An old friend of mine is just starting his travels and he was kind enough to send me some questions and suggest that I post them and the answers for other readers. Great idea! As always, I”m happy to offer my travel advice free of charge, it’s my pleasure to make the road more enjoyable for you if I can.
1. When you go to a new place, how much do you plan for it?
As with most things in life – it depends. If I’m on my own, traveling for the sheer joy of it with no specific places I have to be at any time or nothing I have to do – I like to completely wing it. Do no planning at all, don’t have a guidebook – at the most maybe buy a phrase book in the language of the place and start learning the basics.
This kind of travel doesn’t happen nearly as much as it used to for me. Lately, I’ve been traveling with my wife and our infant daughter and uncertainty makes my wife scared and unhappy – although I wish she would just trust me – so I end up having much more of a plan than I’ve ever had before.
In addition, if you are planning holidays to Menorca or a specific kind of vacation on a timetable – it is always smart to plan ahead, even if that only means booking a hotel on your first and last nights and perhaps doing a bit of reading about what it is you might want to see when you are there.
Personally, I do most of that sort of planning online using sites like wikitravel or the blogs of other travelers I know. Which brings up a great point – utilize your social networks. Ask the people you know if they know the destination you are heading to – and ask them if they know people who know the destination you are heading to.
2. How much do you worry about having a place to stay before you leave?
Sorry for this, but again – it depends. If I arrive during daylight – I travel light enough that I don’t worry about it at all. In fact, I like walking around and looking at rooms. However, if you have lots of baggage, a worried wife, or arrive late at night – it is always better to book a room and have transport arranged before you head there.
Case in point – I arrived in Bologna, Italy about two hours ago. I had no idea where I was staying. Took a bus to the center, walked around, enjoyed some music at a festival and checked out hotels along the way. When I found one I liked at a price I liked, I checked in dropped off my bag, had a shower and now back out. The best part is I probably wouldn’t of found this place online and I love it. It pays to travel light. Baggage limits your options.
3. Do you know where you’re going to sleep before you leave your home/get on a plane/boat/camel?
Sometimes. I usually have a bagfull of destination I want to visit and an alternate in case that doesn’t work. When I travel by myself, my plans are usually so loose that I can take the advice of people I meet along the way.
In the case of camels, I usually have a rough idea or else make sure that someone else knows where we are going – of course, there’s nothing wrong with the stars under the sahara and Selcuk is filled with great little hotels.
4. Do you know what you’re going to go see, or do you look to see what’s there when you arrive?
Half-half. I don’t go anywhere without there being something there I want to see but I usually find that the things I like best, I had no idea about. This is exactly what happened in Porto.
5. Do you travel to see something in particular, or do you travel to discover what you’ll find along the way?
Again – half-half. There’s nothing I want to see in Mogadishu that I’ve heard about yet so I haven’t gone there, but if I”m in the neighborhood, chances are I will hear about something and that will draw me there. Of course, the real journey happens between your point of origin and your destination. Morocco was actually not on my itinerary when I left Hawaii and look what happened there!
6. How cheap can you travel? 30 days of travel at hostels at $30-$50/night adds up fast. Yes, there’s couchsurfing and housesitting. How do you stratagize travel and costs for living/sleeping space?
I can travel for nothing and actually earn as I go. It’s not the easiest way to travel, but I made it across Canada starting with $4 Canadian and getting to the other coast with $29 and some change. Of course that involved sleeping outside a few times, accepting the kindness of strangers, couchsurfing, hitching and even calling a friend when I got close to his town. These days, I can’t do that with a family, so I tend to look for press and promotion packages – it helps to be a travel writer and travel editor. And, again, it depends on your destination. South America and Asia are very cheap.
My strategy tends to be based on how much money is in my pocket at any given moment. Although, I admit that as I’ve gotten better at travel, my strategy has upped its game so that these days it is rare when I find myself sleeping in a ditch or sneaking off someone’s porch couch when I hear them waking up in the morning.
In fact, even if I were paying each night – it would be rare for me to be paying an average of $30 per night. Most hostels are $20 or less, couchsurfing is free, friends don’t charge (usually) and the kindness and generosity of strangers is usually paid for with smiles. Depending on your budget, of course, you should be able to spend 30 days for less than rent would cost you in the USA. It’s always good to keep that in mind…
Got travel questions? Send them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org