Posted by paulrivas on:
This Santa Barbara scene reminds me of the best parts of my six months in Mexico, six months in Europe/ North Africa/ the Middle East, and two years in South America. Those three years of study, travel, and work abroad were the basis for these "10 Rules for Going Places" that I wrote years ago, meant to save any traveler thousands of dollars per year.
10 Rules for Going Places
1. Country – Go somewhere that nobody’s going.
If everybody’s going somewhere, go to a neighboring country that nobody’s mentioned. Instead of Greece, go to Bulgaria. Or, for max adventure, instead of Perú, go to Bolivia. It’ll be similar, but with fewer tourists and less expensive. Shop owners can take your money in any language. If you speak the language, the local people will love you. But even if all you can say is ‘What’s up?’ and ‘Cheers!’, the local people will still love you!
2. Season – Go when prices are lower and places are less crowded.
Most of the year is off-season, when places aren’t changing their rules and prices for tourists. This is closer to real life than anything you will witness in July/August or December/January.
3. Length – Go slower. Take fewer trips. Stay longer in each place.
If you have 15 days, resist the temptation to go six places for two and a half days each and instead go three places for five days each. That’s half as much time spent in transit and half as much money spent on tickets. The slower you go, the more local people you meet, the more you see, and the less you spend.
4. Lodging – Stay with friends or associates. Camp. Stay at a church. Take overnight buses/trains.
Lodging will probably be your biggest expense, but it doesn’t have to be. Some people make friends so fast that they never have to pay to sleep. With the money you save, cook something delicious for your hosts and treat yourself to things you otherwise couldn’t afford. Traveling with a backpack for six months in Europe and the Middle East, I stayed free 45 of 180 nights, and people don’t even like me!
5. Transportation – Walk, not bus. Bus, not train. And train, not plane, unless it’s a super-cheap flight.
Always take 100% public transportation. The only time to travel by a method other than that which the local people use is when environmental conditions are extreme, and even then not always. The guidebook will tell you it’s not safe to take the bus in northern Colombia because there are guerilla troops there. But when you ask if it’s safe, the bus people say, “Why, because of the landslides?” And you say, “No-” And they interrupt you and ask, “Do you want a ticket or not?!” And then you buy a ticket.
6. Food – Eat grocery store, market or street food.
Eat sit-down restaurant meals on special occasions, and only then at the right places: simple-looking and crowded = cheap and yummy. But not too cheap! Lo barato siempre sale caro – cheap stuff always ends up being expensive. You don’t want to eat the cheapest food, but the second-cheapest food is usually alright!
7. Drink – Drink water.
Travel dehydrates you. Drink tons of water. Soda is expensive compared to free water and makes you have to pee, which is a whole other hassle and expense, as much as 50¢/pee. Drinking in public is legal and expected in lots of countries, but getting drunk abroad will always end up worse. Buy beer and wine at the grocery store. If you go out, order one drink. Beer is good because you know for sure what you’re getting for your money and it’s easy to make it last longer. Drinking water is also free insurance against drinking too much, passing out, getting your wallet stolen, and waking up face-down on the train tracks to four toothless locals kicking you.
8. Activities – Beach, park, plaza!
There’s plenty of public transportation, there’s no admission fee when you get there, picnics are cheap and delicious, and there’s local people everywhere. Take a lunch to a beach or park or plaza, observe all people and things around you, wait for people to come up and ask you stuff, take notes or do a little yoga if that’s your thing, and stay until there’s nobody around who was there when you arrived. Do this at least once in every place you visit, and you’ll have a 100% real way of comparing different places at no cost.
9. Operations – Be efficient. Make deals. Keep your game tight.
Use the places you stay – breakfast, book exchange, Internet, kitchen, sinks for washing clothes, and luggage storage are often free. Take your own padlock. Sleep in a multi-bed room and save a few bucks. If the place isn’t crowded, get a lower rate for longer stays. Remember every trip has been done before and use the Thorn Tree forum on LonelyPlanet.com to find good logistical information without the weight or cost of a guidebook. In towns that aren’t yet overrun with tourism, translate restaurant menus in exchange for meals. Cook or clean at a hostel for a month in exchange for free bed and breakfast. Get an extra ATM card and/or account. Losing your card abroad will mean $40 in expenses and two weeks with no cash. Raise your withdrawal limit to save on ATM fees. Email yourself front and back scans of all your documents. Carry coins. Carry bills in separate pockets. Never carry your ATM card except to the ATM or your passport except at borders.
10. Style – Act like you’ve been there before. Look pleased or displeased, but never surprised.
Be polite, be nice, smile, and good things will happen. Speaking a few local words well can be the difference between a sucker deal and VIP treatment. From Hawaii to Syria, carrying as little as possible will earn you respect and get you invited over more often. Lots of people who’d never invite a backpacker into their house have no problem with nice people who carry small backpacks. When you’re a houseguest, take good care of your host, always ask before showering, and remember this quote: “Guests of guests may not bring guests.”