Making It Work
There’s a quote that tends to float in and out of the collective consciousness of my social media. It is attributed to that ever flowing font of wisdom deemed anonymous:
“Travel while you’re young and able. Don’t worry about the money, just make it work. Experience is far more valuable than money will ever be”
This sentiment captures the high-minded ideals behind my far-flung trip. Over the last year I have followed my wanderlust across six continents. During this time, the question most often asked of me is a question of economics: how do you make it work?
The short answer is that I telecommute as a freelance writer, so I work as I go. The long answer is perhaps closer to the truth. Over time I have learnt how to save money in a way that my living expenses are in fact less than they would be at home. What is even more surprising is that I truly believe that this style of travel enriches my journey and gives me a more authentic experience of culture.
Never have I been so certain that less is in fact more. Hereafter, these lessons anthologised – souvenirs from the road.
There’s no place like someone else’s home
I have learnt not to be shy to ask friends, or even acquaintances, if I can stay at their place. Living with a local is the best way to get a authentic feel for the city. At first, I was a bit awkward about asking this of people. Over time I have learnt that most people are genuinely happy to show off their city or to have an excuse to finally do the tourist sights. In lieu of friends, I have had fantastic experiences with the Airbnb website. Living with young revolutionaries in Istanbul and a street artist in London let me see beyond the tourist facade into an authentic way of life. Plus, I often pay half the price that I would for the cheapest hostel in the city.
When I first started my trip I thought that dining out was the only way to engage in the local food culture. With time I realized that shopping at the local markets, or even super market, can give you better insight into the day to day life of locals. Nothing beats tapas at a Taverna in Sevilla – except having a local teach you to cook Paella yourself. All for a fraction of the cost and the calories.
Life is a Picnic
Whilst cooking can give you a genuine appreciation of local food, half the reason we eat out is to soak up the atmosphere of a place. This is why picnicking has become a way of life for me. There is no restaurant with more absolute beachfront, or a better view, than a picnic. Walking along some seaside cliffs in Ireland I came across an elderly couple seated at a dining table that they had somehow dragged up to the cliff top. When she saw my smile the woman said “It took us years to learn to live like this”. Don’t let it take you that long. Bonus points for packing a picnic for the airport or excursions where you know the food will be overpriced.
On the road
I have found that the most expensive part of travel is in getting from point A to point B. The key to overcoming this is flexibility. Sites such as SkyScanner let you compare prices for the entire month or check the cost of flying anywhere. A more economic and environmental alternative can be car pooling. If hitchhiking isn’t your thing, websites such as Blablacar help you to arrange a lift with drivers in return for some petrol money. I used Blablacar to road trip through Spain and learnt more from talking to the drivers than I ever could have got from a guide book. Moreover, you know that your money is going directly into the local economy, rather than multinational companies. If either of these option fail me, I book an overnight train or ferry to save money on accommodation. The website Rome to Rio is fantastic for comparing all of your options.
Live young, wild and FREE
Yet another facet of the emerging sharing economy are places that let you volunteer in return for free food and board. Woofing is the big one when it comes to this – I have met many people who rave about their experiences living and working on organic farms. I went with a website called findacrew – it connects yacht owners with potential crew (there are options for all levels of experience). In this way I stayed rent free in Venice. You never know what opportunities you might find by asking around. Hostels like X hostel in Budapest often have a similar arrangement. There are some weird and wonderful options out there – just by asking around I found a gig to teach Swedish in Morocco.
Collect Moments not Things
Human’s have a strange instinct to live in the past tense – to preserve memories even as we are living them. No where is this more evident than on the road. Every monument you see is backlit by flickering attempts to souvenir the moment with flash photography. Then there are the actual souvenirs – like alchemists we try to make our memories into something solid that we can hold on to. With time, I learnt to resist this urge. I pour my memories into my journal in lieu of that beautiful scarf, or that wooden carving. This will not only save you money in the market place, but also when you check your luggage in at the airport. I try to travel with only hand luggage. I know, it sounds crazy, but you never need as much as you think you do. Traveling light gives me a freedom that is of more value than anything that I pack in my bag could be. On most flights I save money on checked luggage.
Throw out the lists
The internet is cluttered with lists: “50 Towns you Must See in Europe” ,“Ten Things you Must Do in Paris”. I believe that the trick to authentic and inexpensive travel is to do away with the lists. I usually live by the maxim that you regret the things you don’t do more than anything that you do. However, when it comes to traveling, I find the opposite is often true. I don’t regret skipping the Eiffel Tower in favor of Shakespeare’s bookshop. Nor do I regret trading the Mona Lisa for the impressionists. I do regret paying big money to see the Hagia Sophia in Turkey, because it was considered a ‘must-do’ when I knew all along that I would rather have a Turkish bath. Websites such as Like A Local can help you find more unique ways to experience a city. Don’t do anything or go anywhere because you need to get that photo that proves you were there. This applies to cities and even countries too. Consider Eastern Europe instead of Western Europe. Explore the countryside rather than stick to the cities. The discerning palate will curate their own experience, rather than following in the footsteps of those who make the lists. You will find that the road less traveled in usually the cheaper option.
Sometimes you are just going to have to trade in the experiences you take for granted for the experiences that you treasure. At home I used to buy one coffee a day. For the price of one week’s worth of coffee I can fly from Stockholm to Budapest. Or rent a vespa in Santorini. Or watch a play in London. It goes without saying that I don’t buy coffee anymore.
Whilst these lessons seem simple once written down, I learnt them mostly through my mistakes. When it comes down to it, that is the best way to save money on the road. Make mistakes. Once you have been ripped off or broke you will recognise the warning signs. The important thing is not to panic when these thing happen, as they inevitably will. Don’t worry about the money, just make it work.