Badass trips on a not-so-badass budget.
Many travel blogs are written by people who’ve sold all their possessions and have taken a huge plunge into the world of long-term travel. This can sound expensive at first, but when you consider that you don’t have rent or a car payment in this lifestyle (or much room to carry any possessions), it can actually be very cheap to live this way, provided you can work a little along the way, or do some kind of virtual freelancing or contract work.
I’m not one of those people.
I do have rent to pay, and a car payment, and bills, and the trappings of a fairly typical middle class young urban professional life. I have a cat. I work in a cubicle. I like some amount of routine, and sleeping in my own bed. I have a ladder to climb, that I want to climb.
I also don’t have a ton of free income to spend on travel.
Despite all this, in the past 2 years I’ve managed to visit 9 cities in 4 countries (Colombia, Jordan, Egypt, Spain) and very soon I’ll be off to visit 7 more cities in 3 countries (Italy, Croatia, and Spain again — I love Spain), a 17 day trip; a few weeks after I return, I’m off again on a small trip to Mexico for a wedding. When I’m done, that’s 16 cities, 7 countries, in just 2 years. Not much for the permanent nomad, but a lot for someone who’s expected to be at work by 8:30am every weekday.
When people find out how much I travel, some imagine I must have a lot of spare income or be a trust fund baby. I keep encountering this perception — especially among Americans — that travel is this huge undertaking that is incredibly expensive. Well, it sure can be, if you choose to make it that way. But if you step outside this perception, and do some research, you’ll find that it really doesn’t have to be that way. Travel can be affordable, if you plan for it and prioritize it in your life.
Here’s how I do it:
1. Flights. By far, this can be the single most expensive purchase of your trip. A coach round trip ticket from the US to Europe usually runs anywhere from $700-1200 on average, depending on the season. The trick is: don’t buy your ticket with actual money. Buy it with fake money called points or miles. A few years ago, I strategically opened 2 different credit cards (one an AmEx, one a British Airways Visa) with unusually crazy high enrollment bonuses. Within just a few months’ time I went from 0 miles to 50,000 AmEx points (redeemable for airline miles on at least a 1:1 basis) and 100,000 British Airways miles. Keep in mind, BA is part of the OneWorld alliance, so I can book with other airlines using these miles. In just a few months’ time, with 2 credit cards (that didn’t hurt my credit, by the way) I earned enough miles to take 3 international round trip flights — without ever stepping on an airplane. I got the AmEx points simply for opening the card, and I earned the BA miles after spending $2500 in 3 months, which wasn’t that hard for me because I strategically put ALL my expenses on the card for 3 months.
The trick is knowing which cards to open. These cards usually aren’t well advertised, so you’ll have to do your research. A few good resources to get you started:
Unconventional Guides: Frequent Flyer Master by Chris Guillebeau. This is actually the first resource I used to learn more about travel hacking. If you’re a total newb, as I was, this is the best introduction to the world of frequent flyer miles that exists. But it’s not overly simplistic; there are a ton of insider tricks and tools in here that I haven’t even taken advantage of yet. This guide is the reason I earned 150,000 miles without stepping foot on an airplane.
FrugalTravelGuy.com This is a great blog for those interested in staying up to date on the latest frequent flyer news and credit card offers.
FlyerTalk.com This is a forum for the serious hardcore travel hackers — the credit card “churners” who sometimes earn up to 1 million miles a year doing this. FlyerTalk can be intimidating at first if you’re new to all this, so I’d recommend starting from the top and working your way down.
2. Rooms. Very rarely do I stay in what most Americans think of as a “hotel” when I travel abroad. Many travel hackers and frequent business travelers are loyal to a certain brand of hotel, especially those with their own reward points systems, which earn them free stays (and yes, there are credit cards for this too). These can be a great value and I do participate in a few programs like Hilton HHonors for stateside bookings. For my international trips, however, I prefer everyday price flexibility, so I book a variety of inexpensive, off the beaten path accommodation types — and none of them involve splitting a room with strangers, camping (not counting the bedouin camp I stayed with in Petra, which I did for the experience and not the savings), or couchsurfing. A lot of people associate budget travel with roughing it, but it is possible to be comfortable. In fact, by avoiding the beaten path, I usually have a less expensive, equally as comfortable, and more interesting cultural experience.
Most of my international trips have involved staying at a combination of private rooms at hostels, small independently owned hotels, bed & breakfasts, and private apartments.
Hostelworld.com This room search and booking site will expand your idea of what a hostel can be. Often you’ll find that smaller, inexpensive and independent hotels will list rooms on Hostelworld even if they have a website and brand themselves as a hotel or bed & breakfast. You can search for rooms nearly anywhere in the world, filter by room type (most hostels have private bedrooms, some with private bathrooms and some with shared bathrooms), location (there’s a handy map view), price and more. It’s also low risk - you just pay a small 10% down payment when you book and the rest when you check in. I’ve stayed in some very nice hostels for a fraction of the cost of an equal quality hotel and it’s one of the first places I look when I start planning a trip.
Booking.com This is a rising star in the online travel booking world for hotels. Based in Amsterdam, they are one of my top sources for rooms in Europe (though they offer rooms in several other parts of the world too). Booking.com’s strength is their breadth of rooms available; you can find a variety of low-cost, tiny, independently owned hotels that will be difficult or impossible to find elsewhere. They even offer free cancellation on many rooms. Their pricing also cannot be beat — sometimes I even find rooms that are less expensive than hostels!
Airbnb.com I am a huge fan of this service. A major disruptor to the online travel booking industry, Airbnb offers you the ability to reserve a room in a private apartment directly through someone who lives and is local to the place you’re going. You can book entire apartments or just spare bedrooms, allowing you the choice between having a cozy place all to yourself or staying with — and getting to know— a local, something that may not have happened otherwise (and my most memorable trips have been those in which I connected with locals while I was there). A few other perks can involve more amenities than a budget hostel or hotel may offer, such as the ability to wash your own laundry or cook your own food if you need to (it is an apartment, after all). I travel for 2 weeks at a time when possible (more on that later), and I pack only a carry-on. After a week like that, a washing machine is an unexpectedly welcome blessing. You’ll also get to feel more like a local, even if you never meet your host. You’re staying in a neighborhood, not a commercial, touristy zone. There’s a lot to be said for that. Finally, I love their website. Not only very easy to use and socially integrated, the design is beautiful. I love flipping through the home slideshow of gorgeous apartments on offer. It’s interior design porn at its most authentic — these are real peoples’ homes!
3. Timing and trip length. I would be remiss to say that the above 2 factors are the only methods I use to travel to so many places affordably. The fact is, I can say I fit in 16 cities and 7 countries in 2 years because of how many of those cities and countries I manage to pack into a single trip. In 2011, I did only a 1-week trip to Colombia. In 2012, I did a 17-day trip to Jordan, Egypt, and Spain. This year, I’ll do another 17-day trip (that’s essentially 12 vacation days) to Italy, Croatia, and Spain. Considering all the places within those countries I travel to in each trip, I typically pack up and move on every 2-3 days. That’s not a lot of time in each place! Just enough to visit the major sites, take in the atmosphere, and decide if I’m intrigued enough to return someday to make a longer trip of it.
This pace is not for everyone, but it works for me. I’m restless, and like squeezing every drop out of my precious vacation days. Plus, nothing’s worse than booking 5 days in a place you’ve never been, only to arrive and find out you’re bored after 1 day and it’s too late to make any changes. I intend to see the world, and I have to do it in 2 weeks per year. So, I compromise. It can be a little tiring, but I don’t take these trips necessarily to relax — I take them to recharge in other ways. Travel is my passion and I crave new cultural experiences. My worldview has expanded a little more each time I set foot on US soil again; this is creative fuel to the fire of everything I do, from painting to marketing strategy. That’s why I’m determined to prioritize it, even with a limited budget. For those who’ve also been bitten by the travel bug, you get it. The rest of the world will go on thinking that we’re rich, and I suppose that’s fine.
UPDATE: Wow, this is officially my most popular blog post ever! Thank you all for reading and sharing with your friends. I received a ton of follow-up questions about specific credit cards and mileage reward programs, and I did my best to answer them in a new article, "How I Fly Around the World for Next to Nothing." Check it out!
At the Hotel Oriental Rivoli in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt. Somewhat fancy, resort-style digs. About $60/night.
I, Shweta , am the FIRST girl from India’s red-light areas to be accepted to a US university! I have a full scholarship to the prestigious Bard College in New York but need funding for my room and board. Newsweek recently named me a “25 Under 25 Young Women to Watch,” and my story has been featured on dozens of Indian news channels, magazines and newspapers - I want to study psychology and return to the red-light area as a therapist. Please help me achieve my dreams at Bard!
DONATE! You know how fucking hard it is to come by money for school in this country. $10 will get her a square three meals a day.
i want so badly to ignore this and just get on with my life, considering that i’m in the midst of tour and traveling the US right now, but it’s clear that I can’t escape this. this is a very long post, i am keeping it under a cut.
additionally, at least until tumblr moves on from this, my askbox is off. it is a nightmare. i can’t deal with it right now.
so. I was an invited panelist at Dashcon, and I was on 10 panels over the weekend. my name is mark, I run Mark Reads and Mark Watches, and have been doing so for 5 years next month. (HOLY SHIT THAT IS A LONG TIME.) I have been attending cons for over a decade and been speaking at them as a panelist or a guest since 2011. Including my own tour events outside of cons, I have participated in over 150 “panels,” ranging from 50 minutes to 4 hours. I’m including this upfront because I’ve already been accused of being a 16-year-old nobody who doesn’t know what he’s doing at cons and is ruining fandom. Also, I’m apparently white and straight. ALSO THIS IS A MESS.
On May 28th, my sister, Edna, turned 31.
Her mental age is about three years old. She loves Winnie the Pooh, Beauty & the Beast, and Sesame Street. Even though the below picture is unconvincing.
Edna and “Cookie.” I think she was trying to play it cool.
My name is Jeanie. I’m Edna’s younger sister. I’m also her guardian and caregiver.
That’s me on the left. (Hey, you never know. After a year of writing a blog about online dating - Jeanie Does the Internet - I’ve come to learn that there are A LOT of fools on the internet.)
ANYWAY, I’m not “doing the internet” anymore. I’m taking care of Edna full-time, after completing my MFA in Writing for Screen & Television at USC.
May 16, 2014. I wanted a picture. Edna wanted breakfast.
In case you’re wondering where our parents are, they’re dead. Our mom died of breast cancer when she was just 33.
Us with mom before she died. (Obviously.)
As for our dad, he peaced-out around the time my mom got sick. His loss - we’re awesome.
Here we are being awesome at the beach. Pushing a wheelchair in the sand? Not so awesome.
In case you’re wondering “What’s wrong?” with my sister - as a stranger once asked me on the street - NOTHING. Yes, Edna has a rare form of epilepsy - Lennox-Gastaut syndrome - but I don’t know if that’s anymore “wrong” than people who don’t have manners.
Basically, Edna was born “normal,” and started having seizures as a baby. They eventually got so bad that they cut off the oxygen to her brain, causing her to be mentally disabled. Or impaired. Or intellectually disabled. Or whatever you want to call it - except “retarded,” because in 2010, President Obama signed Rosa’s Law into effect, replacing that word with “intellectually impaired.”
Which is cool and all, but services for the disabled and the people who care for them are SEVERELY LACKING. Also, there’s a bunch of people working in taxpayer-funded positions who are supposed to help families like us, but don’t. (Big surprise, I know.) They just fill out paperwork (whenever they feel like it) with asinine statements like this:
YUP. I transport my sister down the stairs in her wheelchair, because that is not only safe, but TOTALLY PRACTICAL. Why doesn’t everyone in a wheelchair just take the stairs, for God’s sake? Stop being so lazy, PEOPLE WITHOUT WORKING LEGS!
But, as it says above, Edna’s legs do work. Whether or not she wants them to, is another story.
Edna refusing to go inside.
These are the stairs that I have to carry her up - by myself - on a daily basis. That is, until one of my legs break and both of us are just sitting at the bottom of the stairs, helpless.
For six months, I have begged - BEGGED - the State of California to help my sister, which they are required by law - The Lanterman Act specifically - to do so. But they’ve told me “these things take time” and that I “need to amend my expectations.” (That was said to me when I refused to place Edna at AN ALL-MALE CARE FACILITY. Because yes, that was an “option” that was offered to me.)
Prior to Edna moving in with me in my one-bedroom apartment, she was living with her amazing caregiver, Gaby, back in Tucson, where we went to high school and I did my undergrad. Edna’s reppin’ the Wildcats below.
But back in November, Gaby also died from breast cancer. (FUCK YOU, BREAST CANCER!) This picture was taken a month before she died. She never even told me she was sick because she didn’t want me to worry.
By the way, we were raised by our grandma. Edna and her were very close.
She’s dead, too. Surprise.
She died when I was 20 and Edna was 21. That’s when I became Edna’s legal guardian and Gaby stepped into the picture to help me out with Edna.
So, six months ago, after Gaby died, I moved Edna to California, where I tried to get the folks over at The Frank D. Lanterman Regional Center to help me. I’ve told them I’m worried about our safety - that one of us could get hurt on the stairs - I’ve told them I can’t afford to pay the private babysitters $15/hour because the ones social services sent me who make $9/hour were unreliable (they didn’t show up on time or at all so I could get to school and work), untrustworthy (one of them let Edna go to the bathroom in the kitchen and then took her into the bathroom because “that what I thought I was supposed to do.”)
But the people over at the FLRC don’t return my calls, they don’t file the paperwork on time - and the first caseworker that was assigned to us actually LAUGHED AT my sister when he came to our home to evaluate her. When I reported him to his supervisor, she told me, “That’s just [insert name of said jackass].”
He was one of the two caseworkers that contributed to the report I mentioned above, which also included this:
So let me get this straight - I have to feed, bathe, dress and help Edna in the bathroom and you can’t deduce whether or not she is able to vote? What in the fuck?!
Now I realize I seem angry. And you can bet your balls I am. I’m also sad. Sad for those who don’t have family to stick up from them and who waste away God knows where, monitored by no one. Or monitored by people who physically and sexually assault them.
I’m also sad for the caregivers who are SO EXHAUSTED - trying to take care of their loved ones - while also trying to take care of themselves and battling a system that is supposed to help, but does nothing of the sort. And I know a lot of people give up. They let their dreams, their marriages, their friendships slide. All while trying not to resent the very person you’re doing it all for.
Edna wanted to sit next to me the other day while I was writing. Clearly, she’s not impressed.
Here’s the thing: I REFUSE TO GIVE UP. I’M NOT GIVING UP ON HER OR MYSELF. I’m going to pursue my dreams while taking care of her, AND while ensuring that the people paid to do their jobs ACTUALLY do them.
That’s where you come in. I need you to help me get my story out there. Because I know I’m not alone in this. I want to connect with families who are in similar situations and also show people who have no idea what it’s like to care for someone with a disability (or even a loved one who is sick) that it can be rewarding. Super fucking hard. Exhausting. Painful. Isolating. But, rewarding.
I’m going to get help for my sister - and others. My hope is that by sharing our story, I can bring awareness to the lack of services and help for the disabled.
This made me cry
STOP SCROLLING. THIS PERSON ISN’T ASKING FOR MONEY AND THIS POST WON’T MAKE YOU SAD.
This is a really uplifting and inspirational story of a family sticking by each other and making things work despite a whole lot of shit
They just want to find other people in the same position they are, for a sense of community and to feel like they aren’t alone.
I know out of all of you, some of you have followers who are living with and taking care of intellectually or emotionally disabled family members, and this lovely and unbreakable pair of sisters need to find them.
FALSE. Fathers who ask for sole custody are far more likely to get it. It’s just that they don’t ask, mostly women do. Men win custody over women even if they are ostensibly unfit. More and more, judges and parents rule in favor of 50/50 custody. In fact, in the past ten years, the men’s rights movement has been devastating to women seeking custody in court and women are awarded sole custody about half as many times as men.