As followers of The Royal Tour have undoubtedly noticed, I tend to travel for fairly long periods of time. While I do have long weekend or week-long trips, this year (2023) I will also have taken a two week trip (Santo Domingo), a six week trip (Buenos Aires and Montevideo), and a three and a half month long trip to Europe. I realize that taking such long periods of time to travel is not in everyone’s realm of reality, mainly due to responsibilities like jobs, pets, or family at home. But if you are physically able to travel for longer durations, here is what I’ve learned, and how I’m able to make such trips work.
This is most people’s primary concern between traveling for short or long periods of time. The thought process is that if a week-long trip costs x, a month-long trip should cost 4x, and a three month trip 12x, give or take. Well, yes… and no.
Some costs (food, lodging, activities) increase at a fairly fixed rate as duration goes up. For the most part – more on this in a bit – a second week in Rome will have fairly equal costs in those sectors as a first week. But some costs are one-offs, regardless of trip duration. A week in Rome will require roundtrip flights; so will a month in Rome. A visa, when necessary, is a one-time cost. While I might see and do more things in a month than in a week, I don’t need to pay entrance to the Colosseum more than once, making that also a fixed rate, to a point.
When it comes to flights, there are some advantages to traveling for longer periods. Typically, I don’t have specific dates that need to be my start and end points; after all, what is the difference between 28 and 29 days, visa issues aside. So I use the matrix on Google Flights to try to find cheaper itineraries, adjusting my specific dates and durations accordingly.
Let’s talk about lodging, as this is the single biggest budget multiplier between short and long trips. Traveling for a week, my budget tends to allow me to stay at a fairly central hotel in a city. Traveling for a month or more, the nightly cost of a hotel is just not possible, at least for me. So I turn to alternatives, specifically Airbnb and the like. Airbnb isn’t really cost-effective for short trips, as fees (cleaning fees have gotten out of hand) make the smaller cost per night add up to basically what a hotel would cost. But if I stay in a single Airbnb for longer, I still only pay that cleaning fee once. Furthermore, many Airbnb hosts, in an effort to have fewer empty days between guests, will offer discounts for longer (week or month) stays. That discount can be 5-10% for a week, and up to 30% off for a month (Airbnb counts 28 days or more as a month), bringing my lodging costs down significantly. For example, for the aforementioned month in Rome, my one bedroom Airbnb cost me around $1200 for the entire 28 days! Compared to a $2-300 average nightly hotel rate in Rome in August, and I’m basically getting my last three weeks free.
Having an Airbnb also allows me to bring my food costs down. On an average day, I will eat one meal out, while cooking the others in my apartment. I go grocery shopping, and while small kitchens necessitate fairly simple meals, sandwiches or pasta/rice dishes are pretty easy to do, along with snacks and my morning coffee. Staying at a hotel and for a short duration, I am both unable to cook and don’t have to in order to make my budget work.
Finally, let’s talk about activities. Yes, I do more in a month in Rome than I could in a week, meaning those costs are higher. But I don’t do four times the things. Staying for a longer period allows me to do fewer things per day, and to find more free options. I enjoy the slower pace of having a longer period, although some might want to cram more things in, thereby actually increasing those costs to the full 4x.
Of course, all of the above only makes sense if one takes the longer duration and spends it in relatively few places. If you have a month and see four different places for a week each, the trip will be faster paced, fewer discounts on lodging will be available, there will be more costs for transportation between destinations, and grocery shopping becomes a bit less worthwhile. So my ideal – not always one I am able to make happen, mind you – is to spend longer durations in a given place.
So what does this look like in practice? Let’s look at my recent (ongoing as of this writing) Italy trip. I began with 28 days in Rome, as mentioned, then 28 days in Florence (Italy makes one register in order to stay at any single address for longer than that), although I will be leaving after 25; the month discount more than offsets losing out on those last three days. Finally, I had (will have; tenses are weird in this case) a bit over a week in Milan. During both of my longer stays, I left my belongings at my apartment, taking only a backpack for a weekend elsewhere (Naples from Rome and San Marino from Florence). I also left the cities for day trips to easily accessible localish places I wanted to see.
So I do see more places than just my couple in such a long period. But I am able to take advantage of long-term discounts on Airbnb, and to largely avoid moving my luggage around too often. Having a home base and taking short side trips, mainly just day trips, saves a ton of money, and breaks up a long period in a single place. In a month-long stay, I will typically do one side trip requiring a night or three elsewhere, and roughly one day trip per other week.
The upside is that I feel that I’ve truly lived somewhere; after all, my affordable Airbnb tends to be in a more residential area than a central hotel, and I am able to get into a routine. The downside is that I see fewer places. In two months in Italy, I really only experienced a few cities, rather than a faster moving trip that spent a few days or a week all over.
How do I pack for long trips? Take this European trip, which includes August in Rome, where it is frequently over 95 degrees Fahrenheit, and also includes Copenhagen in October, where I might be lucky to sniff 60 degrees. I had a rainy month in Ireland in July, and a ton of sun in Italy. You’d think I would need multiple suitcases filled with all sorts of contingency options. You’d be wrong.
I haven’t checked a suitcase in more than ten years, and no matter how long I travel, I do so in just a carry-on roller suitcase and a backpack. The key is both in efficiency and in compromise. Efficiency takes the form of layering. For this European trip, I brought some jeans, a pair of hiking pants that unzip into shorts, a ton of plain-colored t-shirts, one long-sleeved shirt, a gray hoodie, and a leather jacket for colder or dressier occasions (not for rain). So a warmer day is jeans or shorts with a t-shirt. A colder day is jeans with a t-shirt and my hoodie. That ability to layer, and to not bring specific bulky items that I can’t wear on a plane, lets me fit roughly 12-14 days worth of clothing in my carry-on.
Compromise is in the form of not having options. If I need something a bit nicer for a dinner out, one pair of jeans is darker and more chic, and I wear that with a dark-colored t-shirt and my leather jacket. It isn’t formal by any means, but it is enough. I bring only tennis shoes and flip-flops (and water shoes in the case of a tropical destination), only bringing dress shoes if I have a truly formal occasion on the trip, like a wedding. Unless I am specifically going to be in the cold, I make do with my hoodie and leather jacket. Rain means an umbrella, as a raincoat isn’t packable. (And yes, I wear the leather jacket over the hoodie on flights to save space and weight in my carry-on.)
All this means laundry is a part of any trip I take over two weeks. Sometimes my Airbnb has a washer (rarely a dryer); other times I use a laundromat. Since I can never pack for multiple months, I might as well save the space and do laundry more often. Plus it really helps to only have a small suitcase when it comes to taking a train between cities, or walking from a bus or train station to my rental unit.
I have little room for superfluous items. I buy some of what I need when I arrive: soap/shampoo, toothpaste, sunscreen, and the like. I bring only an iPad (with a portable keyboard and mouse) for both work and entertainment. I don’t bring a bathing suit unless I am sure I am going to need it. Same goes with any number of other destination-specific items.
Finally, medication. I work out with my doctors ahead of time how to get a large enough supply of meds to travel. After all, few prescriptions are available in more then month-long quantities. My medical team is aware of my life, and we work these things out well in advance. The availability of prescriptions in foreign countries is not something I want to count on.
As you can see, it is entirely possible to travel for longer periods efficiently both from a logistical and from a budgetary standpoint, as long as one has the time. No, it isn’t for everyone; many travelers I know are unwilling to make the compromises I make to allow it to work. But if it does fit into your life, you’ll find it an amazing way to live!