How One Book is Shifting the Way I Travel and Write

The Turk Who Loved Apples - Matt Gross

“I realized I didn’t give a damn about traveling frugally. Not that I wanted to go the luxury route, it was just that saving money was a secondary concern. Making friends, exploring unseen corners of the world, eating well, understanding how different people lived— those were the reasons I traveled, and the frugal aspect of it was just a means to that end.”

Recently, I read a book entitled “The Turk Who Loved Apples” by Matt Gross, and it provided overdue food for thought and tough love. Two chapters in, it was clear that (Matt) had been living in my head for the last 2 years and compiled all of my thoughts, ideas, and opinions on travel in one book.

I had hoped for a travel memoir that would transport me to the destination I was reading about. Ask and ye shall receive. What I didn’t expect was to be offered so many gems about traveling for a living. Highlighting every other paragraph, I felt completely thrown off course. It took me back to when I first decided I wanted to travel, before I started writing and before I had gotten tangled in the web of traveling for the sake of seeing how cheap a destination was as opposed to enjoying the foreign experience.

So where does that leave me? Square one.

I enjoy talking to you, our conversations, your messages and emails, and I will continue to answer questions you have regarding any aspect of travel. However, frugality, as it relates to travel, will not be my priority anymore. The advice I have given you in the past for traveling on a budget can be applied anywhere and everywhere, yet I continued to write drawn out articles for each destination as if it were some new revelation. It’s not, and it has become repetitive and downright boring.

If you want to know how to travel the world on a budget, there are plenty of blogs whose sole focus is exactly that, and in his book, Matt sums up how to travel cheaply in 400 words.

Air: Search Kayak.com, ITASoftware.com, and (for international flights) Vayama.com for low prices. Use AirfareWatchdog.com to set up alerts on routes you’d like to fly, and if those routes are to well-known destinations like Beijing or Rio de Janeiro, look into a U.S.-based consolidator, such as uschinatrip.com. Buy the ticket directly at the airline’s Web site whenever possible, and always join the loyalty program (and set up points-gaining credit cards; see cardratings.com for details). In Europe and Southeast Asia, fly low-cost carriers. Check in online. Be prepared to spend more than you want, and don’t complain too much.

Lodging: The cheapest option is to stay with friends, or friends of friends. The next cheapest is CouchSurfing.org, the international network of two million people willing (in principle) to give you their couches, floors, spare bedrooms, or guest cottages in exchange for no money whatsoever. (Yes, it’s safe.) Almost as cheap is WWOOF, but you must be willing to plan your vacation around farmwork. Next up are services like AirBnB.com, Roomarama.com, and Wimdu.com, which let you rent rooms, apartments, and whole houses around the world, like a user-friendly version of Craigslist. (Yes, they’re safe.) If you don’t trust these services, then you’ve got (in generally ascending order of expensiveness) hostels, motels, bed-and-breakfasts, inns, and real hotels. Again, join loyalty programs. Don’t take TripAdvisor too seriously. Never wire anyone any money (ever).

Food: Search Chowhound.com for recommendations, and Google your destination plus “food blog.” Buy ingredients at farmers’ markets, small grocery stores, and supermarkets— and taste every free sample. Really nice restaurants often have cheaper menus at lunch or at the bar. Eat a bigger lunch and a smaller dinner. Skip breakfast, unless it’s included with your room. Seek out church dinners. If you’re Jewish, seek out Chabad House for Sabbath dinners. If you’re hungry, seek out Sikh festivals. Eat street food. Eat fast food. Eat bad food.

Other: Use Skype. Go in the off season. Unlock your cell phone and buy local SIM cards. Find friends of friends (of friends) through Facebook. Buy citywide multimuseum passes, or skip museums and go to art galleries. Make sure your credit and ATM cards don’t charge foreign transaction fees. Take public transportation. Hitchhike, if it feels safe. Ride a bike. Walk.

So there you have it. On the whole, I’ll continue to share miscellaneous bargains, as I come across them, but consider this the end of a written journey focused on the practicalities of traveling on a shoestring budget. I’ve dug deep into certain cultures, and it’s time to do the same with my writing. By extracting details from my experiences and stories and sharing them with you, hopefully you’ll get a richer feel for a place and my personal environment so it feels like you were right there with me. Taking you along for the journey was the whole point in the first place.

So let’s start from the beginning…

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