How to Be a Better Budget Traveler
I do a lot of talking about how to travel the world on a budget here at 9to5Voyager.com. But money isn’t everything, and I wanted to share with you some advice for making the most of your travels on a more experiential level.
The following are tips gained from my own experience and from the experience of far more seasoned voyagers than myself. These are intended to help you connect with locals on a more personal basis, and to get the most out of your trip.
Read on for 8 Travel Tips for the 9 to 5 Voyager!
1. Get in the Traveler's Frame of Mind
In one of my early posts, Essential Travel Gear, my #1 piece of gear is Your Brain. Yes, you read that right, your brain!
What do I mean by this? I mean that you need to adjust your frame of mind to being somewhere possibly very different to what you’re used to. Some people call it setting an intention. You should set your intention to be open to everything that travel brings you, and to expect that you may have some obstacles along the way. After all, being a 9 to 5 Voyager is about stepping off the beaten path of all-inclusive resorts and pricey hotels. Your experiences will be more authentic, but in doing so, you’re going to be sailing in choppier waters than you may be used to.
That’s okay! Just accept that things may happen, good and bad, and that this is all part of the travel process.
2. Take the Time to Learn Basic Phrases in the Local Language
Free apps like Duolingo are perfect for this. You don’t have to take an ambassador-level course and spend six months becoming proficient in the local language (although if you want to, more power to you!), but you should at least learn words like “hello,” “please,” “thank you,” and “goodbye.” Numbers are also very important.
Two of the most important phrases you can learn are “Where is…” and “Can you please help me?” Very, very rarely will someone just ignore you if you ask for help, and honestly I’ve had that happen far more often at home than abroad.
3. Take the Time to Learn About the Local History and Current Events of Your Destination
Again, no one’s asking you to go to the library and check out all the books on the history of wherever it is you’re going. But I personally would recommend a little research.
Yes, we all know many countries are considered very poor, but why are they poor? Your research may dispel a lot of your preconceived notions (don’t feel bad, we all have them) before you even get there.
Podcasts are great for this kind of thing. If you work somewhere where you can listen to music, throw on a podcast. You can find all kinds of programs on histories of foreign countries, some of which are pretty entertaining. The World Nomads podcast is great for this.
At the very least, brush up on current events in your target country. That way you can learn about everything from exciting festivals to political issues that may be affecting the residents.
4. Be Aware of Where Your Money is Going
There’s been a surging focus in recent years on ethical travel. Usually, when you hear the term “ethical travel,” it has to do with, for example, not riding elephants in Southeast Asia or not giving money to children begging on the street.*
To me, ethical travel goes beyond that. It means redistributing your tourist dollars in a way that benefits the people who need it most: local small-business owners and reputable charities. Another way to look at it is “spending conscientiously.”
You don’t even have to go overseas to spend conscientiously. If you’re in a new city in your home country, try to buy from local merchants and mom & pop restaurants instead of national chains.
For example, when Kristen and I were in Charleston, South Carolina, we were getting tired of the overpriced and underwhelming food we found along King Street. We ended up at this place called Hannibal’s Kitchen in a–shall I say–less glitzy part of north Charleston. For $7.25, we got these takeout boxes we couldn’t even close because of how much food they gave us. And it was some of the most delicious soul food either of us had ever had. It cost us less, we were happier and more well-fed, and we were able to contribute to the success of a local institution. It was a win-win.
*This is usually to discourage children from begging on the street when they could be in school. In some countries, young street beggars are in fact under the control of criminals who take portions of whatever they earn and mistreat them. It’s just usually a safer bet to give directly to local organizations.
5. Keep an Open Mind
This is one of the most important things to keep in mind as a traveler. You’re going to see things (and hear things) that you really won’t agree with.
Case in point: I remember being driven to the airport by an Iraqi Lyft driver. We got on the subject of Saddam Hussein, who in my mind was universally reviled. And yet this Iraqi expat basically said that he had no problems with Hussein and that if you stayed out of his way, he stayed out of your way (tell that to the Kurdish victims of his gas attacks, but I digress). He might as well have been saying “Oh, that guy Hitler? Well he didn’t kill my family, so I had no problem with him.”
But that is precisely the kind of thing you might hear overseas. I’ve worked security at African weddings before where I’ve heard equally scandalous things about Idi Amin. Many people think he was an entertaining guy and a charismatic leader, ignoring the horrendous human rights violations he was responsible for.
There’s a quote I read one time that went something to the effect of “One man’s dictator is another man’s savior.” I’m not saying you have to agree with what you hear; you can only go so far before there’s just plain right and just plain wrong. Just don’t be taken aback by statements that, in your mind, no sane person would make. I may even advise you to not make too big of a deal of it, depending on where you are; not everywhere has the same freedom of speech that the US does.
6. Keep Your Cool
When traveling, you may be in stressful and emotionally taxing situations. You may be in a country where personal space is not taken as seriously as it is where you’re from. You may feel like just lashing out and telling everyone to back the f off is going to be the most satisfying thing in the world and be the solution to all your problems.
What will probably end up happening is you’ll scare everyone around you, make them think you’re crazy and avoid you, or worse yet, you may start a confrontation.
Respecting the locals means more than researching their ways and following suit. It means treating them like people and not causing more problems than there already are in the world. It’s not easy and it takes time, but before long it will be second nature.
7. Sometimes, Just Go With It
I’ve made some of my favorite memories solo traveling in hostels. Even though I’m a naturally anxious person, I’ve learned to let my guard down and just go with the flow. If I meet a group of travelers my age and who seem cool, I go with them to a bar or a restaurant or a museum or even a club. I’ve done this in Philadelphia, Chicago, Mexico City, Vancouver, and Havana, and in doing so, met wonderful people and had some incredible nights.
8. Have Fun!
Lastly, but most importantly, remember to have fun! You’re in a new place! That’s awesome! Make the most of it 🙂
Have anything to add to this list of Travel Tips for the 9 to 5 Voyager? Let us know in the comments below!
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Safe travels out there!