I think it should be mandatory that every citizen on Earth must travel out of their country for at least a month every year.
Everyone wants to travel. People are not meant to be stuck in the same city or location forever. And it is a fundamental human right to have freedom of movement.
From what I’m finding in my travels, the USA is one of the only countries where people don’t generally go traveling for a few months or a year after they finish school. Some do, but it’s not as common as other countries. America is also one of the 10 countries that doesn’t require companies to give their employees paid vacations. Many companies do, but it’s not required. Per Wikipedia, “The average number of paid vacation days offered by private employers is 10 days after 1 year of service, 14 days after 5 years, 17 days after 10 years, and 19 days after 20 years.” As a comparison, Russian and UK citizens get 30 paid days a year.
Most people I talk to in my travels are envious of my ability to travel indefinitely around the world. And one of the most common objections they have to their own travel is it’s too expensive.
I will lay out the travel experience and tips that I’ve already had in my travels. I will use the currency that I originally researched or traveled in, which changed from the US to the UK, so bear with me. As a quick guide, current exchange rates are roughly £2 to $3.
Recently while surfing the net, I found a one-way plane ticket from Los Angeles, California to Oslo, Norway for $178 USD. Sure, it’s only one flight a month away. But that is CHEAP! And there are many similar deals.
In the past week, I’ve taken buses from Gatwick to London, to Brighton, back to London, to Bristol, to Bath, back to Bristol, to Cardiff and then to Aberystwyth, Wales. My total bus fares: £35 ($50). And even that was in error. I mistakenly didn’t book my bus ticket from Gatwick to London until after I landed. Had I purchased it the day before, I would have saved £7. Other than that, I paid £10 for an Oyster card to travel all around London on the buses, and £2 to rent a bike in London for 24 hours. As a note, the bike is a great way to get around London. For the rental fee, you can make unlimited trips for 24 hours that are under 30 minutes each. Over 30 minutes costs another £2, but you can simply drop off your bike after 25 minutes at any of the numerous stations around the city, and pick up another one a few minutes later at the next station, which will probably be just a couple blocks away.
For my future travels, I found a bus from Edinburgh to Brussels for £25, and then a flight from Brussels to Pisa for another £25. There might be a small baggage fee for the flight, but that’s still dirt cheap.
Here are some tips for cheap transport:
This might not be for everyone, but walk as much as possible. I may have overdone it, especially with my 20 kg (45 lbs) backpack, but I walked over 80 km (50 miles) in my first 10 days of travel. My feet were certainly bruised and blistered the first couple of days, but now they are satisfactorily hardened.
If walking is not an option, there is definitely a hierarchy of travel options. Buses are almost always the cheapest. From there, I think different countries vary. I know that taxies were very cheap in Mexico, and are very expensive in London. I will be adding further data on this as I travel, but research your options ahead of time. And also book ahead of time. As I learned, booking a bus ticket the same day you plan to travel is very expensive. But booking just a day earlier is quite cheap.
The hidden gem of European transport is Megabus. Megabus operates throughout much of Europe, and also in many states in the USA. It is by far the cheapest mode of transportation I find each time I search in Europe, although that isn’t always the case in America. Just be patient with longer trips. If you are in a hurry, obviously this is not the long-distance transport for you.
As a comparison, my upcoming trip on Megabus from Edinburgh to Brussels is £25. On National Express, the other major European bus line, it is £35. And it would cost £119 to fly.
Another tip is simply the common sense of purchasing airplane tickets, such as booking flights in the middle of the week (preferably Wednesday), avoiding holidays and peak seasons, etc. And when booking, try more than one booking site. I primarily use Skyscanner.com, but I will check others, such as OneTravel.com, Momondo.com, Kayak.com, etc. to ensure I am getting the best deal. Google.com/flights is also a new option which seems to quite often offer the best price too.
After checking a booking site and finding the best deal, check the site of the airline itself and see if they have something better. Quite often they will, if only for a couple pounds (or dollars) cheaper. Finally, be willing to call up the travel agent at the airline. Sometimes you can get the best deal of all when you talk to them in person, but usually on-line deals are the best.
Lodging can make or break your travels. Staying in hotels will cost a fortune. There are several cheap alternatives. I personally use Couchsurfing.com and Workaway.info. With couch surfing, you can find hosts around the world who are willing to put you up for a night or two, or even longer. I have run into quite a bit of skepticism and uncertainty that others have with using couch surfing, but I have only had great experiences with the hosts I’ve stayed with. Sometimes it’s a living room, and sometimes it’s a private bedroom to stay in. But it has always been comfortable, and some hosts also offer a meal or two, invite me to parties or show me around the town they are in.
Another benefit to Couchsurfing.com is the events. I have been to many in the various cities I have traveled to, and they are always a blast. I’ve met many great friends through them, and at one I was also able to find a host for the night (which was a story in itself, waiting to the last minute to find lodging in London).
Then there is Workaway.info. For about $27, you can sign up and find places to volunteer all around the world. In exchange for 4-5 hours of work, 5 days a week, you can get free lodging and sometimes meals or other exchange. The work is as varied as you can imagine, from breaking in horses to rebuilding castles to ecological projects to au pair. Within 24 hours of signing up, I had booked two weeks in Brussels, followed by 2 weeks in Italy. And the plane flight between the two: $25.
Another very cheap alternative is Hostelworld.com. I have not used this myself to actually stay in a room, but I have it as a backup in case any of my hosts fall through and I need an urgent place to stay. Some countries are more expensive than others, but many countries will have a room for under $10 a night during the week, and under $25 on the weekend.
Here are tips for budget lodging:
First of all, if you are using Couchsurfing.com, book well in advance. It might be much harder to plan your journey that way, but 2-4 weeks ahead of time is much easier to find hosts than last minute. Not that it can’t be done, and I have found a couple of hosts at the last moment, but the percentage is very slight. If you don’t know what your exact travel plans are, just tell your host, and let them know you are flexible. Some will be okay with this and will be accommodating. If not, you can book a couple nights and then simply integrate that into your travel plans. I personally tend to travel to wherever I have hosts booked. The hard part is having sequential nights booked. Sometimes you have to fill in the gaps with hostels, or request to stay an extra day or two. I’ve just been lucky (and persistent) so far. Knock on wood.
Currently, I don’t have many tips for staying in Hostels, as I have yet to stay in one myself. I will update this post when I have personal experience. But as I mentioned earlier, hostels tend to be 2-3 times more expensive on Saturday and Sunday, so I would only recommend them for the weekdays, and try to get a host on the weekend.
Finally, if you plan to stay longer in a location, look at other websites such as Airbnb.com. I will post the names of these as I discover them more myself. Don’t forget that if you do use Workaway.info, you will have lodging for however many weeks or months you volunteer for.
Oh, but for the best and cheapest way to travel, simply get a tent and a sleeping bag. Or rough it with just the sleeping bag. I can guarantee I’ll be doing this myself within the next year, as soon as I get rid of some of the gear I accidentally packed thinking I would need it (I’ll write a full post on what to pack another time).
I have had some fantastic meals so far in the UK. Conversely, I’ve had a couple which I wish I hadn’t. First night in London, I had fish and chips at an Indian restaurant, of all places. Not bad. Then when I was in Brighton, my host took me to a pub for fish and chips. The fish was nearly a foot long, and the whole meal was out of this world. Finally, I went to a fish and chips stand on the beach in Aberystwyth, and I would now advise others to avoid that place at all costs for the really low quality they serve. Unfortunately, I found out later from my host that she would have done the same for me. But all three meals were £5.
Another meal I’ve fallen in love with are the meat pastries here – lamb samosas and Cornish pasties. Samosas are Indian, usually have lamb and vegetables, and can be quite spicy. The Cornish pasty is mainly from Cornwall and is a bit simpler with just one type of meat and maybe something else as a filler. Both are usually a pound or two and can be quite filling. Other than that, I’ve tried street sausages, bowls of fruit and several delicious sandwiches (the smoked salmon ones are my favorite). I’ve also been served some delicious meals by my hosts.
The drinks are just as good. In Brighton I had a hot ginger lemonade. Each sip of that made my whole body tingle, and was perfect for the freezing temperatures. Then in Bristol I met a friend for chai coffee, and later some famous Bristol cider. I can’t even describe how delicious those were.
Food is just as easy to budget when you travel, and in some places can be dirt cheap. While I don’t have experience in other countries yet, from what I’ve read in other blogs, it can be as little as $3 a day. Personally, I spent less than £45 in the first week I was in the UK. That translates to less than $10 per day. By using food carts and supermarkets to buy food, you can keep the cost way down, while still splurging on a meal here and there.
I would definitely recommend food carts and street food in any city. I can tell you that in Portland, Oregon, the food carts have some of the best food in the city. They tend to be much cheaper than restaurants, and to my knowledge, you can find them in just about every city in the world.
One of the best ways to save money on food is in the drink department. Try to stick with water as much as possible, and only get a “splurge” beverage every couple of days. Personally, I’ve been gone to a store several times to get a liter of juice for £1 each. As a wonderful nutritionist told me recently, sipping on water every 15 minutes throughout the day is one of the healthiest things you can do to your body. But I digress.
Another benefit to using Workaway.info or other volunteer sites is you sometimes get food with your lodging. Just make sure you work this out with your host before you arrive, or check their profile. Don’t just take it for granted, as it’s not always the case.
Other than that, saving on food abroad is the same as saving on food at home. Use markets, don’t get a lot of snack food, get food that will fill you up, etc. I always carry some dried fruit, nuts, trail mix or jerky with me for when I get hungry. And just drinking water or taking some Vitamin C will usually handle a craving to eat when you’re not actually hungry.
All told, between food, lodging, transport and a scarf, my total cost for my first 10 days in the UK was less than £100 ($150). Now take your weekly expenses for rent, transport and food wherever you currently live and compare. Well?
To end, I want to thank all the couch surfing hosts I’ve had who put me up for a night or two, offered meals and showed me around their towns. Their help has been invaluable and has allowed me (and millions of others) to travel on a budget.