In July 2015, we traveled to Italy for a conference held in Turin. Fortunately, Mrs. Xyz traveled for free since it was for her work so we only had to pay for my ticket.
We usually use our business travels as an opportunity to extend our stay and cut vacation expenses. This time around, we extended a 5-day business trip to Turin into an 11-day trek around northern Italy! 🙂 We started in Turin, then stopped for beautiful hikes in the Cinque Terre National Park, and then traveled our way to Florance.
You can do the same if you, or your spouse, has to travel for business or you can get free flights from credit card rewards. You could get the flights for free through programs like American Express and, on top of that, book free hotel stays through their SPG card.
Where ever you go, there is always a cheaper way to get airfare and there is always cheaper activities to do.
Cinque Terre hikes
When traveling in Italy, we hiked around the coast in breathtaking Cinque Terre. This is one of the best activities in Europe for any outdoor lover or anyone who wants to enjoy the scenery between decadent Italian dishes. These trails take you along the spectacular coastline and spans across a bunch of little charming villages.
The most popular trail is the Sentiero Azzurro, or “Blue Trail”. It constitutes four individual paths along the coast and you can walk the entire route in about six hours. It is much more enjoyable, however, to split it up and take the time to explore the little towns along the coast and eat along the way. Admission to Trail #2 usually requires the purchase of the Cinque Terre card (5-7 euro/day for trail and museum access, or 10 euro/day for trail, museum and unlimited train access). Most people like starting from Riomaggiore where the paths are much easier and paved allows you to work your way up to the more challenging trails. After our research, we found that trail number 2 goes as follows;
From Riomaggiore to Manarola
- Difficulty: Easy
- Terrain: Paved
- Length: 1.2 miles (2km); 40 minutes to walk
From Manarola to Corniglia
- Difficulty: Easy
- Terrain: Amazing gardens and sea views
- Length: 1.2 miles (2km); 1 hour 15 minutes to walk
From Corniglia to Vernazza
- Difficulty: Medium
- Terrain: Quite steep, uneven, climbing and descending
- Length: 2 miles (4km); 1 hour 45 minutes to walk
From Vernazza to Monterosso
- Difficulty: Hard
- Terrain: Lots of stairs and very narrow passages but offers a stunning panorama
- Length: 1.8 miles (3km); 2 hours to walk
This is the busiest hiking trail in the Cinque Terre so it might not be for the more adventurous. We like to step off the beaten path and avoid some of the crowds so we explored the lesser-known trails that are perfect for more serious hikers. We used Airbnb as accommodation in Deiva Marina and went on hikes around the neighboring cities.
Another advantage to these lesser-known parts is the savings you can make. We did not need to purchase the pass and enjoyed amazing paths up the mountains for free. We traveled everything by train, it only costs a few Euros and is the quickest way to hop from town to town. Trains go every half hour or so, all day long, so you do not need to plan any precise itinerary. On top of this, you can book much cheaper hotels than along the main trail.
On our first day, we hiked to from Vernazza to Corginlia. The breathtaking views of the ocean and lovely charm of the city are worth every step. We walked in the morning since it is much cooler before the afternoon sun and we stopped for a freshly baked pizza once in Corginlia. After our hike and lunch, we then dipped in the ocean for a little swim. The shores are clean and the sandy beaches were swept by gentle, beautiful, waves. Italians really thought of everything, they even have beaches beside the train station so you can swim while you wait for your ride. 🙂
On our second day of hiking, we went from Deiva Marina, where we had our stay, and walked to Framura. For this one, we did not need to take the train, we simply walked out of the city and into the mountain trails. This was more of an adventure; we got lost, we found a little farm on the hillside, we got scared by a chicken… It was super fun! 😀
We hiked on dirt trails and the terrain was pretty rough but we still managed to get there by noon. Once in Framura, we searched everywhere for a restaurant but the only place we saw was closed.
By the time we walked down to the town, we were both starving and grumpy but simply could not find a place to eat (which is super rare in Italy!) so we ended up eating little sandwiches in a coffee shop. Even after all of this, we had a good time and great exercise out of it. For more information about the trails and the various options, you can visit the Cinque Terre National Park website.
The food in Italy was definitively the highlight of the trip. Almost every restaurant we tried was astonishing and really cheap.
We tried authentic pizzas, seafood dishes, desserts, and pasta that were simply out of this world! You can find authentic, family-owned, restaurants at every corner street serving anything from pasta carbonara to Margherita pizza for a few Euros.
Our frugal travel budget
To give you an idea of the cost of traveling in Italy, we kept a few receipts. The amazing food, for example, is actually really cheap! There is always expensive options but if you go to local, authentic, restaurants, you can usually eat for less than 10 Euro each. We ate at multiple restaurants, whether in the downtown core, ocean front, or mountaintop, we could always find something at reasonable prices.
In terms of accommodations, we spent $740 for 5 nights in Turin (we got that one reimbursed by Mrs. Xyz work), then spent $269 on Airbnb for 3 nights in Deiva Marina and $272 for a 2-night stay in Florence. Our total cost for 10 nights was $1281, or an average of $128 per night. Our actual total cost was only $541, or an average of $54 per night.
For transportation, we spent a total of 16 Euro each on trains from Turin to Deiva Marina and then another 15 each to Florence. In addition, we spent 5,40 Euro on local trains throughout our hikes. In terms of airfare, we spent $1 043.
The Italian mindset
One thing I have noticed, and really appreciated, was the relaxed mindset of the Italian people. Their core values resemble ones of Financial Independence in many ways.
Firstly, they value time off and every worker has the right to paid vacations of at least four weeks per year. They also have laws that limits work hours to 8 per day, 40 hours per week. With overtime premiums to work over 40 hours per week and pay premiums to work on holidays, nights, or weekends.
A whole month of vacation is huge compared to the U.S. where most companies have an “employment-at-will” policy where you can get fired simply for asking for a vacation. By law, there is no statutory minimum paid vacation or any paid public holidays in the United States.
We have almost no job security in the U.S., no legal requirement for severance pay and, with very few exceptions, can be laid off without notice – John Schmitt
Even out of those who have the chance of having vacation days, over half (55%) of Americans did not take all their vacation days in 2015, according to the U.S. Travel Association’s Project Time Off.
|Country||Minimum annual leave||Paid Vacation Days (5-day workweek)||Paid Public Holidays||Total Paid Days Off|
|Canada||Two weeks of paid vacation in all provinces except Saskatchewan where employees are entitled to three weeks of paid annual leave.||10||6||16|
|Ethiopia||14 working days of paid vacation for the first one year of service, and 14 working days plus one working day for every additional year of service.||12||13||25|
|European Union||Minimum of 4 weeks of paid vacation.||20||0||20|
|Italy||4 weeks paid vacation plus up to 104 hours of reduction of working time (in Italian Riduzione Orario di Lavoro), used in blocks of a few hours each time for family/personal needs.||20||12||32|
|United Kingdom||28 total working days (5.6 weeks) of paid vacation.||28||0||28|
|United States||There is no statutory minimum paid vacation or paid public holidays. It is left to the employers to offer paid vacation. Full-time employees earn on average 10 vacation days after one year of service. Some employers offer no vacation at all.||0||0||0|
In the chart above, we can see that even one of the poorest country in the world; Ethiopia, has better vacation laws than the U.S.
Italy offers paid vacation and paid personal time for family and personal needs. This general acceptance and prevalence of time off is an amazing step towards the FI mindset. As a Canadian with an employer that pays for multiple weeks of vacation per year, I cannot imagine having zero days off!
Secondly, Italy is also very strong on community and shared spaces. From efficient public transit to grand public spaces, Italians have built communities even in the smallest cities. This is yet another way they follow the FI mindset of efficiency and shareability. Why own everything when we can share our wealth and all benefit from it.
The American views towards ownership are slowly changing with the sharing economy (Uber, Airbnb, Lyft…) but the main values of the American Dream are deeply entangled with the consumerism lifestyle most live by. Big cars, big houses, and gated yards are all inefficient and self-centered ways of life that will keep you in the rat race.
Not only do the Italians live in smaller apartments, share public spaces, and take public transit, but the ones who do own a car really do not see it as Americans do. Cars are a sense of pride, image, and entitlement in the U.S., but over there, cars are simply to get from point A to point B.
They have small, fuel-efficient vehicles, and almost all drive the same few models. With the exception of Ferraris or Lamborghinis, I do not think that Italians see their cars as their pride possession. To prove my point, they even built the ugliest car in the world; the Fiat Multipla. 🙂
If that’s not a solid proof of not caring, I don’t know what is?
The majority of the population takes public transport, bikes around, or owns a scooter. This amazing lifestyle follows the virtues of many early retirees like MMM who preaches car-less lifestyles. Traveling through Europe, you can quickly see how America is lacking the basic infrastructure to live car-free but hopefully, this is slowly changing for the best.
Since this trip, we flew back to Europe and discovered even more of this wonderful part of the world but that will be for another post.
Remember that all these amazing adventures can be accessible for much less than advertised on travel sites. You sometimes need to improvise your own trails and play a bit with reward programs but there is always a frugal way to explore the world. You could get flights for free through programs like American Express, find a bunch of free activities with a little online research, and book hotel stays for free through the American Express SPG card.
Please don’t be shy to comment your own European adventures and remember to always stay happy, Xyz.