Fellow Traveler: Money, Honey

Dear Fellow Traveler:

If one is traveling with a partner or small group, how do you divide the costs? This seems pretty easy if it’s someone you’re, say, married to—if you’ve already got shared money, it seems straightforward. But if you’re going on a trip with, just for example, a non-cohabiting boyfriend who makes about the same amount of money as you, so you want to pretty much split things evenly, how do you do it? Go dutch on each restaurant check as it comes? Square up when you get home? Figure, I’ll get this and you’ll get that and it’ll turn out close? I should note, in the specific situation I’m asking about, neither of us is crazy and both of us are decently employed, but I’d welcome your thoughts on what to do when a person is crazy or someone makes a lot more than someone else.


Budgeting in Bensenville

Dear Budgeting,

I’m just going to give the married readers (and the divorced ones, too) a moment to finish laughing at the assumption that it is easy to share travel costs if one is married.

Now to your premise:

I would give my brother a kidney, cheerfully and without hesitation. I will not, however, play Monopoly with him. We both understand that doing that would only be fun for one of us (at best). Some friendships need that line around travel. However well you may get along at home, even close friends can be travel-incompatible, and there’s nothing wrong or weird about that. Being unable to mesh on a hobby doesn’t expose a fatal flaw in your friendship. Everyone doesn’t travel well with everyone.

That in mind, there are some strategies that can smooth the path.

When Traveling With One Other Person:

You asked, specifically, about a non-cohabiting person of pelvic interest who is, happily, a financial equal and not crazy. This is an easy one: straight cash, homey.

Let us say you and the BF are going away for five days. You two need to figure out your total walkin’-around money* in the budget for those five days. Let’s say it is $1500. Each of you needs to contribute $750 in cash to an envelope marked “Vacation” before you leave. Now you have, between you, $300 a day. How you divide that—$150 each every morning, $100 each plus $100 for dinner**, he carries the roll, you carry the roll, let’s just figure out how we’re gonna spend it all in advance, snoogums—is a ground-level decision between you two. What’s critical to this strategy is that you both agree that nobody is whipping out a credit card until you’re back at home. If you both contribute the same amount, and you basically do the same shit, the pool of money will divide itself evenly. This method also works with a platonic co-traveler or a cohabiting romantic partner who brings the same amount to the table that you do.

When there’s an imbalance in income, suck it up and talk about it. It’s different for a love interest than for a friend, obvs, but in either case you can figure out a solution that works for everybody well in advance. What’s key is that you work it out at home rather than in the field. It’s much easier to refuse the “helicopter skiing, my treat” offer when you aren’t looking at the mountain. (And do refuse. Acceptance of that offer is very likely to come up during a Grade Five Plate-Thrower somewhere down the road.)

And if the person is crazy, dearheart, don’t travel with that person. Shed them. If the sex is that good, stay in.

When Traveling With A Group:

This is more about setting expectations and managing potential conflict. It’s still pretty easy to do if y’all cooperate. First, set some policies:

1)      Everyone doesn’t have to do everything. If four of you want to take in the $48 Monday Night Dragstravaganza Stage Spectacular, and for whatever reason two of you don’t, no problem. The last two don’t have to. There is no need to make it about money—maybe the two sitting out just can’t stand Cher.

2)      All meal checks (including a 20 percent tip) will be divided evenly by the number of people at the table. The efficiency of this is a breathtaking upgrade over everyone trying to work out what they owe from a three-foot-long check, and it’ll all work out evenly over time. (Splitting checks among two or three people/couples is fine, too, and sometimes works better for splurgy dinners. Do be decent enough to tell the server before you order.)

3)      Everyone is responsible for booking and buying their own hotel and airfare. When roadtripping, this is tougher, but be sure to take turns buying gas.

4)      Maintain a blacklist. Travel should be pleasant; having to worry about someone with a history of not pulling their own weight doing so again will spoil the trip for you even if they get it right this time. Be ruthless. It’s your vacation.

In closing, here’s my best rule of thumb for knowing if you are managing companion travel correctly: Everyone should feel, at all times, like it’s probably their turn to pay.

* “Walkin’ around money” is the trip budget excluding airfare, hotel, and anything else you pay for pre-trip (theater tickets, ski rentals, etc.), which you can divide evenly ahead of time.

** The Yours-Mine-Dinner strategy works especially well in Vegas if one of you is a gambler and the other is a shopper and each of you finds the other’s hobby a little unseemly. Hi honey!

[Do you have a travel conundrum for Go Go Go’s Fellow Traveler? Email us at submissions@go-go-go.org and we’ll ask him real nice to tell you what to do.]


First-time Traveler: Unexpected Practicalities

Sure, it’s beautiful, but where are the light switches, and how does this toilet work?

[Brenna Graham is a grad-student researching for a year in Rome, Italy. When she’s not flitting about the continent, you can find her at the nearest gelateria or buried in any one of Rome’s dustiest libraries.]

Visiting a foreign country, particularly on a new continent, for the first time is exhilarating and overwhelming. Language, food, the sound ambulances make, public transit, the lack of to-go cups–all of these things, great and mundane, are different and take figuring out or getting used to. Due to guidebook recommendations and advice from online or other adventurers, travelers are usually prepared for these major differences. However, there are a few minor necessary adjustments that nobody tells you about in advance, which can surprise, confuse, or maybe even delight the rookie traveler. Even after years of wandering in Europe, the following three things still tend to confound me, and, though little, they add up to a significant part of your day-to-day traveling life. So, like in the Boy Scouts, it’s best to be prepared for the following practicalities.

1. Needing a Magellan-like sense of navigation to find light switches.

Navigating foreign cities can be challenging, with unfamiliar street names, complex transit systems, or medieval centers that defy any type of cartographical logic. However, the real challenge is in finding light switches. In Europe it’s not uncommon for light switches to be located outside of the room the light is meant to illuminate. Particularly for small spaces like bathrooms or closets, light switches are nearly always found on the exterior wall near the door. It’s actually an extremely practical idea, but when you’re not used to it, it leads to a lot of fumbling in the dark and embarrassing re-dos on entering public restrooms. Make sure to watch for switches before entering! Speaking of restrooms, that leads to #2…

2. Re-learning how to use a toilet every time you go to the bathroom.

Aqueducts might have helped the Ancient Romans conquer the western world, but that doesn’t make modern European plumbing any less confusing. Before I traveled extensively and lived in Europe, I didn’t realize that toilets could have different designs. Toilets, I thought, were toilets. Oh, how naive I was! Every time you enter a bathroom in Europe, you are forced to re-learn how to use a toilet. The flush might be a small button on the wall, a cord to pull (but don’t pull the alarm cord!), or a large panel on the top of the toilet or the wall. The toilet might use extremely little water, have no seat, or have a platform, which gives you an ideal vantage point for observing your bowel movement. Or, worst of all, it might be a squat toilet, essentially two footrests above a hole, which I understand is NBD for men, but for women is a horrifying game of trying to avoid the urine. Thankfully squat toilets are few and far between, though if you find yourself in an out-of-the-way small Italian train station I hope you’re not wearing your nicest shoes. It’s a good idea to carry tissues and hand sanitizer at all times, just in case!

3. Going spelunking in your wallet for change every time you buy something.

Though tourism is a massive business for major destinations like Berlin, Rome, or Paris, and the hordes of visitors to the glories of those cities might mask it, Europe is still suffering through the economic crisis. The financial situation in the Eurozone is shockingly bad, and the crisis gets put front and center every time you buy something and the store clerk asks you if you have smaller change. It doesn’t matter if the thing you are buying is €3.50 and you’re trying to pay with a five-euro note or if it’s €35 and you’re paying with a fifty. Whether you’re at a little market stall, a grocery chain, or an international retailer, you can always–always–count on being asked for smaller change. Try to develop a thick skin to rebuff the looks you get when you don’t have small bills, or make use of that giant pile of euro change you’ll surely accrue; you can’t always change coins back into dollars (in some instances it’s possible to change one- and two-euro coins but not smaller denominations), so everybody wins when you pay for your coffee with exact change in five-cent coins!

Travel Money Tips

Prompted by the essay in today’s Billfold about “white people prices” and haggling on the road, I thought I’d collect for you some practical “travel and money” links. We do service journalism like pros!

Wisebread shares practical tips on all sorts of “money on the road” issues in a series called, straightforwardly enough, Travel and Money–scroll down to the bottom to see the other articles. Some of the advice might be obvious, like using ATMs abroad instead of carrying massive amounts of cash, and the article about carrying a decoy wallet seems like overkill to me, but it never hurts to have a reminder about some basic money safety and convenience tips.

Budget Your Trip gives you the approximate daily costs for a ton of cities around the world with a handy currency converter and options to price out a budget, midrange, or luxury vacation. The costs are built off the actual budgets of fellow travelers, who sign up to allow the site to compile their data anonymously. Oh crowds… what can’t you teach us?

Independent Traveler has a different sort of travel budget calculator. Here you input all your own dollar amounts into lots of handy categories that help remind you about the stuff you might otherwise overlook while budgeting, like Internet access or tips. I’d suggest using this one along with Budget Your Trip–use actual numbers wherever you have them and then fill in BYT’s approximations for the rest.

Happy planning!