I have just returned from what seems like a month of holidays. I went to San Francisco to visit my good friend and his girlfriend, with my girlfriend. We stayed in their lovely flat in amongst the fog in Richmond, SF, near the Pacific ocean.
They then came to the UK and stayed at our place for a few days before we all went to Munich for Oktoberfest.
This is the first big holiday I have done while on my FIRE journey. It was always going to be expensive but I think it was totally worth every penny.
Having spent several years living overseas, I am no stranger to travelling. However, in the past, it may have been done by loading up a credit card and forgetting about it. I was also ‘great’ at booking things last minute and paying a premium for it.
This time was different…
What did I do to reduce the costs of this holiday? Firstly, planning it many months in advance. We first talked about going in January. Planning so far in advance is not something I am comfortable with, but I did it this time. Having so much time to look forward meant I had time to buy things like flights early and mentally prepare to go on holiday.
The timing was dictated by my friend’s birthday, and also Oktoberfest. so not much room to wriggle. However, it meant that the dates were fixed early and we knew what we had to do. It also happened to be just after the summer peak, so I think that helped with the pricing.
I bought the flights for San Francisco about 3 months before I went. I have found that often this is the optimal time to book as airlines know people like to book early or last minute. This sweet spot meant I got flights for £400 return from London to San Francisco. If I ditched the hold luggage and had a stopover, it could have been £300 return, but it didn’t make sense to waste time doing that.
Flying to Oktoberfest was a different matter. London to Munich at this time is astronomically expensive. To get around this, I flew to a different city and booked a high-speed train into Munich. It saved about £200 each.
San Francisco is possibly one of the most expensive cities for accommodation in the world. It had the highest rents (double London’s) and the hotels are not cheap. We were able to save a fortune by staying on an air bed in my friend’s home. It was a great way to do it and meant we got to spend more time with them.
Oktoberfest again required a different approach. I don’t have a friend I can stay with in Munich. However, I was acutely aware that accommodation is vastly overpriced around Oktoberfest. I booked a hotel in January and paid upfront to secure the best price. It was also further from the festival, with my plan being to get the metro or taxi’s. Our friends stayed in a grotty hostel near the festival for 235 EUR/night, where we paid 150 EUR/night for an actual hotel room. The cab home from the fest was 25 EUR so a substantial saving! It had the added benefit that it was in a quiet suburb away from the busy areas, something I have come to appreciate at my age.
To be honest, in both scenarios, I made little effort to save money while on holiday. I wanted to eat what I wanted, and drink what I liked and go where I felt. It was all good. The best thing was I knew all the money I was spending was not on credit. I used a Monzo card to withdraw currency and pay for items which saved on bank charges.
I learned that planning in advance, spreading the cost of the holiday over the year, and being reasonably frugal can lead to big savings with little impact on enjoyment. I realise this is not rocket science or new to anyone, but thought I’d share my experience.