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.
Food can be another source of large expenditure, yet a strong part of a local culture.
If you opt for street food where available then you can save handsomely. In Central America and Asia I could easily eat meals for $1. In Mexico it was more expensive, but fine, maybe $2. Head to a restaurant for them to boil you some pasta and it’ll set you back much more than that for an inferior meal. Do as the locals do and you’ll save. You might even have a great street food experience too!
This often means needing to get over an initial fear of bacteria/the unknown. In my opinion, street food is a safer bet because they cook in front of you and you can see it’s fresh. In Colombia, for example, people eat empanadas filled with chicken, cheese, beef, eggs, etc. Well, they are usually already prepared and sit in a glass container to keep the bugs away. Good. But how long have they been in there? You have no idea. So if this makes you uncomfortable, skip it and opt for something fresh.
If you have the ability to cook, you can save a lot. Along my journey, I have been learning how to cook some local dishes. In Costa Rica I discovered how much I like yuca, a starchy potato-like vegetable here. In the restaurants it’s almost always fried.
Well, when in Londres, Costa Rica I saw how you make fried yuca. You cut it up, boil it to make it soft and then fry it. But during the process, I realized I like it equally just boiled. So when I was staying in Cartago, Costa Rica, I had many breakfasts and dinners of boiled yuca. I’d change things up a bit, adding bananas, boiling it in coffee or mint tea, etc. I am no wizard in the kitchen, but I always try and challenge myself a bit :).
I am naturally frugal, but a simple tip for saving money on the road is to BYOW – Bring Your Own Water. As I wrote here, water is another example of how expensive it is to be poor. Travel with a container, or at worst re-use bought plastic bottles, and refill them at every opportunity. If you eat out, skip the beverage. It doesn’t matter which country you are in, they always charge way too much for the drink.
In my case, I usually don’t drink anything while I’m eating so this is no problem for me. If you need to drink water while eating, then sneak a few sips from your own bottle! If a bottle of water costs $1, then refilling for free once per day and skipping water with dinner saves $2 daily. If you travel for a month, that’s $60. A year? That’s $730. It adds up.
Try Everything Once
At heart I’m a vegetarian. But during my trip I have to be practical and it can be very hard or impossible to find vegetarian options. When I finish the trip or settle somewhere and can control what I eat more, then I’ll be a vegetarian (almost vegan due to my lactose intolerance!).
But I live by the principle of trying everything at least once. Food is part of culture and each dish is a treasure with a story. So yes, I tried a cow tongue taco in Guatemala and was surprised at how good it was! In El Salvador I tried mondongo (cow stomach) soup. Not the best, but I ate it. In Venezuela I tried a snail for the first time. Same. I didn’t like it, but I tried it.
Below is a list of some of the random things I’ve eaten on the trip:
- Chicken soup with all the gizzards included
- Cow stomach soup in El Salvador
- Snail in Venezuela
- Chicken soup with chicken feet included
- Lots of exotic fruits and vegetables
- A gelatinous blob in Colombia
- Coca leaves in Colombia
- Mountain deer in Panama
- Cau Cau in Peru (vegetables, rice, and pieces of cow stomach)
- And lots more I’ve probably forgotten
If you have any more questions, put it in the comments below and I’ll either answer your question there or write a new post covering it.