There is a moment on every trip where I recognize just how embedded in my being the cultural norms from my home country really are. Like most travelers, I seem to see norms revolving around eating, social interactions, personal space, even pace of walking pop up around almost every corner as I explore foreign streets. But every once in a while a “bigger” norm comes into focus and I start pondering whether I am happy with the price I am paying to have it rent space in my brain.
One of the concepts that has been embedded the deepest in our collective American psyche is fear.
Fear of strangers, fear of immigrants, fear of change, fear of accidents, fear of pain, fear of sickness, fear of being taken advantage of, fear of being judged. We seem to love our fear, wrapping it around our language, our interactions, and our opinions like a much-loved blanket. We base our biggest and our smallest life choices around the concepts of “fear” and “safety”- it’s not even just a concept or a feeling anymore, it’s a way of life. Where to buy a house, which school to send our children to, what car to buy, what advice to take, which job to accept, how to treat our illnesses, who we interact with, even what clothes to buy are all decisions we make on a daily basis, out of fear. By far, the #1 reason I hear from people as the reason they do not travel, especially long term, is fear- fear of the unknown, fear of danger, fear of things that are different.
Perhaps worse than the understanding that fear is a big part of our culture is the realization that we communicate our fear continuously in the simplest of ways. Take for example our constant need to shout, “be careful!” to any child climbing a jungle gym, running in the park, wrestling in the grass, digging furiously in the sand, climbing a tree, eating an ice cream cone with gusto, turning cartwheels, jumping on a trampoline, balancing on a curb, or otherwise using their bodies and exploring their own limits.
What is the constant reminder from an outside source to “be careful!” doing to our kids? Could we possibly be making them LESS safe? I think so.
When we shout “be careful!” we instantly divert a child’s attention from the task at hand. They are no longer paying attention to that last rung on the ladder, they are paying attention to us and trying to dechiper what we want them to do. Every time we say those two words we rob them a little bit more of the freedom to assess their own ability and push themselves just a little further. Soon thoughts of escapades involving far off lands, climbing very tall trees, and balancing on curbs that are obviously really Olympic balance beams, turn into thoughts about what may or may not be “safe”. We are wiring their brains to look for danger instead of possibility and to seek outside understanding of “safety” and fear instead of looking within to find their own compass on their individual limits.
So, why does this matter to a traveler? Because if you really think about it, most of us carry around the accumulation of all those adults yelling “be careful” as we climbed, explored, and got just a little closer to breaking free. It holds us back, if ever so slightly, from fully engaging. Many long term travelers are re-wiring our own brains. We are taking stock of our culture and the baggage it brings- both positive and negative- and learning to listen more to our guts than to our embedded culture. We are starting to recognize that bad things (and extraordinary things) can happen anywhere and that a culture with a strong basis in fear might not get us as far as we want to go.
But what about everyone who is too scared to venture out? Could all of those exclamations of “be careful” be a part of the weight that binds them to their “safe” corner? What if one of the best ways we could encourage a new generation of travelers was to hold back as many “be carefuls” as we could?
Don’t get me wrong, I have fears too. Like most people, I have fears about difficult journeys and “dangerous” places that need to be almost continually unraveled so that I can enjoy and participate fully in my own journey. I’m not immune to fear, I am just starting to recognize that a good portion of this fear may not be mine. But what I am most afraid of is communicating to our children that this world is too scary to explore and perpetuating the thought that we should be focusing on being careful and not on the experience at hand.
I wonder, could creating a culture based on exploration rather than fear be as simple as reflecting on the language we use and changing it where appropriate? It just might be. We can argue that there are so many other factors involved, and there are. But considering the fact that one of the most common expressions of our culture is our language, it’s probably a good place to start. We control our language. We choose what we communicate and how we influence our youngest members in society. It’s a choice- a choice that is adjustable on an individual level.
So, to all the climbers, jumpers, dreamers, tumblers, diggers, runners, and explorers I say this…. be engaged, be confident, be dedicated to discovery, be wildly idealistic, be adventurous, be creative, be free, be brave enough to listen to your own inner voice, and as much as you can, be consciously aware. But whatever you do, don’t “be careful.”
How have your fears affected your journey? How have you overcome them?
What’s the strangest thing that’s happened lately?
We left El Salvador and crossed the Honduras AND Nicaragua border in one day with our five kids (and ran out of money at the Nicaragua border.) Oh, and I’m six months pregnant.
Describe a typical day:
This was an untypical day… after being unable to find a house we wanted to rent in El Salvador, we decided to head to Nicaragua to find a place. Since there was only a small portion of Honduras we needed to pass through, we opted to cross both borders in the same day.
What do you like about where you are? Dislike?
Like: There’s something special about being on the road, on the move. It feels good to see new places.
Dislike: Literally, the moment we crossed the border into Honduras we were stopped by police who attempted to get us to pay a bribe. Then we were stopped 5-6 more times that day before reaching the Nicaraguan border… not cool. (But we refused to pay one single bribe, so that’s good.)
Describe a challenge you faced:
There was a little bit of cash left in our wallet, but most of it had been spent on groceries. If necessary, we planned to withdraw any money we would need at the border. When we arrived, the entry into Nicaragua was more than we had remembered/expected ($12 per passport, and there’s seven of us.)
My husband attempted to withdraw money from the ATM to pay the fees, but the machine ONLY accepted Visa… and the only cards we had were Mastercard. We could not access our money, and the nearest ATM that accepted Mastercard was an hour into Nicaragua, or a couple of hours back into Honduras. What were we going to do?
Soon my husband spotted some European backpackers and thought he better take advantage of any opportunity he might have. He struck up a conversation, then asked them if he could offer them a ride to León, Nicaragua, in exchange for a loan to pay our visa fees (and a promise to pay them back as soon as we found a Mastercard ATM.)
Thankfully, they agreed. We paid the fees, then made room for our new friends and drove into Nicaragua. By this time, however, it was getting dark and starting to rain. The drive was a little intense, with lightening flashing, pedestrians walking in the rain, and the reflection of headlights off the wet asphalt.
At last we made it to León, made a withdrawal at the first ATM, paid back our friends then dropped them off at a hostel.
What new lesson did you learn?
Always have enough cash on hand before you arrive at a border crossing.
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About a week and a half ago my train pulled up to the platform in Tundla, India where a sea of Indian military men were waiting for it. There was a rush of commotion as we all pushed towards the doors- a commotion which only grew when we discovered all the doors were locked. The train sat there with its locked doors for 5 minutes while the military men grew angrier and angrier, beginning to bang on the doors with their fists, sticks, muskets, anything. I kept thinking that surely someone would open the door. We’d paid for tickets after all. We’d reserved cots for the overnight train.
Then, the train started to pull away without us. Hardly thinking, we rushed through the crowds to the one door that someone had managed to open a few yards away and with our heavy bags in hand, we jumped onto the moving train. The rush of frantic soldiers crowding behind us carried us like the current of the river onto the train.
I laid in my cot and felt what would have been homesickness if I had a home.
So my question is this: what do you do when this whole “travel thing” scares you, exhausts you, bewilders you in a way that leaves you in need of something secure? What gives a nomad security?
In attempt to wrestle with this question, I’ve come up with a list of 5 things that help me cope with the moments that scare me.
Writing is not only a great way to process your thoughts, it’s also a way to record the feelings that may likely evolve over time. At one point in time I did this by keeping a travel journal, but my laptop has since replaced it. I have documents upon documents that I may never read again, but the act of formulating my thoughts was all I needed at the time. Not to mention, it helps me to see the experience as the story it will be tomorrow, when I’ll feel it less dramatically and see it more logically.
2.) These are the times I’ll make sure I can find a more secluded hotel with an environment I can really find relaxing.
Getting a hotel right in the center of activity can be wonderful when you’ve got the energy for it. But the exhausting moments leave me wanting space and quiet. As much of a clean slate as I can get. This has been especially true in a place like India. For this reason it’s a great idea to have some kind of rainy-day fund of either money or hotel points.
3.) Something from home, even if it’s McDonalds or Pizza Hut!
Never again will I judge a traveler for eating at McDonalds. (Is it sad that the McChicken is my home away from home sometimes?)
4.) Good Internet.
These days internet is the most basic necessity for contacting loved ones back home. The days of calling cards and pay phones are on the way out. This involves point number 2- finding a hotel you can relax in means, in my case, finding a hotel with good internet. Preferably this is in-room internet I can use while curled up in bed in my own space.
5.) A few days of nothing.
Sometimes the main attraction in any given destination is just not worth pushing your nerves past what they can handle. In our case, we found a quiet place in Katra where there happened to be a popular mountain temple. It was a very popular spot for Indian tourism… but we let it go. And I don’t regret that. I needed some time to clean the slate and regroup.
These are some things that helped me get back on my feet and face the vibrant and intense world that is India again, despite the fear I felt at the thought of all the things that could have gone wrong in our impromptu train-hopping experience.
But I’m curious, what are the things that help you feel secure?
Nomads and vagabonds, and all long-term travelers are in a unique position of transient-ness with an almost ephemeral concept of home rather than a permanent one. This is at least the case for myself as well as a few other travelers I know. So we’re faced with an interesting challenge when we need the kind of comfort a different person may find in their stationary routines and their permanent homes. So I’d like to learn from the creative ways other travelers have found comfort in moments of fear.
Starting from Minneapolis, Minnesota, I spent 30 days exploring the United States (traveling to 37 states) and documenting the faces and places I saw on the Greyhound Bus system with photographs and short stories. I showered rarely, slept infrequently, ate poorly, and I loved every uncomfortable minute of it.
My fascination with the culture of the Greyhound started in college when I would take the bus to Montana to visit a dear friend. As I discerned my creative inspiration to street photography, I felt a pull to quit my awful job, forget about my recent heartbreak and get on the road. Why wait?!
While exploring in the few moments I had off of the bus, I wanted to learn about each city’s preferred method of travel. Was it bus? Subway? Bicycle? On foot? Why were people commuting the way they were? As you can imagine, the answers varied based on financial and geographical limitations.
I took over 4000 digital and film photographs using four different cameras: Canon DSLR, Holga, Fish Eye and iPhone. My trip was funded solely by the Minneapolis community with individual donations. The gallery exhibit profiling my journey was funded by a FEAST MPLS grant I won in November 2010. My self published book, Falling Asleep Behind the Lens, documenting my journey is available on my website: KPCreates.com
Well, I did it! Just barely, but I managed to “conquer” around 60 kilometers (37 miles) on one of the most challenging treks I’ve ever done. Four days and three nights of difficult uphill, painful downhill, sunburns, rain, aching muscles, and freezing nights in a tent was rewarded with some of the most beautiful scenery that ends with a visit to Machu Picchu. If you like a good challenge, llamas, starry skies, snowcapped mountains, sleeping in tents, and good food, then this is a trip for you.
The trek started out with a steady incline at almost 10,000 feet above sea level, so the air was thin to start with. The terrain changed from dirt to rock and back again pretty much the entire way. Horses would occasionally run by unmanned, local families would walk past carrying supplies, and sometimes a different tour group would pass us (or at least me). There were birds, flowers, wild animals, and sunshine all along the trail. The people in our group (11 of us) were from Denmark, France, America, and Ireland, and they were all lovely.
In my previous post I mentioned that I felt a bit unprepared, and I have to admit that I questioned my ability to get through the whole trek on day one, when I got hit with altitude sickness. I was worried that it would be an issue for me, and almost wonder if I talked myself into experiencing it subconsciously. After walking uphill for a few hours in the direct sunlight, I suddenly felt like I couldn’t take in enough air, felt dizzy and panicky, and needed to sit down. Fortunately, our guide Primo had his “magic potion” with him, which is some mix of herbs that are supposed to help open up your lungs to take in a bit more oxygen. After resting for a few minutes and breathing in the mixture, I was able to get going again, slowly at first, but I made it through the rest of the ascent with no issues. Sadly, since I had a little trouble the first day, I decided to take a horse for two hours at the beginning of the second day, which is exactly what I had hoped wouldn’t happen. I’m not a big fan of riding animals because I find it terrifying. Especially up windy mountains, through rivers, and down rocky terrain. However, I managed to survive, and on day two we made it to the highest point, which was 15,000 feet above sea level. I give approximate numbers for things like distance and altitude because even the guides seemed unsure at times of the exact numbers.
The company we chose was Cuscoperuviajes and our guide was great. He put up with our constant slowness due to picture-taking, outfit rearranging, and water breaks. The tour included horses to carry up to 6 kilos per person and cooks that ran ahead of the group to prepare the meals and set up camp. It was almost freezing at night, and we were so tired from hiking at least 12 miles every day that I could barely make it through dinner without passing out. However, being up so high on a clear night allowed us a view of the brightest star-filled sky I’ve probably ever seen.
In the end, I felt that I was prepared enough as far as gear went. We packed for pretty much every temperature, had great shoes and socks, plenty of first aid stuff, bug spray and sunscreen, snacks, raingear, and camera equipment. I definitely recommend plenty of pairs of socks and warm layers for sleeping. Also, you are provided with a thin sleeping mat but no pillow, so I was glad I remembered my travel pillow. I packed extra snacks but was surprised at my lack of hunger while trekking. I wasn’t in my absolute best physical shape, but it only slowed me down, I still finished.
At the end of the third day, we were taken to the hot springs, which were beautiful and very much needed. The rest of the group stayed on for a 4th day that allowed for activities like ziplining, but me and my two friends took a bus and train to a hostel in Aguas Calientes. We were determined to go out for drinks to celebrate surviving the three tough days, but of course wound up being tired and went to bed early to rest before our big day at Machu Picchu. We were pleased that it wasn’t as crowded there as we had feared, and we were free to roam around one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been, frolicking with the llama population.
I definitely recommend this trek, and visiting Peru in general. Cusco and Aguas Calientes were both really neat cities that you have to pass through to get to Machu Picchu. Overall we spent two weeks, and we didn’t see nearly enough of Peru. If anyone has any questions about the trek or getting around I’d be happy to help, you can reach me here or on my website. Thanks for reading, more photos below!
I am 15 minutes into my hike down the muddy little stream when a tree carving captures my attention. Sticky with sap and arcing brown across the bark, it seems to have been made recently.
I drop to my haunches and run my fingers over the design. After three days of living on the Indochinese outback without electricity or running water, I feel like my senses have been sharpened to the details of the landscape. I take a step back for perspective, and my mind suddenly goes blank.
The carving is a crude depiction of a skull and crossbones.
Were I anyplace else in the world, I might be able to write off the skull and crossbones as a morbid adolescent prank. Unfortunately, since I am in northwestern Cambodia, the ghoulish symbol can mean only one thing: land mines. Suddenly convinced that everything in my immediate vicinity is about to erupt into a fury of fire and shrapnel, I freeze.
My brain slowly starts to track again, but I can’t pinpoint a plan of action. If this were a tornado, I’d prone myself in a low-lying area. Were this an earthquake, I’d run to an open space away from trees and buildings. Were this a hurricane, I’d pack up my worldly possessions and drive to South Dakota. But since I am in a manmade disaster zone, all I can think to do is nothing.
My thoughts drift to a random quote from a United Nations official a few years back, who was expressing his frustration in trying to clear the Cambodian countryside of hundreds of thousands of unmarked and unmapped mines. “Cambodia’s mines will be cleared,” he’d quipped fatalistically, “by people walking on them.”
As gingerly as possible, I lower myself to the ground, resolved to sit here until I can formulate a course of action that won’t result in blowing myself up. (more…)
Petrified, excited, invigorated, exhilarated, daunted…I felt them all in the weeks leading up to my first round the world journey. So many emotions, so little time. All the planning for this idea of taking a hiatus from the everyday was thrilling, yet frightening. From visa applications to inoculations (those weren’t fun) and new passport pages to hotel bookings the excitement continued to grow. But then it was six weeks before, one-month prior and days ahead of wheels up and the packing began. First world problem, no question; but all the worries came to a head with this-will I be okay without the ‘just in case stuff’ in the back of my closet?
You know that pile with the favourite t-shirt from university, the worn out jumper from sleep-away camp or those old standby jeans for the ‘I’m feeling fat’ days…where would you be without them? Was I really worried about ‘stuff’? We’ve all experienced that tug and pull in our own way. At this point, on this day, this was mine. Hindsight is twenty-twenty; was it really the stuff or was it something else? It’s what many who have made the leap to long-term travel have experienced with similar stories about managing on far less than in their pre-long-term travel days. But, I was stuck. Collapsing in a heap beside the flung open closet door staring at the ‘stuff’, I sat. The fashion consultants on What No To Wear would have thrown it out years ago since it’s been that long since I put my hand on it, but it was comforting to know it was there. Smaller after bouts of culling and donating, but, still there. I knew that pile held far more than clothes.
One backpack was all I allowed myself. If it didn’t fit it wasn’t coming. If it didn’t have more than one purpose or matched with three other things it wasn’t making it. I cried. Having looked forward to this journey for over a year, was I really crying over STUFF? Really? Wrapped up in this stuff were worries of everything and nothing. Would we be okay? What if something happened to someone I love? Who would keep in touch? What if everything changed when we were gone? The anticipation and worry manifested in that tiny pile in the back of the closet. The pile, that metaphor for the ‘what ifs of the world’ had taken hold and had me in its grasp. There were memories of time passed mixed with the notion of the unknown possibilities for a time yet to come. The crying continued. Logically, I knew how lucky we would all be if this truly was one of the most difficult decisions to make (perspective is a wonderful thing), but still, it was hard. On a precipice filled with greater meaning, this felt like one of those teachable moments. Either choice was fine, but I knew one led to a new journey in both destinations and personal growth while the other stayed stuck with the unchanging ease of ‘the devil you know’. Getting to the place to make the jump was a journey in itself and this felt like a turning point. Stay with the comfort of the pile or embrace the idea that you hold the key to the meaning of the pile? The rest is just that, ‘stuff’.
It didn’t make it into the backpack and after awhile I got up off the floor. I wasn’t yet ready to get rid of the pile but I was ready to close the closet door and leave room in the bag for the unknown future. The pile didn’t win. It remained, for the time being, in the back of the closet (to be revisited at a later date) and I took comfort in the knowledge that it was there. This journey to a place open to the risks and rewards of the frightening while slowly disentangling from the worries of the ‘what ifs’ is a continual one but each step does make a difference. Long-term travel was ahead with indeterminable adventure and experiences far greater than the stuff could ever hold. It is worth the risk. Maybe I wasn’t yet ready to discard the pile from the back of the closet entirely, but I was able to close the door and open a new one.
Traveler 1-Pile 0.
What’s your ‘pile’? What helped you make your leap?
What’s the strangest thing that’s happened lately?
Between my husband and my son, they were stung three times during the one week we were in El Salvador!
Describe a typical day:
We’re driving most days, exploring the coast and searching for a place where we could possibly rent a house. Stopping at towns along the way, such as El Zonte, San Blas and Liberia, we check out the beaches and rental prices.
The roads are windy along the coastline in the north, with cliffs that offer vistas of the sea. Sunshine reflects off the ocean. The breeze blows, the windows are down and our favorite tunes are playing on the radio. It’s great to be alive, exploring this big, beautiful world!
What do you like about where you are? Dislike?
Like: There are no speed bumps! After being in Guatemala for so long and their countless tumulos it’s refreshing to be able to drive without slowing down for speed bumps.
The people are super friendly, and love the children. They are constantly coming up to us every time we stop and asking questions.
We also found a great little place to hangout in El Cuco… a great campground with a pool and a short jaunt to the beach.
Dislike: We’re shocked with the prices here — food is about 20% more than Guatemala (we’d heard it was cheaper), and rental rates are outrageous! Prices are high, but the ‘niceness’ of accommodations are not. This was not at all what we expected. We can only surmise that rates are being driven up because the coast of El Salvador is very popular for surfers.
Describe a challenge you faced:
We’d hoped to find a house to rent for a month or two, but all rental rates were outside of our budget, and even if they hadn’t have been, nothing we found would work for our family of seven (soon to be eight.) Given my condition of being 6 months pregnant, I was disappointed by having my expectations unrealized.
What new lesson did you learn?
Expect the unexpected. You never really know what a destination has to offer until you hit the ground. Besides, everyone’s desires are different, so it can affect what their experience is like.
We’re heading to Nicaragua where we hope to find a house on the beach that we can rent for a few months.
A good backpack can make or break a trip. Drenching rain, language barriers, delayed flights — you can weather all with humor and go-get-’em attitude.
But a good backpack is the foundation upon which your trip rests. It holds your entire life in one place. It protects it. Sometimes you wear it so often it feels like another appendage.
That’s why it’s important to take some time before your trip to figure out what kind of new appendage — or backpack — works for you. Next to figuring out which book to take with me, this decision was the most important on my two-week trip to Europe.
After lots of research, I decided on Osprey Packs Kestrel 48 backpack for three reasons:
But the true test came after wearing my pack for two solid weeks. Included in that time were some very long midnight wanderings in suburban Rome searching for our hotel, running through train stations and for vaporettos, and getting shoved under train seats.
How are you planning to use your pack? Will you be hiking or walking a lot? Do you need it to be water-repellant?
If you’ll be walking with it a lot, pick one with an interior frame and hip belt to redistribute the weight off your shoulders. Water-resistance is a good thing to consider, so check for a rain cover. You can’t always control the weather, but it’s nice to know your stuff won’t get soaked.
You want a pack that wears its age and travels well. You don’t want to deal with broken zippers or rips on the road.
Look for fabric at least 400 denier nylon packcloth with a urethane coating (aka water-repellant). Test the zippers. Do some Google searches on “broken zipper + pack name” to see how it stands up.
A good place to check out long-term durability is reading Amazon’s reviews on the pack; you get a wide smattering of opinions to help your decision.
Do you want to access the bag just from the top (top-loading pack)? Or from the top and bottom (called the sleeping bag compartment)? Exterior pockets or no pockets?
These are things to consider if you want to lock your bag. The more access points into your bag equals more locks you need.
Ah, the clincher. Getting a pack that’s too big will restrict your ability to carry it on the plane. Getting a pack too small will curtail your purchasing abilities.
It’s a really good idea to check out the bags in person. After all, this is gear that interacts with your body. Like shoes, how it feels on you will impact how you feel about the trip.
Play around with the packs. Try them on. Figure out how it feels on your back and do a few spins to check your bull in a china shop prowess. The empty pack should feel light and not too bulky on your back.
For me, the perfect capacity size was 48: still small enough for carry on, but large enough for clothes and extras picked up along the way.
Backpacks come in three sizes: small, medium and large. The sizes are determined by your torso length, not your height.
Here’s a general guide to figuring out the pack size from your torso length:
|Men’s and Women’s|
|Pack Size||Torso Length|
|Extra small||Up to 15½”|
|Small||16″ to 17½”|
|Medium/Regular||18″ to 19½”|
Generally, compared to men’s packs, women’s packs are:
But really, it comes down to how the pack feels on you. Even though I’m a woman, I picked a men’s pack based on how it fit me and what it looked like. Oh — and that it had good pockets.
Read more by Laura at Waiting To Be Read.
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