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Polaroid of the Week: The Medieval Town of Barga, Italy

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Barga, Tuscany, Italy

Barga is a medieval town in northern Tuscany, Italy. The houses are  clustered around a mountain topped by an impressive cathedral. While this sleepy town still proudly displays medieval architecture and the typical narrow Tuscan alleys and high buildings, Barga has modern elements as well. Not only does the family of world-famous pop singer Paolo Nutini still live in Barga, but the town has also created iBarga, a very high-tech tourism project which displays 2D scan-able bar codes on all cultural sites, restaurants, bars and hotels, enabling tourists with smart phones to discover on their own much more behind Barga’s surface.

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One year of travel: Our expenses

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We have on been on the road for one year, and want to share our expenses as a follow up to our first 6 months of travel, which we posted here. Read on for a total sum of every single penny we spent between 30 April 2010 and 30 April 2011.  We decided to provide our spending summary for two reasons. Firstly, we would like to compare with other long-term travelers and see if we are in the same range of spending. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, we would like to show our readers who don’t travel long-term just how affordable and realistic this experience really is.

Note: Expenses are stated in both USD and GBP since we both earn money in GBP, but did most of our spending comparing various currencies to US Dollars.

In Total – How much did we spend?

Per Couple $28,483.55 £18,181.51



Per Person $14,241.77 £9,090.75

Average expenses: Per Month

Per Couple
$2,373.63
£1,515.13



Per Person $1,186.81
£757.56

Our expenses include all every flight we took, our pricey Corn Islands vacation, every hostel / hotel / motel / apartment that we slept in, every bus / boat / tuktuk / taxi / train we took, every car we rented, every meal we ate, every beer we drank, various medications, every donation we gave, plus everything else we spent our money on.

Latin America vs Europe and North America

We spent two thirds of the time (8 months) in Mexico and Central America, and one third (4 months, 2.5 / 1.5) in the US and Europe, but over half of our expenses come from our time in Europe/US: $13,232.24 / £8494.41!  Had we traveled only in Latin America, we would have probably spent a lot less.

We have to admit that this budget was a bit higher than we expected, but we never really tried to keep our expenses down. Unlike other travelers, we are technically digital nomads and earn money as we go, so we never have to worry (knock on wood) about scraping the bottom of the money barrel. We rented cars in the U.S. and Europe (not cheap!) we ate out a lot, we didn’t always stay in the cheapest hostels, and we recently booked a rather expensive flight to Europe.

Jess backpacking through the jungleHousesits save money
Thanks to the various housesits during this past year, we saved more than 10 weeks accommodation. This free lodging helped us cut down this part of our budget!

Average Daily Expense: Per Country

This is our average daily spend breakdown per country – both for us as a couple and what that averages out to per person.

U.S.A. Per Couple $90.00 £60.00
Per Person $45.00 £30.00
Mexico Per Couple $41.16 £26.91
Per Person $20.58 £13.45
Belize Per Couple $108.00 £68.20
Per Person $54.00 £34.10
Guatemala Per Couple $46.24 £29.25
Per Person $23.12 £14.62
El Salvador Per Couple $48.10 £29.58
Per Person $24.05 £14.79
Honduras Per Couple $57.36 £36.87
Per Person $28.68 £18.43
Nicaragua Per Couple $63.63 £40.35
Per Person $31.81 £20.17
Costa Rica Per Couple $53.24 £32.97
Per Person $26.62 £16.49
Panama Per Couple $71.42 £43.92
Per Person $35.71 £21.96
Germany Per Couple $52.82 £33.45
Per Person $27.41 £16.73
Italy Per Couple $113.62 £68.83
Per Person $56.81 £34.42

A few notes on these daily averages:

1. Belize was so high because the amazing tours available- snorkeling and caving – are quite costly, but very worth it. Food and hotels can be very cheap if you do your research.
2. Nicaragua was only so expensive because of our trip to the Corn Islands. Without that, our time there would have been dirt cheap.
3. Honduras would have been cheaper, but we were there over Christmas and New Years, so we had lots of justifications for splurging.
4. Costa Rica is really not as expensive as everyone thinks!
5. Renting a car in Italy makes it expensive – the car ($35 a day at the cheapest rate), the gas (avg. of $9 per gallon!) and the tolls on the Autostrada (roughly $6.50 for a 45 minute drive, $35 for a three hour drive from Milan to Lucca).

Fiat 500 Rental Car Italy

Have you traveled long-term? How did our budget compare to yours? Have you ever considered travelling long-term but thought you don’t have the budget? Did our budget help push you in the direction of long-term travel? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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Polaroid of the week: What a boar in Lucca, Italy

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polaroid of the week italy lucca boars head

We have come across quite a few market oddities during our travels in Central America – a basket of live iguanas tied-up and ready to be cooked in Leon; fried grasshoppers and the last squeal of a pig’s life in Oaxaca – but never anything like this! As we wandered through  a market in the Tuscan city of Lucca, admiring the fresh olives, international collections of sea salt, and fresh rosemary… we stumbled upon a stuffed boar’s head, set proudly between olive oil and Chianti wine at a delicatessen stand.

Is boar’s head an integral ingredient in Tuscan cooking? We felt terrible for this otherwise powerful creature, and seeing its head almost literally on a platter felt even more strange considering we had just had a rare spotting of a live wild boar on our first night in Tuscany the day before. Poor thing!

If you enjoyed this Polaroid of the Week, check the rest of our Polaroid collection too.

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Polaroid of the week: One of Bavaria’s best inventions: Pretzels!

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As our time in Bavaria comes to an end, and we prepare for the heavenly culinary delights of Tuscany, we realized how much we actually enjoyed the cuisine of Southern Germany! We indulged (too much!) in delicious German chocolate and Kaiserschmarrn (pancakes cut in little slices & served with apple sauce), devoured dumplings in mushroom sauce, developed a thing for a Bavarian cheese spread called Obatzda, gained a few pounds by eating too much cheese spatzle and not to forget the famous Hefeweiss beers!

And of course we had countless pretzels (or ‘Brezn’, as it is called in German) which are available in all sizes and varieties at each and every bakery. You can get XXL pretzels, pretzel balls, croissant pretzels, even entire baguettes made of pretzel. They make ’em with salt, no salt, sesame seeds, even pumpkin seeds and fill them with chocolate, cover them in cheese and pineapple or cut them in half with an inch-thick layer of butter in the middle.

We made sure to try as many different kinds of pretzels as possible and we officially vote them our number one food of Bavaria!

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Polaroid of the week: A castle in the Alps

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.polaroid of the week Germany German Alps Street Castle

It was just an average day in Europe. There we were, ‘speeding’ along the Autobahn in our rented Smart car during the hour and a half journey from Innsbruck, Austria back to our housesit in the Bavarian mountains. Suddenly, blink and you’ll miss it, out of nowhere, this castle appeared. We snapped it before it disappeared from view.

Not quite as high as a castle in the sky, you could call this our idyllic castle in the Alps. Or, our drive-by shooting for the day. Polaroid shooting, of course!

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Polaroid of the week: Street Art in Seville, Spain

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Just this week we finalized travel plans for our second trip to Seville. During our first visit in 2009, the southern Spanish city of Seville easily became our favorite  in the country. We were immediately drawn to the vibe –  a combination of typical Spanish features such as fabulous tapas bars, wine and flamenco dance but also a vibrant young art scene – including a large wall by the river filled with some of the most creative street art we’ve seen anywhere. We can’t wait for our return to Seville to explore more of the town! I

If you are thinking about visiting Seville, check out our article on how to spend the perfect day in Seville.

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Polaroid of the week: Our favorite little donkey in the Alps

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..Every day, we leave our house on a hill in the German Alps and hike over a mile down into the village to pick up some fresh bread and food for the day. Each time as we reach the very outskirts of town, we meet this little guy and his wife, who run right up to the fence to greet us. This area of Germany is so traditional, it is so easy to imagine a very similar lifestyle here fifty years ago. We haven’t named the Mr. and his Mrs. yet – any ideas?

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Goodbye 2010: Our year of travel in pictures

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An amazing year is coming to an end – our first as full-time travelers! Rather than rattle off a list of everywhere we’ve been, check out our year in pictures, from the pre-trip ‘planning’ phase to the rather unexpected place where we are ringing in the New Year!

In January we made the semi-spontaneous decision to become digital nomads and to leave London, where we had been living since 2007.

In February, we packed up our apartment and Dani drove a few boxes to her hometown of Erfurt in Germany, where she stored our stuff and said goodbye to friends and family.

Jess did the same in March, home in chilly Chicago.

In April, we met again in Britain and spent one last ‘stay-cation’ in the seaside town of Brighton, before starting off the trip of a lifetime:

We started our adventure in Las Vegas, of all places…

…before heading to San Francisco up the Pacific Coast Highway in May, the first of many road trips to come.

June saw us exploring the Arizona desert during our Tucson house-sit, then the canyons (Antelope, Canyon de Chelly and the Grand Canyon) in the north during one last road trip in the U.S.

We stopped in Los Angeles again in July…

…and from there we flew into Mexico City, where we started our Mexican adventure.

We spent August exploring Southern Mexico from Oaxaca to the Pacific Coast, San Cristobal, Palenque and the Yucatan.

In September we discovered the beautiful beaches of Belize

…and in October we began our two-month tour of Guatemala, which included Mayan villages, market towns, volcano climbing, the colonial town of Antigua and Lake Atitlan.

In November, we took a 2-week detour to El Salvador, where we found some rough Pacific beaches, hiked a volcano crater and visited colonial towns like  Suchitoto (pictured) and those on the Ruta de las Flores.

In December, we headed to Honduras, where we finished the ‘Maya trail’ by visiting the last of the series of Maya ruins at Copan. We’re ringing in the New Year at Lake Yojoa, before heading to Nicaragua to start of 2011!

Happy travels to all fellow travelers and happy New Year to all our readers out there!

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Polaroid of the Week – Goodbye, London…

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Saying Goodbye to London is definitely not easy for us! We’ve had three wonderful years here, experienced how different living East feels to living West. We explored more of the ‘Big Smoke‘  in that time than most native Londoners did in their entire life, and will miss our walks by the canals, the multi-cultural buzz of Edgware Road, the graffitis in East London, the vibrant markets, hanging out in one of the parks, a good ol’ Brick Lane Curry, Camden Market Food, riding our bikes along the Thames, chilling at the Southbank, stumbling over old-fashioned, traditional, typical English pubs, Soho’s independent cofffee shops, strolling around Abney Park Cemetery, and so much more…

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Lessons learned: A volcano, a Hindu Temple and Letting Loose

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We are going on a trip. A long trip. We are attempting to convert into a digital nomad lifestyle and take our work on the road with us. First we are stopping in Las Vegas, and then it’s up the coast of California, down to Tucson, through Mexico and down into Central and South America from where we will go to New Zealand, Australia, Asia and back to Europe.

Goodbye London

Before we even take one step toward this new adventure, a few things have happened in the last few weeks which have already served as important lessons for the road.

Lesson 1: You can’t beat Mother Nature

The eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökul volcano caused a complete shut down of UK airspace for 6 days and closed down all of Europe’s airports for days due to concerns about the ‘ash cloud’. I had certainly never uttered the phrase ‘ash cloud’ before, let alone even heard of Eyjafjallajökul. But there we were, just two weeks before the start of our world tour, and a volcano in Iceland was looking to cause us to postpone, re-book and re-arrange much of our initial U.S. leg of the trip. Mother Nature had flexed her mighty muscles and taken down an entire global infrastructure with just one eruption in a far off place. Fresh produce rotted in warehouses in Spain, flowers died in airports in Africa on their way to Amsterdam, Chinese car manufactures shut down while awaiting car parts from German suppliers. Not to mention the thousands upon thousands of displaced travelers fighting to return home.

As far as I could see it, that was the only positive thing regarding our new lifestyle. Had we already been mid-trip, we would have just dug in and gotten comfortable, because after all, the point of the nomadic lifestyle is the mantra – wherever you go, there you are. Enjoy it, live the moment, there is nothing to rush to or away from, you can move at your own pace, or, should mother nature flex those wings, you move respectfully at her pace instead.

Lesson 2: Always take the time to go and see it, whatever it is!

Still in London for another week, we finally headed to Neasden, north London, to visit Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, otherwise known as Neasden temple. This intricate hindu mandir (temple) was crafted in India using 5,000 tons of Italian Carrara marble and Bulgarian limestone, and then shipped in over 26,000 pieces to London where over 1,000 volunteers reassembled the marble pillars and white pinnacles, creating a masterpiece that at once seems completely out of place yet as though it fully belongs in a city as great and multicultural as London. It was as though our travels had begun, complete with witnessing unfamiliar practices with a mixture of awe and discomfort at our clear role as out-of-place westerners.

We have been waiting three years to go see this temple, but we both couldn’t have been more relieved and inspired when we finally made. We decided that rather than take public transportation, we would go with car hire – London can be such a large city, and we wanted to see as much as possible with our new nomadic eyes. Because of this new perspective, our Neasden temple experience was much more interesting for us than it would have been before. With this new attitude we realize that if you have heard that something is awe-inspiring, or you have the gut feeling that you really want to go see something, take the time to go and see it. Otherwise, what is the point of this new nomadic lifestyle anyway!

Lesson 3: Let Loose

Packing up our stuff for a trip around the world teaches us another important lesson: How much do we really need? After moving to England as students in 2006 with nothing more than a backpack and a couple of bags, we managed to cram our apartment in London with countless ‘essential’ things during the last three years and in the end, we filled up an entire moving van with our two-bedroom apartment. Now, the challenge becomes figuring out what to pack for a year of vagabonding.

A 75 liter backpack has a very limited amount of space, so the entire closet we’ve managed to hoard thanks to various shopping sprees will have to go down to a couple of pants, shirts, a jacket, some socks and underwear, decent footwear – and that’s it. We will leave behind the fancy dresses, skirts, jackets, jeans… and all the other things that make us feel comfortable – like our favorite coffee mugs, my beloved blender, our awesome stereo system and brand new flat screen TV.

Eventually we realize that most of it we don’t really need – it’s just stuff that makes us feel at home. While a lot of things will surely be missed, letting go of our belongings is a good way to learn to appreciate certain things again which normally we take for granted.

After a year, or how ever long our journey will last, after having been in rural and undeveloped areas, we will either be more thankful than ever to own so many things that make life easy, or just decide to scale down again and ditch a whole bunch of needless stuff we think we cannot live without at the moment.

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