When I was growing up, the concept of going on vacation meant that when our dad had a week off from work we would all get into the car and drive for 8 hours to spend a few days with both sets of our grandparents. While there, we might take a picnic to the lake or walk through the woods but otherwise it wasn’t all that different from being at home except that our mother might not have to cook. Those trips continued until I started high school and got a part time job at the public library which changed everything. The responsibility of my first real salaried job meant that I couldn’t necessarily accompany my parents and I was now immersed in a world of books, one of which caught my eye immediately, “Europe on 5 Dollars A Day”, subtitled, “A guide to inexpensive travel.” Genuine vacations were about to begin.
Perhaps it really was possible to eat, sleep, and travel locally on $5 a day in 1957 when the first edition of the book was published but even then, flying to a European capital was going to add a lot to the bottom line. When Bill and I started flying to Paris on an annual basis the ticket price always seemed to average about $1200 per person round-trip even if the class of service name changed regularly. We remember it being called coach, main cabin, leisure, travel, basic, and economy. Once the word “comfort” was added as an option we found it worth the extra money for a little more legroom. Being able to choose our seats was important so as soon as we would return from a European flight we would start planning the next one for a year later hoping to secure our favorite spots once seats were available, about 11 months in advance.
I recently read an article about how to find inexpensive airplane tickets; what day to buy them, what hour to look for them, and what day to travel. The author’s conclusion was that the best day was “any day that you find them” suggesting that you never know when a good price will pop up. Having said that, he admitted that the data from his own employer, a huge travel agency, still points to buying your air tickets on a Sunday and flying on a Wednesday to get the lowest price.
Here, we use trains for long distance travel and we still manage to get the seats we want even if those aren’t generally released more than 3 to 4 months out. Our Senior Railcard, at 49€ per year gives us a discount that makes traveling in First Class seem like a bargain that is even extended to any food or drink that we purchase onboard. In our region of Occitanie, lots of the local trains that make stops where the faster express trains do not have a fare of 1€ and while not discounted by our Railcard, a day out for 2€ is still a great value.
Fortunately for me, Bill enjoys searching for accommodations long before we need them which has put us in an entire castle to ourselves for ¼ the cost of later in the year, at an intown mansion with more square meters/feet than our own home for 121€ a night, and at a harborside 3-story fisherman’s “cottage” in Normandy with the fresh catch of the day on our doorstep each morning. It’s nice to have a kitchen where you can at least brew that first pot of coffee before breakfast or those evenings where all you really want is a big green salad for dinner. We now have the luxury of searching for the ideal place to stay, sometimes at an advantageous price, and then looking for how we’re going to get there. It might mean staying over one night along the way or searching out the best ferry connection, but at least we have the time.
The idea for today’s post came from blog reader Sandy, thank you, who said in her comment that about ⅓ of their monthly expenditures goes for travel. We’re right there with you! Prior to Covid, that figure was closer to ¼ but one of the reasons we moved to Carcassonne was to easily travel throughout Europe and we’re finding it well worth it.
Historical note: That $5 a day book mentioned above evolved into $10, then $20, and ended in 2007 when it was $95 per day. According to an inflation calculator, $5 in 1957 is equivalent in purchasing power to about $53 today.
Photo notes: That’s the harbor at Port-en-Bessin-Huppain in Normandy across the top of today’s post and in the first paragraph is Mont Saint-Michel.