Now can you tell us a little bit more about what caused you to take a special interest in budget travel?
Well that’s how I started out traveling and it kind of came out of that. The first time I did some serious long term traveling was when my wife and I went traveling around the world for a year and, as happens with a lot of people, I couldn’t stop after that, so we stayed home for a year and we took off for two more years and I taught English along the way in Turkey and Korea and I’ve just been traveling ever since and I do get to travel in style sometimes for my job, but I think I’m still a value oriented traveler at heart, especially when I’m paying for it and so that’s what I feel more comfortable writing about a lot of times.
How would you define budget travel?
Well I think it’s not necessarily a dollar figure, but it’s a matter of “Are you getting a great value for your money?” and “Are you traveling in a way that will make your money last?” So that amount can vary drastically from place to place, so if you are a budget traveler in Cambodia, you can be spending $15-$20 a day, but if you are a budget traveler in France, or even worse Scandinavia somewhere, the place matters a lot as far as the budget attached to that. I think in general, it’s a style of travel that involves not overpaying for things if you don’t have to.
Can you tell us a little bit more about your book “The World’s Cheapest Destinations”?
Yeah, the way that first came about, it’s on its 4th edition by the way, the 1st one came out more than a decade ago and when I was traveling around the world, there was nothing really out there that compared countries to others in the region and elsewhere for the least amount of money, so I wrote it.
And what are some of the cheapest American destinations to visit?
In general in the US, if you get away from the major urban centers, things get a lot cheaper. Any small town in America is generally quite reasonable. Any mid-sized city is generally a good deal if they have plenty of hotels to pick from, so you are going to spend a lot more in New York City or San Francisco, for instance, as you are in Nashville or Lexington, KY, or Austin or places like that. And then if you take it down a notch another level and go to small town America and state parks and national parks and places like that, you can bring down your costs a lot more. It’s all kind of related to real estate costs and labor costs and taxes.
What budget travel tips would you recommend to someone who is trying to cut back on their travel expenses?
Take your queues from the locals… Where are people of normal means eating out and where are they buying their groceries? How are they getting around the city? Ask people who are not rich and that should guide you to where you are going. There are lots of ways to save money on hotels and things, but that is only part of your expense. You are going to spend a lot on food and entertainment and getting from place to place. It’s always great to get a locals perspective and get their advice if you can. And as for how to save money on the rest of that, on accommodations, there’s a whole network of places out there catering to budget travelers especially. It’s a little tougher in the US because you kind of have to have a car because the cheapest places are generally motels, but in most of the world, that’s not true. You can go to the city center and get a cheap hotel.
Are there any budget travel apps that you’ve found to be particularly helpful?
Well, there are ones for the hostel sites like HostelBookers.com and I think they… Hostel World is the other one but I heard that they merged, actually, and those are useful for international travel. And the others are kind of obvious, Hotwire.com is great for saving money on hotels, Priceline still works well, and you can use something like Kayak, which is available for every operating system, and Trivago is another one, they pull their information from lots of other booking sites so you know you can get the best airfare deals most of the time and you can get the most hotel time by just checking one app. Otherwise, a lot of the apps out there are utility things that can help plan your trip or make it more organized. Each of the hotel booking sites has their own app. I don’t really see any of them out there than can help you constantly save money because prices are competitive and the prices don’t vary by all that much, especially in the developed world, in the US and Europe.
How do you like to save money on hotel expenses?
Well I try not to ever stay in a place that charges for WiFi, first of all! I think that its nuts that you should have to spend for that these days, it’s like paying for hot water. Again, it’s going to differ internationally as it is here in the US. We’re very chain oriented here in the US, so if you are going to save money on your travels, you are going to stay in a low to mid-ranged hotel. But going back to Hotwire, you can get it like 50% off from using them, you just pick a star rating and an area, so you don’t know exactly where you are staying, but if you search around on some message boards, you can probably figure it out pretty easily. But you know, with a lot of those hotels, there’s not much difference from one to another. But internationally, you can use message boards, hostel sites and just use your social media and see where other people have stayed. But a lot of times, there’s value to just getting there and looking around, especially if you have arrived in the morning because a lot of the budget hotels are clustered in the same area, so if you don’t like one you can just move on to another.
What are some of your thoughts about haggling to get a better price?
It all depends on your bargaining position of power, I guess you would say. If a place is already full and there is just one room left, you’re not going to have much luck with that and the lower the price of the room, the more you can usually bargain, especially internationally and in countries where that is normal, where they are bargaining for everything. It also depends on how long you are staying. If you are staying somewhere for 3, 4, 5 nights, then they’re much more likely to give you a better rate than if you just come in for the night and leave again. And one thing on that note – in the US, it’s kind of hard to do that in the US, just because everyone has these locked in agreements, you know they are a chain or they are with Expedia that they are not willing to haggle. But what they are willing to do a lot of times is give you an upgrade, so a lot of times if you can’t get an upgrade, you can get a suite instead of a room, which can be really great, especially if you are traveling with a family.
And speaking of families, what budget travel tips do you have for families?
This is one that I’ve used a lot personally, if you can find a cheaper or mid-range hotel and get a suite instead of staying in a nicer chain hotel and getting a regular room, your family will probably be a lot happier because you’ve got a lot more room to spread out and you are not on top of each other. And a lot of times you can get a suite in a place like Guatemala, for instance, or Nicaragua, or even Peru, and you can get a suite in a decent locally owned hotel for $50 or $60 and you can’t even get a basic room at a Marriott for a room like that. The other good solution, if you are going to be somewhere for a week or more, is to rent an apartment instead because then you’ve got cooking facilities and a TV and couches and a room to hang out and a table to eat at. You can look at sites like HomeAway.com or VacationRentals.com or places like Airbnb and rent a bigger place for the same amount of money.
What are some misconceptions that people tend to have about traveling on a budget?
Well I think a lot of people have a very outdated view about what their lodging is going to be like in those places, especially in hostels. There are some very nice hostels, especially in Europe. This guy actually just put out an ebook called Luxury Hostels of Europe, which sounds like an oxymoron, but they’ve got places that are like $25-$30 a night, that are super nice. Like really well designed with good lighting, you know secure storage for your stuff and you don’t have to share a bathroom. And for ones that do, you can rent out a room for four as a group and you’ve got one bathroom and a lot of them have bars and restaurants and roof decks, so they are a lot nicer than they used to be. And getting around is a misconception that they are going to be on terrible chicken buses all over the place and they are going to be crammed in with 30 other people, in a vehicle that was meant for 12. And that does happen sometimes, but getting from point to point if you are willing to spend $2 or $3 more, you can usually get around pretty comfortable these days.
How do you like to save money on dining?
That’s a tough one because it depends from place to place, you can eat almost anywhere in Cambodia or Vietnam, and unless you are going where business travelers go, you can eat really well on a budget and you can eat on the street for a dollar and it is going to be really, really good and so I think again following that example of what the locals are doing is going to be a good tip and you know maybe don’t eat street food on the first day you get there, but after your stomach has adjusted, as long as the place is busy and it looks clean, it is perfectly fine to eat that food. But you know, you have to take precaution and what will get you, usually, is if you drink the water. So take bottled water, of if you have a water purifier, bring it if you have to. But I think if you just eat where the locals eat, you are going to eat better and more cheaply. And if you go to the restaurants full of tourists, you are going to overpay almost every time.
What’s the least amount of money that you would say is needed to travel? Do you have a daily budget?
Yeah the cheapest places in Europe are still more expensive than the cheapest places in South East Asia or Central America, for instance, but I like to say that if you are a single parson traveling on your own, usually somewhere between $30-$60 a day, you can travel to pretty much any country in the book, after airfare, sometimes it is going to be on the low end of that scale and sometimes it is going to be more. You know the guy Matt Kepnes who has a book out called “Travel The World on $50 A Day,” I think that is a pretty good rule of thumb because it is going to average out to that if you travel around the world in a year and you go to places that are reasonably priced. You know, you might spend a little more in Hungry than you would in Nicaragua, but still, it is going to come out to that level and so for a couple, maybe somewhere between you know $50 and $120 a day. A couple can usually get by on one and a half times what a single person can because you are sharing taxis and you are sharing food sometimes and you can carry one of a lot of items instead of two. And you can bargain prices down a lot of times because there are two of you and you can share a room and there are a lot of reasons and you can spend a bit less if you’re a couple or just two friends traveling together, I mean by couple, just two people that are sharing a room.
What’s the cheapest trip you’ve ever been on?
I think it’s easier to say by which country, but I spent a good amount of time in Nepal and India and that was probably the cheapest all together. I’ve been to India a few times and that’s still probably the cheapest place in the world and with Nepal, it’s one of those two, either India or Nepal, depending on where you go. The big difference is that there are parts of India that have quite a few tourists, so it just depends on where you are. And as far as this part of the world, in the Americas, it would probably be Nicaragua and Bolivia, those are the cheapest places. And as far as trips go, I took my family to South East Asia last year and we went to three countries and it was quite reasonable, but we were traveling on about a mid-ranged budget because we had three weeks and we were spending about $150 a day and that was our budget and it was still pretty cheap, but we were not trying to be super frugal, we were staying in decent places and eating what we wanted, but South East Asia is the classic backpacker place to go first because you can get to a lot of places over land because they are all really close to each other. And that whole area there, Thailand, Louse, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia – you can travel through all of those places quiet reasonably.
I saw that you were a Tampa resident for a few years, so I am curious if have any tips or suggestions for visitors?
I’m going to go back there after I return from Mexico, that’s where I am going to move, mostly because my family on my wife’s side, so that’s how we ended up there. It’s a good beach town; you know Clearwater and St. Petersburg Beach. You know one thing I would give for those really into cycling, there is a really long trail there, that I think is 37 miles long that goes from the bottom of St. Petersburg all the way to the top of Tarpon Springs and that is a really cool route to take and you would spend the night along the way, if you wanted and go up and back and that’s a lot of fun. If you Kayak, there’s a lot of places because there is so much water, it’s a neat place to kayak.
You know one thing I will give as a tip, if someone is think of going to Thailand at some point and they want to get a taste of it, every Sunday, there’s this Thai Temple in Tampa that the monks come out and make all of this food and you can come and buy their food for reasonable prices and it is really authentic food and it’s a total trip to go there because there’s Thai writing on all of the signs and there is a temple there that looks like you are back in Bangkok and it’s a really fun and cheap thing to do if you’ve got a vehicle and you can drive over there to it. But otherwise, it’s kind of a mid-range city so things aren’t all that expensive there. There are lots of mid-priced hotels, especially in Tampa itself, a lot of things to do that aren’t too expensive, restaurants that aren’t too expensive. So yeah it’s a good place to visit.
Do you have any tips for people taking their first trip outside of the Western Hemisphere?
I would just tell them to take their time and not to try to check everything off the box too quickly. Not only do you spend a lot of money that way, but it’s also exhausting because you spend a lot of your time in transportation mode, but instead of just kicking back for a while and just enjoying where you are, so that’s a budget tip and an enjoyment tip and I’d also say don’t plan to hit the ground running after you’ve flown across the ocean because jet lag is going to affect you no matter how good you are at shaking things off and getting a good night’s sleep. So don’t try to plan too much for your first day or two, especially if you are going all the way from here to Asia, you’re basically turning your body clock inside out, so give it sometime to ease into things and it’s hot so you have to get used to that to. Even for me coming from Florida, it’s hot so when you step off the plane in Bangkok you’re going “Oh my G-d, especially if you’re going from May to September. So I guess that is my advice.
Do you have any suggestions for aspiring travel writers that you’d like to share with us today?
Well I packed a ton of wisdom into that Travel Writing 2.0 book and I think it’s probably the only one out there that addresses travel writing in the digital age. There are a lot of books out there about how to get published in a print magazine and how to write a print article. While that is still relevant and there are a lot of gigs out there for that, there’s a lot more work in the online space and you can also do that yourself through a blog or through your own website. So read that and there’s a blog called TravelWriting2.com and that blog is not hardly ever about me, I’m interviewing other writers and editors and getting their advice, so if people want to get advice from the horses mouths, that’s a good place to go, but my one core piece of advice for travel writers is don’t go into it for the money. Everybody will tell you that the perks are good but the money is not great, especially for all that time when you are starting out. If you’ve got another job that pays well, do travel writing on the side until you are a big success and say good bye to your day job.
If you had an unlimited travel budget for the next week, where would you go?
I would probably go to somewhere in Scandinavia because that is the most expensive part of the world and I’ve never been there and if I’m going to go there, it needs to be by winning the lottery or someone paying my way, so I think I’d go to Norway, Denmark, and Sweden.
Where do you plan on visiting next?
I’m doing a lot of travel in Mexico just because I’m here but my next international trip is going to be to Nicaragua and I’m going down for a little over a week and I’m taking my wife this time, it’s the second time I’ve been there, and I’m really looking forward to that and we’re going out to the Corn Island, which I’ve never been to there. They’re off in the Caribbean, kind of off the coast of Nicaragua – so that should be fun.
Are there any final words that you’d like to say?
I’d say don’t think that travel is so expensive that you can’t do it. I think a lot of people think that it is going to cost them a fortune and they say that “I can’t travel because I don’t have enough money.” And meanwhile they are driving a new car and they’ve got the latest iPhone and the latest iPad and the greatest surround sound stereo that they can buy and all the greatest. Traveling is really a matter of priorities, it’s not all that expensive if you go to the right places and if you’re in the US, you can even just get a cheap ticket to Mexico and Guatemala and you can go to an exotic place and not spend a fortune. You have to make it a priority and maybe put off some other things and drive a cheaper car or not go out and buy expensive cocktails as much. Everybody’s got a leakage in their life where they’re spending more money than they need to probably.
Alright well thank you very much for being on the show Tim, I really appreciate your time.
Sure Taylor, thanks for having me and it was good talking to you.