affordable travel

Before You Go on Your Next Trip...

As I was preparing for my next trip, 6 weeks in central and eastern Europe, I started to think about all the things I needed to check off my list before I went. Basically getting everything in order so that I could enjoy my time abroad and not worry too much. Here’s my checklist below, so that you can make sure that you’re ready to travel. 

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Passport and Visas

First of all, everyone should know where their passport is at all times. Then you should ensure that you have plenty of pages and it’s not expiring any time soon. Next check the regulations for where you are traveling to. If you are traveling for a while, you need to know how long you can stay and if you need a visa. Then if you do, make sure you can get it on arrival (sometimes you have to pay for this, like in Cambodia) or send in paperwork or visit a consulate if you need to apply before the trip. Also know the consequences for overstaying, as some countries will charge you a fine, and others take overstaying a visa very seriously and could arrest you. In all cases you want to play it safe and not put yourself in a spot of trouble—while still staying for absolutely as long as possible :) 

Insurance

BUY TRAVEL INSURANCE. I don’t care if you think you need it, or if you never get injured: because the second that it comes into use, it is so helpful. I highly recommend WorldNomads. I’ve bought insurance through them for my last few trips and it is the best choice on the market that I can find. Basically you put in the details of the trip (your home country, what region you are traveling to, with how many people, and for how long) and you get a personalized quote, that covers you for a certain amount of weeks. Then you view the coverage for specific areas and can choose between the Standard or the Explorer plan. I usually choose Explorer, even though it’s a little extra because it covers more adventure activities and the coverage for lost or damaged items is higher—this way I know my electronics are covered. When I was in Asia, there was an incident where my phone got wet, and was fried. Although I went the rest of my trip without a phone, WorldNomads covered the entire cost of a new iPhone, with relatively little paperwork. 

Health

This may surprise some of you, but I think that everyone should consider whether they need to visit a doctor before they travel. First off, if you are going to certain areas of the world that are very different from where you live, you may need vaccinations. Many backpackers question whether they need malaria pills, vaccines for dengue fever, or more. They think that with a spray of bug spray, they’ll be fine for a few weeks. I think it is better safe than sorry—also, many of the vaccinations last for a while or you only need them once, protecting you longer than just one trip. 

I also recommend going to a doctor if anything has been bothering you or you have a mysterious rash, etc. Get all of the small stuff checked out before you are overseas and it is harder to find a doctor or get your insurance to cover it. Traveling is best when you aren’t worrying about such things. 

Lastly, if you have any prescriptions, either pills or monthly/daily contacts, order what you need a few weeks in advance. I can say from experience that paying for express shipping and calling companies to ensure that these things arrive in time can be nerve-wracking, so the earlier you order them the better. 

Finances

Of course, you say, I need to have enough money to travel and live abroad. But preparing your finances can mean more. Pay all your bills and make sure you can pay in advance or electronically while you’re on the road. Make sure none of your credit or debit cards expire while you are away. Lastly, you should not forget to call or swing by your bank and tell them where you are traveling to and for how long. This is important to make sure that your charges are not blocked when they come from foreign countries. There is nothing scarier than not having money in a foreign country, so simply make sure your accounts are accessible. 

Research

My last step for getting ready to travel is by far the most exciting. Because researching where you are going to be soon prepares you for the cost and the changes in culture, giving you a taste of what is to come. A ton of research is not necessary, you will hear of good restaurants or places to go when you are at your destinations. But figure out basic customs and words of greeting and thanks. also check to see where currencies change, so you know when you need to get new money. If you don’t plan on paying for a taxi, save a public transportation map and screenshot or write down the directions to your accommodation. A well-researched trip helps everything go smoothly and makes those tiring travel days easier.

This post contains an affiliate link (aka I get a little coffee money if you purchase from the companies I recommend). But I only promote brands I love--all of my opinions are completely my own.

Get super ready for your next trip with  my travel planner !

Get super ready for your next trip with my travel planner!

If you think hostels aren't for you, think again

Hostelling International Boston was the only place to stay in Boston affordably and comfortably, as I quickly found. Also known as HI Boston, it is actually a chain of hostels available in the U.S. and Europe. Because there are so few hostels in America, often Hostelling International is one of the only brands available and now I know that the quality of their brand and service makes them one of the best choices. 

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When I first arrived in Boston, I had a different hostel booked for the first night, because while it was not as well rated as HI, it was decently rated and a few dollars cheaper. But after one night, I found that the hostel I was staying at was not worth the money—customer service was nonexistent, the bathrooms were dirty, the dorms crowded and dark. So I called HI Boston, crossing my fingers that I would get a bed over the holiday weekend. Soon I was dragging my luggage down the stairs of the T (the metro in Boston) on my way to Chinatown. 

My first impression of the hostel was that it was beautiful, clean, and big. The entrance and lobby serve as both a hangout and a waiting area, with big comfy couches and a fireplace. You can buy some basic snacks and drinks or hang out in the community room that has a projector for showing films and sports matches. There is an industrial kitchen upstairs, where free breakfast (coffee, juice, yogurt, toast, bagels, and cereal) is served every morning and sometimes a free community dinner. But guests are free to use the appliances to make their own food, or grab a cup of tea or coffee anytime throughout the day. On the second floor is a laundry room, a book exchange, a pool table, and lots of places to relax and meet new friends. Then there is the community events board. This is the magical board that is always full to the brim of cool activities, meet-ups, and free outings. That’s the best part about Hostelling International, they always have things to do and make it easy to meet other travelers. 

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The rooms themselves are spacious and the bunks are nice. If you’ve never stayed in a hostel before, I can assure you that this is the best possible set up. Each bunk has a large locker next to it, that acts as a caddy for all your bags and valuables. Tip: Hostels don’t usually provide locks, either use a luggage lock or travel with a combination lock. By the head of each bed is a hollow part in the locker that has multiple outlets and a reading light. I used this as my bedside table, charging my phone and keeping my glasses and a book. This feature is great on the top bunk, so you don’t have to climb in and out of bed or store things on the side of the mattress where they could get lost. The bathrooms were awesome, because instead of large communal bathrooms, like in a gym, there were lots of individual bathrooms, each with a shower. As always in a hostel, the state of the bathrooms relies heavily on the other hostel inhabitants. While the cleaning staff did a great job, some bathrooms get untidy when travelers don’t clean up after themselves. It should be noted that while not all hostels provide towels (some charge you to rent them) they are included in the price at HI and it’s easy to switch out your towel for a clean one.

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HI Boston is a beautiful and affordable place to stay, whether you are a lone traveler, a couple, a family, or group of friends. It’s the first hostel I stayed at where there were so many different ages and groups of people. There are many dorm rooms (which are usually smaller so people aren’t constantly coming and going) as well as private rooms. HI has a great setup with lots of amenities so that you can be comfortable and meet other travelers. While I initially balked at the cost, with breakfast and so many other extras included with amazing service you won’t find another hotel or hostel in an American city that is so worth the value. When traveling in the U.S., Hostelling International would be the first place I would look.

Prices:

Dorms come in mixed gender, female, and male and vary in size. Large rooms (8 beds) are cheap than smaller (4 bed) dorms. For one bed in a 6 bed dorm it is $44.49 Sunday through Thursday, and then $59.49 on Friday and Saturday. There is also a $3 charge per night if you are not a member; membership is $28 a year. 

Private rooms can vary in price depending on the day of the week and the season, but on average in June a double room is about $220 per night. 

Disclaimer: This post was written in partnership with HI Boston. As always, the opinions expressed here are completely my own. 

No More Excuses: Travel Today

When I tell people I took a gap year before college to travel, I get a variety of responses. Many think that the idea of traveling when you’re young is a good thing. However, after someone tells me, “That’s so cool,” it is usually followed by another statement, “but I could have never done it.”  Basically the people my age, and even older people, have four main reasons (or some combination of them) that stop them from taking a gap year or traveling while they’re young. Some are afraid of ‘falling behind,’ some say that they don’t have the money, some lament that their parents would never let them, and others admit they’d be afraid to go alone. Now I’m not saying a gap year or traveling is for everyone; and I know that it is simply not possible for some people to travel. But I wanted a chance to refute some of these claims, as I think many are simply excuses for not pursuing a dream. 

First, I will address the claim that taking off time to explore or work will cause a person to fall behind in academics or in their future career field. As someone who took a year off after high school, I can tell you that this is simply not true. You may lose a very small amount of information: I didn’t remember everything right away from calculus in high school when I took it again in college. But if you’ve actually learned the knowledge it usually comes back with a little prompting. However, the life experience and worldly knowledge that I gained from my 6 months abroad and 6 months at home working, is honestly far more than I’ve learned in (almost) two full semesters of college. The people I have met traveling have taught me so much—about their cultures, about life, about specific pockets of knowledge and expertise. The experiences that I have had traveling made me develop into a much more aware and understanding human being, as well as given me more common sense and street smarts. Lastly, I will point out that those who take off a year before or during education actually perform better in school and have a better sense of what matters to them in life. As Robert Clagett, the former dean of admissions at Middlebury College, explained to the New York Times readers, students who have taken a gap year actually maintain and graduate with a higher GPA than those who went straight to university. In my experience, my gap year has helped me in college and even got me into the Honors College at the University of Maryland—the first time I applied, while still in high school, I got into a good, but less prestigious program. So both the statistics and myself can tell you that you won’t be behind everyone else if you take time off of school, in fact you’ll probably be ahead of others. 

There's even some magic in you, I promise. 

There's even some magic in you, I promise. 

Okay, by far the most common reason that people do not travel when they are students is because of finances. Even beyond college, the most common excuse for not traveling is that it is expensive. To this I have two responses: there is such a thing as inexpensive travel, and travel can be accessible to the majority of people, they simply don’t prioritize it in their spending. Budget travel is possible in today’s world of hostels, homestays, and airline points. I afforded to travel for my gap year by working on the road in exchange for room and board. So through an amazing online site called Workaway, I gardened at a hotel, taught children English, and worked in a cafe, and in return, got to stay (and sometimes eat) for free with locals. But my travel was also financially possible because I saved for it. I worked the summer before I left, and over the winter when I came home, and I put aside the majority of what I made for travel. I knew I wanted to travel and was determined to make it happen, and so I did. There were plenty of times where I wanted to buy a coffee or a cute sundress, but I didn’t so that I would have a few more dollars to add to my travel fund. In the end, my 6-months abroad cost me less than half of what a year of in-state tuition costs—so before you tell me that traveling is expensive, let me tell you that college is expensive. While not everyone has the resources to travel, many people could if they were determined to do so. 

When I hear about a person’s parents not allowing them to travel, I have a hard time not brushing this off. I’m lucky that my parents trust me. Even though I am legally an adult, I also have their support in traveling. This is mostly because I have shown that I am independent. But also I am careful in my travels and try to be as safe as possible. Plan to check in with your parents and communicate often, even if it’s just a ‘hello, I’m safe’ text every day. Also registering with the U.S. embassy (or whatever country you normally reside in) can help to insure that you are safe and everyone back home knows where you are. So my best advice for those who are trying to convince their parents that they should travel, would be to present the benefits of traveling, but also show your parents that you are capable of taking care of yourself abroad. 

If I had let fear stop me, I would have never gazed across the Bangkok skyline as the sun set.

If I had let fear stop me, I would have never gazed across the Bangkok skyline as the sun set.

The last and most difficult to address is the fear of traveling, especially alone. I cannot deny that this is real, the world is a big place and things happen. But for every minute or two alone boarding an airplane, or walking down poorly-lit road, I have had hours and days of happiness and exploration. The fear of being alone and having to rely on yourself is natural, this is what keeps us safe and helps us make the right decisions. So don’t disregard the knot in your stomach when you think about traveling alone, just take a breath and look at what is holding you back. And then look at where you could go and what you could do if you tucked that fear into your pocket. 

As my freshman year of college comes to a close, I think about all of the people I’ve met this year and with whom I shared my travel stories. Many listen attentively and nod energetically, but when I ask them if they’ve traveled by themselves or explore often, I hear “next year,” “after I graduate,” and “one day.” This post is for them, because I want everyone to be able to rifle through and play in the world that I have fallen in love with.