I’m stretching the word “Budget” here, as our typical vacations aren’t really what most people would consider cheap. However, given our new found love for the FIRE, we’ve been trying to scale down on the “luxury traveling”, and now spend an awful lot of time, trying to find the best “value for money” vacation spots. It suits my frugal mind just fine. (Brace yourself folks, this is going to be a long one!).
Historically though, this was not always the case. I’ve never been the kind of guy, to go for the most expensive stuff that money could buy – but spending a monthly salary on a weeks vacation was not uncommon for us (this was before we had a kid). These days, we try to spend around 1/3 of a monthly salary (my salary) on a weeks vacation (to somewhere warm, typically). It’s still a lot, all things considered – but remember that lifestyle inflation is a lot easier than lifestyle deflation 😉
I tend to get semi-depressed during the dark winter months, so my wife and I have typically spent 1-2 weeks vacationing somewhere warm, every year in December. My dream is to one day go away on vacation for the entire month of December (Thailand, maybe?). I don’t really care a whole lot for the stress of the christmas month. Anyway, this year we hadn’t actively decided NOT to go on a winter-vacation. – We just hadn’t actively decided to actually do so either, which meant we did not have any travel plans this December.
When my business trip to Israel was announced at work (In mid December) I immediately started investigating, whether it would be viable to bring the family down for a week of sun-bathing. Schooled by the past, I knew that rule #1 when traveling with a 3-4 year old was to make damn sure the hotel had awesome facilities for kids – or you will end up being their play-thing for the entire week (I learned that the hard way, from a week in Crete!) 😉
Unfortunately, it pretty quickly became clear to me that the weather wasn’t warm enough in Israel (Tel Aviv) to swim in the pool (it was in January), and also I did not find a whole lot of hotels, who lived up to rule #1.
In doing my research, I had made another terrible mistake: I forgot to enable incognito mode in my browser! You know what this means, right? Everywhere I went online, I was bombarded by banner ads for nice hotels in nice sunny weather! So, since I had already accepted one trip to the middle east, my wife decided I should be allowed (forced, really!) to treat the family to a weeks vacation – in Egypt!
Well, to be fair, it’s not really Egypt. We went to Sharm El Sheikh (writing this while we’re in Sharm!). Some would claim that is not really Egypt 😉 It’s kind of like going to Sunny Beach, and claiming you’ve been to Bulgaria… I’ve been to Egypt (seen the Pyramids etc.). Sharm is not like Cairo.
I visited Cairo 6 years ago with my (then) company, to celebrate their 20th anniversary. It was an awesome trip, but having seen a little bit of Cairo, and a fair bit of the Pyramids, I really had no desire to bring my family there. It was a little too “rustic” for a family vacation, in my opinion.
Anyway, Sharm is comparable to Turkey and Bulgaria (in my book – sorry if I offend anybody by saying this!). There’s a lot of Danes here, and everyone tells a similar story – they got tired of Turkey (or similar popular tourist destinations), and decided to try Sharm 😉 The only problem with Sharm, is that it’s a popular destination for the Russians.
Now, I have no quarrel with the Russians, but they seem to “take up a lot of space” wherever they go. It’s a culture thing. I’d really like to explore that a little more, but unfortunately, I currently don’t have any Russians in my friend-circle (I used to know a few). There’s also a lot of “local tourists” here (other middle-eastern people) and a few asians. Unlike the Russians, the asians typically doesn’t really take up a lot of space, and often has an almost apologetic demeanour about them. Again, a culture thing. As a Dane, it’s quite interesting to observe these differences. The Danes are well-liked among the locals. I suspect it’s because we’re polite, well-manored and we (typically) tip well 😉
Anyway, here we are in Sharm El Sheikh! On an All-inclusive Resort by the Red Sea. It was so cheap that we had really low expectations before we got here. We paid just around €1300 for the three of us. This was the total. Everything included – flights, in-flight meals, transfers, hotel, food (4 meals per day), alcoholic beverages – everything! (Well, it turned out that WIFI wasn’t included! WHAT? That’s gotta be some kind of human rights violation, right?!). So far (currently on day 5), everything has been great! (as in, our low expectations has been more than fulfilled 😉 ) – Well, everything beside that nagging feeling that we’re somehow taking advantage of the poor working-class Egyptian…
I somehow feel guilty, about being here. It just doesn’t seem right (kind of like the same feeling I had in Israel, when I was being pampered by that big multi-national company). I also quickly discovered that something obviously doesn’t add up, when you can fly to Egypt for a week, with everything included for about 30% of my monthly net income. You are expected to spend money while you’re at the resort – on beauty treatments, massages, cocktails (only local alcohol is free), tips and trips (boat trips etc.). I really don’t want to buy any of that stuff – but now I feel even more guilty for NOT doing so…
However, in an attempt to “stay on budget” we had decided before-hand, how much pocket-money we wanted to spend, while we were here. This did not leave a whole lot of room for fancy excursions or non-local alcoholic beverages. We’ve already spent about half of our pocket-money on tips, so while I feel a little guilty about not “throwing money around” like it’s 1989 (it seems the Danes are infamous for doing so in this neck of the woods), I also feel a little proud for sticking to the plan (how else are we going to reach FIRE within the next 13-15 years?).
I always tip the cleaning-personel between $5-10 per week, which is not a lot when you’re in the US (I think). In Egypt, $10 is a days wage for the average hotel worker. So naturally, I’m now the king of the castle (apparently). Since I also gave the waiter, the towel-guy and the bell-man $5 each (a couple of times…), I now practically own the resort (and it’s pretty big!). It’s such a strange feeling! To me, this is not a whole lot of money, but to these guys it really makes their day. I now feel bad that I get “special treatment” by the staff, and I think the other guests are starting to notice it! I now find myself having to ask the waiters not to treat us any different than the other guests. Strange experience, really…
Most of the workers at the hotel work between 12-14 hour days for 2-4 weeks straight. They earn about 2 days off per week. Most of them have a family (in the “real Egypt”) which they then only see for about 1 week/month. I spoke to the bell-man, who had been working at the resort for 18 years. He works for 1 ½ month straight (10 hours per day – he’s one of the “upper-class” workers) and then goes home to his family for 10 days (10 hour drive back to Cairo).
It really puts your own life into perspective, when you meet guys like this. I suddenly feel really grateful, for being born in Denmark 😉
And don’t even get me started on those airplanes too…Once you decide to hop on an airplane to go on vacation, you’re already a real asshole, right? Carbon-footprint and all. Honestly, I just needed to get away from the danish winter – and driving to Egypt (while possible) is really not a great option for me. Sorry, Earth. – I promise I will do better!
It seems popular to travel in the FIRE movement (to travel is to live, right?), and not everyone travels by train, so I assume airplanes are often involved (?).
Anyway, given this recent development in my mental state, and given the fact that my daughter appear to be pretty content wherever she is (as long as there is a playground – and SAND helps a lot too), we’ve decided to go CAMPING this summer (it’s my daughters biggest dream, to sleep in a camper!).
My family did not have a lot of money when I was growing up, so I was pretty used to camping when I was a kid. I loved it! – But somehow growing up, the luxury life snuck up on me…I know what you’re thinking. Nick, in a tent? Really? Well, let’s call it luxury camping then 😉 Camping in a camper (with A/C…).
Goodbye Sharm El Sheikh. Maybe we’ll meet again…
So, has this become a travel-blog now, or what?
No, man – I’m reflecting on my life and how the choices that we make shape our future – but ultimately, your options greatly depend on where you were born. If you were born in a highly developed country (like myself), be grateful – and stop your whining 😛
So, the big question remains: Is there such a thing, as too cheap a vacation?