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Tips & Tricks for the cheap Traveler.

January 31, 2009

Money Money Money Money.

It’s all about the money. More money you’ve got, longer your travels can last, the more you can do, and the more fun you can have. Run out of money? That sucks, you’re left calling you friends or parents (or both) begging for pennies to head home and in the meantime probably sleeping somewhere uncomfortable munching cheap snacks for dinner. Joy. Of course you could always try to work for some quick cash, but then you’ve got a whole new plethora of annoyances to work legally, and if you choose to try to get cash the ‘under the table’ way you’re likely going to be working hard for minimal profit, all while knowing if someone decides not to pay up, there’s not a thing you can do about it. Damn.

So how can you avoid this apocalyptic scenario? Easy. Save your pennies and play it smart. You’d be amazed how much comfort you can get for minimal monies. This isn’t a guide by any means, more just a few common sense little things I’ve found useful while traveling Europe.

-If you’re eating at a restaurant, drink water. Not bubbly water, not sparkling, not mineral or holy water or water infused with the power of Zeus. Just plain tap water. Cheap. Free. Tap water. But why you ask? Because the drinks are the expensive part of any decent meal, and without that added cost of a cola or a glass of wine, you can easily afford to sample delicious local foods without breaking the bank. Which brings up…

-Drinks in general. For the most part, stick with bottled water. Find the local market and they’re sure to have big 1 liter bottles for dirt cheap prices. And if you absolutely must enjoy a cool tasty specialty, then again, find the local supermarket and get it there. Buying drinks at the little tourist kiosks may be convenient, but it’s also likely three times the price you’d pay anywhere else.

It may sound boring, water, water and more water. However not only is it healthy for you but you’d be amazed at how much money you’re saving by such a simple thing. If you absolutely must spend a couple nights in a pub as part of you trip, try to limit your money spent carefully. I’ve met people who’ve wasted away days worth of money on nights they can’t even remember the next day. I can do that at home if I want to, traveling half-way across the world to do it just seems stupid! But hell, I’m not here to criticize anyones habits, just point out how bloody expensive it can be. Do that every night and you’ll soon find yourself wondering where all the money went.

-Hostels are an excellent place to spend a night or two. Don’t be stupid, don’t believe the silly movies or whispered rumors. The truth is Hostels are just like Hotels in that there are some that are better than others. Hell, I can name a few Hostels which I found better than hotels that cost hundreds a night to stay at. Indeed the novelty of spending the night in such a setting can be refreshing at times (Unless you’ve got a snorer in the room. Damn them! But after a long busy day world wandering, not even the mountainous rumbling of a fellow roommate is likely to keep you long from precious sleep.). Hostels can range in style and quality from location to location; some are small family run buildings, the equivalent of renting out an apartment. Small family run operations. And then there are the big organizations. Regardless of which type you stay in, Hostels are usually damn cheap and as far as needing a place to sleep goes they serve admirably.

-If you are traveling with a companion cheaper hotels are also an option. For a 2 star hotel (Basic amenities but little else.) the cost of a 2 bed room, or 1 bed if you’re traveling as a couple, split between two people will often end up the same cost as a pair of beds in a Hostel. And yet there’s no doubt about the advantages of having your own room for the night. 1-2 stars doesn’t mean bad by the way, the higher the star rating the more luxury. One of my favourite hotels was actually a 2 star hotel, which had spacious room, clean comfortable beds, great location and friendly staff.

As a side note, if you travel from one city to another you’ll quickly find out about the organization ‘Hosteling international’ which runs a good slew of Hostels around the world, and it’s worth mentioning that in general I’ve had more bad experiences with that organization and the hostels under them than good. Usually when looking for places my mantra would be ‘anywhere but Hostel International’. A mantra that served me well. I’m sure they’ve a couple excellent quality locals but seeing as I’m not omnipresent (Although I do try to be!) and the vast majority of times I’ve stayed there (Usually for lack of anywhere else affordable to stay.) have been fairly negative experiences, you’ll forgive me if I just try to avoid them as a whole!

-Don’t buy maps or touristy info, there’s always a free alternative somewhere. Tourist information will often have a free cheap map and a slew of ones which you have to pay for, and for the most part you’ll find that the cheap freebies are more than enough to explore the cities core. That’s what they’re for after all: An incentive to get tourists to explore the local areas. They wont give much information beyond the central core of the town or city, but that’s usually more than enough.

-Walk whenever possible and if you need to get somewhere far enough away that you can’t walk there, then take the public transportation. Taxi are just too damned expensive, and even the thought of renting a vehicle sends a money related shiver down my spine. Via transit and walking the cost of wandering a city is negligible, leaving you all the more money for an extra days travel later on or to treat yourself to a cool soft-drink or a snack at a local cafe.

-Try to avoid spending in the tourist traps. These are the locations where the prices are highest, the crowds are thickest, and everything is designed to sneak pennies from yer pockets. By all means wander them freely and enjoy, the tourist traps are often the nicest part of cities. But just keep in mind that almost anything you buy there, whether it be food or drinks or tickets or whatever, will often be almost twice the price of anywhere else in the city. That’s just the way it works! Meanwhile the attractions you’ll find in these areas are often the most pricey but showy of a cities sights. Whether you pay for admission to these places is ultimately up to you. You are a traveler after all, it’d be silly to go to say; Paris, and not visit The Louvre! Just keep in mind these things add up after a while.

-Batteries are expensive, either bring enough to last the trip from home or make sure whatever electronics you’re carrying are rechargeable. Unfortunately the different voltage from UK to Europe to North America and various other places around the world will not always be compatible with the rechargeable item in question, regardless of plug converters. But for the most part anything designed for travel or convenience: Camera’s, Electric Shaver’s and the like will work just fine. Just be careful.

*ADDED*

-Many places you might stay will offer a basic free breakfast or at the least a baguette if you happen to be in France. Ask about it before getting a room for the night and consider it when choosing a place to stay, most hotel will have this and many hostel as well. Take advantage of this always! Eat your fill and then eat a little more before going about your day.  Stuff yourself. GORGE! Free food is a beautiful thing and should be taken advantage of. Might not always be the best (9 times out of 10 you’re choices are cereal, cereal, and more cereal if you’re at a hostel.) but it’s free.

-Now if you’ve saved money by not buying an expensive breakfast, here’s another tip in the same vein; Eat smart! It might seem counter-intuitive for me to suggest you eat at a nice place for dinner but that’s exactly what I’m doing. Perhaps you think fast food is a clever way to save money, it is cheap after all and McDonald’s really is everywhere. But the food they serve is simply neither very healthy or filling and you’ll find yourself much more hungry quicker than if you’d eaten some genuine food. And this applies not just McDonald’s but most any fast food chain. Meanwhile if you’ve taken my advice above and do not order any drinks, you’ll discover that eating at a fairly nice place to enjoy the local cuisine isn’t all that much more expensive than the fast food chain you were considering earlier and so much more filling. Indeed, you just might start skipping lunches and looking forward more and more to trying something tasty and new for dinner. Saving money and eating great, you can’t ask for more!

-This isn’t always an option but if you can find a local marketplace there will occasionally be a few stalls which will offer basic meals. When you can find these go for it, you’re getting the best of the local cuisine at dirt cheap prices.

That’s all I can think of for the moment, although I’m sure I’ll end up editing this a few times in the future as various other little things come to mind and I feel the urge to make this as complete as possible for next time I look it over. And honestly it may not sound like much, but the money saved from things as simple as drinking water really does add up. I write this just as much to remind myself as anything else, since I’m still kicking myself over some of the stupid mistakes I’ve made while traveling that cost me so very much money.

Next time I’ll be smarter, next time…

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Where’s the fairness of it all, the justice or balance?

November 10, 2008

Sometimes you just have to believe, sometimes that’s all you can do. Believe. Believe that in the end there really is a balance to it all, that there is an ultimate fairness to the world, that everyone receives what they deserve. Sometimes we have to close our eyes, cover our ears and blot out the reality, because what else is there to do?

We live in a dark and cruel world full of beauty and wonder blended with the darkest intentions and most malicious will. A world that people joking say ‘is a dog eat dog world’ all while knowing, deep down, that it’s sadly true. That nice guys do finish last, and that unlike a Disney movie, the villains usually win in the end one way or another. Sure, there are stories and examples of nice things happening to nice people, but they’re memorable not because they’re such nice little tales, but because they’re the exceptions to the rules. Movies are made where everything ends happily ever after and we all sigh and smile and say ‘that was nice’ while secretly whispering to ourselves ‘now why can’t that happen to me?’ and we pretend to think that maybe, just maybe, it will. But it wont. You know it, I know it, we all know that life doesn’t get happily ever afters or neat tidy endings.

But then why continue, why bother? If I’m so cynical, why do I take it?

Because I choose to believe in an ideal. This sounds suspiciously religious, and perhaps in some ways it is, but not in the sense of grey bearded old men sitting in clouds who judge us for our deeds. I’m afraid I don’t really believe in that sort of religion, I try to stay rational and tinge my dreamy thoughts with a dose of logic. But I do choose believe that justice, that fairness and righteousness arn’t just silly words used to scare children into being good, and that in some small way they’re real. I’m not sure if it’s religion or not, but it’s what I follow.

I’ve led a good life so far and although I’ve done a few things I regret, had a few occasions where I wish I’d acted differently or done something when I could or should have, I think I’ve done as well as can be expected. I live a pleasant life, I have family that cares, friends I can rely on. I’ve seen more of the world already than many people ever will, and smiled while enjoying some of the most beautiful sights you will ever see. And perhaps, I think quietly to myself, that’s why it hurts so much sometimes. I saw an old man the other day, wheelchair bound wearing an old, musty jacket. To his right was a sign covered in clippings and writing about the conflict he’d participated in, and below that a small donation cup, empty but for a few pennies. My brain says ‘He’s some homeless bum out to leech off your money to get a stiff drink, piss in the flowers and spend the morning sobering up in the police drunk-tank.’ and my heart replies ‘Does it matter if he is? He’s old, and he looks so very tired and sad. Who am I to deny him?’. I gave him a dollar, and he said thank you, and I walked away quietly regretting that I hadn’t given more even though five dollars was all I had.

In Germany I saw a beggar with no legs and only one arm, and on that arm he only had three fingers. He was laying in a corner wearing a filthy jacket and clothing with a small plastic cup in his lap and the most glazed, hopeless expression I’ve ever seen. What did he do to deserve that? What could anyone do to deserve that? Once I saw an old man, very old, dressed in an undersized joke cowboy outfit complete with silly pseudo-western hat, playing badly at a bent banjo whose battered old case lay at the mans feet, nearly empty. It was a terribly sad sight, and the man himself wore an expression that looked on the verge of tears and complete despair. Another time a middle aged man with some sort of obvious mental disability being laughed at by a group of teenagers. The child who wears threadbare old clothing because their family can afford little else. The druggie in the streets, the beggars, the tales of massacre and butchery in foreign lands, robbery, murder, oppression….

There has to be SOME sense to it all, I have to believe that. And although again and again my mind tells me it’s futile and pointless, live by those dreams. At least that way, at the end of the day, I can look in the mirror and smile knowing that at the least I follow those ideals. I *can’t* change the world, not in the grand and dramatic way portrayed in books or movies, or in those stupid army commercials or charity adds. But I *can* make it a slightly nicer place, if only a little, for myself and the few who know me. I’ll try to help those who need it when I can, even if they only intend to take advantage of it. I’ll support my family and be there for them when they need it. Be friendly to strangers, try and be polite even when I’m in a foul mood. Hold the door open for someone, offer to help carry a heavy load, and give a little when I can to charities even if it’s only a bit. It wont change the world, but it will let me live with myself, and perhaps that’s enough really.

I’m not naive, although there are people who undoubtedly think I am. I read more than is probably healthy for me and have an eye for history, I’ve traveled, talked to people, most importantly I’ve listened. I’m far from the only person to think like this, nor will I be the last. It’s a phase I’m led to understand, youthful vigor and all that, and I’ll grow out of it with experience and time and learn to live with reality. Well you know what? Fuck reality, screw the world, and to hell with expectations. “Ooo, rebellion!” The world answers “That’s also to be expected.” to which I can’t think of any clever reply, all I know for sure is that at least I can live with myself and feel some pride. Maybe someday I will grow out of it, become a world wearied worker and live my little pedestrian life, but that’s later, and for now I choose to believe.

All about sleep.

October 20, 2008

I have alot of trouble getting to sleep. Why? Because I’ve always found that I’m most active, most energetic when I’ve reached that thin line between feeling tired and drowsy. When my eyes are getting a bit heavy and your thinking is getting muddled with sleepiness, that’s when I tend to do my best work! Admitedly when I wake up later I then have to go over whatever I did earlier before sleep and edit it heavily before it’s even close to done, but nevertheless, that’s when all the best ideas hit. Hell, half the stuff on here were written late at night, saved, then posted the next day.

Anyway, all that said, once I’ve managed to force myself to sleep I often have the most wonderful dreams. Never nightmares, oddly enough. I haven’t had a nightmare since I was around 14, and I actually recall my last nightmare pretty vividly. Not so much the details but I remember what happened in it. Terrible, terrible nightmare. Haven’t had any since, but that one was good/terrible enough to last awhile so I haven’t really needed em. But back to dreams, I often have the most wonderful dreams. Strange, sometimes creepy often violent dreams, but so imaginative I wake up and first thing I do is try to fall back asleep to continue where I left off or if unable to do that, do whatever I can to try and remember the dream. Inevitably I fail to remember much of the dreams and more often than not completely forget them within an hour or two, but while those impressions last it’s amazing. I feel like my mind if full of these amazing ideas just waiting to get out, it feels great!

For awhile I tried to keep a journal next to my bed to write these things down, and I did, but they never had the same impact on paper as they did in my mind and innevitably when I re-read those journal notes later on I’d find myself disappointed or confused about just what I’d been trying to describe. In the end I tossed the journal and just basked in those moments of bliss when I wake up from those dreams rather than scrambling to try and write everything down before it’s completely forgotten. Besides, the good dreams, the really creative ones always linger. They last, leave an impression on you and leave you thinking about em long after most dreams will have faded and been forgotten. I end up thinking about them when I walking someplace, eating, or even getting ready to head back to sleep and hoping beyond hope that the same dream comes again (It never does!). I suppose those’re the things writers cling to and create stories from somehow, taking those vague dream plots and weaving them into something coherent. Someday I’d like to be able to do that, even now I often write these things down or type up short stories I keep tucked away from prying eyes.

The problem for me always comes with the ending. I can weave a story easily enough I find, I know how to type properly and how a well written narrative is formed. I’m amazing at creating believable and intricate characters then bringing them to life, likely the results of years spent playing various styles of story-driven MUDs online. No, all that is fine, it’s the endings that get me every time. That’s why everything I write is short, why I’ve never managed to write anything longer or put these thoughts into a full story and why even those short stories rarely are actually finished. The ending! I mean… how do you end a dream? I never want them to end, never, and yet there has to be one. It has to be final and make a statement. I can’t stand authors who leave the endings open or don’t tie up loose ends properly, so I wont do the same. But that’s the problem… I’m not sure I can. It’s not like I can say “Then I woke up The End!”, that’s be the ultimate ripoff ending.

So that’s the delima and what’s bugging me currently. I’ve got one of those beautiful dreams running through my head and as I tend to do I’m trying to make it neat and tidy in my head. It’s a good one, it really is, but as always I can’t figure out how to end it. Likely I’ll type it up later and save it somewhere to be left alone, never quite finished but still ligering in my thoughts from time to time. Dramatic, no? Unfortunately true. One of these days I’m going to have to figure out what the secret to ending a story is, to give a pleasant ending that’s not a cheap copout like so many are. Maybe once I’ve figured that out I’ll put the various short stories together and see if I can’t get a full book out of it. That’d be nice!

An introduction to me and here.

September 9, 2008

So here I am, quietly typing away at my computer sipping Coka-Cola and listening to soothing music. What now? I guess the reason I started this is as a way to organize my thoughts. Nothing personal, but just curiosities I stumble across and feel the urge to keep recorded, or descriptions of the places I’ve been and will be. The occasional rant. etc.

But what right now? I guess I’ll start out simple. What will follow are descriptions and stories from a couple of the places I’ve been. Mostly from my most recent trip to Europe where I happily backpacked my way through a decent chunk of ye old world, staying in hostels, hotels, bed & breakfast and various other inns. You’ll have to keep in mind this entire trip was limited to what I could see on foot, travelling via Eurorail from one town and city to the next, then walking once I’d gotten to the train station. Only exceptions being London and Paris where the underground was a must, and the various smaller towns I visited which weren’t along the train route and which I had to take a bus to reach.

It’s been about two weeks since I got back from that trip and I figure it’s about time I quit lazing around and finally wrote this all down in more detail so that someday I can look back here for a good idea of what I saw and how I’d felt at the time. Write it all down now before I forget and more importantly, because it’ll be interesting.