Sitting in a very cold London living room, watching Eastenders and sipping on a cup of tea, I can honestly say dreaming of far away exotic lands is probably the only thing getting me through to February right now. If I had unlimited funds (or a £1000 prize from Money Supermarket) and unlimited days off from work (not gonna happen) I would hop on a plane, bag full of SPF on my back, and travel over to the exotic seas of Thailand. It’s somewhere I’ve wanted to visit for some time, but I was never going to take a gap year – I was too eager to replicate Buffy the Vampire Slayer and head off to be grown up at Uni – or even slow down enough to go traveling after I had that piece of paper telling me I was clever. For some reason I’ve always had something else to do, somewhere else to spend my money or some place else to be, but now I’ve hit the big 3-0 it’s something I definitely wish I’d taken the plunge to do sooner. So, back to the purpose of this post… If someone gave me £1000 to take the ultimate adventure, what would I do and how would I make it last as long as possible?
1. Buy a guidebook and then rip it up. Sometimes living out of a guidebook doesn’t get you very far – how many things do you miss with your nose in a map? So many people have traveled to far away shores (mostly on that gap year I by-passed) so asking for tips, tricks and advice gets you further than that Eyewitness Travel book. With the world at your keyboard, Twitter offers you access to millions of people that have the answers you’re looking for, so asking for the best hangouts, the ultimate beaches and the finest cuisine will ensure the best experience on minimal budget.
2. Take the long route. Flying may be quick, but you can’t see much when you’re 50,000 feet up. Hopping on the trains and buses will give you the ‘real’ experience that makes a trip so memorable. You may have to share the bus with a goat or sit in a taxi with a chicken in your lap (not even making those up,) but the money you save will only make the journeys worth it. If I go to an exotic land I want to see the people, the landscape and the rawness of the country – otherwise I could just watch The Beach on repeat and perv on Leonardo DiCaprio.
3. Eat the local cuisine. I love me a Thai green curry, but I’m under no illusion that the China Garden version is anywhere near the deliciousness of an authentic dish. I want to learn how to make Pad Thai, I want to watch as a beautiful local lady chucks ingredients in a pan and I want to smell everything from beginning to end. Just being served a posh plate of fluffy stuff isn’t going to cut it – nor is it going to help my budget last longer than three days.
4. Take a chance. Booking accommodation from websites months in advance may work for New York, but backpack holidays totally lend themselves to being a bit more relaxed – you don’t have to plan where you’re going to be every night or what you’re going to do. Sometimes you may spot a beautiful shack overlooking the beach and want to stay in it, or find a hostel next to the best bar since Coyote Ugly. Being spontaneous isn’t just cool, but it saves bucks. (Although stay safe kids.)
5. Make your own memories. So many of us spend mega cash on bits of tat we’re never going to use once we get home. We don’t need that coffee mug with ‘I Heart Paris’ on it, nor do we really need that expensive cashmere scarf we end up justifying because it’s ‘25% cheaper over here.’ You can remember a trip in lots of different ways – why not collect pebbles or shells from the beach and make a necklace, make a memory jar filled with all the tickets and tokens you keep, take lots of photos to frame in a collage when you get home, or get involved in pottery making at a local factory. Those things will have so much more meaning in ten years than a lady that wiggles in the sunlight.
They may be my top tips for travelling on a budget (or making your budget last as long as possible,) but I still totally want to be the tourist for a day and visit the location of The Beach on a boat. I may not have rowed a boat since I was 11 and in the Girl Guides, but give me that image above and I’ll run with it… Run with it so far I may never come back.