Life as a Broke Backpacker

Life as a Broke Backpacker

Broke Backpacker

In my early days as a solo traveller, there was a lot of buzz around the notion of being a “broke backpacker”- that is, travelling so extensively that you don’t have a dime to your name, but are nevertheless happy because you’re living like a vagabond on the beach in a land far, far away. For some, that would seem daunting and very unappealing, but for Wanderlusters like me, it’s alluring – or so I thought it was.

It wasn’t until 2012, after several years of solo travel, that I realized I still hadn’t experienced life of a broke backpacker – something that was almost like a rite of passage for young travellers. And so, like many others, I decided to aimlessly wander off to Southeast Asia and Australia.

I got off to a great start by gallivanting through Vietnam, Thailand, and Cambodia, where I spent a quite a bit of time living the good life: swinging from vines in the jungle, eating mysterious street food, meditating in temples, paddling through floating villages, and the list goes on… I was having the time of my life and my cash flow seemed endless. What I had yet to learn, however, was that Australia was one of the most expensive countries in the world to visit, and it just so happened to be my next stop and the longest leg of my travels.

Fortunately, I had already secured a Working Holiday Visa. But to my surprise, it was quite difficult to find suitable work, and the few jobs that I did land were only short-term assignments. The cost of renting an apartment on my own in Sydney was astronomical, and food was about 2-3 times the cost of what I was accustomed to in Asia. It goes without saying that I therefore raced through the “honeymoon phase” of life Down Under and was abruptly met with a very harsh reality: the funds remaining in my travel bank were only enough to get me to the end of the week!

 

Luck was on my side that week, because I was somehow able to secure my first long-term job and apartment, but I still had to undergo a major lifestyle change if I wanted to see another week in Australia:

  • My weekly grocery list could be at max $15 and would consist of: Ramen, frozen spinach or broccoli, 2 apples, bread and eggs. Fun Fact: I learned that you could actually purchase an entire loaf of bread for $1.00!
  • My social life would have to be put on hold because one pint at a bar would equal half my weekly grocery allowance
  • Instead of using public transport, I would walk (or run) everywhere. On the plus side, I was in the best shape of my life!
  • Shopping for clothes was completely out of the question, so a solid outfit rotation was essential.

 

Needless to say, it was quite a difficult adjustment, but it was a great learning experience.

Here are 4 Things I Learned from my Life as a Broke Backpacker:

 

  1. The value of a dollar, literally: It’s so important to understand how far your money will take you on your travels relative to the local cost of living. I clearly didn’t consider this major factor prior to arriving in Australia.
  2. Material goods really aren’t important: When you’re struggling to find somewhere to live or yearning for something better than Ramen noodles, outfits and gadgets suddenly have no meaning or importance.
  3. You can’t travel without money: That vagabond lifestyle that I once found alluring is so unrealistic (at least for me it is). Even though I somehow squeezed by on a low-budget vegetarian diet and a shoebox of an apartment, I found that there was so much that I was unable to see because I didn’t have enough money. Travel is about the experience: seeing the sights, tasting the food, and exploring – all of which will cost you, even if it is on a budget.
  4. If you’re going to be a broke backpacker, do it in the right place – it’s all about planning: I know I just said you can’t really travel without money, but if you find yourself running low on funds while you’re globetrotting, it’s better to be situated somewhere other than a thriving metropolis like Sydney, for example. Be smart about where you’re going and think about how far you can stretch your currency. In retrospect, I could’ve had I gone to Australia at the beginning of my trip when I had more money, I would have had a totally different experience. 

 

It was tough, but I am still so grateful for the experiences I had during my time in Australia.

How to Sleep Cheap When Travelling

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Accommodation can be one of the biggest costs when travelling, especially if you’re backpacking or going on a road trip without booking hotels ahead. Fortunately, there are many tips and tricks that can keep you travelling on a shoestring. Here are just a few tips when finding somewhere to sleep.

 

Time your travels right

There are popular times throughout the year to visit certain places, which are often also the most expensive times. For example, if you’re visiting China during Chinese New Year, you can expect hotel prices to be much greater. Similarly, cities may have individual festivals throughout the year – visiting during these time could be more pricy. Christmas and the height of summer are almost always more expensive. October to November and March to May are often the quietest and cheapest times to travel and find accommodation.

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Avoid City Centres

Accommodation will also be more expensive in the centre of a city where all the attractions are. If you’re stopping off in a city, consider staying on the outskirts. You’ll have to get public transport into the centre which may add up costs depending on where you’re visiting. Some cities may also have shuttle services from campsites and popular hotels outside the city.

Staying on the outskirts in particularly worthwhile if you’re driving as parking will be very pricey in any city centre. The further out you go, the more likely you may be able to find free parking (supermarket car parks are worth keeping an eye out for).

 

Sharing is Sparing

You can save a lot of money from sharing a room. If you’re travelling with other people, you may be able to save money on double rooms. You may be able to get a single room and sneak in another guest with a sleeping bag. Hostels are a great place to stay if you’re travelling alone. You can save a lot by sharing a room with other travellers. Some hostels may have several bunks per room – you won’t get much privacy but it’s somewhere to rest your head and it’s a great place to make new friends and travel buddies along the way.

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Go Camping

If you’re not afraid to stay in a tent you can often save a lot of money by checking into a campsite as opposed to a hotel. Wild camping meanwhile is a free option that is ideal for hiking trips in warmer climates (not always so good in cold climates). You can take a sleeping bag or even try sleeping in a hammock. This rugged lifestyle isn’t suited to everyone and some may prefer to check into hostels and hotels.

 

Compare Costs Online

When reaching a new city, there’s nothing more soul-destroying than trudging from hostel to hostel late at night in search of a bed. Searching beforehand online can help you find hotels that aren’t fully booked as well as helping you to locate the cheapest rate. There are lots of hotel comparison sites – most of which allow you to book ahead on them. You should note that you’re not always guaranteed better prices from booking ahead online as sometimes you may also be paying a booking fee on top to pay for the listing.

Because you may not want to turn your data on in a foreign country, you’re best off searching online somewhere that has Wi-Fi. A good strategy is to search the night before using that accommodation’s Wi-Fi. This way, whenever you arrive at your next destination, you’ll know straight away where to go and not have to trudge around.

Paperback guides such as Lonely Planet are also useful for finding a cheap bed and can allow you to travel offline. These guides also provide reviews, which gives you some idea of the quality of the accommodation.

You may be able to save even more money by using a site such as Homestay, which allows you to stay with a local family in their home. This allows you to see how a local lives and you may be able to get a more rich sense of the culture. Families may be willing to transport you around locally, saving you money on transport, and may cook meals for you to. Their local knowledge may also allow you to see some sights in the area that aren’t in the travel books. The disadvantage of using this service is that you’ll need to book ahead as it’s unlikely a family will take you in at a last minute’s notice.

Destinations with Altitude

Some of the most magical places to visit in the world are those that are perched atop mountains at high altitude. In fact, throughout history, high up on a mountain top is where many sacred and special things were meant to have happened through the ages. So it makes complete sense that there are many people living in these areas, as well as plenty of visitors to the areas. But where are some of the best mountains in the world to visit? Here are just a few of the most breathtaking vertical wonders and the cities and town that they have close by to them. Have you ever been to any of them?

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Mont Blanc, France

In the area of Chamonix in France, you will find the mountain of Mont Blanc. It is actually situated in the Alps, and is the highest mountain in the area, standing at over 4000 ft above sea level. It is also the tallest in Europe, west of some of Russia’s mountains anyway. The mountain itself is really popular for snowboarding, winter sports, and skiing. So if you’re looking for a ski chalet in France, then this area will be one of the best areas for skiing in France. There are several towns nearby, all stunning in their own way. Chamonix, as has already been mentioned, was the site of the first Winter Olympics. See, special things do happen on mountains!

 

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La Paz, Bolivia

This extraordinary city is one of a kind as it clings to the sides of a small and narrow canyon, with a range of gondolas and cable cars going up and down alongside it. There is a museum up on top of the mountain which is one of the most popular things to do (once you’ve got your breath back from being up over 3000 meters high). There is also a market selling lots of natural and herbal medicines, several of which are all meant to ward off any evil spirits. The town is one of a kind, and the mountain is so beautiful. So when are you going to be planning a trip?

 

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La Chaux-De-Fonds, Switzerland

This city is a top of the Jura Mountains in Switzerland. And as such, it often gets missed by most tourists unless they are really looking for it. But being one of the highest peaks in Europe, it needs to be seen to be believed and experienced. The architecture of the buildings in the area is amazing, as well as a famous watchmaking museum (it is the home of the country’s watchmaking business after all). So there are a few things to see and do. There is also a lakeside town of Neuchatel not far away from La Chaux-De-Fonds. It has some great nightlife, cafes, and restaurants, and buildings so are certainly worth a look too.

 

Have you been to any mountains or high altitude towns that you just love and would add to this list? I’d love to hear from you!

How to see Tuscany without a Car

How to see Tuscany without a Car

Greve in Chianti vineyardThey say that the best way to see Tuscany is by renting your own car to cruise through the endless hills of the countryside. But if you’re like me and don’t feel like shifting gears to maneuver around narrow cliff-hugging roads, then there is an alternative that doesn’t include booking a group tour, and that is public transport.

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Travelling Slow: 10 Days in Italy

Travelling Slow: 10 Days in Italy

Cinque Terre, Italy

I spent quite a bit of time sifting through numerous 10-day Italy itineraries, and came across many suggestions to zip around the country like in Planes, Trains and Automobiles, but I knew that I wouldn’t be doing beautiful Italy any justice.  As a returning visitor to Italy, I knew that it was better to stick to my usual style and travel slow. I decided to focus my efforts on Tuscany, and throw in a short getaway to Cinque Terre for good measure. Read more

Easy Weekend Getaways in Ontario

Grand Hotel & Suites Toronto
Rooftop Views at Grand Hotel & Suites Toronto

I’m a bit of a sunchaser, so during our short-lived Canadian summers, I like to stay local and absorb every ounce of sunshine that I can. I prefer to visit the beach destinations during our world renowned frigid, and in my opinion unbearable, winters. Nevertheless, I still like to squeeze in a little getaway here and there throughout the summer, and what better way to do that than to explore my home province of Ontario. Since I’m typically a last-minute traveller, I find that I’m always behind the ball when it comes to booking cottages or planning trips to popular Ontario destinations like Muskoka or Niagara Falls. Almost always, I find myself scouring accommodation sites on the Thursday before a long weekend, hoping for a miracle (aka: a vacancy).

This summer, I decided to save myself some time and avoid the spots that I knew were already booked up months in advance. I managed to sneak in a spontaneous getaway for each of the long weekends in the summer. Read more

Discovering Hamilton’s Hidden Gems

hamilton supercrawl
Streetside Art around James Street North

I would have never guessed that Hamilton, of all places, would be a food and art lover’s haven. Just under an hour west of Toronto, Hamilton is known to most as home of the beloved Tiger-Cats, and also for it’s rich history and preservation of National heritage sites. Contrary to popular belief, Hamilton is an undiscovered wonderland for foodies and art lovers alike. I’ve been to the Hammer several times back in my University days, but have never actually seen anything outside of Hess Village (which I’m kind of embarrassed to admit). Lucky for me, my friends at Travel Massive and Tourism Hamilton gave me a true dose of what Hamilton is really like – here are some hidden gems that I had the pleasure of discovering: Read more

GUEST POST: Hotel Stays Filled with Delightful Surprises

Intercontinental Hotel

I asked Michelle Dias what she had to say about travelling for work, and here’s what she had to say:

Before working in the hotel business, I thought that the “big-box” branded hotels were all the same: cookie-cutter versions of the same formula, like your neighborhood Best Buy or Target. Boy, was I wrong! I am now one year into my role as Marketing Manager, PR and Communications, with the InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) and I have seen my fair share of hotels. From hotels in Vancouver to Atlanta to Nisku (5 minutes outside of Edmonton’s airport), the 13 brands we represent all have similar standards, but each hotel comes with a unique surprise waiting to be discovered. Typically when I go on a business trip, I have the pleasure of getting a hotel tour. It’s a great way for me to get to know the staff and the property. Although friendly smiles and great hospitality come standard, there have been surprise “WOWS” that I won’t soon forget. After a year of jet setting, here my favourite delightful surprises that I have stumbled upon during my hotel stays:

1. A bowling alley, arcade, and huge fitness facility at the Crowne Plaza Kitchener-Waterloo

Crowne Plazas are known and enjoyed for their upscale facilities (restaurants, meeting spaces etc.) and cool décor. When touring the newly renovated Crowne Plaza Kitchener-Waterloo, I was shocked to see their underground bowling alley and arcade – which was formerly a parking garage. This space looked like a gamers-dream, and a perfect space for business and leisure guests to unwind. LPGA Golf Professional and Canadian-favourite Brookie Henderson recently took a swing and got a hole-in-one (surprise, surprise!) while playing on the mini-putt course in this cool underground space.

 

2. Piece of the Berlin Wall at the InterContinental Hotel Montreal InterContinental Hotel

I kid you not! This section of the Berlin Wall was given by Germany to Montreal for the city’s 350th birthday. I’ve been to Berlin, Germany and have to say that the piece of the wall inside the InterContinental is so lively – it really brings that part of history to life. The graffiti looks freshly painted and the markers at the base give you an informative lesson into this grime piece of Germany’s history.

 

 

3. This amazing view!

One of my most memorable trips this year was to Vancouver. I was lucky enough to be there for Canada Day and was awestruck by the nature, the number of fit people (seriously, everyone hikes and jogs), and also the vast amount of green space. Coming from Toronto – I feel as though Vancouver has a certain Euro-style: everything is modern, the buildings are glass, and it’s so clean. After hosting an SEO workshop at the Holiday Inn Vancouver-Centre, I was given a tour of the property and stopped for 5 minutes to play tourist while on the building’s highest level overlooking the Pacific ocean.

holiday-inn-vancouver, Intercontinental

 

I know most hotels are just a stopping ground for travellers – folks are more concerned with seeing the outdoor sites and neighborhoods, but I would encourage you to learn about your hotel on your next trip. Some hotels are historical buildings or conversions from old factories, while some house priceless art or have entertaining game rooms.

 

InterContinental HotelAUTHOR BIO:

Michelle Dias is an energetic, A-type traveler who doesn’t travel without a detailed itinerary. She is a known over-packer who enjoys taking photos and over-sharing on social media. In her role with IHG, Michelle is responsible for Marketing and Public Relations for all Canadian hotels.

Follow me as I travel @MichelleHotelLife

Photo Credit: [Hotel], [InterContinental Photos]


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Working Holidays: Finding Work in Australia

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Finding Work in Aus

Finding Work in Australia for a Working Holiday can be difficult.

 

Imagine quitting your job, packing up your belongings and moving halfway across the world to work and travel for a year. Now imagine yourself embarking on said life-changing journey, without an inkling of how to find work or a place to live – that pretty much sums up what most working holidays are like! Read more