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Traveling: Making Money & Spending Money

 Traveling is an interesting lifestyle choice, its seductions forgo most. For others, like myself, it is a fatalism. Some travelers know who they are before their first voyage — it is clear why interesting experiences with foreign lands are better too see in person than on Facebook. Such experiences alter one’s fundamental views such as personal beliefs, behaviour, and even ourselves.

How do travelers find the time and money in busy schedules and austere budgets? The methods are various and as diverse as traveling itself. I would like to share some of my experiences with new and potential travelers to spark and foster interest in travel; also to provide advice and a rough orientation to budget travel.

Why listen to me?

Well, I have been on all kinds of trips imaginable! I have traveled across three continents totaling fourteen countries. I have slept anywhere from strangers’ couches, hostels, tents and hotels. I have gotten around by hitch-hiking, mega buses, bullet trains, and taxis. I have even lived and worked in the People’s Republic of China, toured Europe, soaked up the Caribbean sun, and trekked all ten Canadian provinces. I have covered approximately twenty thousand kilometres by land alone. I have definitely been around. That said, take my advice with a grain of salt — my advice is rooted in my experiences, but also in my preferences and values. Mine is but one perspective among many.

Getting Started

1) Ensure your timing is appropriate. Be patient. Though I greatly admire the get-up-and-go approach, even finding it necessary sometimes, I hope you won’t disrupt your overall life-vision just to “get away”.

2) Finish school. Tie-up loose ends. Take care of business before you take off for several weeks or months. I  have student debt to keep in mind while financing my expeditions. Don’t take a year off to spend money you really don’t have only to return to the unfinished life that awaits. Debt mounts, stress creeps and commitments loom. As well, if you wish to work and travel you have infinitely more marquee as a graduate than a drop out.

3) Finances. How did I pay for all the excursions? The same way you can! Work hard and save just as hard!

I know — not the magic bullet you were hoping for, right? It’s not as bad as it sounds, or at least it doesn’t have to be. I promise. You are not condemned to live and work as a slave for two years in the service sector to scrape enough together to trek the Andes or Himalayas for several months. There are many interesting, well-paying seasonal jobs, perfect for students and others. Working can feel like travel, as you may have to change scenery for access to opportunities.

Packing up and heading to Fort Mac didn’t exactly appeal to my ethics, and I have worked as a line cook and a stock boy before. A friend of mine told stories of her summer gig. I couldn’t believe such a job existed: living among tents for months at a time, congregating in remote bush camps, sporting nightly wax box fires which reached into the clear sky creamy with stars; day off in Northern towns with triple digit populations, often hosting little more than a Canadian Legion across a single lane highway from a lone, greasy motel, and a stumbling micro-economy supported by a liquor store unable to cope with the sudden influx of demand. Tree planting allowed my friend to finance her tuition, travel and a cushy off-season spanning two thirds of the year. I followed up immediately and four months later I found myself in a clear cut in Nipigon, Ontario.

It is an understatement to suggest that tree planting isn’t for everyone. One must wade through thigh-high swamps, hordes of bugs and thick as the blood they loot, and an intense game of chicken between your physical and psychological dexterity. The benefits are there; in forty-five work days I theoretically could have paid for all the travel I have done in the past two years. But the toll is too high for many to pay. However, there are heaps of seasonal work opportunities. Think fruit picking, fishing boats, potash, just give it a quick Google!

So, my preferred means of capital acquisition consists of working well-paying, labour-intensive, seasonal jobs and cruising as long as possible making penny-pinching preparations.

A better way to get abroad quick with less initial cash is to work abroad. This is a little more of a complicated start, especially for first-time travellers, but don’t be intimidated. If I can do it, you can do it, trust me! Start-up cash greatly depends on the region, so do your homework to avoid running out of money before your wages come rolling in. Also: flights, visas, medical insurance, accommodation, and other basics will need attention.

Work and Travel Simultaneously!

My life in China is my most cherished experience abroad. I unexpectedly stumbled upon an English teaching job in Guangdong province on Kijiji of all places. I worked with kindergardeners to high schoolers, aged three to eighteen. Within six weeks I was given: a full of visa, insurance and employment applications. The job requirements included a passport, visa, English speaking ability and a University degree of any kind. In return, I received a rent-free apartment, ¥6,000RMB monthly wage (about $1,000 CND), Mandarin language lessons, and overall support from the school. Rarely working twenty five hours a week, I had two separate holidays (first to Yangshuo, Guangxi. Second to Zhangjiajie, Hunan), weekend trips to Guangzhou (the provincial capital) and long weekend trips to Hong Kong. I was living on Canadian minimum wage which was luxury in China. I left Canada with $400 HKD, ¥6,000RMB plus $1,400 CND for a flexible return ticket. This lasted me perfectly until my first cheque, and I didn’t go without anything.

For the committed long-term traveller, this is the best way to go. You are more likely to pick up the local language, fully immerse yourself in the culture and have the opportunity to tour the region (a co-worker of mine traveled to the Philippines, Malaysia and Singapore with comparable employment conditions). I do recommend basic caution while choosing to work abroad. Scams exist. But you can confirm authenticity with a quick Skype conversation. Speak with a foreigner, if possible. If the communication is more definite, the pitch is honest and the experiences that you are about to undergo is illustrated in a particular and articulate manner, then the chances that the organization is legit is more likely. Again, do your research.

In the Thick of It

Related is your mode of travel, which really means “how much do you want to spend?”. My answer is almost always “as little as possible”. I have traveled in relative economy with the essential luxuries, like training into Krakow, staying at a €30 per night hostel, and going to the Theatre. I have roughed it, example being the time I hitched into Hamburg, couch-surfed one night and basically walked around seeing the sights and getting a bit drunk on Bohemian pilsner.

From my experience as a white male, hitch hiking and couch-surfing are safe and legitimate methods of travel and accommodation. I recorded thirty-nine rides in 7,500 km across Canada and though I lack records, I reckon about fifteen rides across 5,100 km in Europe plus two in China — all without a single negative experience. Reasonable caution is  certainly advised, but don’t be scared by the movies. I do have single, female friends who hitch extensively. The fewer the hitchers, the better, based on seats and the driver’s preferences. Group hitching is possible, but expect occasional day-long waits. This is a great way to save a tonne, get local perspectives, meet interesting characters and, in my experience, consistently get around fastest — no layovers or rigid regulation bind private drivers.

Couch-surfing (CS) is the most precious jewel in the traveler’s chest. Its utility is invaluable, but more importantly is the depth and personalization you will experience. Such trips cannot be duplicated, even by returning. I see CS as the hitchhiking of accommodations. Engaging locals is by far the best way to get the inside scoop on attractions and customized travel routes, as well as to delve into the local scene for a real cultural education. Hosts provide much more than a place to sleep. From extensive city tours to traditional home-cooked meals, fun facts and legends about sites, the generosity of CS hosts will leave you in awe over the grace of humanity. Plus, CS users are generally as cool as anyone you will meet. Like hitchin’ though, I advise basic caution. You don’t know these people. Read host profiles and references. These profiles give backgrounds on hosts and also ensure against abuses. With almost two dozen hosts and nearly half as many Surfers myself, I have never had a negative experience. Such experiences will leave lasting impressions extending far beyond your itinerary, believe me.

The many strategies one can employ while traveling provide near infinite opportunities for the brave and creative. I have found these tips to be the most genuine and useful. Remember, there is a huge world out there. It is scary enough to embark on a perfectly planned trip, let alone live spontaneously out of your home and comfort zones. So don’t be intimidated by things like hitching and Surfing. The people who will provide rides or couches want to help you and will become great friends, whether you see them for one night or keep in contact for years. Briefly, my best advice for planning and financing a medium to long-term trip include capital accumulation through hard work and adequate saving, working while traveling, and simultaneously saving money and extracting maximum personal benefits from hitch hiking and couch-surfing.

Give travel a chance. Even try out hitchin’ and couch-surfing. Trust me; it will change your life and yield wealth deeper than the time and money you invest.

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