How to be a Good CouchSurfing Host

Everyone seems to be jumping on the Couch Surfing Bandwagon at the moment. And why not, it’s a great concept. Travel around the world, staying for free and meeting some cool and interesting people at the same time. There’s plenty written about the etiquette of surfing someone’s couch, but not so much available on how to be a good host. Here’s some thoughts I’ve based around my experience of giving up my couch to globetrotters.

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Avoiding the “Gringo Trail” (and Paving a New One)

I‘ve loved traveling for a handful of years now but it wasn’t until I found myself venturing off the beaten path in Morocco last year when I started to realize the difference between the beaten path, and off the beaten path.

If you read this site semi-regularly you’ll know I talk a lot and recommend having a good guidebook for your travels.  Many dedicated travelers frown on it as they want to see a place on their own terms and not how some underpaid guidebook writer tells them to.  I see this point, don’t get me wrong, but most of my trips are condensed into two weeks or less and require some assistance with planning.  My vacation time is valuable and that’s why I always use a guidebook.

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How the Economy is Changing Our Travel

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Two weeks ago I asked you readers how the economy was affecting your travel plans or travel habits.

I think that there are several obvious things that are changing.  Several people commented and told me on twitter that they are traveling less due to being laid off.  That’s unfortunate news and I’m very sorry to hear about anybody losing their job.

But what wasn’t as obvious, and exactly what I hoped to hear when I posed that question, was how people are changing their travel habits so they could continue traveling despite lower pay, no job at all, or just worry about the economy in general.

Despite these challenges posed by various financial concerns, people are still traveling.  Affordable vacations like road trips, camping and other outdoor activities appear to be gaining in popularity.

Some popular domestic vacation destinations like Las Vegas have been hurting, but some travelers are finding great deals for both airfare and hotels.

On my last vacation I talked to a lot of travelers of all ages and nationalities.  Although it is a trend I have been noticing for a few years, many hostels are becoming increasingly popular with older and/or more financially stable visitors than the typical crowd one would expect at youth hostels.  Note: you won’t find the word “youth” in many hostel’s names anymore :)

And then there is the final type of traveler who is not affected too much by the current economic situation.  Several people mentioned on twitter that they’re not too worried since they already travel cheaply.  Combine that airfares that continue to get lower and lower, and these travelers are benefiting the most from the current economy.

If you have any questions or comments on traveling in this economy please share in the comments section below. We’d love to hear any and all opinions and/or tips!

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18 Easy Ways to Save Money Traveling

Saving money is an important thing to consider when traveling.  I think of myself as a budget traveler, but I try to balance my spending.  I’m not extremely cheap about everything, but I do my best to not waste money when it doesn’t need to be wasted.  Do that, and you can have extra money to splurge on other things.

Here are 18 ways you can save money while traveling.  I don’t recommend doing every one of them, but practicing a few can greatly decrease your spending and help make your trip more affordable.

1. Stay in a hostel

This is a no brainer.  Hostels are usually only a fraction of price of a hotel room.  If you don’t mind sharing dorm style accommodation, you can save a bunch of money every night and also meet other like-minded travelers.

2. Share hotel rooms

Traveling with a group?  Squeeze as many people as you can in a hotel room.  Some smaller hotels will charge you per person though so you’ll have to decide what the best deal is for your situation.

3. Use public transport

Do your best to steer clear of car rentals.  They’re usually pretty expensive and driving in a foreign country can be a nightmare.  Best to leave it to the professionals and help the environment by taking trains and buses.

4. Share rides

Trying to hail a taxi in front of your hostel or hotel? Ask other travelers where they are going and maybe you’ll be heading in the same direction.  If so, split the fare!

5. Walk

Burn some calories and walk around town.  Enjoy the area and do some sightseeing.

6. Camp

If you enjoy the great outdoors why not pack your tent and sleeping bag and make camp somewhere.  Campsites are cheap and common all over the world if you aren’t able to make camp somewhere in nature itself.

7. Enjoy outdoor activities

Not everything you do has to cost money.  Go hiking, lay on the beach, go for a swim, or just spend an evening looking up at the stars.

8. Cook your own meals

This is one tip that you won’t find me practicing very often.  I love to eat out and enjoy the local cuisine.  But if spending money on food isn’t on your agenda, most hostels have a kitchen and everything you need to make your own dinner.  Just head out to the grocery store or local market and pick up something to cook up.  Cooking is even better if you have a group of people that can chip in to buy more food and split everything.

9. Eat on the street

Street vendors and small food stalls have some of the tastiest food as well as the most authentic.  It’s usually pretty cheap too!  No comment on how healthy it may be though.

10. Explore

Getting out and exploring the area can not only be a fun way to spend an afternoon, it can also lead to bargains.  You’ll likely find plenty of restaurants and shops that the locals use and are out of the touristy areas.

11. CouchSurf

CouchSurfing is not only about saving money but also about making friends and experiencing the area from a different point of view.  I highly recommend it, as I’ve written before, but for the sake of the community, do not use it solely as a way to sleep for free.

11. People watch

Another great, and free, way to spend some time is to just sit and watch the people go by.  This is a favorite past time of Moroccan men by the way.

12. Share tours

I’m not a huge fan of taking organized tours but sometimes it is the best way to explore an area that you otherwise might not be able to navigate on your own.  In that case, check with others who are staying at your hostel and consider splitting the tour among multiple people.  The tour guide might charge a bit more, but it should still be cheaper than doing it solo.

13. Bring a guidebook

I don’t always recommend following every word the guidebook says, but they will often warn of possible tourist traps and will recommend cheaper places to eat, sleep, and shop.  The only problem is that once a place is listed in a guidebook, they tend to raise their prices in response to their new popularity.  So be sure to continue to shop around.

14. Bring a water bottle, refill it

Bring a BPA-free water bottle with you and refill it with tap water if it is safe to drink.  Not only will you save money over buying bottled water, you’re helping the environment and probably encouraging yourself to drink more water as well.

15. Pack common medications

It’s a wise idea to pack some common medications with you if there is a chance you might need them.  I always bring ibuprofen for headaches or other aches, and loperamide in case you get a little bout of food sickness.  Sure, you can find these everywhere, but they’ll likely cost a lot more.

16. Bring enough batteries and film

I know, who still uses regular batteries or film? I certainly don’t.  But if you do, pack extras because they’ll cost a lot more when traveling.

17. Barter

Shopping in bazaars or other open air markets? Bartering is a common practice in many places around the world.  Don’t be insulting though and understand that (depending on where you are) you might make more money in a week than the person on the other end of the transaction makes in a year.

18. Just bring a backpack

Don’t over pack! Figure out a way to stuff your things in a backpack and avoid the checked bag fees that nearly every airline is charging now.  I’m convinced that everybody can fit their life into a Kelty Redwing 3100 or similar backpack.

If you have any other tips on saving money while traveling please feel free to share them in the comments below.

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From Casablanca to Tangiers – Morocco trip report

    Enjoy my travelogue about my week-long journey through Morocco.  Such an amazing place full of life, language, and culture.  Morocco ranks very high on my list of places I would recommend backpackers visit.

    Time to depart – Morocco/Madrid, Day 6

    We all had to leave pretty early to reach our respective destinations so we had set the alarm for 4:00am.  Perfect timing as the morning call to prayer was just sounding as we awoke.

    It was freezing at that time of the morning but we started packing up and getting ready to leave as quietly as possible so we didn’t wake up any of the other visitors.

    Unfortunately we had a last minute change of plans.  One of the girls had become pretty ill and didn’t feel she could make the 6-8 hour bus ride.  They already had ferry tickets booked from that port, but decided to take the taxi with me to Tangiers as it was only a 2 hour drive and they book a ferry from there.

    Once we were dropped off at the main taxi terminal it was time to say goodbye.  Our driver already grabbed another driver who would take me to the airport so the goodbyes were very short.  In fact, once I hopped in the taxi and started driving away I realized there was so much I didn’t get a chance to say to my new friends.  I am sure I would have enjoyed my trip just fine even if I did not meet them, but spending it with them was wonderful.  It’s amazing how you can meet people from halfway around the world and become instant friends.  We enjoyed several days together and shared moments that will last us all a lifetime.  Then, before you know it, it’s all over and you might not ever see them again.

    Well thank goodness for the internet at least so we can all keep in touch occasionally.

    The airport is about an hours drive from the center of Tangiers so I had a bit of time to chat with the driver.  The only problem was the language barrier.  Tangiers, being so close to the tip of Spain, has a heavy Spanish influence and many people from Tangiers speak Spanish.  Of course, the driver spoke Arabic, but to my surprise he didn’t speak French!  Nearly everybody speaks Arabic and French in Morocco.  Being from Southern California, I understand Spanish pretty well, but I don’t speak it all that great.  The same went for him with French.  So for an hour we talked about all kinds of things, Morocco, food, my trip, where I was from, and even American politics.  But the funny thing was that he continued speaking in Spanish, and I would respond in French.  It was the best we could do and we both understood eachother fairly well.  It was amusing to say the least.

    The Tangiers airport was small but hectic.  There were no assigned seats on the EasyJet flight and despite being in the first bording class, I was not able to get through the rush of people until the very end.  The Spanish passengers who must have all been on holiday were quite rude and didn’t seem to care for the airport’s procedures.

    The flight was only about an hour and I soon arrived in Madrid.  I found a payphone and called Vicky, a girl from Lithuania who was now living in Madrid.  I met her on CouchSurfing and she told me to call her when I arrived.  She was unable to host me, but recommended an area where I could find a cheap and safe place to stay.  I took the metro there and found a private room in a two-star hostel for 50 euros.  It didn’t seem to pricey at the time but once I did the conversion I realized it was about $80!

    Vicky and I planned on meeting up around 9:00pm to grab a drink and do some sight seeing.  Until then, I enjoyed my nice clean room and took a HOT shower.  It was nice to have a private room, bathroom, and hot shower for a change.

    Since I had an early morning flight and was only in Madrid for the night, I ventured out to see the city.  I was given a nice walking map at the airport and it came in very handy.  I walked all over the area near Puerto del Sol just gazing at the beautiful buildings, cobble stone roads, and amazing statues.  There was a food and music festival going on in one of the squares so I listened to a great jazz band and was tempted to try some fresh prosciutto (ham/bacon, a specialty of Madrid).

    I was quite hungry and decided to get dinner before meeting up with Vicky.  Madrid has more restaurants in such a small area than I have ever see before.  The choices were virtually limitless and I had a hard time deciding on what to eat.  Once I found a menu that looked good I grabbed a seat on the patio and did some people watching.  I was disappointed to find out that they were already out of the paella dish I wanted to try.  I was tempted to go somewhere else but I didn’t and regretted it.  My meal wasn’t very good at all.  A chicken and rice dish with a half-cooked egg yolk cracked over the top.  It wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t great either.  Unfortunately it upset my stomach later though so that was disappointing.

    I did some more walking around and ran across Cervantes statue in one of the parks.  Something about it really struck me.  Maybe it was that I had just finished reading Don Quixote a couple of months prior.  Or it could have been how my professor had told us about this exact statue that was erected for the great Spanish author.  Whatever it was, I had completely forgotten that it was there and found it only by chance.  Don Quixote was an amazing book and Cervantes a wonderful writer.  My only wish was that I was profeccient enough in Spanish to read it in its native language.

    It was time to meet up with Vicky so I headed to Puerta del Sol where all the young people hung out.  I found Vicky and we decided to go grab a drink.  We sat down in a bar that was playing some loud electro music and after one mojito for her, and one diet coke for me, we decided to leave.

    Vicky was fairly new to the area.  She moved there from Lithuania to study.  I was impressed that she could speak Spanish and English fluently, not to mention her native language.

    Madrid really is a wonderful city to just simply wander by foot.  We did that for a while and she pointed out a few popular landmarks to me.  Eventually we decided it was late and she asked where I was staying so she could take me there.  I told her that I had my map and had already mastered the city, so I insisted on walking her home and then making my way back.  Anyway, it offered me a bit more sightseeing before I had to leave.  OK, I got a little lost on the way back when I put my map away, but that’s OK.  Whenever I realized I didn’t know where I was, I just pulled the map out and figured out my location.

    Finally I returned for the night and fell asleep quickly.  In the morning it was time to pack my bag and take the metro back to the airport.  The week had flown by and I had an amazing time.  I wished I could have stayed longer but I had to get back to my job and school.

    Madrid at night
    Madrid at night