Category Archives: Money Mondays

Money Mondays: Don’t Buy Drinks!

Money Mondays is a weekly post about how you can save money without sacrificing your travel dreams.

I can’t believe I only have half a week left of my three month Mediterranean Trek! I will miss seeing foreign countries every day, but I am also looking forward to a change of pace (even if it is pretty much back to the old routine). But even though I’ve been on the road for a long time, I can easily count all the times I paid for a beverage:
-I bought a bottle of Perrier in Paris because I wanted to enjoy the fizzy water in its home country.
-I bought a quart of milk in Barcelona so I would have something to go with my cereal. ( The hostel didn’t provide breakfast.)
-I bought two bottles of Gatorade  in Venice because I got sick and desperately needed that potassium and rehydration salt.
-I bought a slushie in Thessaloniki because buying a drink on a boat would entitle me to a free cruise around the bay.
That’s it.

I guess you could say I technically bought beverages when they were part of a prefixe meal, such as a tapas tour in Madrid or three course meals in Rome. But because these drinks were part of the package, if I had paid for everything else individually, it would have cost more than the price of the meal with beverage included. I think that’s almost like saying I pay for the tea and juice included in a hostel breakfast. I guess in a way I do, but I would be paying the same whether or not I accepted these free drinks.

So what have I been drinking? I occasionally come across a free beverage (last week in Athens, a restaurant offered me a free one to convince me to sit down at one of their tables), and you may remember that I brought some Traditional Medicinals teabags with me. But mostly, I’ve been drinking tap water.

Tap water is safe for Americans to drink in most European countries. Just make sure to look it up ahead of time. Today I’m heading to my final destination, and it’s the only place I’m going with unsafe tap water. I guess I’ll have to buy some water there! The good news is, bottled water is typically pretty cheap in places where you can’t drink the tap.

Needless to say, not paying for beverages can save a lot of money on a trip, and drinking only tap water doesn’t really change the experience. This is also something that can be done prior to your trip, and the savings can go to future travel. How much you’ll end up saving depends on your current habits. If you already mostly just drink tap, it won’t make much of a difference. If you drink a soda every day, consider how much that costs you over the course of a month or a year. If you go to bars, stopping drinking could save you a ton! Also factor in that beverages in restaurants, vending machines, and tourist destinations will probably cost more than at home.

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Here are some more tips to help you save on beverages:
–  Bring a large refillable bottle. My Camelbak worked well for me on this trip. But these water reservoirs are uncommon in Europe, so I got some weird looks and questions when I drank from its tube!
– Go to street fairs. I’ve been to three on this trip. The first one in Paris provided me with juice, cola, and lots of different food. The second one in Rome scored me milk, juice, bottled water, and Nutella Bready. The third one in Athens provided me with a hat, tee, and pin. If this trip is any indication, then two out of three street fairs will get you free beverages!
– If you really want a beverage, go to a grocery store for the cheapest selection.
– Some restaurants try to sell you bottled water, or may charge for tap. Discuss this with the waiter before you order, and make sure to bring a bottle with you so that you can drink from it if all liquids cost money.
– Look around town for places to refill your water. Oftentimes, if the water is flowing and there’s no sign that says “non potable”, it’s safe to drink.
-For those times when you do have to buy bottled water, buy it in bulk instead of individual bottles. You can always use a big jug to fill smaller bottles, and this translates into less waste and often lower costs!

There are times when it’s more than appropriate to buy a beverage. You don’t want to miss out on a local drink that’s part of the experience. But if you’re addicted to soda or crave coffee, a simple switch to water will improve your health, the environment, and your spending!

What’s your favorite thing to drink? How long do you think you could go without it?

Money Mondays: Foreign Money Isn’t Monopoly Money

Money Mondays is a weekly post about different ways to have awesome adventures that won’t break the bank. Enjoy!

When I am within the United States, I know what my money is worth. I know exactly how many minutes I had to work to get a dollar bill, so I almost always made frugal and worthwhile purchases. I knew if prices were too steep or if a salesman was trying to rip me off. Sadly, I can’t say that most other Americans are that in tune with what they make, but I think I understand the value of a dollar.

But I don’t understand the value of a Euro. Or a Peso. Or a Nuevo Sol. Or even a Canadian Dollar!

It can be tricky to spend money in a denomination different from how it was earned. I hope to improve at this, but for now, I’m learning from my mistakes. Hopefully you can, too.

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Pesos: Chuck E Cheese Tickets

My very first time using foreign money was when I was 14 and on a cruise to Mexico. Like most tourist areas of Mexico, items are priced in pesos, but you can pay in dollars. At the time, signs were posted near the shops: $1=10 pesos. So if I bought something for three pesos and paid with a dollar bill, I would get 7 pesos in change. Now that I had these new coins, I might save one or two of them for keepsakes, but I had to pick out more things that could be bought with my newly converted money.

I had outgrown the thrill of Chuck E Cheese by this time, but apparently I didn’t learn my lesson of how arcades make money: convert your cash into tokens, convert your tokens into tickets, and then with those tickets you can buy prizes. The value of your prizes isn’t worth what you actually shelled out for them, but the tokens and tickets you got were only redeemable there, and you had a fun experience in the meantime. However, Mexico is not Chuck E Cheese.

Nuevo Soles: Trusting the Vendor

A few years later I ended up on two mission trips to Peru. Some stores here also accepted American money. But there were no signs stating what a dollar was worth in Nuevo Soles. In fact, most items in most stores did not have a marked price. So I would place the things I wanted on the counter, the shopkeeper would give me q total and, knowing a dollar was about three soles, placed at least that much cash on the counter. I would get change as the vendor saw fit. Obviously in hindsight, I was taking risks with my money, both with unpriced items and an unknown amount of change. I was on mission trips, so I figured whatever money I spent would just benefit the local economy. More likely I was enabling shopkeepers to stash some extra tax-free cash and teach them how to take advantage by profiling Americans in the future.

Canadian Dollars: It’s Cheaper Than It Looks

Last summer, I went to Niagara Falls, both countries. Since my time in Canada was short and close to the border, I decided that instead of exchanging money, I would use my credit card. And whenever I saw a price, I told myself that CAD is with less than USD, so I paid for things even if they seemed a bit pricey. When I looked at my statement later, I realized that the dollars at the time had a nearly 1:1 ratio. Plus, since my credit card charged a foreign conversion fee, I ended up paying more! I should’ve checked these things ahead of time to know what I was really spending. The other foreign countries I went to in the past had a lower cost of living and better exchange rate. You can’t compare placed like Canada to places like Peru or Mexico.

Euros: Everything’s the Same

Since I’m in Europe at one of the best exchange rates, I mistakingly think of Euros the same way I think of dollars. But a Euro is worth more (ranging from 10-14% more over most of this trip. When I make small purchases, that doesn’t seem like much of a difference. But with three months and a few thousand Euros spent, I’m seeing the difference now!

Even if the money you spend doesn’t look the same as the money you receive, it isn’t Monopoly money. It has a value, and it’s up to you to know its value!

What is your mindset when it comes to foreign currency?

Money Mondays: How Not to Pay for Bathrooms

Money Mondays is a weekly post about how to save money for the things that really matter in life and travel. Enjoy!

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Would you cross this glass bridge above ancient ruins to use a free bathroom?

I was told that I should set aside part of my daily travel budget for toilet money. In mist areas of Europe, “public” restrooms are privately owned, so if course the pass on the cleaning, maintenance, and utlities expenses to its users. On my last day in Paris, I was waiting for my bus to Madrid and wasn’t sure when I’d see a toilet again, so I paid to use a public restroom. But I’ve since widened up and found more ways to find free bathrooms throughout Europe. I haven’t paid to use a bathroom since!

– Years ago, when on a class trip to the East Coast, a local was taking us on a tour through Central Park. When we came across a restroom, he gave us all a brilliant piece of travel advice that I believe still holds true today: “Go when you can, not when you must.” This is helpful when travelling anywhere, even if it’s just across town, but especially true in countries with bathrooms are sparse and costly. When I see any of the following opportunities, I usually take advantage!

– Know what you’re looking for. Across Europe, bathrooms are marked “WC”, even though nobody actually uses the term “water closet”. If you want to ask someone where the bathroom is, ask “Where are the toilets?” The word toilet is more universal, and someone trying to translate the word bathroom may assume you’re looking for a place to take a bath.

– Unless it’s a historic site where adding a bathroom would cause a compromise in historic integrity, you can expect any place that charges an entrance fee to have free bathrooms inside.

-Restaurants always have bathrooms, except for places that are take-out only. If you’re going to eat out, the restroom is included in your cover charge.

– If you want to use the bathroom at a restaurant or bar but not order food, you can try, but it has risks. Most bathrooms are hidden so that you have to ask staff. If you’re caught, you may be asked to buy something. European McDonalds are particularly clever. Their restrooms can only be opened with a code that’s printed on receipts.

– Take a group tour. I don’t recommend an entire guided vacation, but I like to take walking tours on my first day in a city. Your guide will probably know of places, whether it’s an innovative street toilet or a super touristy restaurant where they let anyone use the facilities.

– Train stations typically charge a hefty toilet fee. Wait until you get on the train, where the toilets are free.

– While many historic churches lack public restrooms, some do have them available. Attending a service in a more modern church building basically guarantees a free commode. (And sometimes even free cookies!) At a small church I visited in Florence, Italy, they announced their weekly office hours just so travelers would know when they could access free bathrooms, air conditioning, and WiFi. Great ministry idea!

– If all else fails, you can always run back to your hostel, provided you’re staying somewhere centrally located!

Hopefully all this toilet talk didn’t gross you out too much, but it can make a big impact on a European travel budget. I’ve seen the charge for toilets range from 50¢ to 2€. If I paid for a toilet just once or twice per day, over my three month trip I would spend about €200 just to use the bathroom! Think of all the great European adventures that can be done for €200 when you think outside the stall!

Money Mondays: Skip the “Skip the Lines”!

Hello everyone! I’m alive and well in Europe. So far I’ve been to five countries within two months, but I still have two nations and one month left to go. I’m excited to share my experiences with you, but I’ve been packing my days with so much that most of my stories will have to wait until I arrive back in the States. But for now, I’d like to begin a post series called Money Mondays, where I explain one way I save money for or during my travels. Enjoy!

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I actually began writing this post because I’m waiting in line for a famous museum, and I was getting bombarded by a ton of salespeople trying to sell me skip-the-line tickets. While that sometimes sounds intriguing, these tickets are also four times the cost of what I’ll pay when I do eventually get to the front of this line. Pulling out my phone and working hard seems to make the salespeople leave me alone, and it also is helping to pass the time. If you find yourself stuck in a line and tempted to buy skip-the-line tickets, here are a few other things you can do instead:

-Ahead of time, download a few ebooks to your phone or another device. Just make sure to bring said device with you.

-Pack a lunch (or breakfast or dinner, depending on the time of day) to eat while waiting. When doing this at Disneyland Paris, this actually ended up saving me time since I didn’t have to stop rides for meals!

-Talk with others who are also waiting in line. Give them your insider travel secrets and you may get a few tips in return!

-Pull out your tourist map and plan out your next stops.

-Before getting in line, head to a souvenir store and buy some postcards. Spend the time in line writing letters to all the friends and relatives who expect mail from you!

-Think about how much money you’re saving by not falling for the tourist traps of skipping lines and paying for tours!

But I Have Limited Time!

The ones most likely to buy into skip-the-line tours are the ones who didn’t build enough time into their trip. It’s always best to budget more time than you think you’ll need, but of course there are many factors in life that keep us from always doing this. Here are some timesaving tips I’ve picked up along the way that won’t cost you any extra money.

– At the Eiffel Tower, take the stairs if you are physically able to. It’s only a fraction of the cost of an elevator ticket, and you’ll only wait a few minutes in line. If you can’t walk the steps, make on online reservation well in advance.

– For most other Paris attractions (particularly the Louvre) buy a Paris Museum Pass. Not only does this mean free entry at dozens of locations, but many include skipping the ticket line as well. With my four day pass, I figured I was saving money as long as I went to at least two attractions per day.

– Don’t wait in line to buy a ticket at the Roman Colosseum. Go to Palatino or The Roman Forum, where the lines are short, and purchase a multi attraction ticket.

– Lines fluctuate throughout the day at the attractions connected to Florence’s Duomo. If they’re long, go do something else and come back in a little bit. But make sure to go in line with modest dress and a ticket. Tickets are not sold in the line, so check the posted map for sales locations. And if you come with exposed shoulders or knees, you will be denied entry. If either of these happen to you, you will have wasted a lot of time for nothing.

– At any religious site (specifically cathedrals), if you’re not sure your clothing is modest enough, bring a sarong or scarf that you can cover up with. The guards don’t do modesty checks until you’re at the entrance, so many people wait in line only to be turned away.

– Think about other ways you can save time that won’t cost as much. For example, I typically walk everywhere within a city. But yesterday, there was a lot that I wanted to do, and it would take an hour long walk to get there. Instead of walking there, I took the metro, which was only a fifteen minute trip. That’s like waiting in line for 45 minutes less! Another timesaving idea is to eat fewer meals at sit-down restaurants and opt for street food and takeaway.

– In general, see if you can buy tickets online. Some are the same cost or even less than buying on the spot. However, beware as some online tickets charge an extra service fee!

– While online, see if you can find any information on what days or times are the least busy for the places you want to see. Generally early morning midweek is good, but this can vary depending on the location

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Above all, know that there will be times you’ll be surprised at how little you wait, and times you’ll be waiting longer than you can imagine. Just remember that lines are part of the travel experience and can be an adventure within themselves. Happy saving!