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Planning the trip: Top 5 ways to stretch your travel budget

It’s about time I wrote something useful.   Not that the last post wasn’t useful in some way, but I think it was more useful to Laurent & I than to all of you readers out there!

Thanks to all of you who are reading and who voted in our poll.  I still don’t have a decision on the sailboat and I’m still occasionally watching youtube videos of the Drake.  I’ve curbed the habit a bit though.  I think I’m down to about 2 a day.  Is there a Drake’s Anonymous anyone knows about?   I think I have until April to decide about the sailboat.  Until then, stay tuned.

So this trip is a serious undertaking.  More so than I think both of us even imagined.  That’s why we decided to push the date up until the Fall. Laurent needs more time to plan and I need more time to save money.  The old time and money conundrum.  One of the things I am focusing on the most right now (aside from my ongoing research about the foods of each region) is the money situation.  When you travel for two years, it costs a lot of money.  And money management is an incredibly weak spot for me.   I’m finding that the things that will cost the most are the same things that most of us spend all our money on.   Accommodation, food and transport.

I came up with a list of the top 5 ways we are looking to make our pesos, dollars, etc stretch as far as possible.  Naturally, this list is most applicable to travel with longer stays but I think the tips are something that every traveller should consider.  People often ask me how I get to travel so much.  The best answer is that I am willing to sacrifice.  I don’t stay in fancy hotels, sometimes I sleep on the ground.  But waking up to the sight of a glacier outside your tent has its benefits too.  Everyone can travel.  People always tell me they simply can’t afford it.  And if you have 4 kids and a house, maybe you really can’t.  But almost everyone else can.  Most people just don’t know the ways of budget travel or can’t be bothered to seek what’s out there.  But I’m doing some of the work for those that are lazy but curious.

So here are 5 ways that we are looking to stretch our dollar and also gain a different experience, one we could never get if we just stayed in cookie cutter hotels everywhere.  And you can benefit too.  You just have to be willing to give up some things but in return, you will gain so much  more.

I’ve ignored the most obvious ways of stretching your budget, like don’t buy stupid stuff that you don’t really need and staying away from 5 star hotels.  I hope at least one of these suggestions will be a new one for you to discover.

1.  Volunteer  

The best thing about travelling for 2 years is having 2 years to travel.  It obviously affords us a lot of time.  Naturally there is a lot to see in every country, however, if we spend a month and half in each country, that still gives us ample time to see the things we’d like to see and also to relax and just enjoy.  Volunteering is a cost-effective yet enriching experience.  Well, it CAN be cost-effective.  Often times, you must pay to volunteer.

Luckily we found this amazing website which has been infinitely helpful in planning where and when we will volunteer.  In exchange for our volunteer services, we will get free accommodation and in two of the places, meals.  So if we volunteer for 4 weeks in one place, we will save money on accommodation and in some instances, food.  And obviously, transport, since we will be staying on site.  That’s the 3 biggest enemies of your dollar.  That’s in addition to getting the priceless experience of helping out.

2.  Work trade

I really wish the world worked this way.  Hey, I have a skill you can use, can you give me something in return?  I can cook a nice meal for you, would you fix my car for me?  I wish I could tell the mechanic this.  Once upon a time, I suppose the world did function on barter and trade and well,  it didn’t seem to work out very well.  Fortunately, while travelling, it is still possible to trade off your skills or your sweat to get a free bed and possibly a hot meal. This website is great.  We plan on using it, as needed.  I especially like it because they offer you not only farm work but also the possibility to work in a hotel or hostel.  Laurent & I talk about opening up our own place one day, so it might be nice to get the actual experience of working in one.  You typically work for about 4 or so hours a day 5 days a week in exchange for a bed and meals.  Not bad.

For more hands on farm work and to gain an understanding of what it is like to work on an organic farm, you can be a WWOOF-er. This is a great organisation both for the farms and for the budget traveler.  Sometimes you have to pay a small fee to work on a WWOOF farm, but the money goes towards expanding the organisation.  You typically work a few hours a couple of days a week in exchange for room and board and sometimes, meals.  Plus you get to learn about organic farming and meet other like-minded people.

3.  Self -cater

This is a big one.  And I think that everyone who takes a vacation anywhere should utilize it.  More often than not, staying in an apartment or a hostel and buying your own groceries and doing your own cooking will save you heaps of money.  And I’m not suggesting you skimp out.  No need to buy a measly loaf of bread and peanut butter and jelly (although it makes a tasty lunch).  You can make it as creative and interesting as you want to.  I love exploring the markets of a new place and cooking with new ingredients.  It’s a great opportunity to save money and eat like a local.

I’ve saved heaps of money in the past by just cooking my own meals while I’m away.  I often bring hard to find spices that I don’t want to be without, with me in little baggies.  Spices can get expensive, so if you have a well-stocked pantry, why not bring along some from home?  For past backpacking trips, I even dehydrated my own food to bring with me.  I’m not suggesting you have to go all out but even a little self-catering for breakfast and lunch can make a big difference in your budget.

For this trip, visiting restaurants will be important, so we won’t exclusively self-cater (and besides, you gotta treat yourself, you’re on vacation) but we plan on cooking for ourselves often.  If you want to have the ultimate freedom, I highly recommend you invest in one of these.  They fold up and fit in your pocket and you can usually find the fuel in any camping/outdoorsy store.  Get a little backpack cookware set and there you have it!  Dinner on the go!

4.   Write reviews

This was a new one for me.  Who knew you could get paid for writing reviews?  A very smart girl started this website.  Basically, you write a short review of a hostel, for example.  You include photos and link it up to your facebook page.  I was happy to learn she was getting paid to do this because that is one of the goals of our blog too.  We would love to get a free room or free meal for writing our reviews.  We really just want to help other travelers and I also really like the idea of reviewing every place we go.  It’s a great record of the places we went to.  But who knew this was possible?  Write a review and stay for free!  Not bad.  It’s a win-win for you and for the hostel too.  The world is just full of infinite possibilities!

5.    Couchsurf

How could I not include this one?!  It’s how Laurent and I met.  It’s also how I met some really wonderful people who I still keep in contact with.  Couchsurfing, for the uninitiated, is a website devoted to promoting cultural exchanges between people.   What better way to travel to a place then to go and meet and stay with someone who lives there?  You share who you are and your culture and they share who they are and where they are from.  Thus a connection gets established.

Some people view it as a free bed in a strangers house but it’s way more broad-minded than that.  I have had a lot of mixed reactions from friends and family when I tell them I use it.  Some people think it’s just crazy to let strangers stay in your home or vice versa.  You know, ax murders and all that stuff.   But it is a fantastic way to connect with someone that you might not have met otherwise.  

My experience has obviously been a positive one.  I’ve made great connections with like-minded people and it really has added another dimension to my travel experiences.  We plan to use it for this trip to but not so much to stay with people.  More often we’ll use it to talk with people and get advice from them on where we can find the foods we are seeking out.

Well, I thought this post would not be so long but I guess I can’t write short posts.  I’m working on that.  I don’t want to be a drag to read.  For all of you who made it this far, I hope you got something useful from this post that you can apply to your own travelling lifestyle.  I love feedback, so please feel free to comment.

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