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5 Top Tips for Saving Money When You’re on Holiday

Looking to head off on a holiday in the next few weeks or months? Travelling abroad can forge memories which’ll last forever, but that doesn’t mean it won’t cost you a pretty penny in the process. If you’re looking to save as much as you can on your travels, take heed of these five tips for saving money when you’re on holiday.

1. Cook your own meals

It might seem like a hassle to do so, but cooking your own meals when you’re out on holiday is a clever way of saving a few pennies on your overall travel expenses. Unless you’ve paid for an all-inclusive vacation where the food is provided for you, you’ll definitely save money preparing dishes at your accommodation.

There are several different types of meals you’ll be able to easily produce for yourself, all of which are relatively easy and tasty. Make it fun by using natural and locally sourced ingredients from the area you’re staying in.

 

  2. Travel in low season

Heading out during a time of the year when prices are reduced is a smart way of saving money if you’ve got your heart set on visiting a load of tourist attractions. These might see the price of your vacation skyrocket if you hit them in the hotter months.

Generally speaking, travel in the winter or autumn months (which’ll be dependent on the part of the globe the country is in) will result in you experiencing a massive decrease in prices across the board. The tourist traps will still be there, but with less custom they’re likely to not offer such extortionate prices.

3. Don’t waste money on frivolous things

There’s no end to the ridiculous trinkets available for purchase from the markets and stalls you’ll find strewn along wherever it is you’re visiting. Souvenirs seem like a great idea in the moment, but do they really serve a purpose in the long-term?

The silliest souvenirs out there are often some of the more expensive, with the likes of t-shirts, “traditional” clothing, rugs and even vuvuzelas just a small selection of the ridiculous types of things people will come back from a holiday with. They’re a waste of cash, and something you won’t appreciate as soon as a few weeks after you’re home.

4. Budget

When it comes to saving money on holiday, it stands to reason you’ll be able to make a positive difference if you sit down before heading out and give yourself a strict budget to adhere to while you’re away.

Giving yourself a set amount you’re willing to spend every day will cap how much you’re leaking when it comes to funds. While you may need to go above this pre-determined number in case of an emergency, try your best not to.

5. Plan ahead

You can make your trip a little clearer (and therefore theoretically more money-efficient) by plotting out your schedule beforehand. Make the most of holiday planning tools you can find online, to roughly plan where you want to go and what you want to do.

This basic plan of attack doesn’t have to be regimentally stuck to, but it does at least provide you with an outline of where you’ll be going and how much you’ll be spending.

Have these money saving tips helped when it comes to your next holiday? Follow the advice we’ve given here and you should find yourself saving money when it comes to future travel plans.

Travel

The Emotional Cost Of Travel

How can you afford to travel all the time? It´s a great question that many would like to know the answer to.  How to get to that state of financial independence that allows you to roam around the world, exploring a new city every month. But sometimes, we forget that the price of travel doesn’t only come in dollars.

Travel as a lifestyle isn´t a ‘normal´ thing. That means that when you decide to travel, it means you have to give up other parts that belong to a normal lifestyle. When you travel often you miss out on a lot of things. A lot of those things are very mundane and are totally worth giving up when seen as one thing. But adding all those little mundane things up you get a lifestyle of comfort and structure, something that becomes harder and harder to maintain when you keep wanting to discover new things.

So the cost of travel doesn’t just come in dollars. It also comes in the feeling of homesickness, because you no longer know where home is. It comes in thousands of international Facebook friends but not as many close friends that you get to hang out with all the time. It comes in having to say goodbye to people, places and feelings even if you don´t want to.
Travel has taught me to be more independent, but sometimes I fear that my independence is getting in the way of me making actual relations with people. Instead, from the moment I meet them I start emotionally preparing for the moment we will have to say good-bye again.

And, maybe the worst part of travel, when you come `home´ and you realize nothing has changed, except you. It feels the same, yet it feels different, because everything you’ve experienced have made you into a different person, with different hopes and dreams, different stories to tell, yet people still have the same hopes and dreams as before and still talk about the same things at the dinner table. It´s that feeling that eventually led to this blog, and all it stands for. “Too foreign for home, too foreign for here, never enough for both” (by Ijeoma Umebinyuo) 

That feeling of not belonging where you are supposed to belong

Now I would be lying if I said it wasn’t worth it. It´s one of those no light without darkness kind of situations, ying and yang, where positive and negative feelings can perfectly balance each other out. But I would also be lying if I said I wasn’t struggling with it. I see people settling down, having all these things that my lifestyle would never allow me to have, yet I know that even if I wanted to, I couldn’t live like that because I’ve been bitten by the so-called travel bug. It´s the burden of knowing what is out there, because what has been seen can never be unseen. The world is too big and too beautiful to live life in one place and I would encourage anyone and everyone to go and live abroad, travel the world and chase all of your dreams. However, you should realize that it´s not only a financial but also an emotional commitment and once you go, you can never go back.

Travel, Travel tips

5 Reasons Traveling Solo Is Better Than Traveling With Others

Last year was my first time traveling solo. Not because I really wanted to travel alone, but more because I didn´t want to travel with other, but more because I didn´t have anyone else to travel with. I didn´t have anything against it though, so I just decided to go with it and embrace the loneliness. To my pleasant surprise though, I actually liked it more than traveling with a set group of people. Now, I am not saying that traveling alone is always better than traveling with others (this is obviously up to personal preferences), but there are a couple of reasons why traveling alone certainly beats traveling with others. Here are the reasons I thought traveling solo beats traveling in a group.

#1 Solo trips actually happen

How often have you not planned a trip with someone only to have them bail on you?

Or how about you wanting to visit that one city that you have been dreaming of since childhood, while your friend wants to go somewhere else because the parties are better, and you and up having to compromise.

With solo travel, it´s up to you. You set the budget, you decide the destination and you make it happen. No need to wait on others or compromise on your own dreams.

#2 Flexibility

My favorite part. I could make my own plan without having to talk to anyone else. If I wanted to go to the beach, I could go to the beach. If on my way to the beach I thought I wanted to go skydiving, I could. Of course you can do this too with other people, but the more people you are traveling with the harder it gets to make everybody happy.

One day I was tired, so I stayed in the hostel the whole day. Nobody nagging about being hungry when I wasn´t, nobody I had to convince I wanted to eat when they weren´t hungry. You do you. That is one of the reasons I like hostels so much. The people around you are super friendly, but they also let everybody be themselves.

I often met other people in a hostel that had some kind of awesome plan, so I would just join them and the only one I had to convince was myself. Unless you have the perfect travel buddy who thinks EXACTLY alike, it is absolutely perfect.

#3 You meet more people

“Don’t you feel lonely when you are traveling alone?”

That is probably the most heard question, and at the same time it’s probably the most common misconception of all. It works two ways; when you are alone you are more forced to socialize with new people, but you also look more approachable when you are sitting somewhere by yourself then when you are making out with your significant other in some corner or speaking your native language with a friend.

To be honest the moments I have actually felt alone are extremely rare, and I can only think of one occasion. Every time I arrived to a new hostel within an hour I had made new friends who were going somewhere and invited me to come along. Yeah, sometimes the people you meet aren´t going to be your best friends. Some people are really strange. But it´s all part of the experience, and I personally love the stories other people have to tell.

Being alone also makes it easier to meet up with locals. For example (if you are single) you can use Tinder when being abroad and ask people to show you a bit of the city you are staying in. You can also join Facebook groups or the couch surfing site and try to meet people that way. It´s your party!

 

#4 It’s not nearly as lonely as you think

This sort of goes hand in hand with the thing I said before, but I still wanted to make a different point for it. I have seen a lot of people who are traveling with someone else and at some point on their trip they get annoyed with the other person. It happens, when you spend days and days with one person and you are tired, it happens.

So when people ask me if I didn´t feel alone I tell them “Sure, I felt alone at times, but it´s probably for the same amount of time you and your travel buddy usually spend not talking to each other because you have just had enough of each other¨. The fear of being alone shouldn´t hold you back, certainly not in countries often visited by tourists. Trust me, you will find a travel buddy faster than you can say “Why didn´t I bring a travel buddy?¨.

#5 It’s so much easier

Because of the flexibility, but also because there is usually always place for one more person, but not always for two. You don´t have to coordinate vacations, you don´t have to make sure you both sort of have the same amount to spend etc.

And I have been in countless situations where a couple or group was sent away from a hostel because it was too full, while there was always space for me. Same with tours, activities and bus tickets. If you want to travel cheaply you can even try couch surfing or stay at a friends place. People often have room for one, but for groups of two and up it gets a lot trickier.

#6 Get comfortable with/by yourself

Those who have been on exchange will know why even being with other people abroad, you still get more independent. The fact that you don´t have someone else to guide you, you can make your own decisions, makes you more comfortable with yourself. Yes, I know this sounds very cheesy, but I think it´s really good to spend some time alone every once in a while. The thing is, you are not actually alone, you are constantly surrounded by people! But you are still by yourself, and that´s very different. When nobody from your country/culture/language is around, you get to know yourself a little better and it makes you more aware of things.

Travel

5 Things You Shouldn´t Miss in Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is definitely a must-visit when you are in Thailand. But what do you do when you have arrived to this Northern Thai city? Here is a list of things you shouldn´t miss when you are in Chiang Mai.

1. Night Bazaar

Whether you are looking for something to eat, shopping for clothing and souvenirs or you just want to hang out and listen to some great music, the Night Bazaar provides it all!

The whole Bazaar is actually quite big so it might take some time figuring out where you are but, to be honest, every corner has something to offer. There are various little squares and places where people are playing music, from traditional Thai things to classic rock cover bands.

If you are into Muay Thai, you will definitely find a show around somewhere.

If you are more the relaxing type, you can get a massage pretty much anywhere for a decent price. If you want to try something a little bit different you might like the fish pedicure. I tried it and although the experience and feeling itself is well, weird, to say the least, the results are oddly pleasant.

The Night Bazaar is such a big part of Chiang Mai that it is hard to miss, but I still had to put it on the list. Make sure you don´t miss it!

Ps. At the Night Bazar you can also find the Caberet Show (point nr. 5)

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2. Thai Cooking School

If you like Thai food as much as I do, there is no better way of spending your money than learning how to make it. I booked with the Thai Cookery School before hand and I had the best experience. I am not lying when I say the best Thai food I had during my whole trip was actually the food I made myself, all because of the amazing classes they provide.

Not only do they bring you to an amazing location and explain in detail how to make your favorite Thai dishes, but every day has a different theme. They might take you to the local market and show you how the products are kept and made, or they might explain what ingredients are used in the Thai kitchen. This means you can go for a full week and learn something new every day! But don´t worry, going for only one day will already be worth it.
They will also hand you a free book full of all the recipes they make during the week. Every day has different dishes and another theme.

TIP: Another reason I highly recommend Thai Cookery School is because of their amazing teachers. Our instructor was incredibly helpful and involved. Ask your cooking instructor what restaurants they recommend in Chiang Mai, and if you are lucky they might even take you to their favorite places, not only providing you with amazing food but also a wonderful experience in the non-touristy parts of Chiang Mai

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3. Elephants

Elephants are truly amazing creatures and a big part of Thai culture. Not only can you see them on all the backpacker shirts and pants (yes, we all know you have them), around Chiang Mai there are over 100 parks where you can actually meet the elephants and hang out with them! How cool is that?

To tell you the truth, not always that cool. Please don´t ride the elephants or support a park that does since most of the animals in these parks are suffering a lot of trauma. Click here to get more information on why you shouldn´t ride an elephant.

However, around Chiang Mai there are also loads of parks that actually take care of elephants that have been mistreated in other parks, or provide a safe space for the elephants. One of these is the Elephant Nature Park (ENP) where they provide “care and assistance to Thailand’s captive elephant population through a multifaceted approach involving local community outreach, rescue and rehabilitation programs, and educational ecotourism operations.”

Another example is the Elephant Retirement Park where they take care of elephants who were formerly used in for example the agrarian business in Thailand, but there are many more. Before you book a tour with your hostel/hotel or any other agency, make sure to do some research online. They might advocate they are taking care of the animals, but when they ride them, chances are their well-being is debatable.

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4. Surrounding Areas

Not only is Chiang Mai a beautiful city, the surrounding area is also more than astonishing. You can go up the mountain and check out the rice fields, or take a hike up to the highest point of Thailand. It doesn´t matter what weather it is, even on cloudy days it´s incredibly beautiful, although for the better views sun is desirable.

There are some wonderful pagoda´s to visit, for example the pagoda on Doi Inthanon, on top of the mountain. Not only are these pagoda´s wonderful to visit, it will also give you an amazing view of the valley.

Besides hiking there are also lots of activities you can do such as zip lining or special wildlife tours. I personally haven´t done any of these, but you can consult your hotel/hostel to see what they have to offer.

Honestly there are countless things to discover in the mountains around Chiang Mai, so make sure you don´t just stay inside the city. Get out there and explore!

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5. Cabaret show

And last but certainly not least; the cabaret show! Probably my favorite part of Chiang Mai! We have all heard about the infamous Thai Ladyboys, but if you want to see them in the flesh and assist a Vegas-worthy show, check out the Caberet show at the Night Bazaar. It starts ever night at 20:30 and costs about 200 baht.

I don´t know what to say about it besides that you HAVE TO GO! I was taken the first night, not knowing what to expect but I ended up going every single night and actually taking people there because the show is AMAZING! These ladies are able to pull off anything, from Tina Turner to Rihanna and other world class acts.

Definitely try it out because this show will not disappoint!

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This was my top 5 of things to do in Chiang Mai! What were your favorite things there?

Travel

The 3 Keys to Budget Travel

In the past year I have traveled to atleast 5 countries and 3 continents. People tell me that I must be so rich, or lucky. Although ofcourse I am a very fortunate person to be able to travel this much, I am absolutely not rich and it actually has very little to do with `being lucky`.

The most important thing to keep in mind is what your expenses are exactly. The largest part of your expenses will lay in the transportation and the acommodation/food, and if you know how to save money on these things, you can bring your expenses to an absolute minimum.

1.Transportation

¨The journey is more important than the destination¨ they always say, and this might explain why most of the times this can be the most expensive part of the entire trip. But no worries, there are plenty of ways to save money on transportation. Here are some tips.

– Finding cheap flights –
(this also applies to finding train or bus tickets)

This of course might be easier said than done. The first step is to find a good website. Usually websites from airlines will ask you for a specific date and time, and then come up with ridiculously high prices. The Skyscanner Application gives you the option to put a week, month or year and shows you from day to day what the pricing is, which can save you up to hundreds of euros.

Another option it gives is to put in the name of the country in general instead of a specific airport. This is very interesting to look into as it might sometimes be cheaper to book a flight to a different airport (note: this could even be in a different country!) and travel to the desired destination by train or bus.

The prices of plane tickets change from time to time, so this is definitely a process worth putting some time into. Checking everyday, until it is a desirable price for you. Don`t get too scared when they suddenly go up as the week after they can go down again just as easily. It takes some time to get the hang of it as these are some of the most unpredictable pricing in the world, although it is said that prices are the lowest about 3 to 2 months before departure (definitely not the soonery, the cheaper!). What I always do is that I set a budget for myself, and when the prices go under, I buy the ticket (of course to get a clear idea of what to expect I first watch the prices for some days, also looking ahead to other months just to see how low they can go).

Don`t underestimate how much money you can save this way! It has often happened to me that the people sitting next to be on the plane paid double or triple what I paid for the flight.

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– Go hitchhiking/carpooling –

While I have never done this myself, I know a lot of people who have and this could be a great way to save money. Especially when you are a guy and you are traveling in Europe, it is quite safe. The only problem is that it could take more time to get to your destination as it might not always be easy to find a ride.
Here you can find some basic tips on how to start hitchhiking.

Another thing you could do is look for a carpooling website. Some people drive to other countries regularly and want to save on their fuel expenses (don`t we all?) so they post their trips online and you can join them for a certain price.

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2. Accommodation and food

This of course is a very important part of your trip. Something to keep in mind is that you basically spend money everyday on food and accommodation. You can rent out your place while you are away and go to the supermarket and cook for yourself. This way you will have around the same expenses as you would have at home.

– make international friends –

This has definitely been my biggest expense savor on my trips. In my house we have always hosted a lot of people (without asking money for it), and it has always been an amazing experience. Wether they stayed with us for a some days or for an entire year, it is a wonderful experience for everybody, and all you need is an extra bed and an extra plate.

The nice thing about this is also that they will often return the favor. Not only will you not have to pay for your stay and food (although of course you can always give a small compensation, or at least bring some gifts), you will also get a look into the culture of the country you are traveling in. Now even if I had to pay triple what I would pay for a hotel, I would still prefer this over the five-star Costa Inn that is right in the city centre next to the bus stop for City Sightseeing.

 

 – couchsurfing –

If you don´t have international friends, you can also try couchsurfing. It`s the same idea only here the people are strangers who have a couch or a bed left that they are willing to share with travelers. These people, if they are not too busy, are often also willing to give you some great tips on things to do in the city, often places that the great majority will never discover.

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3. Be flexible

This of all tips might be the most important one.
No, you won`t get a business class flight and a beach bungalow on some tropical island for under 5 dollars. You have to be realistic, but you also have to be flexible. Instead of looking for one particular destination, surprise yourself by going somewhere else. In Europe tickets are generally very cheap, especially to countries in eastern europe and the Balkan. These might not be the most popular tourist destinations, but every country has it`s charm, and personally I find it much more interesting to discover a city by myself than to be in a bus driving around a city that practically looks the same as all the photos of all the books that have already been written about it.

The fact that you don`t have a big budget might be a way for you to do things you normally wouldn`t do, and that might be the best thing about traveling in the first place.

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Travel

According To Science You Should Spend Your Money On Travel

Yep, that´s right.

According to a psychology study from the Universtiy of Cornell if you want to be happier it´s better to spend your money on experiences rather than material things. The reason for that being that us humans are biologically programmed to adapt ourselves to new situations. This means that when it comes to new material things the thrill of having it is only temporary and you get used to them quickly.

“One of the enemies of happiness is adaptation,” says Dr. Thomas Gilovich, the psychology professor at Cornell University who has been studying the question of money and happiness for over two decades. “We buy things to make us happy, and we succeed. But only for a while. New things are exciting to us at first, but then we adapt to them.”

People tend to prefer material things over experiences because it´s longer lasting. Say you spend $50 on clothing is more touchable than spending the same amount of money on for example a nice dinner at a restaurant. Yet the experience is something that stays with us, that becomes a part of us, and that ultimately makes us happier people.

I think this counts especially when it comes to travel. For me every new country and culture I get to know, I feel a richer person. Maybe this doesn´t go for everybody, but for those who love to travel this is probably nothing new. Though I feel like many times you need to justify your travel expenses because people see travel as luxury, while it would be normal to spend thousands of dollars on clothing, cars and what not.

Some time ago I wrote about how you can get lucky and travel the world, and I think it goes hand in hand with this study. People often ask you to justify your travels, thinking you have a lot of money to spend, but if you simply put your priorities differently and spend money on experiences rather than material things, travel doesn´t have to be a luxury.

So for all you people who love to travel and would like to become happier, here´s the science that justifies your travel expenses 🙂

 

“Whoever said money can’t buy happiness simply didn’t know where to go shopping”– Bo Derek

Travel

23 Signs You Were Born to Travel

1. When people ask you “What is on your bucket list?” you would like to reply saying “EVERYTHING”

2. You think traveling is more important than sticking to the general conceptions of a successful life

3. You are constantly planning your next trip

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4. Most of your stories start with “When I was traveling in … “

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People around you be like…

5. Your biggest wish is to have a passport full of stamps

6. No, scratch that, your biggest wish is to travel for a living

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7. You are always in to try new things

8. When people mention a place you usually respond with “I have been there”, “I want to go there” or “I know someone there” (or multiple of those answers)

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9. You think people should work in order to live, and not the other way around

10. When you are eating in a foreign place, you choose the thing that sounds the weirdest

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11. While other people talk about their dreams, you talk about plans

12. You realize a lifetime is way to short to fit in all the things you want to do

13. You always want to go to a new place, yet at the same time you want to go back to all those places you have visited but feel like you haven’t fully discovered them

14. You think other travelers can instantly make better friends than people who you meet in other occasions

 15. You have been in situations that were quite dangerous and possibly life-threatening, but at least now they make up for good stories

16. You can sleep anywhere, whether it is a noisy dorm room, or an airport

17. You think Tetris is for dummies. Packing bags is the real deal

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18. You can truly appreciate your warm water and a toilet that doesn’t make you squat

19. You don’t care as much about how you look all the time. Messy hair = epic adventures.

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20. You feel that traveling and meeting people who are so different from you has made you realize who you really are

21. You know that after your ‘vacation’ you will come back more tired than you were before

22. You know travel comes with a sacrifice. Missing out on birthdays, parties, graduation, but you think it is all worth it

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23. When you come back from a trip, you feel a lot happier than before

Travel

How to become ‘lucky’ and travel the world

I, like many other people, like to travel and I, like many other people, struggle to finance my trips. Nevertheless I travel ‘a lot’. In the past 5 years I have visited about 15 different countries on 4 different continents, and I am only a 19-year-old student. “How?” you ask me? I will tell you, but you might not like what I am about to say.

Many people call me ‘lucky’. And yes, in many ways I am a ‘lucky’ person. I was born in a developed country that allows me to enjoy great education, social security and a passport that will get me into most countries. I was born into a middle-class family that has been supportive of my passion to explore other cultures. I enjoy a life where don’t need to struggle just to make it to the next day.

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But the strange thing is, the people that call me ‘lucky’ are most of the time in the exact same situation. From a developed country, a middle-class family. The people that ask me what money tree I planted in my back yard are probably even making more money than I am.

See, the only thing you need to know about being able to afford travel is that if you really really want it, you can do it. And there is the thing. Most people see travel as a luxury. They think it is what you buy with your middle-class salary when you have money and time left. So when people see me travel they think I first bought all the other things I needed, did all the other things I wanted to do and then bought a plane ticket. And that is true, but only because there are no other things I would want to spend my money on.

For me travel is not a luxury, it’s a priority. I am one of the few people my age who doesn’t have a drivers license. Therefore, I also don’t have a car. I don’t go out partying every weekend. In the past year I went shopping for clothes twice and both times I spent under $80, and not because I don’t like clothes, but because I simply find traveling more important. One day, when I make a good salary during my summer vacations I will start taking drivers lessons and go shopping for clothes. I might even get a Starbucks while I am at it. There are many things that seem ‘normal’ to many people that I don’t have, and I don’t mind because I am spending my money on the things that I actually like. But I try to limit my expenses to a minimum so that I can save up for something that I am passionate about.

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People laugh when I say I am going to Brazil for semester and they say ¨Oh, how do you always end up in situations like that! Can I have your life?” but the truth is, I specifically choose my university and my degree because I knew it would include a semester in Brazil. People treat it like it is some kind of lottery that I always end up winning, when it is not. I end up in these situations because I put myself in these situations. If you are not willing to take that extra step for it, don’t expect it to just magically appear on your path because that’s not how it works. You have to shift your priorities to what you find important, whether that is traveling or getting a new car.

Sometimes I ask people why they don’t travel so often, while they are obviously interested in doing so. Most of the times they will come up with some excuse for why they shouldn’t do it and it makes me sad because it doesn’t have to be that hard. The fact that you have to go alone shouldn’t hold you back, and your aunt will have another birthday next year. 

Yes, I realize I am typing this from a privileged position, but to all of you middle class western kids out there, and frankly anyone who is passionate about anything; make it your priority. There is always a way, so find it.


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P.S. For all of you people who already made travel their priority, or changed their mind in the course, next week I will be posting tips on HOW TO FINANCE YOUR TRAVELS with actual tips on how to save/make money 🙂

Exchange, Travel

Forget ‘Tourist vs. Traveler’, go LIVE abroad!

Are you a tourist or a traveler? 

The discussion of the ‘tourist vs traveler’ is quite well-known nowadays and is basically about the different way in which people travel to other countries. Tourists are those who visit the places their Lonely Planet guides tell them are good while travelers, on the other hand, take the time to do the things locals do, emerge with the country. ¨A traveler sees what he sees, a tourist sees what he has come to see¨ as Gilbert K. Chesterton put it.

I always liked to think of myself as a traveler. Trying local foods, going off the beaten path, learning about the culture. But the more and more I read about this discussion, the more I realize that it has two mayor flaws.

First of all, there is nothing wrong with touristy. Most ‘tourist’ places are famous because they represent an important historical moment or even because they are simply really beautiful. Being in a resort is also nothing to be ashamed of, as it is probably your vacation and your main goal is probably to relax and get away from the intensity of life at home, something which simply impossible if you are a good ‘traveler’. If you give yourself completely to a new country and culture you will get back more tired than when you left, which is nice but it’s not something you should always want and I don’t think there is anything wrong with being on vacation, as long as you realize that that is what it is opposed to saying things like “Oh I love Mexico, the beaches are amazing”. I mean, yes, the beaches ARE amazing, but the fact that they won the geographical lottery should not be the main reason why you should love a country.

Second of all, even as a traveler you will not ‘get to know’ the culture. As much as I wish that were true, the contact you have with a country will always be very superficial. In fact, the only way to actually get to know a country is to live there, and not even that is a guarantee for integration and cultural learning. The thing is; culture is complicated. Very very complicated and complex and it is not something you just pick up on your amazing travels.

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Don’t get me wrong, traveling is amazing and you can certainly learn a thing or two about culture, but knowing a country is much more than that. I often meet people who have backpacked in Panama and the more I talk to them the more I realize they know absolutely nothing about the country. I lived in a town called La Chorrera, right next to Panama City and so large that it has now formed it’s own province. A tourist or traveler will most likely never end up there unless incredibly lost ’cause even though there are many people living there, there is not that much to do. However, it is such a big city that anyone who has spent some time in Panama or even looked at a map should at least have heard of it. Yet most people who have backpacked in Panama, even if it was for a couple of months, have never heard of the place. They don’t know what Panamanian people think like or any of the popular culture of the country because they are too busy looking for the ‘authentic’ music and places to stay, which in reality only exist for the sole purpose of tourism (the colonial neighbourhood Casco Viejo is a classic example of this).

But again, there is nothing wrong with being a tourist or a traveler as long as you realize that unless you live in the country and spend time with people (and I don’t mean talking to the sympathetic young man who guided you through the jungle)  you are never going to actually know it’s culture. Knowing a culture doesn’t mean some trivia about where a certain tradition came from. Knowing a culture means understanding it. It means knowing the good and the bad. Culture is like an iceberg and those who only travel will only see the tip of the iceberg while there is so much more invisible and unspoken cultural background.

I spent an intense year living in a family, surrounded by the culture, and still I only know a fragment of what Panama really is. Because a country and it’s people might be the hardest thing to define in this entire world. But trying and getting to know the culture with all the struggles that brings has been more than worth it and that’s why I would recommend everybody: forget ‘tourist vs. traveler’, go LIVE abroad!