What started out as plans for three months of solo travel have slowly evolved into currently my six month of travel. 2015 was a year of listening to travel podcasts, talking to friends who have traveled for extended periods, and researching all things travel in my free time. Travel-while certainly a form of privilege requiring some form of time and money-is something I wish for all humans who desire it to experience in their lifetime. Travel enables us to see our countries of origin- both the good and the bad- in ways we could not had we stayed put. It encourages critical thinking as you gain an understanding of how large social issues-such as environmental footprints and poverty- impact so many people on this planet. It fosters an open mind as you spend time immersed in other languages, traditions, religions and cultural practices. The world feels equally big and small, accessible yet ever-vast under changing skies.
But how to make it happen? Here are 15 ways I’ve made long term travel possible:
15) Participating in programs like Workaway, Helpx and WOOF. Ranging in membership costs from free to $30, these programs allow travelers to search for hosts who are looking for volunteers to help them with tasks ranging from farm work, helping in hostels, childcare, etc. in exchange for free food and accommodations. As I write this, I’m currently participating in a Workaway opportunity at a serene yoga center south of Sydney.
14) Skyscanner.com: In my experience, Skyscanner has consistently offered the cheapest flight when compared to Google Flights, Kayak, Expedia, etc. This website and app features a search button for flights to “everywhere,” which is how I crafted my initial travel plans- bouncing around countries in Europe based upon the cheapest destination. Additionally, you can view prices by month to find the cheapest flying dates. Many other search engines don’t offer this or only offer + or – three days of your selected travel date. I’d also recommend Momondo. Don’t forget to browse “incognito” or clear your cookies. Many airlines track your searches using cookies, and thus will raise prices if you repeat your search, hoping you will buy the ticket in the face of looming rises in airfare. When in doubt, try the same search on someone else’s computer and see if the price changes.
13) Learning what the local budget airlines are for a region. It all started with a fellow traveler in a hostel overhearing my conversation with someone about flying from Southern to Northern Thailand. “I just flew with Thai Lion air for $20!” She exclaimed. Five minutes later, I too booked a $20 flight on an airline I hadn’t heard of before. Now, I Google search budget airlines for whatever region I’m traveling to since even airline search engines that scan multiple carriers still don’t capture every airline (including Skyscanner and Momondo). I also take photos at travel agencies I pass along the road of the different airlines they advertise for on window displays. This is how I learned of airlines such as Cathay Air and China Southern Airlines, to name a couple.
12) Bus travel and willingness to get somewhere at whatever hour is the cheapest. If you have the time, consider traveling by bus. While in Australia, I’ve found budget airlines like Tiger Air to generally be less expensive than coach buses. Conversely, I traveled in Europe with cheap buses like FlixBus when RyanAir flights weren’t available. Though it may take longer, it’s a great way to save money if time is on your side. If you’ve found a cheap budget airline or prefer to fly, choose whatever flying time and date is the cheapest. This is often Tuesdays and has resulted in flying at hours I never dreamed of- like when my 1 AM flight to Kuala Lumpur got delayed until 4:40 AM. Tiring, but I’ve since developed a penchant for learning where the quietest, most comfortable sleeping spots are in airports. 🙂
11) Hostelworld.com: First, stay in hostels, but be open to other forms of lodging as well. I actually found a cheap apartment in Bordeaux through hotels.com, whereas the hostels in this area were all markedly more expensive. Hostelworld is an easy app in which you can filter by both price and location. My average hostel stay from all of the countries I’ve been to combined is about $8 per night.
10) Rewards credit cards: You can find these almost everywhere, and even my local credit union’s meager rewards system has enabled me to flight from Hawaii to California for free (after two years of purchases.) Not sure where to start? Here are a few suggestions.
9) Sign up for every airline’s rewards program. You never know when you’ll fly with them again. This is how I will fly from California to home for free via Southwest.
8) Travel with carry-on luggage only to avoid paying for luggage. How to get around the cheap airlines with small kg restrictions? I shift my heavy items (laptop, liquids, etc) into a small backpack, which counts as hand luggage. Download your boarding pass ahead of time to avoid having to go to the check-in counter, if possible. Though most of the time, I was never asked to put my luggage on a scale, I was once asked to at the check in counter for Air Asia and was happy I had shifted my heavy items to my daypack. If you’re really desperate? Wear as many clothes as you can, sticking heavier items in the pockets.
7) Surcharge free ATMs: Frustrated with getting slammed on foreign ATM fees when needing currency in another country? Consider getting a checking account from a bank like Charles Schwab, which reimburses for ATM fees.
6) Look for ways to earn money while traveling. I currently provide online triathlon coaching as a certified USA Triathlon Coach (accepting new triathletes!) and write. Do you have some skill that you could use to support yourself? A talent or interest? See if you can transform your skills into capital. You can always create a blog of your travels to share your adventures with friends and family and open an Amazon Associates account, in which you earn a percentage of sales from people who make Amazon purchases through your blog. Humbly sharing my Amazon link and grateful for any use of this link for your Amazon purchases: http://www.amazon.com/?_encoding=UTF8&tag=likbirontre-20
4) Free offline map apps: Besides helping you from getting lost, this has helped me to save money. I can rent a bicycle instead of depending on public transit or a taxi. I also know how far things are, so that when a motorcycle driver on the street corner tells me my hostel is far and I should get a ride, I can smile knowing 2 kms is a hop, skip and a jump. My favorites are CityMaps2Go and Maps.Me.
3) Spending money on independent travel instead of tours. Some parks require guides, but with an offline map and learning what local public transportation exists to destinations you’re interested in, you may be able to avoid paying for expensive tour operators. This is how I spend three amazing days in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam for about $25 including transit and accommodations, while the tour operators offered $25 for merely a half day cruise.
2) The belief that we need far less money saved up than society tells us by living simply. I ride my bike for transport and some of my best Saturday nights have been spent by inviting friends over for dinner, laughing on the front porch under the stars. When I retire, you will still find me on my bicycle, my speed perhaps showing signs of my age, and traveling the world, one budget airline at a time. 🙂
1) The belief that life is short, the time is now, that I am worth it and money spent on life experiences, learning about and appreciating cultures and histories is a worthy investment. Let me reiterate: travel is a form of privilege. It takes money and time, resources that not everyone has equal access to. There is a way, however, to use this privilege for growth and spreading good while giving yourself permission to explore. I spent my entire life not spending and for me, the lesson was that it is ok to actually use savings for enjoyment beyond material needs. I also struggled with guilt over spending money on things that were mostly for my benefit. But let me tell you something: you’re worth it. And so are the lives of those whose employment you’re taking part in investing. I had the privilege of meeting with an embassy official before a work trip to South Africa. He shared that for approximately every 11 travelers who come to South Africa, one new job is created. Do your research and make sure your accommodation, entertainment or porter (depending on your travel) treats its workers ethically and then go a step further, getting to know the employees you interact with.
I’ll leave you with one of my favorite travel memories that was possible through many of these mediums. I traveled by bus to an island off the west coast of Malaysia to a small town called Penang. I walked from my hostel to the beach (using my offline map!) and enjoyed spending my day hiking and exploring. As a storm rolled over the beach, I sought shelter from a cafe alongside the beach and ordered a smoothie. It turned out to be owned by a local family, who sat down with me for what turned out to be a couple hours long conversation. The family shared photos and newspaper articles from a day of their greatest challenge and joy: In 2004, a tsunami came over the village, taking their 22 day old daughter who was sleeping on a mattress out to sea. Miraculously, the waves later brought their baby back to land safely and the town celebrated her first birthday with a large party in which she became known as “the tsunami baby.” Their bright, poised and joy-filled daughter served me my drink, evident as a young age that she was headed on a path that appreciated the sheer gift of being alive.
We learn about climate change and seek to tread lightly on this beautiful Earth.
We gather around tables and learn “cheers” in other languages.
We dispel myths until we better understand each other.
We share tips, bandaids, and tuk tuk rides.
We appreciate the opportunity to walk this world as a learner.
We are travelers. All of us. Even homebodies who feel the beauty of life right where they are. Even those of us who liken airports to sanctuaries and take comfort in hostel bunk beds. We’re all travelers on the journey. No one gets left out. These past six months, I’ve been blown away and struck by such kindness. Tomorrow it shall happen all over again and even when I’m back in my home
country. Because that’s what travel does; it awakens our eyes to see the things we miss everyday in our own surroundings. I hope to recycle the kindness I’ve been bestowed, and maybe this post will be a small place to start. And so my hope for you is that wherever you travel to, you experience the blessing of traveling mercies. I wish you love; I wish you friendship and I wish you peace.