This way to adventure!

Hi there!

I’m Emily. I’m a writer living an unexpected expat life fueled by coffee and adventure. Home is where my art is.

(Currently: Brussels)

They're going somewhere AGAIN?!

They're going somewhere AGAIN?!

Or, how we keep our travel fun and frugal.

For the first time in a long time, we don’t have any trips on the calendar. It’s a weird feeling.

In the not quite eight months that Joe and I have lived in the same timezone, we’ve spent a weekend hiking in Heimbach, had the honeymoon to remember in Sardinia, had a weekend to forget in Lisbon, celebrated Christmas in Canterbury, MLK Day in Berlin and Presidents’ Day in Vilnius.

Adventuring together isn’t just something we do every now and then — it was literally one of the things we promised to each other in our marriage vows. And while we absolutely love adventures close to home, we love adventures further afield even more. Travel isn’t free but it turns out that you can, in fact, do it for richer or for poorer. And while we’re certainly not the totally in love but totally broke college students that we once were, I’ll remind my kind readers that nobody joins the Foreign Service for the money…

Getting to travel as much as we do requires a couple of pieces to come together:

  • A commitment to skimping in some areas to feed the travel fund. We choose not to eat out in Brussels all that often, and although our car isn’t old enough to vote, it’s not exactly new either.

  • A good jumping off point. We’re lucky in this post — Brussels is centrally located for quick trips all around the continent.

  • Mad frugal travel skills. We’ve got this one covered and then some. We’ll even be nice enough to share…

15 Tips for fun, frugal travel:

  1. Be flexible. This is the golden rule. Not being too tied to a particular destination or anything other than the days we want to be away is probably the most important thing we do to find cheap and awesome trips. We follow the deals rather than trying to squeeze a deal from a destination.

  2. Use Google Flights for open ended searches. Did you know that you can plug in your departure date + departure airport(s) while leaving the destination blank? Your search will give you a map of trips on the cheap.

  3. Stay away from chains. Use to find vacation rentals or small, non-chain hotels. We usually aim for less than €50/night, depending on the location. (One does need to be reasonable, after all.)

  4. Check out chains for unexpected deals. Yes, I KNOW…I just told you to stay away from chains. Sometimes though, especially in larger cities, you might find that the larger chains are comparable and you’ll know what you’re getting. (Especially if you’re more comfortable with something familiar.) Be sure to check out all the room rates — B&B deals or non-refundable pay-in-advance rates can sometimes make a big difference!

  5. Going with a chain? Milk those discounts. AAA? AARP? USAA? Loyalty programs? U.S. Gov’t ID? Figure out what you’re eligible for and see if you can’t bring those rates down. Why yes, we have stayed in a Ritz Carlton for a weekend trip because the gov’t rate made the Ritz $20/night more than the Holiday Inn Express down the block. (Traveling with gov’t ID? Just read the discount fine print — some hotels only honor the rate for official travel but the majority of hotels in the big American chains explicitly allow the rate for personal travel.)

  6. Take public transit. Not only is public transit a great way to get a feel for a city, it’s almost always significantly cheaper than taking cabs all over crowded cities. Do the math ahead of time to figure out if tourist or day passes are more cost-effective than single ride tickets. And, don’t forget that it’s usually cheaper to buy rides from a kiosk before you get on the bus or tram. (Bonus: transit cards make great souvenirs that don’t take up valuable suitcase room!)

  7. Don’t dismiss those travel blogs. We don’t do crazy research before we go somewhere, but I usually try to read a couple of travel blogs for insider tips. Pinterest is your friend here — I usually search for “{City Name} city break” or “3 days in {City Name}” for blog posts that’ll give me ideas on where to eat, what to see and what we should skip. (Seriously. All of my super awesome suggestions for Berlin and Vilnius started from a Pinterest search. And I’m not even going to be bothered by Joe’s teasing me for it…)

  8. Craving quirk? Atlas Obscura delivers. Blogs are a great place to start, but Atlas Obscura points to the truly quirky hidden wonders of the world. (And their coffee table book makes for fascinating browsing if you ever find yourself on our couch.)

  9. Culture Trip doesn’t disappoint either. I particularly love the CT site for its collection of Top 10 lists and I’m not above checking out the “Cheap Eats in {City Name}” posts.

  10. Don’t forget the local tourism site! Many tourism boards are funded by restaurants, hotels and tour providers in a pay-to-play model, so I usually don’t pay much heed to recommendations for any of those in the States but most of the European tourism offices receive some level of public support. We’ve found neat events or even free museum days by checking out the events calendar.

  11. Ask the locals. Small innkeepers are usually great sources of ideas for things to see and great places to eat that might not have hit the guidebooks. And, we haven’t been able to make it happen yet, but I’m going to keep trying to snag a “with locals” tour in cities that have Greeters.

  12. Hit up the grocery store. Eats and entertainment all in one place? Yes please! Even when we don’t book a vacation apartment, we always take a trip through a local grocery store and wander the aisles to see what’s different and to pick up a snack or three. (Both of us travel with a camping spork in our bag too — you never know when a pudding emergency might happen!)

  13. Figure out the local snack. In Germany, it’s currywurst and pretzels. Lithuania was all about the fried rye bread. And don’t even get me started on the deliciousness of a Portuguese pastel de nata… Here’s the deal: the local snack is ubiquitous and ubiquity leads to lower prices. Sure, you could go hunting for a Power Bar when the 3pm munchies hit but you’ll spend 1/3 of the price for 3x the enjoyment if you adopt a “when in Rome” attitude and chow down on the local treat.

  14. Eat in courses. It’s perfectly acceptable — and usually more fun — to eat lunch or even dinner as a series of snack-y courses. (Yes, the “espresso course” at about 2pm is totally a thing on our weekends away.) We get to try way more local cuisine than we would if we limited ourselves to 3 squares a day and have found that it’s usually a bit more economical too.

  15. Don’t pu-pu the food court. Or do! Hitting up the mall food court is one of our favorite lunch hacks. They’re usually a slightly elevated dining experience than what you’d find in a Stateside food court but still have relatively cheap eats. Plus, neither of us has to argue whether we’re eating gyros or sushi for lunch — we just get small bites of both! (Fair warning: the success of this tactic may vary widely by country…)

  16. And, a bonus tip: embrace JOMO. Figure out what your must-sees are in the city and make sure to get to as many of those as you can, but leave some buffer for just strolling around and really being present in the city. Sure, you could waste half of your vacation trying to each of the city’s Instagrammable spots but that’s, as they say, lame. And we don’t do lame…

But above all: Don’t skimp on the things that really matter to you. Just try not to have too many of them. Yes, we’re the king and queen of frugal travel, but skimping out just to save pesos doesn’t work — there’s nothing like the sour taste of regret when you’re back home and wish you only would have done x,y, or zed. Don’t be that person. We're not.

How do YOU keep travel frugal and fun? I’d love any other tips you have in the comments below!

Photo by Christine Roy on Unsplash

Warranty's up.

Warranty's up.

How do you like them pineapples? (Brussels ed.)

How do you like them pineapples? (Brussels ed.)