With our paltry two weeks of vacation and work-obsessed culture, it can be tough for Americans to justify slowing down on our travels. It's tempting to squeeze in as many locations as possible - especially when adventuring overseas, but Ali Garland, the voice behind Ali's Adventures, suggests everyone try spending more time at one destination rather than bouncing around from city to city or country to country. It'll give you more time to see each destination and time to relax, she says.
"It gives you the chance to explore the culture more, try more of the food and meet some locals," Ali adds. "Plus, you lose so much time in transit if you're switching locations every couple of days."
Ali recently took a few minutes to answer questions for us about how she swings long-term travel - from how she saves to what she packs to where she stays. Here are some tips for how you can get started planning your next slow-cation:
Tell us about your site Ali's Adventures...when and why did you create it?
I started Ali's Adventures at the end of 2009 on a free platform and then switched to self-hosted July of 2010. I started the site as a way to enjoy travel in between my trips, but over time it has become more than that. I still write about my personal travel experiences, but with my stories, I aim to inspire others to travel.
Aside from writing about the destinations themselves, I also track what I spend in most locations and share the details on my blog so my readers can use that information to plan their own trips. I also write about my experiences as an expat living in Germany and what it's like to live a non-traditional life filled with travel.
What have been some of your favorite destinations to soak in over a long stay? What set them apart?
My husband and I spent three months in Berlin while he had a contract there, and we just fell in love with the city. It's so different from the rest of Germany, so international, so much more laid back and such diverse food. Even after three months, I felt like I had only scratched the surface. We also spent three weeks in Thailand recently, and it was really relaxed. The food was delicious, the scenery was gorgeous and everything was cheap, which is always a nice perk. Next up, we're spending four months in Italy and Spain to escape the cold German winter.
What advice do you have for saving for long-term travel?
Every situation is different, but the thing that helps me the most is comparing any purchase I'm considering with travel expenses. That $100 dress you're thinking of buying? That would pay for three or four nights in Thailand. Those $5 coffees you buy every morning? They add up quickly. If you make coffee at home, you could save enough for a flight to Europe in six to eight months. Only buy things you absolutely need. Don't buy anything you can't use once you hit the road. If you're giving up your home to travel, sell your furniture and anything else you won't need when you leave.
It all comes down to making travel a priority. My husband and I spend part of the year at home in Freiburg, Germany, and part of the year we're on the road, so we work while we travel. That way, we're still earning money to pay for travel and life, and we rent out our apartment while we're gone.
How do you approach paying for things like transportation, lodging and eating? What are some of your favorite money-saving tips?
I am not a luxury traveler or a bare-bones budget traveler. I like to spend as little as possible, but I don't like being miserable just to save a few bucks. My approach is to find the middle ground. I look for the cheapest transportation and lodging that will be safe and comfortable.
My husband and I often rent apartments when we travel. Sometimes they're cheaper than a hotel, but even when they're the same price, it still saves us money because we can eat a few meals in instead of always eating at restaurants. It's also great to have a washing machine so we can do laundry when we're traveling for longer than a week. I also like to look for grocery stores to buy snacks and drinks because it's cheaper than going to a cafe. I use public transportation to get around since it's usually pretty cheap, and there's no worry about getting ripped off by a taxi. Look for daily or weekly passes instead of single tickets.
What destinations do you think offer the most bang for your buck?
Cheaper countries that are accustomed to tourists are a great option. Most of South or Central America, most of Southeast Asia, and even Eastern Europe are inexpensive but have enough infrastructure for you to be comfortable. In Thailand, my husband and I spent about $15 per person per day on food and alcohol.
Europe is my favorite part of the world though, so if I'm looking for a more economical destination here, I go east, generally to a country that does not use the euro. Budapest was a wonderful and modern city, and fairly inexpensive. The little bit of Poland I've seen was fantastic and cheap. During a three-day visit to Poznan, Poland, my husband and I spent about $130 total on three meals a day plus alcohol. Definitely a lot of bang for your buck there.
You also manage Travel Made Simple!...can you tell us about that site? Who should be reading it?
I started Travel Made Simple in 2012 to teach people how to travel. It's a site for new and inexperienced travelers, anyone who wants to learn what steps to take when planning a trip and anyone who has travel fears.
I understand how overwhelming and scary travel can be because I've been there, and I want to help people get past those fears. I break travel down into smaller, simpler pieces to help my readers get out there and see the world. They can find advice on packing, transportation, layovers, tours, lodging, solo travel and more. I also have sections about specific destinations, inspiration and tackling travel fears. Through Travel Made Simple, I also offer travel consulting services, I've written a book called Packing Made Simple, and I'm working on another book about travel planning.
For those of us who want to travel lighter...name a couple items you recommend we always leave at home.
I almost never travel with a hair dryer. Most hotels or apartment rentals have them, and if you're traveling to another part of the world, your hair dryer probably won't work with the voltage anyway. I make sure my clothes coordinate, which helps cut down on shoes. Most women love their shoes, but picking just one or two pairs that will go with all of the outfits you pack will save a lot of space. Almost anything you're considering packing "just in case" can probably be left at home. You almost never need those just-in-case items, and if you do, there are stores where you're going.
What are some versatile items you make sure to never leave home without?
A sarong works well for a lot of things. It can be a beach towel, a cover-up, a light blanket or a makeshift pillow. I always bring a sweatshirt or light jacket, even to warm destinations. It's one of the few just-in-case items I allow myself because airplanes and buses are often cold. Many travelers don't like jeans because they're bulky, but I always bring jeans. I'm comfortable in them, and people wear them all around the world, so I won't stick out quite as much as I would if I had those zip-off travel pants. I also always pack tissues. There are just too many bathrooms out there without toilet paper.
How does packing smart save you money?
I almost always travel carry-on only, so that means I don't have to pay checked bag fees. Since that also means the airline can't lose my luggage, I don't have to worry about spending money to replace my stuff. Even aside from the money it saves me, I feel so much more free without having to lug tons of stuff around with me. You really don't need all that stuff. Pack less, and instead of paying to check your bags, spend that money on something you'll actually enjoy on your trip, like a nice dinner or a day tour.