Stop giving everyone excuses, you’re only depriving yourself of opportunity. That’s the first thing you have to do: stop telling yourself that you can’t, because you absolutely can. Travel is not some exclusive club you have to be rich to join (seriously, I’m only barely keeping my head above the waves, actually maybe I have a serious addiction.. life is short, I guess, and I could be a crackhead, so there are worse things than compulsively purchasing plane tickets). I have been asked many times over how I could possibly be able to travel as much as I do, so that’s what I’m here to tell you. I could get into budgeting and finances, but I’ll keep that to a minimum for now and write a whole guide on it another time. This is a simple introduction, or relatively simple anyway. I don’t want to scare you or overwhelm you. I want you to feel like you can buy that ticket and jump on that plane, I want those butterflies in your stomach to seem as if they are floating in a garden full of sunshine. You know that nervous excitement, it’s a comforting presence in spite of what we normally think. That feeling doesn’t ever really go away, not for me at least, and it always makes me feel like I’m headed home.
Before I delve any further into this, there are two things you should know before you learn anything more.
The most effective way to travel: prioritise it. Make it present in all decisions you make, small, large, long term, and short term. Not that buying a plane ticket should be all-consuming and omnipresent, but time flies much faster if you dedicate your time to, well really any goal you have.
Remember that the world is a genuinely good place. It seems like an utter disaster a lot of the time, but, if you trust that life will work out one way or another, then it will. Especially since I am assuming most of you don't plan on venturing into war-zones, cartel territory (an no, I do not mean for you to avoid entire countries.. just avoid buying drugs and being in dodge places), or going off into the wilderness without proper preparation (in true McCandless fashion).
I almost think I should structure this like an FAQ page, but that seems rather like cheating you out of my brilliant (admittedly flowery) storytelling skills, so instead I’ll just give you an overview of the most persistent questions I’ve run into. Firstly, people ask me how I can afford travelling at such a young age, to which I say: if you make something a priority it becomes more difficult to escape. Plus, I think I might have a legitimate addiction to new places. Secondly, I’m asked if I ever get homesick, and quite honestly the answer to that has only ever been no. I know that my family will be wherever they are, and that they love me no matter where I am. I also don’t miss the place where I grew up, I can appreciate it for the memories and experiences I have, but I never have a strong desire to return. There are so many other wonderous places on this earth, and to deprive myself of them - and the people I could meet along the way - would be a bigger travesty than never returning to my hometown. Beyond that even, modernity allows for most of us to be connected with one another no matter where we are. Now, I know what you’re thinking: that’s not the same. I know, but true affection spans oceans and continents, especially if it’s only for a short time in the grand scheme of life as we know it. Take a chance. Seriously. Thirdly, people ask how I could do all this at such a young age, and honestly it’s just my ruthless addiction combined with passion.
I’ll begin with the money though, because I know that’s what you are all most curious about. Quite honestly, this answer is a bit tricky, and I’ll give you as much advise as I can. Some of what I write is not what I’ve explicitly done, but I have done my research, I promise. Most importantly, and I do mean this with all my heart, in order to travel extensively, long-term, or to strange places you have to be invested in it. That means both emotionally and financially. When I care about something, and I mean really care, I don’t forget about it - I fight for it. That’s how you should approach travel. Some of the best long-term adventurers I know saved for ages, and made plenty of sacrifices to get there. Choose to live in a cheaper place, buy less expensive things, don’t go out every weekend. If you’re really keen, and this is what I do, assign a specific amount of your paycheck that will be dedicated solely to travel costs (10% is my recommendation, but I honestly squeeze as much into that savings as I possibly can), but I know that’s a lot to ask of someone, especially if you’re fresh out of uni, high school, or just getting your life in order (do any of us really have our lives in order though?), but do not let that deter you. Save what you can, do what you can, and you will get there.
Once you have enough money, have convinced yourself you do, or just really fancy a challenge, then you arrange your transportation. This seems self explanatory, no? The first step is to get wherever you are going. To help with that, here are my best travel tips (keep in mind though, I may be keen to save myself some money, but I am not keen to sleep on benches all the time - not to say I haven't):
We will start off simple: work within your budget. This means setting up a budget. That's right, you have to do some work. Now I am one lazy (and completely unskilled in the world of excel) fool when it comes to planning ahead for travel. Keep reading though - I know what I am doing. Honestly my most effective ¨budgeting” is when I have a cost ceiling for myself. For example, I gave myself $300 to spend during my 8 weeks in Ecuador, not including my flight (to be fair, I was working with an NGO and had accommodation arranged by them). That gave me roughly $30 a week, with the rest being reserved to appease my mother’s textile addiction, and that made me a far more economically conscious traveller. If you give yourself limits, it not only challenges you to find creative ways to do what you want while not running yourself into debt (more than you are, or at least more than my student loans have made me), but it also allows for you to explore new approaches to stretching your wallet.
You’ve probably heard this, or read it, countless times: take advantage of free activities. In my Ecuador Destination Guide I discuss the Mama Negra festival, which I paid nothing to participate in, and yet had a marvellous experience at. That whole weekend cost me ~$50. Yeah. Keep a keen eye out for free festivals, free entry days at museums or venues, outdoor city events, cultural centres, anything. A simple “free things to do in ______” will get you plenty to work from, and browsing multiple sites will make this even easier. All that said, if there’s an activity you really want to do, and it costs a pretty penny.. DO IT. You regret the things you pass on, and things that make you happy are worth the investment.
Accommodation, the enemy of the budget. Often it feels like roulette.. Do you want a comfortable place to stay, or do you need an affordable place to stay? My favourite way to go anywhere is to take advantage of my friends (cheers guys, you know I love you and you’re always welcome at mine!). Seriously, staying with friends is not only cheap, but a far more interesting way to experience a location, but you have to get out there to make friends with people around the world. Until then I suggest staying in hostels, AirBnB’s (if you travel in groups this becomes far cheaper), or using MeetUp. For longer term trips there’s the ever-so-popular Au Pairing option, workaway (and similar sites), WWOOFING, volunteering options, language teaching, apartment rentals, and many more. I love hostels when I am on my own and only in a city for a short time. Why? I can make them a social experience, or I can tuck myself away and read, watch a film, or write. They don’t limit my options, and still allow me to meet other travellers if I crave some social interaction. Prices vary, and in places like South America, or Southeast Asia they’re far cheaper than large cities in Europe.
Perhaps the most atrociously expensive element in travelling: flying. Now, if you are in Europe, GoEuro is a good site to figure out your journey from point A to point B (Rome2Rio has sometimes been helpful to me, but more often than not I just get confused..), but if you are somewhere a little less.. well.. European then price comparison websites will be your best pals. Skyscanner, Momondo, Expedia, GoogleFlights, Hopper, and, my personal favourite, Secret Flying are just some options for you. Hopper is excellent for helping to judge when your flight will be cheapest, and Secret Flying is a true gem if you want to go somewhere on a whim, and are not particularly fussed about exact locations.
Last tip for today: go with the damn flow. Things rarely go the way you expect, especially on a budget and in a place you have no influence over, and the more you fight the current, the more you exhaust yourself. Being dragged through the muck can lead to some very interesting experiences, let alone stories. Remember, things are only bad in the moment. The more you flow with the world around you, the better your trip will be. That said though, don’t sleep on park benches if you can help it.. That’s a surefire way to get yourself mugged, sick, or killed.
The last thing I want to cover in this article: fears and anxieties. We all get a low feeling once in a while. We all struggle when we don’t understand what is happening, when the language makes no sense, when we feel totally alone. It’s part of travel, and you are most definitely not alone in feeling anything that you do. Remember that it’s okay to be sad or frustrated, give yourself some time to cry or freak out, and it’s okay to feel limited and scared. Take a deep breath and do what you can do, whether that action is small or large. The only way to solve a problem is to do something about it. You’ll have days when you won’t want to speak to anyone, and days where you will have no idea what is going on around you. That’s okay. Anyone who tells you different is lying to themselves. Don’t ever think you are alone, or that you won’t be able to solve whatever problem you’ve run into. You’ve made it this far, and you can make it the rest of the way.