Couchsurfing likes to remind people that it’s not a dating site, but in fact, it is a place where I’ve met many of my closest friends and the woman I married.
One of the keys to mastering the art of world travel on almost nothing is learning to trust strangers and let them become friends.
World Travel on Almost Nothing Tip #4: Make strangers into friends.
One of the things that I love about Couchsurfing.com is that it relies on opening your heart and mind to the hospitality of strangers. Contrary to popular belief, most people on the planet are good and want to help you in this life. If you doubt that, look inside yourself and I’m sure you will see it is true.
I wrote a thesis about fans of the TV show LOST. One of the amazing things I found was that when fans traveled to Hawaii they often found places to stay, free guided tours, and new friends waiting for them. In that case, what brought these people together was a love of a TV show. For the world traveler, you are more likely to come together because of a love of travel.
I’ve made friends just about everywhere I’ve been and in the process I’ve managed to avoid paying for hotels, meals, and sometimes even transportation. I’m not saying you should be mercenary about seeking out and using people, I’m saying that when you open your arms to the world, you often get a hug in return.
While I’ve never been a WWOOFer or used HospitalityClub.com, I certainly have known plenty of people who have. These sorts of communities thrive on the fact that people are in general kind and good natured. If you don’t believe that, then you better keep paying for hotel rooms and guided city tours.
The biggest ripoff of modern times wasn’t the mere stealing of billions by Bernie Madoff, it was convincing most of the people on the planet that they need anything the modern world provides.
In fact, you were born with everything you need and whether you believe it or not you will keep getting everything you need until the day you die. Included in that isn’t shampoo, peanut butter, a new car, a great job, breast implants, or a college degree. I fell for it too…but the truth is all you need is the desire to move to the next second in this life and you already have it or else you’d already be dead.
World Travel Tip #2
Modern nation states are built on a simple lie. That lie tells you that unless you can pay for new goods and services your life won’t be worth anything. It’s complete and total crap.
A look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs shows what you actually need. Food, sleep, air, defecation, and a sense of who you are. That’s it. The rest is luxury and as such is not necessary. In fact, it often gets in the way.
Nobody is charging you to breathe. Water can be found for free just about everywhere on the planet (though it may take a little umm…digestive adjustment), if there isn’t a free toilet, you can probably defecate on the ground, and if you don’t know who you are, isn’t it time you found out? You don’t need a therapist to tell you, you just need to take the time to ask yourself and listen for an answer. In addition companionship, love, self esteem, and even security can be found for little to nothing.
Step outside and start a conversation with a stranger and I can promise you that if you are looking for food or shelter, you will find them, maybe not with the first person you talk with but certainly with someone. Contrary to popular belief, people are GOOD and they want to help each other. Unless you are a real ass, you’ll find people take joy in being a part of your life and that includes food and shelter.
A few days ago, I asked readers if budget travel is worth it. The overwhelming answer is – yes, of course it is. And, actually, I totally agree. I admit that sometimes you need to bite the bullet and spend a little bit extra to avoid discomfort and inconvenience – but for the most part, if the choice is between no travel and budget travel – take budget travel.
Maybe you’ve noticed that I manage to see quite a few places and you’ve thought to yourself “It must be nice to have enough money to travel like that – I wish I had the money to do that!”
The fact of the matter is, so do I. The other fact of the matter is that I don’t. In the past several decades it has been the exception rather than the rule for me to have a job where my time belongs to someone else. I don’t usually have any savings. I’m in debt up to my ears (but am constantly deferring my student loans) and yet even in that condition, I’ve managed to travel to 50 or so countries, have a fabulous wedding in the Sahara, and get quite a few little side trips and excursions in too. How do I do it?
Honestly, I’m not sure, but the following is some of what I’ve figured out about how to travel for next to nothing. Hopefully, it will inspire one or two of you out there to get off your butts and hit the road like you’ve always dreamed of. If it does and your life changes forever, feel free to buy me a beer someday.
A trip to a theme park costs most than I spend on most of my solo international adventures. World travel doesn’t have to be expensive. In fact, there are many times that it is free.
Of course the travel agencies, cruise lines, and airlines don’t want you to know that. Big hotels and resorts live off of people who don’t know where they would stay without Hilton or Marriott to house them. Those guys and the talking heads in the media earn their salaries selling trips to all-inclusive resorts and big time guided tours of places you can walk through for free.
They are banking on the fact that your imagination stops at your credit card and that most people are just too damn scared to take a chance when they leave the confining comfort of their own home. I’m about to spoil that misconception. Unless those guys start sponsoring me, I’m going to keep giving away tips and tricks that open up the entire world to you.
Nothing holds you back more than fear. Fear of the unknown. FDR said it right, we have nothing to fear but fear itself. Face it, you’re going to die and you’re going to lose everything. We all do. You have very little control about when that is going to happen. The thing that makes most people miss out on the joy of travel is that they think they can control it and so they stay at home watching Netflix until they die of a coronary. They know the geography of the world, but they’ve never seen it. If you don’t open the door, you won’t see anything but the television.
Tip #1 for Cheap World Travel:
Let go of all that routine that arises from you trying to control your own dead end. The best thing about living is new experience and you can have as many as you want for free. Once you step away from your societal imposed responsibilities, you find that the world opens up and gives you more joy than you’ll ever find trying to buy your future security at the expense of the present.
When you start breaking free of your routine, you will discover the wonder of new faces and places, taste incredible new foods, and discover secrets about yourself and the world that you never expected to find.
Each new wonder unfolds before you like a road that was hidden from view and like any road, a new experience will often lead you to another and another and another. When you walk the road of travel, you get to experience life differently from when you take a package vacation or go through the daily motions in your ‘home’. In fact, the world is your home, if only you choose to accept it.
Sunsets are free. Mountaintops don’t cost a thing. Walking through a public market takes not a dime. Striking up a conversation with someone working beside a road you are walking down can lead to adventures you can’t imagine. Just being in a new place will provide you with more insights about yourself and the world than all the new clothes, fancy meals, or well rehearsed tourist trips can ever give you.
Your mentality is the primary reason why world travel costs a ton. Change it and you will find that few things are as cheap.
I had an email from a 16-year old vagabond back in 2010 asking me for advice about how to live his life and ‘escape from the cave’. This is what I told him. I stand by this advice today. I wonder what happened to him?
This is my advice. It’s hard to say for sure, because I don’t know you, but this is the advice I wish someone had given me.
1) Understand that it’s all a rip off. It’s all a rip off that is trying to take your time. You and everyone else has a limited amount of time. We will die, for sure. The biggest traps for me were booze and drugs. Fun, but oh, I wish I had that time back. I could have been camping, hitching, or writing! I could have been fucking! Instead I was wasting my time and my money.
2) College is great. I waited until I was in my 30s, but it would have been cool to do it before. Just get someone else to pay for it. The ideas, the experiences…and the girls. Go to college but do yourself a favor and get scholarships, it’s worth it to put some extra hours in studying to get the grades in high school, since they allow you to get a free ride. If not, focus on any scholarship you can.
3) Take short trips whenever you can. Weekend trips fill the gap between summer months on the road. Go everywhere even if it is only ten miles away.Don’t miss the Grand Canyon because you live in Arizona, know what I mean? The close things are often as cool or cooler than the far ones.
4) Take time to write. Start a blog. Learn to do basic coding.
5) Don’t undervalue your time. Ask for more money and then work harder. Make it clear to employers that you are not ordinary. Do a kick ass job every time.
6) Don’t waste your money. Booze and drugs are expensive. Cars are expensive. Fancy clothes are expensive. Worthless women are expensive. Spend your money on the things that matter and save the rest for your adventures.
7) Women. Write down exactly what you want. It’s only then you will find her. I mean exactly. Height, hair, hobbies, qualities. She is there. Don’t settle.
8) Know when someone will refuse to lose an argument and don’t waste your time. Just say, I see what you are saying and move on.
9) A good friend has these five qualities. 1) You can trust them with money 2) They won’t judge you 3) You can trust them with your woman 4) You can trust them with a secret 5) They are there when you need them. Don’t waste your time on anyone who doesn’t have these qualities. When you find a good friend, be all of the above.
10) Write your own ten commandments. Know your morals and refuse to budge.
I hope this helps. Being in the cave sucks, but it’s got no door on it. Just walk out.
Travel to the places that don’t make it into most magazines or guidebooks is usually much more interesting and exciting than reading about Bali or Boracay from yet another person who has ‘discovered it’. Certainly I didn’t discover Pernik, but it was a pleasure to get to see it in this way.
We woke up bright and early to go up into the forest with my friend Borislav’s grandfather. He was much more bright eyed than either of us, but one thing I figured out quickly is that Balkan people can drink all day and all night and seem to not suffer from it at all. And they usually seem to start the day with a shot of schnapps.
As for me, I usually suffer if I drink the night before. The sidewalk was icy and it was C-O-L-D but that didn’t stop this 80+ year old man from being the first one down the street, the first one up the hill, and the first one to wherever he was leading us. To be fair though, usually the one doing the leading should go first.
He led us past the nuclear reactors and over the river and then past this amazing testosterone driven machine where the testosterone apparently gave out with a flat tire. Then we crossed the road and went up among the gypsy houses and gypsy dogs.
Now, let me be honest here. These were very kind, simple, and humble people. Their apartment was anything but luxurious but filled their needs. That’s why when we got to the massive house they live in during the summer, I was so surprised. It was gorgeous. Decorated like a boutique hotel, each room different with a different flavor. In the basement, the canned preserves, the still, and the big vats of wine just sitting and waiting to be poured into old coke bottles.
The weather was turning worse, we took a winding path through trees and down icy trails and no one fell but if they had I would have remembered Katya telling me that the funniest thing in the world is the confused look on people’s face when they realized they are no longer standing up. Even if it was me.
Finally, our historic guide decided to go back home where it was warm and asked Borislav to complete the tour by showing me the various monuments and statues in the town of Pernik. In fact, we did see those but given the blue faces we had, we deemed it best to duck into a cafe and grab some coffee.
We did manage to see the old church, the statue of the town protector, the old mining building, and some other statues and monuments that the cold weather made impossible for me to remember.
After that we went back to his grandparents for lunch with his aunt and while there was some rakia, I avoided getting so much of the hospitality of these wonderful people this time that my head would feel like it might explode.