The Beginnings of a ‘Lucky’ Traveller

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Ladakh, Lake Pangong Tso      A moment long awaited 

When the travel daydreams first invaded, I was in my mid-twenties and juggling two jobs. Teaching Yoga early mornings and editing legal journals all day. Within the pressure cooker of that lifestyle, I felt a deep desire to ‘see the world’. A desire that needed examining, not ignoring.

Getting Real about Daydreams

What places/experiences called out to me and why? Was I chasing a feeling that I could just as well experience in my city? Or did I feel drawn someplace else with a yearning that nothing else could satisfy? How badly did I want it? What sacrifices was I willing to make? What if the place turned out to be a massive disappointment once I got there? What if most places are best visited in the imagination (or NatGeo) and in real life are just over-hyped caricatures of themselves? What if I get robbed/raped/mugged/all-of-the-above as a lone woman exploring a big bad world? Was I running away from something? What was my deep-down purpose of travel (hoping I had one)?

It may seem like over-thinking, but I needed to answer these questions for myself long before I started looking up hostels and international flight bookings. Knowing my reasons for travel gave me the conviction to go ahead with my plans without second-guessing the hell out of them. 

Getting Real about Travel

Two big assumptions underlying the ‘lucky’ traveller myth are that travel is all expensive and all fun.

It isn’t all expensive: There are so many ways to travel non-expensively these days. The more comfort, certainty and convenience one needs, the more one has to spend. Be willing to rough it out and you’re left richer both in spirit and wallet.

It isn’t all fun: Ever looked at a dried lemon peel hoping to find nourishment from it? Gotten lost with a dead phone under a dark sky on an island where no one speaks any language you know? Frozen your legs off in khaki pants on the world’s highest ski resort? You can hazard a guess, but I can tell you from first-hand experience – none of those are fun. But it’s also true that it’s not an adventure unless you are miserable at some point. I’ve seen even the most organized travellers get into big trouble on the road. But when you immerse yourself in the highs of travel enough, the lows don’t keep you off the road. Instead, they magnify the highs and the risks deepen the appeal.

How do I fund my travels?

As a freelancing Yoga teacher and writer, I don’t get a fixed monthly paycheck. But I fund my travels the same way most people fund the things important to them – be it a car, a cell-phone, a higher education or a wedding. By making it a priority. Travel is doable – if I prioritize it. The way many people I know prioritize weekend drinking, televisions (and other dubious devices), endless shoe collections, big fat weddings, fancy cars to get stuck on non-fancy roads in, and expensive colleges that have one neck-deep in debt before a first job. I don’t question anyone’s right to choose differently from me, unlike judgmental conformists who rain their list of ‘shoulds’ at me. Different circumstances, perspectives and goals = different financial decisions. What I find strange is when financially comfortable people tell me I’m ‘so lucky’ I ‘get to’ travel, and ‘if only’ they could as well. Of course I’m fortunate and privileged to be able to travel, but that is no bigger a fortune or privilege than a higher education, a car, a big fat wedding, overflowing wardrobes, frequent movies and dinners – some of the many things I consciously and gladly forgo to save money, time and energy for travel. I’ve yet to hear someone being told they’re ‘lucky’ they wear good shoes, drive a car or use a snazzy handbag. Somehow it’s understood they must have planned and worked for them, and nothing fell out of the sky on a ‘lucky’ recipient’s head one fine day.

Luck German proverb

Amen

Financial Intelligence & Prioritization

Two qualities I’ve seen in all the frequent travellers I’ve known. Too bad financial intelligence isn’t a school subject, and many learn it the hard way. I fully recommend devouring books on the subject (such as Money: A Love Story, Rich Dad Poor Dad, and many more), talking to anyone who may know more than you about it, and getting as financially intelligent as you can. I’ve a long way to go, but even being a beginner on the subject of financial intelligence has been highly empowering.

Prioritization began with an honest look at my (not society’s) priorities in life.

  • Doing things my well-thought-out way instead of blindly conforming?     Yes please
  • Being accountable to myself as a freelancer instead of a fixed paycheck and boss?      Worth a shot
  • Backpack and hostels over dinners and dresses?      Any day
  • Researching cost-effective travel options instead of overspending?  Definitely
  • Uncertainty and misadventures over meetings and desk-job?                 Where do I sign!

Pruning my social circle proved a HUGE money-saver. I saw that nights out with people who don’t inspire/conspire anything beyond the next drink wasn’t worth even the cab fare. And if I ‘fell in love’ with something in a shop window, I listened to the voice in my head calculating how many days in a Croatian hostel I could buy instead. The choice was suddenly simple, and every single choice added up over time into a sizeable travel fund, many travel opportunities, and the will to just go.

And that’s the gist of how this traveller began to get ‘lucky’ – lucky enough to be a diligent, money-conscious and prioritizing traveller. Let me know in the comments your thoughts/questions. Glad to spread the luck!

Big Adventures, Small Budgets and the ‘Lucky’ Traveller

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I’ve often been called ‘lucky’ for being a traveller, as if all my trips just fell into my balcony like rainbows and all I had to do was dance into them. I’d like to debunk that myth and explain how I made my latest trip happen, in this and a few more posts. Read on to find out what my latest trip expenses looked like, and how smaller budgets lead to bigger adventures.

In my two-month Italy-Germany-Slovenia trip this year, I spent EUR 2500 or roughly INR 1.8 lakhs, striking a balance between pinching every penny and overspending. My biggest expenses were food and flights, in that order. Here’s a rough breakdown:

Flights: Booking flights from Bangalore to Milan a few months in advance, I grabbed them at a great deal: INR 33,000 two-way. The fare doubled a week later, so I cannot emphasize enough the value of booking flights as early as possible. I used Google flights and Skyscanner to fish out the best deals, but I chose GoIbibo for booking because its GoCash system gave me INR 2,500 off on the ticket. Where there’s a bargain, there’s an Indian  ;)

Food: Having access to a kitchen is a huge money-saver, especially as a vegan/vegetarian on a long trip. Friends with kitchens are friends indeed, and it’s easier to cook for two or three than to cook for one, so it’s a win-win. Some AirBnb’s come with kitchens as well. With my basic culinary skills, YouTube was always my secret ingredient (very sophisticated, I know). It can make a chef out of anyone with its gazillion cooking videos. Eating out everyday is a money-guzzler like no other, and I did end up eating out a lot as I was out all day most days. So food turned out to be my biggest expense and I had to take that in my stride. The simplest pizza (Marinara was my favourite) will cost you 4 EUR, and a Tiramisu (who can or should resist those?) another 4 EUR. Do yourself and the planet a favour by saying NO to bottled water. Use a handheld filter (I used LifeStraw) and you won’t have to spend a few Euros on water everyday. And if anyone tells you it’s rude to bring your own water in a restaurant (as I was told), tell them it’s ruder to bring plastic into the oceans. Environment > etiquette.

Transport: Public transport in small-town Italy isn’t perfectly on time, but I found it reliable and fun nonetheless. One-hour journeys cost about 4 EUR and tickets are sold at tobacco/newspaper stores called Tabacchi’s, marked with ‘T’ signs. Tickets can also be bought on the buses, but they cost more. On my first ride, I’d forgotten my ticket and the driver didn’t have any tickets on him, so he actually defended my right to travel ticketless when an official demanded to see my ticket. I love it when humanity trumps rules  :)

For inter-city and inter-country travel I used FlixBus mainly. Tickets between 5 to 25 EUR, on-app bookings, full refund on cancellations upto 20 minutes prior to departure, phone charging points at every seat, Wifi and bathrooms onboard. Get a window seat and you’re all set for a happy journey. But in Ljubljana, Slovenia I found that a state-operated bus from the main bus stand was less than half the Flixbus price, with the same journey time, so I switched loyalties temporarily. Always helps to compare prices!

Look out for introductory offers of taxi apps like Uber, and get a free ride on them. I found a 22 EUR discount on Uber. BlaBlaCar and MegaBus had some great deals too, the latter even offering tickets at 1 EUR between big cities!

Accommodation: This would have been the lion’s share of my expenses if it weren’t for friends who let me stay with them. And of course, the Holy Grail of every budget traveller – Hostels. Ostello Villa Camerata in Florence, Lake Como Hostel and especially Hostel Tresor in Ljubljana (Slovenia) surprised me with their high value-for-money quotient. Booking hostels on the Hotels.com app was beneficial – much lower rates, pay-on-arrival and free cancellations.

Lake Como Hostel, Menaggio, Como, Italy

  View from Lake Como Hostel. Not bad for INR 1,500 a night (20 EUR)

AirBnB can take a bow for an artistic underground studio apartment I spent a few days in (30 EUR per day, https://www.airbnb.co.in/rooms/10134369?s=8XJ1TL0p), and its wonderful host A’Ishah. A new friend I’m sure to meet if we’re ever in each other’s countries again. The more I travel, the more friends I make around the world – my future hosts and guests in good measure🙂

Milan, AirBnB, Italy

With my artistic AirBnB host A’Ishah in Milan

Smaller the budget, bigger the adventure?

Maybe the size of our adventures doesn’t have a direct correlation with the size of our budgets. Maybe the biggest adventures are more likely necessitated by the smallest budgets.  Grace under pressure, mandatory minimalism, always-on presence of mind, resourcefulness, a bright-side mindset even when plans go awry, legs that can walk forever out of sheer practice, long bus rides, instincts heightened over time, deep gratitude for simple pleasures, conversation skills with absolute strangers even in languages new to you, hostel friendships, non-manufactured cultural experiences, a hawk’s eye for deals/discounts/scams – some of the many (in)valuables only a small budget can buy you.

So if you think a small budget is the obstacle between you and your next adventure, think again. If you squint at it from another angle, it has way more adventures lined up for you than all the hedge funds in the world could organize. If you’re ‘lucky’ enough to be a diligent, money-conscious, prioritizing traveller, that is. More on that in next week’s blogpost!

 

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