“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.”
–Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You’ll Go!
Travel and time are two topics bantered around by those in the world of travel, those who want to travel and those who don’t understand how it can possibly happen. ‘How do you afford to travel?’ ‘How can you take so much time off of work?’ ‘Don’t you just want to settle down and stop moving around so much?’ Whether it is a conversation amongst those choosing to live a travel-focused lifestyle or those wishing to have one, a day spent wandering a city never gets old!
Too often when traveling, days are filled with things on a ‘to-do list’. Don’t get me wrong, this list is far more inviting than the one including ‘pay bills, do laundry, clean the bathroom or even go to work’, but positive or otherwise it can lead to exhaustion. Those who retire from a lifetime of work talk about how ‘everyday is a Saturday’ and many tell a story that includes how they’re much busier now than they ever were when working. Whether traveling, being a tourist in your own city or just taking a twenty-four hour period to exist, a day spent wandering a city never gets old!
If it’s your home city, you might just take the opportunity to experience a part you’ve never before explored providing your very own ‘travel day’. Perhaps there’s that special restaurant you’ve always wanted to try but never before took the time to do so. Maybe you’re just looking for a chance to meander by the water, through the park or down the busy streets to truly see the city with open eyes. It’s not often you can take the time to stop and look around or stop at the market you’ve just upon stumbled. Is there a museum you’ve wanted to check out or an event about which you’ve been excited? Take the time to just go. It’s not often you can sit or be or enjoy and taking that time to do so is revitalizing, reinvigorating and reaffirming.
When moving to a new place whether for a few weeks, months or years, I find it incredibly helpful to spend a day wandering. Really able to get to know a city through its pathways, its people, its sights, sounds and smells provides information that no online search ever could. Sure, you can Google map your way to the nearest whatever, but standing on the street utilizing all of your senses is much more authentic. The Internet search of the public transport map can tell you where the trolley goes, but not what it feels like to actually ride on it. The specific app search can give you the ‘best’ or ‘most visited’ hole in the wall café, but how do you really know until you get to taste the delights on your own palette?
A day spent wandering a city never gets old! Regardless of its size or location, a walk through an entire city, or a specific area is an eye-opening experience. You get a chance to see real life happening before your eyes. You get an opportunity to breathe in and experience and let wonder and curiosity lead your journey. This is a rare chance to let your choices carve your path and spend as much or as little time in one spot before moving on to the next adventurous avenue. It’s not often in life (traditional or travel-focused) when you can enjoy a prospect of no plans and a find as you go sort of day. This is a memory-making day.
Time is a gift. Time is talked about regularly in any arena as it feels as if there’s never enough. Travel embraces this view and breaks the mold. Travel forces its followers to take time to do, be, choose, embrace and explore. Travel flings your eyes upward away from the virtual world and plops you smack dam in the center of the real one. If you let it, travel shows the best and worst of people, the true character of cities and authentic everything. If you’re willing to let it-travel can teach, share, welcome, surprise, enrage, encourage, change perceptions and create anew. Who knows what can come from time, but what I do know is that a day spent wandering a city never gets old!
“You’re off to Great Places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, So…get on your way!”
–Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You’ll Go
For more of Stacey’s musings check out her writings here.
Rome with ancient ruins, delicious pastas, and red wine never fails to disappoint. The eternal city, once the center of the world, still captivates and amazes people from all over the globe. From the gorgeous ceiling of the Sistine Chapel to the cobblestone alleyways in the old city, travelers can not get enough of Rome.
Compared to the overall prices in Europe, Italy is midrange. In big cities like Rome, Florence, and Milian prices are much higher than in the small medieval towns and quiant countryside villages.
Every time I visit Italy, I budget around $2,000 a month or $65 a day. This covers staying in a hostel, eating out a couple times a week, and going out for drinks with friends.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?
I have come to terms that there is no shortage of strange events when living in hostels. Recently, I saw a traveler with a backpack that was bulging, almost ripping at the seams. The pack also had an odd square shape to it.
Curiosity got the best of me, so I approached him and asked why his backpack looked so strange.
He smiled as he unzipped it showing me a massive speaker. Seriously, he packed limited clothes and accessories to carry a giant speaker with him around Europe.
Of course, I asked him why. He smiled as he said, “I can’t travel without being able to play loud music.”
Rome is a city made for walking, and I have a basic routine I follow every day. I wake up late in my hostel dorm, head to a nearby bakery to get some crumbly Italian bread and fresh mozzarella that is so soft it almost melts in your mouth.
I throw it all into my daypack and start walking to whatever site I feel like seeing first. A usual favorite of mine is the Colosseum where I sit on a nearby wall while enjoying the weather and eating breakfast. I spend the rest of the day hopping between shops, cafes, and sites.
Rome is a very personal city for me. It is the first place I traveled solo almost ten years ago, and my experiences in the city have turned me into the traveler I am today. You could say Rome completely changed my life, and I love to reflect on that when I am here.
The locals, history, and culture are things I like very much about Italy. One day I was eating a meal of bread and cheese when a woman and man approached me.
They started asking my opinion on Rome. After chatting awhile, they noticed what I was eating.
“Come on,” they said as they grabbed me and led me to their favorite restaurant. They bought this poor backpacker a meal and gave me a tour around the city for the rest of the day.
Another thing I sincerely love about Rome is the sites. I am a history buff, and so Rome is a mecca to me.
One thing that makes Rome precious is that they built the city around the ruins. Often just walking around a corner, you will stumble upon ancient remains from another age.
One thing I do not appreciate is that Italy does not like my debit cards. Most ATM’s refuse to give me cash which is extremely irritating. While I have credit cards, which work fine, I prefer to have a safety net of cash on me at all times.
If my credit cards ever got stolen, I would be in a world of hurt while in Italy.
Describe a challenge you faced:
Recently, a challenge I have been dealing with is being alone. Rome is a romantic hotspot and everywhere you look, couples are holding hands and softly kissing. It is also the off-season for backpackers, so there are fewer people to meet at hostels.
While I believe Italy still has a lot to teach me, this visit was more about reflection.
I thought a lot about this path of long-term travel, and how happy I am with the choice I made. I also thought a lot about where I want to steer my life in the future. Italy is a rock for me and helps me sort my thoughts and make future plans.
In a few weeks, I am setting sail on a tall ship that will be journeying down the east coast of America and through the Caribbean. I am thrilled and excited as this new adventure is on the horizon.
When families first announce their plans for extended travel, many of them are hit with repeated questions about their child’s education. Too often, the parents of traveling kids are seen as selfish. Adults feeding their own desires at the expense of their child’s education and “normal” school experience.
The reality is that most traveling parents have thought long and hard about what their child’s education will look like on the road. The vast majority are traveling to enhance the education their youngest family members receive. Socialization, academics, and personal growth are on the minds of every parent who chooses a traveling lifestyle for their children. No one has “forgotten” about math, higher education, or socialization but all of them have some up with creative ways to meet these needs.
The educational logistics of traveling with children are challenging but hardly insurmountable. No two families will ever do it the same way but there are a few main paths traveling parents take when designing nomadic educational experiences for their children.
1. Homeschooling – This is a favorite option among the traveling community. Homeschooling your kids on the road allows for flexibility. Curriculum and lessons can be designed around a child’s interests, a family’s current location, or the needs of the child in that moment. There is nothing that says ancient Egypt must be studied in 3rd grade and traveling homeschoolers know it. They use location dependent resources to their advantage and really dig into a topic. Many, but not all, traveling homeschool families carry books and other educational resources with them and complete lessons while waiting for planes, trains, and buses. With the rapid growth of technology, lessons in art, music, and dance can all be taught via video conferencing. Everyone defines homeschooling differently. For some, it’s a structured path that leads to directly to university. For others, its a child-led exploration of life with no ultimate aim as defined by the parents. No matter what, the biggest challenge for traveling homeschoolers can be creating and maintaining a schedule that suits their needs and lifestyle. Worried about socialization? Don’t be. Homeschooled travelers generally finish their lessons in a fraction of the time it takes their school bound counterparts to finish the same, leaving them ample opportunity to socialize with local children, other travelers, and their own families.
2. Local Schools - Some families choose to enroll their kids in schools as they go. Not everyone likes this option as it can require starting in a new school relatively frequently. Still, some families like the experience their kids get from a structured school setting. Their are two main options in this category. Truly local schools are the schools attended by the general population of a given community. While the quality of instruction, methods used, and general practices can vary greatly from one location to the next, the benefits of this option include full immersion into a culture and language with children of a similar age and exposure to what the general, local population experiences as “education”.
The second option, international schools, are another option within this category and can be found all over the world. Generally taught in English and with a rigorous course load, this isn’t an option for everyone. However, many parents find international schools to be a good option for their kids, especially for those traveling slowly or for students with big ambitions for university and beyond. These schools tend to have a fairly high price tag attached, which may be the biggest negative of this particular option.
3. Undefined- For travelers who are traveling long term but with the intention of returning to “normal” life in a set amount of time, taking time away from a defined experience of education may work just fine. A year of unstructured learning and completely free exploration is highly unlikely to alter a child’s educational course too drastically, especially for younger children. In fact, many children whose parents forgo the workbooks and structured writing assignments for a year find that, when their children return to school, they are on par with their peers, and sometimes even ahead. Most families do not choose this option for continual travel as most people develop educational philosophies as they go and the “undefined” label eventually no longer serves them or their children. But for long term travelers on a defined schedules, this might be exactly what they need to really get out and dig deep with their young travelers.
Every traveling family meets the educational needs of their youngest members differently and none of them takes off without a thought to what education will look like on the road. Within these categories is a myriad of options for tailoring the experience to each child and family. No option is set in stone and as situations and needs change, many will shift course and try something different. That’s part of the beauty of education on the road- it is ever changing and flexible to the student. In a world with vast educational resources and ample opportunities for exploration there really is no reason to worry that a traveling family “can’t” meet the educational needs of their children.
“There is nothing I love more than traveling to a place where I know nobody, and where everything will be a surprise, and then writing about it.”
–Ariel Levy, “Thanksgiving in Mongolia,” The New Yorker, November 18, 2013
As travelers, we often find ourselves talking to friends and strangers alike at parties, at work, wherever, about travel and how to do it right. We evangelize for travel, extolling its opportunities and benefits. We often go on at length about the magic of our favorite places, the addictive high that comes from filling up a passport book, and the thrill of crossing a new border and making new connections. We also find ourselves giving out advice on all matters travel, from where to find the cheapest airline tickets to where to stay and when to go. You know you do this.
But normally it’s one-on-one counseling, spreading the gospel of good travel one conversation at a time. In almost any social situation I would meet many would-be travelers are looking for a better option than shelling out a fortune to join a big-bus corporate tour with an itinerary geared toward hitting the owner’s favorite tourist traps. I was always stuck by people’s desire for useful tips for shaping their own experience and, more importantly, the need for an infusion of “Hey, I can do this!” confidence.
After thousands of private conversations, I also realized that the most efficient way to share what I knew with those who were interested was to teach.
Next week at a local Seattle-area library I’ll be giving the first of several ninety-minute “Travel Talks” I plan to give this year. The seminar-style presentations, which I call “Traveling The Best of Europe Independently & On A Budget” will be free, presented at assorted libraries in the Seattle metro area.
This marks the tenth year I’ve been doing them, having originally started in my hometown of Chicago. I tackle the question about how to travel independently in Europe (since that happens to be my specialty), how to plan it, and what to do when you’re there.
I wish more experienced travelers, wherever in the world they happen to hang their rucksack, would occasionally give up a Saturday afternoon to teach these sorts of classes. Not only is there a deep need for the info but there’s plenty of reward in it for the speaker. Some have asked why I bother doing these talks when it’s basically giving me time and advice for free. My answer: Sharing my hard-won tips on budgeting, itinerary-crafting, and other how-to essentials is a joy. Many of the people who attend these classes have an ideal trip in their minds and have had it for most of their life, but have lacked the skills or confidence to go on their own. And seeing their eyes light up when they realize they can take control of their own travel dreams and plan their own adventure is profoundly rewarding.
Moreover, it’s a public service. More than just the mere nuts-and-bolts information of planning a trip on a tight budget, arming curious people with the info and inspiration to broaden their horizons is a good thing for them and for their country. They will likely return from their adventure with not only experiences they will cherish, but a better perspective on their world as well.
So, if you’re inclined to spread your knowledge and love of whatever destination you adore, please consider offering a ninety-minute “how to travel independently & on a budget to…” presentation at a local library or school. Any guidebook will have a chapter on the basics, but it’s a presenter’s confidence and palpable love for the subject that can inspire someone to finally book that plane ticket. Let them learn from your trial-and-error. Impart your wisdom and fill the room with your enthusiasm for the amazing places you’re talking about. You might just motivate a wannabe adventurer to take the trip of their dreams and change their life, and that is time well spent. Go forth and spread the gospel.
Whenever anyone asks me why I still travel on a shoestring at the ripe old age of 38, I usually tell them about the time I learned how to play the bagpipes in Havana.
Granted, I could probably relate a more typical story about the joys of budget travel – some tidy parable of money saved and experiences gained – but when I mention learning the bagpipes in Cuba it sounds like I’m going to tell a joke, and people like jokes.
The thing is, there’s no punch line. My encounter with Cuban bagpipers wasn’t memorable for its mere quirkiness – it was memorable because it illustrates how travelling on the cheap can offer you windows into a culture that go beyond the caricatured stereotype of what a place is supposed to be like.
The travel caricature of Havana, of course, is an elegantly aged vision of cigars and classic cars, son and salsa, communist slogans and café con leche. To actualise this vision, many upscale tourists head for the $120-a-night Hotel Nacional, a classic, mafia-era facility that features $8 mojitos and a lovely terrace looking out over the Malecón and the Straits of Florida. Unfortunately, most Cubans don’t have access to the Hotel Nacional, and – as is the case with luxury hotels in many parts of the world – it tends to create a travel experience based more on the idea of how the city should be than how the city is.
I spent my nights in Cuba just up the street from the Hotel Nacional, shelling out just $15 a night to sleep at a casa particulare homestay in Havana’s leafy Vedado district. I couldn’t see the Malecón from my bedroom, nor could I order room-service rum cocktails, but I did get to take part in the day-to-day home routine of my Cuban hosts. In the mornings I would have coffee with them and practise my Spanish; in the evenings we’d watch the state-run TV station, trying to spot bits of real news through the haze of official propaganda. My host family cheerfully introduced me to various friends and neighbours, and within a few days my little social network had offered me access to underground poetry readings, pickup baseball games, and – on one fateful afternoon – a bagpipe performance at the Asturian Federation in central Havana.
When I befriended those hipster kids and began to learn how to play the gaita (an Asturian bagpipe with a single drone pipe), I discovered a side of Havana that was as authentically (if not stereotypically) a part of Cuba as baseball and rumba. Like the tourists in the Hotel Nacional, I still had plenty of access to son, cigars and salsa – but I also got to see a side of Havana that revealed the complexity of the city and its subcultures.
I’m not saying that you have to hang out with bagpipers if you really want to experience Havana; I’m just noting how spending less money has a way of paying off in original and memorable experiences.
And shoestring travel is not just for long trips. Last summer, I travelled to the Czech Republic with my parents. We could have easily splurged on expensive hotels and guided tours during our time in Prague, but instead we bought a three-day tram-pass and checked into a hostel in the city’s suburban Vinohrady district. Even though my parents are in their 60s, the youthful backpackers staying at the hostel treated them as one of their own, and offered travel advice on topics ranging from tourist destinations to experimental theatre to where one can sample the city’s best absinthe. We ended up spending three days exploring various corners of the city on foot and by public transport. We stumbled across standard sights like Stare Mesto and the Charles bridge, of course, but we also happened upon children’s school-jazz performances and a Czech Corvette-club rally. We admired the art nouveau styling of the Mayor’s Hall, but we also marvelled at the casual art nouveau detailing in suburban post offices and pizza parlours. When we stopped into a random pub and used improvised hand signals to order Plzensky Prazdroj and knedliky, we felt as if we were the very first outsiders to discover the joys of Czech beer and dumplings.
If it sounds to you like I’m an ageing backpacker who never quite grew out of his shoestring ways, you’d be exactly right. In many ways, my travel sensibilities have grown out of a journey I took 10 years ago, when I quit my job as an English teacher and took a journey across Asia, Eastern Europe and the Middle East. I probably had enough money saved up to invest in a three-month trip. As it turned out, I learned ways to stretch my travel budget into a life-enriching 30-month sojourn – and in all those months of travel, my day-to-day costs were significantly cheaper than day-to-day life would have cost me back in the United States.
The secret to my extraordinary thrift was neither secret nor extraordinary: like many generations of backpackers and shoestring travellers before me, I was able to make my modest savings last by slowing down and forgoing a few comforts as I travelled. Instead of luxury hotels, I slept in clean, basic hotels, hostels and guesthouses. Instead of dining at fancy restaurants, I ate food from street vendors and local cafeterias. Occasionally, I travelled on foot, slept out under the stars, and dined for free at the stubborn insistence of local hosts. In what eventually amounted to over two years of travel, my lodging averaged out to just under $5 a night, my meals cost well under $1 a plate, and my total expenses rarely exceeded $1,000 a month. Instead of investing my travel budget in luxuries and amenities, I invested it in more travel time – and it never failed to pay off in amazing experiences.
Perhaps my favourite budget destination in the world is Bangkok. The city may be chaotic, traffic-snarled and incomprehensible, but it never fails to amaze me. Over the years I’ve found lodging in countless corners of the city – from the $4 backpacker dives of Khao San Road (which has gentrified a lot since my first visit in 1999) to the posh, five-star environs of the storied Mandarin Oriental Hotel. My favourite place to crash is the Atlanta Hotel, a curious little $15-a-night gem (complete with a courtyard swimming pool and an art-deco lobby) off on Sukhumvit Road. To the untrained eye, Sukhumvit Road could pass for a westernised strip of air-conditioned shopping malls and office buildings, but the area wears its globalisation in a distinctively Thai way. Sure, there are McDonalds and Starbuck franchises for those who choose to dine there, but there are also street vendors serving paad thai, fresh pineapple and grilled scorpion on a stick for pennies a serving.
It’s been almost eight years now since I finished that extended stint of vagabonding, but the experience is still very much a part of me. In financial terms, I have the resources to sleep in five-star hotels and eat in expensive international restaurants, but I’ve found I rarely choose such luxurious options. Given a choice between a $400-a-night hotel and an $18-a-night flophouse in Hong Kong, I tend to opt for the latter. Faced with the prospect of an all-inclusive dinner buffet in a Santo Domingo casino, I invariably find myself wandering outside to sample food from street vendors.
Ultimately, the charm of budget travel has always been less about saving money than making the most of my time on the road. Travelling cheaply has forced me to be engaged and creative, rather than to throw money at my holidays and hope for the best. Freed from a rigid, expense-laden itinerary, I’m more likely to be spontaneous, embrace serendipity and enjoy each moment of my journey.
This notion of spending less and experiencing more holds true regardless of economic conditions, but in a time of global recession it makes even more urgent sense – not just for holidays, but for life in general.
This story originally published by The Guardian, February 7, 2009
Hometown: San Francisco, CA
Quote: “Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” — Miriam Beard
Have you ever taken a look at your utility bills and just wondered if you should ditch your lease, pick up some travel expenses and call it a wash?
Well, my husband and I are recording every single expense as we travel, just so that we can do an experiment of that nature.
I’ve picked a pretty average month to demonstrate what our costs have been with travel so that we can compare them to average monthly costs for our old stationary life. But first, here are some of the questions and anticipations we had going into the (now almost 2-year) experiment.
Are hotel points and frequent flier miles enough to buffer the cost of full-time accommodations?
Going into this experiment, we had a pretty advanced knowledge of frequent flier miles, and some familiarity with hotel points. But over the months of nomadic life, we’ve been able to refine our strategies for earning hotel points more and more.
Arguably the easiest way to earn hotel points is simply to sign up for a hotel’s credit card and receive the sign-up bonus. But one unexpected thing we’re learning is that hotel promotions are extremely valuable for nomads. Consider this: an ordinary traveler may or may not have stays coming up during a hotel’s promotion. If they do have a trip that happens to overlap with a hotel’s promotion, then they’ve lucked out and they can earn lots of points with their paid stays. But they’d have to ask themselves if those points outweighed the savings from simply picking a cheaper hotel.
With our nomadic lifestyle however, we ALWAYS are traveling. So we can always assume two things: firstly that we will need a place to stay during that promotion and secondly, that we will have a use for the points we earn later. We need to cover 365 nights and inevitably we’ll have to pay full price for some of those nights. So we might as well pay full price for hotels during promotions.
Can food be affordable without a kitchen around for cooking groceries?
Food is definitely expensive when you can’t lean on grocery-shopping and cooking at home. Even with certain strategies for keeping it as low as possible, like taking advantage of hotels that include meals or free breakfast, it’s very difficult to keep it as low as a stationary person’s food budget.
This puts even more pressure on keeping other expenses low.
So let’s see what the numbers were for April 2014 where we traveled in Indonesia, Singapore and mostly India. I will say, these are fairly low-cost destinations and this was one of our lesser expensive months, but it does indeed represent what anyone (with a good credit score) would be capable of replicating.
|Tourist Attraction Total||$32.58|
|Food & Beverage Total||$407.26|
|Land Transit Total||$272.91|
|Air Transit Total||$675.79|
|Accommodation total||$377.92||27,000 Club Carlson points
10,000 Hyatt points
11,000 SPG points
80,000 IHG points
1 Category 5 Marriott cert
Most of these points were acquired through credit-card bonuses.
How does this compare to a month living a stationary life?
Unfortunately when I was living a stationary life, we didn’t keep records of all of our expenses, so we’re going to need to do a little research and estimation for this part.
Tourist attraction total: $0 though perhaps a stationary life would have an “entertainment budget” instead. My husband and I mostly went out to eat with friends as our entertainment, so I’ll leave this calculation at $0.
Food & beverage total: According to information released by the USDA, the average expenses for a couple’s groceries (considering they eat “moderately”) in 2010 was as low as $347.50 and as high as $688.60 depending on how thrifty or unthrifty a couple is, but they set the moderate-leveled average at $550.60. Because we treated food and beverage as our main source of entertainment (instead of paying for movies or sports events,) let’s go with the more expensive amount as that seems closer to our normal tendency during stationary life.
Land transit total: Drew and I were fairly unique in that we have not owned a car throughout our marriage. We did spend maybe around $30 a month on public transit however, so that’s where we’ll set this number.
Air transit total: I guess this doesn’t really apply to the stationary-life budget.
Accommodation total: We shared our rent with a housemate but our portion of the rent alone came out to $900. But once you add all the utilities and internet, we’ll bring that up to $1150.
Total stationary budget (estimate): $1868.60
So there you have it. According to my best estimates, we spent $1868.60 on a stationary-life month. (This is considering that we are probably more frugal than the average person in that we didn’t own a car or television.) Then consider that it is possible to spend $1785 on a month spent in Indonesia, Singapore and India. That is $83.60 less.
Of course, not every month is as low as $1785. The truth is, we are still working hard to refine our strategies for nomadic travel using miles and points. Over all, I hope a look at these numbers can show that with some strategy, it really is possible to travel on a stationary budget.
This tightly compacted city holds some of Cambodia’s best food and most tragic history. Without knowing its past of civil war and genocide, you would think Cambodians and Phnom Penhers in particular were just really friendly people. Once you learn their history and realize that everyone you see was affected by the notorious Khmer Rouge in the 1970s in one way or another, then you know they’re more than just friendly; they’re admirable. Visiting Phnom Penh is easy if you’re already in Southeast Asia. Cambodia can be overlooked and a lot of visitors only see Siem Reap in the north to visit the temples of Angkor Wat then move on, but Phnom Penh is the heart of the country and merits a visit all its own.
“Once globalization and development have homogenized and sanitized the world – quite often for the best – it will no longer be possible for even the most self-indulgent and romantic among us to maintain the illusion that what we are doing is anything other than not-particularly-glorified tourism. If all the classic elements of backpacker stories have gradually become clichés, we might as well pause to acknowledge that they were surprisingly fun clichés while they lasted. And if we now insist that all these clichés fetishize a certain impossible notion of authenticity, while coming dangerously close to essentializing foreign countries as premodern, we should also pause to confess that we enjoyed them anyway.”
–Nicholas Danforth, World travel can be all about timing, San Francisco Chronicle, September 20, 2012