I passed a milestone recently. Not a date, or a place, or a numb of countries. The number of time I've been asked how I can afford to travel for so long. So here it is, as I sit in a gorgeous Boston riverside park, the guide to never having to go home with your wallet between your legs (euphemism for prostitution).
It boils down to paraphrasing Terry Pratchett: longterm travelers spend less.
How much less? Well, ideally nothing. The best days are whe I've been to a museum, eaten and had a great night AND not spent a single penny. I'm not going to bang on about hostels, or cheap flights. Those don't count for this discussion. This is FREEdom. I've done all this.
1) Cultivate friendships
this gets easier the more you travel because you're meeting more people but the eory goes like this:
You're in a hostel and talking to a fellow traveller
"where are you going?"
"I'm working my way to Sydney"
"That's where I'm from. you should come stay"
It's that easy! While you're there you might get free food, free drink, and thanks to one well-cmonnected and lovely person free entry to an entire city's museums. There are few hard and fast rules to traveling but one is 'if you can, help a traveller'. These people have been there, they know how it is. They understand why you're sponging off them. Hopefully. If they don't youll have moved on by the time they get around to saying anything.
I could travel half the world again and neever pay for a bed. Simply by the nature of east vs west most of them are in the US and Australia and I probably wouldn't do it in Asia anyway, certainly not India. There are some lovely people out there.
Honorable mention to twitter: following random people on the public timeline leads to good friends where you are right now!
There's even an official website for doing the same thing: couchsurfing.com
2) getting from A to B
Hitch. Some people nothing but hitchhiking. I hate it personally but I'll domit if I have to. It's almost a requirement in Africa. I just find standing by a roadside for hours on end terminally dull and then to be stuck in a car with a dude who thinks he half knows your language and wants to tell you about farming subsidies...If you're worried about safety I think it's overstated that hitching is dangerous. I'm still here and I never saw a knife. Nuff said.
Look up carsharing websites online. This I love. Probably as it's mostly in (English speaking) developed countries. I travelled half of Germany with some lovely people.
When in a city learn to walk more than a mile. Do you really need to get the bus or metro everywhere? I once walked 9km with my 20kg backpack partly because I was stupid but also to save €5.
3) filling the hole in your stomach
This was the hard one for me. I love food. Always have. I had to come to accept that food for a traveller can be hard to come by. I've *gulp* missed meals. A lot of them. It's hardly surprising that I've lost weight. I would never suggest rummaging through rubbish bins, that's something I'd certainly never do - I'd rather pay, but look for the good bargains. In my experience you canp pay forum times the price for food but it won't be four times as nice.
Subway offer a footlong sub for $5. $5!. That's an evening meal right there. And lunch. A 'real' meal can be $15-20. Cook your own stuff in hostels. And number 2 golden cast-iron in lead ingots traveling rule:
NEVER SAY NO TO FREE FOOD. EVER.
learn to have no shame. Crisp? Thanks. Want a drink? Don't mind if I do even if I have no intention of staying any longer than I have to and in fact I fully intend to leave straight after just so I don't have to buy you one. Nice as you were.
Beer is a killer for budget. Sad but true. Subsequently I drink very rarely. I've never been a big drinker anyway so it wasn't overly hard for me, coke and tea is far nicer in my opinion (and hey! It's cheaper) but the drink of ultimate choice is water. Straight from the tap please.
Treat yourself now and again but do you need a beer or something with actual taste everyday? Every single one is accommodation for two days in India.
Negotiate, argue, swindle, cheat, pretend to be stupid and hand over the wrong money. Never offer to pay upfront for anything (they might forget - it's happened). Adapt, want shorts in a hot country? Cut some trousers up.
What you doing today? You want to do a tour of that building? You can probably go inside and check it out. Does it look awesome or will it be average and a waste of money? Do the free tours! They're awesome. They make it that way so you'll join on the paid tours. See a tour group? Jump on the end and listen in for free.
Need the Internet? Go sit outside Starbucks on free wifi. If you're feeling really extravagant you may even buy something. Need to make a phone call? Do the same and use Skype.
And that's before you get to the more dodgy tactics:
Desperate for a nice meal? Have one. Then leave without paying. It gets easier after the first time.
In a museum and it's OMG! $20?? Look for a way past the security guard. There's often one. This very day I saved $7. Half a day in India, right there. (Incidentally thats exactly how I think of money spent: time in India which is the awesomest place on the planet).
Does your hotel have 24 hour reception? Do they lock the door? Did you pay on checkin? If your answers are no, no and no consider getting up and leaving extra early...
And I'd camp far more often if I could find anywhere to actually pitch a tent. I recently found pitchatentinmybackyard.com but I've not tried it yet and it seems a bit overpriced for camping in a bloody garden but it may be cheaper than a hostel.
There are ways to travel very cheaply if you have the balls and lack of morals.
(Thanks to Jen, Abby, Brian, Jim, Jin and many others for your fine hospitality)