Vacationing vs. living like locals: Can we afford an extended stay in Europe?

For the past few days, Tony and I have been going over an idea that might be completely insane.

I’ve written a lot about our plan for a two-week vacation in Europe next May. Both of us always wished we’d taken the opportunity to study abroad in college, and this vacation seemed like the next best thing — one last big trip before we start our family.

One thing has continued to plague me, though. We didn’t really want a vacation. We didn’t want to stay in hotels and live like tourists for a whirlwind two-week trip. We wanted the opportunity to live like locals, absorb the culture, and experience life in another part of the world. We don’t want to move abroad permanently, though. Living 800 miles from family is hard enough; I can’t imagine living an ocean away.

While talking about this, we started considering a crazy idea.

Tony will finish student teaching in December 2010. It’ll be another 4-6 months before he can start looking for teaching jobs for the following fall. We were already wondering how to spend that time. What if we spent two or three of those months in Europe, living like locals instead of tourists?

Obviously, two or three months in Europe will cost more than 2 weeks. But after doing some research, I’m surprised to discover the difference isn’t that huge. Living like a tourist costs $200-$400 a day with restaurant meals, hotels, and excessive travel. Living like a local costs much less, and since we’d be there in the late winter/early spring, everything would cost less than we’d pay in May, the beginning of the high season.

Our biggest expense would be housing. Renting a furnished apartment in France is less expensive per night than a hotel, but still more expensive than we’d pay in normal rent. We’d likely spend about $425 a week on housing or $1700 a month (utilities included). Ouch. But we could make up for the high cost of housing by cooking our own food, avoiding expensive tourist activities, and living frugally.

Based on rough calculations, we’d need to save $7,500 – $10,000 for two months in Europe. Here’s the breakdown:

Airfare: $1200
Housing/utilities: $3400
Food: $800
Travel: $500 (Trains, bus fare, etc.)
Fun stuff: $800
Total: $6700

I added up all of our regular living expenses that we’ll have to pay while we’re away. We’d be paying these expenses whether we were traveling or not, but I’m including them since travel will delay our job search:

Debt: $400
Travel health insurance: $250? I’ve done some research, but not enough to have a solid estimate.
Cell phone: $200
Total: $850

Based on these calculations, we’d need $7,550 to pay for the trip and our living expenses. I’d be more comfortable if we could save a full $10,000, which would give us a nice cushion when we return to cover our living expenses without using our emergency fund.

That means we’d have to save an additional $1,550 -$4,000 on top of our emergency fund and the $6,000 we already planned to save for Europe. We’d have an extra 7 months to do it. If we really buckle down and put every extra penny into savings, I think we can meet that goal and then some.

Maybe it’s just a pipe dream. It’s certainly not practical at all, but I kind of like the idea of doing something a little crazy and impractical before we settle down and live like adults — as long as we don’t add to our debt or spend our emergency fund. I can think of a million more practical uses for $7,500 — debt repayment, part of a down payment on a house, paying cash for a used car, an extra plush emergency fund. None of them are as appealing to me as this once in a lifetime experience.

So what do you think? Are we completely out of our minds?

15 thoughts on “Vacationing vs. living like locals: Can we afford an extended stay in Europe?

  1. Shelly

    I don’t think you’re crazy, but you’ll need to up the cost for the trains. $500.00 isn’t nearly enough if you plan to go to a few countries during this time. Have you looked into swapping your place now with someone from where you are planning to go? That could lower your housing cost by a great deal. I think by doing alot of research you could do it. good luck!

  2. Liz

    I think you should do it! Though you will really have to save money on top of your already frugal lifestyle, the memories you’ll have and the friends you’ll make are worth far more than the money you’ll save.

    I spent four months living in Grenoble, France, a city in the Alps which has great public transportation and is close to a major airport (Lyons). My friend lived in Nice for two months while another spent the same amount of time in Paris. The key to spending less money while still getting the cultural experience is going to smaller cities. Though, this all depends on what you want to do while you’re there. If you want to go to the big Paris sites, then you can either live there or consider taking a couple weekend trips (train tickets aren’t too terribly expensive). If you just want to absorb the culture, then a smaller city or even an average town would be perfect since there would be fewer tourists around all of the time.

    Maybe you could also look into teaching English at local schools while you’re there for some added income. Native English speakers are always in demand for teaching children the language. Why not look into it?

    I hope this was helpful! Whether you decide to go stay for a few months or just a few weeks, I know you’ll love every minute of it.


  3. claire

    Hmmm, I can see why you are really excited about this plan, but just to play devil’s advocate, here are a few other things to consider.

    1. what will you do for the months that you’re in living in France? Will you try and look for work? have you looked into getting a visa? are you eligible for a visa? if you don’t work, will you get bored after a while? even the locals work!

    2. I know that right now you view the time in europe as once in a lifetime, but what if you end up regretting the decision to come and wish that you had used the money for other things that you describe in your post?

    3. Will you be able to enjoy the trip knowing that Tony doesn’t have a job lined up back in the States?

    4. Is Tony looking to teach at a University? Could he sign up to be part of their study abroad program? Perhaps you guys could live overseas and the University could help with a lot of the expenses and admin. (My husband and I are hoping to do this in 5 years or so).

    I’m an american who has lived in America for the last 3.5 years, feel free to email me if you have any specific questions about living overseas.

  4. EastTXmom

    Of course you’ve lost your minds! :) But in a god way. Why not do this now before you start a family? You’re both young and debt free and you don’t spend money without thinking about it. Go for it!

    Clare did offer some good ideas and concerns and since she has offered to let you bounce ideas off her I’d definitely take her up on her offer.

    Also, what about Howie (?) Will he be staying with family or in a kennel?

    Take care & keep us updated!

  5. Margot

    Sounds like a great idea to me. It’s almost always good to think outside of our narrow American lives and to do things that increase your exposure to the world, break you out of daily habits, and create lifelong memories. The only caveat I would add is that perhaps you can use the extended trip as motivation to really get your finances in shape before you go. If I were you, my main focus would be earning more money prior to the trip to 1) ensure that you hit the $10,000 goal and 2) create a big financial pad to take care of unexpected issues while you are away and to have a financial safety net when you return to the U.S. I know you’ve written in several blog posts about how you’ve decided not to work extra because you both value time together as a couple more these days. However, the working extra (for both of you where ever and however it could be fit into your schedules) could be confined to a finite period – maybe 3 months. And you’d certain make up for the lost time together with 2 months of 100% time together in Europe.

  6. Karen

    Wow! Thanks so much for the feedback everyone! We still have so much time to plan, these are exactly the kinds of things I want to be thinking about before we decide if this is possible.

    @Shelly Thanks for the tip! We were really only looking to travel to London and maybe Amsterdam, so I looked into train tickets for those locations and estimated based on that. We may end up changing it up if we decide we can do more traveling while we’re over there.

    @Liz Great suggestions! We’ll look into teaching English as a second language, and I’m currently doing research on small towns outside of the big cities where we might stay.

    @Clare Great questions to consider! We weren’t planning on working during our time there. Realistically, we’d be looking at probably about 2 months, which in my opinion isn’t enough time put down roots. So we’d have to save enough to live on without bringing in additional income. Part of the appeal is that it would be extended time off before we start working again. I would also be open to looking for freelance writing jobs for both of us so we could bring in a little extra money that way.

    As far as regretting it, that’s a big part of the reason we’re putting so much thought into it. If there’s any chance that we’ll view it as a mistake later, we’ll probably decide not to do it. As of right now, the only scenario I can see us regretting would be if we blew ALL of our savings or put ourselves into debt. Those are two scenarios that we have already agreed will not happen due to this trip.

    You’re right that knowing Tony won’t have a job lined up when we return may be a concern. One of the biggest reasons we’re considering this is that Tony will be looking for full-time high school teaching jobs, which means he’ll have a number of months before he can start his job search. We don’t know where we want to live, but we know we want to be close to family, so part of our plan is to stay with family when we return while we look for jobs anywhere and everywhere. We want to send resumes to multiple places and move where ever we find the best offer, but we don’t want to burden family by staying with them for an extended period of time. This trip would give us a place to go in the interim.

    @EastTXMom Since we’ll be moving from our current town, Howie would be staying with family while we were away. My parents have agreed to take him if we decide to go through with this, so he’d be in good hands. :)

  7. Margot

    Also, there may be tolerable ways to make this trip less expensive. As someone else said, you could investigate swapping your apartment with someone in the place(s) you hope to visit. There are several websites that facilitate this, and you might have a shot given that you appear to live in a university town. There are also lots of ways to eliminate housing costs by doing some form of work exchange while you travel. For example, I was just researching stays on organic farms in Hawaii. Probably not what you want to be doing in France, but there might be other options for working/volunteering locally or doing a few hours of work around someone’s house or business in exchange for free room or free room & board. This is also a good way to meet locals and get into local culture, and you can just do it for parts of your stay if you want to be totally free for other parts. You could also check out couch surfing (google it if you’re not familiar) for extended stays.

  8. Bob

    That sounds like an awesome plan. My wife and I would love to do that. Maybe Australia or Japan. The only thing is we had a baby young that we will have to worry about. I don’t know if we could leave him with family for 2 months it would be too hard and it would also be hard to take him with. I say do it while you can but just make sure like you said that you will not tap into your savings and you will not go into debt to do this. Good luck and keep us posted with your plans!

  9. Bob

    You might want to check out there are a lot of opportunities on that site and it’s partner They have programs where you don’t pay a whole lot. $1-4k and you can get benefits such as free housing, an allowance and job placement. There’s hotel and tourism jobs and then there’s teaching english jobs. Like 100% immersion courses so you don’t have to know the local language. You should check it out.

  10. razz2u

    Tony will probably need to start looking for a teaching job in January. My daughter’s school starts looking at their budget and determination for teachers in Jan-March. If they are not going to renew contracts they let the teachers know by March-April and they just hired new teachers for the September 09 timeframe (April/May). Keep this in mind and it may also lend you to a little more ease if you know that Tony has a job already.
    Also, check into “house sitting” potentials during the time you wish to be there.
    Also, check out
    as Katie is an American living in Berlin with her German husband who is spending the summer in US to keep his visa status. She might be able to offer some very good insights.

  11. Sharon

    It’s sounds like a sinfully wonderful idea! Just know that it may be difficult for your husband to find a job when he gets back. My daughter finished her student teaching in December and has since been a longterm sub. Because of budget cuts, she is low on the list for a hire, but much higher on the list than those who are not working at all. If you can save a ton of money before you go, and realize it may take longer for your husband to find a job, then I say go for it…It’s much easier without kids..

    Sharon’s last blog post..A lake trip after all?

  12. Kacie

    It’s worth a try! If you change your minds later, you’ll still have lots of cash for a good trip.

    What do you plan to do with your own job during that time? I guess you’d be quitting since Tony is probably going to try to find a job elsewhere.

    I like the idea of finding a volunteer program to do for part of your stay. They’d probably help with your living expenses.

    I really doubt you’d regret taking an extended trip abroad. Aim high! And good luck!

    Kacie’s last blog post..Should we rent this apartment? Or stay put?

  13. Rachel

    Great idea, and May is the perfect time of year to go to Europe. Great weather, too early for crowds of tourists, yet late enough that most of the points of interest are open (some places limit hours in winter).

    My husband and I planned a six-week trip to Italy a few years ago. I’m trying to remember why we ended up not going. I think that’s when we got pregnant, so we took a shorter trip instead.

    We found that housing rentals have reduced rates for longer terms. Transportation is less if you settle in somewhere. The tricky part was paying for extra expenses at the same time as not having income, so it definitely requires strong savings ahead of time.

    We still plan to go live for a couple of months, but it will be in a few years, and we’ll be taking our kids.

    Rachel’s last blog post..How to Move in 6 Weeks or 6 Days, and Keep Your Sanity

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