People ask me all the time how I travel so much. I usually tell them with privilege and luck. However, this is undercutting the work that I put forth to stay on the road.
This last week I went down to Brooklyn. I didn’t have very much money but I had an itch to skip town and let loose from my responsibilities. I packed my bag and and counted my pennies. Almost literally…
I had around $275 dollars left after my tickets were purchased. Folks gasp when I tell them this. I smile and try not to let their slack jaw discourage my bravery.
When I travel I tend to stay with friends. This cuts out the cost of housing. To get around I get a public transit pass and have very comfortable walking shoes. When I can, I eat where I am staying. Most importantly I am honest/transparent with my host/friend to what my budget is and what I can afford to do, afford to eat and afford towards entertainment.
On my second to last day I threw a blanket down in Prospect Park and took some notes about what its like to live simple on vacay in Brooklyn for 5 days with less than $300.
Stay at friends! By the time I knew I was heading into Brooklyn I had 4 offers to stay at different friends homes. I have 3 people I needed to spend time with and about 5 others I wanted to try and catch up with. These are not acquaintances. These people (who don’t know one another) have been my friends as long as 10 years. I know them from LA, Portland, Upstate New York. Because I depend on their hospitality I have built a trust with them. Wherever I am they have a place and when I make a last minute stop where they are I will be put up. It is a mutually giving relationship.
The financial status of my hosts ranges from dumpster divers to fine diners. It can be easy to get caught up in the moment and follow your host into their favorite restaurant and by the time the check comes you’ve spent your allowance for the day… or trip.
Be upfront with what you can afford. I called up my friends Emily and Rus to meet me in China Town cause I knew I could get Pho for under $10. I let them both know how much money I had so we could plan the rest of the night accordingly.
Food is the most expensive part of the trip. I find that eating ethnic food (Pho, Tacos, Korean street food, etc) is usually less than $10 a meal and with this you will get authenticity you wouldn’t usually from your hometown.
I pick up some food at a market for breakfast, maybe even some sandwich prep to have on me for the day. This offers you the opportunity to pay your host back with a home cooked meal and you aren’t dependent on trying to find “affordable” food mid day.
I LOVE GOOD FOOD. So once I have purchased my transit pass… the rest is allocated to eating, second to that is entertainment.
Entertainment is broken down as such for me:
- socializing with friends (which ends up meaning drinking)
- art and museums
- theatre/bands/live music
This list may look different for you as it often changes around for me.
If you don’t drink alcohol that is SUPER helpful.
But if you do, which I do, it has to be done carefully. I don’t mind going half on a bottle of tequila with my friend and sneaking it into a free drag show that we stumbled upon in Bushwick… I don’t mind cheap beers. I don’t turn down free drinks. I also don’t mind not drinking. One way to navigate high drink costs, ask if people are comfortable getting together at their home with a bottle of wine or a six pack. It is way more intimate and way easier on a thin wallet. Plus you get to see their tiny apartment.
Art as entertainment. There is free art everywhere. Find out the days that museums are free to the public. Hit up a gallery show. Find a beautiful library. Also spend your time in the parks. I went to 5 parks around Brooklyn for the cost of a a couple subway rides. I watched the sunset over Manhattan across the East River from Williamsburg with half of my left over burrito.
Most importantly: don’t be a consumer. I do not go shopping when I travel. It is not the purpose of my trip and it only makes my backpack heavier. America gets you this way… buy this, window shop, get a souvenir. It is unnecessary. Unless my budget is larger and more flexible I stay away from stores, but even then I don’t like to participate in a consumer society. When I do it is on the last day after I know I don’t need any more money to eat and get around.
* I am often graced with extreme generosity. Friends that I am transparent with about my financial circumstances cover a night out of drinking or a meal here and there. In this case I kindly accept and offer to cover the tip. Other times I send them a gift when I return home, repay them when I have more finances or cover them when they stay with me.
I often leave money for when I get home.
Places for free:
North Brooklyn Boat Club. Canoe the East River for Free!
Brooklyn Art Library with over 35000 sketchbooks you can check out.
Brooklyn Art Museum