I suppose I’ll go ahead and breach that subject of money and how I budget. An interesting topic at best, because when I initially got here, I very much doubted I would be able to survive.
Now, that being said, living in Spain is much, much less expensive than living in Northern Virginia. But I suppose that goes without saying, as there are a lot of places that are cheaper to live than Northern Virginia.
But it occurred to me the other day as I viewed my bank account, that I’m actually doing alright. Which is pretty cool.
It probably helps that these past three months have been quiet ones. Illness, winter, and trying to figure out life tends to fill the gaps, though I will admit to being frustrated with myself for lack of planning adventures. But, alas, I digress.
So, here’s how to survive (more or less with a healthy heaping of humor) and still get some travel in on 700 euro a month.
- Plan ahead. Flights within Europe tend to be cheapest months out, rising as the date approaches. Also look out for deals. During holidays and sporadically throughout the year RyanAir and other travel websites will have discounts or sales. Sign up for their emails and keep an eye on prices if you’re fishing.
- Budget about what you eat. Food here is relatively cheap and super fresh, but of course there are things that are higher in price. Plan your meals and only buy for that week. I usually bust about 20 euros per trip to the grocery store a week. Anything more than that, and I know I’m just spoiling myself. (Which I did this week. With a steak. Because chicken for nine months straight wears you down. It was worth it.)
- Don’t worry about alcohol. Sure, you could be much richer if you didn’t drink it. But this is the only time in your life you’re going to get a glass of wine out at a bar for .80…. like ever. (Obviously I’ve been taking my own advice.) This same rule goes for eating bread. Fresh and .40 a baguette. There’s your meal for the day.
- Pick your goals. If your goal is to travel, budget that in. I aim to set aside around 300 a month for travel, or a little bit more if I’m feeling awfully adventurous. Despite what you think, you can survive on oatmeal for breakfast everyday. It’s the college diet of noodles, eggs, and oatmeal. You can get a flight for under 70 euro. You can stay in a hostel for 20 a night. (And you can survive it.) Traveling cheap has its advantages and drawbacks, but if travel is what you truly desire, you’ll find a way to do it for nothing.
- Don’t plan on saving. I’ve had to force myself to take my own advice. The hard truth is that if you’re traveling, there won’t be money leftover. It’s either/or. So I have tried to push aside money for my end of the year trip, but with the idea that I will spend it all and leave Spain just as broke (if not more so) than I arrived.
- Take on private lessons. Applicable to any country where the first language isn’t English. People are willing to pay good money to spend time talking with a native English speaker. They want to master the language. They want you. You can do it as you travel, randomly picking some up at your hostel, or planning weekly income to add to your small horde of money. This has made a huge difference in terms of having more money to spend on travel. #thattimeireallyonlyspeakenglish.
- Side story on this one. The other day, I had a private lesson for the first time. Halfway through, we begin to discuss the gym and if I like to workout (do I?) In the sweetest fashion, she explains that she has a class she takes and Saturdays they allow you to bring a guest, and do I want to join. Only in Spain would a stranger so sweetly offer such a thing. It’s one of those things that continually catches me off guard. Because there are rude people in every country, but here in Spain I’m constantly taken back by the hospitality and random offers of kindness. From giving out a better glass of wine, to free food as the bar is closing, to offers for fun weekend trips, to free tag-along gym classes. It’s disarmingly wonderful.
- Look out for age discounts. Europe has a youth card for anyone under the age of 25 (just scraping by on that one.) Hostels, museums, and some travel companies offer discounts for being a youngin’. Don’t be afraid to ask either. You’d be surprised.
- Spend a weekend on the couch. Honestly, the best way to save money is to spend a few weekends on the couch. Cold weather and rain especially help with this. By the time you’re ready to make moves, you will be happy to note you spent a total of ten euro in one weekend. Slow clap.
Top Websites I Use for Cheap Travel
Here are some websites I use pretty much every week for planning cheap travel. Skyscanner.com, momondo.com, hostelworld.com, hostels.com, airbnb.com, pinterest.com (for itinerary’s. Tons of people post per country with tips and tricks to travel there cheaply.)
**Skyscanner is one of my favorite websites. They have an amazing tool that allows you to search for flights based on the cheapest month. I usually set my departure from Madrid and select ‘Flexible’ as my destination, and cheapest month. It gives you a list of places from cheapest to most expensive. I cannot tell you how much this has helped me choose which places I visit and when.
Letting it all go.
Before I moved to Spain, I worried about money all the time, and I was making more. What’s shocking is that now it seems so much less important. I’m not saying my financial decisions are feasible for the rest of my life. (You need savings at some point…) but for right now my paycheck is what it is, and I’ve never felt richer for being so poor. Here things that mattered back home seem less important. I’ve cut things out of my life that brought me happiness back home in exchange for other things that bring me happiness here. And in an even stranger way, I’ve learned how little you need to be happy.
Because you don’t need a lot.
I equate this idea to a week of travel. You pack your bag and do the entire journey- bus, airport, walking to your hostel. You’re back is killing you by the time you get there because you brought along about ten pounds worth of stuff you really don’t need. And you realize that as soon as the pain sets in. You didn’t need those extra four shirts. Or that set of shoes. Life makes us anticipate the things we might need. And yah, maybe sometimes you do need those extra things, but in the long run, they are just extra weight to carry on your shoulders.
I’ll be keeping all these things in mind as I make my way to Portugal this coming weekend. (Did you know? Lisbon/Portugal is one of the cheapest places to explore in Europe and the country offers so much- castles, history, beaches, charming medieval towns, and amazing food.) Me and my selfie-stick are pretty excited.
Spain will be joining the rest of the world in Daylight Savings this weekend and is celebrating the first week of Spring by raining. Happy Saturday!