Hitting the road is probably the single best activity that exposes you to new cultures, broadens your mind, moves you out of your comfort zone, allows you to meet new people and experience the wonders of the world. If you want to travel smart and not waste money in big hotels or on fancy dinners, there are many possibilities to consider.
For the cheapest cost of living and a relatively reliable internet connection, any digital nomad would advise you to go to Thailand (specifically Chiang Mai and Bangkok), Mexico (Playa del Carmen, Oaxaca) or Spain (Barcelona). South America, Turkey, Berlin, The Philippines, Gran Canaria, Budapest and Vietnam are also very popular. In the last couple of years, there’s also a rise of digital nomad camps where someone rents a house in a sunny location and invites other entrepreneurs and freelancers to work and live together for a few weeks or months. Popular digital nomad camps to consider are Sunny Office and Tarifa Workation Camp.
I’ve always felt a special connection with the people and culture of Spain. After visiting almost every big city in this country, I visited Valencia for the first time in June 2013. Valencia is the 3th biggest city of Spain after Madrid and Barcelona and I think it’s the most charming city in Spain. It’s located near the Turia river, a green area that used to be a river, but had a severe flood in 1957. Afterwards, they decided to make an amazing green area of it. This Turia bedding is 9 km long and there’s always something going on, from concerts and cultural events to circuses and family events. There are always people walking, running and riding their bicycles. It’s the central meeting area for the Valencians.
Here are some things I consider when I travel, and a brief summary of my travel expenses while on a regular trip to Valencia (Spain).
The airplane ticket is often the biggest travel expense. I always check plane tickets on Skyscanner first to find the cheapest prices. Skyscanner offers the broadest range of airlines and some nice tools for finding the best deals if you are flexible (either with your location or dates). But open this website in a “new private window”, not in a normal browser window, because if you check the same flight details a few times, prices might go up!
Trains and buses are of course the cheapest to take you from one major city to another. Once in the city, a great way to travel fast is going underground by subway, but another transportation tool that’s becoming very popular in the city nowadays is bike rental. If you like to ride a bicycle, I would really recommend renting a bike in the many bike rental shops in every major city.
A return ticket from Brussels or another major city in Europe to Valencia will cost +/- 70 euro. In Valencia, the traffic is not overwhelming and the streets are flat, so it’s really nice and convenient to ride a bike in the city center, in the Turia bedding and on the green bicycle path to the beach. I always go to Passion Bike to rent a bike. The owner is a very friendly and passionate guy. Price: +/- 6 euro per bike per day.
A place to sleep
Couchsurfing has long been the cheapest way to sleep in another country, namely “for free” in exchange for cultural exchange. Over the years, I’ve hosted several couchsurfers in my own apartment. But the last couple of years, the amount of interactions on the Couchsurfing site in general has gone down and the focus seems to have moved from couchsurfing (a free couch or bed at a local’s place) to AirBnb (a bed for a reasonable price at a local’s place). Last year I tried AirBnb for the first time and I liked the concept. When I travel alone, I also often stay in dorm room hostels with a price range between 10 and 15 euro on average per night. In many countries in South-East Asia and South America, the average cost will be lower and no more than 10 euro per night per person, breakfast included. In these countries, most hostels also have a (small) swimming pool, which is due to the often high temperatures, not a luxury.
In Valencia I would recommend The River Hostel (single beds in dorm rooms and a big public kitchen that you can use freely) and Pensión El Rincón (single or double rooms) for around 13 euro per bed per night. Beware that the owner of Pensión El Rincón is often sleeping behind his desk, so sometimes you just need to grab the keys to your room behind him and be careful not to wake him up.
Food and drinks
What better way to start the day than looking for fresh food nearby, an (indoor) market or street food. I have found an amazing variety of delicious street food for around 1 euro per dish. Just don’t eat anything that’s not freshly prepared in front of you. One time in the North of Thailand I didn’t follow this rule and spent the whole night on the toilet and in the shower.
In The River Hostel in Valencia they serve breakfast for free (included in the price of your dorm room bed), but it’s not very fresh or tasty. In El Mercado central, a big indoor market, the local Valencians go look for fresh bread, fruit and vegetables; 1 euro for a tasty sandwich and 1 euro for a fresh orange juice. Sold?
When I’m traveling alone, I’m always dedicated to make more money than I spend. The most flexible way to earn money while traveling is probably doing business online.
I often go to coworking space Wayco in Valencia: 10 euro per day (fast internet connection, soothing office light, coffee machine and eating possibilities included).
Not into digital services? Other ways to earn money while traveling are working in local communities around the world through Workaway. HelpX is an online listing of host organic farms, non-organic farms, farmstays, homestays, ranches, lodges, B&Bs, backpackers hostels and even sailing boats who invite volunteer helpers to stay with them short-term in exchange for food and accommodation. ‘Willing Workers On Organic Farms’ is a great way to work and travel Australia, but remember that it’s easier to enter Australia for work if you’re under the age of 30.
Meeting new people
While I don’t use Couchsurfing anymore to look for a place to sleep, I still think Couchsurfing meetings are a great way to get to know other people abroad.
In Valencia, I always try to join the weekly Couchsurfing meeting on Thursdays. We meet up at a bar with other travelers to have a few drinks and a good chat.
Whether someone owns or rents a house, many people have a “lost room” in their home that they could make a dorm room of. You could decorate this room and put it on AirBnb so you can earn some extra money for your next adventure. And while you’re not able to travel yourself, you can meet people from other countries and cultures in the comfort of your own home.
I hope this article makes it clear that traveling is not a luxury anymore. There are definitely many possibilities to travel at low cost, for free or while working. While many people still wonder how you can afford to travel, I often wonder how someone can afford not to.