I feel the anxious rumblings in my stomach like it was only yesterday.
Filing through the aisle of our British Airways flight, we squished into our stiff coach seats and watched the landscape of Chicago shrink and eventually disappear as we rose into the air and into an international territory of sky. Feeling as if we could wait no longer for our adventure to begin, we ingested sleep aids to speed our arrival and we dozed uncomfortably in our seats.
We had been planning for months. Researching the must see destinations, mapping out the smallest details and saving everything we could. We gave ourselves six weeks to conquer six countries. We prepared for every situation we could think of, the language barrier, weather conditions, dangers associated with travel and… We did not put enough emphasis on one problem…running out of money.
After landing in London, notorious for being one of the most expensive European cities, we realized the budget we alloted ourselves was beyond limited. We were going to have to make some adjustments if we wanted to survive. Thus entered the college life mindsets.
Moving from hostel to hostel on the tightest budget one could possibly limit themselves to, we reveled in the endless possibilities the world offered. Living cheaply helped me realize what had been missing in my life up until this point. Travel, adventure, exploration, the unknown, mystery. The trip filled a void I was unaware existed in my soul. Travelling switched things up, kept me on my toes, kept everything interesting and taught me about myself.
Frugal travel taught me that I can accomplish more than I thought with less than I could have guessed.
Our summer 2010 backpacking trip was the first experience any of us had with true freedom, little to no communication with our parents meant we were in control. With no one to answer to we felt liberated, free, so young and alive.
This also meant that we were in control of our day to day lives with a limited supply of funds. Using our skills learned from living as cheap college students we transformed into resourceful travelers. Our collective energy became more open minded and I learned what it meant to feel completely happy.
Many times we associate tourism with having money but from experience I can say it is possible to travel poor. Here are a few tips I took away from my escapades:
- Do your research. Preparation becomes an asset once you embark on any trip. When planning for your trip you can compare the cheapest hostel/accommodation, factor in exchange rates and know the most affordable places to go. Museums most often have free or discounted days. Many places have student discounts in place that last until age 26. Through my research I found Sandemans, a company that offers free, laid back and educational walking tours in most major European cities. Asking your hostel’s front desk for tips is also a valuable resource.
- A creative rearrangement of priorities may be in order. To fit a more economic lifestyle, you need to ask yourself what you most want to get out of your trip and act according to that goal.
- Personally, I wanted to see as many art museums as I could, I wanted to meet people, learn and experience life as the locals lived. To afford this I shopped at grocery stores and shared food with my travel mates. We refused to take a cab and relied on our feet to take us anywhere we needed to go. Not only did walking save us money and provide exercise, it gave us a chance to see Europe on a more intimate level. We got to see places and people we would have missed if it weren’t for our walking. On occasion we skipped a meal to afford a museum admission (museums and cultural events became more important to me than food).
- Instead of spending our precious coins at a Laundromat we washed our clothes while using the hostel shower to afford a beer at the end of an exhausting day of sight seeing.
- Shifting your priorities may seem extreme but remaining conscious of them can really make or break a trip. Rearranging my lifestyle to fit a more frugal one led me to meet interesting people and put my actions into perspective.
- Keep an open mind. Traveling with limited funds can hinder your ability to do everything you want. But it is not the end of the world. Not being able to go to a five star dinner or afford the most spacious and comfortable room can lead to adventure. Staying positive and accepting your situation helps you go with the flow. The flow can take you to a traditional festival in the Czech countryside, lead you to a home cooked Dutch meal or to a bridge that comes alive at night with music, dancing and aspiring young artists of Paris. Going with the flow and an open mind can take us on exciting journeys, force us into intriguing encounters with strangers and give us invaluable life experience.
- Enjoy the smaller things. When you aren’t spending money on anything besides necessities you appreciate how nice an ice cream cone tastes. When walking miles a day sitting on a park bench and watching the world pass by is so relieving. Enjoying the simple things life offers us takes your attention away from things you cannot afford.
- Here are a few useful travel resources to get you started: NY Times Frugal Traveler, Lonely Planet, Student Universe
Journeying through Europe opened my eyes to not only my potential but also the way to live a better life. I observed how important enjoying the smaller things in life is, realizing that I should thankful for every moment I have rather than spending too much time worrying about my future. I do not have time to take life for granted because it moves so quickly, exploration showed me a way of life that was completely unpredictable.
It taught me that listening to and observing another’s silence can say more than mindless chitchat. It brought me in touch with the important role tranquility and relaxation should play in ones life. The people I surrounded myself with found no reason to take life too seriously. Most importantly, I learned to make mistakes. With mistake comes experience.
Everything happens for a reason and you should accept what life throws at you with smile and understanding rather than pessimism. Go with the flow, it will only lead you in the most interesting direction, surely a path you could not have predicted.
Hayley is studying journalism, politics and international media at the University of Colorado at Boulder. In between juggling school and various jobs, she makes time to snowboard, travel, write and craft. She surrounds herself with people that motivate and embrace her as she strives to make a difference in anyway she can. Follow her on twitter.