Two Friends Discuss Planning and Budgeting for a Trip Abroad Together

by Amy Mullen and Hope Lanphear

Hope and Amy are two best friends who met in middle school when Amy started a rumor about Hope and a bass clarinetist. Fourteen and a half years later, they are embarking on a trip to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

When did you start planning?

AMY: Technically, about eight years ago, when we promised each other that we would not travel to South America for the first time without the other. But we began planning in earnest last New Year’s Eve, while drunk on white wine and Cherry Garcia, alone in our married friends’ house with their dog.

HOPE: I drunkenly insisted that Amy send me a “legal text signature” along with a contract stating her intent. By the fall of 2013 we had settled on January or February 2014 and were scoping out flights.

How did you choose Rio?

AMY: I wanted to go to Brazil. Hope wanted to go to Peru. We agreed on Peru and then Hope sensed that I wasn’t super excited about it and she asked me if I wanted to switch to Brazil, which was very kind of her. She is a terrific friend.

HOPE: First we chose Peru because I have been meaning to go to Machu Picchu and flights seemed cheap. Amy has been studying Brazilian Portuguese and has been itching to visit Rio. I was flexible enough to agree to go there instead once Amy requested. I am the greatest friend.

What were your non-negotiables?

AMY: I didn’t want a 10-hour layover in some random city. Or any city. I also didn’t want to stop more than once. I don’t love flying, mostly because I have a really hard time sleeping on planes and get cranky quickly without fresh air. This is also why I was upset when we learned that Rio de Janeiro is actually 4,800 miles from Boston. I truly thought the flight would be, like, four hours. If there’s anything we learned from planning this trip, it’s that we both could benefit from looking at a globe every once in awhile.

HOPE: No more than one layover. If a direct flight was possible I probably would’ve paid for it. Right now we have a 70-minute layover in JFK and I guarantee I will test the limit of Amy’s patience panicking that we’ll miss it. As far as location, I really wanted to see Machu Picchu because seeing the remaining & modern wonders of the world is on my bucket list. I was cool with switching to Rio in a large part because it has Christ the Redeemer.

How did you choose a place to stay?

AMY: We LOVE the idea of Airbnb — I’ve used it twice and had good experiences — so we were really excited to find an apartment that way. One afternoon Hope made me French toast and we sat at her kitchen table, sipping spiked hot chocolate and poring over the thousands of available rental apartments in Rio. It was fewer than thousands once we narrowed it down to our price range — $140 per night, decided arbitrarily by Hope — but there were still a LOT of apartments. We wanted a place with Wi-Fi and air conditioning that had been favorably reviewed by a lot of users. The place we found looks great, though it also looks like most of the others. My takeaway from my very limited experience with Airbnb is that you have to be prepared for the apartment to be much smaller and a little grimier than it appears on the website. And we are. Hopefully we’ll be pleasantly surprised.

HOPE: Amy had used Airbnb in Spain and loved it and I loved the idea of having a kitchen to cook in so that was easy. I gave a random limit for budget (I think $500 per person for six nights) so we could narrow it down. Then we spent about 300 hours on Gchat arguing the pros and cons of minute details we probably won’t notice once we arrive (color of comforter, height of ceiling, age of chairs).

Talk about the fact that you’re going over Valentine’s day.

AMY: I’m pretty sure all of my coworkers and some of my family now believe that Hope and I are in a romantic relationship.

HOPE: Unintentional. Though I can understand the majority of our acquaintances’ suspicions given that we arrive and leave all parties at the same time, regularly celebrate Valentine’s together, and could easily map the other’s cycle.

How has your past trip together colored your expectation for this one?

AMY: This is a great question. Our last trip together was when we were 20 and I was studying abroad in Spain. We met in Paris and then Hope came to my host city. What I took from that trip is the knowledge that Hope and I can mostly go with each other’s flow, and when we disagree about what we want to do, we are comfortable splitting up and doing our own thing. (See: Hope going to the Louvre and me deciding that if you’ve seen it once, you’ve seen it all (note: not true) and going instead to the Musee des Arts et Metiers. It was fine. I wouldn’t really recommend it.) We are both good at saying what we want/standing up for ourselves, and making sacrifices for the other.

HOPE: Our last trip together was five days split between Madrid and France about six years ago. Amy speaks Spanish fluently and could stumble enough in French that I didn’t have to do anything except exclaim ‘Rico!’ to the occasional cashier. She’s been studying Portuguese so I’m only bothering to learn select phrases (excellent! beer please! so expensive! you are my friend! ). I also know that Amy usually wants to take sitting breaks around the same time I do. This is a big compatibility point for trips. Being friends for the last 15 years also helps because we can be pretty straigh-forward about what we want and not try to get the other to do something they hate. For instance, I had no problem telling Amy I don’t want to go to a single museum, and I will not try to get her to eat fried meat from a street vendor.

Are you nervous about the language?

AMY: I am excited about it. I can hold my own in a Brazilian Portuguese Meetup group but have never had the opportunity to use the language in context. I’m also comforted by the belief, which I hope is accurate, that most people in Rio will speak English. I have no idea if my Spanish will be useful.

HOPE: See previous answer. Not even a little bit.

You had some preparatory conversations about meeting men, how did those go?

AMY: These conversations began very prematurely — in fact, even before we had decided what country to go to. Hope brought up the topic, asking me to commit to developing a plan ahead of time for what we would do if one of us wanted to bring a guy back to our rental apartment. It soon became clear that she was worried I would want to do that. We had some brief conversations about it maybe being OK if our apartment had a couch, but I don’t want to hook up on a couch, and I especially don’t want to hook up on a couch while my best friend lays awake in the next room, angry at me for bringing a man back to our temporary home. So we have concluded that we will not bring men back to our apartment and we are both fine with that. I am still open to bar­hopping with, say, a group of hot locals. Hope thinks we should stay at the bar we’re at.

HOPE: Before I answer I want to state clearly that this trip is based around exploring a new place and culture and being friends and not a sexual sojourn or a pornographic pilgrimage. I mostly want to make sure (given that we only have one bed in a studio apartment) we discuss potential hookups beforehand. Or ensure that Amy does not have a few beers and then want to go to a second location, in the night, with a group of men. And I don’t want to have to decide at 2 a.m. with three and a half caipirinhas in me whether or not I should drag Amy away if she wants to go back to some Brazilian man’s place. Because, Amy, what if you get kidnapped and I have to call your mom? We should discuss these scenarios sober, in the cold light of day beforehand. Maybe put our answers in writing. And yes, Billfold, I’m the most conservative 85­-year-old in a 26-year-old’s body you’ve ever met. And, Amy, if I get tipsy and want to leave with a man, please stop me, put me on the beach for a 15-minute make out break, and then take me home — with the man, then with you, respectively.

How important was it for you to have two beds in your Airbnb rental?

AMY: For me, not important at all. When Hope stays over my apartment, or vice versa, we always share a bed. I cannot think of a single instance in the last 10 years where we’ve stayed in the same building overnight and not shared a bed, except two weeks ago when I slept on our friend Miranda’s floor and she slept on the couch. I assumed we would share a bed in Rio. To think otherwise had not even occurred to me. Apparently Hope did want two beds, and, when it came down to it, actually insisted on it. She said she’d rather sleep on a couch or futon than share a bed with me! I’m not sure where this is coming from. Our Airbnb apartment has one queen bed and one pull­out couch. We’ll probably have to talk about it on the plane.

HOPE: Not as important as Amy thinks it was. Amy is insistent we share beds, even when there are two available. These are how rumors start. I simply think that with all other things equal, why wouldn’t we get the apartment with two beds? We ended up with one bed. It’s a queen.

With one month to go, what sort of planning have you done?

AMY: I applied for our tourism visas at the Brazilian Consulate in Boston because my office is close to it and Hope’s isn’t. The most stressful part of that was collecting Hope’s passport and bank account documentation at a friend’s party during a snowstorm and carrying it home in my purse. As far as planning for the actual trip, I haven’t done much. Hope has looked up a lot of specific restaurants and activities and I’m excited that she’s done that research, because I want to do things that she’s excited about and she has good taste. I am looking forward to laughing SO hard and drinking a lot of caipirinhas on the beach with my best friend, and haven’t planned much aside from that. What I have planned is my ten­hour­flight routine: compression socks, an eye mask, sleeping pills, and a glass of wine. And then just crossing my fingers and hoping for the best.

HOPE: We have both requested the time off, booked flights, and booked the apartment. I have bought a book on Rio, read the book, highlighted excepts and sent some pictures of the excepts to Amy. I sent Amy a list of places i wanted to go in an email and then made a Google map of those places. I made a reservation at a restaurant. I have half packed my suitcase and ordered sunscreen and stomach meds off of Amazon. I have emailed the Billfold about a potential article. I bought a vacation feeder for my fish.

Some Expectations

Do you have a budget in mind for this trip? How much you expect to spend altogether?

AMY: I don’t. Hope is the budgeter of us. I haven’t done enough research to know what a reasonable budget would look like. By committing to the trip, I was agreeing with myself and my bank account that I’d just spend what things happened to cost. I’m frugal enough that I know I won’t go to Rio and blow five thousand dollars or anything.

HOPE: I do! It was two grand (which is what I spent on my solo trip to Madrid), but then we started Googling flight prices and then I learned that visas cost a lot of money and I upped it to $2,500. I have it broken into subcategories…

• Flight: $1,037 ­ already purchased
• Lodging: $500 for 6 nights ­ we ended up at $457 each Visa: $180 + $1.10 for the money order ­ already purchased Travel Insurance: $50 ­ just purchased
• Food/Drinks: $400
• Adventures: $200
• Shopping: $100

This is what I expect to spend on top of my usual monthly budget. I have not told Amy this. I think I will actually spend more because tax time is right around our trip time. And also I found hang gliding.

Aside from the flight and lodging, what do you think you’ll spend the most on?

AMY: Overall, food and drink. But for individual costs, a massage. I might even get more than one.

HOPE: Food. So much food. I love food. Beer, juices, ice cream, crepes, a French bakery I found a block from our apartment, and then of course regular meals.

Do you think our chosen plan of two adjacent aisle seats will backfire?

AMY: No. How could that possibly backfire? (Famous last words.)

HOPE: No one getting screwed with the middle seat is nice, but on a 10-hour flight it’s nice to have someone’s shoulder to sleep on.

What part of having travel insurance relieves you most? What’s your nightmare scenario?

AMY: The flight and lodging were expensive and I’m just relieved that if something were to happen, all that money wouldn’t be lost. My nightmare scenario is that I get a stomach virus the night before the trip. This is also my nightmare scenario for every day of my life.

HOPE: Getting hit by a car. Or Amy’s leg getting bitten by a shark. I am uncomfortable even thinking these things.

Who do you think will spend the most between the two of us?

AMY: Me. I’m frugal but Hope is VERY frugal and she doesn’t want a massage.

HOPE: Me. Because I’ve convinced Amy to go to a molecular gastronomy restaurant and maybe hang-glide and while we’d split costs I will probably buy the bottle of wine because she is doing it at least in part to humor me. I also want to buy her a significant amount of beer for going to the consulate for us. Also I owe her an ice cream from a lost bet.

If we go to the market and find the perfect white beach pants, how much would you pay for them?

AMY: More than Hope would. I don’t know. I don’t know what white beach pants go for in Reais. The equivalent of 20 USD?

HOPE: For perfection? 20 USD. That is my ceiling for the cost of perfection.

What do you think will be the thing you disagree most on?

AMY: I could see myself, under the influence of a certain number of caipirinhas, wanting to go someplace with a group of Portuguese men and Hope thinking we should not do that. We might also argue about whether the weather is comfortable. Hope might get too hot and I might not be sympathetic enough about that.

HOPE: The amount of time we spend sitting on the beach. Because Amy really likes beaches and I really don’t. I’m thinking caipirinhas will help a lot.

What do you think we’ll agree on most?

AMY: Beach beer.

HOPE: Oh tricky! I can’t think of one thing we agree on when it comes to travel. Except booking early. We will probably agree mostly on how good of an idea this trip was.

Do you think one of us will throw up?

AMY: God I hope not. No. We have strong stomachs and hate throwing up. Hope wants to bring stomach medicine and I am worried that one of us will have loud diarrhea in the bathroom and the walls in our apartment will be so thin that the other one will hear.


What do you expect we’ll do most of our time doing?

AMY: Laughing and eating and drinking.

HOPE: Again, beaching it up. But maybe walking? Walking.

What do you think we’ll do for Valentine’s?

AMY: I think we will spend it celebrating our friendship and laughing about how we traveled 12 hours to spend Valentine’s Day together.

HOPE: I have secretly already made a reservation because I do that sometimes so I don’t worry about what will we do?! But I don’t tell people because when I do they roll their eyes at the woman making reservations 40 days in advance. Molecular gastronomy is my answer. If the maître d’ understood my English email.

What do you think will be the things we splurge on most?

AMY: A molecular gastronomy meal. Taxi to/from the airport instead of lugging our suitcases on public transit. Expensive pre­flight airport bar drinks.

HOPE: Caipirinhas and frozen things.

Do you think one of us will get bitten by a shark?


HOPE: I don’t want to say no and jinx it.

NEXT TIME: Amy and Hope reveal how their trip actually went and tally up the costs.

Amy Mullen is curious to find out how much Portuguese she actually speaks.

Hope sometimes goes by the alias Liz Jordan because she’s sneaky.

Photo: Cyro A. Silva