Jacob and I received a crash course in long-term travel when we made the decision to leave our behind the U.S. for six months in Europe. What started as a plane ticket and an exciting idea quickly became an overwhelming task to plan the next six months of our lives – on a budget.
As tempting as it is to simply “go with the wind” when traveling long term, having an utter lack of itinerary can result in extra expenses and (at worst), immigration trouble.
Here are some tips to jumpstart planning your travels on a budget:
Traveling cheaply is easiest when you know people. Fortunately however, a great contact abroad doesn’t have to be a life-long friend. Some of our best experiences came through referrals to a distant friend of a friend...of a friend.
Start by making a list of people (or friends of friends) who live abroad. Think creatively and be bold in your requests. Ask your Croatian-descent coworker if she still has family in Croatia. Was your sister’s friend an au pair five years ago? Ask if she is still in touch with her host family. Ask around in your clubs and co-ops, foreign language teachers, exchange student programs - anything and everything you can think of.
In doing this we found that many people are excited to show off their country and willing to open up their homes – especially if you go with a mindset of serving. Whether that service is helping to babysit the kids, clean the house, or waitress for a week in their café, offering to help your host family can lead to more open doors and lifelong friendships.
Look for Volunteer Opportunities
There are many organizations that cut the middleman out of “Voluntourism” and allow you to search databases of host families looking for volunteers on their farms, cafés, homes, and etc. Most networks are free to search, after which they require a small fee (usually under $50 for a two year subscription) to create a profile and contact a host family.
Take a look at WorkAway (http://www.workaway.info/) for an extensive and diverse database of opportunities. Through WorkAway my husband and I were able to volunteer in a seasonal café in the Swedish countryside, incurring virtually no expenses for our month of volunteering. Best of all, we had an incredible time with our host family, and loved the work we were doing. Other volunteer networks to check out are World Wide Opportunities On Organic Farms (http://www.wwoof.net/), Help Exchange (http://www.helpx.net/), Se7en (http://www.the7interchange.com/), and Service Civil International (http://www.sciint.org/).
Be Mindful of Travel Visas
Depending on the area of the world you are traveling and the nationality on our passport, travel visa requirements can vary. Being American, my husband and I were subject to the Schengen Visa http://www.schengenvisa.cc/), a 90-day tourism visa that covers a large portion of the Europe. As the Schengen Visa cannot be immediately renewed after 90 days, foreknowledge of these restrictions helped us to plan an itinerary that did not violate any immigration or visa laws.
It is always a good idea to research the Visa and travel restrictions before making your plans – even if you are planning on traveling a considerably shorter time than six months.
Select Destinations With Good Accessibility
Once you have established contacts and understand the visa parameters, it is time to select your destinations. Rather than attempting to visit every exotic far-flung locale on your bucket list, look for an area that offers a lot to see in close proximity. What modes of transportation are available, their average expense, and the time they take?
Areas of the world that are well connected by trains, buses, and budget flights, make long distances (i.e.: moving from country to country) easy to transverse. In some countries however, the options for travel sans car are much thinner. In Eastern Europe, for example, we found inter-city flights to be expensive and infrequent, while taking a train would be an uncomfortable 12+hour experience.
As a result of this knowledge, we decided to spend more time in Eastern Europe, and planned shorter stints for places where we could move around conveniently and inexpensively.
As valuable as planning is, make sure to hold your plans loosely. Things happen – planes get delayed; contacts fall through- so give yourself allowances for flexibility. Build buffer time into your travel connections, and a couple of open-ended days in each destination. Set tentative plans a month in advance as you travel, then nail down details as the time approaches. That way, if you find that you fell in love with Western Ireland, you have the freedom to spend extra time there if you want.