28
Mar

What the Heck is TravPacking?

Posted By Trav

TravPacking

[bluebox] TravPacking- verb:  Traveling cheaply and traveling well by finding the sweet spot between cost, comfort, convenience and experience.

By Travpacking, I was able to have an amazing experience traveling through China in for under $2,000!

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The tuk tuk ride from the airport to the city center was so cheap, I actually didn’t have small enough bills to pay it.  Amidst the open air markets and cafes, I had to buy a banana so that I could get some change.

By the time I returned, the tuk tuk driver had left, telling the hostel owner just to pay her and that he’d get the money sometime later.

We had just touched down in Chiang Mai, on our first ever backpacking trip, and here we stood, in front of the Mojito House, our hostel for next two nights.

The owner was friendly, and as when we walked in to the downstairs lobby area and restaurant, I was surprised.

This place was pretty nice for $4 a night.

We told her we were the couple that had booked the “private double” room, of which there was one, on the 3rd floor.

We headed up the stairs, and on the landing of the 2nd floor, we had to step over rows of sleeping bags with people in them, picking our way through like we were in a minefield.

I was told that this was the “dorm”.

Hmmmm….

Making it through the minefield, we got to the 3rd floor and our room, and double private ensuite.

Giving us the key, the owner left, and we just looked at each other.

The sheets had stains all over them.  This skeeved Heather out, but I was ok with it.

I was, however, much more concerned with the springs that were actually popping out of the bed.

Looking on the bright side, I mentioned that we did have our own bathroom.

A small victory, considering that the water not only didn’t get hot, but it actually didn’t turn on at all.  

Oh, and we were given 4 square of toilet paper.

Heather started crying.

And we stayed.

Welcome to TravPacking, circa 2010.

Over the years, my traveling philosophy, and the way I travel, has changed.

But one thing has remained constant:

My answer to the always ubiquitious question

“How can you afford to travel so much?”

is still the same.

And it’s much simpler than people expect.

I save money in many ways that other people don’t.

In fact, when I travel, my costs are usually the same as when I’m at home.

All it takes is making the right conscious choices, and not seeing travel as an excuse to blow through all your money.

My TravPacking series is designed to show you EXACTLY how I do this during my travels.

I’ll provide enough details of my travels that if you wanted, you could theoretically recreate them step for step.  And if you want to do that, by all means, be my guest.

Imitation is always the sincerest form of flattery!

But the real purpose, and the way that I believe most people will use my TravPacking posts, is to help you see what options are really out there.

And how traveling on a budget, or traveling cheap, does not mean that you have to scrimp on convenience and comfort.

From here on out, I’ll be providing in depth TravPacking reports of all my major trips (including my latest one to China) and providing you with information about how much I spent, down to the dollar.

I’ll also be providing some commentary on my thought process on the spending, why I spent what I did, and what the alternatives may have been.

TravPacking is about finding the sweet spot- where convenience and cost merge with value.

By doing this, you’ll save a ton more money than most people who travel, and you’ll also have as good, if not better, of an experience.

Because spending more does not always equate to better.

And the more you save on this trip, the more you can travel.

Travel More, Spend Less!

The Main Tenets of TravPacking

1.  There is No Wrong Way to Travel

Just because I’m writing about how I travel does not mean that the way you travel is wrong.

There will be plenty of people out there who will be appalled that I spent so much money on a trip and proclaim that they did the same thing for half the price.

Great!

I was exactly like that 5 years ago.  But getting older and having a wife as my travel companion has changed my habits, although I definitely still skew toward the frugal end.

There will be others who refuse to ever stay in a hostel.  And while I disagree, mostly because I think that people misunderstand the word hostel, that’s their prerogative.

There are plenty of other ways to save money when traveling, and I hope they’ll take some of them and run with them.

In the end, getting out and traveling is always better than not traveling.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re:

  • going to an all-inclusive in Mexico (something I’ve done),
  • going on a cruise (something I haven’t done but would do)
  • or backpacking solo through the Amazon, sleeping in caves (something I also haven’t done but would do).

I have no patience for people getting on their high horse about the “best” way to travel or the “true” way to travel.

I’ve found what works for me (something that is a continual learning process) and what I think can work for many people out there.

Whether you choose to emulate it or not is up to you.  But I do ask that you have an open mind and don’t knock the way I travel or the way anyone else does.  We can all learn from each other.

[hopping off my soapbox]

2.  Frugality is Important…

I’m a naturally frugal person.  This website is geared towards helping people save money so that they can travel more.

So I’m always looking at the prices of things, and I write down EVERYTHING we buy.

My compulsiveness is why I’m able to provide such an accurate portrayal of my trip for you.

And I’m also a bit anal about not getting ripped off.

If I’m thirsty and someone is trying to sell me a $3 water just because I happen to be standing next to the Colosseum, I’ll walk the additional 20 minutes to find a $0.50 one.

That’s just who I am.

3.  …But Not at the Expense of Amazing Experiences

Yes, I’ll walk 20 minutes to save a few dollars on a water.

Because to me, that water is not an experience.  It’s not worth the feeling of getting ripped off, and it’s not worth the extra money.

But if I’m at the Taj Mahal and the entrance fee is $15, I won’t refuse to go in because I can catch a glimpse of it for free from a rooftop deck.

I’ll still get the awesome view from the rooftop deck, but I’ll also pay the $15 to walk around, partake in the history of the place, and take cheesy pictures.

To me, it’s worth it.

Everyone’s definition of what is “worth it” will be different.

And there have certainly been times when I wanted to do something, like take the cable car to the top of the Jungfrau in Switzerland, and turned it down because I couldn’t afford it or it cost too much ($100+ is pretty steep).

But generally, I’ll scrimp on everyday comforts, like buying a water immediately, in order to spend more money on experiences.

Seychelles

4.  However….Some of the Best Experiences Are Free!

Like I said, I generally go to monuments, historical sites, and “touristy” things, especially the first time I’m somewhere, unless they are prohibitively expensive or cheesy.

(Even I’m not a big enough sucker for the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel in Shanghai for $10).

And they are all usually pretty cool, which is why they are so famous in the first place!

But most of my best experiences come from wandering.  

And the best part about wandering?  It’s free.

I’m a huge proponent of getting out.  Out of your hostel or hotel.

And just exploring.  Map, no map….who cares!

Walk around, head down small alleys, peak around corners, and engage locals (even especially if you don’t know the language).

Travel is not just about the places you see, but the people you meet.

And you can’t meet people if you’re sitting in your room watching Game of Thrones on your laptop!

5.  Taking a “day off” is OK

This has been one of the biggest changes in my travel style over the years.

Well, this and the fact that I’ll upgrade from a $4 hostel to a $8 one if the bed springs are popping through the mattress.

I used to try to pack everything in to my trips.  I needed to see everything, I needed to be out and about all of the time.

How do people in this area act during the night?

I don’t know, let’s stay out and see!  

How do they act in the early morning?

I don’t know, let’s get up early and see (ok, that never happened).

But still, I was “going” all the time.

And when I wasn’t, I was worried I was missing something.

This is a very common feeling for people, especially because most don’t know if they’ll ever be back.

But one of the best things about TravPacking is that if you are able to save money on one trip, the odds of you going back to a place is much higher!

With Heather’s help, I’ve learned it’s ok to take a day (or half a day) in the middle of the trip and just RELAX.  

If I want to read a book, I’ll read a book.  If want to chill out and Skype family back home, I’ll chill out and Skype family back home.

And I’ve found that I often feel much more refreshed and ready to have a “go-go-go” day afterwards.

So if you’re feeling stressed or rushed, take a few hours or even a whole day and do something that you’d normally do at home.

Something calming.

And you’ll probably feel much better for it.

6.  Do What YOU Want To Do

When most people go to a place, they assume they have to do the “top 10 things” in that area.  I’m no different, trust me.

And usually, those things are good recommendations.

But that doesn’t mean you HAVE to do them.

If you don’t like art at all, then don’t go to the Louvre.

If you like to get outdoors, then go hiking or biking, even if it’s not “listed”.

And if something is a must-do but too expensive for you, like taking a gondola ride in Venice for $120, then skip it.

It’s your trip, so do what YOU want.

7.  The Biggest Ways to Save Money Are on Flights and Accommodations…

I’ve written at length about frequent flyer miles and how they can get you flights around the world for under $100.

If you’re not earning and using frequent flyer miles effectively, this needs to be priority #1.

There are also two other main ways to save money on flights.

First, consider flying on budget airlines.

I’ve flown over 30 times with the world’s best budget airline, Air Asia, and never had a bad experience.

In fact, I find Air Asia preferable to many bigger US carriers like United, American, and Delta.

To find out which budget airlines operate in the areas you’ll be in, check out this Wikipedia page.

The other way is to take advantage of mistake fares.

This is how I scored $125 tickets to Italy, $225 tickets to Spain, and $550 tickets to China.

For everything you need to know about mistake fares, check out this post.

Saving money on accommodations is even easier.

When most people think of where they are going to stay when traveling, they instantly think of “big box” hotels, like Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt, etc.

I’ll certainly stay there if I have hotel points and free nights (again, it’s about getting value, and there isn’t much better value than free).

But if I’m paying, I’m always looking elsewhere.

Renting apartments can be an awesome way to spend less than a hotel and have a more authentic experience.

Hostels are another excellent option, and completely misunderstood by most people.

Nowadays, many hostels (the Mojito House notwithstanding) are more like boutique hotels without the price tag.  

There’s no better example of this than one of my favorite places of all time, the Lisbon Destination Hostel, which we scored for $40 a night.

And if you’re looking for even more authentic and cheaper options, there’s always Couchsurfing and housesitting.

I’ll take a mint on the pillow when I’m staying for free, but with all these options, there is no way I’m spending $150+ a night on a standard, sterile hotel room with no character.

8.  …But the Little Things Add Up Too

Remember that $2.50 you saved on a water bottle a little while back?

Well, do that 2 days in a row and all of a sudden you’ve saved enough money for the world’s best sandwich from All’Antico Vinao.

One of the biggest mistakes people make when wondering how they can save more money is to ONLY look at the big wins.

Sure, saving $600 on a plane ticket or $150 a night on a hotel room is awesome, and the main reason I’m able to keep on traveling.

But doing the little things can also help make a difference.

Save the money on that water bottle.

Walk the mile from the train station to your accommodations instead of taking the taxi.

Eat delicious street food instead of sitting down for a meal.

During the course of the trip, you’ll be surprised how much it adds up.

9. Walking and Biking Are Paramount

I consider walking and biking to be the best parts of most of my trips.

Biking through Kyoto at night, seeing geisha while whipping through the backstreets, was a magical experience.

Cycling through the small towns around Yangshuo, riding through “Jurassic Park-like” landscape and snapping hundreds of pictures, was one of my top five travel days of all time.

And I’ve already mentioned how much I love wandering.

Biking and walking are not only cheap (or free), but they give you glimpses of the real life of an area that you’d never get any other way.

10.  Splurging is Fine…In Small Doses

I was with the two most important women in my life; Heather and my twin sister Gale.

We were in Porto, my favorite city in the world.

And it was Valentine’s Day.

So we did something I rarely do, and went out for a very nice sit down dinner at one of the city’s finest restaurants.  

And it rocked!

The service was amazing.  The food was superb.  The portions were huge.  And the atmosphere was incredible.

It was a night that we will all remember for the rest of our lives!

Sometimes, even a curmudgeon like myself, needs to loosen up the purse strings a tiny bit and just enjoy it.

As long as it is only sometimes, skewing towards rarely, then you’ll be fine!

11.  Experiences are Valued Over Possessions, But Sometimes You Just Have to Buy It

I walked by the same woodcarving stand in Lijiang, China for 6 straight days.

I stopped in to gawk at the artwork almost each time.

I “chatted” up the young guy working there, which basically consisted of head nods, smiles, and giving him a thumbs up.

And I watched him carve a beautiful blue wall hanging.

I fought with my inner monologue for days.  I loved it, but it was a bit expensive.

I NEVER spend $100 on myself.

If fact, I can probably count on 1 hand how many times I’ve spent $100 on an item that wasn’t a laptop.

For some of you, this may not be a problem!

But it was awesome.  It was authentic.  And, after 4 days of debating, I ran down to the shop 20 minutes before we were catching our taxi, bartered him down to $60, and bought it.

Now, it’s hanging in my office, and one of my most prized possessions.

If it’s calling to you, sometimes you just have to buy it.  

And you don’t always have to wait 20 minutes before you leave, although if you’re as frugal as me, you probably always will!

12.  Always Try to Give Back to the Local Community

One of the main reasons I rarely stay at  big box hotels, unless I have a free night, is because I’d prefer that my money go back to the local community.

Not only will staying at a local owned guesthouse almost always be much cheaper, but that money is going towards the real people who live there, not to lining the pockets of a multi-national corporation who has bulldozed their way in to town.

While I may be frugal, I do find it much easier to spend money if I know it’s going towards someone who is working hard for it.

Like the woodcarver in Lijiang, China.

Or Sony, the world’s nicest guesthouse owner in Siem Reap.

Or Bunthy, my favorite cab driver of all time.

Eating local, staying local, and buying local is a win-win-win for everyone, and puts some extra cash in your pocket!

Final Word(s)

You may agree with all, some, or none of my philosophies around TravPacking.

I’m cool with any of the above!

The purpose is to show you how I’m able to afford to travel in a manner that is not only budget friendly but also lends itself to great experiences.

And hopefully help you find your own travel style and philosophy.

I’d love to hear any and all feedback about what you do differently.  We can all learn from each other.

Are you already a TravPacker?  What things do you do when you travel to find the “sweet spot” between cost, comfort, and experience?

36 comments

  1. Ken says:

    So after putting Ireland on the back burner we finally started researching and found out there was no way we’d be able to afford 3 weeks there. Since most of the countryside doesn’t have chain hotels we’d have to pay for places to stay. And everywhere was $80+ per night, even for the hostels. They all charged per person and tacked on taxes and fees. So we’re going to completely cancel the 3 week Ireland trip :( Even our RTW almost 4 week trip to 9 countries in EU and SE Asia will be a ton cheaper since all hotels will be on points. Plus my wife will be able to pickup summer school for 3 weeks of easy money. Sometimes you have to know when to throw in the towel.

    1. Trav says:

      @Ken- That’s a very valid point. Sometimes, things just don’t work out right, and you have to figure out whether it’s worth it or not. I never knew Ireland was so expensive, as I’ve never been myself.

  2. HB says:

    The idea of diminishing returns is important. That $200 room might be twice as nice as the $100 option, but the $400 room might not be anywhere near twice as nice as the $200 room.

    I used to hesitate at $100 on anything, I’m older now and that number has gone up, but I still keep diminishing returns in mind. It works for every price point.

    One thing that I’ve found often holds true is avoid the mid range. Midrange rooms, restaurants, goods. In general they have the lowest value. You get almost nothing over a budget room in a midrange room. Maybe extra space, but nothing notable. At the high end you often do get additional perks or views or better service and so on. I’d rather stay ten nights at a budget hotel and splurge two nights at a great room, than stay all twelve nights at a midrange hotel.

    When going abroad I always ask, what do locals do when they take a weekend trip? Where do they go, and stay. I’ve found the best less traveled cities and awesome places to stay this way.

    Hostels and bed and breakfasts are my first choice. Even in the States or Canada. I can often find a nice B&B for less than an impersonal hotel. Often with great locations and the room always comes with great advice! I also like Homeaway and AirBnB but traditional B&B’s, often run by people who are not so tech savvy, are my favorite.

    If you ever go to Halifax, and it is a great place to visit during their buskers festival, see if the doduckin is still going across the bridge in Dartmouth. Best BnB I’ve ever stayed it, although I must admit I highly weight food. Best breakfast ever.

    1. Trav says:

      @HB- Yep, diminishing returns is a great term to use, one I wish I had thought of. I couldn’t agree more.

      It’s all about finding the value, the sweet spot, and I think you’re exactly right that many times, as you go up in price, the quality does not rise at the same rate.

      B&B’s are great, and I agree that AirBnB and Homeaway are great resources. And I’m with you; I’d rather save some money and then splurge than have a whole trip of mid-level.

      Awesome points, and I’ll have to check out Halifax sometime soon!

  3. jennifernice says:

    Excellent post! You’re preaching to the choir. :) I’m curious if/when you and Heather ever have kids and how that will change some of your travel habits (not philosophy – habits!) Family travel presents its own set of challenges and rewards at every stage!!

    1. Trav says:

      @jennifernice- Yes, yes it does. I know this even without having kids. It’s something we’ve talked about a bunch, obviously, but until we actually have them, I guess there is not really any way to know how it will change our habits.

  4. Denise says:

    Awesome! I feel like you read my mind! We’ve been to over 50 countries (just got back from Cambodia & Laos), and we fly for free (frequent flyer miles I churn), stay in double ensuite hostel rooms, are walking/cycling fanatics, and love public transit and bargaining!!! I will never understand how people with brand new $40K+ cars ask me how I afford to travel so much :) (we drive bikes, and 1 1990s-era car)!!!

    1. Trav says:

      @Denise- Yep, it’s ALL about priorities. The people who ask me how I afford it generally have the same, if not more, amount of money that I have. I try to preach to them that travel is cheaper than they think and how they can change their lifestyle to do the same. Some listen, some don’t. But yep, it’s all priorities!

      And I knew there were a lot of TravPackers out there, which is one of the reasons I wrote this post. I want your suggestions so I can implement them in to my own philosophy!

  5. Donna C says:

    Eating local is a must for us when we travel. Just took the fam (adult children) to Turkey for a vaca and had the most amazing food and only once paid more that 30$ for the five of us! The food is more authentic and the “ambiance” always more engaging.

    1. Trav says:

      @Donna C- Could not agree more!

    2. Rob says:

      I would argue that you should only eat local food. Even here in the states I avoid the chain restaurants!

      1. Trav says:

        @Rob- I agree. Eating local is not only cheaper, but also much more authentic.

  6. Hi Trav – I can relate to what you said about being anal about not wanting to get ripped off. I remember after living in India for a few months and getting used to the money like a native rather than always converting to dollars. Well a local told me how much an auto rickshaw would cost to a certain location. When we arrived the driver wanted more and we were arguing over a fraction of a Rupee. I feel kind of stupid now for arguing over such a small amount. Regarding places to stay – sometimes it’s better to spend a bit more if it means the difference between getting a good nights sleep or not. I can’t tell you the number of times I felt miserable the next day after trying to sleep in some cheap 3rd world flop house with the band playing all night in the bar next door or the mosquitos and bed creatures snacking on me. I think the worst place was a pension from hell in Guatemala City. It was a hot , humid, 4 foot by 7 foot, windowless room. The only reason I stayed there for 1 night was that it was close to the bus station and I didn’t feel like wandering around there late at night. I think even the jail cell I was a guest of for a week in Oujda, Morocco was nicer.

    1. Trav says:

      @Steven Kritzler- I never like getting ripped off, but in some cases, I’ll just pay if it is like the rickshaw situation. But I’ll never get ripped off on person, meaning I won’t buy something if I know it can be cheaper with a little bit of effort.

      And I’m like you…I’ve definitely learned my lesson that cheaper is not always better with accommodations. It’s finding the best value: what gives you the most comfort for the best price, that’s more important to me now. I’ve done my fair share of $4 hostels, and they’re fine for what they are, but most times, I’ll “upgrade” to an option that might be a few dollars more!

      A jail cell in Morocco? That sounds like quite the story. Care to share?

      1. I’m sure I’m forgetting some details as it was close to 40 years ago but here’s what I remember. I had been trying to hitch south through the Algerian Sahara to West Africa. I got a ride in a truck, one of a three truck convoy going to Tamanrasset in the south of the country. At El Golea which is the last town before a very very long stretch of empty desert I got out and stayed. My driver had been acting really strange and I wasn’t getting good vibes from him. The last thing I wanted was to be stuck a couple of hundred miles into the Sahara with three horny Algerian truck drivers. Most of the rides I got in Algeria I had to contend with aggressive guys who would try to paw me and wanted sex. Other male travelers I talked to complained about the same thing. As that’s not my cup of tea you can imagine how stressful travel there could be. I guess when all the single women are off limits the whole country becomes what I imagine prison must be like. In El Golea I took stock of how much money I had and figured that if I kept going south, I would run out somewhere in West Africa and probably would not be able to find any work. For once in my life I decided to do the smart thing and turned around planning to make my way to Europe via Morocco and then fly back to Los Angeles. Eventually I got to the Algeria, Morocco border and exited Algeria. Unfortunately, The Moroccans wouldn’t let me in. I guess I looked like a dirty hippie to them without much money. I walked back to the Algeria side where the border guards were sympathetic and allowed me to camp just inside Algeria so I could try again the next morning. Again, no luck with the Moroccans and back I went to Algeria. I was told that if I walked down a dirt path about a mile, I would come to a small train depot where I could catch the train into Morocco and the border officials would be different. When I got to the depot it was deserted except for an Algerian guy about my age, 20 or so. He told me the train wasn’t due for a few hours so out of boredom we took a walk down the tracks toward Morocco figuring there would be a sign marking the border. Around 40 minutes later we turned around and started back to the depot. A few minutes into our walk back a Moroccan border guard rides up to us on a scooter. There was no sign. He commanded us to follow him and we were soon at a rustic border outpost. The guards asked questioned us but I don’t think they knew what to make of us. Perhaps we were spies or smugglers. I must say they were very friendly and we all had lunch of Moroccan chicken stew and cous cous sitting around dipping into the large communal plate with our bread. I tried to communicate to them that all I wanted was a stamp on my passport and to cross their country to Spain. They would just nod and smile “yes, yes my friend, no problem”. A few hours later a jeep picks us up and takes us to a military base. More questions, going through all my stuff again, admiring my pack, sleeping bag, etc. A couple more hours, it’s night and we’re taken to the border town of Ougda and brought to the police station. All this time I’m thinking every thing’s going to work out fine. More questions from the police, forms typed out and then I’m led downstairs where there are 3 cells with solid steel doors with a tiny screened opening in each door and faces peering out. After the jerks I had to put up with in Algeria I thought this is going to be bad. I told the official that I wanted to speak to the US counselor but as far as I know they were never informed. In I went into one of the cells and fortunately everyone was friendly. I think they were mostly smugglers and petty criminals. The cells were just a medium sized rooms with a cement floor and an opened barred window to the outside. No beds or any furniture, just space. Not enough space. There were a lot of us so some had to stand while others were lying down. It was cold in there too. I’m glad I had bought a heavy camel wool jellaba when I first got to Morocco or I would have froze. The only food we got was a thick round loaf of bread each. Some days there were more loafs and we would use them as pillows. As uncomfortable as it was it was also mentally tough because I couldn’t get any information and didn’t know how long they would keep me there. After 7 or 8 days I was transfered to another building and brought before some other official who questioned me some more. I didn’t know much French or Arabic so not much intelligent communication went on. Finally, later that day they just released me with no entry stamp in my passport. I was worried that I’d have problems on leaving the country because of my lack of passport entry stamp but I guess my karma was paid and I got out without trouble.

        1. Ken says:

          Damn Steve, that’s crazy! Glad you made it out Ok though. BTW, why were all the women in Algeria off limits?

          1. I guess that’s just the way it is in these conservative Muslim countries and tribal areas. A lot of arranged marriages, not much acceptance of sex before marriage, etc. Not at all like Europe or the states.

          2. Ken says:

            Ahh, gotcha. Just goes to show how much I know about Algeria (or other countries in general).

        2. Trav says:

          @Steven Kritzler- All I can say is…wow! What an amazing story. If I were you, I’d try to tell that every chance I got!

  7. George says:

    Really enjoyed your TravPacking post, thanks!
    I’m looking at a Viking River Cruise on the Danube,
    but it costs $10,000. Any TravPacking ideas?

    1. Trav says:

      @George- No real clue about cruises, since I’ve never actually taken one. But I’d definitely be googling “Viking River Cruise” discount code!

      1. Ken says:

        $10,000 for 7-14 days cruise? That’s $833/month for an entire year. I’ve had monthly rents less than that!

        1. Trav says:

          @Ken- Must be a pretty amazing cruise!

  8. Lynn says:

    Thanks for the Siem Riep B&B posting. That may be a destination on my next trip. That trip will be ticket paid with Airline miles and cheap hotels/B&Bs with a splurge on several nights in a nice beach resort in Bali with club access with points.

    1. Trav says:

      @Lynn- Bali is awesome….get your butt over there! If you don’t pay for flights, you can live like a king for cheap!

  9. Richard Carnes says:

    In figuring the cost of food while traveling, be sure to deduct the amount you would have spent on food, snacks, Starbucks, etc. if you had stayed at home. It might be possible to save on food by traveling! The same logic applies to lodging costs if you are able to rent out or sublet your home while you are abroad, and to the costs associated with driving while at home.

    By the way, Hainan, a highly rated (by Skytrax) Chinese airline, is currently running a big sale on flights to Beijing from Chicago and Seattle. I scored a $730 nonstop from Chicago departing on April 22, no FF miles needed. Add $58 for Amtrak from Ann Arbor, and I get a round trip to Beijing for about $800. Staying with a friend in Tianjin, so 8 nights in China for free if I want. I plan to eat like a Chinese emperor.

    1. Trav says:

      @Richard Carnes- Yeah, I usually spend less on food when traveling than if I stayed at home. In my TravPacking posts, I’ll just be posting EVERYTHING I spend, instead of figuring out how much I spent over what I would have at home. But I do always take it in to consideration.

  10. Sajer Guy says:

    @Trav – Great post! Care to share a pic of your Lijiang wood carving that overcame your resistance? Would love to see what I missed when I visited 15 years ago.

    1. Trav says:

      @Sajer Guy- I’ll definitely post it up! Probably during the China TravPacking post.

  11. You nailed it on your list! One comment: when traveling, invest in a good guide book!

    Don’t be “penny-wise and pound-foolish” by spending a fair amount on traveling halfway across the world, and then not forking over the small bit of money on a guide book (a la Rick Steves) which will assist you in having a great experience (and saving you money too).

    1. Trav says:

      @Mr. Everyday Dollar- Good point, I should have mentioned that. A good guidebook is worth it’s weight in gold. I personally use Rick Steve’s, as you mentioned, when in Europe and when in SE Asia, I use the site travelfish.org. In fact, we’ve got an awesome podcast episode with Stu, the founder of travelfish.org, coming up next week!

  12. My husband and I do extensive research before any of our (big) trips — you should see our spreadsheets! Using a guidebook, we calculate the cost of everything we could possibly see and do in a city, including prices for food, souvenirs, attractions, transportation and lodging. Then we choose what we’ll actually experience based on our budget. This makes it way easier to cut costs on one thing (slow train instead of a fast one, hostel instead of a hotel) if we know we can splurge on something else (gondola ride instead of the stairs, snorkel instead of just swim). It also helps us when we’re saving for the trip — it’s easier to say no to spending $20 on a meal in Phx when it means saying yes to spending $20 on a meal in Greece!

    1. Trav says:

      @Keri Lunt Stevens- That’s a great strategy, I couldn’t agree more. If you know that the money you are saving is going to something better, then it doesn’t hurt to make those sacrifices. It also helps put things in perspective!

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