How do I afford it? I’m not a professional traveler nor do I guarantee that “my way” will work for everyone. I’ve just been asked so many times that I feel the need to share as much as I can in hopes that others will take an opportunity in their life and make it happen as well.
Lets start with the primary way I’m able to travel, the beautiful world of volunteering. My thoughts have always been that I have a healthy body, active mind and an abundance of energy… Why not put it to use! While researching my possibilities, I fell upon the program described below and have stuck with it ever since.
“Help exchange” is an online listing of hosts that generally offers a room and meals in exchange for work. You can snoop around the website without registering, but the annual fee is minimal and it allows you to see everyone’s profile in detail. If you desire to travel abroad, meet locals, and learn more about culture than the “tours” provide, I highly suggest you check this out, it’s changed my life.
To give you an idea of some of the things I’ve gotten to do and places I’ve seen while volunteering, here are a few links to some of my favorite hosts!
This was with an amazing family in Australia that provided a tree house for the accommodation, scrumptious vegetarian meals and a plethora of knowledge with organic gardening. LIFE IN THE TREES OF WOONONA .
this took me to a tiny coastal town in New Zealand. I got to share a cabin with another volunteer from Malaysia. ON THE RESERVE .
An orphanage in Argentina that opened my eyes to a group of smart, funny and extremely entertaining children. ANOTHER DAY WITH THE KIDS .
If I’m not volunteering, I’m usually staying with a friendly fellow traveler that I’ve met along the way.
“Well, if you ever make it to (fill in a random city here) you’re more than welcome to stay with me”.
This is a common offer that I rarely turn down… and fully plan on returning the favor when (if) I grow up and get a place of my own.
If I’m not volunteering or reconnecting with a friend, I’m usually on the way to do so. This leads to my next accommodation that, for the most part, is free considering I have to do it either way. Planes, trains, buses and boats!
If at all possible I make my transfers during the “night route”. Prices are generally the same and sometimes even cheaper. Depending on how long the ride is, they depart between 10p and midnight, getting you to your destination by the morning. So if you can sacrafice a night without totally horizontal sleep and can endure the random crying baby, Mr. Sneeze McGee or Captain Cough sitting behind you… You’ve just got one more night of rest (or attempted rest) for no extra charge!
When none of the above has fallen into place, I resort to the hostel life.
Definition of hostel: A hostel is a budget-oriented, shared-room (“dormitory”) accommodation that accepts individual travelers (typically backpackers) or groups for short-term stays, and that provides common areas and communal facilities.
It serves it’s purpose for a minimal price compared to hotels and resorts. Even though it’s money out of the pocket, I still feel like it’s a positive addition to my journey. This is usually where I get bunked up with a stranger that leaves as a new friend that I usually reconnect with down the road. Without the handy backpacker accommodation, I wouldn’t meet nearly as many people as I do.
Next expense – Transportation
Of course to get to the main destination, especially from the states, a flight is neccessary. Unfortunately I haven’t met a backpacker yet with part ownership in a major airway company, so I just rely on a few basic tricks to get the best, cheapest flights possible. Here’s what I’ve found:
What day and time you fly – Be flexible. Do you have to fly out Friday Or Sunday (the most expensive days) or can you swing a red eye on Wednesday?
What day and time you purchase – It’s been proven that shopping and purchasing flights on Tuesday afternoon is usually the cheapest option. Airlines are battling for your ticket because most people snoop for deals on the weekends when they have time to look.
Airports – sometimes flying into and out of a nearby airport can save money. This isn’t my favorite trick because sometimes you’ll spend just as much money (and time) getting a transfer to your final destination over the direct savings.
Using the plastic – Because I use so many different airlines and travel companies, I use a general CC that allows me to save up points and use them towards ANY ticket. It’s a beautiful circle of using the card to buy the tickets (paying it off every month!) and then using those points for the next flight.
Buying in bulk or one ways- Most of the time I just have a general layout of when and where I’ll be month to month. This prevents me from purchasing specific tickets in advance, however I found a company that allows you to buy in bulk with the flexibility to change your dates.
Websites – Kayak, Travelzoo, Orbits, Expedia and the list goes on of sites that can help with your journey. I don’t soley rely on them, however they are helpful to narrow down some options and they’ll email you valid deals that the general public won’t hear about.
Once I’ve landed…
Plane, train, bus or share – Before I decide on my transportation details, I first pick which type is going to be the best fit to my needs. Financially, what is the cheapest and is it worth it. Is it safe enough to risk and save the money? What about time flexibility, can I afford to loose a day of travel on a 22 hour bus ride or should I just pay the extra for the 2 hour flight? A fancy train for speed, luxury bus for semi comfort or a local van to save the green?
My favorite way to really save with ground transportation is sharing a ride. I’m not necessarily talking about hitch hiking, although that was a blast in New Zealand! The photo below is the brave driver who picked me up, my new and still friend Hamish!
The other option which is an organized ride share that you can usually find in every country. www.blablacar.com for example is a site that links people looking for gas money if you want a ride to where they’re going. A high speed train from Madrid to Barcelona is about 120 euro, a public bus averages 50 euro, but a ride share would ask for 30 euro. Is it worth it at that time?
Last option that Ive always kept as a possibility is car relocation services. There are online sites that link you with companies that need a one way driver. Maybe it ws rented by a previous traveler to go to an major airport and now needs to make it back to it’s original city. You pick it up, drive it to your next stop and then viola, you just payed for gas with a bonus of the open road! This is even more amazing if you can find another backpacker going in the same direction who wants a ride and will split the gas… Score!
I get there, stay there and now it’s time to eat!
When volunteering, part of your work is rewarded with meals. It can vary between getting all your daily meals to just eating dinner with the family. Either way, I always have a variety of protein, carbs and fat in my backpack to hold me over and or consume as an emergency meal. Some examples are a variety of nuts, dried fruit or veggies, dry oats (granola if you need more flavor), honey, etc. Once I arrive to a new destination one of my favorite things is to find the local store or market and look around for healthy items that I’ve never seen before to throw in my bag for the next bus ride. Financially I can survive much longer by making my own meals which is another bonus of hostel traveling. The kitchen is open to the guests to use (something you won’t find at hotels).
Left overs? Save them! If I DO eat out I’ll always see if someone wants to share a meal and if not, I’ll wrap up what’s left and eat that for meals to follow until it’s gone. See the “edibles” posts for some examples of creative re-use of food.
This meal, I turned into three!
Commonly hostels or volunteer hosts will provide a spread for breakfast that might include (rarely including ALl) things like fruit, cereal, oats, breads, yogurt, eggs and so on. The yogurt will spoil over time on the road so eat that first. You need heat to cook eggs, so if yogurt isnt your choice of protien go for the egg. The breads, oats and grain travel well, so snag a serving and throw it in your bag for a later snack. Ive even put my morning yogurt in the freezer and taken it when I leave. This is so when I hit the road and get hungry, I snag a piece of fruit from a stand and my thawed yogurt is thawed and ready to eat…and free!
Lastly, “Do you ever make money”?
Yes! I’m fortunate that the 4 career choices I’m experienced with, I can take around the world. Primarily hairstyling because everyone wants a haircut and most travelers don’t have the desire to trust or over pay a salon. So when I arrive in a new hostel I’ll hang a small sign stating my prices and room number and see what comes my way. Usually at each hostel, I’ll make enough to pay for my stay and walk away with some change. At one accommodation, the owner of the place let me give his staff haircuts and didn’t charge me for the 3 nights I stayed!
Massage therapy, bar tending and teaching are the other three that I use when opportunity arise. Sometimes I get paid cash, other times its a barter like dinner, a bus ticket, a free night stay or my personal favorite, language lessons!
So there you have it, a general guide to my sneaky ways of traveling like I do. Hopefully it’s obvious I truly enjoy it, so please don’t hesitate to email me with specific questions.
Cheers to adventure!