Europe for Poor People- Our Tribute to Arthur Frommer!

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May 28th 2014
Published: May 28th 2014
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In 1957 Arthur Frommer changed the way people looked at travel by writing “Europe on 5 dollars a day”. It inspired a whole generation to think differently about what travel could be. By 1986 the book had become 25 dollars a day. Still a bargain price and for many who only experienced Europe through the movies, Europe became a reality instead of just a dream.

Sadly, today it is not possible. I recently saw a two week trip to Spain listed at 4,157 dollars per person not including flights and many meals. Counting in those dinners and flights I think a couple could look at a budget approaching 1000 dollars per day. As the world recovers from the Great Recession, I’m not sure everyone has included a trip to Europe into their short term travel plans.

When we began our slow motion trip around the world nearly 3 years ago, our plans were mostly directed towards the “budget” countries of the world. We are far from rich and definitely have a pretty tight budget. We toured Mexico and Central America first and then took on Southeast Asia. After two years we had made our way through 13 countries and had seen a good portion of the world. We did go over our budget of 2600 dollars a month, but not by very much. We had to sacrifice somewhat. We don’t live in luxury hotels and we don’t eat every meal in expensive restaurants. However we are able to live a pretty good life and have had uncountable adventures that easily make up for any luxuries we may feel we missed.

We always thought about Europe, but returned to reality quickly when faced with thoughts about how we could afford it on our budget.

The biggest problem we faced was housing and transportation costs. A rack rate hotel in Paris can easily be 400 dollars a night. Stay in a good area and it could be even more. Renting a car in Europe can be 600 dollars a month if you shop around. It just didn’t seem possible. If we were going to travel in Europe we would probably only be able to stay in cities that had affordable metro systems. For less than 3 dollars per day you can access any area in Rome, Paris, Barcelona or many other larger cities in Europe. You have to do a lot of walking, but most big cities in Europe pack a surprising amount of entertainment in a small area. Rome and Paris are great examples and you can easily find enough things to keep you busy for a month or more.

The cost of housing was always a tough one for us. I don’t want to advertise a specific website but we have found Airbnb to be our newest friend. We were able to find affordable places to live in each of the cities we visited. For around 1200 dollars a month we located apartments in each of the cities we visited. That is about 40 dollars per day. They were small and a little dated. They were conveniently located not far from transportation (all within one block from a metro station or bus stop). One had a view of the Vatican Dome. Our apartment in Paris was in Montmartre.

Having an apartment also helped us answer the question of cost of food. Having the ability to cook helped greatly in making ends meet. I know that most peoples idea of a vacation doesn’t include cooking and cleaning a house, but I think that the ability to spend time living as a local adds to your understanding of a country. People in other countries in general do not eat in fancy cafes 3 meals a day! It is very easy to pack a wonderful baguette packed with delicious ham and expensive cheese and loaded with fresh produce for 1/3 the cost of a less tasty version you might get in a restaurant. We ate on many a park bench located in an attractive square only five feet from a table in an expensive tourist restaurant. We even had a few customers jealously ask us where we got our sandwiches and fruit from!

Our lodging cost averages less than 20 dollars per person per day. Our food costs less than 15 per day each. It gives us about 15 dollars for entertainment per day. Admittedly we can’t go to expensive museums. Much of our days are spent walking around neighborhoods or just exploring narrow streets, beautiful beaches or sitting in gorgeous plazas and just people watching. I don’t think that we missed too many “must see” attractions though. We did not go up on the Eiffel Tower. We did not go inside the Coliseum in Rome. We did not take a sunset cruise on the Seine. However we also got by on about 100 per day in 3 of the most beautiful cities in Europe.

Our last days in Barcelona were fun and fast paced. We decided to take a quick day trip to the beautiful mountaintop monastery in Montserrat. Montserrat is located about 60 km from Barcelona and is reached by a combination of metro, train and funicular rides. The countryside outside of the city is gorgeous. The train rolls through hillsides filled with farms, castle ruins and cute villages easily visible outside the window.

We enjoyed listening to the many other tourists taking the trip and hearing their stories of adventures. They are always amazed that we have stayed in Barcelona more than a few days and that we have been in Europe for 3 months.

Santa Maria de Montserrat is a Benedictine abbey built by monks to commemorate a vision of the Virgin Mary nearly 1000 years ago. It is located 4000 feet into a rocky mountain range that is the highest point in this area of Catalonia.

The monastery is reached via a rack railway or a gondola from the small train station located in the town below. Both means of transportation are excellent and are truly amazing feats of engineering. The monastery is an important pilgrimage site for the people of Catalonia and is usually visited by students sometime during their school years. There were hundreds of excited students everywhere during our visit. Once at the monastery many trails are available for hiking, or for the less adventurous, funiculars are available to take you up to the top of the mountain or down to the caves the monks originally lived in. The views are breathtaking and the monastery is one of the nicest we have visited anywhere we have travelled. A boys’ choir performs daily. Restaurants are available and even a hotel for those who wish to stay overnight. We wished that we had more time so we could have viewed a sunset from on top of the mountain. It must be incredible.

It would be impossible to visit Barcelona and not recognize that football (soccer) is an important part of life in Catalonia. It is said that 90 percent of the people of Catalonia consider themselves Catholic, but only 20 percent actually attend church regularly. I can tell you that 100 percent of Catalonians consider themselves to be fans of FC Barcelona and on game days not many aren’t watching. We stopped in local cafes to watch a few games while in town and invariably found that if we didn’t arrive early it was standing room only. People are passionate and know the game well.

A highlight of our time in Barcelona was our visit to Camp Nou, the home of FC Barcelona. The stadium holds 99,000 people and is a virtual sellout for every home game. On non-game days the stadium is open to visitors to tour. They have a museum that holds all of the trophies acquired since the team formed in the early 1900’s. A multimedia display shows highlights of important games throughout the world. We visited the press room, stands, visitor’s locker room, team chapel and press box high above the stadium. Perhaps the highlight was walking through the passageway the players use to access the field. A recording of the fans chanting and singing is played and you can easily visualize the excitement the players must experience when entering the stadium to represent Catalonia throughout the world. Fans from all over the world visit Camp Nou and everyone from 2 years old children to 80 year old women seems to have a constant smile on their face while touring the stadium. It was truly a memorable experience for us and a fitting way to end our visit to this part of Spain.

We left Spain and Europe so we could attend our son’s graduation from San Francisco State University in California. He graduated with honors with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. We are extremely proud of him and were happy to spend a few days with him while he celebrated his achievement.

We are now back in Mexico, but that is for another blog. We completely enjoyed our trip to Europe and now know that, while it is not as cheap as Arthur Frommer found it in his day, it is still affordable for us. We had to make a few sacrifices and perhaps it wouldn’t be the trip that everyone would dream of, but for us it was a wonderful experience and a great opportunity to see some great cities from a local’s point of view. We know we will be back soon!

Additional photos below
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28th May 2014

Thanks for such an informative blog...
Congratulations to your son. Mexico seems to be your home base from which you plan forays to other countries. We enjoyed our few days there and look forward to seeing more of that country someday. But you have to return to Europe. Have you thought of house sitting? That would bring accommodation prices down.
28th May 2014

We enjoyed reading about your trip to Peru, Panama and the Yucatan, all places we enjoyed ourselves. House sitting would be great, but perhaps to planned for us right now. A good idea for the future, though. We like Mexico and feel comfortable here. It kind of feels like home, but is still exotic enough to feel like we are travelling. Thanks for reading!
29th May 2014

Your comment on our Luang Prabang brought us to your blog and boy, are we ever glad! I spent the first few paragraphs of this post nodding and smiling - we have both also wanted to spend an extended time in Europe but have struggled with the expense of it but after 6 months renting houses and cooking for ourselves in S.E. Asia, we realize that this is the way we prefer to travel. We both agree that living in an area is the best way to get to know the culture, the people, a neighbourhood. In fact, shopping for everyday requirements opens up a whole new world of understanding into a culture. What is expensive and what is cheap ? What is easily attainable and what is a luxury item? We will be mining your blogs for more information when we're ready to take that trip. Great writing and photos too. Thanks!
29th May 2014

Nice to meet you!
It's good to meet other travelers who have found longer stays to be enjoyable. We have found that shopping for groceries is fun and a great way to meet people. We always got the best recommendations for bread and meat once we got to know the local store owners in Barcelona and Rome. We always struggle a little with language but having fun with the neighbor kids or talking to an old person on a park bench to be some of our best travel memories. Thanks for reading!
29th May 2014

Look out Arthur Frommer
You've done an excellent job of outlining your budget style travel and giving people real details on how it can be done. Once we retire we will be following in your footsteps. Glad you were able to enjoy some European cities. You saw the real Paris, Rome and Barcelona. We've got good friends that have rented for several months in a small town in Southern France in the winter. They loved being there off season and have made several good friends. I'll get some details and send it to you should you be interested in going back in the winter. Eager to hear about what part of Mexico you have picked for this adventure.
29th May 2014

Wow a winter in France sounds excellent. I can't picture anything in France without lots of tourists (and we were there in a slower season). Next time we plan on seeing a little more of the countryside, I hope!.
29th May 2014
Montserrat Monastery

Montserrat Monastery
Lovely, lovely, lovely.
3rd June 2014
Gracia Neighborhood- Barcelona

How gorgeous is this building?
I have loved all your European blogs, so it's a little sad that your travels there have come to an end...but I'm now looking forward to seeing Mexico through your eyes again :)
6th June 2014
Gracia Neighborhood- Barcelona

Europe was fun for us and I'm sure we will be back soon. Mexico has become our "home away from home" and is a great base for our travels. Still no plans past the next couple of months, but we have some good ideas. Thanks for reading!

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