“You are lucky,” I am continuously told. You are lucky to afford to travel. People express a wish to be 23 and recklessly buying plane tickets and hotel nights and bus trips, emptying their account on experience and waunderlust. But when you say to me that you wish you could AFFORD to travel like I do, I don’t think that’s really what you mean. I am newly graduated, with my share of debt, in (as I’m told) a “financially unstable market” and qualified academically along with thousands of others. My travel, is not an economic quantity as much as people desire it to be.
To say you wish you could afford travel means “I wish I had arranged my life values so that I could travel.”
If you want a wedding out of school, if you buy a starter home you fix up yourself, or if you plan ahead for a house and children, or invest yourself professionally by interning at your ideal job, that’s great. And if you want to travel, then you do. You arrange your values so that this happens at the top of your life. Be warned, like anything else worth having, that it happens with sacrifices and struggles, missing those moments with those at home, finding yourself and losing yourself many times again. Yes I am lucky to choose to experience things in my life that make me happy. To choose things and experience what I want to. How do I afford to travel? By choosing to put certain things above others. By following what sets my own soul free.
1. Feed your soul not your vanity.
Vacationers buy shoes and jewelry and beaded things. Travelers collect pebbles from the beach where the sun sets best, Photographs with people met that day, and notes scribbled on receipts. The scarf will never look as good as those moments feel.
2. It’s free to be brave.
Don’t turn down experiences. Try free walking tours, go with people you just met to a magic fountain that lights up, climb a hill with an amazing view you overheard people talking about – even if it takes a few hundred stairs. Try everything.
3. Go where the locals go.
It’s not easy, especially if you don’t have much time or the local language, but just go for it and understand that you may not blend but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it a shot. Take local transit (tutus or bota botas anyone?) you will save tons compared to taxis and car rentals not to mention the feeling of accomplishment when you somehow managed up in the right spot, usually with a story to tell. To really try being somewhere new, you have to give it a real attempt.
4. Use your feet.
Local transit is great, but save even more by walking. You will get lost in a new city, panic that you can’t get back and have blisters for days from cobblestone roads. But then the next time you will find it a little easier to know where you are. There is NO better way to know a place then to walk and walk and walk. But for god’s sake, invest in a good pair of shoes!!
5. Share what little you have.
In hostels, on buses, waiting under a shelter in a downpour. Nothing forges lasting friendships and travel buddies like shared wine, offered chocolates or a space on a bench. Travel is made by the people you share it with, and you will be rich in whatever is offered back to you, these friendships can lead to new places all over the world, and maybe a couple of couches to crash on too!
6. Flexibility is key.
Maybe you meet some people in your hostel that you can share an Air B&B with instead, is there a place you’ve never heard of that can be reached by local bus, does it make sense to travel on a train through the night on a long journey so you don’t have to pay for somewhere to stay that night? Go with the flow.
7. Plan what you can.
I am the most guilty of being a traveller who leaves bookings and details until the last minute. I support the flexibility and need to be able to change plans in case something comes up. So this is not about meticulously charting your travel. Target the things you do want to see: a ticket for the Alhambra in Granada meant I’d have to be there for a certain day, but my location and actual length of stay could be open, I booked a return flight from Rome using air miles before having booked any of the beginning/middle of the trip. Fill in the spaces later on. (And don’t bank on those infamous last minute deals…these are far and few between.)
8. Appreciate the simple.
My favorite solo travel days involve coffee and baileys and the city parks. This is all about knowing what you like and being your own best company. See local art, listen to street artists, take fifty photos of fountains, just do you, it doesn’t cost.
9. Be able to tough it out.
Youth hostels, places outside the city center, and 2 star motels cost less. Coaches are cheaper than trains (and yes because they suck). Regardless of price, don’t stay anywhere without reading reviews. Scan for any mention of bed bugs…not worth the cheaper tag. However, if you have spent anytime living in Kenya, or heck even as a counsellor at summer camp, and can handle the brutality of a cold shower (or are a master of the messy bun & putting it off for a few days…) then tough out the less glam stay. Also cold water is good for your hair.
10. Eat smart.
Food is one of the best parts of travel. Experience new and local food whenever possible. However, stay thrifty by taking advantage whenever you have a kitchen by cooking your own meal, bonus points for splitting ingredients with new friends. Try to cook with local goods, brave the markets and order in a foreign language for authenticity. Ask for recommendations and testers! Even without a kitchen, buy sliced meats or cheese and some cheap bread for sandwiches on the go.
Make sure you get your fill of local eats, but don’t pick up a fast food burger cause your on the move and lacking imagination! Save your bucks (and calories) for elsewhere. BRING. SNACKS. Be the mom who pulls granola bars from her bag…you will never be as grateful as when you are finally at the front of the line for the star attraction, and realize you don’t have to leave for lunch or spring for museum cafe prices (please never) because you. You have snacks.
11. Wisdom is wealth.
Listen to other people. Learn the tricks of an area. Talk to people and ask them how THEY afford to travel. Swap stories, mistakes and tears, travellers real currency is in a willingness to laugh and lose and share and grow and become rich with the values you invest in.