Browsing Posts tagged travel advice

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?

Do you want to really get a great travel deal? The kind of bargain you’ll talk about for 10 years? The kind of deal that is so great that when you tell a cocktail party couple what you paid, one person’s jaw drops and the other starts choking on their drink in disbelief?

I can get you a deal like that.

But I’m not going to ask you to buy anything, sign up for anything, or join some secret club. Anyone trying to sell you insider secrets that will unlock the hidden bargains is probably not to be trusted. There are no secrets anymore.

But there is a formula. It looks something like this: 6v – 0v = 10,000

That won’t hold up in algebra class, so don’t try to solve it. It’s really symbolizing a travel truth: 6 variables – 0 variables equals 10,000 possibilities. More than that in many cases, but let’s pick a number. Here’s the illustration of this truth.

travel variables

Whether they have expressly thought about it or not, this truth is what guides those travelers who always seem to find the cheap vacations, the fantastic deals, and the experience of backpacking around the world for a year. Often by trial and error, they’ve stumbled upon the way to get “lucky.” The more travel variables you leave open, the less you are going to pay.

Now let’s look at why I can barely help most infrequent travelers who ask me for advice on how to score better travel deals. After a little prodding, it usually ends up that they’ve already decided they’re going to fly to x place during y time period and are staying at hotel z they read about somewhere. They think, however, that there’s some secret I can tell them that will miraculously shave half off their trip cost, even though they barely have any variables left to work with. If they had a chart it would look more like this, with what’s already been decided grayed out:

traveling variables

Those two visual representations aren’t really even accurate though because not all travel variables are created equal. The 40 decisions they may have left are just fringe around the edge of the budget.

Most of the time, your destination will have an outsized effect on the budget because that will impact the cost of everything else on the list. If you can be flexible on one thing, make it that. If you’re flying to an international destination for a week or two vacation, airfare may be the biggest tangible budget line item. If you’re going domestic or not very far, then the lodging probably will be. Leaving what you’re going to have for dinner open will have a relatively small impact in comparison.

travel costs

You could revamp this quite a bit though depending on your particular situation. If you’re going skiing for a week, the “what you do” part will be a bigger expense and you could maybe cut that cost in half (and lodging too) by picking a smaller ski resort with better package deals. If you’re going from New York to New Zealand, airfare is going to be expensive no matter when you go. It’s just a matter of how much it’s going to hurt.

If you’re a long-term backpacker, a day at Petra is going to wreck the budget for days, whereas changing hotels to a worse one might only save you $2. If you are traveling through Southeast Asia overland, moving slowly will cost far less than staying in a different spot every night or two because transportation becomes a disproportionally high expense for backpackers taking a bus or train several times a week. Part of the reason multi-country Africa travel seems more expensive than it should be is because the vast distances are often best traversed by plane.

They key is to recognize these variables and leave as many as you can open—especially the ones that will have the biggest impact.

“I want to go to Paris the third week of July and then do wine tastings around Bordeaux” is going to be expensive, no matter how emphatically you say, “but I don’t mind staying in simple hotels.” Contrarian Traveler

“I’m thinking of heading to Central or South America sometime late this year and I’ll figure out an itinerary after we check flight prices” is a whole different story. If you’re that second person, let’s grab a beer because I’ve got lots of advice for you.

Or, if you’re an inexperienced traveler and want to learn more about this strategy in detail, I’ve got just the book for you, full of evergreen advice on this topic. Click on that cover to see it on Amazon.

Bolivia to Chile

Sometimes you have to make your own path…

Why do some people always seem to travel for cheap and others search in vain for deals that elude them? Often it comes down to a combination of patience, persistence, and creativity. As creative thinking author Roger Von Oech advised, often you need to find “the second right answer.”

Next week I’m traveling from Mexico to South Carolina on a Delta frequent flier ticket. Their miles are often derisively referred to as “Skypesos” because they’re so hard to cash in compared to most other airlines. Getting the lowest level awards are next to impossible. But…this is the fourth time I’ve flown Delta for free, so it’s close to impossible, not completely so.

I managed this, as I’ve done the other times, by basing my travel dates on when Delta had availability, not when it was most convenient for me. I’ll make all kinds of changes in my travel schedule if it’s the difference in paying $50 in cash-in fees or $550 to buy a ticket.

Over the past few years, due to some smart travel hacking efforts, I’ve flown for free (except for taxes and fees) to four continents, plus a few domestic flights. Rarely was this as simple as punching in my dates and hitting the booking button. Here are a few contortions that were required to cash in all those miles for almost-free tickets:

  • I flew American to Bolivia and LAN back from Chile because neither had openings both ways.
  • I started and ended my four-country tour of Eastern Europe not in Sofia, as I’d planned, but in Budapest because that’s where I could get a mileage ticket flight the time of year I wanted.
  • My family returned from Southeast Asia on a different airline than me.
  • My daughter and I moved to Guanajuato a week earlier than my wife because we were paying and she was using mileage.
  • I got an extra cheap hotel room one night in Salt Lake City because the date I wanted to fly out on mileage wasn’t available. The next day was.

Be a Travel Deals Detective

This kind of willingness to be flexible also applies when you’re paying. I recently got quoted in this Reuters article about flying an unaccompanied minor because they liked my story about how I avoided paying United Airlines $300 to put my daughter in a seat by herself. I accompanied her up and back on Allegiant, then she returned on JetBlue. It took some time and a calculator to figure all that out, but we saved a a few hundred bucks and it all went smoothly. creative travel savings

Hotels? Go beyond the typical booking engines everyone uses. For normal hotel deals, try Trivago.com and get a look at what everyone is charging. If you just need a chain hotel in a certain area, use Hotwire or Priceline bidding. Try the HotelTonight app if it’s last-minute.

If all else fails, use none of them and go old school, researching independent options that don’t want to pay the big booking sites. Look at guidebooks, destination websites, and the third page of TripAdvisor for hidden gems. Ask friends of friends. Or if you’re staying a while, rent a home or apartment.

If you’re coming up empty finding a reasonably priced way to get from A to B, make sure you’re looking at all the options. From Megabus to Amtrak, Easyjet to AirAsia, one-way rental cars to alternate airports, there multiple possibilities to try before giving up.

Travel is so much easier than it was when I started 20 years ago, but it’s also easier than ever to overspend. It’s easier to mistake info that pops up in your first search as the final word. Really, it’s just a starting point. Dig deeper and wider to find a better answer.

Moravia travel

Half the price of Prague

On this blog I mostly write about the cheapest places to travel in the world and where to go in order to make your budget stretch. But some people are hell-bent on going to a specific place, cost be damned, including half the relatives and friends of friends that ask me for advice. They know my beat and my books, but will go, “Yeah, but I’m going to Rome and Florence next July…”

So here are two universal principles that apply even in the most outrageously priced countries.

1) Limit your time in the big capital cities.

Sure, Paris is great, but if you go for a long walk in rural France, you’re going to spend far less on your hotel rooms at night than you will in the capital. A fraction of the amount usually. Hit Oslo for the museums and free attractions, then get out to the countryside where you can camp or find a hostel bed that’s not priced like a two bedroom suite in Bulgaria. Tokyo is great fun, but you’ll sleep and eat for less in Kyushu. Even in the cheap countries this is often true: Mumbai’s hotel rates will make your jaw drop if you arrive there after traveling through almost anywhere else in India. The Czech Republic is a great value…except for Prague.

The same applies to the United States, Canada, and Mexico as well, so you don’t have to go very far to put this advice in action. Good luck finding a nice hotel room with some space in New York City for under $150. Spend that amount in Buffalo or Boise, however, and you’ll be stylin’.

Caveats to this rule: a) Sometimes big cities have a more competitive hostel/cheap hotel scene internationally, so Ho Chi Minh City can have better lodging deals than Sad Town, Vietnam. Also, big cities with great subways can sometimes be cheaper to get around than a spread-out small one with a lousy bus system. This is especially a problem for the car-less in the USA, where most of the cheapie places are motels.

Mexico beach resorts

This view might not be in your budget…

2) Limit your time in the big tourist draws.

“Budget Venice” is an oxymoron. London’s going to cost you a fortune no matter how many free museums you go to. The worst though are the beach resorts, the holiday destinations, the vacation factory places where the average stay is less than a week. Mexico is quite reasonable for budget travelers in the interior. In Cancun or Los Cabos, um, not so much. If you’re on a tourist budget and are just taking a quick break from work, by all means head to the Black Sea Coast, the Turkish Mediterranean, Agadir in Morocco, the Algarve resorts in Portugal, Seminyak in Bali, the Riviera Maya of Mexico, or Florida. There’s nothing wrong with a week of doing nothing if work is wearing you out.

But if you’re on a shoestring budget, your grumpy frown will really stand out among the $300 a day merry makers spending with abandon. Instead go where they’re not: the places that are harder to get to, that aren’t conducive to ordering cocktails while sitting in a lounge chair. The places where there’s no box to tick off or a bucket list item to claim. You’ll notice a rapid drop in prices—and will have some nice surprise discoveries.

Caveats to this rule: places that are big domestic tourism draws in inexpensive countries are not the same thing. Loads of Mexican tourists come to where I live in Guanajuato, but that means most hotels and restaurants are priced for their budget, not the budget of foreigners, as they are in San Miguel de Allende. There are places in many cheap Asian and Latin American countries that are big draws for locals, but hardly any foreign tourists visit. Go join the fun.

Where have you seen this in action in your own travels?

A while back I wrote briefly about the need to have backup plans for products and services you depend on while traveling. This was right after Google killed off its popular RSS reader and a bunch of people I know had their gmail account hacked—which of course affects all the other things that near-monopoly makes you sign up for with one single log-in.

In the tech world “redundancy” is not a bad word. You want redundancy in your servers, in your e-mail backups, in your data backups, in your power system. If the first system fails, you want to be able to keep at least the essential services running.

This same attitude should prevail in your long-term international travels. Things go wrong, always. It’s just a matter of when. That’s the nature of being on the road instead of in your predictable house and predictable job. So having a back-up for your primary services you depend on is essential. Here are a few to consider.

1) Multiple phone communication systems

I rely on Skype constantly on the road and living in Mexico, but it’s never a perfect solution. Sometimes the incoming calls to my US subscription number don’t ring through, sometimes the connection keeps dropping. So I’ve downloaded an app from Rebtel that gives me free international calls to anyone else who has it (gotta hook up the relatives) and if they don’t, the international calls are affordable with their rates: about half what the local telecom provider typically charges and about 1/10 what your U.S. mobile carrier will charge for international roaming.

I also use Movistar instead of Telcel in Mexico on my unlocked phone because with their prepaid plans, you can call the USA, Canada, or the EU for the same price as a call in Mexico. So no matter where I am and what happens, I can reach people when I need to. Yeah, I know, there’s Google Voice too. I’ve used it, but see the first paragraph above. I simply don’t trust they’ll keep any service now that’s not directly making them money and I don’t like them snooping on everything I do online.

2) Multiple Ways to Get and Spend Money

If you arrive in a small airport that doesn’t have an ATM machine, or it’s out of service, or it rejects your card (I’ve experienced all three) what will you do? If you lose your debit card, or a machine eats it, what happens next?

This one scares me more than anything as it’s a panicky feeling to arrive in a strange country and not be able to pay for anything you need. I’ve stupidly left a debit card in a machine and had to wait weeks for a replacement. I’ve had cards expire when I’m on the move. And once someone copied the data from my card at some point and went on a spending spree. So I had to stop using it until I got home and it was sorted out. Call us crazy, but between my wife and I we have four debit cards, more credit cards than that, and I try to carry some dollars or euros along if I’m not arriving at a large international airport.

No, we don’t pay a lot of fees. None of our bank accounts with the debit cards have fees and if you pull money from cash accounts at Fidelity, Schwab, or ING/Capital One like we do, there’s no ATM fee from them—just the local bank. With my Paypal debit card, I only pay $1 each time.

3) Multiple e-mail addresses

Do you trust that your e-mails are getting through? And that you’re getting all of them sent to you? What do you do if a friend tells you, “I tried to e-mail you, but it got kicked back.”

I get that message and send it several times per month. Reality is that every server has filters in place and most of them make loads of mistakes every day. Plus thousands of accounts get hacked every day by spammers and many people end up having to shut them down and start over. This is especially rampant with gmail and it can wreak havoc with your life. Have another address that you can seamlessly transfer to. Or maybe more than one. Plus you can keep a commercial one to use whenever a site makes you register to do anything. They’re free with any domain and places like Yahoo and Hotmail/Outlook.

4) Multiple Photo Backups

Canada family travel

I don’t want to lose this…

Nearly every day of your travels you are snapping photos. These are your cherished moments, your memory triggers, the images that you will share with grandkids someday. Don’t just take a chance that a single place to store them (physical or virtual) is going to be enough. The easier and more automatic it is, the more chance there is it will not be enough. Do you know anyone who has had their Apple account hacked? Search online for that phrase and you’ll hear some heartbreaking horror stories. Are all your travel photos on your laptop alone? Good luck with that if you have a hard drive crash.

You can buy a portable external hard drive that holds a terrabyte or more of data for less than $100 now. Or if you know you’ll regularly have a good internet connection you can get a cloud service like Dropbox, JustCloud, Mozy, Sugarsync, or Carbonite that stores that much for a monthly charge of $10-$20, less if you only need to store photos and a few documents. (Hint—it’s video that really hogs the storage space. If you’re not keeping that, you won’t need so much room.)

What redundancy systems do you have in place when you travel that help you travel with less stress?