How to Travel on the Cheap

Perhaps you've read my previous manifesto on the importance of travel in a young geek's life, and are now excited about seeing the world.  Problem is, you're a broke college student, or worse.

Well, today's your lucky day because you've got "El Cheapón" on your side.  I've been around the world several times on a shoestring, and so can you.  It's simply a matter of priorities, and as long as you've got a job there's hope.  If not, don't feel left out.  Keep studying and improving yourself, and before you know it, you'll be slaving away like the rest of us.  Just file this info away for later.

The three main issues obstacles in the way are money, time, and priorities as we previously discussed.  I'll be sharing my strategies on alleviating them in this series of articles.  Next up, money.

Saving for the Trip

Fuhst, strap on ya Bay-Say-Day.
In a future article, I'll be detailing some great ways to save money when at home.  For now the short story is, don't waste your money on useless crap and $4 coffees.

Saving During the Trip

As mentioned before, here at Geekademy we focus on the more meaningful travel and avoid "tourist packages" whenever possible.  There are a few times when they can be useful, however.  Occasionally, perhaps on a first trip to "exotic" unknown lands a package may help to get bearings for future journeys.  Just make sure to avoid the "Gringo Tax" as I shall explain shortly.

Visit Inexpensive Countries

Obviously, you'll be able to stay a lot longer, and be able to relax more in an inexpensive (yes cheap!), country than one where you are burning dollars by the minute.  You might get up to six months on the beach in a developing country for the price of just one in California or London.  Imagine sleeping for $5 a night and drinking 50 cent beers, while being chased by the local hotties.  Yes you can!

Take Advantage of Currency Swings

Keep an eye out for these in the news.  Back in the late 90's there was a run on the Asian currencies.  I don't remember exactly why, but the devastation hit Australia as well.  Shortly afterward, I booked a diving trip to the Great Barrier Reef, one of the best things I've done in my whole life.  Imagine a whole country at 30% off!

If anyone is down in Cairns again soon, say hi to the staff at the Woolshed!
The bar that makes its own gravy.

Avoid Touristy Spots

Tourist areas and all-inclusive resorts are for the filthy rich, dumb, and/or those with no time to investigate better options.  You'll find higher quality people and experiences with much lower prices elsewhere.

Forget Hotels!

One of the biggest drains on the pocket book while traveling is the insistence of wasting money on expensive hotels.  This is likely the #1 reason most people don't believe it is possible to see the world on a modest income.  Wrong, wrong, and wrong.  It can be done.  The solution, staying at youth hostels.

Youth hostels are the way to go!
  • Cheap, generally $5-20 a night.
  • Fun, mellow community vibe
  • You'll make friends instantly on arrival, "What's going on tonight?"
I recommend the low-key site, hostelz.com, to find good information on hostels around the world.  Many other sites are more interested in getting a commission from your booking than providing useful information.
Meanwhile back at the hotel:
  • Mucho Dinero $$$
  • Isolation
  • Older guests and families looking for quiet over fun.

The Gringo Tax

Another unfortunate impediment to cheap travel, the quadrupling of prices in locations where tourists congregate.  A phenomenon noticed over the years that I like to call the "Gringo Tax."  A good example of which would be at Rio's Copacabana beach.  On the waterfront, a nice dinner costs $20, but one block in, the same dinner costs $10, another block in $6, etc, etc.

Sometimes this is taken to sick extreme, an example of which would be Papa's 'N Beer, in Baja California.  A few years back they wanted $25 just to come in the door ... WTF?  I don't pay that much for nightclubs in Alta California, why should I pay it in Mexico??  Highly unlikely that the hard-working employees are sharing in the profits, which might make it a bit palatable.  I've been inside, and while fun to go with some friends, it's filled to the brim with obnoxious gringos and gringas.  If you go in there hoping even to talk to the TLUs in the pictures on the website, you're wasting your time and hard-earned $$$.

The three guys on the right telling you all you need to know.

Solution: walk a few blocks to the area where the locals hang out and dine at 1/4 the cost.  When dealing in rentals and other expensive items, look for published prices and have a local help out with choices whenever possible.  If not, start out with short-term commitments and move on from there.  Find the bars with no tourists; they'll be cheaper, and you'll be unique instead of one of hundreds of Borg drones.

Miscellaneous Tips

  • When you find a place you like, stay a while and learn everything about it.  Make friends with locals who can give you tips.  As you become an expert, you'll save even more.
  • Clubbin':  Have a few drinks at the cheap bar first, then move on to the expensive ones and order a sparkling water, which leads to:
  • Best not to get too trashed, as you'll have less fun that way and waste money.  The chica (or chico) of your dreams ain't gonna be into a sloppy, barfy drunk anyway.
  • Investigate the work and study abroad programs available to students.  Be an exchange student.
  • Prepare your own healthy meals from the grocery store.  Mmm, hmmm.

What are your favorite tips for saving money on the road?  In the next article on travel we'll discuss how to free up the time to go.

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