I recently had to take a weekend trip to NYC and I've summed up some very basic tips that may be useful when traveling on a budget, whether stateside or abroad. A smart traveler shared with me that the most expensive thing when traveling should be your means of transportation and everything else should cost less to possibly nothing. Although I have visited plenty of places, I'm still a pretty inexperienced traveler because exploration in those places traveled was always accompanied with a family member or close friends; so I've never had to completely rely on my own until this past weekend. Here's how I got to, through, and back from the city without getting lost or losing my mind.
1. Plan Ahead:
Planning ensures that you don't overspend. A lack of planning can and will hurt your pockets. Granted, unexpected events can happen regardless of planning but you can limit a few of those "unexpected" events by expecting some of them.
2. Student Discount:
Even if you are no longer a student, if your ID is still valid use it! Ask who accepts it and who doesn't. You will be surprised at how much you can save along the way (greyhound accepts it and gives 10% discount and they also issue discount cards for unlimited use for just $20). If you are currently still a student, search for sites that discount flights among other things for students, like studentuniverse.com. I used this site to purchase a ticket abroad for the summer.
Travel locally or on land by bus and train first. For a taxi (if traveling in a pair or more, split the cost on a taxi). If traveling further distance, book tickets in advance (this is where the planning comes into play). When leaving your hotel, ask about shuttle services. Chances are that your hotel may have a shuttle that takes you directly to a major airport or subway station.
Not only should you carry cash but you should carry a mixture of small and large bills. Some types of transportation take exact change and you wouldn't want to waste a $20 bill on a bus ride that only costs $3.10. Along with cash, carry your debit card with you. This is incase the "unexpected" happens, like paying for a metro card that takes debit or credit ONLY or going to a local eatery that doesn't accept cash!
couch surfing is an awesome way to not only save but it's also an amazing way to meet people who are also passionate about traveling and make great friends. Couchsurfing.com is a community of members (worldwide) that are hosts (people who give you a couch, bed, or floor mat to sleep on) and surfers (those who are traveling and are in need of a couch for a couple of days or nights). This also provides a great opportunity to network and learn more about traveling through sharing stories of past experiences. Another option is to find a hostel (hostelbookers.com and many others like it) BEFORE you book a hotel room. Hostels are cheaper and you may even find one closer to the location you are trying to visit.
6. To Follow the crowd or not to?
If going to a new place for the first time, sometimes the crowd can lead you to where you need to go to find further info or to the subway or upper level ground. For example: when I got to NYC ( Port Authority) I followed the crowd because I knew that they were either going to take a subway OR walk. The crowd led me straight to the subway which is where I needed to be but there are times when following the crowd may not work. When leaving NYC, after I got off the E Train, I didn't know how to get back to the greyhound transit location. All the signs seemed to point toward other trains so I decided to ask a local news stand clerk for directions. Good thing I did because I was going the wrong direction!! This leads right into my next tip -->
7. Ask Questions:
If you are unsure of where to go or need to be reassured of where you're going ask someone. Don't be intimidated by large crowds or big cities, there are more people willing to help than you can even imagine. I have NEVER traveled to NY by myself let alone used public transportation; I always traveled by car so this experience was entirely different. Asking for help ensured that I got to my destination on time and took away some of my traveling anxiety.
8. Signs and Symbols:
Pay attention to signs and symbols. Your map or GPS may have the whole word or words spelled out but once you get on the subway, your stop may be abbreviated to 42nd PABT (42nd Port Authority Bus Terminal).
9. Pack Light:
This is especially hard for most females. I'm in the process of training myself to be a minimalist and own only what I need. It is very difficult because I love clothes, shoes, and accessories. I'm the kind of packer that packs "just incase" outfits which usually don't get worn anyway because those "incase" moments never usually happen! Packing light makes maneuvering through the city easy. An unexpected event, like walking a couple more blocks than you anticipated, can happen and you will wish that you had packed light. Also carrying one small luggage is less responsibility. You don't want to take the chance of forgetting or losing some of your bags, especially if you're in a rush or have to move quickly.
10. Manage your Time:
Traveling to and through a new place means that you are not accustomed to the way the area runs. Don't give yourself an hour to leave your hotel to catch a cab, take 2 separate trains and hope to make it to your flight or bus home in time. Leave room for the possibility that the unexpected may happen like a late bus or a broken down train. Anything goes when you are NOT in control so control the one thing you can, which is your TIME.
12. Travel Safe:
Carry something that can ensure your safety. Depending on where I go, I carry either mace (pepper spray) or a taser (stun gun). Sometimes I carry both but be aware of laws in states that permit or prohibit the use of them. If traveling abroad, that law may not even exist. Better be safe than sorry so if I need to use it, believe that I will!
13. Good deed for the day:
I don't know about you but I get personal satisfaction when I help someone else and that is why I try to tip when I can. Be sure to tip your cab driver, shuttle driver, or food delivery guy. My good deed to end my trip was giving someone my metro card. I knew that I wouldn't be needing it since my trip had come to an end so I just picked a random person and gave them my card to have.
This is the last and most important tip. Traveling can be a little stressful at times and very stressful other times. Be aware of your surroundings and travel smart but don't forget to enjoy the journey. If time permits, go sight seeing or if traveling on business or for conference network and make friends. Life is too short not to take advantage of the opportunity to travel and experience new people and things!
Some pictures (only pictures) taken while taking a short sight seeing tour with my wonderful host and Brazilian friend from couchsurfing named LoopLoose. We only spent a few hours chatting about travel experiences and travel aspirations but within those few hours we covered a lot of ground and felt like old friends catching up! He's about to go for a one year world tour and I wish him all the best and hope to meet again, hopefully somewhere abroad. If you'd like to follow LoopLoose on his world tour or contact him you can visit him at www.looploose.com
Happy Traveling :)