Culture Shock :: Travelling on a budget

To give you a little insight on our travel issue (issue 5- which will be unveiled to public today), BARE explores the truth about travelling on a budget...

Let’s say you're strapped for cash but feel a burning desire to escape the drudgery of your daily routine, to free your mind from the stresses a poor student has to endure to re-emerge in a new setting. Want an adventure? A release of the soul? Want to do it without compromising your wallet?

BARE is here to reassure you that being penniless can actually lead you to experiences you'd never discover by traveling by the standard hotel-hopping approach. We've found that travelling with a bank balance that's seen better days gives you an excuse to see the true soul of a country, with sights, sounds, smells and tastes of real cultural experiences.

Less conventional ways of travelling are becoming more and more popular. It seems that hotel vacations and being escorted around by tour guides has lost some of its appeal and people are venturing for the less structured trip. However, being a 'traveler' instead of a 'tourist' may be friendlier on the budget, but how do we know how safe these money-saving adventures really are? And what precautions should we take?

The current phenomenon 'couchsurfing', founded by Casey Fenton in 2005 after flying all the way to Iceland and finding himself in desperate need of a place to stay, could perhaps be considered the International Crash-pad Rolodex of Social Media. A couch-owner Elizabeth comments "sites such as this make the web world real". Comprising over 400,000 members in over 44,000 cities, the site is a portal to accommodations in homes willing to open their doors to you for a few nights (there are currently 65 active couches in Berkeley!). Search for a destination you desire and find profiles of individuals waiting for someone to keep their couch warm.

Couchsurfing is not only about the exchanging of a place to rest your head, but an exchange of cultural ideas, raising awareness and understanding of a world outside of your own. As a guest you're often introduced to friends and family or taken around town to see the place as a local would.

Reassuringly the site has a rating system similar to that of ebay where users can vouch for people they have stayed with; although it only takes three people until you're completely 'vouched' which perhaps isn't quite enough for a real sense of security. Site-owners claim an average report of only 1% negative experiences from customers and explan that the majority of problems are merely personality clashes. The best advice in planning this sort of trip is to always have a back-up plan; have some hotels nearby lined up. Make sure you have the specifics of your stay organized before you travel and always meet them in a public place to ensure you feel comfortable first.

If you're looking for something really different why not consider travelling as a working 'eco-tourist'? One exchanges their own hard work for room and board with local farmers throughout Europe.

Participating farms mention the growing need to be aware of how one's food is produced and the importance of supporting farmers and the organic movement. Don't worry about not knowing anything about farming, you're not expected to, they only expect that you want to learn and are willing to put in effort and fit in with their lifestyle.

On looking over some of the websites however you may become quite wary. The accommodation is often described as 'basic' and sometimes you may even have to provide your own tent! One ex-travelling farmer describes his experience as "ungodly hours, little food and heavy labor on isolated farms in the middle of nowhere" and on the German website's "6 things WWOOFers wished their host knew first", one complains "If you want us to weed carrots for 8 hours a day, please tell us before we come".

From these reviews it seems sensible to suggest only choosing this option if the thought of getting your fingernails dirty really excites you or if you really care about helping raise awareness of organic farming methods, or maybe you just really want to give something back to county you are visiting.

If you wish to travel without having any form of plan set in stone then maybe hitch-hiking is for you. Free from the strain of a structure, not knowing where your next destination will be is a thrill hitch-hiking allows which leads to very unique experiences. This can sometimes involve stressful moments though; you may find yourself without a lift for quite some time and being in an unfamiliar town looking for a place to stay may be rather unnerving. But on the other hand, if you are succesful you'll find the waiting time to be worth it. A couple from Europe who hitchhiked from Scotland to Morocco for charity noted their most rewarding moments to include home-cooked dinners with Catalonian families, hanging out in farms in Marrakech and sharing lunch with Spanish pensioners who spoke not a word of English! This is still a risky method of transport so to maximize your safety make sure you are never alone, always have at least one male with you and never feel obliged to get in someone's vehicle if it doesn't feel right.

Still wish to travel outside the norm but want to keep the level of risk at a very minimum? Maybe inter-railing through Europe is perfect for you - a backpack and a train ticket and you're set! (www.interrail.net) Alternatively you can find many student-oriented trips all over the globe and cheap travel deals from websites such as www.statravel.com and www.contiki.com.

Whatever your plans may be, the possibilities for something unique are out there and if you take sensible precautions along with your sense of adventure, before you know it you'll be swapping your extensive wardrobe for travel essentials and absorbing a wealth of sensations!


Laura Speed

BARE Reporter

3 comments:

  1. couchsurfing is totally legit and I had such an amazing time in the cities i went to because you get to hang out with locals from that city that can let you in on all the insider secrets :)

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  2. This is a great article Laura. I have a friend who had an amazing experience with couchsurfing and swears by it now. Recommends it to everyone! The site is really great apparently, but the advice he mentioned was definitely to do your research; don't agree to stay with anyone until you chat with them first, read up on other members who have stayed with them, etc. Also, apparently a really strong community develops there - so most people who thought they would just be USING couches, end up coming home and opening their own homes to students and travelers as well! Apparently it's a really really great community.

    Has anyone reading the site done this before?? If so, share! Would love to hear about people's experiences with this.

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  3. First of all, I work for Contiki and have discounts for UCB students so e-mail me if you want to travel with them, rjuskovic@berkeley.edu

    Second, one of my Contiki bosses who lives in Berkeley hosts her couch on couchsurfing.com and loves it. I'd definitely recommend it, but be sure to bring a gift of appreciation for your host.

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