How much does it cost to take your family to Berlin for the summer?

In his excellent book The Practical Nomad: How to Travel Around the World author Edward Hasbrouck includes a page titled “I couldn’t take a big trip like that because…” where he seeks to rebut the common excuses we all conjure up for why traveling around the world (or, for that matter, anywhere) isn’t possible. Like “I couldn’t get that much time off” and “I have children” and “I don’t have that much money.” His response to that last one is:

You can’t extrapolate from short vacations to long-term travel, or from package tours to independent travel. Most people who follow the principles in this book find that their total costs, including airfare, for an extended international trip are less than their living costs at home. If you can afford to spend a summer or a year sitting around your backyard doing nothing, you could afford to spend the same amount of time traveling around the world–for less than the cost of staying home.

Outside my personal interest in travel, I have a practical personal interest in seeing other people travel: experience has taught me that the most interesting, broad-minded Islanders are those that have traveled. The potent combination of a grounding in Islanderhood seasoned by experiences elsewhere in the world is, I would hold, an unbeatable education in how to be a human being.

To that end, here’s a breakdown of what it cost the three of us – Catherine, Oliver and me – to spend 40 days in Berlin and 8 days in Sweden this summer. I present this fully aware that I’m in a higher income bracket than many, have a job that is flexible enough to allow me to work from anywhere there is bandwidth, and a partner whose universal answer to my crazy travel plans is “okay, that sounds like fun.” But, like Edward suggests, it’s possible to overcome almost any obstacle once you’ve resolved to travel the world.

Item Cost (CDN $)
Airfare, Halifax to Berlin and Copenhagen to Halifax, on Condor $2852
Travel Medical Insurance from Blue Cross $100
Train from Berlin to Copenhagen on DB $200
Apartment in Berlin (from craigslist) for 40 nights $2953
Hotel in Malmö for 8 nights $1042
Income from renting out our house while away ($1500)
TOTAL  $5647

Now there are a couple of things about our trip that don’t map entirely to “Hasbrouck principles.” Although our trip was longer than a usual summer vacation (at passport control in Frankfurt the officer’s only comment was “that’s a very long stay”), it wasn’t quite the kind of “extended international trip” that Edward describes in his book. And by traveling to northern Europe, especially to Sweden, we were going to among the most expensive destinations on earth, so our accommodations costs were much higher than they would have been if we’d opted to travel to, say, Thailand for 48 days. Also, if we’d stayed for much longer we could have secured a cheaper apartment by subletting or house-sitting.

I haven’t included food in my calculations because our food costs were roughly the same as they would have been in Canada, aided significantly by the Berlin’s very affordable restaurant scene. And I’ve left out “extracurricular activities” because, again, they didn’t amount to much more than what we’d spend here in Charlottetown (there’s lots to do for free in Berlin and Malmö). We spent money on public transit, but I didn’t run my car all summer. Because our trip was longer, we didn’t feel the usual impulses to purchase vast amounts of interesting European goods to take home, so our consumer spending was much less than it would have been on a shorter trip or, for that matter, at home.

The other economic benefit in my favour is that I was working all the while, so I didn’t have any loss of income over the summer (which also meant, of course, that it wasn’t 48 days of bacchanal but rather regular work days with slices of bacchanal squeezed in the free bits). If I’d had to take 7 weeks of unpaid vacation the net cost of the trip would have been much greater.

One thing that’s interesting to note: if we’d chosen, instead, to go to Berlin for a week, our air fare would have been the same, our accommodations costs would have been about $500, and so our average per-day cost would have been almost $500. We would have, in total, spent less, but the quality and quantity of our travel experiences would have been significantly less.

Every time I think about whether or not it’s possible, financially and logistically, to make a trip like this work, I think back to a note I received from my late friend and colleague John Pierce back in 2003:

I think you want to wander the world and still be able to make living with your computer sitting in little coffee shops or town squares from Provence to Croatia and anywhere else your whim takes you. Bangalore is so wired you probably don’t even need a computer to access the Web. Just inhale and you’re on line…

John grew up on a farm in New England not unlike the farms you see everywhere on Prince Edward Island. Partially by the lucky happenstance of marrying a woman with Indian parents, he saw far more of the world than most farm kids from rural America ever see. And he had a long list of places still to visit when he died unexpectedly in 2008.

Besides the great gifts (as my client) of giving me the work flexibility to travel and (as my friend) of giving me license to see this as being a perfectly valid way to live life, John’s untimely death also reminded me that the time to travel is not “someday soon,” but now.


Valerie's picture
Valerie on September 15, 2011 - 15:09 Permalink

Looking forward to a future post called “Free Bit Bacchanalia.”

Ian's picture
Ian on September 16, 2011 - 20:09 Permalink

Peter, I love your travel writing and your writing about travel. This stuff is inspiration to folks who live far off PEI as well.

Robbie's picture
Robbie on September 19, 2011 - 10:40 Permalink

I guess some of these prices are a bit out of date now, but it does get you thinking.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on September 19, 2011 - 13:40 Permalink

The prices are current to August 2011. So not out of date at all.