Travel Like a Local

You don’t need a fortune to travel. It’s true. Even if you’re going to Europe. People always ask me how I afford to travel. They say they want to, but they have excuses, involving both money and work.

There are two key organizations that, once you know about them, will help your travels be both inexpensive and much more rewarding. I’ll also add in a few extra bonus tips at the end from my own experiences. Check this out:

WWOOFing

World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms! This is an international organization that hosts websites for both organic farmers/gardeners and travelers. The basic premise is work in exchange for room and board. This gives you, the traveler, an opportunity to see life through the eyes of a local, to get your hands in the soil of the country you’re traveling in, to learn about organic and sustainable agriculture and can offer you connections that you’d never get as a tourist.

Things have changed a little bit since I first got connected to WWOOF. Nowadays it appears that  each country has its’ own website. And you have to purchase a membership to their organization. Ireland, for instance, charges 20 Euros for an individual, 25 for a family for a 1 year subscription. And the sites work sort of like any social networking site. Farmers along with travelers have profiles so you can check each other out.

Communication is key to WWOOFing. Make sure you know up front how many hours you will work per day in exchange for room and board. Once you’ve arrived stay in communication with your host. I’ve only had positive experiences doing this, but I’ve only tried it in Ireland. I know many people who have done it throughout Europe and have had great experiences. WWOOF does have a feedback system so if you encounter something strange or bad, you can pass that information along to officials.

Couchsurfing

www.couchsurfing.org is another fun venue for quirky traveling. Just like WWOOF and Facebook, each member has a profile. And what will you find there? Places, all over the world, where you can crash on people’s couches (although frequently you get an actual bed!). All of this is free. Another cool feature on the site is something called Coffee and a Drink. This helps you get connected to local people who have similar interests to you without having to enter their homes and trust them with your life.

I’ve couch-surfed twice, both times in Ireland, and both were good experiences. In fact one woman I surfed with is now a dear friend of mine. I also have a handful of friends who have used this system in different countries, and they have all had positive experiences as well. Like anything in life you need to use your awareness and your instincts to decide if a couchsurfing host is right for you. And if anything feels off, just don’t stay with them. Be careful and have fun!

3 Extra Tips for Traveling like a Local

Tell people where you are going: You’d be amazed how many contacts you can get pre-trip if you do a little storytelling and let people know about your adventures. And please, don’t worry about being a bother to your friend’s friend in Argentina. Most of the rest of the world (outside of America) are curious and interested in meeting real life American; they are happy to host you, get over it! And the best thing about meeting locals is they introduce you into what life is really like in the country in which you are traveling. That shit is priceless.

Allow for Spontaneity: This can sometimes be challenging for us as Americans. We want to get in, get out, and get the most bang for our buck. When you travel, you never know who you’re going to meet, what kinds of friends you might make, and what sorts of adventures you might go on. These things can only be determined in the moment. Allow room in your schedule, be flexible, go with the flow.

Help X: I’ve never used this organization, but I’ve heard good things. People can post work exchange opportunities here beyond what WWOOF does. I once saw an ad for help needed on a sailboat! Here’s the link: http://www.helpx.net/

So, have you ever used any of these organizations? How do you like to travel? Leave your thoughts, stories, and questions below. As always, I’d love to hear from you!

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4 Responses to Travel Like a Local

  1. Fiona Clark says:

    Very nice article, Kat 🙂

    Here are a few thoughts about traveling by rail/coach like a local in the UK (where I’m originally from and where my parents still live). The same sort of thinking often applies in other countries too.

    If you aren’t buying a railpass, and aren’t needing the flexibility, booking train and coach tickets ahead can mean that you can greatly reduce travel costs. For example, a train ticket from London to my parents’ hometown of Bradford (about 200 miles) would cost about 90 pounds one way if I bought it on the day. Bought on the Internet a month ahead, it costs in the region of 10-20 pounds one way.

    National Express, the coach company, does a limited number of “fun fares” which are super-cheap — e.g., 6 pounds for that same journey, compared to a standard coach fare of 22-28 pounds. The fun fares have traditionally allowed you to get off at intermediate stops: for example, I have sometimes bought a 6 pound fun fare from Bradford to London on a coach that stops at Milton Keynes, where I pick up a train to a friend’s house. (For comparison, the one way fare from Bfd to MK would be around 25 pounds.) However, check the small print carefully before you try this — things change — and print out the page that says, yes, you can do this as long as you tell the driver when you get on (let’s them know where they have to stop, and also where to stow your bag under the bus). National Express drivers can be very grumpy gentlemen who don’t know all the rules, and you sometimes have to show them this printout before they will agree that you can actually do it. (But I try to avoid the National Express buses: the train is so much nicer!)

    The drawback to advance booking is that you have to use the ticket on the specifically-booked train/coach, so this is not good for spontaneity. But it saves a ton of money if you know you want to be in a particular place at a particular time.

    You pick your train tickets up from machines at the train station, so you also have to have the card used to purchase them with you. For the coach, they email your tickets to you and you just print them out. Of course, you’ll probably need to inform your debit/credit card company you are going to make an overseas online purchase or else the transaction may not go through.

    There are some train travel websites aimed at tourists that don’t give you the really good fares. Avoid those. Instead, for UK trains try: the http://www.trainline.com, http://www.redspottedhanky.com, or http://www.nationalrail.co.uk. Coach: http://www.nationalexpress.com

    In London, buy an Oyster Card. It makes getting around by bus and tube very much cheaper, since there’s a maximum daily charge. It doesn’t work on the local overground rail in the area though.

    All the best
    Fiona

    • electrickat says:

      Excellent advice, thank you Fiona! I have also found spontaneous train trips in Ireland to cost double what it would if you book online, even day of. I’ve had to run to a pay per minute internet terminal, buy a ticket online, run back to the ticket window with my confirmation number, get my ticket and then dash to catch my train. Pain in the ass! But invigorating. Planning ahead can save tons of money, I agree. For me it seems to be about finding a balance:)

  2. Celeste Truitt says:

    Thank you so much for sharing! I hope to be trying your tips out soon!

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