Be A Nomad On The Cheap: How To Travel The World With Little To No Money
Falling asleep at the terminal of my round-the-world flight, being stranded in Stockholm with no money and a blocked bank account, being tricked by a prostitute into entering a dark, somewhat ominous, Parisian sex cavern (I escaped with my dignity intact)…
I’ve made just about every mistake in the book over my 5 combined years of long term traveling.
Through failure after failure, I’ve accidentally stumbled upon ways to travel more enjoyably for next to no money. Here are the lessons I learned the hard way, so you don’t have to.
FATTENING THE WALLET: ESTABLISH YOUR BASELINE
Calculate your baseline: the minimum amount of money you need to live comfortably at home. List your monthly expenses, and begin chipping away at the superfluous. Based on that baseline, you can determine how much you can put towards your trip per month, and design your travels based on that, not the other way around.
If your peer group is condescending or offended by your refusal to splurge on lavish dinners, or pricey electronics. Rest assured: they’ll get it when you’re surfing in Morocco, without a care in the world.
GENEROSITY IS KING: HOST TRAVELERS & ATTEND EVENTS AT HOME
Create a kickass account on Couchsurfing.com and open your doors to travelers in your area. It’s a site (along with bewelcome.com, globalfreeloaders.com, and hospitalityclub.com) that has formed a community of trustworthy international travelers, built on a reference system that protects its members. Yes, you will open your door to a “stranger” for a couple of nights. No, they will not murder you in your sleep. Just do your research before deciding to host them, look in-depth at their references and track record, and minimize risk by securing any household valuables.
Be a good host and build an authentic relationship with your guest. Add them on Couchsurfing and on Facebook. Keep in touch with them after they leave. In time, you’ll find hosting to be an extremely rewarding and enjoyable experience. Start joining events for travelers in your area, particularly if you live in a city. Be generous, helpful, and friendly without expecting anything in return. You’re building a community of generous free-spirits that you can call upon later. If you’re uncomfortable being generous without an expectation of repayment, it’s better you don’t travel. You won’t enjoy it.
DESTINATION: GO WHERE YOUR FRIENDS ARE
Based on the international friendships you form, there will inevitably be people who you miss spending time with when they leave. Base your travels around these people. Travel is less about location and more about people and culture. Decide where you want to travel based on the people you want to spend time with.
Then, consider the price of your destination. Starting off, focus on cheaper countries with a favorable exchange rate to your native currency. This kind of lifestyle arbitrage takes a lot of the pressure off of budgeting constraints when you’re getting started. You’ll be surprised that with the right destination, you can live like a king for next to no money.
HOLD DOWN THE FORT: HOW TO ELIMINATE HOUSEHOLD EXPENSES WHILE ABROAD
There’s nothing worse than having to pay for expenses back home when you’re abroad, particularly rent. Luckily, services like Airbnb, Facebook, Couchsurfing and others have made this unnecessary. If you live in a furnished apartment and don’t have a lease commitment, consider moving out and finding a new place when you return. If not, first reach out to friends to see if one of them could stay in your apartment while you’re away.
If friends fail, post to local Facebook groups built for people searching for temporary housing. Many people travel for work and need a place to stay month-to-month. Have them pay you in cash up front, even if it means giving them a slight discount on the rent. If no one bites, take some pictures of your place and post it to Airbnb for the dates you’re away. Consider setting the minimum stay for a longer period of time (2 weeks to 1 month). Landlords tend to get testy if they see people coming in and out of your apartment. People are flakey, and most who “commit” to your apartment will probably back out, so plan accordingly. If you live with roommates, propose splitting some of the income you generate with them in exchange for their accommodation of your guests.
EARNING MONEY ABROAD: HOW TO BE LOCATION INDEPENDENT
Gone are the days in which you have to clock in and clock out of an office to make money. Being able to generate income or free accommodation while abroad will not only give you peace of mind; it will also give you something to focus on in your downtime. Popular options include “WWOOFing” (World Wide Organic Farmers), Workaway.com (my personal favorite), Caretaker.org, Helpx.net and volunteer programs like Idealist.org, Transitionsabroad.com, or SEEDS.is.
Service based business, particularly in the tech world, can often be done remotely as well. Developing a skill, like bartending, camera work or photography, cooking, or “tour guiding” can also open doors for earning abroad. Or, search for specialized freelance gigs on Elance.com and Upwork.com, or other freelancing tools. The bottom line is that you have to find the right option for you, so sit down, and find a creative way to earn money without working for a giant corporation.
BOOKING YOUR FLIGHT: APPS, OFF SEASON TICKETS, AND TRAVEL HACKING
Kayak.comhas a new mobile app that simplifies the process of finding cheap flights. It allows you to track flights and receive push notifications in real time when fares are low. The CheapFlight mobile app is another alternative. Booking in the off season of your destination can often cut your plane ticket in half, so do your homework and book when demand is low. There’s also a lot of info that I won’t go into here about using credit cards to “travel hack” your way to free airline tickets. It’s not particularly difficult, but does require time and diligence, so be ready to put in the hours if you’re interested. If you’re the persistent type, check out this article on some great travel hacking credit cards to get started.
Other airfare resources include airfarewatchdog.com, theflightdeal.com, and thepointsguy.com. Otherwise, just use the Kayak app to find low-cost flights in the off season. Don’t be too hasty in booking a round trip ticket that might hinder your freedom to elongate your trip down the road. Long trips have a tendency to get longer, particularly when you know how to bootstrap your traveling.
THE ART OF ASKING: DON’T BE A DOUCHEBAG
Reach out to your contacts in your destination. You should have at least three friends in your desired location that you feel confident would host you. They should be friends that you genuinely love spending time with and who feel the same about you. These are friends that you’ve kept in touch with over time and genuinely care about. Send them a message on the most relevant social channel to ask how they’re doing and tell them when you’ll be in their city.
Give them an out by making clear that you are not relying on them as your one hope for a successful trip and that you have other friends in their city who would be willing to have you. Do not attemp to guilt anyone into hosting you, or any other form of douchebaggery. Hosting should always be mutually beneficial. And if someone does decide, help them out down the road to say thank you.
AN “EMERGENCY” SCENARIO: THE GENDER DIVIDE
If your friends can’t host you, do not take it personally. You are the one asking for something. Invite them to coffee or a drink, and start sending out requests on the emergency couchsurfing page(s) for the city you’re visiting. Emergency requests have higher response rates, but don’t hesitate to send our normal requests earlier if you can. If you are male, be prepared to include:
· A reference to your potential host’s profile to show you read it thoroughly.
· The fact that you would be very appreciative if they could host you. Why it would mean a lot.
· Most important: One to three tangible things you will do to provide value to your host (cooking, cleaning, tutoring, computer help, etc.)
If you’re female, spend more time researching hosts’ profiles to make sure they are trustworthy. Your challenge will be less about finding a host and more about finding the right host. Target female hosts and pick wisely and carefully. All of these tips apply not only to couchsurfing.com, but also to bewelcome.com, hospitalityclub.org or any other community travel network you might use.
THE DATING GAME: HOW TO CONQUER YOUR HOSTEL
Chances are you will find yourself staying in a hostel at some point in your travels. You’ll soon find that everyone that stays at a hostel wants to get to know new and different people, and precisely none of them know how to break the ice. The solution? Walk up to random people and start talking. It doesn’t matter what the hell you say, or who you are talking to. The fact that you are opening up will make them feel comfortable to do the same.
You’ll soon develop a network of contacts in the hostel whom you can then begin in introduce to each other. Chances are that you and your new-found friends are interested in seeing the city, so when the time is right, make some suggestions, and voila, you’re on your way. The simple — and awkward — first step of approaching someone and opening your mouth will cascade into a plethora of amazing experience, dozens of new friendships, and potential future hosts.
THE HUMBLE BUS: YOUR NEW BEST FRIEND
Most people underestimate the value of bus systems when abroad. Particularly in Europe, buses can get you from country to country for as little as 5–10 Euros. Megabus is a particularly cheap and efficient option. Low cost airlines like Ryanair Norwegian & Easyjet can also do the trick for longer distances.
To avoid hidden fees, declare any checked baggage, and print your ticket in advance. If you know how to use them, these low cost carriers can get you from country to country for as little as 15 Euros. Book a few days in advance, and plan your next destination based on the people you want to spend time with.
Travel is more of a shift in perspective then an activity. Where most people form relationships as a social safety net to provide a sense of security, or as a way to get ahead in life, travelers interact with others for the simple joy of expanding their mind and viewpoint of the world around them.
Doing so will give you a glimpse outside of your own personal problems and concerns. And that experience, luckily, is both free and priceless.
Congrats, You’re Doing It
Me At A Dance Party In Paris
Originally published at valencedigital.co.