How to Travel for Free (or Nearly Free!)

Every person we have talked to since returning to America has lamented about how they would quit their job and travel the world, if only they had the money. Let this serve as a guide of the websites that will help you secure lodging and food while overseas.

FREE ACCOMMODATION: 

We spent about half of the time working as HelpXers, where we exchanged 3-5 hours of work five days a week for semi-private or private accommodations and three meals a day.

HelpX: It’s something like $30 fee for a 2 year membership, and you can apply to as many HelpX’s as you want to!

Here’s a snapshot of some of the activities we did on a HelpX and how these skills are transferable to the workforce:

  • celebrated a Finnish birthday (learn culture, customs, and work through a language barrier)
  • France: built a retaining wall (ability to follow direction and work under pressure)
  • Bulgaria: built a chicken coup path (independent self-starter)
  • Bulgaria: milked a goat
  • Kosovo: assisted in running a hostel (hospitality / management experience)
  • Finland: taught English at a school

and so much more! None of it really felt like work, as we were learning from everyone we met. We stayed at hostels when we weren’t house sitting, and sometimes at AirBnBs.

Speaking of housesitting / petsitting, we watched pets in 3 countries: Ireland, France and Norway. We used both TrustedHousesitters and MindMyHouse. Again, for a small fee, you create a profile, what animals you feel comfortable watching, your experience with animals (from domestic to livestock), and you’re off to the races.

We have met people who have stringed together back to back house and pet sits and wound up staying entire months in the Eurozone for less than $500 per month. For some people, that is a car payment. That’s probably more than your mortgage or rent.

NEARLY FREE CARS:

There are many ride-sharing services in Europe, but the one we heard the most about is Blablacar. You type in the country you are starting in, and an end location, and a date, and you get matched with people who are going that direction!

england.JPG

It is like yelp. Drivers are rated, the cars are rated, and you are shown the distance and the approximate drive time. The page is translatable to any language. In this example, it will cost approximately $10-13 for a 4 hour trip across Poland. Not a bad deal!*

poland

*We talked to over a dozen people who have used Blablacar, and none of them reported any safety incidences. It is like anything else in life – if your ride arrives and you get a sticky feeling, then forfeit the money – no big deal. No amount of money is worth your life.

This should get you off to a running start when you’re preparing your overseas adventure! Let us know what else you’d like to get for free (or on the cheap!) while traveling.

Salut, Cheers, and Happy Travels!

Mark and Melody

 

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Connecting Flights in Istanbul Means No Visa Required

There’s mixed information about whether a visa is needed for Americans and Canadians to connect flights at Istanbul and since we experienced it this morning we’re letting you know now you do NOT need a visa if you are connecting flights so long as you…

do NOT go through passport control. A lot like Monopoly. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. Do not follow the signs for passport. Instead, merge into the long queue (line) where it says INTERNATIONAL TRANSFERS. You will go through security, again. 

It’s a trend in “Europe” that you will not see a gate assignment more than two hours before your departure time. Once you clear security, you fall into the absolute madness that is Ataturk airport. People swarming, dozens of languages and dialects, exclamations, babies crying, people laughing, tourists touristing… This airport is something else. I’ve never seen such a cosmopolitan sample of people. Every face a different ethnicity. I found myself invigorated. Like all of the world came to meet here at Ataturk airport.

If you arrive more than two hours early, you won’t have a gate, but there’s no shortage of things to do. You can people watch. Most people sleep. Turkish airlines is notorious for taking off at 3 or 4 in the morning.

And that’s it! We were really happy to find a Costa coffee and a long row of chairs where we plopped down and passed out for 5 hours.

Once you awake, CHECK THE SCREENS because there’s a good chance your gate has changed. They shuffle planes here more frequently than a poker dealer shuffles cards. Mark had his wits about him and discovered our plane had parked ten gates away so we did a little bit of running ourselves to get through the tide of people.

If you have a layover longer than five hours, there’s a tour group that will give you an abbreviated tour of Istanbul. If you DO want to do this or you want to explore Istanbul on your own, you will  need to get an e-visa at the airport. Continue reading here.

Mark and Melody

The Only App You Need to find Cheap Flights Anywhere

Airfare is usually one of the “cost prohibitory” expenses for anyone looking to travel to a far flung place. Yes I know Asia is cheap, they may say, but the flight is so expensive. But are they right? For a long time, I believed it. I took a flight from West Palm Beach, Florida to Hong Kong and it cost over $1,200 in March 2012. Granted, Air Canada is a very nice airline to travel on but after planning our months abroad, Mark and I have found the omniscient, no fail flight app:

Skyscanner.

Skyscanner is a search engine that allows you find the cheapest airfare to any destination at any time.

Type in your home airport. For us, it’s Fort Lauderdale. Then we play our favorite game called let’s see what the cheapest destination is by typing “Everywhere” into the destination box.

Searching
Searching “Everywhere” will show a list of destinations available from your home airport. Anywhere in the world.

Now you can pick a month, or pick the cheapest month. Pick your number of travelers, make sure you have round-trip selected, and go! You’ll get a lovely list of all the destinations by country first. For most people in the US, US destinations will pop up first. Sometimes this isn’t the case though, because once it was cheaper to go to Mexico than it was to go to Chicago from Miami. 🙂

List of countries to travel to from Fort Lauderdale. Note: Prices are round trip per person!
List of countries to travel to from Fort Lauderdale. Note: Prices are round trip per person!

A little further down, we see this list:

Batch two of options from Fort Lauderdale. Check out those European destinations!
Batch two of options from Fort Lauderdale. Check out those European destinations!

This is how we managed to get to Europe for $550.00. Yes, for two people! Once you find a country you like, click on it to see the destination cities. Let’s use Norway as an example:

List of cities you can fly to in Norway. Oslo looks like a good option, right?
List of cities you can fly to in Norway. Oslo looks like a good option, right?

We just finished up a beautiful long weekend in Oslo, so let’s go with Oslo. It’s definitely feasible to take a day trip to see the fjords, or take a drive to neighboring Sweden. Remember that we selected the cheapest month, so when you select Oslo, the cheapest dates come up. Easiest vacation planning ever! No more determining the best time to go or for how long.

You have to select the departing and return dates, and the price you see on the dates is the price for that leg (example Fort Lauderdale – Oslo). But when you select both travel dates, your total price per person comes up:

Norway for under $400? Pack your bags!
Norway for under $400? Pack your bags!

Now that you’re armed with the best airfare finder in the industry, where would you like to travel next?

Let us know in the comments.

Happy travelling!

Mark and Melody

Hostels No Longer Cheapest Lodging for Travelers

When we talk about  travel, we are nearly always asked if we are staying at hostels. The answer is: out of 32 days so far, we have only stayed at one. Hostels for a long time cornered the market of dirt cheap lodging, but this is no longer the case thanks to…

AirBnb!

Hostels typically charge by bed, regardless of if its a dorm room or a private room. Let’s start with the dorm room. Let’s say you can get a bed in a dorm room for €20 which is pretty cheap in Western Europe. There’s two of us, which means we’re paying €40 for two beds in a mixed bed dorm. That means there’s people of either gender all sleeping in one room. €40 for zero privacy sleeping and a shared bath with any number of people. In some cases, towels cost an extra euro and the showers are the kind you want to wear sandals in.

In a private room, it gets more expensive. Very rarely a private rooms equipped with only two beds. Usually they are four, but sometimes three. Now we have €60 to pay for a private room, on a good day. 

Disclaimer: since we’ve been in Europe we have not found beds in a hostel for less than €20 per night.

Note also that most hostels have minimum day stays, especially through the weekend. That means if we want to stay Thursday through Saturday,we are paying a premium because it’s a weekend and we are confined to a minimum number of days – usually three days.

Enter airbnb.

In Paris, we are staying 15 minutes away from city center for €38 /$40 each night. Private room. Shared bath, if our host is here. When he’s not,  we have our own flat in Paris.  Kitchen to cook in. Metro across the street. Great food nearby. Amazing bed.

In Glasgow, we stayed with the loveliest couple in a brand new house just south of the city. They provided amazing food, company, and advice on travelling the area. Awesome comfortable bed. They provided a washing machine (invaluable if you’re living on 8 days of clothes), towels and bathing essentials. Also less than €40 / $44.

In Brussels, we stayed with a French gentleman right in the city center in that same price bracket.

We’ve not once had to abide by a minimum stay or pay for a towel.

For couples or group travelers, we remain convinced airbnb is the best way to go if you’d rather spend your money on experiences instead of accommodations. 😉

Travelling somewhere new and looking for the best airbnb? Check out this page and learn the best questions to ask your next host.

Cheers and happy travelling!

Mark and Melody

24 Hours In: Things We Learned in Brussels

Bruxelles, a heavily blended capital city, location of the European Central Bank, and port of entry to the rest of Europe. With exactly 24 hours to eat, drink, and experience, these observations sum up our feelings about Brussels:

  1. In August, it’s hot. People said it was unusual, but it was so hot we decided to go out and drink instead of stay in our flat with no AC.
  2. Incredibly weighty French influence which no one in the UK or Ireland prepared us for. Totally caught us off guard to be greeted with a Bonjour/ Bon Soir. We expected a Flemish dialogue, some Germanic influence perhaps, but it was predominantly French.
  3. Drinking age is 16. While American high school students tweet about a drivers license, kids in Brussels are legally ordering their first brew with their parents. This is a limited drinking license as hard liquor is still prohibited for under 18s.
  4. Many embassy guards for the U.S. Frequent a bar called Roosters, which has two lovely bartenders – one named Kelly and the other Anna. They are incredibly funny and knowledgable about the area and their beers are reasonably priced too!
  5. I had a romantic fantasy that living above shops near downtown would be, in the words of Gretchen Weiners, so fetch. Early in the morning I’d wake up and head to the place right beneath my flat, grab a coffee, and begin my beautiful breezy day. The flip side of that dream is that at night, there are a lot of loud drunk people crowding the entrance to your flat, and you have to sneak in between them and open the door. It feels so odd having tons of complete strangers know where you live…
  6. Hardly anyone accepts American credit/ debit cards, even with a chip. We had to convert to euros because our cards kept getting declined. Come into Brussels with some cash, or find an exchange place, but please don’t exchange currency at the bus station,or airport. It’s a total rip off. 
  7. If you want to drink and talk to tons of people from all corners of the world, ask for the Delirium bar. It’s a narrow street with a dozen entrances to bars dedicated to one type of alcohol. There’s a tequila bar. There’s a vodka bar where you order a liter of vodka. All of them sell beer, but if you really want to prove your worth to yourself and all the strangers around you, order a two liter chalice of beer. Take time to wander upstairs, downstairs, around. You’ll find plenty of interesting things to see.
  8. The food district of Brussels is made of narrow streets crowded by outdoor seating and hosts standing in the walkway. As your eyes wander over to the menu, you’re immediately approached by someone and asked if you want to sit. I found this really revolting as they give you no time really to look at the menu, so we kept shaking our heads no and walked out of the restaurant district to a quieter, less pressure cooker type atmosphere.
  9. If you’re staying at an AirBnB here, please ask your host what floor they are on. We stayed on the top floor which I thought was awesome until we arrived and had to climb EIGHT, count them, EIGHT flights of stairs up and down to enter or leave this apartment.
  10. Want to make this known that I asked for tap water at a restaurant, was advised they “don’t do tap.” I told her bring the cheapest water, she brought me €6 mineral water. Sigh. 

If you’re planning a trip to Brussels, know that it’s a small capital city, and two to three leisurely days can cover the main attractions. If you have any questions about where to go, what to see, or what type of food to eat, send us a message! 

Mark and Melody

Choosing Your First AirBnB

AirBnB has been truly great to us and we can’t recommend them enough. Every type of lodging is available: tree houses, huts, beach cabanas, modern flats and castles! Search functions allow you to search for a private room, a shared space, or the entire home. The prices vary as much as the style, meaning there is definitely a listing for your taste.

For accuracy in prices and availability, put in the dates you’re looking to stay, even if they’re tentative because you may find a place you like that happens to have a flexible host. It’s no fun to get super attached to a listing only to find out it’s not available. 😦

Before booking, check the cancellation policy. Each listing has one: flexible, moderate or strict. Flexible means you can cancel no later than 24 hours before your intended stay for a full refund, which is best for more spontaneous bookings. Moderate means cancellation must be made five days (in host’s local time) before intended stay for a full refund.  If you’re planning to attend an event or you’re pretty sure you won’t change plans, this is an option. Strict is… Strict. No full refunds are offered for Strict cancellation policies.  Instead, a 50% refund will be given for cancellations made seven days or more before your intended stay.

We’ve found the hosts to be quite delightful and to ensure you get the most out of your stay without any misunderstanding, we always message the host before booking. We also crafted a template to familiarize you with the site and ensure you ask vital questions with a message like this:

Hello, My husband and I are traveling to London from September 23 to September 28- confirming you have these dates available. We are mainly looking forward to visiting Westminster Abbey, Tower of London, and Camden Market. We would like to prepare a couple small meals as well. We will be arriving from Heathrow at 7pm- would you be home at that time? What is the best tube route to your location? 

Thank you kindly. 

Most hosts respond within two hours as they are eager to confirm guests :). Generally, a more outgoing, interactive host will respond with a more detailed message. Ask for recommendations in their area. If you’ve any allergies, it’s good to note that so the host can accommodate. We had an instance where a review noted a pet but the host didn’t, so if pets are something you need to avoid, confirm before the booking. At a different stay, I was totally under the impression the host would be there, but he didn’t live in the area anymore; the house was a rental property. For a first time stay, you may want to ask if there will be other guests in the house.

For short stay travelers looking to maximize time, ask:

  • What do you find is the best way to get around?
  • Is Uber operating here?
  • What times do the trains/ buses run?
  • Additional charge on public transit during peak travel times?

For super savvy and aspiring long term travelers, ask:

  • How far is the nearest market and when does it close?
  • How far is the nearest pharmacy?
  • Do you have ample pots and pans, flatware and cooking tools?
  • Do you have a clothes washer if I bring my own detergent?

For families of four or more, we recommend:

  • Selecting “entire house” instead of one room as a search filter. More privacy, flexibility and importantly security.
  • Booking as soon as possible if you’re attending an event. AirBnB hosts will raise prices too, sometimes three months in advance.
  • Letting the host know the ages of your children, especially younger tots.
  • If you rented a car, ask where the car can be parked. 

Final note: Give a host with no reviews a chance. We did and had a lovely stay!

Have you had an experience at airbnb you’d like us to feature? Let us know! We would love to hear your travel adventures.

Mark and Melody

London on a Budget: Don’t Forget This! 

When looking to travel in a big city like London, it’s easy to be seduced into picking the lowest price for hotels/ lodging. We found out the hard way that the cheapest place actually ends up costing more…

Big Ben.

How? Because time is valuable too. 

Our 100+ day journey (no return ticket!) started with a week in London, so this is sage advice for long journey travelers and ambitious tourists who believe they can absorb London in a week.

It’s hard to find a way around London being pricey: bargain hotels start at $130 USD near the main attractions and hostels are mostly dorm style. AirBnB is typically the best way to get quality lodging at a deeply discounted rate. Unless you’re the worlds greatest hotel rewards points collector of course, in which case, don’t be afraid to share.

After looking into our options, we found a beautiful little place ‘just outside of London City Center’ for a modest $38 per night. That’s just $19 per person, per night. We had a nice little kitchen to cook in and a living room – excellent!

We flew ‘Into London’ (rolls eyes) and began working our way toward the house. Color me surprised to find that it would take us nearly an hour and a half via train and underground to get there.

Geograph-2430114-by-Malc-McDonald

Transit into London came at a steep cost of $77 via train on the express, taking about 45 minutes. Buy your ticket in advance and you might not get taken advantage of like we did. After another two transfers, we ended up on the train that would take us 45 minutes outside of London City Center ($4). We then walked / climbed the hill that brought us to the house we would call home for the next week.

Side note: This hill did not mess around. It puts San Francisco to shame. I’ve been on trail hikes less exerting than this. I felt like a winded mountaineer. What’s worse is these delightful little British kids are running all up and down this hill like it’s the easiest thing they’ve done all day. Ah.  Good ol days.

EVERY day we went into London to visit the Tower of London, or Tower Bridge, or the Beefeater Gin Distillery, or to visit a random park to have lunch, we were literally travelling uphill both ways. So that’s what my grandparents meant.


We took the bait for the cheapest place and paid a lot in time; over 18 hours was spent traveling to and from London city center which was $148 in fare over seven days for two people. The underground, overground and Thameslink train are surprisingly inexpensive, but we definitely could have used that 18 hours to spend another day at the Imperial War Museum, the National Gallery or the British Museum. 

Taking into account travel costs, the weighted cost of lodging became $415 – not taking into account our time (which of course everyone values differently). That brought the nightly rate to $59.29 or $29.65 per person.

We may have been able to find something that was more accessible and end up spending the same amount (or less), by opting for something a little higher in initial cost.

Pro-tips:

London’ is broken up into six zones. Zones one and two are where most of the popular attractions are. We were technically staying in London, but zone six, which was an hour away from the center. A trip to the Jewish Museum, a little further afield, was over 90 minutes away and back.

If you are staying at an airbnb (which we totally recommend) please ask them what zone they are in and what station they are near. Give us a shout if you need help deciphering the infamous London Underground map. 🙂

Think about how much time you want to spend getting to your points of interest each day, and always account for potential delays when you are further away. Remember – time is money!

Cheaper accommodation usually sacrifices: Convenience, Amenities, and/or Access to Transit. Even if you do not mind spending more time in transit, always take the everyday travel cost into account when making your decision.

AirBnB London

Consider a slightly more expensive accommodation to save yourself time or money overall. Looking back now, we could have spent $40-50 per night at a different AirBnB and found ourselves at a spot near London City Center, which would have saved us $65-135 – not to mention the time we spent and the stress incurred by the longer transit.


Whether you are on a mission to visit every country in the world as we are, or you’re just looking for a quick getaway to a world city, we hope that the information here might prove enlightening whilst you are planning.

Please send us a note of the travels you wish to embark on, and don’t be afraid to let the travel bug bite.

Mark & Melody