Sunday, January 23, 2011

Scrooge Takes a Trip

Recently an enquiring reader and prospective tramp asked me how someone such as myself, with a scanty income at best, can make big trips that involve anything other than a dismal routine of hitchhiking, orphanages, and dry crusts of bread. I have always prided myself on being a cheapskate, but this question made me realize that the art of scrimping may not be so natural to some as it is to me, and I could potentially share some secret advice with you to make your trip planning easier, and travel more accessible.

When it comes to budget travel, it is as much about things you do in preparation for your trip as things you do while traveling that will allow you to travel farther distances, for longer periods of time, and with greater comfort and flexibility, without needing to become a penny-pinching miser in the process. For me, it is important not to waste money or spend excessively when you do not have a steady income, but also not to let yourself become so obsessed with budgetary considerations that you stop having fun. If you refuse to see museums or historic sites because of admission prices, or eat only gruel for every meal, you will hardly notice you are in a different city anyway, so you may as well just stay home and sulk there.

With that said, there are sooooo many little tricks for squeezing every last drop of awesomeness out of your funds, however limited they may be. The possibilities are endless, but here are a few things that I generally do beforehand, with trekking on the brain.

At home...

Trim your expenses. Everyone has heard the typical tips like:

Eat out less.


Cut down on what some people would call "retail therapy."

But I take it to the next level. First and foremost, take advantage of free things as much as possible. Working at a youth hostel, people leave travel food* behind all the time, and I always snag it and put it to good use. Thus, I end up spending a maximum of about 50 dollars per month on groceries, most of which is at the farmer's market, which is cheaper, healthier, and more fun than the grocery store anyway. Carpooling is a great idea as gas prices creep up** but I dare you to get rid of the car entirely if possible and save that monthly insurance bill. I know this is not very feasible in some of our suburban environs unfortunately, but I only go by train, bus, feet and bike, and that cuts out a lot of costs in my daily life.

This next idea may sound a bit too obvious, but I will offer it anyway; I have virtually cut out shopping as idle entertainment. I have about four outfits, and if I tire of them I dig in my parents' attic and find some old thing from high school to rotate into my wardrobe. I buy new socks when mine get holes. If I do buy apparel or household items, I get them used or from discount stores with awesome close out bargains. I generally borrow books, movies, and music from the library instead of buying them. It is free, opens me to a huge realm of genres, and keeps me from cluttering my space and hoarding too many things***. And when you hang around the public library I promise you will meet people even more intriguing than on the train.

Furthermore, I know this is not possible for people with houses and families and the like, but every time I leave to travel for a period of more than three months or so, I get rid of everything but a few essentials and give up my apartment. This way, I am never paying rent in a place that I am not occupying. If you would rather not take up a homeless status, you could always consider subletting your dwelling for the duration.

Perhaps this was a bit more about every aspect of my daily life than you bargained for- you are welcome!

Next time, more questionable ways live a life of frontier zen asceticism, but while your trip is in progress. Think


*Oatmeal, peanut butter, apples, rice, beans, trail mix etc. As a rule, I generally eat like I am on the Oregon Trail.

**And, as we are train fans, we have no business driving cars around anyway!

***The fewer things you own, the fewer things hold you down and keep you from getting out and adventuring.


  1. Working at a youth hostel, people leave travel food behind all the time, (oatmeal, peanut butter, apples, rice, beans, trail mix etc) and I always snag it and put it to good use.

    You forgot pasta! The staple/bane of the Hostel free shelf!

    From personal experience, I have made a lot of awesome meals from left-behind foods at the hostel. Though the winter season is the worst for this, as there is less travelers. So I'll just have to subsist on bagels.

    And a woman who only has four outfits? Horrors? :-)

    Looking beyond all my snarkiness, these are all very sound tips, many of which I have used throughout my traveling years. I think my best way to save up for travel is to have an idea for a big trip months down the road. It feels easier to "do without" and save up when I have a goal in mind, vs. the vague notion of cutting back and saving up for some undefined goal.

  2. It's nice to have parents who will save all your "high school crap" er - outfits so you can rummage around for a change in wardrobe!