Student Life: Budget Travel
Budget travel has become a staple for me. It’s nearly a decade since I graduated and I have at least some amount of disposable income nowadays, but that cheapskate ethic is still there. (It applies to time as well as money – I’m liable to land back in town an hour before I start work, rather than give myself a chance to recover first.) Saving money is only one part of my reasoning, though – being open to less conventional modes of travel allows greater scope for adventure than a week in a resort on a package holiday. Below are some strategies I’ve used to get to where I wanted to be.
Since writing an article on this last year (see www.theskinny.co.uk), I’ve hosted another couple of dozen folks and found myself accommodation in four countries.
How it works: you sign up, host travellers who are seeking free crashspace in your town (or just show them around a bit, if you have no space to offer), and find people who will reciprocate when you’re on your own travels. You’re not obliged to say yes to anybody, and you set your own boundaries, but the references system and the extent to which people fill out their profiles give you a good sense of who you’re dealing with. I’ve had no negative experiences with it – rather, I’ve formed some lasting friendships. And I have the confidence to book trips to wherever I feel like, knowing I’m likely to find a host.
Japan is usually pretty expensive to get to, but the last time I went, it was about £325 return.
How it works: a company sends cargo over, and needs someone to travel with the required documents. The lucky person gets a cheaper flight than usual, and if the company is really desperate, the flight may even be free. And yes, it’s legit, at least if you do it through reputable companies, so there’s no need to become a drug mule. All that happened was I had to lead a little procession through customs in Tokyo, so I could hand over the documents while the cargo was cleared.
Hitch-hiking (see www.theskinny.co.uk for more info)
This is pretty straightforward, but lots of people continue to be scared of it and it doesn’t happen all that much in the UK. If you don’t have a schedule that’s set in stone, though, it can be a really rewarding way to travel. As with couchsurfing, you get to meet friendly people who tend to have travel stories of their own and a general interest in helping folk out.
How it works: You stick out your thumb, sing a few show tunes, and hope for the best. I find cardboard and marker pens come in handy too.
Don’t be put off by ludicrously expensive prices to get to your chosen destination. There is a way round it if you’ve got a scrap of paper, some back-up plans, the internet and a bit of flexibility.
How it works (for me): I wanted to fly in to Sofia, Bulgaria and out of Istanbul, Turkey. One-way flights to Sofia were frighteningly close to £900, so I checked out Wikipedia to find out which destinations were directly served by the airports in question. After some careful calculations – if you’re using different airlines, you don’t want to give yourself an hour between flights, or YOU WILL LOSE MONEY AND GET STUCK – I settled on two nights’ couchsurfing in Barcelona on the way out, and three in Stockholm on the way back. Weird route, yes, but £250 for my four flights, all-in. Just don’t talk to me about my carbon footprint.
Talking to people
I know, this is mind-numbingly obvious, but on the other hand, when travelling you may be emitting too many ‘fuck off’ vibes just so nobody will take the seat next to you. This is not the way to get results.
How it works: You offer some crisps to the nice woman in the aisle seat, and the next thing you know she’s convinced her husband to give you a lift straight to your host’s place when you land. Or you chat to the person next to you while waiting to collect your luggage, and he remembers he’s got a ticket for the airport bus that he doesn’t need. Marvellous.
All this said, I do have certain standards: I won’t camp, I won’t take the overnight bus to London, and I won’t share a room unless I know the people I’m sharing it with. If you’re willing to do things like that, you’re going to save more money than me. Well done you.