Category Archives: Traveling Tips

How I Afford to Travel

So, this question is always being asked of me. Sometimes, I know it is being asked from a place of curiosity. Often times though, this question leaves me feeling some type of way!

I started traveling frequently in 2008 when I gave myself a graduating gift to Guatemala for a 2 months language immersion. That trip opened my mind to the possibility of making travelling a priority. Because I made traveling a priority, I am able to afford it. So, no, I’m not a sugar baby, my father is not an oil typhoon and I am not wealthy yet. Below are 10 things I do to afford traveling or save while traveling:

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  1. Budget – I have a budget that tracks my money. I know where my money goes so I am able to restrain myself from unnecessary spending which means more money in my Travel Fund Account. This means, you wouldn’t catch me at the mall buying stuff I don’t need.
  2. Travel Fund – Every month, I transfer money to my separate travel fund account. Usually if I have money left from other expenses, I transfer it to my travel fund as well.
  3. Layovers – I make the best use of my layovers. Here is what I mean, this summer, I decided to fly home to Nigeria with Egypt Air because I know they would have a layover in Cairo, Egypt. I extended my layover to a week for $15 extra – winning, because now I’m able to see Egypt and as well as going home to Nigeria. Another time, my flight from London, UK to Dar es Salam, Tanzania was with Air Seychelles which had a few hours layover in UAE and Seychelles. After I got my ticket on Kayak, I emailed Air Seychelles to extend my layover in UAE for 5 days and Seychelles for 5 days as well. They did this without an additional charge. Same situation with Air Marco this past December. I wanted to visit Senegal and Air Marco had the cheapest flight with a layover in Morocco. I extended the layover off course. That way, you are able to see multiple countries in one trip. 2
  4. Maximizing your time in the region. When I travel in the summer, I usually use this opportunity to visit multiple countries in close proximity. I figure, it would be cheaper for me to visit those countries while I was close by than for me to make it an entire separate trip. So, when I visited Senegal in December, I used that opportunity to visit The Gambia. This side trip added an extra USD $300 for transportation from Senegal to The Gambia. Still cheaper if I would have had to fly from the U.S to The Gambia. Same as last summer, added Denmark as a side trip when I visited Sweden. I should have added Norway as well but time constraint. I got to see Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda as side trips from Tanzania. Also a few pacific countries as side trips from Indonesia.
  5. Selecting Accommodation – my choice of accommodation had changed significantly since I started traveling. I usually mix up my options.
  • Couchsurfing – in my early and mid-20s, I used Couchsurfing extensively. For those of you that don’t know what it is, it is a platform that allows you to sleep in the homes of locals or people living in the country you are visiting for free. I had a great time when I used Couchsurfing, it allowed me to build a network of friends across various countries. Now I no longer use this platform to stay in people’s houses partly because I’m slightly bougie now and I get real moody quite often, so I only use it to meet up with people. Which still helps me save people because locals know where to take you.5
  • Hostel – I mixed staying at dorm rooms in hostels with Couchsurfing in my early and mid-20s. Those two were my primary means of accommodation. It was great while it lasted. I usually stayed in all female dorm when I could and I chose hostels with AMAZING reviews on hostelworld.com. I still stay in hostels nowadays but I have upgraded myself to private rooms with bathroom en-suite, mostly for the same reasons I no longer use Couchsurfing to stay in people’s houses.
  • Airbnb – this is what I primary use now. Depending on my mood, I might rent out the entire apartment but most frequently, I rent a room. I don’t have to interact with the host if I don’t want to.
  • Hotels – I rarely use this. When I do, I prefer Holiday Inn or Hilton. However, on longer trips, I always treat myself to staying at Hilton or Sheraton at the middle and end of my trip.
  • House of a friend or friend of a friend – I was more open to this in the past. I stayed with my friend’s mom in Cocha, Bolivia once. Her son, my friend from grad school was traveling in Europe. She treated me like her daughter :). Now, I hesitant now especially when the friend has kids or are married. I simply don’t feel comfortable and I want my vacation to be as comfortable as it can be.4
  1. Organized tours vs. doing it yourself – I used to completely go on sightseeing adventures by myself, it was way cheaper. Nowadays, I mix it up but I lean more to hiring a car and driver/guide because I don’t feel like navigating stuff by myself. Either ways, I research and select what I can afford.
  2. Gifts/Souvenirs – I rarely buy gifts for people. When I do, it’s usually $5 max earrings or magnets. My philosophy is if you want gifts go to those places yourself or buy from Amazon (there’s usually a China made version of it anyways). Bottom line, I’m not buying you a gift #sorrynotsorry. This money goes to experiencing the country instead. I limit souvenirs buying, usually because I have no space to put them in anyways – I’m #TeamCarryOn for life. Plus, I move a lot and have had to give those souvenirs away. So, I rarely buy now.
  3. Credit Card/Debit Card – I have a Charles Schwab account which lets me withdraw money from any ATM with no fees at all. I also have a Chase Sapphire credit card that accumulate lots of points that I can redeem for travel. I am still new to acquiring the knowledge to better maximize those types of cards. All I know is for 41,000 points I was able to purchase a roundtrip ticket from Dallas to Boston and book two hotel nights at the Hilton.6
  4. Flights – while I try to stay loyal to Star Alliance or OneWorld sky teams, I wouldn’t blink twice before buying a ticket that is significantly lower than airlines within my loyalty programs. I use Skyscanner, Kayak and Google Flights mostly to search for tickets. I have gotten lazy over the years in ensuring that I am paying the absolutely lowest fare to get to my destination. In addition, I have no problem volunteering my seat for vouchers. That’s more funds for travel to me.
  5. Travel Advise – this can cost you money. I don’t take advise from people who don’t travel or people who haven’t been to the particular destination that I’m going to. I don’t particularly care about what the cousin of your best friend’s sister experienced in destination x.

These are the 10 things I can think of now. What other ways do you save for travel on while travelling? Please share your two cents…

Until next time!

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My Travel Must Have Items

As a kid, when we traveled as a family, my mother did all the packing. We would pack everything and anything. My mother’s motto was to pack for all situations. So each person ended up with two luggage and a carry on. Fast forward to 2008, when I took my first solo trip. I went to Guatemala for two months and I had a large suitcase, carry on and backpack. Guess what, I didn’t even wear more than half of what I packed. I also learned that over packing made traveling inconvenient. Since then, I have improved on my packing skills (still not an expert). For instance, when I backpacked across Colombia and Central America for a year, I had only a 60 litre backpack. Since then, I only travel with an 18inches carry on and a small backpack.

With Sarong at Tarkwa Bay beach, Lagos Nigeria 2013

With Sarong at Tarkwa Bay beach, Lagos Nigeria 2013

So you might wonder, how do I decide what to pack? Mostly, the weather of my destination decides this. I mostly pack a pair of skinny jeans, leggings, a nice dress, one or two dressy tops and a few casual tops and my medications (I have allergies and sensitive tummy). I also pack along a party shoe, scandal, flip flop, good walking shoes, a good book (I exchange it when done for another one), contact lenses and essential toiletries. A pair of sunglasses always come in handy especially when you have contact lenses on. Prescription sunglasses are other alternative for those that prefer not to use contact lenses. However the two things that I ALWAYS pack with me are a sarong and my phone.

Sarong

Sarong is vital especially for the budget traveler. The differences uses of Sarong:

  • I use it as a towel – traveling with a towel takes up space so I opt for a Sarong.
  • At the beach – since I don’t travel with a towel, my sarong serves the same purpose at the beach
  • As a scarf
  • As a covering sheet for chilly nights – I get cold real easy so sometimes when I stay in hostels, I’ve had to use my sarong at night because I was cold.
  • Recently, I had to wrap my sarong around myself in order to enter a scared site in Uganda

The best part about the sarong is it weighs nothing hence can fit in your bag. Also when used as a towel, it dries quickly since it is made of light fabric.

Sarong in San Blas Island, Panama May 2010

Sarong in San Blas Island, Panama May 2010

Cell Phone

My phone (this includes the charger, universal converter and power bank). Typically, I am not a phone person but when traveling, it makes my life easier. How I use my phone abroad:

  • I have an unlocked phone so I can get a sim card when I arrive at most countries for equivalent of USD$2. This makes it easier to coordinate with my local contacts and friends.
  • I don’t have a camera so my phone serves as my camera.
  • My favorite part is the apps (Google Map, AirBnB, Couchsurfing, Currency Converter & WalkLogger).
  1. Google Map: I struggle with directions so my phone comes to my aid. During my travel in Nairobi, Kenya this July, locals I asked for directions were unable to give me exact directions so I turned to Google Map and Voila, I get directions to where I’m going. I remembered the time a taxi driver in Istanbul tried to take a longer route to get more money off me, Google Map saved the day. I simply turned on the map and politely asked why he wasn’t taking that route. The expression on his face was priceless.

    With Sarong wrapped around in Uganda 2015

    With Sarong wrapped around in Uganda 2015

  2. I recently started using AirBnB on my two months summer trip. I would send a request for a place in Mombasa, Kenya while I was traveling in Zanzibar, Tanzania a while before my trip to Kenya. The app made this possible.
  3. Currency converter app made it very convenient for me. This summer, I planned to visit 11 countries with varying currencies and exchange rates. It also helped when exchanging money (making sure I wasn’t getting cheated) or when buying something.

Note: using my phone while traveling is convenient for me, first because I use T-Mobile and with its global coverage, I have access to free unlimited texts and data in about 100 countries. For the countries not included in T-Mobile global coverage, I use the data package for the local sim card I purchased. 

What are your two must have items when traveling?