Travelling on the Cheap
One of the questions I get asked a lot, is how on earth do I manage to travel so much with hardly any money? As a result, I thought that it might be useful to write all of my tips down as concisely as possible, even though it’s already been done many times before…
Firstly, when you’re travelling for a long time, you might as well not pay rent (if that’s possible of course). If you’re not paying rent, it’s easily possible that as you travel you’re spending far less than what you would be paying just for rent and bills, although of course, you’re likely not earning.
If you really want to be spending hardly anything at all, then try WWOOFing. This usually means spending at least a week or so on an organic farm, working in return for food and accommodation. It’s a great way of getting immersed into a place, learning lots of skills, and by the time you leave you’ve probably made friends for life. There’s a small fee to initially find such places within each individual country, and there’s the cost of transport to and from the farm, but apart from that, you’ll be able to keep going for many months. Alternatively, if you don’t like the sound of farming then try finding an Earthship and volunteering there. There’s countless other volunteering websites, usually you have to pay a fee to get specific details for the locations and contact details, but Volunteers Base is free.
For something a little more fast paced, try Couchsurfing [edit: I don’t really use Couchsurfing anymore, instead I use Trust Roots]. This is where you get the best experience of a place, in my opinion, because you’re actually staying with someone who knows it like the back of their hand. When isn’t it more enjoyable to explore somewhere with someone who loves the place in which they live and is excited about sharing culture and talking story? Usually you can stay between 1-3 nights, but it really depends on the host. I tend to stay one night in each place, sometimes 2, only because there’s so many places I want to see in a limited amount of time, but I almost always regret not being able to stay longer.
Now to the actual travel part. I try to avoid flying as much as possible, because it’s expensive both for my pocket and the environment. When you’ve taken a 35 hour coach journey once before, travelling by buses and coaches will forevermore be a breeze. You also get to enjoy the landscapes as it transforms along the way, and maybe stop over in an unexpected place or two. The other thing about long journeys is that it’s the perfect time to reflect on where you’ve been and where you’re going, or more importantly, where you are now. On the hand, you can be super productive and get a lot done. I write in my journal, read some Astrophysics papers, make a movie montage, read a book, write a blog, catch up on sleep… All of which I have been doing in the past 13 hours, only another 24+ hours before I get back to Scotland!
In the UK and connections with Europe, use Megabus or Flixbus. For a much wider network in Europe check out Eurolines, or perhaps buy an Interrail pass for unlimited travel by train within a certain time frame. In some countries using the Interrail couldn’t be easier, like Germany or Austria for example, where you’re really getting your monies worth. However in other countries, like France, it can be more complicated because you might have to pay for additional reservations, so that’s worth checking. In North America, the Greyhound has a monopoly on travelling via coach, but there are others if you search for them. Travelling by train is usually more expensive, but you can get lucky.
As always, booking in advance will save you countless pounds and allow you to travel that bit longer (or buy a few extra pints). And never presume that there will be a bus to get you from A to B, or that the trains will be cheap on the day of travel, because you will be landed with an ugly fare. It is also a fine balance between being stuck with concrete travel plans, but still having some flexibility if you suddenly hear about an awesome place that you absolutely must visit, or a friend you haven’t seen for years crops out of nowhere. It can take years to fine tune this balance, but no matter how experienced you become, you will still always screw things up regardless and have to let an amazing opportunity pass by every now and then, don’t beat yourself up about it.
If you absolutely have to fly, then use Google Flights. They have an excellent system where you can type in two locations on a certain date and it will show you the prices of flights on surrounding dates, as well as nearby cities that are perhaps much cheaper. Sometimes the cheaper airlines slip through, so double check Easyjet, Ryanair, and Wizzair, for Europe, and Air Transat for getting to North America. Rather than having to pay ridiculous prices for food on board, take a pack lunch, it’s that simple!
The cheapest way to travel is of course hitching, but if you can’t find anyone to hitchhike with and you don’t have the confidence for it, then I would say, don’t risk it. It’s possible to find a buddy to hitch with you on Couchsurfing, or another alternative is Bla Bla Car, which is definitely the most popular car sharing website at the moment. It’s also great because you can travel across Europe far and wide, quickly, easily, and cheaply. Just be sure not to leave it too last minute when the car is likely full, or checking too early when drivers haven’t yet announced their travel plans. Again, it’s almost like gambling. Should you go ahead and book the bus months in advance, or risk waiting to see if a cheaper and faster car sharing option becomes available.
In all of the other parts of the world that I haven’t mentioned, the same rules generally apply. Travel may also be very cheap anyway, just be sure that you aren’t getting ripped off.