Category: travel

How To Travel On The Cheap

Want to travel on the cheap? Who doesn't? These budget travel tips helped me travel through 7 countries, over 11 months, for just $5,000 dollars. Click through for affordable travel tips you haven't heard before!
Here are some things that I know about:
How to eat epic amounts of cheese in one sitting
How to dress like Dolly Parton
How to travel the world on $2

Okay. Maybe not $2. Maybe $4. But that’s still traveling on a really small budget, for pete’s sake!

In 2010, I did a six-country, 10-month trip to the tune of $5,000. Quite a deal, right? I know better than most travelers how to travel cheaply and still travel well.

Want to travel on the cheap? Here are my secrets for affordable travel:

Travel to somewhere cheap

We all grow up fantasizing about seeing Big Ben or the Eiffel Tower, but Western Europe’s expensive, yo! And there’s a lot more excitement to be found outside of the EU.

There are heaps of lovely, amazing, culturally significant, safe countries just aching to be included in your itinerary. The Czech Republic, Mongolia, Tunisia all get high marks. You can find other suggestions here and here. Plan your trip to an affordable travel location and you’ll save big!

Stay in cheap travel destinations for awhile

The biggest expense of most trips is the transportation to and from your destination. So get the most out of that $1,600 ticket to Saigon and hang out for a bit! The key to traveling cheap is focusing on being in cheap places, rather than hopping from destination to destination on expensive tickets.

The feeling of really staying in a city, getting to know all its nooks and crannies, having that little cafe you always get coffee at … well, it’s a lot better than changing hostels every night and spending every day standing in lines for various Important Landmarks. You’ll have a much deeper relationship with your host country and save money while you’re at it!

Get cheap or free travel lodging by volunteering

Seriously, if you’re looking to travel for cheap is the way to go. Not only will it significantly cut the cost of your trip, you’ll meet heaps of people and contribute something to your host country. The trick here is to find a volunteer program that is free and will cover your housing.
Many volunteer programs require that you cover your own costs and, thus, are actually really expensive. But free volunteer programs do exist. I had an amazing time volunteering on a tiny island in Greece with The Aegean Wildlife Hospital. In exchange for two hours of water-bowl filling and corn scattering I got my own bedroom in a sweet little Greek farmhouse and the rest of the day was free for sunbathing, ouzo-drinking and cliff diving.
A sure bet for a volunteer/lodging exchange is WWOOF, World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. WWOOFers volunteer on organic farms in exchange for room and board, often living as a member of their host’s family.
There are WWOOF farms on every continent except Antarctica. You just choose a country and farm that you’re interested in, email them and go! Amazing, right? It’s my best secret for cheap travel!

Cheap travelers are best friends with public transportation

Traveling for cheap often means traveling like a local! Sure, taking the bus through downtown Bangkok can be pretty intimidating. So if you’re in a non-English speaking country and you’re only in cities for a few days at a time, I’ll give you a pass on this.

But if you’re planning on kicking it in Berlin all summer, you have no excuse for avoiding that subway. Even in places where the taxis are cheap (compared to what you’re used to paying) all those rides add up.

The added bonuses of taking public transport are a) meeting locals b) seeing parts of the city you’d miss on that air-conditioned tour c) feeling quite chuffed that you’ve figured it out on your own! One of my favorite memories of our three weeks in Fiji are the 70-cent, open-air buses full of babies and families and clanking hip hop music.

Work while you travel to offset costs

If you have expensive travel destinations in your plans, making them cheaper by working while you’re there can really help to offset the costs. Most hostels/backpackers hire guests to clean the building in exchange for their board.

If you’re not afraid to get your hands dirty, fruit picking jobs are huge in New Zealand and Australia and hospitality jobs are usually easy to come by in most tourist ports. Proper employment calls for a working holiday visa, but it’s often easy to find cash-in-hand casual work, too.

If you’re a Virgo like me and have to plan everything out ahead of time, please allow me to sing the praises of Italy’s ACLE program. You teach English to Italian kiddos for six hours a day, for 250 Euros a week. And! You stay with an Italian family so you get all the gnocchi and gelato you could ever want without spending a cent. Nice, eh?

Get cheap travel during the ‘shoulder’ season

Traveling on the cheap means you’re going to plan trips during non-peak shoulder seasons. Sure, I’d like to be in St. Tropez for Valentine’s Day, but so would every other girl and her sister. All those eager travelers equate to packed hotels and high prices. Cheap travel during shoulder season has great benefits beyond affordable travel costs too!

‘Shoulder season’ is the month before the ‘real’ tourist season kicks. You’ll still see good weather, but you’ll be privy to open beaches, short lines and even discounted rates on your lodging. Here’s an awesome list of shoulder-seasons for popular destinations the world over.

Want to travel on the cheap? Who doesn't? These budget travel tips helped me travel through 7 countries, over 11 months, for just $5,000 dollars. Click through for affordable travel tips you haven't heard before!

Sniff out the travel deals

There are travel deals to be had everywhere, it’s just a matter of knowing where to look. Kayak and Mobissimo both search heaps of travel sites for you so you don’t have to shuttle around from one site to the next. I’m also a huge fan of Travelocity’s ‘Last Minute Packages‘ tab for cheap travel deals.

If you’ve got a three-day weekend coming up and your only requirement is ‘somewhere warm’ you can get amazing deals. Right now, I could get a round trip flight from Minneapolis to Atlanta, plus three nights in a hotel for $247!

And don’t discount non-air travel when looking for cheap travel destinations. Though America isn’t known for its public transportation system, Megabus is making some pretty significant inroads. Routes are limited to the Midwest and east coasts of the US and Canada. But! You can get tickets for $1! $1! Of course, a lot of the tickets are a bit more, but they are always reasonable.

Stay with friends or Couch-surf

I encountered some dumb luck while planning my world ticket and happened to have friends living in four amazing cities that I wanted to visit. If you have friends abroad at the moment, seize the moment and go sleep on their couch!

You’ll get free lodging, your own tour guide, and insight into the city. Just be sure to clean up after yourself, cook them dinner and send a thank-you gift. But you already knew that, right?

If you’re headed to someplace obscure or friend-free, give couch surfing a try. Here’s how it works: After you select a country you’re traveling to, you sift through profiles of various intrepid souls who have opened up their homes to travelers. You email hosts that interest you, introducing yourself and sharing the details of your trip.

If both parties are keen, you stay with them on your way through their city, make a new friend and return the favor to other travelers when you get home. So lovely, right?

Try rental relocations

These are so, so awesome. Countries like New Zealand and Australia have huge tourist industries with heaps of tourists driving all over, very often in one direction.

Many travelers land in Auckland, rent a car and then spend a few weeks driving down to Christchurch where they fly home. And lucky you – the car rental companies are happy to rent you that car for $1 if you drive it back up to Auckland for them!

A friend and I spent a three-week vacation on the southern island of New Zealand driving wherever the rental relocations were going . We even drove a $300-a-night camper van for a few days. This website will tell you everything you need to know about the rental relocation process.

Want to travel on the cheap? Who doesn't? These budget travel tips helped me travel through 7 countries, over 11 months, for just $5,000 dollars. Click through for affordable travel tips you haven't heard before!

Eat like a local and get cheap travel eats

One of the best ways of experiencing a new culture is through the food, right? What would Bangkok be without mango sticky rice or Edinburgh without haggis? Not nearly as awesome, that’s what. But eating out all the time gets spendy!

If you’re going to eat out, nosh during the lunch hour when prices are a lot more reasonable and take your leftovers back to the hostel for dinner. Or make a picnic out of nibblings from the grocery store or the fruit and veggie market.

I’m also a huge fan of eating from street vendor carts – authentic, adventurous eats for a pittance. But stay away from those grey cubes rolled in black sesame seeds. They’re not tofu. They’re congealed duck blood.

Haggle for cheaper prices

I nearly turned inside out with embarrassment the first time I haggled a price down in South East Asia. “But it’s already cheap! And it’s so damn awkward!” It doesn’t have to be – just like most things, if you approach haggling with charm and confidence you’ll be fine.

Often prices are not posted and the price you are quoted is a) intended as a starting point b) inflated because you’re a foreigner.

So smile sweetly, reduce the price by a third and have a go! Here’s a good how-to.

Are you an experienced budget traveler? Share your best tips in the comments so we can learn from you!

P.S. All my best budget travel tips in one place + 7 travel tools I will not shut up about till you buy them.

photos by annie spratt // cc

Adventures in Non-Traditional Adulthood: Planting Trees in Canada

Planting trees in Canadaphoto by margebarge

(This is part of our series on Non-Traditional Adulthood and the adventures to be had)

Finance Your Adventures: Planting Trees in Canada

My friend Tyler Eddy is awesome for many reasons. A list, you say? 1) He seems to have two first names 2) He is earning his PhD in something awesome and ocean-related (I think he’s a dolphin whisperer) 3) He has traveled the world, financed by his summers spent planting trees in Canada. Amazing right?! Tyler was gracious enough to answer a few questions o’mine about how to get into the tree planing game.

How did you hear about tree planting as a way to finance your adventures?

My first year of uni. 18 years old. The girl from the room above me and i became close (she would beckon me with kicks to her floor, my ceiling) and told me about this job tree planting where you could make good money while working outside and sleeping in a tent. she wanted me to spend the summer in her tent with her while doing it. i had other plans about our immediate future so joined another company and have known no other serious income (except for the employment insurance benefits that come with the terminus of a season) ever since.

How did you find a job planting trees in Canada? How did you feel about said your planting job?

Word of mouth. I had some friends that were working for a company and gave them a call. after a quick coffee meeting on campus with one of their representatives i was in. except they wanted a $100 deposit to make sure i was coming. I wasn’t sure what to expect but knew i wanted to get out of my parent’s house for the summer after newly tasted freedom at university. hated it. then loved it. then hated it again. then loved it. then hated it and sat on a stump crying and of course my foreman came to check on my trees at that moment. but by the end of it had made $200 in a day and was hooked. went home for a month in july and came back in august to plant some more.

How did you find housing for your tree planting job? How did you feel about said housing?

I had the mountain equipment co-op catalog (Canadian purveyor of all things outdoors) and ordered the tarn 3 tent and -5 sleeping bag (synthetic fill, much too cold, i froze during those early may nights dipping well below the freezing point). I was happy to be living outside and perched my tent on the edge of a small cliff overlooking the lake. It felt like a sanctuary from the long horrific days of my rookie season.

How much money did you make planting trees in Canada?

The first season I was a bit slow to progress (I was a late bloomer) but by the end of it I got better and made $200 in a day, which is a good goal for a rookie season. By season 9 I averaged $500 US/day. If I don’t make $400/day these days, I’m pissed.

What kind of people did you meet while planting trees in Canada?

all sorts. ski bums. college students. travelers. drop-outs. surf bums. musicians. old crusty lifers who never smile, Africans with smooth french, Quebecois with indiscernible french, girls that are tougher then most men i know.

What was the most challenging thing about your Canadian tree-planting job?

bugs. planting in the rain. bugs. planting in the snow. bugs. planting in the hail. bugs. waking up at 6am when it’s 10 below freezing. bugs. tendinitis. bugs. being told you have to replant. bugs. just planting another tree and not stopping. having every square millimeter of you chewed by bugs as well as the corner of your eyes and trying to hide yourself on your trip to town.

What was the most rewarding thing about planting trees in Canada?

meeting the best friends of my life. sharing the highest and lowest point of my life with them. traveling around every nook and cranny of Canada. planting up a mountain, stopping at the top to turn around, admire the view with eyes squinting in early light and take a deep breath. Hitching from Calgary to Vancouver with my best friend to see the west coast for the first time after reading ‘on the road’ by Kerouac while in a helicopter-access isolation camp in the Yukon where the sun never sets for a month. receiving a paycheck for five figures, excluding cents. getting dropped off in the morning, bagging up trees for the first run, smoking a doobie while looking at the land, choosing the soundtrack on the i pod and knowing that if you work hard and plant all 4000 trees as you plan you will make $600 that day. a warm beer after a hard day of work. having a five-star restaurant cook prepare the most amazing food for you everyday. night-off campfires with guitars and music blasting from trucks and people shotgunning beers and letting loose after working hard. being physically challenged everyday. living outside for three months straight. meeting the girl of my dreams and knowing she can handle pretty much anything that life throws at her.

Would you ever keep planting trees in Canada long term?

I am halfway through my Ph.d and show no signs of stopping. After finishing my degree I hope to plant in order to buy land in Nova Scotia. When it comes time for a family, I would like to be more permanently based.

What suggestions would you have for anyone else who wants to finance adventures by planting trees?

Make sure you know what you’re in for. Buy a good sleeping bag and a good pair of boots (shoddy tents can always be covered with a blue tarp). Find someone good to work for. The best planters will make no money with a poor company as this is piece-rate work.

Adventures in Non-traditional Adulthood: Teaching ESL Abroad

How to Teach ESL Abroad as a Non-Traditional Adult

(This is part of the Non-traditional Adulthood Series, in which we expound on the joys and adventures to be had whilst avoiding mortgages and babies.)
If you’ve got a taste for adventure or a bad case of wanderlust, teaching ESL abroad is a great way to pay off your loans while seeing the world. The college+wedding+babies formula isn’t for all us … in fact, a very large percentage of us take a less traditional, more scenic route reaching the destination that is Grown-up-ville. Why not have a good time while figuring out who we are and what we want?! Teaching ESL abroad is a great way to do this and see the world too!

Now friends, I will not lie to you. Moving abroad is an undertaking and it is crazy difficult at times … but most things worth doing are, right?! Teaching English abroad is also one of the best things I’ve done with my life. And it’s never going to get easier than when you’re young, cute and mortgage-free! So here are a few basics about teaching abroad to get you headed in the right direction. Bon Voyage!

Where should I go to teach abroad?

Well, that is a rather important aspect to the journey, isn’t it? ESL jobs are relatively easy to find, especially outside of Western Europe and particularly in Asia. You should have a really big think about what you want out of this adventure. Some good questions to ask yourself are:

  • Do I have a second language I’m keen to practice?
  • What kind of climate works for me?
  • How much money do I need to/want to make?
  • How do people in this country react to people like me? (This is a pretty important one. How do they treat Americans? Women? People of your ethnic background or sexual preference?)
  • Do I want to go someplace that’s westernized or quite remote?

Once you’ve answered these questions, do a little nosing around the internet to research the countries you’re interested in. is hugely helpful and include realistic profiles of many ESL-rich countries.

Where do I find a ESL teaching job?

As with many things, ESL teaching jobs are online! You really have two options: lining something up ahead of time or going to your country of choice and finding something once you get there. Both options have their pros and cons. Lining something up ahead of time could mean free airfare, training, being met at the airport and job security. It can also mean being stuck in a job or town that you’re not too keen on. Finding something once you get there may equal higher pay, better benefits and a working environment that fits you. But it also means all the normal stress of finding a job – but in a foreign, non-English speaking city. Wicked stressful, yo.

If this is your first time traveling in a non-English speaking country or teaching ESL, I would probably recommend trying to get something lined up before you go. Do some really in-depth research on your potential employers – check out expat online message boards and see what they have to say about the company and ask your school if you could chat with a few of their current employees. English schools vary hugely so it’s really important to find one that’s right for you. There are approximately a gajillion ESL-job sites online; some of the best are, and Dave’s ESL cafe.

Do I need a qualification to teach ESL abroad?

Maybe. It really depends on where you’re going to teach English and what you’re hoping for. If you want to teach in Bangkok for a year, backpack around SE Asia and see your fill of Ladyboy shows, you probably only need a B.A. and a native-speaker accent. If you want to teach in Europe for several years, you’ll probably need a qualification. Qualifications range from month-long TESOL certificates to two-year Masters Degrees. However, if you just want to go to Asia for a couple years of sake-drinking fun, don’t feel that you need to undertake a course to get a job.

What about (a million other little things) about teaching abroad?

I had heaps of questions before I moved to Taiwan … could I buy breakfast cereal there? Would the keyboards have English on them? Would it be difficult to be a vegetarian? The best way to find the answers to all these quandaries is to hunt down the ubiquitous expat online message board for your country of choice. These message boards are positively thick with people aching to give you input and help you learn from their mistakes. Take advantage of it!

So get out there! Grab your passport, strap on that giant backpack and have an adventure teaching ESL abroad!