Adding it All Up – Our Expense Summary of 90 Days in Europe

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How Much Does It Cost for A Family of Three to Travel Europe – 20 Countries – 90 Days?

One of our hopes in taking on this 9-month adventure around the globe was, in part, to show that it is doable. For many, the biggest stated obstacle is the financial one. I believe, while the financial hurdle is real, there is a technical fix to that problem and hope to lay out our trip budget to diminish the perceived barrier that people use in citing why they could never pull something like this off in their lives. I believe the real obstacle for many is the change (or adaptive) hurdle that they’ve created for themselves and their lives that has them believing they couldn’t take a leave from their jobs or are paralyzed about how to take the first step to shift gears in life.

First, it’s important to note that we are fortunate. Sarah and I have held jobs for most of our adult lives and were able to pay off student debt early on. While neither Sarah or I came from places of wealth, we’ve been fairly astute with some real estate opportunities and we live a mostly frugal lifestyle (for example, our cars are 20, 12 and 7 years old, we don’t have cable tv, we still buy quite a bit off of Craigslist instead of buying new and we’ve done most of the remodel work ourselves on our homes). With that, I don’t take this next sentence lightly. We spent $23,298 for the three of us to get to and travel through Europe for 90 days. That’s $258.87 per day, $7,766 per person, or $86.29 per person/day. I should note that “three of us” means Sarah and I and our sixteen-year-old son.

That is a boatload of money anyway I look at it. It’s also 50% more than the hopeful $15,000 that we had originally budgeted for the Europe leg of the trip. I felt like I needed to justify and contextualize the new realized cost in my mind and looked up some comparative costs.

$24,915: The cost of a new Mazda Miata convertible (the only mid-life crisis car I would really be able to afford – I’d rather have an Audi R8!)

$20,556: The average U.S. kitchen remodel

$26,645: The average cost of a U.S. wedding

$66,000: The amount we would have in 20 years if we invested $25,000 with a 5% return (but there is no guarantee that we would have the physical stamina to travel at that age nor that the cost of living/traveling wouldn’t also increase at somewhat similar rates nor that the world would be the same place it is today).

One of my goals for this trip was to try to track our costs. I’ve actually done a good job of it and have logged every expense in an Excel spreadsheet from the beginning. I broke down the costs by country and into the main categories of flight, other transportation, lodging, food, and other expenses.  The dollar was trading at approximately $1.05 to $1.10 to the Euro at the time of travel. I converted at the debit/credit card statement levels when available and at a more conservative 1.10 Euro to Dollar when we paid in cash. The break-down of the overall costs are as follows:

Flights $2,313.25 (average per day cost of $25.70)

RV Camper Rental $5,298.00 (average per day cost of $58.87)

Transportation $4,449.14 (average per day cost of $49.43)

Lodging $4,779.48 (average per day cost of $53.11)

Food $4,330.02 (average per day cost of $48.11)

Other $2,128.13 (average per day cost of $23.65)

Total $23,298 (average total per day cost of $258.87)

Flights:

Includes one-way flights for three adults from Minneapolis to Reykjavik, Iceland, from there to Stockholm, Sweden, and from there to Dusseldorf, Germany. In addition, we booked round-trip flights from Paris, France to Tenerife (Canary Islands), Spain.

RV Camper Rental:

We picked up the RV Camper Rental 10 days into our trip in Dusseldorf, Germany and rented it for 78 days of the Europe trip.

Transportation:

This total figure of $4,449.14 includes rental cars, fuel, ferries, city transit, trains and tolls for our travels.  Of this expense, we ended up spending $2,460.16 in fuel costs and $620.94 in tolls.  The remaining $1,368.04 was spent on ferries, rental cars (Iceland + Canary Islands), and public transit while in cities.

Lodging:

We spent $4,779.48 in lodging costs.  Of that, almost half of the cost ($2,275.68) was for hotels for 19 of the 90 travel days at an average of $119.77 per night. The remaining 71 nights were spent in the camper van for a total cost of $2,395.69 for an average per night cost of $33.74 a night. To truly compare these two, one would need to appropriate a portion (part car rental/part lodging) of the $67.92/day cost the RV camper cost for that time period. A reasonable estimate of the pro rata cost would be 50% ($2,649 or $33.96/day). Adding these two figures, puts the per night Camper stay average cost at $67.70/night.

Food:

We spent a total of $4,330,02 (or an average of $48.11/day) food along the way. Includes restaurants, groceries, snacks, or drinks. We spent a total of $1,798.42 of that amount on groceries and $516.84 on snacks, breakfast rolls/bread, or drinks. We ate out at restaurants for a total of 49 times (either lunch or dinner, representing approximately ¼ of all lunches and dinners while traveling) for a total of $2,335.39 or an average of $47.66 per restaurant visit.

Other:

The $2,128.13 includes things like museum and park entrance fees ($1,300), a few items of clothing ($125), sim cards ($100), haircuts ($75), bike rentals ($165), laundry ($100), bank fees ($95), and miscellaneous household items needed for the RV camper early on ($280).

Where could we have saved money along the way?

Big cost locations

21 days spent traveling Iceland, Stockholm, Paris, and the Canary Islands had a disproportionate expense amount of $7,095.66 (or $337.89 per day average). The average cost for each of these locations were:

  • Iceland (7 days): $299.23 per day average
  • Stockholm, Sweden (3 days): $337.89 per day average
  • Paris, France (7 days): $332.20 per day average (added guest making us 4 instead of 3 people)
  • Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain (4 days): $439.39 (added guest making us 4 instead of 3 people)

If we take those locations out of the equation and back into a new average, our total cost would be $21,133 (or $234.81 average per day). In hindsight, I wouldn’t have sacrificed any of these locations or experiences, but we would have saved money.

Lodging at camper sites

There are a few blogs out there where campers focus only on “wild” camping (or finding campsites where you can camp for free.  Realistically, one would still probably need to pay to camp at a location with facilities (electricity, water, waste dump, etc.) every 4-5 days, but this cost could be significantly reduced. We probably would have done it more often if not for need of wifi access (see below). Contractually we were also obliged to stay in certified campsites that provided gated security. 

Wifi at camping sites

I didn’t track this one as well as I should have, but estimate that $400 of the total $2,395.69 in RV Camping costs was for the added costs of wifi at these sites. Many of the campsites charge a 4-6 Euro fee per day, per device. Yes, that means we spent sometimes 18 Euro a day for internet. Arguably, it should be included in the cost of the campsites. Alternatively, if we applied that amount to a global data plan on our cellphones we might have been better off…or potentially not. In hindsight, despite our trying to not be tethered to our devices the wifi was absolutely necessary for our family sanity and our ability to “escape” one another for periods of time – especially in the evening.

Tolls

We could have probably avoided over $500 of the toll road costs by taking alternative roads (some of the bridges and tunnels couldn’t have been avoided), but it would have added time and potential stresses as many of the alternative roads would have taken us through small towns in a cumbersome RV camper.

Restaurants

Had we not eaten out for those 49 lunches or dinners, I’m guessing we could have saved another $1,000 to $1,250 in total food related costs, but would have sacrificed on the culture and experience front.

Bank fees

Approximately $100 is relatively small amount in the big scheme of things, but international bank fees (not on my credit card, but on my bank card when I needed to use it) chaps my arse. I’m sure I could have figured this out a bit better prior to leaving. European banking uses the chip card with password. If you want cash, you have to have a pin and in some places using a pin is the only way to use a card. We both have credit cards that do not charge international fees, but our bank cards (with the pins) do charge.

If we cut the above items out of our trip and chose to be even more frugal on a few other items, we probably could have gotten pretty close to our original budget of $15,000 for three for the three months that we traveled Europe. That being said, I don’t have any regrets for how we played it, and am comfortable knowing that costs are much less expensive in SE Asia.

While $23,000 is a lot of money for us (and others) I still don’t think it’s the only obstacle facing many households from an experience like this.  Rather, it’s the barriers (work, relationships, family, obligations) we self-construct that keep us from leaning into the opportunity. If you are someone who knows this wouldn’t be a good fit, I’m not going to try or want to convince you otherwise.  But, on the other hand, I would challenge anyone who has the desire, but only talks of the obstacles to take the first couple hard steps in the direction. It was difficult for us as well, but the multiple steps begin momentum toward actually pulling it off. Before we knew it, we were booking tickets, informing employers, notifying schools, and sharing the news with friends. At that point, the rest falls into place….well, because it has to.

Note: I’m hopeful this information was helpful, and I’d be happy to go deeper if anyone has more questions about the financial aspect of this trip. I plan on continuing the financial analysis as we move through SE Asia and South/Central America. Check back as I report for each segment, as well as provide a final summary of all costs incurred over the nine months.

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3 thoughts on “Adding it All Up – Our Expense Summary of 90 Days in Europe

  1. Many people have asked us how we had afforded to go to Europe with the kids. Since we had very little money at the time we just said ” Because we could”. Actually we just sold our home and land in Nisswa, Mn. We did have a conflict with Spanish banking when they held back our money when we sent to our bank in Mn to send money for tickets to come home. We ended up having our home banker buy the tickets on a ship leaving from Malaga in December, a bad time to travel by sea but we were responding to a family emergency at home. We shipped a motor home having talked a government official into granting us a ” genuine Spanish document”. We then hopped off in Nova Scotia and drove home through Canada and entered the U. S. at Suite Saint Marie in case we didn’t have enough money to pay import tax on our treasures. Luckily, the border official opened the back door, saw our stuffing and closed it saying, “this is a lesson in linguistics, carry on”. Maybe there is a God after all.

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  2. Thanks Jeff for sharing. Quality number crunching too! May not be useful, but the app Trail Wallet is how I track my expenses. It converts, allows for categorization of expenses, and the data can be exported. Your language about self-constructured barriers is spot on. I believe that is an even bigger hurdle. Thanks for sharing and here is to coming in under budget in SEA. I was on/under $60 per day relatively easily.

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