Browsing Posts in Cheap Europe Travel

Budapest train

What’s the biggest perception difference between an experienced budget traveler and one planning to take off around the world?

The first has learned what really breaks the budget over time. The latter generally has it all backwards.

Here are some paraphrased quotes from people who have sent me e-mails or asked questions on message boards I’ve been on.

- “Yes, I know we’re going to a lot of expensive places in Europe, but we’re going to sleep in hostels.” (Person who had Norway, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, England, France, Spain, Italy, and the Greek Islands on their itinerary.)

- “We’re on a tight budget, but we really want to hit all every continent except Antarctica on our trip.” (A trip that was just 12 months long.)

- “I’m trying to find a cheap round-the-world flight that includes South America, Europe, Asia, and Australia but I’m not having much luck.”

These statements are inherently at odds with traveling on a budget. They’re hoping for a magic bullet answer that is the equivalent of defying the laws of physics. If you don’t tackle the big budget items, you had better have lots and lots of money saved.

You can ignore most of the “Top-10 Ways to Shave Your Travel Costs in Europe” articles that are meant to be click bait. Most of the time they’re just about messing with the margins, the small stuff. It’s like trying to fix the U.S. deficit problem by cutting funding for the arts. To really make a difference we would need to reform social security, truly fix the health care system, or cut defense spending. All three at once to achieve anything dramatic.

hostel prices

For the price of a hostel bed here, you get a really nice hotel room for 2 in a cheap destination.

Location

Budapest is a fantastic bargain. Nobody will ever call Oslo a bargain, or even London for that matter. You can buy a round of drinks for all your friends in Hungary for the price of one in Norway.  The price of a hostel bed in Copenhagen will get you a spacious hotel room for two almost anywhere in Eastern Europe. One nice restaurant meal in Switzerland will feed you for a week in Portugal.

Now take that further and go to Central America, Southeast Asia, or the Indian Subcontinent. Prices drop in half again, for almost everything you could possibly spend money on. So don’t think of how you can shave costs by self-catering and staying at hostels. If you cut the entire “basket of goods and services” cost by 2/3, messing with the margins isn’t necessary.

And as I’ve said often, getting out of the big capital cities will usually help no matter where you are.

long-term travel

Did you really leave home to do this every day or two?

Velocity

The more you’re moving around, the more money you’re going to spend every week, every month. It’s not far-fetched to say that someone visiting 24 countries in one year is going to spend twice as much as someone visiting 12. The one visiting 8 will spend even less.

If those 24 countries are on multiple continents that require long-haul flights, bump the budget up by thousand of dollars. Even in places where transportation is cheap, being on the move a lot requires constant spending on some kind of tickets. If you’re in one place for a month though, it’s just your feet and local buses or subways. Plus when you get to know an area, you don’t have to throw money at hurdles because you’re in a hurry. You can figure out cheaper/better options for everything from lodging to groceries to bus options for leaving town at the end.

Many people setting out on their first round-the-world trip act as if their life is going to end the moment they return home. They have to do it all, see it all, on this one grand adventure. Hey, you’re 28 years old; is this really the last time in your life you’re going to get on a plane and go somewhere? On my three round-the-world trips, I never even set foot in Latin America. Now I’ve been to a dozen countries in Latin America. They didn’t disappear from the map. I still haven’t been to New Zealand. But I think it’ll wait for me.

round the world flight

This route STARTS at $7,250.

Distance

I’ve written a few articles related to my book on traveling in the cheap clusters of the world. This one is getting a bit dated, but apart from Turkey getting more expensive it’s still pretty accurate.

The idea is, you take a long-haul flight to a cluster of cheap countries, then go overland from there. The most common one is to get a flight to Bangkok and then you can hit a half-dozen other countries without getting on another long-haul flight. You can get a cheapo flight from Singapore to Indonesia or a not-so-bad one from Bangkok to Nepal or India, which is the start of another cluster. The cheapest cluster option from the U.S. or Canada is to fly to Mexico or Guatemala and then make your way south by land and boat. For the Brits, a cheap flight to Budapest or Prague can then turn into lots of jaunts by train and bus to the least expensive parts of Europe.

The easiest way to ratchet up your long-term travel budget in a hurry is to try to check far-flung places off your list on one trip. Sure, you may have always dreamed of visiting Japan, New Zealand, South Africa, Israel, and France, but if you’re trying to find a ticket hitting all those areas, it’s going to be the price of a used car, no way around it. Save some for later.

What lesson did you learn the hard way between planning and actually traveling?

Italy travel Carrara

Sometimes editor types joke about the “three I’s of travel” that grace so many magazine covers: Italy, Ireland, and India. They’re photogenic, look exotic, and have nice luxury hotels with ad money to spend. You’ll rarely find a travel magazine that goes a whole 12 months without one of the three on a cover.

In the current issue of Perceptive Travel, we subbed in Iceland for Ireland. (Don’t worry, you can still find the latter plenty of places on our blog.) Iceland is also photogenic, can look exotic, and has some nice hotels. As usual though, we don’t tick off places you’ve already seen a hundred times before. We like to take the road less traveled. In this case we’re literally on the road with Luke Armstrong as he tries to learn how to drive a stick shift on the fly. In a van. Going across Iceland in the “crazy season.” See Learning to Drive a Dinosaur in Iceland.

We also have a story about Italy, but toss out your expectations because Debi Goodwin is not going to check anything off your bucket list. This place was on hers though: the Italian marble quarries of Carrara.

Old Delhi

We had a story in the past on how the “Incredible India” portrayed in ads and glossy travel stories is like an alternate universe to the Slumdog Millionaire reality that non-luxury travelers see every day. Being sheltered from the grinding poverty is next to impossible if you go for a walk though, as Jim Johnston finds out in Hunger and Privilege: Dinner in Old Delhi.

As always we run down some world music worth listening to, from a globalFEST compilation to classical music with a Turkish twinge, through the ears of Laurence Mitchell.

Susan Griffith reviews three new travel books: one from a legend, one from a shipping industry reporter, and one from…well, you decide.

Need some new travel shoes?

We give away something cool to one of our loyal Perceptive Travel readers each month and last time Jack P. from Florida scored a nice $139 daypack from Granite Gear. In April we’re setting someone from the USA up with a nice $90 pair summer travel shoes: the H2O Escape Bungee Sneaker from Sperry Topsiders.

To win, you could follow PT on Facebook and pay close attention. The better bet is to sign up for the monthly e-mail newsletter.

Travel in Romania

I write fairly often on here about how even seasoned travelers sometimes have very warped perceptions of potential travel destinations. The other day I saw someone spewing out all kinds of vile, derogatory comments on Romania on someone’s travel story, which I’m sure the person writing had never visited. It was one of those “I’ll never set foot in that sh&thole” rants from an ignoramus.

Living in a foreign country that has its share of bashers, I hear this from my own seldom-traveled friends and relatives in the states sometimes. I’m always surprised though when it comes from people who should know better. So let me go on record to say Romania can be a really lovely place.

Brasov Romania

That shot at the very top is from the countryside, which is quite beautiful, with high mountains and a lot of historic towns. The second one is from Brasov, which I wouldn’t mind living in for at least a few months. There’s good skiing nearby too. Yes, you can ski in Romania, and for about 1/3 of what you would spend a country or two over.

Romanian wineYou can also drink good wine here. This was an Iron Curtain country for a few decades, so as in Hungary, Czech Republic, and Slovakia, great wine makers were forced to go into quantity over quality mode for a depressing period. Freed from the shackles of communism, they now have an incentive to return to quality again and have come roaring back. This Rhein Cellars winery I visited in Azuga, Romania makes sparkling wine with the labor intensive Champagne method. Since labor is pretty cheap here though, a really good bottle will set you back $15 or so.

Borders in this part of the world have been very fluid over the past couple centuries, so people are often surprised that Romania contains a lot of gorgeous medieval towns like they would expect to see in Germany. This one below is Sighisoara, which has changed hands multiple times after various wars. It’s a great place to feel like you’ve stepped back in time, especially if you can hang out a couple days and take a stroll after all the tour buses are gone. You can get here on an overnight train from Budapest, so it’s a good place to start your Romanian journey.

Sighisoara Transylvania

The shot below is from Sibiu, which would be a relaxing place to hang out for a few days, doing nothing but strolling the plazas, dining on hearty food at outdoor cafes, and drinking good wine for cheap at night.

Sibiu Transylvania

And this photo below, is it from one of those super-popular European capitals that are mobbed with hundreds of thousands of tourists in the summer? No, it’s much-maligned Bucharest, the capital of Romania. Yes, the famous last dictator ripped down much of the historic center to build his giant ugly “Palace of the People,” but there are still some nice neighborhoods with some interesting walks and good cafes.

bucharest-romania

If you like intricately carved wooden doors that are a few hundred years old, here are some great photos of interesting doors I saw in Romania. Next time I go back, I want to check out some of these cool castles in the countryside.

 

first time around the world rolf potts book travel the world for chea

Sure, you can read travel blogs full of advice from the road for free and get loads of great information. But you’ll have a read a few dozen of them until you’re bleary eyed to get the kind of structure and comprehensiveness you can find in a good book. Here are a few that are worth plunking down some cash for if you’re planning months, a year, or more on the road.

The Rough Guide First Time Around the World” is a good primer if this will be your first trip circling the globe. The fourth edition was released this year and this book goes into far more detail than most, covering all the things you haven’t thought of but should: visas, vaccinations, cultural taboos, credit cards, and much more. Especially geared to those on a budget, it will certainly save you far more than the $14.50 the paperback costs on Amazon.

Vagabonding by Rolf Potts is about taking time off from your regular life to discover and experience the world on your own terms. This is an entertaining and inspiring read, as much a philosophy of travel guide as a primer. It came out around the same time as the first edition of my book 10 years ago and has never been updated, so details here and there sound kind of dated. If that bothers you, get the Audible version Rolf recorded recently as some of the anachronisms were removed. Mostly though, it’s evergreen, still as useful today as a decade ago.

How to Travel the World on $50 a Day is blogger Nomadic Matt’s guide to traveling around the world on a limited budget. He’s been doing it for years, so there’s plenty of advice from the voice of experience on all matters of long-term travel. See my detailed review here that I wrote when it came out.

career sabbatical travel working while traveling

The Practical Nomad: How to Travel Around the World is from outspoken writer and travelers’ rights advocate Edward Hasbrouk. The author has spent a lot of time inside a travel agency selling round-the-world tickets and he knows the ins and outs of getting the best deals. This is the 5th edition, so it’s been through plenty of tweaks. It’s a detailed, well-researched guide that offers far more depth than most planning guides: one to dip into for guidance and education, not to just read in one sitting for motivation.

The Career Break Traveler’s Handbook is from Jeffrey Jung, who runs the Career Break Secrets blog. It’s not aimed at 20-something travelers trying to stave off the real world, but rather those who would like to step off the treadmill and take a break. A long break. Full of inspiration, planning and budgeting advice, and stories from those who have taken the leap and landed on the other side of the world.

Work Your Way Around the World: The Globetrotter’s Bible by Susan Griffith is the one to pick up if wanderlust is pulling hard but you’re not going to have enough money to last as long as you want to be away. Covering everything from fruit picking to hostel working to teaching English as a second language, it lays out all the ways to make a buck abroad. This is the 16th edition—16th!!—so there are all kinds of great examples readers have sent in over the years. Griffith is also the editor of Teach English Abroad, a book I used to guide my overseas exploits in Turkey and South Korea many editions ago.

off track planet book   cheapest places to travel

Off Track Planet’s Travel Guide for the Young, Sexy, and Broke is a silly, irreverant, satirical book about thrills and (beer) spills around the world. In other words, exactly what the YouTube party generation is looking for. From the website that gives you articles like “9 Places You Must Have Sex Around the World” and “Guide to Keeping Your Genitals Healthy Abroad,” you know this won’t be a dry, fact-filled travel book. If your priorities while traveling abroad are pretty much the same as your priorities were in college, this is your RTW travel guide.

The World’s Cheapest Destinations, now in its 4th edition, my guide focused on the #1 factor that impacts your long-term travel costs more than any other: where you go. Subtitled “21 Countries Where Your Money is Worth a Fortune,” it should save you exponentially more money than you spend on it by steering you to where your funds will really stretch or where you can upgrade your experience and travel better. Note that if you’re only going to one section of the world and want to figure out how to stretch a buck, there are regional editions too just for Asia, Latin America, or Europe.

What did you read before you took off or what are you reading now to prepare?

alentejo traveling tim leffel

A lot of travel bloggers really don’t need to ever do a year-end summary because they’ve already told you about everything they ate for lunch in each destination and every monument they snapped a photo of. I try to be more evergreen than that, telling stories that are reasonably timeless and giving advice that is useful for more than the next two weeks. So here’s a look back at travels and projects over the past year, including some I didn’t write much about on this Cheapest Destinations Blog.

I kicked the year off right with a newly revised 4th edition of The World’s Cheapest Destinations. It’s been a decade since the first one came out. (For what it’s worth, this was also the 10th anniversary of Vagabonding, which you can now get as an audio book read by Rolf himself.) If you bought or reviewed my new edition, thanks!

After the book came out, I hit the road again.

1) I started out in chilly Salt Lake City checking out new travel gear on the way and then went to Park City for the first time. I skied all three resorts, rode the Olympic bobsled course, and went snowshoeing the backcountry. A story on that trip just came out.

salt church near Bogota2) In February I headed down to Colombia again, visiting Bogota for the first time (check out this crazy cathedral in a salt mine nearby) and returning to the Coffee Triangle and Cartagena. If you’re heading to South America sometime, this is a great place to start. Not the cheapest, but great music, beautiful things to see, fun nightlife…

3) During spring break my family returned to our old hip home of Nashville, Tennessee to see old friends. Mostly we did that, partied, and ate well. Here are some tips on eating local food in Nashville.

4) Panama I’ve been here several times now, but on this trip I explored some different areas for a Global Traveler magazine article I was researching on adventure travel there. I did some hiking, ziplining, and coffee farm exploration around Boquette, then explored Coiba Island and a few islets from a base on the mainland.

5) The great company Bike Tours Direct invited me to try out one of their tours in Portugal, in conjunction with local operator Turaventur in the Alentejo region. I cashed in some miles gained through smart travel hacking and took my wife along. We slept in a castle and this palace that are a surprisingly good value, drank great wine for under $10 a bottle, and worked off a lot of flab cycling through the countryside. I wrote a story about it: Wildflowers and Wine: Biking Through Castle Country in Portugal.

6) On the way back we stopped in Madrid. But our flight got changed and we missed the Tapas tour we were going to do with Viator. Bummer. But do they have a cool looking airport or what? This is not a sci-fi movie set. It’s baggage claim.

Madrid's baggage claim

7) I went to Miami to cover a luxury travel conference for another publication and hang with the beautiful people, staying at the cool National Hotel. (Hint to aspiring travel writers: those covering luxury tend to stay in better digs than those writing about budget travel.)

8) Right after that I went up to Toronto to speak at the TBEX bloggers conference. Then I traveled down the lake to Kingston, Ontario and wrote a story about Canada’s first capital.

Leffel Guanajuato house

9) After two years in Tampa, Florida, I carried an embarrassing amount of luggage up to the check-in counter and boarded a plane to my new home—for the second time—Guanajuato, Mexico. I own a house there now, with this view above, on a hill above the main locals’ market, a short walk from the center. Unfortunately it was completely empty and needed a new kitchen, so my lack of rent to pay has been offset by having to lay out a lot of dough for “stuff.” Short term pain, long term gain. If you’re heading my way, sign up for one of my Mexican street food tours.

10) I hit Veracruz, Mexico for the first time and got a taste of the adventure travel options in that area. One of the best whitewater rafting trips of my life.

national park near Cuenca

11) Ecuador called my name again, with a bit of time in Quito and then more time in and around Cuenca. It’s an interesting city and I really liked the gorgeous countryside around it, but I feel like there’s a bit of a bandwagon effect going on with all the retirees. As a place to live, it looks better on paper than in person to me. Though it is certainly one of the cheapest places to live in the world.

12) I returned to the Riviera Maya again for another travel conference, then did a post-trip in the Merida area. Because I was with the top tour company in the area, my group got to visit Chichen Itza after hours and explore that and Uxmal with two archeologists. And then stay in a hacienda hotel. Very cool.

13) The North American Travel Journalists Association asked me to be a panelist (along with Kim Mance and Chris Jay from the 20 X 49 blog) in Shreveport, Lousiana. Then at the last minute keynote speaker Andrew McCarthy got a movie gig, so I filled in his opening speech spot. I ate really well in Shreveport, then Alexandria, then New Orleans. I may have gained five pounds in less than a week from eating my way through Louisiana. But yum!

day of the dead
14) Day of the Dead is a great time to be in Mexico. I got to experience it in Guadalajara (where the above photo was taken) and in Guanajuato. See some more great Katrina and Day of the Dead photos.

15) An assignment for a trade pub gave me an excuse to go to Mexico City again and as always, it was invigorating. It resulted in my most viral post ever (30K+ unique visitors in four weeks) after blogging on here for a decade: Are you avoiding Mexico City for outdated reasons?

canyon near San Miguel

16) The year ended with a bang: horseback riding and pyramid exploring with Coyote Canyon Adventures outside of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Then Christmas in Guanajuato, who knows what yet for New Year’s Eve.

In all that I only visited two new countries. But that’s okay, because I’m not a country counter. I’d rather visit five new places in countries I’ve been to than to put a check box next to Paraguay.

I won some more travel writing awards this year, which was nice. This blog and Perceptive Travel both got tagged by NATJA and I won two Gold awards there for a piece I wrote on Bulgaria and a Southeast Asia reflection article I did for Lonely Planet. The Perceptive Travel Blog I launched many years ago won best travel blog from the Society of American Travel Writers.

Thanks for reading along and following, whether you discovered this blog 10 years ago or last week.

I’m not sure yet what I’ll bring you in 2014 besides a February trip to Nicaragua already booked and lots of travels within Mexico. My big project is going to be a book I’ve already started working on about cutting your expenses in half by moving abroad. Title T.B.D. – I’m getting input on that and some parts of the content from the people on this newsletter list: Live Abroad for Less. Sign up!