No, traveling is not expensive OR how to travel on a budget.

Among my friends, I have a reputation for being some kind of a traveller. Sometimes, I find it an applicable label, endearing for the romanticism it implies, and sometimes I find it misleading, as traveling to me is more a means than an end. And who can call oneself a travel who has never been to… say India? Either way, I do tend to change my position in space rather frequently and therefor I found it surprising that I write so little about it. Guess I’m more of a traveller than a writer. Certainly a rambler.

One of the things that continues to strike me in conversations on traveling, that many of my contemporaries seem to see it as an expansive activity, associated with towering costs that makes it impossible for them. When I say striking, I mean profound amazement and confusion because to me, traveling is rarely more expansive than staying (what is even the opposite of traveling? Non-traveling?). Sometimes, it is actually cheaper. But more on that later. This bewilderment is the reason for this post. It’s partly about my style of traveling and partly an attempt to understand the reasons that keep others from hitting the road (or rails, air, water, outer space or what not).

So what is traveling? On the most basic level, it’s changing one’s location in space (and until beaming becomes a reality, time, too.). I include in my definition, that traveling implies staying away from wherever you stayed before. I admit, it’s a difficult definition, as it implies that you had to stay somewhere, in order to be a traveller. What about someone, who never stays anywhere and is constantly on the move? Does that make the person less of a traveller? “INDEED”, you might chime in, “it’s a hobo, a bum, a punk!” Well, these are all judgmental expression and I think that person would be a perfectly valid traveller. What I am trying to say is that you need to stay away from wherever you came from. You can’t just change your location to work and back home within one day and call yourself a traveller. This is commuting. Everything else is negotiable. Basically, if you do have a cunning, positive definition of a traveller, please post it in the comments. Lacking a better definition and internet connection to look it up (guess what, I’m traveling), I leave it as that and proceed.

As earlier mentioned,

traveling to me can be a fairly cheap,

which to be fair is counter-logical. After all, you add one activity to the things you would be doing otherwise.

It follows, that

right? Well, not quite. Basically, for these two reasons:

Now, the critical point is, that you need to minimize your expanses for board, transportation and stuff. When you achieve the following two statements to be true

then you reached the holy grail of cheap traveling, you safe money while traveling, expressed as

Depending on your situation, that’s $200-$500 savings a month right there (You are doing something seriously wrong, if it’s even more. But I save that for a later post). Now you practice the art of free living. Especially in the warmer months, you could be camping. Many countries have lands where backcountry camping is free of charge. If you want to stay in more developed areas, you can sleep in most airports for free. Even better, you sign up to sites such as couchsurfing or hospitality club and stay with kind strangers, that invite you to their homes. It’s mostly safe and fun. Heck, travelers relied on strangers for century for free lodging. Just ask, built a relationship instead of buying a commodity. Only when you end up somewhere longer, you rent or sublet a room (do not take a hotel!). Of course, in that case your expanses won’t necessarily be lower than they were at home, but if you look around, they won’t be higher either.

It’s even easier in the stuff department. Since you don’t want to bring all that expansive and heavy entertainment equipment in your rucksack, you pick up something more lightweight, which tends to be cheaper, too. Reading a book (one at a time) is a popular choice among travelers. So is taking pictures with a small camera. Part of why people go traveling in the first place is to see something new, so you’ll enjoy studying that. Be it a new city or the plants and wildlife in the great outdoors. All that is incredibly cheap yet more fulfilling then watching movies or jet-skiing.

Transportation can be had for free, too. Provided you are able to walk, you are already gifted with a free mode of transportation. Just hike places. If you want to be faster, hitchhike. Yes, it can still be done and in most places, it is legal, too (Hitchwiki.org is a great resource to get you started). If you prefer the train, you could hop on a freight train. Personally, I have never done it myself, but I met many who did and had a great time and it sure sounds intriguing. But here is the secret point: since you’re already saved a couple of hundred dollars (or some other currencies, whatever) for shelter and stuff, you can easily afford train or plane tickets or gas AND still have some money left. Yes, it is indeed wonderful!

So this is how I travel cheaply. Let’s turn our attention to the second question of inquiry,

why do people think traveling is expansive and unaffordable, even though it isn’t as we have seen?

Well, I can’t be sure, but this is what I assume:

When people say traveling, they don’t mean changing one’s position in space (excluding commuting). They mean changing one’s position in space AND living a middle class life while doing so WHILE keep paying that apartment/room/house back home. Hell yes, that would be way more expansive and it seems utterly ridiculous to me why anyone would want to do that. And it gets worse. From that perspective, it’s not far to even more irritating assumptions, like traveling has to include a very far and exotic destination and perhaps on a even higher level of consumption (think whirlpools and fancy restaurants), since you only do this once a year. Now, don’t get me wrong, all that qualifies as traveling and it’s probably fun, too. But when people say, they don’t have the funds for traveling, they mean expansive spa traveling (shorthand for every kind of traveling that includes hotels, restaurants etc.) as a vacation from work, not traveling per se. This is all fine and fair, but please name it accordingly.

Please comment if you think my assumption is wrong and you have a different explanation. You can also comment to tell me that my views are pretentious or righteous or that I’m a hobo, which would be a fair point.

A few qualifications/further explanations at the end.
I didn’t yet satisfactory address the issue of food. In my experience, it usually ends up being the same no matter where I am. That’s why I assumed that

When I travel, I tend to eat out more often, mostly because I don’t have access to a kitchen, but also because I’m interested in the local cuisine (the best way of exploring that, though, is by being invited by locals to their homes. Not only is this free [you might want to contribute to that dinner in some ways], but also more authentic). The higher price tag for restaurant visits is then offset by having extremely cheap camping meals, like beans, oatmeal or peanut butter sandwiches and bananas. Of course, food expanses don’t have to be equal, depending on your specific situation. If beans, rice and oatmeal is the stable of your diet already, you will hardly beat that on the road. Conversely, if you eat out a lot at home, you might make considerable savings when restricted to a very basic diet on your backpacking outing.

Another valid criticism is that my explanation above doesn’t address the job factor at all. More often then not, our need to earn money forces us to live at a specific place and we would lose that income when traveling, thus making traveling more expansive if you sum up income and expenses. Now, however, the main constrain to travel becomes time, not money. There is a whole different (yet related) argument to have here, why one might want to free up some time for traveling, which I save for later. You might also want to look into ways, how you could make money WHILE traveling. In my case, I usually used the model, where you work in a place and then find a new job or study program somewhere else and use this as an opportunity to a) travel to that place, where I sometimes try to extend the time for some diversions on my way and b) check out the new place, which some people consider traveling as well. Again, the most noble way of traveling, however, is if traveling becomes your life and you do it, because you want to avoid the exploitive world of wage- labor altogether.

The last qualification addresses people, that already live extremely cheap in their non-traveling day-to-day life. Many of my friends (and potential blog readers) are skilled frugalists (of choice or/and necessity) who hardly will be able to reduce their expanses even further while traveling. Interestingly, since these people know how to live on a budget already, they never think that traveling is expansive.

PS: Can anyone give me a pointer, how to embed those mathematic formula nicely into html? I know how to get my pdfs through markdown, but html doesn’t seem to work.