So over the last 12 years, I have done a lot of traveling in various different forms. I want to share some of my tips and tricks here because I really think that everyone has something to gain from getting out of their comfort zone and getting to know someone or something different - getting to realize that your little world and way of life is definitely not the only one out there. Also, I think some people see the fact that I travel so much as something that I can do because I am privileged, because I come from a family with means, which is certainly true, but not entirely. Being privileged helped me to see things as possible, rather than limited; and when it comes to organizing a trip, this is a huge asset. However, I don't think that in order to access this mindset, one needs to be privileged. With the right information and support, I want to help everyone see that this idea of traveling being reserved for the privileged is a dirty lie, one that protects those interested in keeping others in a limited mindset, but that hurts the majority of today's world.
I will probably write a blog about this tomorrow, as this is a whole other topic that's important to address, but I wanted to write this more as an informative article with tips and tricks to try to help others access the privilege of traveling for themselves. This is not nearly exhaustive. Please feel free to leave comments or message me with questions if you have them!
- couchsurfing! this is a "free" website like Facebook, but full of people who want to offer you their couch, for free!
- friends, friends of friends, friends of friends of friends. when you want to go somewhere, ask everyone you know who could possibly know someone there if they know someone there and don't be ashamed to ask for a place to stay. the worst they can say is "no".
- if you do stay with someone, keep clean, do your dishes, be respectful, and open-minded
- at all times, be willing to be uncomfortable, to a certain extent
- conversely, don't be afraid to advocate for your needs. be open and suggest work-exchanges if you can't afford something. If one place isn't working out, move on.
- don't be afraid to sleep outside! camping is cool. also, if you get bothered by the police, use the tourist card and beg for mercy! (probably to be avoided in countries with martial law or seriously fucked up legal systems, there's certainly a horror story or two here)
- sublet your apartment while you travel to gain money, sell creative projects such as the 'poem on a postcard project', perform on the streets, or take on odd-jobs.
- skip tourist traps, expensive group tours (unless you really want to see something) and trust that sometimes there will be boring moments right before amazing ones.
- go slow, sit in a cafe and read for a day, people watch, don't be afraid to relax
- speak to the person on the train/plane/bus next to you, try new languages, learn at least, hello, goodbye, please, and thank you in the language of wherever you are. this goes a really long way!
- laugh, cry, go to the movies alone, and don't panic in moments of loneliness, fear, or complete confusion and feelings of being totally lost. These are usually the times when humanity shows you a different side of itself, for better or for worse, and you will learn something new about you, too.
Here's some different kinds of trips I've tried...
The Hostel/Airplane/Bike Tour/Wine and Pizza tour of Italy:
Duration: 3 weeks
Rough cost: $3,000
Comfort level: Moderate/High
After graduating from high school, I convinced my parents to use the money they would spend on a graduation party and my graduation present to let me organize a trip backpacking around Italy. This certainly counts as a privileged trip, as my parents had the means to give me this as a graduation present. This trip cost $3,000 (in 2006) including plane tickets, hostels, bike tours, wine, pizza, and souvenirs. I visited one family friend outside of Milan and a second aunt in Sicily. This saved a large amount of money. I don't recommend Italy if you are on a budget and don't have friends to stay with, as it's still very expensive. However, I do recommend it if you can because the pizza is amazing and there's nothing like hanging out with street performers in Rome. If you are really set on Italy, I have some friends there who may be able to help provide more information and there is always couchsurfing!
The Altoids-dipped in LSD/wooden flute on the street/faerie tour of Ireland:
Duration: 6 weeks
Rough cost: $1,200
Comfort level: Moderate/High
After discovering acid and cocaine, I made a "good friend" who had a 91 year old grandmother living in Dublin and managed to get myself invited for a 6 week trip to Ireland. This was a very cheap trip because we stayed with the grandmother and aunts when we traveled. I hopped over to London at one point to visit the same family friend I visited in Milan, at which point my friend took a bunch of ecstasy and flew back to America without warning. This left me alone in Dublin without a back-up plan, but thankfully the aunts of this friend fought for me to be able to stay with the grandmother and I had a lovely last 2 weeks in Dublin. I played my wooden flute on the street for change until it got stolen. I stayed up nights on LSD and the main costs of this trip were food and travel, amounting to approximately $1,200. I felt often uncomfortable and unwelcome. I felt often lost and alone. I spent many hours in pubs or cafes or sitting on street corners, just writing.
The freight hopping/hitch-hiking/hobo-life:
Duration: 3.5 years (any amount of time really)
Rough cost: "Free" - based on donations of others.
Comfort level: Low, Sub-Basic.
After I came back from Ireland, I knew I couldn't go back to a University that cost $50,000/year when I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life other than travel and so I took a "year of absence." Struggling to find my way during that year working at a local coffee shop and living in an artist's commune on the north side of Pittsburgh, I left again, this time in a car and headed South. The cost of this trip started high with gas, but the rubbertrampers that I picked up along the way taught me how to spange (spare-change) for it - pulling into gas stations and asking people to add a few dollars to our tank until it was full or we got kicked out and had to do it again at the next one. This is a slow way to travel and sometimes a very boring one, but if you have no money and wanna go, it works.
The car died in Colorado and I hopped my first freight train. When we got pulled off that train in Bridgeport, Nebraska, we hitch-hiked east towards Michigan. I now had a backpack, with a sleeping bag and warm clothes, a notebook and a book to read, and a dog and we slept wherever, whenever, and spent all our money on booze and food. Sometimes we got "adopted" (when someone would invite us to their house to shower and wash our clothes, or just to hang and party with them and sleep on their floor or couch...this didn't happen all that often, but it did). This way of life is super cheap (unless you catch a heroin habit...in the end I was panhandling and spending about 150$ a day on heroin), really dependent on others, and romantic in the beginning, while sad and sometimes pathetic in the end.
For a young woman (I was 19-23), it's traumatic. I woke up sometimes in the middle of the night to strangers trying to touch me sexually, or even pulling down my pants while pulling out their penises. I slept with a knife in my pocket and a big dog at my side. Sometimes I was too drunk to notice until it was pretty late. The young men living this way describe themselves as gutter punks for the most part (though I don't want to minimize, there are a lot of different kinds of people who at least try this lifestyle for a little while) but my experience was that being a gutter punk generally seemed to excuse one for being a misogynist asshole a lot of the time. Calling women names like "cum dumpster" and "bitch" or "whore" is a norm and calling it out signifies being too "PC" or politically correct and not punk enough to kick it. I needed a year and a half of trauma therapy after I got off the streets and off the drugs that were helping me forget the traumas just to go to sleep.
I lived this way for almost 4 years, on and off, in and out of jails and rehab centers. In the end, the hidden costs and the recovery costs outweighed whatever anarchistic thing I thought I was doing. What I thought was an anarchistic/anti-capitalist way to live turned out to be one of the most pathetic forms of capitalistic living there is. We were totally dependent on the money given to us by others and never by the ones with lots of it. I sat on Wall Street for many months, only to receive money from poor mothers or workers going to work to support the rich lifestyles of others. The "suits" never kicked down a dime. We spent all our money on alcohol, tobacco, drugs, and McDonalds - four of the largest, most corrupt, global capitalist industries there are. We were not anarchists, we were drug addicts and criminals - barely making a mark on the face of society with our little "protest," except as a large social and financial cost to those who really can't afford it.
That being said, I hitch-hiked last summer in Ireland, again in Germany, France, Slovenia, and Indonesia and had a great car-share experience. I highly recommend hitch-hiking as a low-cost way of getting around and getting to know strangers, with a certain level of self-security and faith, of course.
The Study-Abroad Traveler:
Duration: 1 year
Rough cost: covered by scholarship
Comfort level: Moderate/High
After I got clean, I was able to go back to University with the help of a lot of scholarships and grants. I went to Rutgers for an average of $2,000 a semester after all the grants and scholarships that I applied for and then received. I also had a great advisor who told me that those same financials aids would cover the cost of a study-abroad program and there was no better time to do it than now. I applied to Berlin, where I had visited the year before on a short, 3-week, summer program in Lewes, England, and where I knew there was a great supportive community of recovering people to welcome me. I also didn't need to speak German to get in.
When deciding whether or not to accept the program, I received an email informing me that I would receive a $5,000 scholarship to learn German because I was the woman with the highest GPA who had applied for the program. This was a no-brainer. This covered the cost of the program plus $1,000. I lived with a German family who ended up adopting me. The program was 3 months and I lived with them for 2 years (I still have a key!).
Since I had the right to work as a student in Germany, I took on a job as an English teacher, which is a seasonal job at a summer camp. This afforded me the opportunity to make money during a certain time and travel during others. At the camp, room and board are part of the payment so I stayed with the German family and had no rent. All the money I made during this time was profit. I stayed on a second year after finishing my studies, while figuring out what to do next.
In January of 2016, I was in a serious car accident in which I was injured. I have since had 2 surgeries and am now seemingly "back to normal" with a large scar, nerve damage, and a crooked small finger. All things considered: normal. With the help of a lawyer, I sued the car insurance of the man who crashed into me and received a settlement for pain and suffering on top of the medical costs. I graduated from University in December of 2017 and decided to use some of that money for a trip through Asia, my largest trip yet.
Duration: 3 months
Rough cost: $3,000
Comfort level: Ranging from high to very low.
I wanted to avoid winter in Berlin as well as summer in Indonesia and so I organized a trip from December until March in SE Asia. I started in Taiwan, where my costs were low because I stayed with my brother and his wife until after Christmas when my family went to Vietnam on a Smithsonian vacation, which was the once-in-a-lifetime 60th birthday present for my mother. I really didn't enjoy this trip from a travelers perspective, as I felt very much like a voyeur - like we were separate from the locals and the locals only saw us as sacks of money. This part of the trip was interesting and informative and sometimes beautiful, sometimes sad. However, I could never have afforded it and simply went to be there for my mother's 60th birthday. Smithsonian vacations are very expensive and I'm not positive that it's better, unless you want to stay in nice hotels and have all your travel plans arranged for you in advance with pre-selected guides and restaurants...
I went back to Taiwan with my family after Vietnam, but stayed with another friend and her family in Changhua. Staying with a Taiwanese family, who treated me to all kinds of local vegetarian delicacies and toured me around their town of Changhua, was awesome. In Taiwanese culture, it is offensive to let the guest pay. This was uncomfortable at times, but I accepted it for not wanting to offend the family. I felt lost and alone at times, but Kuan was always by my side and ready to show me something. I only stayed 3 days, but I learned a lot and really enjoyed my time with Kuan and her family.
I flew from here to the Philippines and stayed my first night in a very cheap hostel, which terrified me. I don't recommend Malate if you are alone and female. The taxi driver immediately began asking me if I was married and whether or not I was a Catholic and honestly, I had no idea how to respond. I pretended I couldn't understand him. Sometimes the cheaper options are not the better options because the price of a good night's rest and your personal safety is invaluable.
The next morning, I took the metro to a recovery meeting. I left at 5 am and packed myself in with the help of others. Men pulled me on and protected me. The weird paradox about seemingly dangerous areas when you are a traveler is that sometimes it inspires the good people to step up and protect you against the bad. You just need a good fuck-off face and heightened intuitions as well as a strong sense of faith in a higher power that's gonna guide you, whether that's something spiritual or rational, it doesn't matter. It just helps, alot.
I had no idea what I was going to do next. I was started to really feel like I had made a mistake. I had literally no plans, just plane tickets in and out of the countries. Luckily, at this meeting, I ran into a friend of a friend from New York who was visiting his family in the Philippines and he took me in. I had a place to stay, I had people to take care of me, and we went everywhere together. I took a small side trip myself, staying in a cheap boarding house and sleeping on overnight buses, but otherwise, I was taken care of by these friends and new friends. The Philippines turned out to be my favorite experience in Asia. I also stayed in Palawan with friends of a friend who hosted me at their hostel. This was an awesome experience, but also kind of lonely because I wasn't sure what I was doing there. I got sick from the water and needed to sleep for a whole day while my fever went down. Then, I met a cool surfer guy (Hey Antoni!!) with a car who took me around for great vegan burgers and this trip got better and better.
I asked friends and friends of friends where to go and who to stay with. I asked locals for food advice. I tried to avoid obvious tourist traps and I traveled with a backpack, so I wasn't carrying many souvenirs. I sent postcards instead. People donated for the cost of the stamps. There are many scams, like having to pay $20 to go see the hanging coffins, which is a 45 minute gentle walk with hundreds of other people all around. However, it's controlled and there's no other way to see them. The sunrise hike for the "sea of clouds" was cool, but also expensive to do and you are definitely not alone.
I moved on to Singapore, then Indonesia. I lost some money because I cancelled a trip to Thailand and India - feeling overwhelmed with all the moving around, and I had already booked Air BnBs which had a no refund policy. That's something to look out for with cheap or good deals on flights and/or lodging because when you arrive, things always change around. I booked all my flights in advance, which was generally necessary for the visa to enter each country (to have a flight out) but it's not necessarily cheaper. I wish I had waited in the end.
In Indonesia, I helped organize a community festival and provided English lessons and a poetry workshop for a local NGO, which supported my stay there. I was not staying in 5 star hotels and did not always have a basic level of comfort, but I did have a basic level of needs met. Sometimes, I had even more than that. The sense of community and caring and sharing in Sumbawa was unparalleled. It could get very hot, I had many ant bites, and sometimes I felt really sad. Most of all, I missed a hot and clean shower, which I later had in Bali. Having my period in Sumbawa was difficult due to the lack of clean water, but I survived and I never got sick and had no infections.
This trip cost me, including all of the plane tickets and the money lost, around $3,000. I haven't done a full run-down but I know from the numbers in my bank account. It could have cost less if I had been smarter about not booking non-refundable things in advance.
What I have gained from this trip in terms of experience, is invaluable. The friends I have made, including people like Siu Sien Huang, who simply sat next to me on the plane from Singapore to Jakarta, started a pleasant conversation and then proceeded to help me through customs and to stay in contact since, sending me a personalized notebook to record my experiences and my poetry - all for just 2 hours that we had to spend together or Andrew James Agana, who treated me my last night in Manila with a 2 hour real Filipino massage - who offered his couch to me for 2 weeks, who was warm and friendly and respectful - could never be counted next to a dollar sign.
I recently asked some college students how much they generally spend one night at the bar. They said around $20, which is probably a low estimate. How many days a week do they go to the bar? 2-3 (also probably a low estimate). That makes $60 a week on the low side. If they didn't drink for 50 weeks (for roughly one year), they could easily spend three months in Asia, just for perspective's sake.
The Bike Tour
Duration: 3.5 days
Rough cost: $70 for two.
Comfort level: Moderate/High (depending on how much you like biking ;))
This is the cheapest, healthiest, most environmentally friendly way to travel. It's also arguably the slowest (with the exception of walking), but that's not necessarily a bad thing. You will slow down and see things you wouldn't otherwise. You get to know yourself, intimately.
Recently, my partner and I decided we wanted to go to Orléans to visit a friend of his. It's 120 km (about 75 miles) from where we live to the SW of Paris. We planned a weekend, we packed up the bikes with the saddle bags, mostly full of food and water, a camping hammock, a zero-degree sleeping bag, warm clothes, change of underwear and socks, and we left.
Knowing we were in France, we didn't worry about food or water too much. We shopped at Lidl and local boulangeries to keep it cheap, organic, and delicious. We cooked most of the stuff we were eating at home and at the house of his friend in Orléans.
We rode 120km the first day, rested in Orléans the second, doing a 15 km tour of the ville, and then rode into the forest of Rambouillet the second (90 km) where we built a fire and slept under the full moon in camping hammock and did a leisurely 35 km home the next day. This trip cost a total of probably 60euros for food, seeing as we already had all the other gear (bikes, saddle bags, camping hammock and sleeping bag).
Whatever your vice is that's inhibiting you from traveling, know that you are not alone, but that there is hope. Please feel free to reach out for any advice or questions and share your stories here as well!