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Secrets of Travelling Cheaply

An article by Patricia Perkins
See her livejournal blog at www.livejournal.com/users/travelertrish

Planning a trip abroad this summer? Or, perhaps, you’d like to plan a trip abroad but think there’s no way you could afford it?

On my first trip to Europe in 1970, I learned seven simple secrets of traveling cheaply, and I’ve traveled the world ever since. Some of them are definitely outside the comfort zone of most Americans. But how many of us would be willing to push the comfort zone a little just to walk on the French Riviera or tour the Louvre and see the Mona Lisa? Or, as I did in 2001, climb the ancient steps of the Aztec ruins of Machu Picchu, Peru?

Here, then, are the secrets of traveling cheaply:

Secret #1: The Traveler’s Network: Everywhere in the world, there is a group of people, mostly young but not always, who are traveling cheaply and seeing the places they’ve always dreamed about. Many of them are Australians, since those fine folk feel so far away from the rest of the world that they leave home after high school or college for five or six years, and travel to Europe and beyond.

“And then we go home and get a job, a wife and a catamaran, mate,” one of them told me, sitting on a wall overlooking the sunset over the rose buildings of Nice, France.

Because they travel so long, the Australians have to know the cheapest restaurants and hotels, the most accessible job opportunities, the best off-the-beaten-path sites, and the least expensive ways to get from A to B.

At the beginning of January, I sent my 18-year-old daughter off to London with the address of a hostel where the Aussies stay in London. She stayed a week, so the price of a bed was $10 a night. By the end of the week, she’d found a plane ticket to Athens, one way, for $66. Such is the power of the traveler’s network.

The traveler’s network is better than a guidebook, because it’s more up-to-the-minute and never out of date. And—shhh, don’t tell anyone—the network knows about secret beaches and garden-spot hotels that won’t make the guidebooks for years.

Secret #2: Lonely Planet, Let’s Go and Rough Guide: To find the traveler’s network on any trip, you’ve got to start somewhere. Three guidebooks, written with the low-budget traveler in mind, will point you in the right direction: Lonely Planet, Let’s Go and Rough Guide. I personally prefer Lonely Planet, since it has kept its “bottom end” hotel list when the others moved further upscale. The hostels and budget hotels found in the pages of these books will open the world of the traveler’s network to you, because this is how most travelers start their trips. They find the first congenial cheap hotel listed in the guidebook, head for the snack bar, the terrace coffee shop or the restaurant, and there they find folks spread out, writing in diaries, stuffing enormous backpacks with clean laundry, talking over their next adventures: in short, getting and giving the information that the low-budget traveler needs.

This scene, this traveler’s roundtable, with travelers at tables littered with coffee cups and ashtrays, reading, writing diaries, cleaning cameras, and sharing information, can be found from Paris to Peking, from Bukkittinggi to Bora-Bora, from Kathmandu to Terra del Fuego.

The low-budget traveler uses one of these guidebooks to find the traveler’s roundtable, the first cheap hotel in an unfamiliar city, the closest internet café, the basic outline of the trip. The only planning I do for a trip abroad is with a Lonely Planet guidebook. I let the traveler’s roundtable help me put on the finishing touches.

The first two secrets alone are enough to take you on the adventure of a lifetime. You’ll learn the next five secrets—and more—sitting at the traveler’s roundtable. Still, just so you know what you’re getting yourself into:

Secret #3: It’s just a bed. A hotel is not a shopping mall, a lap of luxury, or the ultimate destination of your trip. If the sheets are clean, the mattress free of creatures, and the room is located far enough from the toilets to be free of those odors, it’s a fine hotel. Every now and then, a little splurge for a view into a garden won’t hurt. But most of the money spent on traveling is wasted on hotels, where, after all, all you do is sleep. In Europe, rooms with showers and toilets down the hall are much cheaper. Youth hostels, dormitory style, are even cheaper. And youth hostels have inexpensive restaurants, cooking facilities, and certain access to the traveler’s network. Being young is not a prerequisite.

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