Many people ask me how I can sustain my gypsy lifestyle, and so here’s some information for those guys. People also seem to like nicely numbered lists with nicely rounded numbers, and because ten conforms to my metric ideology I have written exactly ten things. While a lot of this is aimed at backpackers, I feel a fair amount can be applicable to anybody who is on vacation or exploring our little blue dot.
1 – Don’t forget to look at the view, and not just your camera screen. Believe it or not, your holiday is about YOUR experiences what YOU are experiencing, not what your friends are thinking of your Instagram photos. I may look like a hypocrite saying this as, these days at least, I have a fairly big online presence when it comes to my travels, but I die a little every time I see somebody roll up to a viewpoint, take out their camera, push the shutter two thousand times and then take off again, just three minutes later and this IS NOT JUST THE ASIANS, dearest racist reader. Inhale, process and experience your surroundings to make the most of every moment.
2 – Pack lightly. So my entire life weighs somewhere between 17 and 18kg, which includes a tent, a cooking stove, a first aid kit, a laptop and a guitar. I have everything I need to survive and a couple of extras (namely my laptop and guitar). People often ask me how I do this, and well, the answer is amusingly enough not “magic”.
Outdoors shops are really good at selling clothes that are multi-functional and will help you prepare for any weather condition with just a few items of clothing. When one item of clothing is no longer usable, throw it and replace it. If you’re going away for a short break, you just need a week’s worth of clothes. Just don’t be afraid to wear a t-shirt more than once (usually more than ten times for me, let’s face it, I smell). You do not need a computer with you (sure, sure, I hear your accusations) as almost everything can be done from your smartphone. You can most likely fit everything into your hand luggage if you’re clever about it (I have done two months using just a 30L day pack before). You do not need twenty swimsuits, you do not need four pairs of shoes, you do not need a stolen baby panda, or your weightlifting kit, or your collection of skeletons… just think, and really think, about what you really really really need, and take no more than that. Unless you’re a hypocrite, like me.
The thing is, dragging large amounts of luggage around airports and city streets is really a pain in the ass. If you fill your luggage to the point of explosion, how can you fit in something else if you suddenly realise you need it? One piece of luggage is always better than two pieces of luggage. You will never realise how much easier and more beneficial it is to travel light until you try it. I could write essays on this subject, I really could.
3 – Saving money. In my opinion, the best way to stretch your money is to stop drinking alcohol (blaspheme!). The second quickest way, if you are cooking for yourself in the hostel (which is a damn lot cheaper than eating out) is to go vegetarian (no bacon? more blaspheme!), which also solves the problem of trying to keep meat fresh and safe to eat and not crawling with extra protein. Do I sound like a hipster yet? You can save the price of a night of accommodation by travelling on an overnight bus or train. Sometimes, if you are travelling in a group, it pays to have a private hostel room and to split the price instead of individual beds. Camping is cheaper than hostelling (if you already have the equipment). If you are working and travelling, most restaurant and cafe jobs come with free food which cuts the cost of filling yourself with cake. Living cheap takes some time to perfect, and you will always spend too much to begin with, but there are some easy hacks. A little sacrifice goes a very long way.
4 – Contrary to point three, don’t be stingy about spending money. As nice as it is to have a large wallet and a healthy bank account, you will always regret not doing something. Money will always find a way to work itself out, so don’t be too hesitant to book that skydive or do that afternoon of canyoning. Also, experiences are far more important that souvenirs, and I fully recommend spending your money with this in mind (which will also lighten your backpack).
5 – Don’t have a concrete itinerary. You can save a lot of money if you plan everything out right down to a meal plan before you leave, but what happens if you make a friend you want to spend some more time with? What happens if you want to extend that one-night stand into a two-night stand? What happens when the police chase you out of town for sacrificing a virgin to the volcano gods? What happens if you’re craving an elephant burger instead of a sloth sandwich that day? What if you discover a new place you can go to and you can’t fit it in? While it does help to know some information before you arrive, a little spontaneity can really have a huge positive impact. Leave your plans a little liquid and save a little room for something more, you know, just in case. If nothing more pops up, you can have an extra relaxing day catching cancer from the sun on the beach.
6 – Don’t be afraid to travel alone and don’t spend all of your time with your friends. You’re never really alone when you travel; you meet people anywhere and everywhere and make new contacts all over the world. Travelling with friends can really put a stop on this if you let it, so if you are moving around with a group, spend some time mixing with new people at each destination. It’s one of the best things about travel. And when you do meet these people, please for the sake of being polite, ask for their name before their nationality – somebody’s country does not define them so don’t pigeon hole all Australians as terrible people. Just most of them.
7 – Know what you want to experience before you leave. Somewhat contradictory to “don’t have a concrete itinerary”, but I mean this is a very general sense. If you’re looking for culture, have a rough idea of where the cultural hotspots in the country are. If you’re looking for nature, prioritise hiking and natural experiences as you travel. By all means, you should try anything and everything, but to make the most of your time, make sure you are doing the things that you want and not the things that people tell you that you want. But stay open to suggestion. Is this ambiguous enough yet?
8 – Get offline and get out of the hostel. Really it shouldn’t need to be said, but it surprises me how many people say they are travelling when all they are doing is scrolling through their Facebook feed in a different country. One of my favourite feelings is waking up to no cell phone reception. By shutting down and switching off you will start to connect more with the people and the country around you, which can only be a good thing. I met a hotel manager who said he would pull the plug on the wifi if people were staring at their phones too much so that they started talking to each other. I think somebody should make a statue of him. Are you reading this on your phone and ignoring the person who’s also staring at their phone next to you? Fuck off, don’t even finish this article, put your phone away and say “hello”. And then afterwards you can log back on and finish reading this and tell me all about how you just met the love of your life.
9 – Amongst your diminished belongings, take a blank book with you. This is more of a personal one for me, but everywhere I go I have a moleskin notebook with me (made with real moles I believe). Not only do I use the back of this to write down important information like bus times, travel plans, foreign insults and where I hid the dead bodies, but also every time I meet somebody who I spend some time with or somebody who does something substantial I will give them the book and ask them to fill up a page with anything they desire (often phallic objects and more foreign insults). People come and go and often fade out over time, but this way I can remember everything positive and everybody who made me feel that way, and stare distantly at crudely drawn penises when I’m feeling lonely. It’s one of my most important possessions.
10 – If you have the opportunity, travel slowly. Spend a few extra days in each place to really adjust to the local feel. Take a little extra effort to learn some of the local language. Eat the local food. Scratch just a little deeper below the surface than your standard tourist. Murder and bury a few more Australians. Let go of the stress of impending deadlines and trying to cram everything into a short time to really enjoy your time abroad.
Sustaining the lifestyle is not so much the problem – it’s the attitude you put towards it. You can stretch your money so thin you can live for almost free every day, but something will always pop up and ruin that. As long as you stay positive, open, and curious, you’ll find a way, one way or another, to accomplish the impossible.
– Tom @ indieroad