5 Great Ways to Travel Cheaply

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People love to travel. Trinis are people. Trinis love to travel.

Travel is embedded in our psyche as a desirable, potentially transformational experience. It is part of the reason the world’s great religions emphasize pilgrimage (think Mecca, Wailing Wall or Delphi), as a metaphor of the journey that is life.

Travel can provide individuals or groups the opportunity for intense learning, in a short period of time. Alternatively, a relaxing trip can afford the mind that chance to escape from the realities of day-to-day life, and experience a freedom that is hard to find in our routine.

The challenge is that travel can be expensive, and, for most of us, it requires at least some measure of financial planning to make happen. Following on from my Outlish article about “5 Great Places Trinis can go Without a Visa”, I’d like to offer five great ways to travel cheaply.

Be a traveller

First, I’d like to make an important distinction, between being a tourist and being a traveller. In my experience, it is difficult to be a tourist on a budget. Being a tourist is expensive.

Tourists buy souvenirs in expensive tourist shops. Tourists have to tip the porter at the hotel. Tourists have to rush to make that silly purchase because their tour bus is waiting for them. Tourists take recommendations from other tourists caught in the web of tourist traps that cater to and manipulate the lazy and disinterested.

If you want to travel cheaply, be a traveller. Being a traveller means acting local, even if you don’t fit in, and know only a handful of phrases in the local language. It means experimenting with the places, means of transport, foods, customs, shops, and lifestyles of the country you are visiting.

Make friends

Having friends is the easiest way to travel cheaply. You can wait until you get there to make friends, but if you’ve watched the movie “Taken”, and you’re freaked out about it, it may be better to try to make friends before you go.

Want to go to Latin America? Then make some friends with Spanish speakers in Trinidad. After a while, they’ll invite you to their home, and while you may surprise them by actually following through and visiting them in Bogota, just do it. In this day and age a savvy Skyper or Facebooker can meet people in just about any country of interest. Find people who are interested in Soca or Trinidad’s Carnival, who live in Germany, Japan or Jamaica. Invite them to Carnival, let them stay on your couch, and they’ll return the favour.

Speaking of couches…

Be a couchsurfer 

Couchsurfing is a travel movement. Essentially, it is a community of almost four million people, across 240 countries, who, as part of the community, can stay free in the homes of others when they travel.

According to the website, there are already 500 or so couchsurfers in Trinidad. By hosting foreigners who come to Trinidad, you can boost your credibility by getting references from them. That way, when you message someone in the country you’re going to visit, they have a way to test that you’re not a crazy. You also don’t actually have to host someone, if you’re not comfortable having a stranger in your house.

Be flexible

Part of the reason travel can be expensive is because people’s time is limited. Flights are cheaper when you can be flexible. Flights on Tuesdays and Wednesday can be cheaper than Fridays and Sundays. In terms of booking, as contradictory as it may sound, you either book early or book late.

Last-minute deals are always available, but a safer bet for international flights is to book well in advance (think three to six months), and use sites like kayak.com to see fare history graphs, which can help you figure out if your fare is on an upward or downward trend. And if you’ve bought your ticket and the fare has gone down, ask for a refund.

Once on the ground, take the local bus instead of the tourist coach. Walk the extra mile away from the touristic centre, and enjoy the restaurants and bars the locals do. They’ll be cheaper, and you’ll be benefiting the mom-and-pop establishment that could do with the extra business.

Work hard

As boring as it sounds, in consulting with my most prolific travelling friends, I noticed a common thread – typically, they studied hard and worked hard. They found jobs, business opportunities, sports, or hobbies that provided the opportunity to travel, or they worked hard and made enough money to do it on their own. Others managed to secure scholarships to study in other countries, and used their time abroad, as a springboard to travel. Then, using the networks made and frequent flyer miles earned, the opportunities multiplied for them.

Let’s face it, Piarco is an outpost of an airport. Redjet is gone. Travelling eh easy. But with the right attitude, friendly and open demeanour, hard work, and some serious planning, you’ll be ready to tackle the world. And by being a great ambassador for T&T when you travel, foreigners will be ever more encouraged to visit us.

James Walker

James Walker is an analyst, both in job title and modus operandi. His life goals include becoming at least four of the following: calypsonian, sambista, columnist, educator, or salsero. James is also mildly obsessed with curry, games, and limes, and lives in London.

1 Comment

  1. jason marson

    April 10, 2012 at 1:28 pm

    Beautiful post Walker. As a traveling noob, I’ll definitely look into it.

    May have to start advertising my house as a traveler’s lodge next year lol

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