How to seriously take a vacation

Nic and I camping at Mt. Baldy in Angeles National Forest.

A lot of my friends ask me how I do it, how I obtain a budget that allows me to travel. I certainly don’t have a good paying job and I am still in school, so being rich is definitely not the only requirement to travel. The advice I follow is to have a goal and stick to it; as simple as that sounds it takes patience, planning and a sense of adventure.

There is a balance of priorities. Ask yourself, what is the most important thing(s) you want to do during your life? Whatever it is, make it happen. When I ask myself what I want out of life it is to travel, to love and find peace. So when my friends ask me how I manage to do it, to save money, I can only think, how can I not?

I want to make it clear in my blog that I don’t have a high paying job. I live in southern California, one of the most expensive places to live. Even the gas prices are sky high. I make about $260 a week at my regular job. I have bills like everyone else. I pay $300 a month in rent, $90 a month in car insurance, add that in with buying groceries, filling up my gas tank for $70 and taking care of my cats, it gets exhausting.

It all adds up. Living paycheck to paycheck is something I have gotten used to. But what I do differently is I save a little bit here and there. Even saving $25 a week adds up in the end.

During tax season my second job is doing data entry with my parents for their business. I am very fortunate and try to never take it for granted. All the money I make with my second job I put in my savings account.

Also, I save my tax refund and used that for most of the plane ticket expense. A lot of people that get a refund I hear saying are going ot use it to pay off some bill or car payment. But, is that what you really want to do? Instead of putting all your hard-earned money into responsibility cubbies, make your own happiness a priority and duty.

My last not-so-secret ingredient is to use those vacation hours! I recently read a fascinating article I found on the Expedia website about vacation deprivation: http://viewfinder.expedia.com/features/2013-vacation-deprivation-study

A lot of people don’t use all their paid time off which on a tangent totally boggles my mind. Why would you not use your vacation hours!? I cashed mine out and used it to buy my bus passes for Ireland. It definitely won’t cover my rent/bills while I am gone, but that is a worry for another time. Even if the vacations hours aren’t enough to afford time off, it can cover the cost of part of your trip.

My trip to Ireland certainly won’t be a four-star resort experience, which truthfully doesn’t entice me anyway. You have to be up for adventure and excitement if you really want to get out there and explore. The cheaper, the more time you can go and the less worry you will have when you return to your life back home.

Also, don’t be impulsive and hasty when it comes to buying plane tickets, places to stay, etc. Shop around and make sure you are getting the best deal. This takes patience, but will save you so much money in the long run.

The moral of the story: don’t feel vacation deprived anymore! Start saving a year in advance even if it is only a few dollars every week. Just set it aside and don’t find any excuse to take it out of your savings. A year from now you will be going on the trip of a lifetime and you don’t need to be rich to do it.

 

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Transportation on vacation

Katelyn and I

My sister and I traveling to St. Andrews with our new friends who drove us. Photo: Scotland friends

Train, taxis and bus fares can add up quickly if not careful. Booking in advance is my reoccurring theme when it comes to traveling on a budget. Planning ahead is usually how to get better deals and keep the cost down. Transportation is a little different than the hostels and plane tickets since those are set in stone with exact dates.

I do not like to be tied down to plans and schedules, especially when I am on a vacation. Since Ireland is a fairly small country I recommend the bus pass.

I purchased a 13 day bus pass for Ireland which is valid for 26 days. I can travel as much as I want all day on local, city and expressway buses for any 13 days. With the exchange rate actually going down (Yay!) I got two passes together for $592 being delivered to my apartment here in the United States. There are other options on the Bus Eireann website from 3 to 15 days of travel. They even offer a rail and bus pass which I would have bought, but they only offer it for 8 days of travel which is not ideal for the length of my trip.

A few great things about the bus pass:

1. Reservations are not necessary like some rail passes in Europe require.

2. It allows me the freedom to keep my plans wide open to go wherever I want because I won’t worry about the cost.

3. Buses in Ireland can get me almost everywhere I want to go, more in the nooks and crannies compared to the trains.

Buses seem to be underrated. When I went to Scotland in 2009 I did not plan the trip much. I only booked a hostel and didn’t even look into transportation costs. I ended up not being about to explore as much as I wanted because my money was running dry. But there was this one day … the most memorable day of my entire trip if not my entire life. My sister and I were trying to find this one, special castle i saw in my travel book.

We got on the bus and asked the driver to take us to this town the book said the castle was near. We ended up going the opposite way, missed more trains and buses and waiting hours we eventually found a bus driver who would go off his normal route and drop us off at the castle that apparently no one in Scotland ever heard about.

Tantallon castle looks over the edge of a cliff toward the sea. The green rolled all around the castle, the wind blew our hair and I remember looking to the north/east and there is this huge rock protruding out of the water. I wondered if anyone has even been on top of it. There was no one around us at all. This was truly a magical place and I existed there at that moment with my sister.

After we frolicked for a while we realized this wasn’t the normal route for the bus driver so how would we get back to our hostel? We walked for an hour to the closest bus stop. Time didn’t matter much as we ate egg salad sandwiches and waited hours for the next bus to swoop us up. He wasn’t going to Edinburgh where we needed, but he would go that way just for us anyway.

That day really defined traveling for me in ways I can’t even express here. Buses are romantic and powerful. Don’t underestimate the bus in a foreign country. Even if it takes all day it really is about the experience.

Now that Nic and I have the plane, hostels and transportation covered all we need to pay for when we get there is the remaining balance for the hostels, then food and beer money. Ireland seems to be materializing right before my eyes everyday now as it gets closer and closer to July 23.

How to choose the right place to sleep

Willy Wallace Hostel

The view from our room at the Willy Wallace Hostel in Stirling, Scotland. Photo: Katelyn Whaley

Today my focus is where to stay while on vacation. There are plenty of options out there when it comes to “cheap” and there is also a fine line between cost effective and just plain sketchy.

My answer to this quest of finding a place to stay on a budget is hostels. This is my personal preference but in my great experience in Scotland I have high hopes for the hostels in Ireland. It is such a welcoming place to meet new people from around the world, who are usually young, nice and full of stories. Don’t just get your only opinion about hostels from that ridiculous movie.

Not all hostels are the same…obviously. So like most of my advice goes, don’t be hasty. Browse the internet for a few days, even weeks before deciding. Hostels.com is a great website resource to help narrow down location, price, amenities and reviews. Also, if you sign up with Hostels.com you get passed the $2 booking fee for each hostel.

How I chose my hostels for Ireland was I narrowed down on the map where I wanted to spend most of my time, usually a big city will be best because the rooms are typically going to be cheaper than out in the country where fewer people go. I am going to be in Ireland for about 20 days so I chose four different hostels to stay at where I could easily hop on a bus or train to go exploring outward.

We are flying into Dublin and staying Cork, Killarney, Galway and then back to Dublin. We decided not to stay in Dublin when we first get there because it is peak season and the rooms were more than $50 a night. But, when we come back to Dublin to fly out the rooms are ridiculously less expensive, so we rearranged our route and it worked out better. Being a flexible traveler is key to getting a good deal.

Everyone will have different preferences and guidelines of what they are looking for. I wanted a good location to walk around a cool city, a hostel in walking distance to public transportation and perhaps with a free breakfast (fingers crossed).

So, when I began searching by location, first I rallied a list of potential hostels that fit my description and on budget. My budget was at the most $30 a night per person. Even that is expensive to me for a hostel, but everyone will have their own standards of course.

After I made a list of possible hostels to stay in for each of the four cities on Hostels.com, I closely researched them on their own website. If the prices were the same and they offered the same things then I looked at reviews for previous travelers. Even if a place has a great price and free breakfast, if the atmosphere is dull then it is kind of a bummer.

When I traveled to Stirling, Scotland with my sister we stayed at the same hostel for two weeks. The atmosphere was so friendly and lively it felt like a second home. We became such good friends with the workers, we went out with them, explored with them and cooked family dinners together. Not every place will be like that but it opened my eyes to what possibilities could happen if I keep my eyes and heart open while traveling. And the place where it all starts is where your rest your sleepy head for the night.

$30 a night for 20 nights for two people….uh math…that is $600 each. Damn that is one heck of a budget I pulled out of my non-existent funds. Now that I have settled myself in imagination land I began choosing my hostels. The great thing about booking hostels online is that you don’t have the pay the total upfront, only a certain percentage for a deposit. I sure as hell didn’t have that much money to spend right away, but hostels in Europe in the summer, the good ones at least, go fast, so I needed to start making reservations so I didn’t get stuck paying double.

Thankfully I got under budget by almost $300. I found a few hostels for $13 a night so we could spend a little more money to get our own room other nights. I got on top of things early and booked all our hostels for 603.43 Euros which is about 830-840 U.S. dollars since it has been fluctuating these days. Which I want to mention right now that one of the drawbacks for not purchasing the entire hostel at once is that if the Euro goes up even more over the summer, then I actually might be paying more U.S dollars when I get there. It went up just this month so my plan is to convert a few hundred dollars to Euros soon so I don’t get screwed by the exchange rate later if it ceases to fall back down.

I know this was a long one, but I think finding a good and cheap place to stay make the travel experience that much more brighter, enjoyable and a door to open up endless possibilities.

Reasons to travel

My sister and I kayaking in Nicaragua

Back in December the urge and yearning for travel began scratching at me again. That is when I decided I was going to Ireland this coming summer.

The yearning never goes away. I caught the travel bug while I was in Nicaragua and after a two week road trip to Oregon last year. I wanted another adventure in a foreign country that I could help plan. When I went to Nicaragua it was very spontaneous because I went with my sister who planned it. We had no idea what to expect and any expectation I did have flew away and went back to America the moment I stepped off the plane. It was a great experience and I learned a lot from being in such a strange place and being forced to handle feeling uncomfortable. 

Every place is different, with its own expectations attached to it, but I am only planning just enough and leaving the rest to “winging it.” This trip will be different because it will be the first time I have traveled to a foreign country with a boyfriend. I usually travel with my sister and I miss seeing her, but this will be such a fun experience with Nic.

I am in love with just the idea of getting on a plane. The airport is the most magical place in the entire world. There are so many people from all different countries, all traveling somewhere new and all for different reasons. Some are visiting family, some are moving, some don’t even know where they will end up or when they will go back home. I love the feeling of freedom in an airport, like I can go anywhere.

Traveling makes me not only feel free, but reminds me how free I actually am. It reminds me of the person I really want to be, not the person I sometimes become while getting stuck in the “grind” of everyday life. Simplicity is what I strive for. All I need is a backpack with clothes, a pen and notebook, a voice recorder, a camera, a book, a slackline and rock climbing shoes. I know everyone out there only needs just a few items to be content and I think when traveling it allows you the time to know what you really need in life to smile. It usually can fit on your back.

After traveling around, even just the few places I have seen, and living in a few different states in the United States, I do not disregard the importance of home. As much as I love getting on a plane to experience a different culture and suck in new food, smells,  landscapes, people and cultures, coming home is always going to be bittersweet. I used to hate coming home, but now I understand that traveling is not the only thing my life is comprised of. I have a life when I am home and that needs to be cared for and attended to, not neglected while planning and saving for a trip.

If happiness ends the minute I return then I have not accomplished what I strive for in life. I want to be happy no matter where I am. And if I am unhappy when I come home then the reasons I have for traveling are misguided. Like I said, it is always bittersweet, but I remember when I came home from my first ever foreign trip to Scotland in 2009 I cried for days. I detached myself from friends and life because I didn’t want to be there. I was living in a world I wasn’t engaged in.

After feeling sorry for myself and not understanding myself as a young and curious woman I came to a point after a while (with most learning experiences there is not a definite moment of epiphany as it usually happens gradually such as this experience) that I need to live my life everyday doing what I want. And if I am not happy then I can change anything at anytime as my happiness relies on me and only me. My plans have changed many times throughout the years, and now I am 24 years old, but for the most part I still am on the same track. Everyday I am learning more about myself and making sure I am living the life I want to.

When I returned from my Scotland trip I donated three trash bags full of clothes and cleaned out the materials that bogged me down and distracted me in negative ways. Money became more than a means to an end, it became the basis for understanding why I work. I work to survive and give myself the life I want, a life that allows me to experience the world in as many ways as I can. But money is not what creates happiness, It is merely a guideline for doing what you want that costs money.

Traveling with my sister has brought us closer and now that Nic and I have found one another, we share experiences I have only dreamed of. I love and am loved and I am writing and enjoying what I do. I still work at a grocery store and I am still at the same community college I have been at for nearly six years, but I can’t ask for anything more at the moment. I understand I am on a journey and I need patience. One day I might work for my dream job at National Geographic or even a daily newspaper or become a freelance novelist. I have no idea, but I do know I am on the right path.

 

How to buy cheap plane tickets

Plane in Scotland

Our plane landing in Scotland. Photo: Katelyn Whaley

My advice for buying plane tickets is don’t buy them impulsively AND check prices almost everyday. Have a budget (of a reasonable price, but don’t underestimate how much a ticket can cost) and start saving.

When you reach your goal keep shopping around. I heard that if you search for plane tickets on your computer, the ISP code (perhaps I am not quoting this correctly) is tracked and the tickets won’t go down if you keep using the same computer. That seems to be what happened to me when searching for cheap tickets to Dublin.

One day I looked, before I even had any money saved up, and it was $950 each. Every time after that magical day the price never, ever went back down. The very next day the priced soared to $1300 each. No thank you.

After checking online for about a month and saving my money I randomly checked on my parents computer not really thinking about it. And there it happened. I went on United.com and they were $1025 each so I bought two tickets. I went back to my parents computer the next day just to check and tickets were back to $1300. I got lucky and so can you by looking around and not being too impulsive.

SO, the personal point is, I am very excited that my plane tickets are purchased. That means that we are for sure going no matter what. I don’t care what comes up, I am going to Ireland! Next thing is to book hostels. Which by the way on Hostels.com most of the rooms in Dublin are booked. Very sad, but I am going to keep looking and doing it the cheap way.

Greetings

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I am new born travel writer. I recently just wrapped up a blog about training for my first marathon. Now that is over…thank goodness…I am heading out into the world and I want to suck it all in. I travel light and I travel cheap. Food, coffee and beer is one of my favorite things about going to different places, in my country or far away into distant lands. Meeting new people from different cultures and having a great time out or just enjoying the scenery on a hike is what I like to do in a new place. Every city and country has something to offer and I want to know what it is all about.