Ecuador prices

As I write this I’m in Quito for the fourth time. Every time I’m amazed by how cheap some things are, partly because the prices have barely budged since I first started taking notes in 2009.

dollar bag of applesThey use the U.S. dollar here, so there are no mental calculations to do and no currency fluctuations. When the government made that rash decision at the beginning of the 00s, it was done to tame inflation. Mission accomplished on that front.

Sure, some things go up. As I’ve mentioned before, alcohol. But that’s from massive taxes, not inflation. Fuel will go up eventually when subsidies get rolled back, starting in 2016. Meanwhile, you can get a taxi ride for $2-$6.

I’m posting same random photos I took this week while walking around the historic center of Quito. I arrived around lunchtime and was starving, so I popped into the first meal of the day place I came across. I got a bowl of soup with rice, veggies, and beef. Next was a big plate with chicken, rice, potatoes, and a salad. A glass of juice and a banana came with it. The bill was $2.35.

Later I stopped in a place that had a microbrew on draft—a real novelty in most of Latin America still—and met a couple from Florida who owned an apartment nearby. They don’t live here all year, but they come down regularly. “We bought it on a lark really. It was around $30,000, so we figured there wasn’t much downside to that deal. We put about $20K into it over four years getting it ready. Now it’s quite nice.” They’re walking distance to where I was, which was about two blocks from the Plaza Grande.

Ecuador prices

Quito is a city where you still see apartments (or even whole houses) for sale for less than $50K and decent places to rent for less than $300. Oddly enough, Cuenca costs more than the capital these days for the non-exclusive places because the average income is higher—not just because of the 5,000 or so gringos, but because a lot of wealthy Ecuadorans have moved back from abroad and settled there for a more mellow life.

Get beyond these two cities and (not so desirable) Guayaquil, however, and living expenses are almost sure to be even less. Riobamba, Vilcabamba, Cotacachi, or some chilled-out town in the Andes you find and decide to unpack for a while. There will be a lot more details in my book, A Better Life for Half the Price. Those who sign up for a more comprehensive, ongoing course structure will be hearing a lot about Ecuador. Get on the list for updates here.

round-the-world travel

Around 21 years ago, I got on a flight that would change my life. I was on a plane to Japan and would then proceed through Southeast Asia, Nepal, India, Greece, Turkey, and a bit of Europe.My then-girlfriend was with me and since we hadn’t killed each other after a year of being together 24/7, eventually it seemed like a good idea to get married. We did it two more times after that.

Last week I got an e-mail from someone asking for long-term travel advice and she said, “It seems so difficult and scary to just pick up and travel around for a year, much less three times. How did you manage it?”

That’s a funny question because to me it seems like traveling is incredibly easy now compared to what it was like when I first started. Instead of having to search hard for advice, you find a deluge of it. Things that used to be frustratingly difficult and took days are now done with a few clicks.

So that you about-to-depart travelers get a sense of perspective on how lucky you are these days, here are 21 things travelers couldn’t do 21 years ago, when I went on my first year-long backpacking trip in 1993.

1) Send an e-mail.

OK, if you were a real techie you could find a way to send an e-mail back in 1993, but unless your friends were computer programmers, they probably didn’t have an address. Hotmail, AOL, and Yahoo Mail didn’t exist.

2) Find info about a hotel/restaurant/destination/travel site on the web

There was no web, no browser, nothing to look up even if you could. The Netscape browser launched to limited use at the end of 1994, but nobody could really “surf the web” until the following year. And only by dial-up through the phone line.

3) Google something

Nope, no browser, no World Wide Web, not even a rudimentary search engine. Yahoo was incorporated in 1995 and Google didn’t exist until 1998. A world without Google? It wasn’t so long ago.

camel safari

No website, no reviews.

4) Book a hotel/hostel/apartment online

To find a place to stay, you showed up and looked around. If you were really intrepid you could call ahead or have a travel agent do it, but you were flying blind with no photos or descriptions besides what was in your guidebook or that article you ripped out of a magazine. (Incidentally, the backpackers who still do it this way tend to pay significantly less over time than those who book everything in advance. Easier isn’t always better in terms of your budget.)

5) Compare flight prices and book a trip yourself

On our first round-the-world trip, we bought a RTW ticket from an agency specializing in that sort of thing and then carried the physical tickets around with us for a year. When we had to make a change at one point because of canceled flights in India, we had to phone the office in San Francisco from a telephone kiosk in Delhi and they had to get an Indian travel agent to issue us new tickets for us to pick up. The only way to get prices or book a ticket was to call the airline direct or deal with a travel agent.

6) Check in with a confirmation code or e-ticket

On all three of our round-the-world trips, we had to keep bringing a physical ticket to the airport to check in and get a boarding pass. It wasn’t until everyone and their brother had an e-mail address that airlines finally started accepting printed pieces of paper with a confirmation code. And forget about online check-in or boarding passes on your smart phone.

7) Check the status of your flight in real time

It was a big deal when airlines started texting passengers on their flip phones to tell them a flight was canceled or delayed. Before that, you had to proactively call and confirm and if things changed last minute, too bad!

Nobody could tweet this...

Nobody could tweet this…

8) Shop online for travel gear and luggage

We bought everything we needed for our first round-the-world trip at our local Campmor store in New Jersey. Had we been in some small town, however, we would have been SOL. You couldn’t just pull up a Backcountry, REI, Sierra Trading Post, or Zappos site to order the travel gear you needed. Your only choice would have been Wal-mart, Sears, or a mail order catalog. And you didn’t know what was good until you used it.

9) Easily keep in touch with friends and family

My mother would collect our mail and send it to an American Express office along the way according to our itinerary. We’d go to the office and get the bundle when we arrived. Often this meant getting letters about surprise bills or late charges months after the unforeseen infraction happened. If we wanted to communicate with our friends and relatives, we had to pay for an expensive phone call, send a letter/postcard, or send a fax. No Facebook, no Twitter, not even Friendster or MySpace.

10) Bank online

When you went traveling back in the early 1990s, you put all the money you had into your bank account and either wiped out all your debts or had Mom/Dad/Sis/Aunt Sally take care of writing checks for your outstanding bills. You took an ATM card and prayed you’d find a machine somewhere that would accept it. There were entire countries where there were no ATMS though and you had to go into a bank branch to do a withdrawal. This would often require waiting, paperwork, a bank manager calling someone for the current exchange rate, more waiting, and then a stack of big bills you needed to make last until you had the energy to do all that again. So you also carried these things called traveler’s checks that you paid for in advance. No online bill paying, no inter-bank transfers, no Paypal.

11) Post things on a blog

After the birth of the browser, the internet came to the common man. Blogging didn’t really get going until the beginning of the 21st century though and WordPress didn’t launch until 2003.

12) Ask questions on message boards

As with e-mail, there were a few geeks who were logging in and sharing information on online message boards through their dial-up connection, but this wasn’t a widespread practice. There was no Lonely Planet Thorn Tree, BootsnAll, Fodor’s board, or FlyerTalk. The message boards were often real boards instead: big cork things with messages pinned to them in Bangkok or Kathmandu guesthouses.

12) Read reviews on Tripadvisor

Before online reviews came along, crappy hotels could stay crappy and almost never suffer real consequences. Sure, they would get bad word of mouth and people would leave nasty “avoid this place” notes on those physical message boards. People might even write to Lonely Planet or Rough Guides and tell them what a bedbug-infested rathole that place was. But there was no central place to find out what other travelers had to say. Now every hotel needs to be on its toes and even hostels get rated on sites where you book hostels. Apartments get rated where you rent apartments. If a place is terrible, you’ll know it.

travel in 1990s

Never posted on Instagram

13) Pull up a map

If you wanted a map of where you were going 20 years ago, you visited a store that sold maps. If they didn’t have it, then you hoped you could find one where you were going. If you wanted to access one from your (15-pound) laptop, you needed this thing called a CD-ROM. And that didn’t come cheap.

14) Use GPS

Back in 1993, about the only people walking or driving around with a GPS device were Special Ops soldiers and jungle expedition guides. If you were lost, you unfolded a big map or asked for directions.

15) Store your photos digitally

Nobody had a digital camera then. Photos were stored on this stuff called film and you printed them out at a photo shop. We mailed ours home but kept the negatives in case they didn’t make it. When we got word they arrived at one of our parents’ houses, we sent the negatives in the next batch. Sometimes these photos faded, or got mildewed, or stuck together, or got lost. If I want to share them now, I need to dig them out and scan them. We didn’t know if we got a good shot until the developing was done. So two months later, we got this:

Indonesia travel

Landed in town Monday, decided on batik class on Tuesday

16) Share your photos

Unless someone was sitting next to you looking at printed photos (or the old slide projector), they didn’t see what you saw. The only place you could “post” them was on a cork bulletin board somewhere or in a frame on the wall.

17) Carry 40 books in your daypack

Trying to find good books to read on a regular basis was a constant struggle when we traveled. We read a lot of so-so books because they were all we could find. The main sources were used book shops (great in Bangkok, not so great in rural Indonesia), guesthouse book exchanges, and trading with other travelers. Carrying more than two or three at a time meant a lot of bulk and weight. There was no Kindle, Nook, Kobo, iPad, Nexus, or phone screen.

18) Carry 1,000 songs in your pocket

This was the pitch of the first iPod, which launched in 2001: “1,000 songs in your pocket.” Now you can carry 10,000+ if you want, or have an unlimited supply via Spotify. In the early 90s we traveled with this thing called a Walkman and it played cassettes. As you can imagine, there are only so many cassettes you can carry in a backpack. It got a little better when the price of portable CD players came down, but they and the player still took up a good bit of room. And you got sick of your collection fast.

Steripen review

19) Pack a UV wand water sterilizer

Our water sterilizers in 1993 were a little charcoal filter cup we used mostly for brushing our teeth and iodine tablets. Mostly we had to buy bottled water and contribute hundreds of throwaway plastic bottles to the environment. Now you can travel the world with a SteriPen that recharges by USB and have safe water to drink anywhere on Earth. Or this cool Camelbak bottle with a built-in sterilizer.

20) Find a place to crash online

We did a few homestays on our first trip around the world. It was through an organization called Servas. Here’s how cumbersome it was: you paid a fee to join, got interviewed to get approved, purchased lists for the country where you were going, wrote letters to potential hosts, waited for a reply by mail, then followed up by payphone once you arrived in the country. Compare that to the ease of Couchsurfing.

21) Get answers to trivia by IMDB, Shazam, or Google

Travelers used to argue for hours or agonize for hours about who that actor was in x movie or who sang that certain song that was playing on the cafe stereo. Now you just wake up your phone or open the tablet.

All you geezers out there that have been traveling for 20+ years, it’s your turn now. What else can you easily do now that you couldn’t do then?

yucatan Mexico

There may be a chance, because of how the travel industry conference circuit plays out, that I’ll be in Cancun three times this year. This turn of events is certainly not something I planned, wished for, or ever imagined. So for my TBEX blogger brethren who will soon be wondering how they ended up in a hotel zone that attracts four million tourists a year, here’s my advice: Go west young man/woman.

Tack on some time, because there are a lot of really cool places to see and interesting things to do in the rest of the Yucatan Peninsula, beyond the vacation factories. Here’s a story I’ve been meaning to write for years: The Other Side of the Yucatan.

This one’s a little more personal, with a little more reflection than what I usually write. That’s because the Yucatan has been deeply entwined in my life for the past 11 years. It was the first place we took my daughter after she got her first passport at three and we returned there again and again after buying a little beach house on the Gulf Coast near Merida. Each time we did a little more exploring, plus I’ve been back a few times on my own for writing trips. I could post a hundred photos from there, but I mostly just put up some Mayan ruins, a fun video of a horse-drawn train, and some memories of when my teenager was a cuddly little girl.

Borneo man

In this month’s issue of Perceptive Travel though, that’s just the start. My buddy Bruce Northam is back with a fun story about hanging with a real man in Borneo, the kind of man who does the things we used to do before we got so soft. He catches fish with his bare hands and cooks them up in bamboo tubes. He can whip up a shelter in the jungle in no time flat with a tarp and a machete. See Rent a Real Man in Borneo.

James Dorsey has met up with plenty of wild men himself in the stories of Perceptive Travel and this time he ends up on a baboon hunt with the Hadzabe tribesmen in Tanzania. There’s smoking, spearing, and passing around primate meat. See Last of the Bushmen in Tanzania.

As always, we check out some new travel books so you’ll know what’s worth reading and we review some new world music albums so you’ll know what’s worth downloading. (Oh, okay, what’s worth at least checking out on Spotify.)

We’re always helping our loyal readers gear up for their travels. Last month someone scored some nice $100 polarized sunglasses from Bolle. This month we’re giving away two, yes two gift certificates to buy whatever Samsonite luggage, messenger bag, or travel accessories you need. If you’re on our newsletter list, watch your inbox. That’s the best bet because as you’ve probably noticed, even if you follow Perceptive Travel on Facebook, you’re probably not seeing the feed. That social network has become a “pay to play” platform where fan pages don’t show up unless they’re paying. Sign up here to be sure you can enter.

writer

I’ve got my head down trying to finish up a book called A Better Life for Half the Price, about drastically cutting your expenses about moving abroad. The problem with running your own show though, being an entrepreneur, is that you don’t just clock out at 5:30 and say goodbye to The Man. I am The Man. And I’m a really demanding boss.

So to take a break from coming up with all new material this week, here’s some stuff I’ve published lately and some interviews.

Here’s an interview of me that ran on the blog The Gift of Travel, talking about round-the-world travel, budget travel, and living abroad with a family.

Another in The Franklin Prosperity Report is about getting the most for your travel budget every time.

Here’s one in SmartyCents on how to travel on a budget as a family.

Nora Dunn gave a shout-out to my Travel Writing 2.0 book in this great article about how to earn a living while living abroad.

Machu Picchu

At Global Traveler Magazine, in April I had a feature story about Machu Picchu and in May one about what to do if you have a week in Nicaragua. The latter is still on newsstands, but click the link for the online version.

On Practical Travel Gear, I’ve been writing about travel tripods, carry-on insect repellents, and two under-$100 daypacks from Kelty.

While I go to work, two quick plugs: if you want to travel around the world, you ought to have a copy of The World’s Cheapest Destinations book. If you want to go all in and move abroad, sign up for the Cheap Living Abroad newsletter and I’ll help you make it happen.

Drinking what's local

“Yes yes, that’s all good advice,” she said, “but my editor really wants to focus on what’s new. What are people doing now to save money that they couldn’t have done a year or two ago? New social websites, apps, that sort of thing.”

This was from an interview I did with an ambitious young associate editor sitting in a desk in NYC who writes for a well-known women’s magazine. It happened a year ago, but I’ve had the same conversation four or five times since. Most publications want to appear as if they have their finger on the pulse, that they know everything months before you do and are bringing you the hottest tips, the latest trends. “What’s new?” is the daily mantra.

In the real world of travel though, things don’t move that fast. We can make all our travel plans online now and always find the best prices on hotels or flights, something unthinkable before the World Wide Web came along. But on a year-to-year basis, the best travel advice stays relatively tried and true. Occasionally there’s a game-changer, like Hotwire, Air BnB, Google Flights, or Trivago that can save you money. Others like Uber or TripIt can make your trip go more smoothly. But most new travel tech innovations are solving something they think is more of a problem than it really is.

In that spirit, here are some old articles from this blog—some very old—that could be run today with just a few pricing tweaks. Do these things and you’ll come out ahead, even if you drop your smartphone in a river and can’t get online for a week.

Find the Screaming Bargains – Every destination has a few items or services that are a better deal there than elsewhere. Find them, use them, consume them.

eat what's local

Slow Travel is Cheaper Travel – Related to the above post somewhat, eating and drinking what’s local is usually a smart move for your budget. And the more you’re moving around, the higher your daily budget needs to be. Help Mother Nature and your wallet at the same time: slow down! If you stay in one place for a month or more, your costs will really plummet. If you’re on a tight budget, it’s all about location, velocity, and distance.

Exchange Rates Matter a Lot – I’ve written about this at least once a year (like here, and more recently here) because if your  home currency rises or falls 25% against the one where you’re going, that’s going to greatly impact your costs, far more than where you’re going to eat lunch.

Where You Go Within a Country Matters a Lot Too – The price difference between big capital cities and small towns applies nearly everywhere in the world. Also, tourist magnets that draw short-term vacationers are always going to be a bad bet for backpackers. Don’t automatically head to the places you’ve heard of when you get to France, Spain, India, or Ecuador. Chances are there are better spots to hang out in for less money. Keep your options open.

Rural travel

Last, remember that just because you can now plan and set up everything in advance, it doesn’t mean you should. A person standing at the hotel front desk at 6 pm with money in their hand has negotiating power. A person booking on a website has zero negotiating power unless they’re bidding on Priceline. And besides, a lot of the best things happen when you allow time for interesting things to happen. The more your plans are tightly scheduled, the tougher that can be.

If you haven’t traveled much yet or have some clueless friends you’d like to enlighten, pick up a copy of my timeless book Make Your Travel Dollars Worth a Fortune. It’s full of key principles to follow in order to always find the best deal every time, regardless of what shiny new app the magazine editors are getting excited about at the moment.

Otherwise, here are another 8 great travel books for anyone setting off on a long-term trip.



cheap living abroad