With my next three tips for independent adventure/budget travel, I hope to inspire singles and couples to venture out on their own to exotic ports, without the safety and structure of an organized tour.
While this type of travel is a little more work, considering all the internet research and booking it involves, its rewards include a more intimate glimpse into a foreign culture than those giant floating cities offer. Travel through a foreign country on a cruise or American-style tour and the most up-close-and-personal view of a culture you're likely to get is via a random interaction with a clerk or waiter. Go it on your own and you'll be interacting with foreigners in a much more consistent and intimate way.
After you've tried it, my guess is that you'll agree with me: there's no better way to discover a foreign destination at your own pace, according to your own interests, than through independent travel. And with that I give you tips #4-6 of my top 13.
4. Spend your time where your dollar goes farthest. For the nightly cost of a standard room in London, you may be able to stay in a Turkish palace for a week. In Maramis, a nice room with wireless internet access and a balcony overlooking the Mediterranean cost me just 25 Turkish lira (about $17, including breakfast)—less than a third of what I paid for similar digs in Barcelona, London, Madrid and Paris.
There’s a side benefit to visiting places where your dollar stretches farthest: in cheaper countries where culture shock is greatest, e.g. Turkey, you can often find the most interesting gifts and memorabilia. If you have ample time, you can also save money by staying slightly outside of city centers. This makes especially good sense in places like Paris and London, where public transportation is so good, it's easy to get wherever you're going as long as you're near a Metro or Tube stop
5. Scope out FREE stuff. Take advantage of programs and volunteer opportunities that offer affordable and even free vacations, e.g. VaughanTown in Spain (www.vaughantown.com), through which any marginally gregarious and culturally inquisitive native English speaker can enjoy a FREE week-long vacation in four-star accommodations, all meals and wine included, just for gabbing with Spaniards (you pop for airfare). If you have skills to trade, try negotiating a deal with establishments in places you want to visit.
For fun, check out such free activities as the three-hour walking excursions offered by Sandeman’s newEurope in London, Edinburgh, Dublin, Amsterdam, Berlin, Munich, Hamburg, Paris, Madrid and Jerusalem. In such cities as Amsterdam, Barcelona, Madrid and Paris, some of the world’s best talent performs on streets and in public transport stations. Enjoy the free shows and don’t forget to leave a generous tip if the performers are good; they make an honest living this way!
6. Be creative with accommodations. In many foreign places, there are many alternatives to big, expensive American-style hotels. These include small pensions where you’re likely to get a good dose of local culture for a price well below what you’d pay at a Hilton. Universities, nunneries and hostels like the ones I stayed at in Dublin and Chicago provide other good accommodation alternatives; most are open to people of all ages at prices that are a fraction of any hotel room rate. Staying at these places puts a kitchen at your disposal, as well as the opportunity to meet travelers from around the world. There’s also www.couchsurfing.com through which you can connect with hosts offering FREE accommodations and priceless cultural insight.
If you can't wait for future posts, you can access my baker's dozen of tips through a link at http://wordgeisha.com/WGblog2008.html. If you have some of your own, please share so we can establish a dialogue about adventure/budget travel. Stay tuned for more and please add your own tips with a comment!