My TRAVELS in 2015: How Can I Afford It So Often?

December 31, 2015  •  5 Comments

Jennifer Mahon Photography


2015 has brought me to: Rome, Tivoli, Brussels, Ghent, Antwerp, Amsterdam, Orlando, Fort Walton Beach, Panama City Beach, Anna Maria Island, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, New Orleans, Venice, Murano, Burano, Paris and Boston. Not a bad travel year at all!

I am soooo not rich. I mean, I'm not broke-ass poor, but I am definitely not making it rain either. I work full time, got kids, got a mortgage to pay, car payments, insurance payments and the never-ending list of utility bills to pay as well (of course, all the bills are split with the hubs). But people always wonder and ask me, "How can you afford to go away so often?"

The simple answer is that I save pretty darn well, and I plan and budget even better. Ask anyone who knows me about my excel spreadsheets and binders! 


Borghese Gardens > Rome, Italy


My hubs is content with one trip a year, for me, I'd go crazy. Like really and truly batshit crazy if I didn't have a trip on the horizon for the upcoming month. This is a sore point that the hubs and I disagree on regularly - for him, travelling is not something worth anything, he doesn't see it as an investment, doesn't see the point of spending money and getting nothing tangible in return. For me, that is sooooo not the case. As they say "travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer". So for me travel is a priority - so I sacrifice certain things, and I work more and I do more paid photo sessions on the side.

I have a travel savings account. I try to put anywhere between $100 and $300 in that account every month and that is more than enough to fund my weekend jaunts to Europe. Who has that to spare you ask? Everyone does. If you make some small sacrifices. Not like the necessities, but the frills - like movie and dinner outings, clothes shopping, etc. A night out to the movies with the hubs and children can easily cost around $100. Replace that with a trip to the video store (yes they still exist) and  popcorn from the grocery store and we've got a movie night that costs $10. Boom! $90 into the travel savings account just like that!



This is totally worth travelling across the Atlantic > Brussels, Belgium


I know airfare is the biggest portion of travel costs so I'm fully aware that I'm spoiled that way since I work in the travel industry. I can't get into too much detail on the travel benefits I get, but suffice to say that the air portion to certain places costs me literally peanuts. So all I have to do is find a hotel and be careful with my spending money once there. This is why I can fly from Montreal to Venice for just 1 day!

The thing is, I've been able to take advantage of these benefits for 16 years, and I've only really started to really use them in the past 2 years. Crazy, eh? You know what else is crazy? Everyone at the office has the same benefits and only a handful use them on a regular basis. I could've had a lot more pins on my map had I got smarter sooner!


First time to Venezia...though only for 24 hours! > Venice, Italy


Hotwire has been a saviour for me this year. Since I often travel on standby, I wait to book the hotel until I'm confirmed on the flight, which is pretty much 1 hour prior to departure time. So lately I've been booking the hotel as the plane is boarding! I've ended up with some pretty awesome deals. Like:

  • A central hotel in Rome that could accommodate 3 people > $74 CAD per night.
  • A hotel a 10-minute walk from the central station in Brussels > $66 CAD per night.
  • A hotel on the actual island of Venice, 2 minutes from the Grand Canal > $120 CAD per night.

For those unfamiliar with the way Hotwire works, it's kind of like a roulette thing. You don't find out the name of the hotel until you've paid for it. Scary at first, but if you know where you want to stay and select the right neighbourhood on the map, pick your star rating (I stay between 3.5 to 4.5 depending on the city), pick user approval ratings (I stick with 80% and above), and you can even put more filters like if you only want places with free breakfast, free wifi, free parking, etc.


Travel Keeps Me Sane - Jennifer Mahon Photography

Ended up with a hotel right beside Place du Béguinage - Brussels, Belgium

Ended up being right on Via Nazionale, directly across from Palazzo delle Esposizioni - Rome, Italy

Travel Keeps Me Sane - Jennifer Mahon Photography

Our hotel ended up being on Calle Priuli Ai Cavalletti, a 2-minute walk from the Grand Canal and Santa Lucia train station - Venice, Italy


I research the city's public transportation options and usually end up with a transport pass of some sort. NEVER buy these in advance, anywhere I've ever been, they've been cheaper on the spot. Airport to hotel > forget the taxi, you're looking at a minimum of 50 euros one way. Most cities will have a direct train or bus to the city centre at a cost of between 5 and 15 euros each way.

Car rentals can be great too if you find a good deal, but beware of the extra fees that they inevitably try to tack on and remember that most people's regular car insurance and credit cards will cover you. Parking the car on the other hand can get pricey. In most of the European cities I visited, I avoided parking at the hotel and found a nearby public parking garage (researched in advance!) that was always cheaper than the hotel parking, but still came in at a hefty average of 20 euros per day.

So it's public transport and walking on all my trips, I never do taxis, find them a waste when you can see so much more by walking or taking the city's means of transportation.


Travel Keeps Me Sane - Jennifer Mahon Photography

Getting up early to take the train from Brussels to Bruges with the Belgium Rail Pass > 76 EUR for 10 trips within Belgium and applicable for more than one person 

Travel Keeps Me Sane - Jennifer Mahon Photography

Taking the metro in Paris - it's usually the 3-day Paris Visit Pass that we get for 27 EUR

Travel Keeps Me Sane - Jennifer Mahon Photography

Forget the gondola's in Venice - grab a Venezia Unica Pass for unlimited travel on the ACTV buses and vaporettos 1-day pass starts at 20 EUR


When I travel with my hubs, it's a different story, because he likes to eat proper sit down meals like ALL the time. When I go with the girls or Jérémie, it's snacking on the go during the day, and a proper sit down meal for dinner.

  • Breakfast (if not included at the hotel) usually consists of coffee, croissants or some other pastry from any place that we walk by > max 3 euros.
  • Lunch, whenever I start to feel hungry I start scoping out the places with fixed price lunch menus that include a salad or soup, a main dish and a glass of wine > usually end up finding something for between 12 and 15 euros or find a local street food stand where you can grab a sandwich or something for 5 euros.
  • Dinner, same thing, everywhere has their menu on display so I scope them out and usually end up not spending more than 20 euros on dinner (and that includes at least 2 glasses of vino). I once managed to enjoy 4 full days in Paris on just 100 euros of spending money.


Travel Keeps Me Sane - Jennifer Mahon Photography

Breakfast croissant on the go > 1 EUR

Jennifer Mahon Photography

1/2 litre of wine in front of the Pantheon > 4 EUR

Travel Keeps Me Sane - Jennifer Mahon Photography

Moules frites lunch in Brussels > 8 EUR

Travel Keeps Me Sane - Jennifer Mahon Photography

Boeuf Bourguignon dinner in Paris > 12 EUR


This can get costly, however I'm not the museumy-type and don't feel the need to necessarily go into a lot of sites. I mean, just being there and seeing it from the outside is usually more than enough for moi. In the 8 times I've been to Paris, I've never been inside the Eiffel Tower, 4 times in Rome and I've never been inside the Colosseum! I have however been inside the Louvre, and walked the halls of Versailles, and wandered around the Vatican Museums - so it's one of those things where I pick and choose the sites that I absolutely must go into and pay the admission fees.

Another thing is that I stay away from prearranged tours. The prices for these are astronomical sometimes and you're on someone else's schedule, and you have to listen to a guide that's speaking to the group in a sing-song voice like they're talking to a bunch of 5 year olds. If you do these on your own - though it takes a bit more planning and patience - the savings are awesome.

In Rome with my two of my daughters, the going rate for a day trip to Tivoli was 55 euros per person - same price for the kids!!! We did it ourselves at a fraction of the cost - train to Tivoli 4.80 euros (round trip) each for me and my 15 year old, and the 12 year old was free. We went into 2 villas there, entrance fee of 8 euros at each one per adult > under 18 years old was free (something those sightseeing excursion people don't tell you!). Plus 2 euros each (round trip) for the local bus to Villa Adriana - the total for the day > 26.80 euros!

Takes a bit more planning, but to me, the savings are totally worth it.


Jennifer Mahon Photography Walk around the grounds of Villa Gregoriana in Tivoli FREE

Jennifer Mahon Photography The youngest doing her Scorpian in the courtyard of Villa d'Este in Tivoli 8 EUR entrance fee for me, FREE for under 18 years old

Travel Keeps Me Sane - Jennifer Mahon Photography

Gorgeous Villa Adriana in Tivoli > 8 EUR per adult, FREE for under 18 years old


After an absurd data roaming charge that I got when I turned on the map for literally 10 seconds to get my bearings in Tunisia once, I either get a data roaming travel pack or just stick to WiFi.

Since what I usually end up using the phone for is the GPS, this last year I've discovered this super handy app called HERE. You download the maps for the area you want and you can use it OFFLINE and it's like a GPS that gives driving, walking and even public transportation directions. Another saviour for me this year!



New Orleans, LousianaTravel Keeps Me Sane - Jennifer Mahon Photography Though getting lost is part of the fun when travelling, having a GPS map at all times that I can use offline is a lifesaver! > New Orleans, Louisiana


So that's how I do it. No super secret > SAVE AND BUDGET. There's already savings in the travel account for the upcoming trips of 2016 > Spain, Croatia....and whatever other opportunity presents itself!

How do y'all save for travel? I know I'm not the only that suffers from this travel addiction!


Photos taken | written by JENNIFER MAHON



Thanks Lori!

Janice - For the shore excursions - that's one of those that I pick and chose based on time in port. For example in Sicily, our port of call was Messina, arriving 9am, departing at 5pm, and we absolutely wanted to go to Taormina while we were there. In my research on taxis to get there - it was too expensive. Public transportation buses didn't seem reliable and took nearly 2 hours to get there and another 2 hours to get back. So this is one where we bit the bullet and paid the 65 EUR each to do the Taormina excursion with the cruise line.

However on all the other ports of call on this cruise, we did our own excursion. Like on our cruise stop Kusadasi, Turkey, the going rate for the shore excursion to Ephesus was 125 EUR per person! My hubs negotiated with a taxi for round trip to this ancient site for a mere 25 EUR total. We paid our entrance of 6 EUR per person and got an info pamphlet and saw the entire site, and even had time to stop and shop at the Grand Bazaar before heading back to the ship.

So basically, I research each port of call and see if it's easy to get to the main points of interest either by walking, public transport or read lots of forums to see if it's easy to negotiate with taxis in those particular cities - it also helps that my hubs is an insane negotiator!
Wow, I've always opted for the prearranged tours and thought I was getting a deal. Incredible how much you can save doing it on your own! We're going on a med cruise on March and we keep getting reminder emails from the cruise line to pre-book the shore excursions while on port. Have you done a cruise? Do you take the shore excursions? I'm thinking because of time constraints that what the ship offers is the best bet!
Lori Campbell(non-registered)
Great and inspiring advice Jenn! Thanks for sharing your travel budget secrets and tips.
I know - I am completely spoiled that way. I am making it point to use that advantage to its fullest for 2016!
Travel definitely keeps me sane too! You're incredibly lucky to get the air part cheap, that's the most costly for me. But air miles are what save me!
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