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Many Adventures of a Nomadic Poet A young poet with Asperger's makes travel his passion, and away he goes...

How do I do it?

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC | Friday, 22 June 2012 | Views [841]

It's Friday! And here I am after another long day at Caraballo. As I lay here in my thatched hut in Tubagua I shall take you away into my mind...

Today I shall discuss the most common, and sometimes unnerving question I receive regarding travel. And this applies to both whilst I travel and not: "How do you get the money to travel?" This question has been asked since Day 1 of my trip to Australia back in 2004, days before the legendary New Year's celebration at Sydney Harbour. At the end of the day it really all comes down to priorities and how I live. For one thing, I don't live an extravagant lifestyle. It's an everyday thing for me to carry tea bags in my backpack, skip lunch, wear shoes that I've had for two years, and buy clothes at the Salvation Army. Secondly, travelling is what I love most! I've recieved comments such as "your parents must make damn good money," "you must be a rich young man to travel the way you do," and "do your parents send you on all these trips." People seem to get the idea that my parents always took us on trips when we were younger, but the only time we ever travelled was when we moved. I don't have a sugar-mama, rich parents, a trust fund, or any of that. I work hard for my travels! And I love doing it that way. Here's how I do it and some helpful tips.

Whilst I'm not travelling:

Food. I'm good at saving money on the "little extras" that most of us don't think of. It's not uncommon for many people to spend $4 for a latte at Starbucks or the Coffee Bean every morning. Add a pastry at $2 a pop and you're spending $30 a week even before you start work. If you don't like coffee you're likely to get a cup of "Awake" tea for $2. The tea I drink is comparatively expensive. PG Tips is my favourite tea, and I can get a box of 80 tea bags for $10 or a box of 240 tea bags for $20. Even better is that I order a huge bag of tea bags on Amazon: 1150 tea bags for about $60. For tea it's rather expensive, but compare that to 80, 240, or 1150 cups of tea at Starbucks for $160, $480, and $2,300 respectively, the savings are enormous! In my backpack I keep a tea thermal and fill it with hot water and a few packets of sugar every time at Starbucks, so my tea is free. Furthermore, think of how often you buy lunch at or near work. If you spend $8 or $12 a day on McDonald's, Pizza Hut, or Chinese food that's anywhere from $40 to $60 a week on food. Consider packing a lunch at home or, like I do, pack some extra tea bags and eat a light snack at work (a banana or a bag of Sun Chips works wonders for me). Alcohol costs can be cut down dramatically as well. Instead of throwing back a mojito or three at $10 apiece at the bar every Friday night, consider gathering some friends together and pick up a bottle of rum and stuff to make it. Food and drinks are one thing you're likely to spend a lot and not really think about or realize it. 

Transportation. I don't have a car; when I factor in a car payment, full-coverage auto insurance, petrol, maintenance costs, registration costs, and possibly even traffic tickets, it would be a huge cost. My bicycle is my constant companion, and there is no registration, insurance, petrol, or traffic tickets, and the only maintenance costs are the occasional tube replacement ($6), patch kit for punctures ($3), and an annual tune-up ($25). That pales in comparison to the approximately $400 or so a month you'll spend if you buy a cheap to moderately priced car at a dealership. Is it possible to not have a car? Or buy a cheaper one? Buying a car sold on the street will allow you to make one solid payment and they're usually a lot cheaper, and you only need liability insurance since there's no car loan or monthly payment. You should think about how often you need to drive your car. Obviously, whenever you drive (even to the grocery store a block away) you're still using petrol. If you want to save money, ride your bicycle or scooter, or walk if you live near the grocery store. Don't worry, nobody is going to make fun of you, and even if they do, it's their problem, not yours! Think about your transportation. Do you really need a shiny new Lexus that could easily get dinged by a stray shopping cart an hour after you buy it? Or can you use something that gets you from point A to point B? When it's raining, very hot, or if I'm too tired it's easy enough for me to put my bicycle on the bus and get only a short distance from my home. The advantage of the bus is that I can take a nap, call my mother, read a book, text a friend, or talk to the person next to me...whilst someone else does the driving. The bus costs only about $1.50 a ride, so I only spend about $6 a week on public transport when I use it. 

Clothing. Courtesy of my ex-girlfriend Teressa I'm a devout op shop shopper! The Salvation Army, Goodwill, and St. Vincent de Paul's are where I go for my clothing needs (with the obvious exceptions of socks and underwear). Back in high school and early in college I used to buy nearly all my clothes at Abercrombie & Fitch, Hollister, Anchor Blue, and all those other places at the shopping mall. At $80 for one outfit it gets pricey (although I've always liked Abercrombie for the durability of their clothing; a lot of which I still own after more than 10 years). Just about everything you find at the shopping mall can be found at second-hand stores for $5 or less and most of it is new or rarely used; most second-hand stores won't sell ripped up or worn clothing. Work clothing is a huge bargain for me as well: at the Dickie's Outlet store I can get new work shorts for $30 a pair or I can go to Goodwill and pick up a used pair for $4. Dress wear is also a huge bargain at op shops. You can pick up a brand-new suit jacket at Men's Wearhouse for $200 or more, or pick up a fine used jacket at "Vinnie's" for about $10.Think about quantity as well. Do you ladies really need 50 bras, 30 bikinis, and 50 pairs of shoes? Remember, there's only one Imelda Marcos. I've never owned more than two pairs of shoes at any one time and the shoes I currently wear I bought for $100 and are extremely durable, and I've had them for nearly two years. Shoes are one thing I splurge on due to durability, but the average pair will last me roughly two years. 

Material things. Before my days of travelling I always seemed to just collect things: coins, basketball cards and memorabilia, rocks, video games, and the whole lot. It was not uncommon for me to buy two or three video games each week when I was in high school and early in college. I'd spend $100 or more per week on video games, a couple hundred or so a month on coins, and buy boxes and boxes of basketball cards. One day I thought to myself "I need to make some sacrifices" and not buy all these things. For those of you who tell me "I wish I had the money to travel like you" think about the various knickknacks and other needless material things you buy. You'll be amazed at how it adds up!

I should add that it also helps that I live with my father currently. However I find it almost as easy to travel living on my own or with flatmates than living with my father, and in a lot of ways it can be easier. And, unless in emergencies, my father gives me no money toward my travels! 

Whilst I travel:

Food. As for food I often eat for free whenever possible or I eat local food. Food prices vary from country to country, place to place, region to region, but the rule is always that American fast food places are going to cost about the same regardless of where you are (a chicken nugget meal at McDonald's will cost roughly $6 in California, London, Nicaragua, Peru, Thailand, or wherever). On my last day in Peru I went to McDonald's just to have the bragging rights of eating at McDonald's in Peru, and it was the most expensive meal of my entire month in Peru, and that was after I feasted on fresh trout, alpaca steak, teriyaki chicken, spare ribs, fresh vegatables, etc. Street food (e.g. boiled corn, tacos, quesadillas) is tasty and very cheap, and the chances of getting sick are minimal. Why eat at McDonald's in El Salvador or Fiji when you can breakfast on fruit or pupusas for 25 cents (El Salvador) or feast on lamb curry for lunch (Fiji) for about $2. Perhaps the ultimate money-save when it comes to food are to buy fruits and vegetables from the ubiquitous farmer's markets. It's easy to buy piles and piles for the same amount that would buy you one or two here. Grab a papaya, a few avocados, and some bananas and you have locally-grown fruit for less than a dollar, or get lots of veggies for a tasty salad that evening. When you stay with locals, if they offer to feed you, take the invitation; it can be considered rude if you refuse. Of course it's polite to offer to buy stuff, even though they'll often refuse the offer. Still though, it's better that your money is going to them and not to a big America-based corporation. In many places (e.g. Tonga, Fiji, Dominican Republic) I've been fed as a guest of honour and you're not regarded as a bludger. I've discovered the more I eat, the happier they are! 

Accommodation. On my travels I've slept everywhere: hotels, shacks, private homes, hostels, rooftops, backs of vehicles, cabanas, park benches, in my tent, and out in the open air of the Australian Outback. My favourite form of accommodation is to rough it. Hotels are pretty much the same everywhere and they're expensive. If you go somewhere for a week and spend $80 or $100 each night then that's $560 or $700 you could use toward sightseeing, shopping, or toward a future journey. What most people spend in a few days in Hawaii I spend in two months in New Zealand or Central America. Hotels also have the added disadvantage of the fact that you never know who slept there the previous evening (therefore they kind of gross me out). It's possible to stay just about anywhere in the world for free through various organizations such as CouchSurfing, HospitalityClub, WarmShowers, among others. I "CouchSurf" almost everywhere whilst I travel, and for those wilderness places (which vastly outnumber hotels) my trusty tent works for me. With these organizations you'll have a far better cultural experience that you won't find in any hotel. 

Transportation. Plane tickets are the biggest unavoidable transport expense, and even if you have frequent flyer miles there's still taxes and surcharges. Now, the best time to buy plane tickets (not fly out, but buy them) is on Tuesday morning, and I'll give you an example. When I flew to London last year, I checked for a ticket on Saturday and it was $700+ but then I checked on Tuesday morning it was down to $562 so I went ahead and bought it. The next day the same ticket was back up to $690. Within a country, hitchhiking is (most often) my main mode of transport. It often eliminates the need for buses, trains, and sometimes even flights and boats. In New Zealand the only transport I paid for were a few buses within Auckland and Wellington, and Central America I got all the way from Nicaragua to Belize by hitchhiking. Even in countries or regions where buses are cheap the costs can add up very quickly if you're spending a long time in the region. In places where I need to get across water, I've even hitchhiked on yachts and fishing vessels (although for this you need a lot of time and patience). Hitchhiking by air is something I've done as well (again this requires time and patience). In many tourist areas, transport prices are usually inflated. For example, The bus ride from Flores to Tikal (Guatemala) costs approximately $6 but since it's only one road it's very possible to hitchhike; I rode in the back of a police truck to Tikal at no expense!

Souvenirs. On my first two journeys I brought home heaps and heaps of souvenirs, and the more I travelled the more I realized I don't need them. My souvenirs are my memories, writings, and photos. Sometimes I'll buy a postcard or two or a magnet for my fridge but unless it's something extremely unique I rarely ever buy souvenirs. 

Activities and Tours. I've always done my research before paying a substantial amount on an activity or tour that I could easily do on my own. Often it's worth to ask locals to show you things as you'll often pay less than you would for an organized tour and they have more intimate knowledge of the area. There's an imporant thing to remember about bus tours: often they're interested in spending more time at souvenir stands (where they get commission) than at the actual site. When I was in Iceland a fellow traveller told me he spent an hour at a gift shop and only 10 minutes at a waterfall. When I paid a local to take me on the "Golden Circle" tour I had no gift shops to worry about and I got to take my time. Remember the mantra "the best things in life are free." This applies to travelling: gorgeous sunsets, snorkelling, Maya ceremonies, leaping off waterfalls, starry nights, diamond-dust beaches, spontaneous invites, and majestic hikes, just to name a few, are all free. Think of how much you can save by enjoying all this fabulous free stuff! The general rule is the further away from tourist zones you are the further your dollar goes; if you hang out at resorts you're going to spend shitloads of money but if you hang out in a local area the cheaper it is and the richer is your cultural experience! 

Making Money.

Whilst I'm not travelling.

Many people I encounter assume I'm super-rich with a super-high-paying job that gives me six months off every year. Just the opposite! I've funded my travels by bagging groceries, rounding up shopping carts, making sandwiches at Subway, and simply by being resourceful. Even if you make a few cents over minimum wage (like I do) it's very possible to save that money. But what really helps me is being resourceful: I search around online for odd little gigs (e.g. writing, cleaning homes, etc.). Even little additions like recycling cans and bottles adds up!

Whilst travelling.

Wherever I go there's a plethora of jobs available; there's bartending, restaurant serving, working at markets, and the whole lot. New Zealand is the only place I've really spent enough time in to actually look for long-term work, but whilst living there I would lay concrete, pick grapes, and work at stores. All kinds of jobs are available. If you can't find work there's guaranteed to be volunteer work somewhere. My favourite volunteering is WWOOF, and whilst WWOOFing I learned various skills, got to stay for free, and was fed tasty, wholesome meals. Official jobs aren't the only means of income; whilst I was penniless in New Zealand I didn't call up my father and ask him to wire me money. Instead I brought out my resourceful side and became a busking poet. If you have a talant, exploit it. And busking doesn't require a guitar, an amplifier, or a set of drums; it can be as simple as making a poetry book and reciting it with all your heart on the streets. 

When someone asks me "How do you get the money to travel" I encourage them to read this and see how I do it!

 

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