Micro-budget Travel

When I was a kid, I mistakenly related vacations to holidays. We were brought up thinking that a vacation is a once-a-year luxury where nothing is too expensive as long as it wraps itself up within a week. Every summer, families attend these weeklong, holiday-like experiences together and blow the same amount of money despite which location they pick to experience that year. Years later, and after attempting a mock “vacation” or two on my own, I realized this doesn’t have to be the norm. The vacation model doesn’t need torevolve around Clark Griswold strapping suitcase to a rooftop one week in July. The model was evolving and it was time I evolved with it.

Websites like Craig’s List, AirBnB, WorkAway and CouchSurfing have literally changed the game when it comes to affordable travel on a “miro-budget.” For those who still picture themselves spending far too much on travel arrangements or can’t find a group of friends to go with, these websites offer new options for travel. If you don’t have a vehicle or simply don’t want to pay the current gas prices, Craig’s List offers another option. Under the “Community” section in each city, the website provides a category known as “RideShare.” Single-handedly, this service brings people together who wish to travel to the same location on the same day. Unlike trying to find a ride within a group of friends, RideShare allows travelers to find those who already plan to make the trip for a fraction of the cost. Nothing is out of reach in terms of distance or discount. A friend of mine recently made a five-hour haul for $25, which would have cost up to $200 to in gas for his SUV and even more for a plane ticket.

Before we dive too far into the deep end of this new world of travel, let’s address your doubts while we’re still standing on the diving board. This is somewhat equivalent to an online version of hitchhiking. However, rather than sticking a thumb out to any passer-by, users are allowed to use their wits and communicate through e-mail before sealing any deals. RideShare works one of two ways:  users either need a ride or offer a ride, and both should be examined. After finding someone with the same date and an ideal price range, consider asking a few questions via email before getting into the car or opening up the passenger seat. Some people understandable want to meet beforehand or even check an I.D. before allowing anyone into the car. Personally, I’ve never heard of any bad situations other than the occasional awkward moment but I’m also a guy and know that most RideShare gals travel with a friend whenever possible. Whatever the process, it still brings like-minded people together and those who travel understand that slight risk and large rewards walk hand in hand to make unforgettable experiences.

Most people who at least spend a few semesters in college understand the unwritten rules of instant friends in certain scenarios but many still have their reservations on the subject. Craig’s List’s “Sublets/Temporary” allow for people to find affordable and temporary residencies at a discount. Imagine spending a month in Hawaii for under a grand in housing. These websites offer the possibility. Rather than just being a renter, it’s also possible to be a temporary landlord. For instance, I rented out my furnished Chicago loft and used the excess to fund my first month in Argentina as I rented a fully furnished luxury apartment in the posh Recoletta neighborhood for only $800 through a broker—a good deal by Chicago standards. I quickly learned that I could rent a nice room from a fútbol-loving chef/sommelier in vibrant San Telmo (birthplace of Tango) for $100/week. It was there I met other international travelers who introduced me to micro-budget travel.

Now it does get more complicated once you leave the U.S. but the options are readily available. Workaway.net is similar to the other sites but often offers a chance to really dive into the culture. On this website, travellers can volunteer with a family or small organization and really get to know the area or master a foreign language. This option is for travellers who really like to lend to a hand. It’s a good idea to research customs and understand traditions of the area you plan to visit. It takes a lot for people to open up their homes, so respect this gift and plan to return the favor. It isn’t a hostel; it’s an exchange. Plan to volunteer a few hours of your time in exchange for a place to stay. In Costa Rica, I managed to align myself with a lovely local guide who drove me from San Jose to Arenal to Gulfo de Papagayo. Here, she helped me get a job leading snorkeling & kayaking tours at a resort in exchange for three square meals and a bed.  I even got to visit the mangroves, active volcanos, zipline through the rainforest and went surfing in Tamarindo all on the hotel’s dime.  And what I made in tips covered my flight, so it was a cost-neutral month.

Airbnb is an online service that links people planning to take a vacation with private citizens who offer rooms to rent. Much cheaper than getting a hotel room, the website has been up since 2007 and provides over 200,000 listings that include apartments, boats, tree houses, tipis, igloos, private islands, single rooms, manors and even castles. I’ve never stayed in a castle but once you get the hang of this, you’ll find that travelers know how to save money and bartering didn’t go out with paper currencies. CouchSurfing.org is as easy to sign up with as Facebook and has been featured in Time, Forbes, The New York Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker and on NPR. The website began in San Francisco and offers social networking and hospitality exchange. Whether you’re looking for a place to “crash” or for friends in a new city, this is a great website to meet real, interesting people and bunk for free. It’s as easy as using a search engine to find a place to stay. Security wise, the website insists on personal references, credit card verification and a personal vouching system so users know the trip will be safe. After time, users can expand their profile and link up with like-minded travelers to exchange stories or meet up in new places.

For those on a budget or anyone who wants to travel semi-professionally for less, forget the hotels and timeshare options. Learn how to pack light and sum yourself up in an email while simultaneously learning to read someone else through an email. The options are listed online in the hundreds and with micro-budgeting and the willingness to think out of the norm. I’ve made lifelong friends in Argentina, Costa Rica, Brazil, Aruba, the European Union, Israel and Australia that provide open invitations to return. It can be somewhat daunting and uncomfortable on occasion but the friends are well worth it. Not to mention, I’ve saved tens of thousands of dollars, which allowed me to go on more trips, more often. Anyone can experience the new model for traveling without having to countdown fifty-one weeks to pull out dusty, bulky suitcases to strap on the minivan.

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