Jen & Ted are a frugal-minded couple with a passion for travel. In 2012, their lives were consumed by one-track careers and a habit of making their condo resemble an IKEA showroom – until something triggered the desire to change.
In their two-week, once-a-year vacations, they kept meeting people who didn’t seem to have a lot of money, but were travelling much longer than they were. They were baffled – how were these travelers doing it? Well, they finally decided to drop their jobs, sell all of their possessions, and see for themselves. They quickly learnt that travel is cheaper than many think, and have been hooked ever since! How do people travel with no money?
They created Thrifty Nomads to share cost cutting tips and inspire affordable travel. By offering practical advice and insights, they hope to encourage more people to explore this beautiful world. In their interview today they share about what life is like traveling as a couple, and the answer they’ve since found as to why travelers with less money can travel longer than you.
What do you love the most about travelling?
The constant newness it exposes you to. New people, culture, sights, and foods – your day-to-day life is filled with foreign and eye-catching things.
There is something deeply satisfying about continually having your curiosity tickled like that. How do people afford to travel?
What inspired you to start travelling?
It started with that gut-wrenching feeling of returning to work after our 2-week holidays each year. I’d find myself pondering about the people we’d met, who were travelling much longer than us, on hardly any money. It pained me to know that by the time we returned home, they were still exploring. I wanted to do that too, but it seemed all we could do was eagerly dream up next year’s vacation instead. How do poor people afford to travel?
Finally, we acknowledged the truth: if we kept travelling on annual holidays, it would be impossible to visit all the places we wanted to see in our lifetime. We now had the insatiable itch to travel, but two events pushed us to make it happen. Why can everyone afford to travel but me?
One of them, was reading a life-changing book: Vagabonding: The Uncommon Guide to Long-Term Travel by Rolf Potts. It clearly spelled out how to make long-term travel a reality, from selling everything to travelling affordably.
We sold all our possessions, backpacked for 6 months, lived in Australia for a year, and finally returned to Canada to visit and explore home. Currently we’re on the road again travelling long-term.
What is Thrifty Nomads all about?
Thrifty Nomads is about inspiring affordable travel for all. Like many, we too once believed that travel was something only people with certain entitlements could enjoy (e.g. an inheritance, parents footing the bill, a job that pays you to travel – none of these apply to us!).
Being perpetually frugal people raised in single-income homes, we discovered that travel is much, much cheaper than people think. The epitome of Thrifty Nomads is to help others to reach their own travel dreams via practical means we use ourselves. How do I travel cheaply?
What is the one thing you know now that you wish you knew when you started traveling?
To SLOW DOWN! There’s so much more to travel than stepping into a country’s border, visiting the main attractions, and saying that you’ve “been there”.
Coming from Canada where you count holiday time like pennies (and then walk on eggshells to request it), the initial vastness of long-term travel made us overwhelmed and overconfident. We went way too fast the first time around, but still had one heck of a time.
What I would say to anyone starting a long-term adventure is this: do not feel the urge to checklist travel. Take it slow and enjoy what’s around you. Love a place? Then stay there longer – some of your most cherished memories can happen when you just really soak up somewhere special.
Do you find planning a trip as a couple difficult when there are two sets of interests to cater to?
We are fortunate in that we genuinely enjoy the same activities, food, and are quite agreeable when it comes to deciding day-to-day happenings. Take note though, that doesn’t mean agree on everything!
The biggest struggle we have is not choosing destinations but deciding a pace. Ted prefers to move more quickly than myself, and so we have to make compromises for each other. How to travel cheap?
We just try to alternate paces and respect the other’s needs to make it work.
What is it like traveling as couple? Did you have any “I’m going to kill you” moments?
It’s fulfilling to be with someone who fully understands every amazing, quirky, stressful, and inspiring moment of travel. From the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen to those “I just want to go home now” feelings.
There’s also the hefty pile of inside jokes and memories you’ll develop not long into your journey, which is equally awesome.
Now, those “I’m going to kill you moments”? Oh, they happen! Travel is radically different from “at home” life with a partner. The 8 hours you’d normally spend apart at work? Gone. Separate hangouts with your own groups of friends? No more. How do people have the money to travel?
You’re now together 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, except for shower and toilet breaks. That’s a lot of time to spend with one person!
The fatigue, and frustration is inevitable – what matters is how you manage them. I wrote all about the good, bad, and fugly of couple’s travel, but put simply nothing has stretched and strengthened us more than travel!
Lots of couples have conflict. It’s normal. How do you handle conflict while traveling?
Open, respectful communication is essential. That’s by no means easy though, especially when you’ve got two angry, exhausted and/or hungry people.
Some days we’re patient and efficient at resolving conflict. Other days it’s an incessant Ping-Pong of short fuses and arguments. We aren’t perfect, but we try to use these strategies to get it better the next time:
- Recognize when conflict is not going anywhere and start thinking of ways to resolve it ASAP, even if it’s simply “we’ll agree to disagree”. No one needs to “win” every argument. Tips for traveling as a couple.
- When you do fight, choose words carefully, they can’t be taken back!
- Be accountable for your actions. Were you needlessly grumpy today? Did you snap for no good reason? ‘Fess up and apologise!
- Have a team mentality and don’t play mind games. If you have a problem, state it in a non-confrontational way. The quicker your bring it to the table, the quicker it can be addressed and life can move on!
Sometimes married couples need some space. How do you go about making some personal time when you are with someone all the time?
No matter how small, we find separate activities to spend time apart – daily jogs, groceries, cooking, laundry, working in separate rooms, or going out for our own meals.
You’ve got to make spending time apart a normal part of your routine, as it would be “back home”. Just don’t wait until tensions are high to do so – have it be a regular norm.
How do you stick to a budget when you travel? Do you find travelling as a couple means you manage to travel more frugally?
We have general limits on things like meals, drinks, and accommodation. If we exceed in one, we cut back on another. If lunch as more than we wanted to spend, we’ll cut the rough difference in other such as cooking the next meal, or not grabbing those beers from the grocery store next time (always a hard one!)
It’s certainly more affordable to travel as a duo, and some days we even hit Nomadic Matt’s $50/day budget for the two of us. Accommodation is a great example: a hostel dorm may cost you $30 per person in Tokyo, but we just scored an entire private AirBNB apartment near the city for $40/night.
Meals or coffee can also be stretched further when there are two to share – our most common hack being to buy a large coffee & split it, instead of purchasing 2 smalls.
What are your “Thrifty Guides” all about?
Our Thrifty Guides offer practical advice to help people travel cheaper, sooner. This includes at-home tips to save up for travel, such as how to master couponing, cut food costs, rent your home on AirBNB, and effectively sell your belongings.
The other aspect of the guides is on-the-road thrifty topics, such as the best fee-free debit/credit cards for travel, how to find $1/day RV relocations, and how to book the cheapest flights, accommodation, and car rentals.
What are some tips for finding the cheapest travel deals?
Travel deals happen a lot, but you’ve got to be in the social media know-how to hear about them. Follow airlines, hotels, and car/campervan rental companies on Twitter, Facebook, and sign up for newsletters. Seat sales, relocation deals, and flight pricing errors happen all the time, but you’ve got to be looking for them!
When booking anything, crosscheck a couple of broad search engines to get comprehensive results. When it comes to searching flights, always search incognito (we’ve got more tips on cheap flight-booking here).
When reserving accommodation or car rentals, always check if there’s free cancellation. If there is, you can secure a deal in advance without consequence, buying you more time to shop for alternatives. Just make sure you know the cancellation deadlines!
What are some tips for keeping your accommodation costs low?
Think outside the “hotel” box! If private accommodation is what you’re after, consider hostels, guesthouses, house sitting, and AirBNB. Anything but a hotel will nearly always be cheaper and cleaner than people think.
Working in exchange for your accommodation is also a great way to travel for “free”. Many hostels allow this, and this is also the concept behind WWOOF (worldwide opportunities on organic farms) and HelpX (working in exchange for accommodation in lodges, ranches, farms, and more).
Couchsurfing (free) provides a more immersive cultural experience, and is perhaps the most socially intimate of these options.
If travelling somewhere where you want to drive, consider if a campervan, small RV, or camping would be cheaper. If your plans are flexible, seek out vehicle relocation deals.
Your #1 money saving tip for the frugal traveller?
Change your travel attitude. I’ve talked about this before, but an open mentality will save you far more money than any other tip or hack we could offer.
Staying in apartments over hotels, flying budget airlines over full-service ones, couchsurfing over guesthouses, housesitting over fast-paced travel, etc.
Travel can be both affordable and fulfilling, if you’re open to some of the less conventional ways in which it can be done.
Three things you can’t travel without?
- Portable coffee filter. It fits in a mug and is a godsend when you just can’t have another instant coffee – a point I think we reached long ago.
- Our camera. This is the main way we capture memories and experiences – cannot walk out the door without it!
- Laptops. As much as we love to explore disconnected, we live in a digital world. Staying in touch with family & working is made possible via our must-have Macbooks!
Which destinations are at the top of your bucket list?
We’d love to see Iceland, Scandinavia, and re-visit New Zealand more thoroughly. Like many, our list is forever growing.
We like remote and offbeat places, but also travel based on proximity, cost, and intrigue at the time.
Most practical piece of advice for those planning travel?
Do some research beforehand, but not too much. On the flipside, exotic as it may sound to travel wherever the wind takes you, being totally uninformed could cause you to miss amazing experiences/events that may be seasonal or annual (speaking from our own mishaps on that one!).
Beyond reading up on a place, don’t over-plan. A rigid schedule means you can’t join spontaneous plans with newly made friends. It also prevents you from taking advantage of last-minute travel deals, or from staying longer in a place you’ve fallen in love with.
Research is good. Over-scheduling is not!
Why should people travel?
It will change you in ways you can’t comprehend until you do it. “Travel” is so radically different from snippet holidays once a year – a fact I once consciously denied years ago.
It’s not uncommon to regret not having travelled more – don’t echo those same regrets! In my experience, I’ve yet to meet someone who wished they’d seen less of this beautiful world, no matter what sacrifices they made to do it.
Making long-term travel happen is inconvenient. It takes effort. But it’s not impossible. If you have the itch, act on it. You won’t regret it. I promise!
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