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Travel

May 27, 2014

Slow money: A richer way to travel in retirement

Planning to hit the road when you retire? There are smart ways to stretch your dollars on food, dining, hotels and entertainment.

We’ve found a way to slow down how quickly we spend money while traveling.

I call it “slow money” and it’s based on the “slow food” and “slow travel” movements. Slow travel is about avoiding hotels, staying longer and having a richer experience.

Slow money is a great way to:

  • Stretch your travel dollars for accommodation, dining, food and entertainment.
  • Stay for longer periods of time.
  • Get to better know the people and places you visit.

As I write this, my wife and I are halfway through a four-month European trip. Our trip has had three distinct phases. (We spent money quickly in the first two.)

1. Renting a hotel room for several nights in London, England

For retirees, as well as working folks, this type of travel is really popular. We ate mainly at restaurants and British pubs. But you’re paying somebody to do nearly everything:  feed you, house you, entertain you, etc. It’s a fairly easy way to travel, but it’s not easy on the budget.

2. Going on a bus tour of central Europe

We were completely in the hands of a tour guide. He chose what we saw, what we heard, where we stayed and what we ate. We saw lots of great sights in Munich, Prague, Budapest, Vienna and Salzburg – but mainly from the window of a bus.  It almost felt like a slide show, rather than a personal experience. We got scripted soundbites about the history and geography of the places we were driving past but we didn’t get to know any locals. Everyone we talked to was paid to serve us. And the tour cost a lot of money, for not a lot of days.

3. Staying on a tiny Italian island

This is the “slow money” and “slow travel” part. As I write this, we’ve been saving money and savouring one place by staying on a tiny Italian island for six weeks, and we’ll be here for another eight weeks.

How to travel the “slow money” way:

  • Take a longer trip. By staying at least two weeks, you avoid what I call a “hotel sandwich” – a hotel stay sandwiched between two flights.
  • Experience daily life. In Italy, we’re rubbing elbows with locals at cafés, bakeries and fruit and veggie markets. We water our landlady’s flowers when she’s away and she gives us fresh oranges and lemons from her garden in return. She also brings delicious homemade pastries when she drops by for coffee! We walk almost everywhere. People phone us when a local festival is coming up. They tell us what nights the local churches do community barbecues.  They’ve even taught us how to make organic limoncello (a lemon liqueur) for a quarter of the store price.
  • Get accommodation from a person, not a corporation. Our three-room flat is at the rear of a beautiful, big, centrally located house. We have our own kitchen, laundry facilities and a private terrace. We’ve made it homey by planting pots of flowers and herbs. Our rent is around a quarter of the cost of a hotel – plus we can cook at home, saving even more. Our landlady has guided us on the best times to go to the beach, as well as where to buy cheap beach chairs and an umbrella to save the cost of having to rent them.
  • Eat fresher, cheaper local food. With our own kitchen, we eat in more than we eat out and still are not able to keep up with all the great food tips and local produce we’ve been receiving. We have all the oranges and lemons we can pick, just 30 feet from our door. Neighbours insist that we take fresh veggies from their gardens. At the food markets, the local food is cheap and fresh. We buy fresh fish. We have a favourite bakery, a favourite café. And we can buy the local white wine for 1 Euro ($1.39 Canadian at time of writing)/litre. When we do eat out, we find we don’t have to go to fancy restaurants to get amazing food.
  • Get to know the locals. People are proud of where they live. And they want you to also fall in love with the place. Our landlady took half a day to walk us through the back alleys and along the shoreline of the area where she grew up. A local ferry captain let us ride for free on the bridge of his ship for a trip to Sophia Loren’s hometown. We’ve cheered at a local school’s track and field day.
  • Avoid costly roaming charges. We purchase cheap local pay-as-you-go mobile phone plans to stay in touch with locals, make restaurant reservations, etc. An Italian friend even gave us his old cell phone and activated it for us.

Based on our experience, I’d say that “slow travel” can definitely result in “slow money” spending and can be a great way for retirees to travel. And regardless of how much you spend on your vacation, it's important to protect yourself from unexpected medical expenses by purchasing travel insurance before you go.

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