Saving & Frugality: How we saved more than 1/3 of our travel budget

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The past years for us meant traveling to NYC to our friends (and staying there for 6 months each time), so we weren’t able to have our regular vacation in Croatia. You can guess we weren’t too sad having to trade 2 weeks of seaside vacation for a six month stay in the Big Apple, but the moment we were able to get back near Dubrovnik, we made sure it’s planned.

This year was the time to return to our ‘first love’ and schedule an almost 3 weeks stay in Cavtat, a small fisherman village 10 miles South of Dubrovnik. I’ll post some pics too, for you to really see how beautiful this is.

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A view over the gulf where our villa was placed – 3 meters from the sea

Our first visit there was in the summer of 2008. We were so stunned with the beauty of this area, that we spent the New Year’s Eve there and also the next summer holiday. We’re both people of ‘habit’, so, having been treated so well by the lady who rented the apartment, you can guess we got back to her each time. This time was no different. We talked to her earlier this year (she’s swamped with guests during summer) and planned our 18 days stay. And then started preparing our budget.

Summer vacations in Croatia ARE NOT cheap. Our accommodation cost us 50 Euro/day (so 850 for the 17 nights we’d spend there). We left home with 2,200 Euro, but we knew this might not be enough for us, if we’d chosen to eat out each day. We don’t like getting ‘all inclusive’ deals, since we always love traveling around and we don’t want to be tied to a meal schedule. We sometimes took lunch at 12, sometimes at 4PM and even in the evening, if we spent all day sightseeing.

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The Old City in Dubrovnik, seen from a nearby hill

Usually a 2 person lunch costs around 50 Euro, so we would have this covered and the rest of the budget would be the gas, taxes and tourist attractions. The breakfast for us usually means cereals/milk (self), a boiled egg, some cheese etc. for the husband. Dinners are also ‘smaller’, so salami, cheese or something tasty spread on a slice of bread does it. The only issue would remain with the lunch, that would be costly and not always too good either.

Before we go into more details, one thing needs to be said: we usually cook at home and are VERY careful with the food we eat. Our meals are from scratch, we look to avoid preservatives and most of the stuff pre-made meals have in them, so it’s clear we wanted to keep the same food quality in our travels and not eat all the junk restaurants put on the table, just so that we don’t cook.

One of the few lunches we took in the village was few years ago and very disappointing: my chicken soup was clearly ‘pre-made’ (which annoyed me since at 12 Euro the bowl I’d expect to eat something that doesn’t come from a ‘factory’) and my grilled chicken breast was as tough and tasteless as the soles of my shoes. We’re not interested too much in sea food, so we’d usually get fries and some meat, which would thus cost as quite much.

As soon as we got the keys to our apartment and unpacked some of the luggage in the car, we drove the aforementioned car to a local supermarket 8 miles away (we knew about it from our past visits there) and bought what we’d need to ‘survive’ on our meals (the apartment has a fully functional kitchen, so you guessed we planned on taking advantage): milk, tea (husband drinks tea instead of coffee, I never drank coffee anyway), sugar, honey, butter, olive oil (we cook in olive oil only), meat, potatoes, pickles, salami, cheese etc.

After getting our small ‘pantry’ lined up with fresh produce and meat, we drove back and organized our food. We had enough for a week, we could ‘cover’ breakfast and dinners, we could make our own tasty sandwiches, fast and still good lunches and we were also stocked with fruit and various snacks items. Not to mention water, wine (we actually brought these from home, since our favorite wine is way better than what we could find there and we don’t like their mineral water) – the advantages of driving to a destination and not having to deal with your luggage being limited.

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The red roofs of Dubrovnik

All we ate out were their local Burek (it’s some pastry with cheese, really good) and 2 slices of Pizza, when in Dubrovnik. Otherwise, we’d pack our own sandwiches (it takes me few minutes to prepare them anyway), fruit and snacks, while the regular meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) were clearly easy to put together from our ‘reserves’. It would takes us around 30 minutes to whip out a fast lunch: husband would pan fry the meat (he’s the meat specialist in our home), I’d peel the potatoes, fry them and make a quick salad (or we’d eat pickles). In half an hour the meal was ready and we’d eat it on the terrace, 2 meters away from the restaurant that would charge us around 50 euro for the same thing.

Since we were clearly on a budget (and I love keeping track of our expenses), I’d write down what money we paid for so that we know where we stand and also know when we had to exchange our Euro for Kuna (the local currency). We exchanged 300 Euro when we arrived and 100 more in the last week. If we count all our expenses (the gas, the tourist attractions, the few occasions we ate out etc.) we had an extra 800 Euro when we got back home. More than 1/3 of our initial budget was then used to pay for our bills, firm taxes etc, instead of paying for mediocre meals.

You might say it was an effort to cook our meals. We never saw it like this. While the husband showered after a day at the beach or getting back from some places we visited, I’d peel the potatoes and start them to fry. Afterwards he’d prepare the meat and I could shower or do anything else I wanted to. Making tea and heating the milk don’t take too much effort, home-made sandwiches are also done fast and they cost so little compared to what we could buy from a store. All our ingredients were fresh, organic, we didn’t cook with god knows what horrible cheap oil most restaurants use, but only virgin oil (as we like to use). And we didn’t get bored of the food, since we both like it and we wouldn’t have ordered anything else anyway.

We befriended an older couple from the UK and they told us it cost them 100 Euro/day to eat out. They didn’t have a kitchen in their apartment, so they were kinda ‘tied’ when it came to having a choice. If we were to do this, we’d have left Cavtat in few days, since our budget couldn’t cover it.

Overall we had an AMAZING vacation. We visited once again some of the most beautiful places we ever saw, were able to rest and have a lot of fun. Not to mention save a lot, even if our initial plan was to make sure the budget is enough. I didn’t plan on saving money, the travel budget was there to be spent. Can’t say the 800 euro didn’t have an use afterward, we found out few weeks later that our amazing vacation had a wonderful ‘consequence’: I got pregnant, so you can imagine the extra-money was quickly put to use.

10 COMMENTS

    • Yeah, we already ‘wasted’ that time in the apartment between staying at the beach and visiting the attractions. instead of just staying on a terrace and wait for someone to prepare our meals, we just quickly organized ourselves and cooked them.

      We didn’t plan to be so ‘tough’ on this, we actually planned to take lunch at the restaurants, but then we thought ‘let’s try to cook it ourselves today’. It was all so tasty and nice that we did it the second day and so on.

      Croatia is really worth seeing. It was our 4th time there (same location, same apartment) and we can’t get enough of it.

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