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!

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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!*

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*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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Travel Diary: Prettiest Airplane Ride from Kosovo to Slovenia

We don’t mean the airplane and we’re definitely not talking about the flight crew. What was most breathtaking is everything we saw outside of that tiny prison window as we flew from Pristina, Kosovo to Ljubljana, Slovenia.

We’re flying on this tiny Adria plane, which might as well have been a prop plane considering the size of it – two seats on each side, and all of the luggage had to go into the hold. No charge, naturally, and no issues with the plane, boarding or passport control.

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It’s an hour flight, and that’s reassuring despite the winter turbulence. We closed the window blinds after takeoff because the sun was coming in full force into our tired faces. What I saw below when I finally opened the window covering took me totally by surprise. Delicious snow-capped scenery, exactly like the candies. And I became like a kid in a candy store. Little did I know the Slovenian mountains rival the Alps in beauty, majesty and pure wow factor.

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Adore that black and white contrast. Wow. The snow-caps were just too much beauty, and I felt tears in my eyes from sheer joy. Combined with the 3:30pm sunset, the colors of the sky and the rugged mountain peaks were a fantastic treat that only winter affords.

I wanted to turn around to the rest of the plane and say, Look out your window!  You don’t know what you’re missing!

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We got about 10 minutes of this before we finally made our descent, and a decision to return to Slovenia before we ever touched down in Ljubljana.

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November 30, 2015

24 Hours In: Prishtina, Kosovo

I lied. We’ve been in Kosovo for three days, but today was the first day we actually went out and explored anything of Prishtina, the capital. We’ve been too busy at the hostel chatting up the guests.

There’s a really good energy about Prishtina, and despite it being a very small capital with a limited number of things to do, it’s quite amazing to be in a place that has been through a hellacious amount of conflict.

Initial observations about Prishtina:

  1. Euro is the currency and cash is king. If you’re staying for 3 days or less, 50 euro should cover your expenses. Yes. This is probably Europe’s cheapest capital city on the euro.
  2. Qepabs (Kebabs) are very popular here and you can get a very hearty plate of meat, salad and the largest bread I’ve ever seen in my life for 3-4 euro.
  3. The 2 liter beers are back! We first saw them in Bulgaria and couldn’t believe our eyes. A 2L of Lasko, the Balkan beer, will cost about 2.75 euro. Drink to your liver’s content.
  4. Tipping is not required. No one expects it. If you need to get rid of your euro change, then tip. You’ll make someone very happy.
  5. The Newborn monument and the Bill Clinton statue are about a 5 minute walking distance apart. In our opinion, the statue looks nothing like him but it’s super fun to chill with Monica’s former flame.
  6. People speak Albanian and English. Mostly Albanian. People love to say that their English is very poor, then go on carrying a full conversation with you.
  7. Good, velvety smooth gelato costs 1 euro for two scoops. Take that, Italy.
  8. Limited number of pedestrian walkways so your best bet to cross a street is to just saunter into the street and rely on the vehicles stopping and waiting for you. I’m still adjusting to this. Mark’s a natural at stopping traffic.
  9. No underground or metro system to speak of. I suppose that’s still in the works.

And the big one…

Getting to other cities! Yes, Prishtina is not a place where you can lose yourself for an entire month (or is it?), so you’re going to want to head to a different place eventually. This is where the internet basically sucks, because anything I can find in English has information that is totally wrong. So, transportation facts:

Traveling Belgrade to Prishtina:

YES: Buses do travel from Belgrade to Prishtina. There are two in the afternoon – one at 12:00 and the other at 4:30pm. If you buy them in Serbia it’s about $20 for two people. Cash only. There are two places at the Belgrade Bus Station to buy tickets. Look for the bus in the number 10 spot.

The trip: About six hours on a bus without WiFi or charging ports. Two stops are made; one in Serbia and one in Kosovo. If you are not an EU citizen, you will have to give your passport up twice at the border; once at the Serbian border, and again at the Kosovo border. We did not get stamps in our books, either.

Traveling Prishtina to Skopje:

This is hearsay as we haven’t done it yet, but the trip is about 2 hours one-way and costs 4 euro. There is both a train and a bus; the train is faster and cheaper but there is only one a day. It leaves at 7:00am and there’s a return train that comes back to Prishtina at 4:00pm. Once we do this trip, as we have to (it’s the closest city with H&M), we’ll update this with absolutes.

Traveling Prishtina to Prizren:

90 minutes away for 2 euro. A prize in Kosovo, really. Prizren is where many Peace Corps members are teaching English for a couple of years, and it’s also Kosovo’s second largest city with many historic artifacts. Definitely worth a day trip, and one we will be taking very soon.

Traveling Prishtina to Tirana:

Mixed reviews on Tirana; some people love it, other people say it’s a “shit hole.” We won’t know until we see it for ourselves. What we do know is that it’s about 5 hours away, so it’d have to be for a weekend, at minimum.

Have questions for this small yet vibrant country? Drop us a line!

Everyone loves a newborn, and we are very excited to spend a month here in Europe’s newest capital.

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Cheers!

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

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

Giant’s Causeway: Worth the trip?

A popular day trip. A UNESCO world heritage site. Should you drive or take a tour? Most of the day trip tours from Dublin were coaches, about 45 to 60 euros per person, which yielded two hours or less at the causeway. We figured that’s not enough time if we wanted to see everything. Do it once, do it right! 

So we decided to drive. Driving on the left is a. It of a learning curve but becomes pretty intuitive. We were worried when the GPS keeps lost service. Fun fact though, so long as you load your map before you lose service and don’t exit the map, you’ll have it navigating. The roads in Ireland are much wider than Scotland’s roads, thankfully, and the drive to Belfast was an easy journey. 

Please note:

  • Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, which means
  • Speed limit changes from kilometers per hour to miles per hour. 
  • Prices are in pounds, not euros. 

Once north of Belfast (around Ballymena) the roads become much narrower and curvy. If you’re driving it, be kind to yourself and fill up your gas tank before you get to Northern Ireland. 

Be prepared for rain. It’s likely to come in five minute bursts so a raincoat with a hood is ideal. Hiking shoes are necessary as the land is quite wet and can be very slippery. 

We were more impressed by the hiking trails that the stones of the causeway. Yes, they are cool and hexagonal and it’s kind of fun to walk around them like stairs, but we would have been severely disappointed if that is all we had been able to do. To get the most out of the experience, you’ve gotta do a hike. 

We took the red trail, difficult, to the yellow trail challenging. Anyone in decent physical shape can do these hikes. If you can climb a couple flights of stairs, you can do these hikes. The best part of the hike is that it rained, because a beautiful rainbow formed from the cliffs over the ocean. It was absolutely surreal. The best part of being on the cliffs, overlooking the causeway and the ocean, was feeling so infinitely small. There is no greater reminde of how massive and powerful the ocean is when you’re looking down at its crashing waves. You know the water is freezing because you can feel the chill in the misting rain that’s coming down in bursts. It’s incredibly windy, so you know you’re pretty high up. We felt positively invigorated by the end of the hike. 

If you’re going to go, hear this to make the most of your trip:

  • To have more of the causeway to yourself, get there before noon or after 2pm to avoid the coaches full of people.
  • Want incredible scenery? Take the red or yellow trail. 
  • Bring a raincoat. 
  • Attempt to park at Giants causeway even if the parking lot is full. It’s much closer. If you don’t want to wait for a possibility, there is a parking area at the bottom of the hill that where you can park your car and take a shuttle. 
  • Wear shoes that are good in muddy terrain. 
  • Check out the gelato at the gift shop by the building where you pay the £9 entrance and parking fee. Super sweet woman runs the little place and she loves to chat. She also takes USD. 

Questions? Let us know!