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Shoestring Travel Means Getting Used to the Simple Life

How well do you deal with camping for days? With outdoor toilets? Sleeping in rooms that are way too hot or way too cold? Taking cold showers? Wearing the same clothes for months?

Many of the most unhappy budget travelers I’ve met in the midst of the round-the-world journey they’ve dreamed about are having trouble coping with these aspects, with the major drop in their daily comfort level.

It’s the central theme of this story in the current issue of Perceptive Travel – Morocco: Give me the Simple Life. The writer, who lives a pretty comfortable life usually, goes to visit his mother, who is a Peace Corps volunteer in a drab Moroccan village. His mom has a squat toilet, a sink and burner constituting a kitchen. There’s no fridge or hot water heater.

This is how much of the world lives, of course, which is why backpackers, who think they’re relatively poor compared to the tourists they see in nicer hotels, are actually quite rich by the standards of the average citizen outside of the developed world. It’s not uncommon to land in village after village where the contents of your backpack are worth more than the possessions of many families.

So when you travel on the cheap, there are things you must get used to and live with: terrible toilets, dirty rooms, hard mattresses, cold showers, no air-conditioning in hot places, no heat in cold ones. And that’s just for accommodation. When it comes to transportation you’ll face packed buses with people hanging off the sides, vans jammed with 25 people, departure schedules that may be off by a few hours, and tires that blow out on a regular basis. I once rode on a jittney bus in the Philippines that turned my skin and hair several shades darker from all the dirt and exhaust.

Some people just aren’t cut out for this. Are you? If you have even a smidgen of a doubt, take a trial run trip first. Go round-trip to one country on your list for vacation, but travel on a budget of $15-20 a day. Don’t wimp out and start splurging your 8th day into it. Stay at crappy hotels, take the lowest class of local bus, and eat at markets and street stalls. When you’re done, evaluate how you did. Can you multiply that experience times 26 and imagine yourself pulling through it okay? If so, then you’re ready for an around-the-world journey and you’ll have a blast!

If you want to find out more of what you’ll face during the planning process, here are some recommended long-term travel books.

[photo by Jim Johnston]