How to be a true Vagabond and not go bankrupt?

29th Nov 2014
Photo of How to be a true Vagabond and not go bankrupt? by Manu Sharma

We all have a deep desire to travel and see the world, but all we manage to do is look at people’s pictures and stories on-line and wonder how they do it with the amount of time and money available to them. Well, it all depends on how true a traveller you are.

Do you travel for leisure or travel for experience? Is travel a “break from life” or is it a living, growing, overpowering desire to see and know?

If you are a true traveller, here is a list of 10 things you must do not only to keep your costs in check, but also to experience what it is to be one of those real fancy traveller guys you see on-line.

1. Travel Off Season –

I absolutely love travelling off season. So much that if it were for me, I would make all the travel destination websites to specially recommend a “best off season” for all the places.

It has more than a few advantages:

  1. It is cheap – Hotels, trains, flights, intra-city commute; you will be surprised to know your costs can go down to almost half, without even a bargain
  2. No unwanted crowd – Life in off-season becomes easy, no waiting in trains, no over booked hotels, no queues at the attractions, no pushing around in the markets. Without tons of people colouring and crowing the city, you will be able to see the place for what it is
  3. Warmer Natives – While on-season, the poor natives get too cranky to be hospitable. Without tons of people from hundreds of places dancing on their heads and ruining their city, they will welcome you and have the time to treat you and guide you right
  4. No cheats/ no overcharging – This is simple, even the cheats take a break when there aren’t too many people to fool
  5. It’s more fun – Combine all the above points and you know how great it is!

2. Get out of the comfort zone –

Take trains and buses whenever needed. ALWAYS Keep a look out for those crazy cheap airline offers. Stay at hotels that rate less than 3-7 stars. I have taken roadways buses for overnight journeys just because I really wanted to see the place and there was no other way, and although it was painful, it is one of the best “traveler” things I have done.

Some pointers on things you thought were outrageously impossible for you to do:

  1. Sleeper trains are really not as cheap and unsafe as the rich brats in south Delhi tell you. They are clean and safe and comfortable enough if you are in a group.
  2. Hotels at or below a 3 star rating will not ruin your stay. They are pretty good and have an educated graceful staff too. All you need to do is do your own research and basic due diligence to save you from spending 6K for a room.
  3. Trains are good and fun and the real way to experience travelling. Flights are for “hurried” visits or for places inaccessible through trains.
  4. We all know you are a tourist, don’t let the new city fool you into taking cabs Travel like a local, it is okay, you take public transport when you are in your own city, you don’t get any richer in a new place.

3. Bargain a lot

All tourist destinations are known for being outrageously expensive for the tourists. They will sell everything to you for double the regular price. Remember what they do to the Firangs at Janpath? Keep that in mind and bargain shamelessly as much as you can. Believe me; you will still be paying a premium.

4. Do your Hotel booking only once you get there –

I am extremely averse to advance bookings. If there were more people like me, all these “tour package” businesses would not be doing so well. Every tourist place has a market that has a cluster of tons of hotels, big and small. If you are not adventurous enough to find your accommodation on your own, you aren’t a traveller. Here are a few advantages of not booking on-line:

  1. All hotels look great on-line – Both the rooms and the location is made to look great on-line. You might be up for a crappy shock if you trust that.
  2. There are always many other options you would have gone for had you known – Once you get to the city, you will see several other hotels you would have preferred for many reasons
  3. You can bargain for discounts when you are face to face – You got a room for Rs. X, oh but had you been facing the guy knowing the demand is low, you could have scored a discount just by making a puppy face.
  4. It is safer to see and choose, you don’t want to end up in a shady hotel in a shady place.
  5. It REALLY isn’t that much of a hardwork as it looks. I do not book on-line as a policy!

5. Ask locals everything –

Your only way to not get duped and not spend too much unnecessary cash is to know your way around the city the way the locals do. It not only gives you a great chance to interact directly with people but also saves you a lot of money. It is pointless to travel if you do not let yourself experience the culture, language, nature of the city and its people.

Ask them a lot, most of us in India are very helpful, however impossible a notion it may seem.

Ask the people in the trains, the locals walking around, the autowaalas, the ticket counter guys about how to get to x place the fastest and cheapest, what markets have the best, most reasonable hotels, what places should be seen and in what order.

Who knows, if you do not ask, you might be getting driven around a circle to get to a place you could have just walked to.

6. Carry a Map –

It seems a little outdated with all the smartphones around, but there is no better way to feel like a traveller. It is also useful. The first time I visited Mumbai, I ended up travelling the city in a zig zag, going to one place, then taking a cab to go to a place on the opposite end of the city and then returning to the same place for the third attraction.

And then I took a city map and it helped me to visit clusters of places together without wasting both time and money.

It is inexpensive, and easy to carry, and it will not shut down or go non-responsive like your phone might. And the best reason; it feels filmy to be carrying one!

7. Buy your booze, shishas and other party supplies

Do not spend on booze at restaurants every day. Keep your stock for the partying back at the hotel. You can party a day or two, but if you want your budget to be in check, find a theka, buy your booze and party all night at the hotel. Carry your own party supplies if needed.

Know all that you may need at the new place and try to source it from your own familiar city as much as you can.

8. Shop in limits –

The malls in a new city are always a “no-go” zone for me. If I have to see malls and spend money buying brands, I will stay in my own big city.

Go explore the flea markets and other places in the new city. Do not shop for things you can clearly get in your own city. Carry your own small supply of toiletries that you may end up buying in the new city costlier.

Remember, you are miles away from your home to explore, not to do your weekend shopping.

9. Do not always travel in big groups –

That is something we all do and it keeps our costs in check, but nothing pulls the expenses up more than that one high maintenance chick that won’t take a train, or stay in that middle-class hotel or use public transport.

Find yourself a group of people who are very like you, and stick to travelling with them. There is nothing more fulfilling than a non-fussy set of people who travel for the journey and experience the trip together.

10. Move your lazy bum –

Don’t hire agents for things you can do yourself. What things can you do yourself? Here are a few:

  1. Getting a tatkal ticket – The agents charge you over Rs. 300 Per person to get you train tickets, and all you have to do to save that money is wake up early and wait in a queue. I have booked tatkal tickets in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata without any trouble at all. It really isn’t that hard or that risky.
  2. Travel Packages – If you have Google, why do you need someone to give you a printed version of the exact same content you can find on-line. And it’s anyway not fun to be going where someone else tells you to go. Get a map and plan and explore for yourself. Leave routines to your own regular life.
  3. Hotels – This has been covered under point 4 and cannot be stressed on more.
  4. Intra-city commutes – If you don’t need AC Cabs to take you around in your own city, you can do without them in another city.

Here is a bonus tip: Explore the possibility of Homestays, Hostels, Air BnB and Workaway camps before you travel. These are not very popular in India but might just be a great option in a few cities.

Hope these tips help you experience several journeys without cutting holes in your pockets.

Happy travelling!