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.
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.
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.
Excerpted from Around The World On a Shoestring-The Guardian Feb. 6, 2009
I’m a big advocate of getting off the beaten path, but I would agree that there’s nothing wrong with the attractions of the “tourist trail.” These standard attractions—from Machu Picchu and Angkor Wat right on down to small-town museums and curiosities—are part of what inspires people to travel in the first place.
So why do salty travelers tend to prefer roads less traveled to the tourist trail? I think there are two main reasons. First, big tourist attractions (naturally) attract lots of tourists, which can make these places feel overcrowded, inauthentic and only tenuously connected to the host culture. Second, major tourist sights tend to be the default activity when you are traveling too quickly or unimaginatively to truly experience a place. Instead of trying to see, say, the Colosseum, St. Mark’s Square and the Uffizi Gallery over the course of four days in Italy, I’ve found it more enjoyable to just stay put in Rome (or Venice, or Florence) for all four of those days and mix in some spontaneous, unconventional experiences with the obvious local attractions.
Even if you do find yourself in the midst of a huge crowd when visiting the Acropolis or Uluru or Iguazu Falls, it’s good to be respectful of the individuals around you, since a given tourist crowd can hold its own dynamic and diversity. One of my favorite books of recent memory was Sherman Alexie’s “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” which tells the story of Junior, a poor Spokane Indian kid living in Washington. Junior dreams of visiting the Great Wall of China, and one of the more moving scenes in the book is when his best friend Rowdy realizes that Junior is actually going to do it someday.
This is the kind of story I want keep in mind should I ever go to, say, the popular Badaling section of the Great Wall near Beijing and find myself in a sea of tourists. At one level, dealing with a big crowd of people might feel distracting, but at another level it can be humbling to realize that many of those people may well be in the midst of the most amazing experience of their lives.
Excerpted from Ask Rolf on World Hum
|Rachel Denning never owned a passport until she had four children under the age of four. Since then, she and her husband have traveled with them to 12 countries on two continents (and added one more to the pack, making it five kids.) A passion for living life deliberately has resulted in a quest to make long-term family travel a reality because of the new experiences it brings and the educational opportunities it provides. Rachel is heartfelt about helping other families discover how to fund travel and encouraging them to live their dream. She also blogs about their family travel adventures.|
|Elizabeth Fritzler hails from the sunshine and snow of Denver, Colorado. Though she’s explored a fair bit of the mountains, after 20+ years of landlocked life, the beach beckoned and swept her away to travel. She studied for 4 months in southwestern France before returning home to finish her English degree. She has fed her kimchi addiction since August 2012 as an ESL teacher in Changwon, South Korea. When she’s not taking forever to read Korean or dancing Gangnam Style in a remote Philippine village, she thrives on hikes, coffee, yoga and poetry. Word on her travels as a female solo adventurer can be found at areyoupeaceful.com.|
|Christy Parry is a photographer from the US who loves traveling and hates flying. After selling her belongings and spending 2012 on a round the world trip, she is sure that seeing the world is one of the best things one can ever do. Likes: flamingos, christmas lights, mountains, and pizza. Dislikes: jet lag, bed bugs, cold weather, and onions. Her website and blog can be found at www.christyparryphotography.com.|
|Born with the soul of an adventurer, Ted Beatie is happiest when he’s off the beaten track. His favorite places include the Sahara desert, 100 feet underwater among the coral reefs of Fiji, and Burning Man. While he calls himself a diver, firedancer, aerial acrobat, actor, technologist and cyclist, his true passion is showing people a side of the world that they didn’t realize was there, through photography and writing. He is active on Facebook and Twitter, and maintains a travel blog and photo gallery at The Pocket Explorer. His email is ted |at| tedbeatie.com. He curates weekly Vagabonding Case Studies of real people going on, currently on, or returned from long term travel.|
|Marco Ferrarese started vagabonding as a punk rock guitarist in Europe and the United States, hitting the most famous and infamous stages across the two continents. He has visited 40 countries and lived in Italy, the United States, China, Australia and presently in Penang, Malaysia. After one year spent teaching Italian and English in China, he overlanded from Mongolia to Melbourne, Australia, hopping on only one short flight. However, Southeast Asia is where his heart beats faster. An expert on the region, he has picked up an MA in English Linguistics along the way. He has written in Italian and English about travelling, the vagabonding lifesyle, and extreme rock music for his own blog www.monkeyrockworld.com, CnAdventure Blog, China Files, and most recently the Southeast Asia Globe. He is also the web editor for record labels Cruz del Sur Music and FOAD Records. He will soon start a PhD research on the antrophology of punk and metal in Southeast Asia at Monash University. In year 2012, Marco is overlanding from Asia to Europe. Contact him at info (at) monkeyrockworld.com.|
|Autumn la Bohème is a single mother of 2 who left her home in Austin Texas to disprove the word “impossible”. Always labeled a gypsy soul, she had a dream to live absolutely free, to travel with no geographical ties, to roam, to explore, and to make the world more real to her than the pictures she saw in books and magazines. She is a writer and online marketing manager for Bodhi Leaf Media (www.bodhileafmedia.com), a business that she started to fund her travels. She also documents life and travel on her blog www.autumnlaboheme.com. She loves daydreaming, open skies, and listening to tales of other nomads and vagabonds on their journeys. Her children’s adventurous spirits have added to the excitement of their journey, and now they have their own list of areas to visit as they slowly explore Central and South America.|
|Jennifer Miller was born on a gypsy wind and spent her childhood exploring North and Central America, building log cabins in the woods and sailing the blue waters of lakes and oceans. A teacher by training and a writer by birth, Jenn is passionate about living life to the fullest, dreaming big dreams, and encouraging others to do the same. Along with her husband and four, wild, adventurer children, they are in their fifth year of an open-ended world tour. They’ve ridden their bicycles from London, UK to North Africa and back, thoroughly road-tripped North and Central America, gone deep instead of wide for six months in Guatemala and are currently exploring Southeast Asia with their backpacks. When she’s not hand-washing for six in a hostel shower, hiking a volcano or cooking dinner for a huge tribe of backpackers, she can be found laughing with friends on the coast of the Andaman Sea, swing dancing by starlight or laying awake all night just to listen to the natives drumming.|
|James Ullrich is a freelance travel writer living in Seattle. His work has been commissioned and published in nationally distributed publications including The New York Examiner, World War II Magazine, Aviation History Magazine, Renaissance, and Global Aviator. He’s also contributed travel guide material on popular websites and blogs including Travel Addict, Vagabondish, Compass, InTravel, and Writer Abroad. Originally from Chicago, he’s previously been the Chief Managing Staff Writer for the Chicago Music Guide and served graduate internships in the Political Affairs Office of the US Embassy in London and the White House Office of Presidential Correspondence. He’s completed his first novel, a thriller set in Prague, and is weighing his publishing options. Currently he’s finishing his second novel (about a travel writer, of course). In his free time he enjoys wandering through Europe with a backpack. He can be reached at email@example.com|
Joel Carillet, a Tennessee-based writer and photographer, has traveled to more than sixty countries. His work has appeared in publications such as the Christian Science Monitor, World Hum, and The Best Travel Writing 2008, and he is the author of 30 Reasons to Travel: Photographs and Reflections from Southeast Asia. You can find his stock images at www.istockphoto.com/jcarillet, and more about him at www.joelcarillet.com.
Chris Carruth is a vagabonding, camera-toting, moleskine carrying, freelance photographer and writer who moonlights as a sinner while consulting as a saint. He splits time between the open road and Boulder, Colorado where he is completing graduate studies in International Development. He enjoys both Pico Iyer and Paul Theroux, though never at the same time. He’s on a long-term quest to run a marathon in each state in the Union as well as one on each continent (and celebrates his conquests through beer, chocolate, and ¼lb cheeseburgers). In addition to English, Chris speaks Spanish and Korean, although the latter two quite poorly even though it’s not for a lack of trying. He firmly believes that Zappa was right when he quipped, “You can’t be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline,” and is enthusiastically exploring the merits of this theory. Chris is a lifelong ambassador for travel as he views it as an ideal vehicle to reach what Maslow called “self-actualization”. You can view his images and words online at www.chriscarruth.com or, should you wish, may contact him directly at cmc at chriscarruth dot com.
Angela Fornelli is new to the world of long-term travel, leaving for her first trip in February at age 29, after having dreamt about it since fifth grade. A writer, editor and PR professional from Chicago, Angela is leaving behind a great job and an established home base to explore her wanderlust in Latin America – beginning with a volunteering experience in Guatemala. She can be reached at angelafornelli (at) gmail (dot) com.
Scott Gilbertson is the managing editor of Vagablogging. Thanks to traveling parents, he started traveling before he was born and has continued ever since. More of his writing can be found at luxagraf.net.
Claire Litton fell in love with traveling when she was a baby and hasn’t looked back. As a writer she’s had poetry, fiction, and non-fiction articles in magazines across North America. As a vagabonder she lived out of her car for a year, crisscrossing the US and Canada, teaching belly-dancing classes. Her list of new places to go gets longer with every place she visits. Currently, she lives in Perth, Australia, where she is studying a Postgraduate Diploma in Sexology at Curtin University.
Born in Portland Oregon, raised in Portland Maine, and now vagabonding through Southeast Asia, Sarah Muir is hooked on travel. She graduated from Trinity College and worked in search engine marketing in New York City before taking to the road in September 2011. Favorite places in the world include Plaza Dorrego in Buenos Aires, Bangkok’s Soi 11 and Manhattan’s Alphabet City. She doesn’t plan too far ahead, but with one hour massages under 10 dollars and incredible Thai street food on every block, she may stay in this area of the world for longer than expected!
Jill K. Robinson divides her time between writing about travel, running a kayak business and trying to wring awe-inspiring adventure out of every day. A 15-year veteran of the online media world, she has worked at TravelMuse, Yahoo, Excite, CNET, and HotWired as a managing editor, product manager and business manager. Her articles and blog posts have been featured in the San Francisco Chronicle, TravelMuse, Tonic, Yahoo and UpTake. Jill’s favorite trips include tequila tasting in Mexico, hiking Peru’s Amazon jungle, kayaking in the Caribbean, and absolutely everything in New Orleans. She lives with her husband and chocolate Labrador in a small California beach town near the big wave surf spot, Mavericks.
An audacious map fanatic, Lindsey Rue gained her love for the open road through the windshield of a ’87 Winnebago motorhome. She is usually surrounded by animals and off the grid, and has worked as an adventure guide in Alaska, Montana, Costa Rica, and North Carolina. Along with her critters — two horses and three dogs — they’ve explored the back roads and woods of America, dipping toes, paws and hooves into the life blood of the earth. Between extracting porcupine quills from her curious dog’s nose and practicing Mongolian horse archery, she enjoys seeking out used bookstores to gather literary treasures. If she’s lingered in one place too long, Lindsey starts re-arranging furniture and gets an itch for wide open spaces, and off she goes again. To find out more about her adventures visit (lindseyrue.com) and you can contact her wandering spirit at: gypsytraveller3 [at] gmail.com.
Nancy Sathre-Vogel is just a mom who took a little bike ride. On the longest road in the world. Together with her family, she spent three years cycling from Alaska to Argentina and another year pedaling around the USA and Mexico. Her wanderlust has led to 28 years of travel of all kinds — from backpacking to biking, volunteering and living the expat life. Now, she’s happiest helping enable others to get out and live their dream. Her family’s website is familyonbikes.org
Marcus Sortijas grew up in Honolulu, Hawaii, which gave him an early immersion in all things Asia. He followed his muse to California and got a degree in English Creative Writing. A semester studying abroad in England planted the vagabonding bug, which worsened after backpacking around Europe. Upon graduation, Marcus got a job in Shanghai to witness China’s boom first-hand. He later explored different kinds of chaos traveling through Southeast Asia. Marcus lived for several years in Taipei, Taiwan, where he worked as a writer and editor. You can find Marcus’ travel tips, stories, and photos on his blog: Marcus Goes Global. He can be e-mailed at: contact |at| marcussortijas.com.
Brett Stuckel has been freelance writing, working, and traveling since graduating from Colgate University in 2004, moving on average once a season. Favorite stops along the way include delivering pizzas in upstate New York, trekking Nepal’s Annapurna Circuit, and experiencing Spain’s Camino de Santiago as both a pilgrim and an innkeeper. You can read more on his blog, State of Place, follow @stateofplace, or get in touch by writing to stateofplace |at| gmail.
Anna Wexler is a writer, documentary filmmaker, and adventure traveler whose trip ideas are a continual source of concern for her friends and family. She has yet to top the solo bicycle ride across Mexico, but volcano boarding in Nicaragua, motorcycling through northern Vietnam, and seal hunting in Greenland all came pretty close. When Wexler isn’t on the road, she writes about science and travel from her sea view desk in Tel Aviv. Her work has appeared in a number of print and online publications; most recently, her story about becoming President of the Jury at the World Testicle Cooking Championship was published in Best Women’s Travel Writing 2011. Read more about Anna’s writing and film work on her website: www.annawexler.com.
From a career as a professional dancer, to a lifestyle as a professional wanderer, Colleen Wilde‘s love for movement has guided her her entire life. Originally from Pittsburgh, she splits her time between the States and France, and is soon off to travel Asia for a year. Possessed of myriad somewhat eccentric interests, she is dedicated to living a healthy and enlightened existence. Her website is ColleenmWilde.com and she can be reached by email at: colleen |at| colleenmwilde.com