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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Top Tips for Adventure/Budget Travel, #7-9

If you've followed my first six tips for solo budget travel, you can probably guess that I am addicted to creative adventure. For those of you thinking about or planning one of your own, here are the next three tips out of my top 13.

To access my entire photo-filled tip list, I invite you to visit my website at http://wordgeisha.com/WGblog2008.html. And now, tips #7-9:

7. Make the most of your budget. You can visit most major European cities for under $100/day per person. In many ways, the less you spend, the closer you get to the local culture and the farther you escape from your own. By living as locals do, you’ll have more opportunities to see authentic cultural differences and gain perspective about the ways things are done in a foreign place than you would on a big, organized tour. Rather than viewing a limited budget as a restriction, see it as an enticement into local markets, bistros, dive bars and front seats at street shows in world-class cities.


8. Relish the joys of solo travel. Independent travel allows you to custom-tailor your trip to your pace and interests. You can go where you want when you want. To maximize those freedoms, do your research and be creative with your itinerary. Put yourself in places where you can meet and communicate with locals rather than relying on service rendered with purchased smiles. If you allow yourself to be herded around like a school child to establishments offering plain-vanilla experiences to travelers and financial kickbacks to tour companies, you’ll diminish your chance to absorb cultural differences—presumably an important reason you’re traveling in the first place. By investing yourself fully, meeting people along the way, you’ll have a chance to see how other people live, think and look at the world.

9. Be a cultural chameleon. Forget McDonald’s, Burger King and Starbucks! Leave Holiday Inn and Ramada at home! Travel is a cultural Pandora’s box rife with new culinary and recreational experiences; to fully appreciate these, eschew American-style hotels and restaurants and patronize establishments that reflect the culture you’re visiting. Drink Guinness in Ireland, red wine in France, raki in Turkey and ouzo in Greece. Eat crêpes in Paris, gelato in Florence, herring in Amsterdam, octopus in Rhodes and tapas in Madrid. Wherever you go, look for places that cater to locals rather than corporate institutions. By sleeping, eating and playing like a temporary resident rather than a tourist, you’ll maximize your travel experiences.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Top Tips for Adventure/Budget Travel, #4-6

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!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Top Tips for Adventure/Budget Travel, #1-3

Having spent nearly half of the past two years abroad, on trips to Italy, France, Spain, Greece, Turkey and my beloved Holland, I've picked up a few tips for independent adventure/budget travel. This is travel that doesn't involve travel agents, package deals or organized tours, on which all decisions are made by you. It's the kind of travel that makes me feel alive and creative; I hope you'll share my passion for it!

On all my recent journeys, I've traveled solo, but was rarely alone unless I wanted to be. My best experiences have been in Amsterdam, but that is probably because I love everything about the place and what makes it tick. What's your favorite city and why do you love it?

I'd like to share some of what I've learned in the past few years with other travelers, starting with my first three tips for adventure/budget travel of a baker's dozen. If you can't wait for future posts on this blog, you can access my 13 top tips for independent adventure/budget travel from a link at http://wordgeisha.com/WGblog2008.html.

Do you have a tip for solo adventure travel on a budget? I invite you to share it with me and my readers; let's establish a community of like-minded globe-trotters! And with that invitation, I give you my first three tips from my top 13:

1. Don’t be afraid to go on your own! With all the resources in print and on the Internet, planning and booking an affordable trip without a travel agent or tour company is now easier than ever. Whether you organize yours down to the last detail (not recommended) or leave some things open to serendipity, it’s simple to research and reserve transportation, accommodations and even entertainment via the Web and travel guidebooks—based on personal interests and stamina. For reservations on the fly, travel with a laptop or find Internet cafés throughout Europe and Eurasia.

2. Be creative with flights. It may be cheaper to book an overseas flight to London, Dublin or Frankfurt rather than flying directly to your final European destination. From any hub city, it’s usually easy to get to other destinations affordably via independent, no-frills airlines, e.g., Ryanair, easyJet and Pegasus. All these airlines have user-friendly websites that make online booking a breeze. Two cautions:

a. They often fly to small, out-of-the-way airports, so you need to factor in the time and cost of getting to your final destination;

b. You’re limited by baggage weight and amount restrictions, so pack accordingly...lightly…or be prepared to pay a hefty overage charge or be bumped from a flight (as I was) if you have more than one carry-on.

You can also save time and money by flying “open jaw” (into one city and out of another), avoiding a costly and inconvenient return to your starting point.

3. Use local transportation. Unlike Southern California, Europe is easy to get around via plane, train and bus. From Nice, I explored the French Riviera for pocket change, hopping on and off luxury coaches that travel between cities; in Turkey, I toured via comfortable, air-conditioned buses locals use, for far less than it would have cost me in gas or tour services for the same journey. Many European cities, e.g., Paris, London, Amsterdam and Madrid, are easy to get around via metro, tube and tram. By learning local transportation systems, you’ll save hundreds in taxi fares and/or escort-tour services.

Thanks for visiting. Watch for my next three tips soon!