Tim Leffel knows how to travel on the cheap: As an experienced travel writer and writer of The Cheapest Destinations Blog, he's been sharing the best spots you can visit for surprisingly little money. He spoke with us about how to travel on the cheap.
Why do we commonly see travel as being so expensive?
Most people, and especially Americans, try to cram their travels into a very short period they have planned on far in advance. So they are used to thinking of vacations in terms of short jaunts to resorts and big cities. They go where everyone else is going at the same time as everyone else, so they're paying top dollar for everything. The average budget traveler can circle the globe on $50 a day, while the average vacationer going to a beach resort can easily spend eight to ten times that amount.
What makes a great cheap destination? What do you look out for, beyond price?
The places featured in The Cheapest Destinations Blog are all ones that are a great value, but also present a lot of compelling reasons to go. Just because a country is cheap doesn't mean it's attractive. But ones like Peru, Ecuador, Guatemala, Nepal and Vietnam have a lot of different things to do, see and experience. They would be worth visiting even if you were a billionaire, but they happen to be priced at a level almost anyone can afford.
How adventurous do you have to be to find a great budget vacation? Will you have to go into the wild, or can you just sit on a little-known beach?
If you're a city person, you can visit one of the world's great capitals like Budapest or Bangkok. If you're a mountain person, you can go hiking in the Andes or Himalayas. If you're a beach person, you can find a cheap and quiet one that suits you in Nicaragua, Cambodia, Indonesia or even Mexico. You can "go into the wild" if you want, but a lot of inexpensive travel destinations you can fly right into.
You've got a focus on being a nomad and traveling on the cheap. What are some good ways to save money on a "working" vacation?
As many digital nomads have discovered, as long as you have a good Wi-Fi connection, any place in the world can be your office. I'm writing this from a $59 hotel where I'm staying with my family in the city of Oaxaca.
The cliche of writing from a hammock or a beach chair is a joke though: You will more likely be in a coffee shop or holed up in your room if you have real work to do. Still, any place with a good connection can allow you to do phone calls, upload photos, and send a blizzard of email, and these days you can get a broadband connection from almost anywhere you would travel to. If you don't want to take a chance, you can pick up a USB 3G stick from the local cell company and have a connection anywhere. If you have an unlocked smartphone, you can just switch out the SIM card and buy pre-paid data time.
Should you book through a travel agent or a website?
What's a travel agent? No, seriously, it is worth seeking out a travel agent for a really specialized vacation or if you're spending big bucks on a once-in-a-lifetime experience like an African safari or a multi-generational adventure. Or a cruise. But for budget travelers, it's much cheaper to go direct, and that includes booking adventure tours at the destination, not through an agency in another country in advance. There are a few exceptions of tour companies geared to those on a budget, like G Adventures and Intrepid, but that's done more to save time and hassle than to save money.
What are some lesser-known destinations budget-minded travelers should consider?
In the Americas, most budget travelers should skip Costa Rica and Belize and head somewhere like Guatemala or Nicaragua instead. They can do a lot of the same activities but spend far less money in the process. Mainland Ecuador is a great value, too, and there's enough to do in that small country to fill up weeks of time. Most of Southeast Asia was a bargain 20 years ago, and it's still a bargain now. In Europe, head to Portugal if you have to go to classic Europe, or head east to get bargain prices in Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria. The Czech Republic is still a bargain, too, if you limit your time in Prague and visit other areas.