I'm finally back in Austin after traveling the country for nearly two months! I experienced so much beauty, grew my photography portfolio, and put over 10,000 miles on my car! Not everyone has the luxury to pack up their belongings and hit the road, but if you're self-employed and willing to take the unexpected risks associated with long-term travel, it's easily achievable for anyone. My biggest challenge was financial. I'd saved up about $1,800 before leaving for Canada and was determined to make it stretch as far as possible. It's absolutely NOT necessary to be a millionaire before going on an epic life-changing adventure. So, without further ado, here's my "Top 10 Travel Hacks". I'd also recommend reading the book Vagabonding by Ralph Potts.
1. Stay In Hostels For Cheap
This is probably the most important tip. If you're serious about traveling on the cheap, you must resist the urge to stay at expensive hotels or resorts. This will cut deep into your budget real quick. As an extreme example, I drove to Whistler, a popular ski town north of Vancouver, on Christmas Eve. The hostel was unfortunately booked a few months out. Just out of curiosity, I checked into a room for one night at Legends Resort. It was $780 plus tax!!! Completely out of the question. I would have been bankrupt after a solid 8 hours of sleep. If you're the type of person that is content without modern luxuries -- a bed to sleep in, shower to get clean, and kitchen to cook food, then affordable long-term travel is likely for you! It's not difficult if you're resourceful and spontaneous.
2. Travel With New Friends
You will inevitably meet new friends on the road. Especially if you're relatively outgoing and stay at hostels which is a great place to meet people from all over the world. I didn't go to bars for social hour in an effort to avoid spending money on alcohol. Instead I would connect with cool folks at the hostels. For example, I met new friends at a hostel in Portland and offered them a ride down the Oregon Coast in exchange for gas and staying at a friend's cabin in the woods and later in Eugene where I celebrated my 30th birthday. In another instance, I met this hitchhiker guy from Switzerland at a hostel in Moab and we drove to the Grand Canyon together. Not only was it more fun to have a travel companion to chat with but he chipped in for gas and I finally went on an epic hike to an Havasu Falls, which is a place I've wanted to visit for over a year! I can't stress the importance of being spontaneous enough during your travels. Even if you prefer solo adventures as I often do, it's always possible to meet new friends along the way to share the experience with. I firmly believe that s/he with great friends can never be poor. Case in point, I'm currently typing this blog post from a yurt under candlelight in my friend's backyard as it rains outside.
3. Cook Your Own Meals
The best way to save money is by cooking your own meals rather than dining out all the time. If you enjoy cooking, this will be a super easy modification to your lifestyle. For me personally, this one is the most difficult to practice regularly but it's also a solid motivator to learn how to cook mo' betta meals. You can buy nonperishable food items such as rice, beans, canned fish, nuts, pasta and cook hearty meals for a small fraction of eating at restaurants. Or you can simply choose to travel with someone who knows how to cook delicious meals and save money that way. Whatever works best for you.
4. Don't Pay Your Phone Bill
Let me say that again, "Don't pay your phone bill!" I know we all think that not having access to at-your-fingers instant communication is tantamount to social suicide these days. Let me assure you this is absolutely not true! In fact, being off the grid during my travels was probably the best thing for me. Besides, there's always free wi-fi to check messages and update friends of your whereabouts on social media. Starbucks became my best friend at times, and I don't even drink coffee, I was just there to leach their wi-fi. You can also use free apps like WhatsApp and even Facebook Messenger to easily make free calls. There's also prepaid phones which you can refill with minutes as needed. Note: this does make getting around more difficult since GPS doesn't function properly. However, it also makes exploration more interesting since you get lost more often and see new things you wouldn't normally encounter. So, do yourself a favor and don't pay your phone bill. Sprint charges me roughly $120 per month for unlimited text and talk. Cancel your contract if possible!
5. Ask For Help
If you do run out of money, don't hesitate to reach out to friends and family for help. This can often be quite difficult, however if this person is truly your friend and supports your cause, s/he will most likely gladly offer help without complaint. As an example, I was driving in Canyonlands National Park, took a corner a little too fast on icy roads, and went sliding off the road into a snowy ditch. Luckily I was not injured and my car was not damaged. So I hitchhiked back to Moab where I contacted a towing company to pull me out. I could not afford the $400 for two hours of driving time, so I made an arrangement with the owner to store my car in the tow yard until I could afford the full amount. I got to keep the car overnight and probably could have gotten away without paying, but I did the right thing as usual. I posted about my car incident on social media and reached out to friends and family so I could get safely back to Austin. It would have been more difficult without their help and I may still be stuck in Moab right now otherwise. The moral of this story is, if you're in dire straits, swallow your pride and ask for a short-term loan.
6. Look For Freelance Jobs
There are plenty of websites out there to find random freelance jobs. Also Craigslist. I chose to put the majority of my efforts into photography since that's my true passion, even though I wasn't getting paid, it always gives me a happy feeling of accomplishment. I wasn't legally allowed to work in Canada due to lack of a permit, so I was forced to research other options. If you're skilled at marketing, lead generation, graphic design, photography, software development, you name it, then you shouldn't have a problem finding work on freelance websites. I have limited experience on this topic, but it's definitely possible to place a bid, and if you're selected to do the job, bootstrap your traveling in this way.
7. Travel Abroad
You can also rethink the entire equation and travel abroad where goods and services are inherently cheaper. Take Costa Rica for example. I traveled along the Pacific Coast for 10 Days and spent less than $50 a day, which included bus transportation, hostels, food, and tour guides. I could take a bus anywhere for $1.50. You can read the entire blog post here. The same is true for Canada where the effects of deflation are less prominent and gas is more expensive than Texas which has plenty of oil reserves, but it's still a welcome change of pace. I highly recommend traveling abroad if for no other reason than to experience a different culture, interact with the nation's people, and try new things! It will force you out of your comfort zone, enhance your wisdom, and teach you the ways of the world. If you get all your information from news reports, the world seems like a very scary place. Don't pay attention to the propaganda. Challenge the status quo and find out for yourself!
8. Use GasBuddy
This one is pretty self-explanatory. Download the app GasBuddy to find the cheapest gas near you.