Many people have asked me how I could just leave my job and seemingly travel perpetually. How can I afford it? How do you find places to stay for free all the time? How do you find places to volunteer? All questions I’ve received by email, and now I’m sharing the secrets in a series of posts about how The Happy Nomad Tour Rolls and what things are like behind the scenes.
Transportation can be a big financial drain and is often uncomfortable.
I haven’t hitchhiked yet. I’m not afraid to since my Spanish abilities give me a false sense of security in Latin America. But yes, you can save by doing that. I opt for buses. In the grand scheme of things, they really aren’t that expensive so you could stop there.
If you fancy more adventure, in Central America you can often take the local chicken buses from point to point to travel instead of the international bus companies. You save money,but the ride is far less comfortable and takes longer. I did this when I went from Yoloaiquin, El Salvador to Manauga Nicaragua, which involved two chicken buses to get to the El Salvador/Honduras border, then a direct shuttle across southern Honduras, a bike taxi across the border, then a chicken bus to Chinandega, Nicaragua and finally one more to Managua, Nicaragua.
The morning wasn’t ideal, it took all day, and the transport wasn’t comfortable. I think from San Salvador to Managua a direct international bus would have cost $30 and been much faster. I did it slower and less comfortably for $10. I also had the cool experience of being adopted by an El Salvadoran family.
When in a city, of course you can save by walking. Plus, you’ll get to know the place better. Take local buses instead of taxis. That can save as well. Take a bus and do the loop instead of a tourist bus, etc.
In my case, the biggest single expense of The Happy Nomad Tour so far has been transport-related. It’s the $475 boat ride from Panama to Colombia. There are no roads connecting these two countries given the dense forrest so you have to fly or sail. The price to fly or sail is about the same, so I opted for the experience of sailing through the Caribbean. But yes, that was a painful purchase.
Yet again, with a little creativity I could have saved. There are many cargo boats that make the Panama-Colombia run. If you show up on the dock with your backpack, some alcohol as a gift for the crew, a little cash, and a smile, you can probably hitch a ride on a cargo ship if the captain is nice. I read many accounts of people doing this, and I could have tried since I had time, but I wanted to go snorkeling for the first time and spend time on the island inhabited by the indigenous Panamanians.
In the end, a little preparation goes a long way. Ask around locally for advice, and search online. So far searching for “City X to City Y by bus” has always yielded trustworthy and usable results from travel websites.
Even then, miscellaneous events can wreak havoc on your travel plans like holidays you didn’t know about, strikes, and Christmas. You can’t plan for everything so being adaptable and flexible goes a long way.
When I fly to Asia I plan to use frequent flier miles to fly to the U.S. to spend a bit of time with my family. Then I’ll use frequent flier miles to fly from the U.S. to Asia.
I’m sure that that I’ll revisit the topic of transportation once I get to Asia and Africa. But for now, this is how things have gone in Latin America.