I’m poor, y’all.
Ok not poor poor. The regular kind of poor, where I can afford a smartphone, data, and wifi so that I can ignore the balance on my internet banking account. I call it “New-Age Poor” – hasn’t been trademarked yet, but it will be.
This is a problem because most of my hobbies are quite costly. Food, clothes, paying rent… all those things cost money, which I don’t often have a lot of. My biggest problem, however, is traveling. Apparently, anything further away than my bathroom requires money to get to and to, perhaps more crucially, have fun. As someone with a money deficiency, it’s a real issue for me. Despite this, I’ve somehow managed to visit a fair number of places and have plans to travel at least twice next year (Australia and Japan). The way I see it, there’s a lot of stuff out there and seeing it on Google is nice, but actually seeing it in person is even better!
But first a note on traveling in general. I think there’s a huge amount of pressure on young people to “Go Out There and See the World”. As someone who is slowly making her way through the world, I think this is an over-exaggeration and doesn’t take into account how many people don’t have the means to travel or would rather prioritize their spending elsewhere. I can’t tell you how many bars I’ve been in, bored out of my skull, tolerating the ramblings of people looking to “find themselves” on Mum and Dad’s bank account. Not everyone has parents with money who can fund their adventures (Exhibit 1 is typing this post), and while I don’t begrudge people who do, I don’t think that it’s fair that there’s a narrative that in order to have really lived you need to “See The World”. It’s ok to find yourself in volunteering, or your religion, or in the friends you make or the job you do. But if you’re the kind of broke that sorts everything Low to High, but you want to travel, these tips are for you.
- Make Friends
Many people make friends through traveling. I would advise that you make friends before you travel. Why? Well, most people have a spare bed/couch/floor you can sleep on, and if they don’t they should be able to hook you up with cheap accommodation. One of my closest friends got married in India and while she couldn’t house me, she got me a cheap hotel nearby and helped with getting around. A girl I went to sixth form (that’s high school in English speak) with let me crash at her dorms in Singapore, which saved me hundreds (and taught me how to sneak around so I don’t get caught). When I was a kid, my mum’s friends got us a really nice hotel room for cheap in South Africa. It’s useful to know people.
How do you get to know
people? Idk man, how do you normally make friends? Join forums for the place
you want to go to, see if you can meet any internet strangers. See if your
friends have some cool friends-of-friends you’d like to get to know. Maybe your
church/job/place of education has some kind of international link that might work
to your advantage. Or maybe you have a distant cousin or long-lost sibling
that’s especially accommodating and is willing to feed you for a few days. Who
knows? (I do, I stayed with my long-lost brother and visited my internet
friend-of-a-friend while in Toronto). If you’re not comfortable with staying
with friends or family, you’ll at least have a free travel guide to show you
- You don’t have to stay at the Hilton
I mean, you can if you want. Go off, I guess. But if you’re financially challenged, you’d be better off meeting with my best friend – Hostelworld. If you’re willing to share, dorms can be super cheap and you can find some really quirky gems. If you’re adventurous (read: brave to the point of stupidity), websites like Couchsurfing can get you a free place to stay with someone who hopefully won’t murder you. I’ve both been a couch surfer and a host, and I’ve made some awesome friends that way. I’ve also had a couple of near misses though, so your “mileage” may vary. If you’re hazy on ethics and gentrification, might I suggest Airbnb? International problems aside, Airbnb can be a really convenient way to see places without breaking the bank. On my last staycation, we stayed in a really nice house in Cornwall with a lovely lady and her “friend” (I didn’t ask).
At any rate, shop around! Some places have lovely hotels that end up being cheaper than Airbnbs, some places are known for friendly couchsurfing hosts, and some places have a lively hostel culture. See what works best for you and your budget.
- When in Rome, eat as the locals do
Life is cheaper when you know where regular people actually eat. I mean, Michelin star dining is nice but so’s eating at a market (and there are stalls with Michelin Stars anyway). I go home (home being St Lucia) from time to time and while there are beautiful restaurants with incredible views, the canteen in JQ Rodney Bay Mall has some banging stewed chicken. If you’re around my ends in London then Leather Lane Marketplace is pretty good, as is Spitalfields, Borough Market, and Bang Bang (yes really). Chinatowns all over the world tend to have reasonably priced food.
If you’re staying in a place with a kitchen, you could always just go to the supermarket and cook your own food. Lidl and Aldi are your best friends if you decide to travel around Europe, and Japan is known for its convenience stores (kombinis, if you want to use local terms). Asia, in particular, is known for quality street food, and some of the best food I’ve ever eaten has been handed to me through a car window from a vendor while stuck in traffic.
On the subject of traffic…
- Research getting around
Some places have an incredible infrastructure with trains that are on time, clean buses and an easy to understand the underground system. Some places you’ll get mugged on the buses. Renting a car is great and all, and some places I’ve been to are best seen from your own car (I’d suggest renting a car in most Caribbean countries unless all you want to do is lie on the beach for an extended period of time) but it might be worth checking out other options. Many cities in Europe are completely walkable, and people would look at you weirdly for even thinking about renting a car unless you plan on driving around the entire country. A lot of cities also have decent bike paths, and bike rentals can be really cheap. I wouldn’t suggest driving in India unless you like flirting with Death, but auto-rickshaws are pretty popular. Lots of places around the world have a good enough subway system with tourist travel cards that will cover you for your entire stay – I still have my KL travel pass from Kuala Lumpur. They make really good mementos too.
- Find free/cheap entertainment
A lot of things geared towards tourists are expensive, partially because most tourists have the cash to pay for it. If you are not one of those tourists, then you’re gonna need to find something free or cheap to do while you’re abroad. I find most major museums to be cheap (and in the case of London, free), and most ancient cathedrals in Europe only ask for a small donation (which I tend to give. Something about JC staring at me from the cross makes me feel guilty). Parks are almost always free, and you could do worse than relaxing on a beach with the cold beverage of your choice until you feel the need to move. When it comes to views, rather than pay to enter somewhere, you could probably find a high building with a rooftop bar, order tap water and take some pics. If you go to a place during events season, like Carnival, you can observe for free!
There are some things that are worth paying for, mind you. I’m glad I paid to enter the Taj Mahal, for example. And the palaces in Seoul were worth the entrance fee. But I went to Toulouse recently and spent at least one day lying on the grass in the sun and it was the best holiday I’ve had in a while.
- Keep connected
Don’t judge me for my next statement… but McDonald’s has free Wi-Fi. I’m not saying go on vacation to go to McDonald’s, but it helps if you need to book an Uber, figure out your accommodation or use Google maps, you can’t go wrong with stealing Wi-Fi. If you’re going to be in a place longer than a few days, it might be a good idea to invest in a sim card, especially if you’re in a place where the free Wi-Fi is lacking somewhat (St Lucia doesn’t have McDonald’s). Most places have cheap sims with top-up packages that include data, and I can’t tell you how many times a cheap sim has saved my butt when I’ve been in dicey situations.
So there you have it. My method on traveling on a tight budget. While I definitely feel too old to couch surf, and I’m gainfully employed so I don’t have to, I still find myself looking at the best deals. Will I someday stay in a luxury over-the-water bungalow in the Caribbean? Maybe. But there’s something satisfying about saving a few bucks here and there. Plus, I can use that money for other things like food and video games.
Now if you excuse me, I have a vacation to plan on a shoestring budget.