how you save money on your trips, please make a comment below.

If you want more help creating a budget for you and your travels, you can purchase one of our budget products below. (We’ll be adding a customised version soon).

Get your copy of our budget here

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