Written by Homeless Hippie Life When people discover how long I have been travelling (three years) one of the first questions I am asked is ‘how do you afford it?’ Now let me be completely honest straight away. I wish there was a magical answer to this, some secret I could share, but the truth is I too must use the traditional exchange system of cash for goods/services. I did try offering British Airways a goat in return for an economy ticket to Costa Rica but alas, they were quite insistent on payment via Visa or Mastercard. It was probably for the best as I don’t even actually have a goat. So the bad news is you do still need money. The good news is, not as much as you might think.
We’re led to believe that if you opt out of the conventional system of living you will be left penniless, destitute and pretty much screwed as soon as you become ill, elderly or are in need of any assistance. Although I don’t personally agree with this, it might happen, I really have no way of knowing. Many people living within the conventional system can, and sadly do, find themselves screwed plenty of times anyway, there are no guarantees in life. My priorities right now are not about saving money or building any illusions of security, instead I am trying, not always successfully, to embrace experiences and let go of the desire to try and control what happens next. So with that attitude in mind, here are some of the ways I have learnt to travel on a budget.
What do you want?
It is important to have an honest chat with yourself, and ask what you want to get out of your travels. If the answer is to do nothing but sip cocktails on the beach of an exclusive resort in the Maldives then I suggest you get a second job immediately and start saving, or marry very well, or maybe sell your child or something (I’m pretty sure the cute ones fetch quite a high price). I know plenty of people who love the idea of travelling but aren’t prepared to give up the comforts they’ve become accustomed to. There is nothing wrong with this whatsoever, but bear in mind travelling whilst living the high life is going to be much harder. If however the answer is slightly less glamorous and more about “an experience” then read on…
The expensive part of travelling is the travel. Yes shocking I know. The cost of planes, trains, and automobiles really cut into your budget. My solution is often that I simply don’t travel that much when I’m travelling! When I pay to get to a country I make the most of it. I mean I REALLY bleed the experience dry. For example, I spent 3 months in just one small village in Sri Lanka. Not hopping from destination to destination does have its advantages. You get to know an area, country, and the people a little bit more and it becomes less of a tourist experience. You also can get cheaper deals because you’ve had time to figure out how things work and are better at haggling.
At some point though moving is an unavoidable part of travelling, and flexibility is not surprisingly the key to good deals. Now, bear in mind I don’t have a full time job and need to fill the hours in the day with something…I invented a little game for myself, which I call the “Skyscanner Game”. When searching for flights enter the country you are currently in. Then instead of looking for any specific destination, search for flights to ‘everywhere’. You can also search entire months rather than specific dates. It returns a list of worldwide destinations starting with the cheapest. If you don’t care where and when you go, you can get some very cheap deals. If nothing else it’s super fun to discover you can get to the Congo for a few hundred dollars.
When you’re in a country where internal travel can be pricey, like New Zealand and Australia, transfer cars are a great option. When somebody hires a car or van, but drops it off in another location, companies don’t want to send an employee to pick it up and drive it back. So there are websites where you apply to move it for them. They give you a certain amount of days to do it in, and often include fuel and insurance. Free travel AND free accommodation = winner.
I met a guy from Spain who had been travelling for over a year, yet his short flight from South East Asia to Sri Lanka was the first transport he’d paid for. He had hitch hiked all across Europe and throughout Asia for free. Similarly I met a Canadian guy who did the same sort of thing, but on his bicycle. Now, cycling around the world is really not for me… but it’s about working out what does feel like a good option for you.
If you are prepared to do a little bit of work you can live almost cost neutrally. Help exchange/work away is a very popular option with travellers these days. You do a few hours labour and in return get a place to sleep and sometimes food, and the rest of the day is yours to do what you want. There are several websites you can sign up to or I’ve arranged my own work exchange with businesses and people, just by contacting them directly. It is usually just a short term arrangement, anything from a few days to a few months, which makes it perfect for travelling around.
When I was in New Zealand I bought a very beat up old car with a girl I met, and we travelled around for a few months sleeping in a tent at beaches. When we left we then sold the car and got our money back. I also spent several months sleeping in a tent on a cliff top in Portugal. There is such a freedom from living in a tent, and a connection with nature that is hard to beat. As a woman travelling alone I’ve never just turned up somewhere with this as my only option. I’ve always got a feel for a place and decided whether it seems appropriate. You can only work within your own comfort zone and I just trust my own intuition about these things.
If the thought of camping makes you want to weep, then maybe house-sitting could be for you. I met a girl who for an entire year in Australia avoided paying any rent by looking after people’s house for them whilst they were away. There are lots of websites you can sign up to, and find a place for shorter or longer periods of time.