A Fantastic & Frugal Foreign Foray

Hello and welcome back, my loyal(?) readers! I found myself a bit less motivated to write this blog these last few weeks, mostly because I was low on things to say. “Uh…save money by…not spending it?”

But! This weekend I went on an awesome vacation that cost me about $200 all-in. Traveling is one of my absolute favorite things to do – I love getting to know new cities, meeting new people, seeing new places. However, it can also be extremely expensive, especially when you, like me, dream of seeing places like Istanbul and Reykjavik, where the plane ticket alone will push you into the four figures.

Luckily, you can get a lot of that same excitement from going somewhere close to home that you’ve never been before, as long as you approach it the same way. When I’m abroad, I like to spend most of my time wandering the streets, popping into random stores and generally soaking in the feeling of a place. Somewhere within a few hundred miles might not be as unfamiliar, but it can be just as new. Here in Washington, we’re lucky to be a few hundred miles from the exotic nation of CANADA! So we went to Calgary.

It was 75 and sunny all weekend, so basically life was perfect.

It was 75 and sunny all weekend, so basically life was perfect.

Without further ado, a recap of my cheap and excellent adventure. 

The first and most important thing: we drove. Plane tickets are always expensive. We went to a city about 8 hours north, but with three people splitting the price of gas, it was around $30/each. And it was a pretty drive, which helps a ton. My friends humored me and stopped at a random roadside pub for dinner – small town restaurants are one of my favorite things, and this one was no exception.

Also, we rented on AirBnB. I love that site; I think it’s a blast to stay in a unique place in a neighborhood rather than in a cookie-cutter hotel. Plus, most rentals will have a full kitchen, which saves major moolah, and it’s usually cheaper than a hotel – we paid $72/each for three nights in a one-bedroom a 15-minute walk from downtown.

Bridgeland Market = the cutest

Bridgeland Market = the cutest

We had coffee at the apartment (frugal point) and then walked to an adorable neighborhood market I had Googled. My breakfast of a nectarine and the most incredible scone I’ve ever eaten – seriously, I think it was pure butter – was $5. A budget win and insanely delicious. The owner gave us very detailed instructions of how to spend our day in Calgary, and we headed off.

Most of the day was spent just wandering (plus stopping for a casual mimosa), which is how I like it, because without wandering you don’t find the most incredible things.

After a lunch of sparkling water (in Canada, they ask, “sparkling or flat?”) and delicious sandwiches on a restaurant patio in a lovely park in the middle of downtown – great recommendation, grocery store friend – we journeyed home on the light rail. Nice work with that public transit, Canada.

Screen shot 2015-05-27 at 10.10.10 PMWe had initially meant to go out that evening, but then were seduced by the kitchen and the porch and the cable television. A journey back to the adorable market for some dinner fixin’s meant we had an amazing salad and bread with oil & vinegar, plus we got to watch House Hunters International, a rare treat when you don’t pay for cable. We explored our neighborhood, bought some cider to enjoy on the porch – the sun didn’t go down until 9:30! – and then played a game of Scrabble and watched Once Upon a Time. It was delightful.

Sunday brought us to the Food Truck Frenzy, which was exactly as wonderful as it sounds. There were tons of food trucks and live music and the weather continued to be perfect. We walked for about six miles and I’m pretty sure one of my friends was ready to disown me, but I think getting around on foot is the best way to see a city. Plus we ended up at a great bookstore, with free tea in the back and a casual classical guitar performance, and found the Olympic Plaza wading pool on the way back.

That evening, I made my friends go to one particular bar I had found online that had swing dancing, so I could force people to dance with me. It was the best. I had a giant beer (the glass was the size of my head, it was ridiculous) and danced with strangers.

Holding my friend's BABY!

Holding my friend’s BABY!

On Monday morning, I had breakfast with the girl I used to be best friends with and hadn’t seen in more than EIGHT YEARS. She moved away in March of our sophomore year of high school, and this weekend I finally got to see her again, plus meet her husband and their two month old baby girl! I love babies, and this one was particularly awesome. It was really cool to get the chance to finally see this friend again, and even though so much has changed for both of us in the intervening years, she was also just the same. I love reunions.

And then it was time to take off. We drove through Banff, a gorgeous national park west of Calgary, visited the Fairmont Hotel, which is basically a fairytale castle, and made the long journey south, getting home around 8:30 on Monday.

Since this is a blog about having an awesome life (and this trip was, indeed, awesome) while not spending giant piles of money, this was my spending for the weekend:

Lodging: $72
Gas: $30
Food/alcohol: $104
Other: $6
TOTAL: $212

For three days out of the country, in which I ate well, explored a beautiful place, had a great time with friends, and got to experience somewhere completely new. That’s what I call money well spent!

Until next time, Canada!

Until next time, Canada!


8 thoughts on “A Fantastic & Frugal Foreign Foray

    • Stacking Twenties says:

      I have an annual amount that I sort of mentally bookmark for travel, when calculating what I expect my savings rate to be. This trip was paid for out of my checking account since it was fairly minimal – if I were going to go on a four-figure trip abroad I’d be more likely to do more intensive budgeting ahead of time and save for that outside of my typical savings.

      Currently, my money setup is: I have a savings account of a couple grand that I don’t touch. It’s there in case I suddenly need a really expensive car repair or dental work or something. I have my checking account, which usually has a few hundred dollars in it after I pay rent – more than enough to cover whatever I might decide to spend money on in that pay period (basically all of my entertainment costs, utilities, and groceries). All of my additional savings go into index funds (in addition to my 401k that comes straight out of my paycheck). I’ve set up my life so that I live at right around the minimum-wage level and make about twice that, so my monthly savings is significantly more than the $200 this trip cost, which is a long way of saying that when I have a trip like this, it just lowers the amount that I’m able to put into investments that month, rather than actually coming out of savings.

      However, for someone who hasn’t been as obsessive with their bank account for years as I have, I would definitely recommend a little bit more careful approach. I think it’s a great idea to plan ahead for the trips you want to take in the next 6-12 months and figure out where the money for them comes from. Some people might even find it helpful to start a separate savings account at their bank and send a certain amount of their paycheck there to fund vacations, especially if travel is important to them, even if they don’t have trips planned already.

      Liked by 1 person

      • rockerpult says:

        Have you heard of YNAB? You Need A Budget? It’s a budgeting software, it asks you to assign every dollar every month to categories. It was less intimidating to me than a blank excel spreadsheet template.

        I put a little away every month, but I’m going to start using this software for the month of June to see how and where it all goes. I’m going to give myself $100 for groceries, which will be a challenge because junk food.

        Hopefully I’ll learn something about how I spend money.


      • Stacking Twenties says:

        Yes, I’ve heard great things about YNAB. I haven’t used it myself (I use mint) but it’s supposedly great. And it’s really helpful to have a detailed understanding of your spending.

        $100 for groceries is tight but definitely doable. Good luck!


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