How can you afford to travel the world?

Discuss Francis Tapon's book, "Hike Your Own Hike: 7 Life Lessons from Backpacking Across America"
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How can you afford to travel the world?

Post by FrancisTapon » Thu Sep 11, 2008 5:08 am

Greetings Mr Tapon,

We share the same dream, this is exactly what I want to do.

My Question is, how do you afford it? Truly, you must be wealthy to be able to do this. Any advice on how I may follow in suit?

-Jonathan, 22

Jonathan: I assume you're talking about my dream of traveling the world.

Although you do need money to travel the world, you need much less than most people think, especially if you learn how to travel frugally. Many tourists I see when I travel the world are in their 20s: hardly people who are rich. If they can afford to travel far and wide, so can you.

It's easy to conclude that there is really only one component to being able to travel: how much money you have. In fact, there are two components to the travel equation:

How much you can travel = Your savings - Your travel cost

Let's talk about the two components:


Savings is made up of two components as well:

Savings = Your Income - Your Expenses

Unless you live in a developing nation, it's easy to make a lot of money. In America, for instance, you can be a waiter and make over $30,000/year.

"But that's nothing!" some cry. :x

That depends on what you do on the other side of the equation: expenses. We often think we MUST have a nice place to live, be able to eat out often, have nice clothes and things. Having walked crossed America four times, sleeping under a tarp the whole time, I can promise you that you don't need much to be happy. We're all different, but if we learn to tone down our basic requirements, then we'll end up with a fortune in the bank.

For example, if someone who makes $30,000/year lives with 2-3 roommates/family members in a somewhat sketchy part of town, eats at home, brings his own lunch to work, buys used clothing (and not often), and avoids most discretionary expenses, then it's not hard to save a couple of thousand bucks, even living in an expensive city like San Francisco or NY.

Now imagine you make $50,000/year. Imagine still living like you're only making $30,000. Instead of saving $2,000/year, you'll save $22,000/year! (OK, just a tad less because you'll pay higher taxes, but you get the idea.)

Unfortunately, most people move up their expenses as soon as their income moves up (and often beforehand too!). That's why some of my Harvard Business School classmates are struggling to make ends meet even with their million dollar incomes.

I've always lived simply, no matter what my income was. I'm nearly 40 years old and I've NEVER owned a couch, TV, chair, or even a bed! All the places I rented were already furnished. One place wasn't and I slept on a used futon on the floor and had plastic plates and utensils that I washed and reused. Yes, the place was bare. I also lived in three crappy neighborhoods in San Francisco (each was next to the Projects). I'm not encouraging you to live like a monk in a crime-infested neighborhood. I'm simply pointing out that it's yet another major way to save money. We tend to overestimate how much we need to be happy. And we underestimate how much we can save, even when we're making a modest income.

More importantly, I was never sad, bitter, or frustrated whenever I lived in a humble abode. I loved my life and was thrilled to be living in San Francisco, one of the greatest cities in the world. 8)

In the Seattle suburbs, I lived without a car while I worked at Microsoft. I rode my bike in the rain (even with 40 pounds of groceries) and took the not-so-convenient bus when I needed to. Meanwhile, co-workers who were making half my salary were driving $50,000 cars that quickly depreciate. These are the same people who ask me how I can afford to travel nonstop. :lol:

My inner city neighbors never suspected that I was making a six-figure income. I spent about five years living well below my means, saving over 80% of my income, investing it wisely in stocks, and created enough savings to let me pursue my passions: traveling, public speaking, personal coaching, and writing.

So that's savings, now let's discuss....


You can guess we're I'm going on this one too. :wink:

Let's examine what makes up travel costs.

Travel Costs = Lodging + Food + Transportation + Discretionary

Lodging: Stay in the cheapest place you can tolerate. Although staying at the Ritz is fabulous, most of us travel to see stuff that is OUTSIDE the hotel. Fancy hotels encourage you to stay IN the hotel; dodgy hotels encourage you to get OUT. I stayed in a dump in Roatan, Honduras. The shared bathroom smelled of urine and shower water from the room above leaked onto my bed. So thanks to that crappy room, I got to know Roatan well. :wink:

Here are the progressive steps to simple, cheap lodging:

Nice Hotel => Budget Hotel => Hostel => Campground => Stealth Camping

Everyone has their own tolerance level. I'm just encouraging you to push your limits. Experiment! For example, after backpacking the Appalachian Trail, I didn't mind stealth camping in city parks in Eastern Europe. I didn't do it everywhere, but wherever I did it, my lodging costs were zero. If not, hostels usually cost under $15/person, that's only $450/month (cheaper than most rents).

Food: Same concept for lodging. Of course, trying the local cuisine is part of traveling. But that doesn't mean you have to go to a 4 star restaurant. (In fact, most 4 star restaurants don't serve traditional local dishes, but fancy stuff that a local wouldn't recognize.) Street vendors sell local dishes, and they're not as sketchy as you might think. It's also fun to shop at a grocery store and see the products they have that you don't have back home. My standard fare when I shop is to buy bread, cheese, tomatoes, avocado, yogurt, granola, carrots, broccoli, and lots of fruit. As a result, my food costs are minimal and my nutrition is high.

Transportation: Learn to travel simply and bring a book (or an audio book) for when you're not enjoying the countryside (or you're waiting at a depot). Step down the ladder luxury:

Plane => Car (rental/taxi) => Train => Bus => Hitchhike

You don't just save money as you opt for the more simple method of transportation, but you also get to know the locals (which, presumably, is one of the reasons you like to travel). You experience how real people are, the way they live, and you're often forced to learn some words in the local language. Aren't these reasons you love to travel? :wink:

Discretionary: Museums, performances, souvenirs, and clothes are all examples of discretionary spending. As usual, we all have our own priorities and thresholds. Just try to minimize your discretionary spending, if your goal is to travel as far and as long as possible.

In short, by keeping your travel expenses down, you can make $10,000 of savings take you on nearly one year of nonstop travel! And as I wrote under the SAVINGS heading, it's not that hard to save $10,000, even when you make a moderate salary. If you save $50,000, that's several of years of ultra-budget travel.

Traveling the World with a Family

Some who have a family to support tell me, "Well that's all great for someone like you Francis who doesn't have children, but you can't do this if you have kids!"

Although I admit that I'm no expert on raising children, most of my friends have kids and I even babysit. So I'm not completely clueless. I admit that families have extra expenses that chew into any potential savings. Obviously, if you have young children, you probably shouldn't live in the ghetto if you can avoid it. Nor is it practical for a family of four to stealth camp in a park in Bucharest.

However, it's also true that most American families have enormous houses, when most of the world packs a family a four in less than a 1,000 square feet. Those "bad neighborhoods" aren't usually that bad. Most families spend way more than necessary. Even families with minimal incomes can sock away thousands of dollars a year.

Moreover, you can't say that kids don't give you enough time to travel, since most kids have 3-4 months off per year. Many families also experience some degree of economies of scale that single people can only achieve if they live with roommates. Finally, most who have families are in their 30-50s, which is typically when people earn their highest salaries. A 25-year-old can only dream of making what someone who is 45 makes.

My point is that families can apply the basic ideas I've outlined here to pursue their travel dreams. They may not be able to travel as far or as long as a childless person, but they can certainly downsize, live simply, and travel frugally. Yes, even if you have a family, you can explore the world.


I spend dozens of pages in my book, Hike Your Own Hike: 7 Life Lessons from Backpacking Across America, detailing ways to manage your fiscal life. I encourage you to buy the book to learn not just to get the most out of your finances, but also to get the most out of life itself. :D


Traveling the world isn't as costly as you think. You can buy a round-trip ticket to most places on this planet for about $1,000. Once you're there, you can take public transportation, stay at cheap accommodations, eat simply, and still enjoy many of the attractions while spending under $50 a day, even in the most expensive cities of the world. Budget wanderers often discover that their costs of living on the road are often lower than at home. And if you sublet your apartment or rent out your home, you can cover your home costs so you can travel for months. :P

Furthermore, being frugal doesn't mean you shouldn't be generous. For instance, I donate half of my book royalty to the National Scenic Trails of America. If you're tight on cash, look for non-monetary ways to give back: babysit your friend's kids for free; help clean up a beach; assist someone who is moving out; host a stranger in your house, especially if he's a smelly thru-hiker. :)

Finally, beware of upgrading your life too quickly. I discuss this in my book. Once you raise your standard of living, it's hard to go back. :cry:

In conclusion, live below your means, hike your own hike, wander and learn. :)

Happy trails,
Last edited by FrancisTapon on Sat Sep 27, 2008 7:46 am, edited 4 times in total.
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Post by waluyo » Tue Sep 16, 2008 5:54 am

For the ones who don't know it yet, a good way to minimize accomodation expenses is to use or ... (I personnaly prefer the first community)

It's a good way to save money, to meet locals, to get to know better routes for your upcoming destinations...

It has for sure some pros, but it can also have some cons... Indeed, it is time consuming. (it requires to spend some time on the internet while travelling - sometimes, you just want to crash on the couch and sleep but hosts may want to go to party, etc...)
But, most of the time, it's a great experience.

Give it a try... ;)

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Post by FrancisTapon » Sat Sep 27, 2008 1:23 am

Awesome suggestion! I've used many times and I love it!

You're right that at that sometimes you just want to chill out and you don't feel like putting on a good face. Fortunately, sometimes the host feels the same way and prefers that their couchsurfers remain invisible. ;)

Although saving money is probably the main reason most people sign up for couchsurfing, consider:

1) The cultural benefit of meeting and staying with a local. That's worth something right there, even if the experience isn't perfect.

2) The cost savings may be less than you think. A proper couchsurfer should bring a gift and/or take their host out for a meal. The cost of doing that may be around $10, which is cheaper than a hostel, but not free. Also, unlike a hostel, you can't ignore your host and you may not be able to come and go as you please. That's why point #1 should be the main reason you do couchsurfing and treat any economic savings as a bonus. :)

Happy surfing!
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Traveling inexpensively with a family

Post by FrancisTapon » Sat Sep 27, 2008 11:51 am

Paawan wrote: Here is something for families -
Families with kids can travel around the world and live for free too.

That's a great suggestion! :idea:

As I mentioned, there is economies of scale when you have a family. Packing a family of four in one hotel room is cheap on a per person basis. Combine families and you can rent a house or do a house swap as suggested above.

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Fiddlehead's tips on traveling the world

Post by FrancisTapon » Mon Sep 29, 2008 3:09 am

Fiddlehead is an amazing wanderer. He's best known for attempting to hike the Triple Crown in one year, but he's been many other places too. He wrote this to me:

Hello Francis, seems we have lived similar lives. I too am very frugal and have the added advantage of playing music.
For much of my life, i have lived on my musical (weekend) income while saving my regular job salary or putting it into my house in PA.

The best piece of advice i try to give people who often ask me how i do it is to tell them to "stay the hell out of debt" at all costs!
I only ever went in debt for a house. I buy my cars at car auctions and got good at it. My last car, I paid $400 for it, drove it for 4 years and sold it for $400.
My present car in the states cost me $1300 and i've already been offered $2500 for it but am not selling.

I also look for free places to stay (sleep) when traveling and carry a tent too for places like Germany (before the EC) that were so expensive. Found a guy in Paris that let me sleep under his kitchen table and had a girlfriend in Switzerland that was always a heaven to get cleaned up, relax, fed, etc.

Glad to hear you've done most of Europe. Have you discovered Asia yet? my favorite continent. very English speaking, very frugal people with great prices, not much crime.

Anyway, keep up the traveling, i miss it sometimes but adore my little boy too much to worry about it.

Here is an interesting quote i came across today:

Security is mostly a superstition.
It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it.
Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure.
Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.
~ Helen Keller ~


ps. Hey, i'm trying to design a hiking trail here in Phuket and have written up my first chapter for a guidebook, complete with pictures.
check it out on my blog at: ... section-a/
feedback would be appreciated. thanks.
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Money = Freedom or Instant Gratification

Post by FrancisTapon » Tue Sep 30, 2008 2:33 am

I received this email today regarding my original post. My book, Hike Your Own Hike, discusses how money buys you freedom and she addresses the issue briefly here:

This is an amazing, amazing READ.

Just between you and I, I live way below my means but have a tendency to
splurge here and there and wish I could stop the splurging and really save
at least 75% of my salary.

It's sometimes inevitable (to spend that is) and the more I make, the more I
want to spend so badly, but then back to what you say - once you go ahead
and spend, it's extremely difficult to go back because you get used to it.

You know money buys two things, either instant gratification or freedom.
Question one has to ask themselves is what is long lasting?
I would say freedom and you are right, 5 years of a 6 figure salary and 80%
savings with long-term intelligent investing can lead to a pretty 'free'
life even in today's economy.

I have forwarded this write-up below of yours to at least 6 of my friends
including 2 of the principals/owners at my consulting firm and also another
friend who also graduated from HBS like you.

I am glad to see you are doing well and always enjoy reading your updates!

Freedom is indeed the long lasting choice. Humans aren't wired to make good long term decisions. That's why we eat so much chocolate and ice cream. ;)

We're poor at seeing the CUMULATIVE impact of our decisions. For example, we're good at knowing that one small portion of cake isn't going to kill us, but that one small portion of cyanide will. So we're good at avoiding cyanide. :)

However, we fail to see that eating cake everyday (or smoking or not exercising, etc...) has the same cumulative effect as cyanide: it kills us.

Similarly, with money we're good at realizing that posting our personal financial information on the web will lead to poverty overnight. And we're good at seeing that spending $150,000 on a Ferrari that we can't afford is going to bankrupt us. However, we're poor at seeing that spending "only" $500/month on a Ferrari will kill our financial mobility.

We're also bad at realizing that eating out at restaurants for lunch, paying $8-10 a day, adds up to $3,000 in a year, which pays for a nice vacation somewhere (or you can buy a car).

In short, humans suck at seeing how many baby steps in the same direction can take you across the planet. When we were cavemen such insight was pretty useless: we just needed to avoid the lion and eat enough food to live another day. For that, we're well suited.

However, for seeing 20 years down the road, we're horrible. That's why governments (and individuals) are heavily in debt, why we'll keep altering the environment even while we profess to love our grandchildren, and why we're all so fat and unhealthy.

However, instead of whining about the tendencies of the human race and getting depressed about it, accept it and move on. Focus on learning to have a longer term perspective in your own life and help others (who want to listen) to see it too. Meditate on the cumulative impact of repeating the same action over and over again. You'll live a more fulfilling life and still be able to dodge lions and avoid cyanide. ;)

Happy trails,
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How do you protect your valuables in dumpy places?

Post by FrancisTapon » Tue Sep 30, 2008 12:03 pm

Do you ever feel unsafe where you stay? How you protect yourself and valuables ($$ and credit cards) when staying in dumps.


Tracy, I rarely feel unsafe where I stay, but it does happen. Puerto Limon, Costa Rica is a real rat hole and in El Salvador I stayed in a hotel that had a 4 meter metal fence because the neighborhood was so lousy. You couldn't walk around at night. I've also camped throughout Eastern Europe in cities that are a bit sketchy. I've even slept in two cemeteries. In short, I've been in some dumps.

I'm sure in Africa I'll find some even less desirable places.

Here's how I deal:

* I scan my passport (and any other valuable docs) before a trip and upload it onto the internet. You can email the image to your own email address, for example. If your passport gets stolen, you can go to your embassy and ask them to print your copy out for you.

* In really sketchy places, carry a phony wallet that has an expired credit card and a few dollars so you have something to give the mugger.

* Use a money belt to keep cash, an extra credit card, and your passport. Always keep the money belt on you. In hostels, sleep with money belt unless you have high confidence in your roommates.

* Spread the valuables. Sometimes I'm in a crappy place where I wonder if the management/maid will enter my room and take my valuables, but the neighborhood is also very sketchy, so I worry about getting mugged outside. Hide some of your valuables in your room and hide the rest on your body (money belt). The cheapest places often don't have maid service, so they usually don't go into your room until after you check out. Sometimes those places are safer than those that have daily maid service. Of course, some hotels have safes you can rent.

* When traversing a sketchy place, take the memory card out of your camera and put it in your money belt or in your sock or underwear (or bra).

* If you're wearing sneakers, slide a credit card and a $100 bill under the insole. Put those valuables in a plastic ziplock so neither sweat nor rain get into them.

* For the ultra-advanced, sew a place in your underwear to put your most treasured valuables.

Finally, repeat this phrase often: "It's only money." :idea:

Whenever I get ripped off, overcharged, or mugged, I remind myself that it's only money and that I still have my life and my experiences. And now, I've got a good mugging story to share! Getting ripped off is a cost of travel, so budget for it. You will also lose and break things. It's just part of the cost of travel. It sucks when it happens, but it happens even when you are not traveling! :P

Wander and learn! :)
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Post by Rick D » Fri Oct 03, 2008 10:58 am

Very valuable suggestions! I'm getting into this lifestyle now, too, subsisting on $500 a month in a small town in central Michigan while managing my Internet business and writing. Planning the next big adventures!

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Post by xjenx » Sat Oct 04, 2008 12:16 pm


Being a woman I find the way people treat you depends a lot on how you look. Although I feel a bit unattractive doing it (which is the point), wearing round neck plain tshirts and long pants really helps and tying up your hair especailly if you are blonde (if I had blond hair I think I would temporaily dye it when travelling!) If you are carrying or wearing something (like a hat) look around you, if no one else is wearing anything similar take it off because you will be drawing attention to yourself. I have also heard of people wearing a real cheap wedding ring which is going to help in some places.

Also being English I am not used to people wanting to help me and automatically think anyone trying to give me directions or buy me a bus ticket if I am out of change is trying to do me wrong somehow. I have now learnt still to be careful, but also that some people, although maybe a little odd, are just trying to be nice :)


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Post by yulsart » Sat Oct 04, 2008 12:32 pm

So many helpful travel information, thank you!

When traveling to other countries, I try to go for homestay with locals, it is so much more interesting than staying in the hotels or even hostels, you get to know the "real life" and culture while saving a lot of money. Lonely Planet books and the website have a very good list of homestay (guesthouse) options...

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Re: How can you afford to travel the world?

Post by Pat McNeill » Tue Sep 08, 2009 4:45 pm

This post hit a note with me. Allow me to tell you about a small adventure. I am Canadian and in 1990 I cycled 12,000 km about Europe for 12 months. I spent about $9,000 U.S. including top of the line equipment and airfare - and I had the time of my life. I like to think I discovered Stealth Camping before Ray Jardine.

The progression seems natural in hindsight. My first night in Lisbon (warmer in January) I stayed in a small Pension, the next night a hostel, then a campground. After that I knocked on a farmer's door and asked if I could sleep on his lawn (no common language, me miming out the act and holding up my passport). Then I started Stealth Camping beside farmer's fields and in the woods... always close to the road... but out of sight by it. In one year of Stealth Camping I got found out twice that I know of. Once by a farmer who was very cheerful and didn't mind at all (no fires). Once by a hunter who was curious and knew some English and wanted to chat. In cities I stayed in Hostels. In small towns I asked people if I could camp on their lawns. In villages I slept on the park benches.

I cycled from Portugal to Hungary to Sweden and on to the UK - and everywhere in between - mostly eating outside grocery stores and enjoying the local ales for pain relief. In Spain I met a guy on the road who had cycled from Hong Kong (looking at the guy, his attire, and gear - I knew he was legit). He taught me not to be afraid of sleeping on the park benches in the small villages (Europeans adore the sport of cycling) and that if I ever had to stop to rest when going uphill - even once (and we're talking about major mountain ranges) - I had to lose a piece of gear in the next town because my load was too heavy (lightweight camping even before Ray's book was published). I even stopped pitching my tent when I Stealth Camped - eventually I just used it as a bivy. (Why put it up? I'll just have to take it down in the morning!)

I broke my bike frame in Italy - in the next village mending the frame at the local garage became an afternoon project for the dozen old guys hanging out in the town square (they did a great job - wasn't an issue again). They laughed at me when I tried to pay them. In many towns in Poland and the former Czechoslovakia I was the first person from behind the wall people had ever met (I have had many similar experiences in East Asia).

I broke my bike 7 times in Eastern Europe and had to hitch-hike out to Germany to get parts - this just a year after the Berlin Wall went down. For every problem there was a solution waiting to be found - or even multiple solutions - finding the best one was only a test of the imagination. I can go on for hours with stories and lessons about what happened to me that year.

I'm on this site because I'm working through all of Francis' materials in preparation for a PCT thru-hike... and I am completely in concurrence with his perspective and the lessons he offers.

In keeping with this post I would only add that the thing that makes it all possible is having a compelling vision - a dream. I had visualized myself riding a touring bike off the driveway of my parent's home into the street to discover the world since I was about 15 years old - it was my ultimate adventure, but it took me a decade to make it happen. Create a vision. Then a plan. Then live it. It will happen, you will be happy you did it, and it will change who you are. You really don't need a new couch.

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Re: How can you afford to travel the world?

Post by FrancisTapon » Fri Sep 18, 2009 11:14 am

What a great post, Pat! :)

I love the progression to simplicity: hotel, hostel, CS, camp, stealth camp with tarp, stealth camp under the skies!

Thanks for sharing your stories. I'm sure it will inspire others to realize that traveling the world doesn't need to cost much. We just need to learn how to travel more simply.

Your PCT thru-hike will take your traveling skills to a new level (long distance travels always sharpens your skills!). If you're going solo on the PCT, you might enjoy my CDT gear list, if you haven't seen it already.

Finally, you're right about visualizing: see yourself hiking the PCT with a smile in the rain and snow, heat and bugs, and you'll have a great time! :)

Happy trails,
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Re: How can you afford to travel the world?

Post by FrancisTapon » Mon Mar 08, 2010 2:32 pm

My wife and I are curious about how you choose to travel for extended periods of time. We may find ourselves spending a few months in Ukraine then a few months in another European country, then back again, etc. in order to avoid visa regulations. I have passive income from my websites and can support us in poor countries if we are careful. One of the things we are looking at is doing a "workaway" (see where we work half-time at an organic farm or something and get free room and board.

What is it you do? Do you just couchsurf, or do you make longer-term arrangements?

I do couchsurf extensively, but it's important that people don't think of couchsurfing as a free roof. Technically, it is; however, the reality is that a guest should always give back economically to the host. If he doesn't, then he's just a leech/freeloader, which is totally uncool.

There are many ways to give back economically to your host:

    - Buy food for you AND your host
    - Cook for your host and clean up afterwards
    - Treat them to a movie and entertainment
    - Fill up their car with gasoline
    - Clean their house, bathroom, car and/or yard*
    - Help them repair their house, garden, run errands, babysit*
    - Bring a useful, practical gift: food is best, but once I brought 20 rolls of toilet paper for my host! They loved it, saying, "Finally a gift I can use!")
*These are ways to give economically without spending money.

If you're unwilling to do things like that, then you probably shouldn't couchsurf. If you want to minimize your expenses, camp instead. I don't know of any culture in the world that doesn't encourage guests to bring a gift for their host, so follow the worldwide practice.

How much should you give? Two ways of thinking about it:

1. Consider what you are costing the host in water, electricity, and food, and make sure you give him back AT LEAST that much. That usually translates to $5-10 per day, depending on the cost of living where the host lives. Be generous.

2. Perhaps an even better way to look at it is to consider the value of what the host is delivering to you. You're often getting shelter, shower, clean sheets, towel, a concierge, laundry, and computer/wifi. Sometimes you also get food, transportation, and a tour guide. To get all that from a cheap hostel, you would have to spend at least $20/night and probably much more. Therefore, spending $5-10/night on your couchsurfing host is a good deal for you and will make your host feel appreciated. If you're short on cash, give them your free labor for at least one hour.

Although it is common sense, it amazes me how many couchsurfers just take, take, take and don't give back economically. I almost never host (because I'm usually traveling), but my hosts tell me about selfish couchsurfers. These couchsurfers think, "But I give back by sharing my amazing travel stories about my awesome and wonderful life!" :talk:

Sorry, but stories, "thank yous" and smiles don't pay the bills. |( Some hosts receive so many CSers (several per week) that it would cost them $50-300/month if nobody considered their costs. The hosts are often just as poor as the couchsurfers and are trying to save pennies for their own travels too. Help them like they are helping you. If you don't, then your host may feel like he's just being used. The disappointed host might leave the Couchsurfing Community, which would be a loss to all.

Remember, couchsurfing isn't like staying with an old friend or family member, who may roll out the red carpet, feed you, and not expect anything in return. Never expect such treatment from a CS host. All you should expect is a place to crash.

By the way, if you treat your a close friend/relative like a couchsurfing host, s/he will appreciate your thoughtfulness and generosity too :) It's because the law of reciprocity is something humans all share: give back to those who give.

Moreover, don't think, "But I'll give back to my host when s/he visits me!" That may never happen, so give back today.

Similarly, don't think, "But dude, it's about karma, man. You get something when you're a guest, and you give when you're a host. I give selflessly when I host." That might work if everyone acted like that AND if everyone hosted and traveled equally, but that doesn't happen. For example, I'm the guest 95% of the time. Focus on rewarding and giving to the person who is helping you right now: your host.

Lastly, after couchsurfing, the guest should always leave a reference as soon as possible. Sometimes I write it on my last day with the host, so that they get it as soon as I leave. A positive reference is like a thank-you note. It feels good for the host to receive it.

Why the long rant? Because too many CS hosts have told me that about half of their CS guests just take, take, take. Although they may not be aware of it, they're moochers and freeloaders. They may be friendly, interesting, and honest, but they're selfish and inconsiderate guests.

In short, couchsurfing is not free, but it is cheaper than hostels. For more tips, read about how to be a good Couchsurfing guest.

For long stays, I have been lucky. If you do these nice things with all your CS hosts, then once in a while, if you are lucky, one of them will offer to let you stay for several weeks/months. I have had at least 3 hosts (Moldova, Montenegro, and Slovenia) make me such an offer. They make such offers because they can see that you're a considerate guest and that you won't abuse their generosity. With long term stays, the same principle applies: at the very least, cover their costs. The more generous you are, the more likely they will let you stay with them even longer.

Other "normal" friends I have (outside of CS) have also offered me similar long term stays. So I could, thanks to my generous friends and CS hosts, do extended stays all over the world. However, that's only because I am lucky and because I try to give back to my hosts. If you do the same, extended stay options will start popping up. It is a bit harder when you are a couple than when you are a single traveler, but it is still possible.

Another option, besides the ones you mentioned is

Have you done any multi-week treks in Europe? We're looking at possibly doing one through the Swiss Alps, through Slovakia, or across the mountainous north of Sweden.

Slovakia would be excellent, I traversed the Tatras of Slovakia in 2004. It's fantastic, but it's a multi-day trek, not multi-week one. I haven't done the other two options, but they both sounds great.

I highly recommend traversing the 800km (500mile) Pyrenees along the HRP (or GR 11, in Spain).

Good luck!
- Francis Tapon

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How can you earn money while traveling?

Post by FrancisTapon » Sun Apr 25, 2010 3:35 am

Maybe you, as a long term traveler, have an idea how can a 19 year old kid earn money while traveling?

To earn money while traveling is hard, but not impossible. The main problem is that 90% of countries have relatively low wages. I recommend two more efficient solutions:

1. Work in the top 10% countries where people earn lots of money (like Japan, Norway, Switzerland, USA, UK, Luxembourg, etc.). The advantage is that you can earn $10-20/hour in these countries doing simple jobs. And you get the experience of living in an expensive country! While you're living there, live like a monk. You'll save LOTS of money if you're smart.

2. Stay home, work hard, and live with your parents. The advantage of working at home is that you're fluent in the language, so you can do some jobs that aren't available to you in South Korea.

In general, these two options are more efficient than going to Kazakhstan and trying to make money playing the guitar on the street or being a waiter there. You'll be making $10/day instead of $10/hour. Yes,Kazakhstan is cheaper than Switzerland, but you'll save $5,000 much faster in Switzerland if you know how live cheaply. Similarly, you can save $5,000 faster if you work hard while living with your parents than helping a Kazakhstanian farmer milk cows.

With $5,000 in the bank, frugal travelers can travel for months almost anywhere they wish, including Kazakhstan! ;)

Of course, many prefer having the experience of earning $2/day in Sudan and being in that environment. As long as their basic expenses are covered, they're happy. They say, "What good is making $20/hour in Luxembourg if you're going to die tomorrow? Live for the day, and just find random jobs wherever you want to explore."

The problem with that is that many people end up working in Laos for a year and don't see much because they're busy working 5 days per week most of the year. You can't travel far on a weekend. So at the end of their stay, they quickly travel around Laos for a few weeks before going to their next destination. Meanwhile, the guy who stayed with his parents and/or worked in a high income country only had to work 6 months and was able to travel 6 months. Who got to experience more? Hard to say, so you decide. ;)

If you're determined to earn money while traveling, check out some of the links in the tread above. Otherwise, there's the standard stuff: being a tour guide, street performer, waiter, teach English (or your native language), or work in whatever area of expertise you have!
- Francis Tapon

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Re: How can you afford to travel the world?

Post by FrancisTapon » Thu May 27, 2010 11:54 am

Hi Francis,

Read through your some of your postings. Thanks for the useful tips. I'm impressed that you've been able to truly make this spirit into a life philosophy and a career!

Couple questions: You suggest that would-be travelers work for a while in more affluent countries where wages are higher and save in order to travel. Is that what you do? Or if you've been traveling continuously, how is it that you make money? There reason why I ask is because I have about $8000 that I'm hoping to stretch into a two-year trip from Israel to Japan. I'll have to find ways to make money along the way. I'm planning to teach English and maybe even busk a bit but I'm still looking for other ideas.

I do a combination: I have savings that I earned in the US working for Hitachi and Microsoft and I make money selling my books (which I can do from anywhere since people buy them online).

In your case, I would try to save more money before you go and/or working Japan teaching English or some other language you know. Japan wages are some of the highest in the world (just learn to live simply, because Japan is expensive).

Also, I'll have a small computer on me and I'm worried about it getting stolen. I guess that's just a risk I'll have to take. But maybe there are ways to minimize risk. I like your ideas about keeping a dummy wallet and spreading out valuables, etc., but anything for larger items like a computer? Or maybe you'd suggest I scrap the computer idea..I plan to keep a detailed blog and I'll want to word-process..What do you think?

Buy a used netbook. You can get them on eBay for $100-300.

Another option would be to rely on net cafes, but they're expensive in Japan. Nobody will steal anything from you in Japan and Middle East countries have little theft too, thanks to the Koran's influence.
Lastly, I plan on doing a lot of couchsurfing. You suggest bring a gift or taking them out to eat. Have you found any other forms of reciprocity that are less taxing on my budget? Maybe home-made presents..

That's fine, as long as they're practical. One CSer gave her host a print of some of her photographs. It's a nice, personalized gesture, but as a host, I wouldn't value it much, since I don't like clutter and stuff. But if it's practical, like a handmade wallet/bag, that might work. The problem with such gifts is that most people have too much stuff. Your quaint gift is just more junk that people will have to deal with.

In my post I mention some ways of giving without it costing you any money; it will just cost you time:

- Clean their house, car or backyard
- Help them repair their house, garden, run errands, babysit

So clean their bathroom and kitchen, vacuum, take out the trash, and mow the lawn. A cleaning person costs money and most people hate to clean. Do their laundry, Iron their clothes, take the dog for a walk, cook dinner, wash dishes, paint their room. I suspect that most people might appreciate these kinds of gifts more than getting a cheap, handmade necklace (let's face it, if you won't buy $5-10 in food, like I suggest, then that necklace (or whatever handmade good) is going to cost $1, which most people won't use.)

Taking them out to eat is expensive, so that's why I suggest buying $5-10 in food in a supermarket and cooking for them. You feed yourself, your host, and you clean up (the kitchen). Add a personal touch by making a dish they may not know. Just check the food preferences of your host (some don't eat meat/onions/etc...).

And very lastly, I'm going to buy a travel bag in the next few weeks. I'll probably go to the store to try a few options and then look for deals online. Do you have any tips re brand, size, features...

One thing I got from your site was the inspiration to hike. Right now I was mostly thinking of being in city centers (my trip will be focused on the study of religions) but now I'm thinking I'll want to be versatile enough to do some outdoors-y expeditions! Thanks for the inspiration!


Thanks Jeremy for your kind words.

For a travel bag, I suggest a backpack from Gossamer Gear, GoLite, or Mountain Laurel Designs. They're more versatile than bags with wheels. Pay attention to their weight and favor backpacks that weight less than 1kg.

If you have self-control, buy something that has large capacity, but only fill it 50-70%.

If you have no self-control, buy something small that forces you to not take too much stuff.

Good luck!
- Francis Tapon

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