Finding the money
Many people ask, “How do you afford to go to these faraway places?” Often, however, the main cost is the airfare to an adventure destination. Daily costs for food and shelter once arrived are generally less than for a U.S. vacation. Even the costs for five people to charter a sailboat in Thailand, for example, can cost little more than sharing an in-season rental at the Outer Banks in North Carolina.
The key, then, is to search for the best airfare.
I always start with the Washington Post or the New York Times Sunday travel section, cutting out every one of the ads whose tiny print mentions my destination: Nairobi, for example. I call each of the five places with the lowest prices to find out terms and conditions.
These ads are placed b travel agencies with access to cheaper consolidator fares. In other words, “bucket shops,” which deep-discount international airfares to host-nation nationals to fill empty seats. Adventure travelers can piggyback on these fares to save money.
You may also want to give Trailfinders a call. When I lived in England, they helped me plan a round-the-world trip that took me home — the long way via Asia — at an excellent price.
Frequent flier miles are another great way to save on airfares. By using a VISA card linked to American Airlines, I built up enough points to go to Brazil for free.
I haven’t owned a car since 1981, and I find not paying insurance alone can free up cash for exotic travel. Maybe you can find ways to save money creatively.
Finding the timeMany of my trips take 3 to 4 weeks, lengthy by U.S. standards. Some options for carving out this much vacation time:
- Plan adventure trips for times just before starting a new job.
- Discuss the possibility of a mini-sabbatical with your employer, or of taking leave without pay in addition to your regular vacation.
- Our travel companion Stephany told her boss she was resigning her computer sales job to go with us to East Africa. She knew that’s how much she wanted to go. Her boss said her job would be waiting for her upon her return.
- One option that works for some people: work on your boss constantly to let him or her know that you simply must take a big annual journey, one of more than two or three weeks. Meanwhile volunteer for some of the toughest jobs in your firm, and do a sterling job. Invest time in both mentally preparing your boss for your needs and making yourself indispensable.
- Seek overseas fellowships in your profession (for example, I visited China, Japan and Borneo on a journalists’ fellowship). A magazine called Transitions Abroad focuses on such opportunities.
- If these options fail, switch from your current profession to becoming a teacher or instructor, to get summers and semester breaks off.
Using guidebooks to save money
Independent travel starts with good guidebooks that tell you how to get to your destination, how to get around after you arrive, local customs and the best sights and experiences to pursue. A $20 guidebook can help you independently see the same territory in, for example, China, as a $3,000 tour would.
Once you’ve browsed through the library’s selections, buy the latest edition at a bookstore–prices and schedules change. We regretted taking an older edition library guidebook on a recent trip to the Yucatan, because much of the information had become out of date.
If you are going somewhere such as China, read the guide as if it were a book, cover to cover. That way you won’t miss any appealingly remote places and will gain a feel for costs, transportation and rigors.
For the very latest, visit the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree. Remember, most guidebooks are about 18 months old, and Internet research will have more recent information on border formalities, prices and transportation.
The most important thing
Having the determination to go to a remote place is the important thing. It may seem impossible to imagine yourself gazing upon the monasteries of Tibet, but believe me, if you go there, you will meet at least a few typical Americans and Europeans who “found a way.