Spotlight on Italy

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Gondola ride in Venice.

Timehop reminded me yesterday that six years ago we were planning our first ever big vacation together; 3 weeks backpacking through Europe! We visited Amsterdam, Paris and Greece but the main focus of our trip was Italy where we spent 10 days visiting Florence, Venice, Cinque Terre, Rome and the Napili Coast. Even with the rich mix of culture throughout Europe, Italy is definitely unique!

I was recently sent an article about how to make the most of your first trip to Italy so I thought I would share a few of those tips here!

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Shopping at a street market in Florence.

  1. Remember that there’s no such thing as Italian food in Italy! What we call “Italian restaurants” – places that serve pizza, pasta and calzone – are hard to come by. As a united country, Italy is fairly young. For a large part of its history, it was a collection of individual city states, which are now called regions. Like countries, each of these regions has its own distinct cuisine. You may find places labelled as “Italian restaurants” in areas with a big tourist trade. Many of these places are overpriced, and the quality of the food fluctuates greatly. For a genuine experience of Italian cuisine, keep an open mind when looking to eat out.
  2. For a lot of your trip to Italy, you can leave your credit or debit cards in the suitcase. Most native Italians will pay for everything in their day with cash. This can be a bit of a shock for those of us who live in credit-centred economies. One thing to be aware of is problems with pickpockets, especially in the larger cities like Rome (we actually had our hotel room ransacked and robbed when we were in Rome.) To avoid having any money taken, keep your wallet somewhere secure. Or consider wearing a money belt, that’s what we did and we kept our passports on us at all times. Though I now think staying in the area we did (near the train station in Rome) had a lot to do with us getting robbed.
  3. Finally, choose a villa over a hotel if possible. Air BnB and VRBO weren’t really highly used websites when we went to Europe, but now I would absolutely book little villas/apartments over hostels. Apparently, Italian villas are an extremely popular choice of holiday accommodation in the summer. This may mean a lot of hassle to find one in a good location. Villas offer you much more privacy than a hotel, and often end up cheaper if you’re travelling with the whole family. Although you have to do your own housekeeping, typical Tuscan houses are absolutely stunning. The main set back with villas is finding the right location, so do your research. Tripadvisor is my travel bible – I tripadvisor everything!
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The beautiful Amalfi Coast.

Even though we were lucky to see a large part of Italy during our 10 days there, I’m dying to go back. We never did make it to the Tuscany region and I’d really like to go spend some time wine tasting there. Also, as with most travel, I really do feel like there’s almost never enough time to see it all.

Whatever you hope to get out of the experience, I’m sure you’ll never forget your vacation to this incredible country. I know we didn’t!

Have you ever been to Italy? Any tips for first-time travellers to the country? 

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My Top Ten Travel Experiences Thus Far!

First off, I want to share two cool travel related things with you before I launch into my post for today:

1. Maui was chosen as the #2 island for the Tripadvisor Travellers Choice Awards. Not surprised, I think we all know how much we loved it there!

2. Have you heard of Gran Canaria? I spent way too much time researching it last night! Another super cool island where you could get a combination of adventure exploring a new place and it’s amazing natural diversity while also having relaxing time on the beach. And flights to Gran Canaria are easy to secure. I’m telling you, after our trip to Maui I am 100% convinced that island life is the best life and I cannot wait to do more island hopping on future vacations. With it’s Sahara like deserts, tropical beaches, lakes and mountains, Gran Canaria sounds pretty darn amazing.

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Gran Canaria — source

OK, onto the meat of today’s post….

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I was recently working on a freelance article about travelling as a student and I also really enjoyed reading Stephany’s recent post about playing the what if game. One of my biggest “regrets” (oh how I hate that word) or ‘what if’s’ is wishing I’d travelled more while in university or even taken the plunge and studied abroad.

Instead, I spent all of my extended breaks from school working my butt off, sometimes working two jobs. Not that having a good work ethic is a bad thing obviously but I’m certainly not much further ahead money wise now than I would have been if I hadn’t worked quite so hard and done more travelling during those extended breaks from school.

Anyways, like Stephany said, the ‘what if’ game can eat you alive if you play it too much so I’m going to try and avoid that and instead focus on all the travelling I have been blessed enough to do, especially in the last five years.

So here are my top 10 travel experiences thus far in life!

1. Seeing the Eiffel Tower for the first time in Paris 

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Our first view of the Eiffel Tower was from afar as we walked towards it.

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We only got close up to the Eiffel Tower at night on that trip! I want to go back to Paris one day and take the classic photo from the Trocadero.

2. Hiking in Cinque Terre

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Stunning and amazing. Words and photos can’t describe how beautiful and amazing this hike was. Around every corner there was another stunning view.

3. Visiting the Acropolis in Athens 

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The history of Europe is what wowed us both the most during our trip there. Everything is so old and so famous and so stunning. The acropolis was no exception.

4. Surfing in Tofino 

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Surfing in Canada?! Whaaa?! Seriously though, surfing in Tofino was one of the highlights of our honeymoon. We both loved surfing and spent two full days out on the water!

5. Running the Chicago Marathon 

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Running through the streets of Chicago with 40,000 other people at one of the biggest marathons in the world? Unforgettable experience.

6. Hiking along the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland 

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We were so lucky that it was the most beautiful, sunny day when we visited the Cliffs of Moher! Absolutely perfect weather to go for a 10km hike and marvel at the stunning views.

7. Standing on the shores of the Loch Ness in Scotland 

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Like the Eiffel Tower it’s one of those things you hear about your entire life until suddenly one day you are there and it’s so surreal and epic and unforgettable.

8. Biking across the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco 

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I highly recommend doing this bike ride if you go to San Francisco. We had SO much fun. I can’t wait to visit again one day, this time with Eric in tow!

9. Watching the sunrise at 10,000 feet above sea level on the Haleakala Crater 

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Completely worth getting up at 2:30am for. Absolutely epic experience and like nothing else I’ve ever done before. Click here to read more about this amazing experience!

10. Snorkelling with sea turtles in Maui 

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I really can’t say enough about how cool this experience was. Snorkelling while we were in Maui was such a low-cost, fun activity. It was so so cool when these beautiful creatures would come swim right alongside us.

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Honourable mentions; wandering through the Red Light District in Amsterdam, taking a gondola ride in Venice, hiking to Garibaldi Lake in Whistler, scuba diving in Cancun, taking a black cab tour in Belfast, visiting the Giants Causeway, carrick-a-rede rope bridge and dark hedges in Northern Ireland, camping on the Shuswap an hour from my house, visiting Churchill Downs in Kentucky.

In an upcoming TWATA blog post I’m going to share how we budget for travel and how we’ve managed to take a large-ish trip every year for the last five years and save up to pay cash for all of them — because trust me, they weren’t cheap! Just read this blog post to see the total price tag of all the above experiences and more.

What are your top travel experiences? Do you have a favourite island? What is it?   

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The real cost of travel

We are off to Maui today! Whoo! I am so looking forward to this vacation. Can you guys believe we have absolutely nothing planned. Not a single thing. Other than spending hours researching a condo rental I haven’t even spent much time doing research for the trip. I’m so excited to just spend 6 days doing whatever we feel like – whether that’s driving around the island exploring or just laying on the beach!

I thought now would be a good time to share this post i’ve been working on about the real cost of travel (for us). I heard a segment on the radio the other day about a woman who was trying to start a #realselfie movement where she doesn’t just post about the awesome thing she’s doing and buying but also the cost of them. In our social media driven world we spend a lot of time seeing all the things people have and the exciting lives people lead – or what small glimpses they choose to share with us that is. However, we also know we are living in a world where a lot of people have a lot of debt. What we don’t see behind the glimpses of these amazing lives is the mountains of debt some people have or accumulate trying to “have it all”.

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I have no problem sharing that the only debt we have is our truck loan and mortgage. That said, we could have afforded a down payment on a bigger house (something we talk about a lot) or we could have no truck loan or we could have paid down A LOT more of our mortgage with all the money we spent on travel. But that’s the trade off. You can’t have it all. Well, maybe some people do but they are super savers and scrimpers and we’re just not like that – we like our Friday night takeout, our gym memberships and I like the occasional mani/pedi 🙂

Anyways, onto the post…

It’s no secret that Eric and I love to travel. Together we’ve visited 10 countries over the 10 years we’ve been together and we are regularly talking about other places we both want to visit all over the world. Our travel bucket list is long. We will get to it all one day!

At the same time, it’s also no secret that traveling can be $$$. Actually, regardless of how savvy you are or how much you budget I think traveling is considered an extravagant expense.

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At the same time, as we both move into our late twenties and start talking about things like starting a family and our hopes to buy a house (we currently own our townhouse but we would like a place where we aren’t attached to our neighbours one day) we can’t help but think about our cost of travel over the years.

So I thought in the hopes of being completely honest and transparent on the blog, I would share the real cost of our travel over the last five years. We have taken one trip per year and I’m including the approximate costs of each of those trips below.

Also I’m only including the trips Eric and I have taken together. I’ve been lucky enough to take a few extra trips with the girls on top of these like my trip to Minneapolis to visit Lisa and my trips to Chicago and San Francisco for girls running weekends! I don’t actually have the budget breakdown from those trips but I would say ~ $1,000 – 1,500 each is a good estimate.

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Breakdown of trips (these are approximate numbers! I am pretty good at keeping track of trip costs but not down to the exact penny).

  • 2010 – backpacking around Europe (Amsterdam, Paris, Venice, Florence, Cinque Terre, Rome, Sorrento, Athens) ~ $10,000
  • 2011 – Florida! Whirlwind 5-day trip to Orlando, Florida to visit Harry Potter World! ~ $3,000
  • 2012 – Honeymoon in Tofino! This was a way more extravagant trip than any other one because hello, it’s our honeymoon! Plus this was mostly paid for by our generous wedding guests so I don’t really count it in our overall trip spending because we didn’t have to save for it, but in the interest of transparency: ~ $5,000
  • 2013 – Cancun, Mexico – one week in an all inclusive with a couple of excursions tagged on. ~ $3,000
  • 2014 – Amazing bucket list trip all around Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland for two weeks! ~ $8,000
  • 2015 – heading to the Island of Maui in Hawaii very soon for a 6-day visit. ~$4,000

Total (- the honeymoon) = $28,000 (please keep in mind this is in Canadian (CAD) dollars!) 

Oh hey, house down payment. If you throw in the honeymoon and my girl’s trips you’re looking at around $36,000+

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Well for that first Europe trip we saved for three years leading up to it. Same thing with Ireland and Scotland – for the really big trips we started saving well over a year before the actual trip. Since we’ve technically been saving for all the travel since about 2008 that’s 84 months of saving time. Divide that by the total cost of all our trips and that’s only $333 a month. And that’s for two people! Even if you add in the girls trips and the honeymoons that’s only $452 a month. So really $225 per person a month. I think most people could find that money if they really wanted to…

Also we don’t really eat out or do a ton of local entertainment. Our ‘entertainment’ budget is $200 per month for both of us – that includes all eating out, alcohol purchased etc. And when we get close to a trip we scale that back to $100 a month and put the extra $100 towards a trip. I’m sure most people would be pretty shocked if they added up how much things like eating out cost every month.

Our generous families also know how much we love to travel so they give us money for graduations, Christmases, birthdays etc. It’s so so appreciated because all that extra money immediately gets plopped directly into our travel savings account.

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Oh and finally it’s no coincidence we always travel in the spring – hello tax returns! We also live in a very reasonably priced home (our mortgage and utilities is only about 16% of our income) and we only recently (last July) got a second vehicle and took on a vehicle payment.

So there you have it. The real cost of travel. I hear a lot of people tell us how jealous they are of our travels but I think it’s important to talk about the sacrifices we’ve made to be able to afford it – we don’t really shop (I started trying to add up all our clothing related purchases in a year but it was getting too tedious to go through all our bank statements. I would say we spend around $1,000 a year on clothes between the two of us), we don’t go out to eat, we never go out for drinks (that’s way too expensive! We’d rather drink at home.), we don’t really take many mini weekend trips other than camping in the summer etc.

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And of course that big price tag I just put on it all really puts it into perspective. Sometimes I look at other people our age and see the beautiful homes they live in or are buying but then I remember that we could be there too if we hadn’t prioritized travel. Also, for all that money we could have not traveled every single year and just saved for five years and then taken an epic round-the-world-trip.

But don’t get me wrong, I have zero regrets about the way we’ve done things. Those experiences are so worth it. I can’t even describe the feeling of seeing the Eiffel Tower for the first time, or standing overlooking the Atlantic Ocean on the Cliffs of Moher or even the joy and love I felt for my husband (then fiance!) while we sat side-by-side in a booth at Bahama Breeze in Orlando getting tipsy and laughing together after a day spend exploring Harry Potter World.

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And on that note, we’re off to Maui! I won’t be blogging while we’re away so stay up-to-date with us by following me on Instagram.

Happy Easter!

How important is travel to you when it comes to budgeting? 

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