Tag Archives: frugal travel

Expanding Our Options for Work and Travel

Staying out on the road, enjoying the travel between countries, meeting new people, seeing new places, and not spending too much money out of our own savings has always been the goal ever since our departure from Australia in December of 2010.

Back in June, our friend Becky down in the Midi-Pyrenees of France recommended that I look into a website called Mind My House as a potential way to travel and have lovely houses to live in for free whilst house sitting and pet sitting. But it has taken me all of these months to get around to doing that because of our intense work schedule and travel back and forth across the English Channel.

A Client's Keys

This afternoon I created a new profile for us and you can find that at Deborah and Mark’s Mind My House Profile.

There are so many people who have caught on to this idea and who are travelling inexpensively by doing house sitting, but I am hoping that what will differentiate us from the masses is that we are not simply looking for cheap accommodation in foreign countries. We are following a carefully chosen path and we provide professional services along with the more standard house sitting and pet sitting.

In future posts I will keep you up to date on how it all works out!

©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
Please respect the words and images on this page.
All rights reserved.

Money Saving Travel Tips: Have a Pique-Nique in Scenic Surroundings

Lime green plates and red handled cutlery rested snugly alongside the cups, glasses, chef’s knife, and other kitchen essentials in the snap-lid container. And that container was safely tucked beneath the hatchback of the car. A quick trip to any supermarket in Europe and we were ready to eat both inexpensively and in style!

We had assembled the contents of that snap-lid container in England before driving onto the overnight ferry from Harwich to Rotterdam and beginning this adventure. So, along with the food that we have purchased in each country, it has certainly assisted in our budget-saving strategy in the Netherlands, Germany, and France.

A particularly picturesque stop was in the town of Tillieres in the Pays de la Loire where we stumbled upon a marked picnic ground adjacent to a moulin (windmill) on the grounds of a vineyard.

Late 1800s moulin (mill) in the town of Tillieres in the Pays de la Loire, France

Shady picnic hut in Tillieres next to the moulin

Making lunch in the shade on a hot day in France

View of moulin (mill) from the vineyard in Tillieres, France


Yes, we love those wonderful French plat du jour meals that I described in Lovely Lengthy Lunchtime In Lisle Sur Tarn — but unless you are independently wealthy, making your trip extend for longer than a typical vacation period of a few weeks will necessitate some savings strategies.

Picnics are one of your best money-saving measures since the fresh ingredients you need will cost a fraction of what you will pay in a restaurant — even if it is a plat du jour special! For a grand total of under €7 instead of €20-28, we each had a healthy lunch that included crunchy dark bread, deli meat, gorgeous French cheese, sliced tomato and cucumber, and a pot of yogurt for dessert. If you are lucky enough to be travelling by car, you too can pre-assemble a plastic box or carrier bag full of essentials and be ready for a roadside picnic pretty well anywhere.

My last picture below was taken outside the walls of the fortified medieval chateau at Fougeres and it’s pretty unbeatable for gorgeous eating spots. You won’t always get this lucky, but Europe certainly has some remarkable places with picnic benches or seats just waiting for your own fresh and breezy pique-nique.


Mark assembling a sandwich outside the fortified chateau walls at Fougeres in France


©Deborah Harmes and ©Mark Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
Please respect the words and images on this page.
All rights reserved.

Ways To Save On Accommodation In Europe

Camping. A word that strikes horror into the mind of many people of all ages. It’s the whole tent thing usually — or the idea of sleeping on the ground — or the bugs and crawly things. Yuck!!!

But what if you could save a packet of cash compared to the cost of a bog-standard and often rather characterless or ugly hotel room in Europe by staying in a campground? And what if it did not require sleeping in a tent to save that money? Do I have your attention yet???

Some campgrounds call them bungalows or cabins and some call them chalets. But if you can picture a miniature house that is all kitted out with built in furniture and bedrooms or bathrooms in Lilliputian proportions, that should give you an idea of what I am describing.

The examples below are from two out of three different stays that we had in campgrounds as we travelled from Germany to southern France and then up to Normandy in northern France. The two cabins that I took pictures of are quite different in appearance but in both cases they were well insulated and cozy and had double-glazed doors and windows for both energy efficiency and quiet from any exterior sounds. We had a brilliant night’s sleep in each of them, we had our own little kitchen to make ourselves a nice dinner and breakfast each day, and there was no noise from anyone down the hall in a hotel.

This first example was in the Auvergne, south of Burgundy in Central France. The campgrounds themselves were in a rustic area that was surrounded by farms on one side and a lake with a walking track on the other. The cabin we rented was rustic, rather ‘woody’ both inside and out, completely charming, and only cost us €39 for the night.


Mark at overnight cabin in the Midi-Pyrenees

Front porch of cabin

Larger of the 2 bedrooms in the cabin

Bathroom in the cabin

Kitchen in cabin

Diningroom through to bunkroom in cabin
































The next example was a newer version of the cabin/bungalow/chalet concept and as you can see in the photos, it was an homage to pastels! We found this site whilst driving from the Atlantic oceanside stay in Mimizan that I wrote about in By The Sea, Bye The Sea — But Where Are We? up towards Normandy.

We stopped for the night in Parthenay and found the cabin below right at the edge of the medieval walled city. The tourist season had officially started since it was now after June the 1st, but it still cost us less than €70 per night for a two bedroom cabin.

Compare that to the cost of the average 2-star rated hotel room in Parthenay (€68 for the cheapest one on the day that I am writing this) that has no kitchen and no second room to sleep in if your partner is snoring or coughing or whatever and you can see why we seek these places out when we are on a driving trip.

Prior to checking in, we went to the supermarket and picked up less than €20 in groceries and had a lovely dinner that evening plus a healthy breakfast the following morning with muesli and organic yogurt accompanied by a freshly brewed expresso. Yum!


Cabin in Parthenay, France

Livingroom-diningroom in cabin at Parthenay, France


Kitchen in cabin at Parthenay, France

Larger bedroom in cabin at Parthenay, France


Smaller bedroom in cabin at Parthenay, France

Exterior deck with dining area in Parthenay, France


If a noisy hotel room in a generic motorway chain costs you upwards of €65 per night off season or €99 and up in season, how would you like to spend a mere €39 off season and €69 in high season for your own wee house? Saving an average of €30 per day adds up to a lot of extra sightseeing or purchases! And almost all of these places offer an extra 10-20% discount for stays of over 3 nights. So you can unpack and settle in for a few days with a temporary home base from which to explore a region.

The easiest way to find these little gems is by doing an internet search on, for example, campsites in France (or whatever other country in Europe you choose) with bungalows/chalets/cabins. Many of them have websites that list the features on offer plus a clearly stated price per night, per week, or the discounted rate for multiple nights.

Additional perks of these cabins usually include a swimming pool, a playground for children, and oft-times a bar or restaurant and a mini-market for last minute groceries or shampoo.

Why not give it a try and travel through Europe in a more relaxed manner by staying in family-friendly and wallet friendly accommodation.

©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
Please respect the words and images on this page.
All rights reserved.

Posted on 20 June 2011

Eco-Edinburgh — Part Four

Pictures, pictures, pictures!!!

Champagne time at GreenWorks

We celebrated the roof topping out with some champagne last night in the workshop. Now Mark and I are taking a break today to go out and about in Edinburgh with my cameras.

Soooooo — instead of a daily report, here is a click-on link to a slideshow of all of the action as it unfolded over the last week.


Enjoy! And please feel free to leave comments if you are so inclined.

Also, don’t forget to have a look at the website of Greenworks in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Bye for now!

Eco Edinburgh — Part Three

Another day at GreenWorks in Edinburgh, Scotland and the sun-filled blue skies have brightened everyone’s mood. The building work is proceeding apace and the structure looks a bit more complete every day.

Progress on the overhead structure

Director Ellie Mills is normally ‘chained’ to the office and making ‘on the fly’ decisions, sometimes with baby Sula in a backpack. But she was clearly relishing the chance to get outside in the sunshine and wield a hammer today as she nailed timber shingles to the end of the emerging building structure.

GreenWorks Director Ellie Mills nailing shingles

Late yesterday afternoon designer Ola was outside with a colour chart trying to decide what the final colour scheme for the building would be. And baby Sula was, thankfully, happy to be passed around and amused by whoever was handy at the moment. Here is a shot of Sula and my husband Mark last evening and you can tell from Sula’s rosy cheeks that she has been out and about in the fresh air. Just as I was about to upload these photos, Mark mentioned that for a person who normally enjoys the company of a cat, babies are not that bad on occasion.

Ola checking the colour chart

Mark keeping Baby Sula amused

I’m away for now — out into the sunshine to take some photos of the materials in the yard. Then I’ll be back to the office to stay warm while I edit photos and write survey questions for the volunteers. More soon!

Deborah editing photos and public relations material

Copyright ©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
Please respect the copyright of all text and photos on this website. All rights reserved.

Eco Edinburgh — Part Two

In the short few hours since my departure last night, a structure had begun to form atop the decking. It was Day Two for us here at GreenWorks in Edinburgh, Scotland and the workers were powering on, enjoying every moment of non-rainy building time.

Wall building

Walls in progress

Our hosts, Ellie and Simon and baby Sula, seem to have a revolving door of volunteers for this project and I admire their ability to think on their feet, balance an 8 month old child in shifts, and steer a group of volunteers who are working with power tools. Fortunately we have a mature group of people here with rather a lot of construction skills amongst them. I am the odd-one-out since my tools are cameras and a computer, but I’m thrilled to be able to bring public relations and photojournalism to the mix. The hours do pass quickly in a bit of a blur though!

Ellie in the office

Simon and Sula in the office

Off to edit photos. More tomorrow!

Copyright ©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
Please respect the copyright of all text and photos on this website. All rights reserved.

6 Simple Steps To Save On Your Trip To Amsterdam

The misty mornings, the postcard-perfect views over almost every canal, the ease of getting around, the sensible and eco-friendly bicycle culture, the friendliness of every single person we met — these are just a few of the joys of travelling to one of my favourite European cities, Amsterdam!

Brouwersgracht Canalside

Here are 6 simple steps that helped us save money by ‘living like a local’ while we were there for 8 days recently.

1. Rent an apartment instead of staying in a hotel. I did a web search on “short term apartments in Amsterdam” and the links that caught my eye were not the very expensive commercial ones. Instead, I was drawn to two very similar sites — Roomorama and AirBnB. After searching through the options on both sites for an arrival on a prime travel-booking date of New Year’s Eve, I chose Roomorama based on the variety of apartments still available and was very pleased with the apartment that we rented in the Jordaan area. Both sites contain a range of prices and neighbourhoods.

2. Cook your own meals in that apartment — and that means shopping for groceries!

Cracker aisle in Amsterdam grocery

Grocery shopping in Amsterdam

Just by getting out and walking around the neighbourhood on our first day, we quickly discovered that Albert Heijn grocery stores were scattered all over Amsterdam in every district.

The word “winkel” means shop, so the click-on link above takes you to a map of their shops both within Amsterdam and in other parts of the country.

Even when you are moving past the obvious and easy choices of fruit and vegetables, food looks pretty much the same all over Europe, North America, and Australia or New Zealand in spite of the name on the package being quite different.

Besides, it’s fun to pick up your winkelwagon (shopping cart) and put some items in there like unknown cheese varieties, milk or butter in many shades and sizes, or these crackers to the left with mystery names.

Home cooked dinner in Amsterdam

Here’s an example above of one of the delicious meals that we cooked in the apartment with locally sourced groceries.

3. Use public transport such as trams, trains, and buses.

Tram at Museumplein

OV-Chipkaart for Amsterdam

One of the nicest things about Amsterdam is the ease with which you can traverse the city by using a combination of trams and buses along with trains for the suburban trips. A sensible way to save money is to refrain from buying individual tickets for each journey and to instead purchase a multi-trip pass sold by GVB — the public transportation company.

After doing some online research, we decided to purchase an OV-Chipkaart which would allow us several days of travel on any of the trams or buses in Amsterdam. These durable plastic cards are the size of a credit card, are valid for 5 years, and are rechargeable with a credit card at ATM style machines scattered all over the city. These ‘hole in the wall’ recharge machines are usually located right next to a bank ATM.

There is a wonderful series of network maps and tourism site maps on the GVB website. Just click on the link to find them.

We purchased our cards at the GVB Ticket Office in the Tourist Information building at Stationsplein, directly opposite the huge Central Station. But they are also available from dispensing machines in places such as Schiphol Airport.

4. Buy a Museum Pass and save, save, save!
Most visitors to Amsterdam will be planning on a visit to one or more of the stunning museums here such as the Van Gogh Museum, the Rijksmuseum, the Anne Frank House, the Stedelijk Museum, the Amsterdam Historisch Museum, and many more.

For the avid museum-goer, you can purchase the Museumkaart which is sold at the entry of most of the major museums for €39 plus a one-time €4.95 administration charge for issuing the card. We used our card at all 5 of the museums that I have just named and once you get past 3 admissions at an average of €15 each, the card has paid for itself. Our next two museum visits after that were essentially free.

You will receive another plastic card that is the size of a credit card and this one is valid for a full year. It certainly encourages you to come back for another visit during that 12 month period because the card covers over 400 museums, castles, and sites of significance all over the Netherlands, not just within Amsterdam.

5. Shop and eat where the locals do and avoid the streets where the tourists are.

Taking a break in a local cafe

Expresso at a Turkish cafe

Whether you are buying a croissant at a bakery, taking a break for lunch and a coffee, or stopping for a cocktail and some snacks, save yourself a lot of money and get off of the main tourist thoroughfares. Run away from cafes or restaurants where you see tourists with guidebooks on the table! Instead, seek out the neighbourhood cafes where the locals are reading their newspapers in the local language.

A perfect example of the shopping locally concept was the pastry run that my husband made one morning for croissants. He was up quite early on one of our first mornings in Amsterdam and he walked down to one of the main tourist streets and purchased four of them for €7. The following morning, after we had done a thorough perusal of our neighbourhood, he purchased four much nicer and much fresher croissants in our local bakery for €3.20 — a more than 50% savings.

You can apply that same principal to just about everything including the ubiquitous cup of coffee. Instead of paying €3.50 for an expresso or €3.90 for a far-too-milky latte, why not head down to the local Turkish cafe for a rich, fragrant, and strong cup of java at the budget friendly cost of €2.25 or less. Yum!

6. Sort out how to access money before you leave home.
Two of the fastest ways to burn up extra cash are by making too many visits to the ATM machine for cash whilst travelling and by using your credit card too liberally. A far better set of strategies are to
(a) have a few hundred euros with you upon arrival. We ordered this currency from our local bank in Australia and it was free of any transaction fees. Your own bank will almost always give you a much better exchange rate than those airport stands or street-side foreign exchange shops.
(b) keep your withdrawals to a minimum and take out more than you normally would back home. Your linked bank back home will most likely charge you a foreign ATM fee in addition to the foreign currency exchange fee. If you are withdrawing €100 at a time instead of €300-500, you will be paying an average of $8.50 in US or Australian dollars/£5.50 in British funds for each of those €100 withdrawals. So it is far more sensible to take a larger amount out each time.
(c) use a linked banking network. You will probably always be charged the currency exchange fee by your bank since they are simply passing on the cost of conversion to you. But what if you could find a way to bypass the on-average $5-or-more fee for using an overseas ATM machine that does not belong to your own bank? I made a point of opening an account in Australia with a bank that was a member of the Global Alliance. By using a bank that is associated with this international group of banks, I can access my money for FREE (not including the mandatory currency exchange fee) at banks throughout the world. Check with your own bank prior to departure to determine if they participate in such a network. Then you can use the same method to save you some money that you can happily spend on food or fun instead of fees!
(d) find out what it will cost you to use a credit card overseas for purchases. You certainly get the most accurate foreign exchange rate when you use credit cards, but they also attract rather a lot of fees with every purchase. On average, most banks charge a whopping 5% of the cost of the purchase for the ‘convenience factor’ of using your credit card abroad. And on top of that, you will also be charged a currency conversion fee. Save yourself the resultant shock when you check your online bank statement and be informed about your options and the costs involved before you depart on your trip.

Hundreds of euros can be saved by following the strategies that I have outlined above. By doing a bit of advanced planning, you can relax and spend your travel money where you want to spend it, not where you are forced to spend it.

NOTE: All prices were current at the time of writing in 2011.

Copyright © Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
Please respect the copyright of all text and photos on this website. All rights reserved.