Brits on a Budget Find a Castle in the Sand


With one week to go in her monthlong L.A. vacation, Anne-Marie Francis is down to $15. The 22-year-old from Bristol, England, brought only $400, which she has carefully conserved through freeloading off friends, buying groceries instead of eating out, taking the bus instead of renting a car and sleeping in a dorm-style room with 30 other people at the Hostel California in Venice for $15 a night.

"I think I misjudged how much money I needed to bring," said Francis, a clean-cut drama major from Aberystwyth University in Wales. "Next time I should not spend so much money before I arrive."

Before coming here in late June, she shelled out almost $200 for clothes, including the stylish denim skirt and sneaker-esque sandals she was wearing.

"It's L.A., so you think you have to look your absolute best. Then you get here and everyone's in jeans and T-shirts," said Francis, who was traveling with her friend, and soon-to-be bankroller, Rob Langman.

At the moment, Langman, a 21-year-old graphic design student from Bristol, was living on roughly $40 a day to Francis' $20. That meant he could afford to sleep in a room with only six other people at the hostel and eat lunch every day, while Francis sometimes skipped meals to stay within her budget.

Few L.A. residents could live on $400 a month, let alone vacation on that amount. Even the most frugal of Los Angeles guidebooks wouldn't advise visitors here to travel with so little cash. Unless, of course, they were lucky enough to mooch off friends--or friends of friends, as Langman and Francis were able to do.

The two spent their first two weeks in Canoga Park, where they enjoyed free lodging, pool access and rides around town to see the sights. Then they learned the 20-minute rule: that it takes at least 20 minutes to get anywhere in L.A., and often it takes a lot longer. Canoga Park, they discovered, was too far away from everything for them to take the bus, and they were tired of imposing on their newfound friends, so they left and moved in to the hostel where the money they spent on lodging was made up by Southern California's simplest--and free--pleasures: the sun, the sand and the friendliness of the locals.

"We're typical students," said the slender and ivory-skinned Langman, who was dressed in fashionably frayed Levi's. "We tend to blag our way through most things." (According to the Web site, to blag is "to lie or use clever talk with profit as an objective," but we presume he means to be clever or resourceful about money.)

If they weren't students--that is, if they had more money--they would have foregone the cluttered communal living of the hostel, where Francis was kept from sleeping by others' snoring and Langman woke up each morning to a roommate washing dishes with vinegar. With more cash, they would like to have stayed at the Regent Beverly Wilshire and gone to Disneyland. But for this, their first overseas trip, they settled for a friend driving them through the Hollywood Hills and repeated strolls along the Venice boardwalk.

"I'm poor. I was just going to be lying on the beach today," said Francis, who has protected her alabaster complexion with 25 SPF sunscreen.

She's followed the same routine for four days running.

Meanwhile, Langman has been shopping, albeit modestly. Despite visits to Melrose, the Beverly Center, Fred Segal and the Third Street Promenade, he had only purchased a sweatshirt (or "jumper"), a bag of pink flamingo swizzle sticks and five Venice Lifeguard T-shirts "for my friends--and for me. I've got friends who appreciate tack."

Francis considered buying the same shirt for her boyfriend--the only memento she toyed with purchasing. Even though the shirts are only $6, she said, "That $6 could be lunch."

Walking along the Santa Monica Pier, she surveyed other options but decided to pass on the stall that offered to engrave her name on a grain of rice and the kiosk with the fake Rodeo Drive street sign.

Still, the kitsch and glitz of the city were part of what drew the two students to Los Angeles. "It's one of those places that you only ever see in films," said Francis, who made a pact with Langman last summer to travel to L.A. this year. Previously, both had traveled only in Europe.

"This is our last summer as students. We thought we can't just waste it sitting in Bristol, working," said Langman. He and Francis work part-time at grocery stores in their native U.K. With one week to go, there was little on their list they still wanted to see except, of course, celebrities.

Their one run-in with a Name didn't satisfy. Francis was in line at a Wells Fargo when her bank teller "went mad" and began pointing at the man behind her.

"Apparently it was Nick Fox," said Francis, not getting the name quite right on L.A. Lakers forward Rick Fox.

"Is that baseball or basketball?" asked Langman.

He had hoped to see Madonna.

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