When less is more

Top three strategies that I passionately follow in order to save money during travel.

↑ Free vacation!! A bicycle, a tent and camping in a farm. Unfortunately I cannot do this everywhere…

Being frugal on the road is not difficult at all. Infact, after a while, it becomes a way of life because it’s natural for us to want more for less. Travellers LOVE talking about the things they do to save money and I am no exception.

Here is how I save on travel, food and accommodations during my trips:

1. Squeeze into a chicken bus

↑ Mini-bus and shared-taxi terminal in Wangdue, Bhutan

Public transportation is cheaper than hiring a private taxi. But besides the money part, I like traveling with locals to get a better feel of the place. I feel more secure travelling in a group, and I get to see the countryside, chat with fellow passengers, even get lost and find my way back: such experiences have given me ever lasting memories, and the stories I take home are priceless.

The other day, I got into a very crowded chicken bus and the driver was still forcing more people in. Just like India, buses in Mexico seem to have infinite capacity. A woman boarded with a big bag and a baby. The baby was handed over to the grandma sitting next to me while the bag was thrust on my lap. The journey was uncomfortable but I’d totally do it again!

no images were found

↑ Ticket window at Pereslavl Zaleskiy, Russia

Do the math: Travelling in Mexico from Valladolid-Cancún:
Private taxi: $250 (bargain hard!)
First-class bus with AC, reclining seats: $14
Second-class bus: $9
Combi-van with someone else’s bag on your lap: $7

2. Savour some street food

no images were found

↑ Taco in Cuernavaca, Mexico. $0.30.

I admit I was terrified of getting traveler’s diarrhea in Mexico. But with basic precautions, I was able to shrug off those fears and indulge in yummy street fare. Not only is the food cheap and served fast, but also it is more authentic compared to restaurants where the chefs usually customize the dishes for tourists.

Conversations at food stalls can lead to random and interesting outcomes. At one taco stand in Mérida, I was chatting with a guy eating next to me. Turns out that he was the lead guitarist of a popular band that was having a concert that same night. I left the place happily with a free ticket.

no images were found

↑ Pozole and Tostadas in Taxco, Mexico. $3.50. I needed help to finish all that!

Do the math: Typical lunch in Mexico-city:
1 chicken burrito in a mid-range restaurant: $5
2 Gorditas made by a Mexican mamma at a street corner: $1.50
3 large pork Tacos at a Taqueria: $1.2

3. Be a guest

↑ Sometimes you get a couch, sometimes you get a room! My CS host in Peru was very generous!

Couchsurfing is not as sketchy as it sounds. I’ve stayed int people’s homes and hosted many travellers at my place in Toronto. In the olden days, travellers used to knock on people’s doors to get a place to sleep. We are lucky to have a digital version of that custom, complete with identity checks, references, etc. Try it if you haven’t; need I state that it’s free?

My favorite couchsurfing moment was when I was invited to a large dinner in Russia and my host put a fish on my plate. A whole fish, I must clarify, complete with fins and scales… how the heck does one eat that? I also learned that if you finish your shot of vodka, your host will refill it rightaway (and its pointless to enter into a vodka-drinking contest there).

↑ My Russian host’s told me about this soviet-era canteen that, according to him, nobody knew.

Do the math: Accommodation in Moscow:
3-star hotel: $350
Dorm-bed in a hostel: $25
Couchsurfing: $5 (because I am a good guest, I bring a gift, make a meal or buy a drink for my host.)

Drawing the line

↑ Artist market and tourist trinkets in Cusco, Peru

Travel responsibly; be frugal without being cheap. A dollar may not have much value in the west, but in many countries it will buy you lots.

So, those were some of my favorite tactics to save money on holidays and do more with it. I’m curious to hear your tips!