Are you a ‘vacationer’ or a traveler? I define a vacationer as someone who typically journeys for two weeks or less. A real ‘traveler’ would go for at least a month or a season. I feel that most of the EFAM readers are or soon will be in the traveler genre. Sadly the majority of people do not have the opportunity to travel due to their employment, family, or other obligations. So when you are on vacation you need to make the most of your time, but when you are traveling you need to make the most of your money!
Vacationers usually are escaping stress, routines, and boredom of their day-to-day life. The time they have allotted is precious and each moment should be enjoyed if possible. Hassles should be avoided. For this reason hotels, resorts, and cruise lines are popular. People spend what ever their budget allows and sometimes even a little more thanks to the plastic in their pockets. This article has suggestions and hints to make the most of your money and enjoy traveling or as we here at EFAM like to call it, Escaping from America!
If you are savvy you can travel for about the same as living at home. This may be hard to believe for some, but I will show you what is possible. Your main expense could be airfare depending on where you live. But if you are traveling for extended periods (2-6 months) this expense averaged out against the cost of operating your car/cars on a daily basis will open your eyes. When you are gone for an extended period of time you can reduce your auto insurance to only comprehensive coverage saving you a bundle. No fuel bills and reduced auto maintenance will add to your savings, and fewer miles on your car equals less depreciation.
But what about accommodations, won’t that be expensive? Well it could be, but most travelers realize that a place with a pool might have to be sacrificed for a walk or short bus ride to the beach or desired ambiance. If you are like most ‘Escape’ travelers you probably want to be in a warm climate in the winter. The money you save on home utilities (lights, heat, phone, internet etc.) will go a long way to paying for a modest place in paradise. Instead of dining out as frequently as you are accustomed to, try having a picnic in the fresh air where food tastes better anyway. Unlike vacationers, a traveler will do most of their own cooking and reserve restaurants for special moments.
Now of course some of this depends on your choice of locations for your ‘escape’. Latin American countries offer the lowest cost and best retirement potential, so I will offer my advice accordingly. You can stay in one or two locations or travel around gaining personal knowledge of different locations with retirement or winter living in mind. The money some people sink into fast-depreciating RV’s could buy quite a place in a sunny southern country. There are various accommodation options to consider for your travels, including hostels, hotels, home stays, and monthly/weekly rentals.
Another way you will save money away from home is on groceries. Fresh food at the mercados is priced for the locals. And most mercados will have a group of small eateries serving up fresh food at bargain prices, this is local culture at its best!
While most consider hostels to be for the backpacker set, they are definitely worthy of consideration. Most have kitchens available and along with dorms full of bunk beds many also have private rooms with shared bath or in-suite options. One can visit with other travelers in the evening over a drink you bought from a store, not a more costly bar. It is true that most hostel patrons are under 30, but from the advertising and websites it is easy to tell if a hostel is party central or a more low-key mellow place. Some people start at a hostel and then find longer-term local rentals by walking around looking for local bulletin boards and for rent signs. Check www.hostelworld.com and www.hostelbookers.com
In Latin America there are many smaller budget hotels that are family operated, which equals safe and clean. Even most of the cheapies now have wi-fi. Some have kitchenettes and most will have weekly or monthly rates just for the asking. Stay a night or two to see how the noise-comfort level is before bargaining for an extended stay. You won’t find much information about these types of places on the net since most do not have sites so guidebooks are helpful. Also when you are at a location by just walking around you can discover some hidden gems. This is the most flexible option.
The new kid on the block is what I call home-stays. This is now an industry thanks to www.airbnb.com and others. If you are not familiar with this, let me explain. People rent out rooms in their homes or even the entire place. Most include kitchen privileges and even the use of their washing machine. Airbnb checks out the people and locations and also the customers. They do this by confirming phone numbers and bank or Paypal information, thus authenticating you are a real person that can be held accountable. This is because you must pay through or be paid by airbnb. In fact airbnb has insurance against such acts as fraud, theft, etc. protecting both renter and owners.
In their website you can chose by location and see photos of the accommodations and their hosts. Also the map section shows you the approximate location, so you will know how far from the beach or city center you will be. They describe the included amenities and include any specific rules that the host may require. Most hosts include some information about themselves including what languages they speak etc.
There are many advantages of this type of service. First your belonging are safer, in hotels and hostels there is more chance of theft from other travelers and the staff themselves. Second you will have a kitchen to use that is better equipped, not just a few worn-out pots and pans. Third you will get to experience some real culture, in Latin America the families or people that do this are typically middle class or above so you will be able to relate to them. You will learn from the locals the best deals on restaurants, points of interest and other inside info that is not in the guidebooks. This is also a perfect way to improve your Spanish as well! Single travelers, especially women will feel safer and more comfortable this way.
There are variables that you cannot predict in any style of accommodation, such as traffic noise or the annoying rooster or dog next door. So start with two nights, then you can negotiate in person for a longer rate if you so desire. If you are only planning on staying in that area for only five days or less go ahead and reserve the entire stay. If the photos or the host’s description is not accurate or you have unforeseen problems with the host you can cancel the stay in person and airbnb will refund you the difference. You may ask the host questions concerning the place through the airbnb website before committing. After the host accepts and you pay, you will receive their physical and email address and phone number along with directions to their place and a goggle map showing exactly where it is located. You could then make a deal directly with them concerning extended stays and you both will save on the airbnb’s commissions. You can check their website out for free and later register if you are serious. Also along with airbnb that is headquartered in the USA there is www.housetrip.com www.homeaway.com www.roomorama.com www.wimdu.com There is even www.couchsurfing.org and www.globalfreeloaders.com these are sites with free short-term accommodations!
So hit the road, have an adventure, enjoy life!
Escape from America!