Thursday, November 13, 2008

How to Travel On The Cheap: Part 1


Here are some things that I know about: 
How to eat epic amounts of cheese in one sitting 
How to dress like Dolly Parton
How to travel the world on $2

Okay. Maybe not $2. Maybe $4.

In 2006 I did a five-month world-ticket, with stops in Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Greece, Italy, Germany, Scotland, Wales and NYC to the tune of $4,000. This included all of my flights, lodging, all the halloumi a girl could want and some wicked harem pants. Quite a deal, right? 

Want to travel cheap? Here are my secrets:
Go somewhere cheap 
We all grow up fantasizing about seeing Big Ben or the Eiffel Tower, but Western Europe's expensive, yo! And there's a lot more excitement to found outside of the EU. There are heaps of lovely, amazing, culturally significant, safe countries just aching to be included in your itinerary. The Czech Republic, Mongolia, Tunisia all get high marks. You can find other suggestions here and here.

Now that you're there, stay there for awhile
The biggest expense of most trips is the transportation to and from your destination. So get the most out of that $1,600 ticket to Saigon and hang out for a bit! The feeling of really staying in a city, getting to know all its nooks and crannies, having that little cafe you always get coffee at ... well, it's a lot better than changing hostels every night and spending every day standing in lines for various Important Landmarks. You will have a much deeper relationship with your host country ... and save a chunk o' change as well!

Public transportation is you friend
Sure, taking the bus through downtown Bangkok can be pretty intimidating. So if you're in a non-English speaking country and you're only in cities for a few days at a time, I'll give you a pass on this. But if you're planning on kicking it in Berlin all summer, you have no excuse for avoiding that subway. Even in places where the taxis are cheap (compared to what you're used to paying) all those rides add up. The added bonuses of taking public transport are a) meeting locals b) seeing parts of the city you'd miss on that air-conditioned tour c) feeling quite chuffed that you've figured it out on your own! One of my favorite memories of our three weeks in Fiji are the 70-cent, open-air buses full of babies and families and clanking hip hop music.

Volunteer in exchange for your lodging
For realz, this is the way to go. Not only will it significantly cut the cost of your trip, you'll meet heaps of people and contribute something to your host country. The trick here is to find a volunteer program that is free and will cover your housing. Many volunteer program require that you cover your own costs and, thus, are actually really expensive. But free programs do exist. I had an amazing time volunteering on a tiny island in Greece with The Aegean Wildlife Hospital. In exchange for two hours of water-bowl filling and corn scattering I got my own bedroom in a sweet little Greek farmhouse and the rest of the day was free for sun-bathing, ouzo drinking and cliff diving.

A sure bet for a volunteer/lodging exchange is WWOOF, World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. WWOOFers volunteer on organic farms in exchange for room and board, often living as a member of their host's family. There are WWOOF farms on every continent except Antarctica. You just choose a country and farm that you're interested in, email them and go! Amazing, right?

Work while you travel
If you'd like to include a few more expensive countries in your itinerary, you can always work a bit to offset the costs. Most hostels/backpackers hire guests to clean the building in exchange for their board. If you're not afraid to get your hands dirty, fruit picking jobs are huge in New Zealand and Australia and hospitality jobs are usually easy to come by in most tourist ports. Proper employment calls for a working holiday visa, but it's often easy to find cash-in-hand casual work, too.

If you're a Virgo like me and have to plan everything out ahead of time, please allow me to sing the praises of Italy's ACLE program. You teach English to Italian kiddos for six hours a day, for 250 Euros a week. And! You stay with an Italian family so you get all the gnocchi and gelato you could ever want without spending a cent. Nice, eh?

24 comments

  1. There's some amazing tips here, looking forward to part 2! I've never really travelled on a budget unless it's to one destination staying wtih friends or relatives, so I don't really have much to add, but this post will be very useful to me in the future I'm sure!

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  2. In in a lot of countries (especially the UK) there are GREAT museums that are free...spending a whole day learning about a country's history and culture is cheap, but also a great way to get to know the place you're in!

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  3. I've got about 90 Euros for three days in Paris. I'll let you know my "traveling on the cheap" tips on Tuesday! :D

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  4. SO glad you're writing about this stuff, lady. As a bona-fide chickenshit and cheap-travel-know-nothing, these tips are eye-opening and invaluable. Could I use more hyphens?

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  5. Come to the philippines! Its one of the few english speaking asian countries, and we have awesome beaches the world has yet to discover. Best kept asian travel secret ever!

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  6. Great tips and blog - thanks for stopping by...I'll be back :)

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  7. Really great post. My tips include:

    - stay at youth hostels rather than hotels
    - look for hostels that have a kitchen or kitchenette and make your own meals instead of eating out every day
    - invest in a used travel guide book rather than hiring a tour guide/going on an expensive tour
    - you already mentioned this, but it bears repeating: use public transportation!!!


    I think your advice about working while you're on vacation (or volunteering at the place you stay) is a great idea.

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  8. Dollface! great ideas!

    Dane! I've actually been there! I spent two weeks there while I was living in Taiwan. I found Manilla a bit intimidating, but I *loved* Mindoro. It was really, really lovely.

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  9. Fab ideas!

    Don't forget one can always couch surf (in the more expensive countries)...

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  10. These are all really great travel ideas. My travel tip would be, don't by cookies from strangers on the street in Amsterdam unless you want to spend many days "out of service".

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  11. Young Werther: You're beating me to the punch! That's for Part 2!

    Vain and Vapid: Awesome.

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  12. Thank you so much for the sweet comment.
    I'll drop by again when I have more to say (i.e. not before 8am in the morning!)

    Take care
    x

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  13. That was awesome Sarah... Great tips! Agree with u on the bus vs cab theory... Now on to read Part 2...

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  14. and if you can't deal with public transport (for safety/hygiene reasons, or if the distance you regularly need to go isn't that long), sometimes it's worth it to rent a bike. non-polluting exercise, and good worth, if you use it a lot. you can even split it with a friend and just sit on the bag-holder on the back.. maybe it just works for me cause i'm a teen but yeah. just don't go bikin' it it while intoxicated! AND if it breaks down, your tire goes wonky, or anything like that, it's always nice to meet cute guys who want to help you.

    also, instead of going to cafés all the time, bring snacks in a bagpack. and make friends with locals to get to eat with their families!!!

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  15. If you are a little bold try CouchSurfing. You can create a profile and scope out couches all over the world. Everyone offers their couch freely. You'll also meet locals and many of them are willing to show you around - a great way to find the good spots instead of the overrated tourist attractions.

    Great blog- thanks for the fab tips!

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  16. Nice post. This post provided very useful and important information.

    Aiden Thomas
    Great Barrier Reef Hotels

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  17. Great information. When we went to Europe we did use the buses, trains, & subway to get around in Italy, France, and Spain. Thanks to our travel agent and my daughter for figuring it all out.

    I love to travel. Thanks for sharing this great tips.

    In gratitude,
    Annette

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  18. Just wanted to point out that the Czech Republic has been in the EU since 2004.

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  19. this is so great and helpful! i'm planning on hopefully doing some euro traveling in 2013 when i study abroad, but seeing all the possibilities, i might try to travel before then with all the money i can save volunteering on an organic farm! what an amazing experience that would be! great tips

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  20. Just to let you know this is appearing in my link round up on Saturday 1/12 at CrazyLovelyMe.com! I've had wanderlust for ages but no money to travel with - it definitely inspired me!

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  21. Such great tips! Also Couchsurfing saved me a lot of money in the past too.

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