Nowadays, with the economy doing belly flops, several people have asked me, “How do you pay for these trips you take to run marathons all over the world?” It’s an excellent and fair question.
Let me tell you how we do it. If more people were willing to see the world the way Bill and I travel, many people who think they can’t pull it off could afford trips overseas. Bill and I are not rich. We’re just cheap (or smart, depending on how you look at it). Here’s our advice for a traveling life-style.
1. Live to travel: To start with, traveling is a huge priority for Bill and me. We choose to live in a small condominium instead of a big, expensive house. This way, we have very few home repairs, low mortgage payments and reasonable utility bills. We also own our own old cars. My Honda has 125,000 miles on it and I plan to keep it until it’s got twice that. I credit most of our daily financial prudence to Bill. He’s a coupon-clipping, sale-watching, bargain-hunting kind of fellow – and it pays off. (It also sometimes irritates me, but that’s another blog entry.) Basically, we filter our every-day spending through the sieve of how it will impact our travel.
2. When you travel, stay close to the culture you’re visiting: We almost always stay at hostels or guest houses. Most hostels have private rooms for couples. Some even have toilets and showers in the room like your run-of-the-mill motel room. The great thing about hostels and guest houses is that you usually have access to a kitchen. After we arrive at our lodgings, we go shopping. We don’t eat out every night. We buy our wine and food at the neighborhood grocery store. It’s fun to shop with local people and learn to eat what they feed their own families. I have also discovered that in a pinch, if I hate the local food, I can live for at least two weeks on peanut butter, crackers and fruit.
We always use public transportation in every location we travel to. If we’re in Chicago, we use the “L.” If we find ourselves in Berlin, we figure out the busses. This way, we rarely rent a car, or if we do, we cut the cost of gas by traveling cheaply for as much of the time as we can.
3. Look for bargains and make friends: When we go site-seeing, we work hard to look for the deals. Almost everywhere in the world, you can find a bargain if you look. If you wait to buy your theater tickets until after 3pm, for example, you might get them half-price. Or if you visit a museum on a certain day of the week, it might be free. We do a lot of research before we leave home, and we ask advice of locals once we arrive. We don’t often take official tours that cost a great deal of money, we borrow the self-guided tour pamphlets at the information desk of the museum, instead.
And we make friends. The young people who backpack around the world and stay at youth hostels are masters at saving money. They are our best resource for free deals and cheap thrills. Every friend you make when you travel is an open door to a rich experience. When we were in Australia, we made friends with the woman who drove our wine tour bus. She came back to our little motel with her own car later in the evening and took us around the county looking for kangaroos and telling us about the region. She would accept nothing from us but thanks (though we offered to buy her dinner and drinks).
If we didn’t travel the way we do, we could not possibly make our way around the world and see all the exotic places we’ve experienced. Basically, for the price of one week’s worth of gas, groceries, entertainment and espresso drinks at home, we can live in another country (minus the cost of lodging). All we have to do is get there.