How to be a top traveller – a.k.a. a guide to being cheap abroad

Tuesday, Oct. 19

Almost immediately after starting our trip, Matt and I discovered our travelling strengths.

And since then, our routine has played out like clockwork.

I’m great at booking hostels and flights, organizing addresses and getting us from one point to the next. Matt is fantastic at keeping track of the money, packing our bags and judging the safety of situations.

But a few times we’ve tried to switch it up – for example, one day I tried to pack my backpack and hold the credit cards. For some reason, my bag ended up being off balance and a new shirt magically appeared.

But this time, Matt wanted to book our hostel in Rome. I think I know what went wrong. He saw the name and booked it.

So, for the next six nights we’re staying in the Peter Pan Hostel.

Yes – there’s even Peter Pan paintings on the walls.

The plus side: we’ve not found bed bugs (yet), we have windows and there’s a Supermarcato down the street. The down side: the walls are covered in dead bugs, the kitchen is closed for most of the day and the showers are only open for three hours in the morning and night.

But in all honesty, it’s not that bad. It’s a little bit out of the way – about 45 minutes to the city centre by bus and metro – but it’s well worth the money we’re saving.

Besides booking hostels on the town’s outskirts, we’ve picked up a few other money saving tips. Here they are:

– Don’t do organized group trips through a company. If you have an extra 10 minutes, take the time to figure out the bus or train route. Even if you have to pay an entrance fee at the attraction, you’ll still save about 70 Euros each – and you’ll be in charge of your day. (But still look at where the tour takes you, so you know where to go on your own.)

– Cook your meals when you can. Booking a hostel with a kitchen often costs a little more and can take a few extra minutes to find, but it’s worth it in the long run. Not only will you save money by making breakfast and dinner, you can even pack a lunch. And it’s a nice change from street vendor food. (The best and cheapest hostel site we’ve found is hostelbookers.com.)

– Wash your clothes in the sink. Before leaving Canada, Matt and I bought some laundry detergent sheets and a flat, rubber sink stopper. They’ve done the trick so far.

Beyond saving money, there’s three other tips we have for backpackers. In our opinion, they’ve made our trip better. First, sign up to a house sitting website; second, don’t plan too far in advance and third, don’t get over ambitious.

First – house sitting.

There are numerous websites that offer house sitting contracts around the world. The jobs vary from long to short term.

Some are for beachfront properties in Australia, others are tree houses in the Panama jungle. With a house sitting contract, you’ll be saving money by not paying for accommodation, and you’ll experience the forgotten luxury of having your own home – even if only for a few nights.

Second – planning in advance.

While it was terrifying to leave Canada without a concrete itinerary, it has been brilliant.

We’ve found that planning everything last minute is best, within a few days of leaving. Sometimes, we will book the next seven days of our trip, but never more than that.

(On the other hand, if you wait until the night before leaving to book a hostel, the selection is limited. Especially if you’re checking in on a weekend – always the busiest time.)

So far, we’ve enjoyed the freedom of staying somewhere if we love it, like Italy, or leaving if we’ve had a bad experience, like Greece.

Having an open agenda has also allowed us to take the advice of fellow travellers on places to visit and avoid. In addition, it’s helped us deal with things like strikes, bad weather patterns, expensive ticket prices and late ferry schedules.

And third – don’t be too over ambitious.

Our initial plan when we left home was to visit England, Turkey, Greece, Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, Amsterdam, Ireland and England. And from England, fly to New Zealand.

With three months, we figured we could do all of Europe. And I’m sure we could have.

But we opted to spend more time in each country so we weren’t rushed. Thanks to our flexible travel schedule, we’ve decided to skip a few countries and explore Italy for an extra two to three weeks.

While it would be amazing to see all of Europe in such a short time, the constant travelling makes you tired and irritated, and you tend to forget what city you are in – decreasing your appreciation for its history.

In our experience, we’ve really enjoyed having a home base and taking day trips, like we did in Florence.

Otherwise, the travel time between destinations wares you down. It takes about half a day to collect your bags, get to the bus/train/airport and then to the next city. It can take up to an hour to find your next hostel and then unpack and get re-organized.

After a few of those experiences, we put a stop to our one-night stop overs – unless it’s to a city with only one attraction you are looking forward to.

And there you have it – everything we’ve learned so far. Hopefully you can learn and maybe benefit from our experiences and mistakes.

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