How I Afford to Travel – 7 Tips for Traveling on a Budget

When it comes to traveling, people sometimes ask me “What do you do?” or “What do your parents do?” – which translated means “How do you afford to travel so much?”

Well it’s time to reveal the secret! And no, I’m not rich and I don’t sell drugs either!

Many of my trips were/are study or work-related, but I travel as a tourist as well. So here are a few tips that can help you save money if you are traveling on a budget.

1. Where to book flights

I usually book my flights on lastminute.com and use “flexible dates” so I can see what combination is cheapest. Kayak.com is a good option as well, as it compares prices from many different booking sites and comes up with the best option.

Another site I use at times is edreams.com. It usually helps you find good deals but depending on the payment method they might add an extra €50 or so at the time of actually buying the ticket.

2. When to book flights

I usually book my flights 6 or 2-3 weeks prior to the date when I’m planning to travel. That’s when prices are usually lower.

3. Choose multiple destinations instead of layovers

If you are supposed to travel from A to B with a layover in X, you can choose “multiple destinations” on the site where you book your flight and travel A-X, spend a few days in X and then X-B, usually for the same price. This way you get to visit X without spending extra on flights.

4. Stay downtown and save on transportation

Couch surfing or staying with friends or friends’ friends is obviously the cheapest option, but if you don’t know anybody in the place you are planning to visit, choose a hostel or a hotel located as close to the city center as possible.

Most tourist attractions are usually located within or close to city centers, so chances are that, if you are staying somewhere downtown, the main tourist sites will be at a walking distance. This can be true even for some large cities.

I usually book my hostels on booking.com. They help you find good deals and they even offer free offline maps and tourist guides for the main cities.

5. Travel at night

Check if there are night flights/busses/trains available for the place you are tying to reach. It is not the most comfortable option but at least you won’t have to pay for the hotel.

6. Choose busses rather than trains

This is valid for Europe, where trains are much more common than busses.

Yes, trains are more comfortable and faster and you can even find good offers at times, but traveling by bus is usually much cheaper.

7. Eating options: Street food and marketplaces

I love street food and even if my budget is not tight I’d choose street food over fancy restaurants. Also, my stomach can eat pretty much anything and the weirdest the food the better!

In many countries you can get good, cheap food at marketplaces or on the streets and there’s a plus to it! Food there is usually similar to what people cook at their places, so this can be a great way to discover local cuisine.

This is how I try to save money when i travel. Do you guys have other tips that can help? Feel free to comment below.

Expectation Vs. Reality: Annoying Tourists

Siem Riep, Cambodia

Expectations

5.00 AM

The alarm sets off.

It is still dark outside.

I hop on the bike I rented yesterday and ride it towards Angkor Wat. Today’s goal: see the sun rise over the beautiful ancient temple.

As I approach the historic site, the fresh morning air wakes me up completely.

Here I am now, standing in front of one of the most beautiful temples in the world. I can barely see it as it is still dark outside but the sun is slowly rising from behind it and I can start to appreciate its shape.

The sky turns violet and orange.

Oh, the bliss of solitude, the poetry of the rising sun and the mystery of the ancient temple!

I take it all in.

I take some perfect Instagram shots and go inside the temple. As I wander around, I get lost and I’m transported back in time.

An amazing experience I’m going to share with my Instagram followers and with my grandchildren when I am old!

Reality

5.00 AM

The alarm sets off. Why didn’t I go to sleep earlier last night?

I hop on the bike I rented yesterday and ride it towards Angkor Wat. Today’s goal: see the sun rise over the beautiful ancient temple.

It’s still dark outside and I’m already sweating like a swine.

On my way, I encounter hundreds of bikes and rickshaws carrying people from all over the world to the same direction.

I hope they’re not going where I think they’re going.

But they are!

I pay the entrance fee. It’s expensive but I can afford it. They pay good money for kidneys, after all!

I’m finally there! And no, I’m not the only one. Half the population of China, Europe and North America has decided to watch the sun rise over Angkor Wat that same day!

Racist thoughts I’m ashamed of flood my mind.

Oh, bless them!

The sun is finally coming up. The sky turns into a beautiful canvas and I wish I was not color blind so I could enjoy the full beauty of it!

How do I take an Instagram-worthy picture with all this crowd around me?!

Go home, annoying tourists!!!

Inside

It’s time to visit the inner and upper part of the temple so I get in line.

Forty minutes.

Forty long minutes!

Annoying tourists everywhere!

Go home!!!

But then I suddenly realize… I AM AN ANNOYING TOURIST AS WELL!

P.S.: Angkor Wat is one of the most amazing places I have ever visited. Yes, it is packed with tourists but it is still worth visiting!

5 Reasons Why You Should Visit BOLIVIA

I’ve been living in Bolivia for almost 2 years now, so if you ask me why you should visit it, I can come up with a bunch of reasons and say: “Trust me, I’m an expert!”

But we’re trying to be humble down here!

Jokes apart, Bolivia is an amazing and unique country and it is totally worth visiting! Here are a few reasons why:

1 It is incredibly diverse

Bolivia is mainly known for its highlands and its Quechua and/or Aymara culture. But that is just one side of it!

This country is incredibly diverse geographically. There are high mountains in the West, with cities at over 4,000m (~13,000ft) above sea level and lowlands in the East, with jungle in the north and pampas in the South.

Bolivia is also home to over 30 indigenous people groups that mix with mestizos, criollos (white Bolivians), Afro-Bolivians, Japanese-Bolivians, Mennonites, etc. All these groups preserve, to some extent, their own culture and traditions.

2 It has amazing food

One of the benefits of having such a diverse geography and population is that everyone brings something different to the table.

Literally.

There is a wide variety of culinary traditions and dishes that you can make your tummy happy with.

Personally I love to eat Charque in La Paz, Pique Macho in Cochabamba, Majadito in Santa Cruz, Masaco in Beni and Kalapurka in Potosi.

Though delicious, food here is generally high in carbs and proteins, so you might want to balance it with some veggies and salad, so your pipes don’t get stuck.

3 Cholitas

Cholitas are the Quechua and Aymara ladies from the Andes, who are known for their distinctive outfit and hairdo.

While in many tourist places women would wear traditional clothes for the sake of tourists, Cholitas here wear their attire because they love it and are proud of it.

There are many types of cholitas but my favorite one is by far the Cholita paceña. Walking on the streets of La Paz your head will turn after the ladies proudly wearing their colorful and elegant polleras (skirts), mantas and sombreros.

Moreover, in the city of El Alto there is a place where you can attend a show of Cholitas wrestling. Yes, it pretty fake, just like WWE, but still extremely funny to watch!

4 It is budget-friendly

While foreign goods can be pricey because of high import taxes, food and transportation are generally affordable and the exchange rate favorable for foreigners.

You can get lunch for as little as US$1.5 on the streets and can eat at a decent restaurant for less than US$10.

Ground transportation is cheap as well, although distances between cities can be long and roads sometimes dangerous.

Local flights are affordable, though not always as cheap as low-cost flights in Europe.

5 It is generally safe

While many countries in Latin America can be dangerous, especially for foreigners, Bolivia is generally a safe place to visit.

I would say that the probability of getting assaulted in the streets is a lot smaller than in most other countries in the region. Also, there is usually less hassle for tourists and gringo taxes (the extra price tourists are sometimes asked to pay) are lower.

However, use common sense! Pickpocketing and petty crimes still happen, especially in crowded places!

Bolivia is an amazing country for plenty more reasons, not just the ones listed above.

Trust me, I’m an expert!

Mines, Satan and Thin Air

Mines, Satan and thin air are the first words that come to my mind when I think of Potosi, one of the highest cities in the world!

Background

Potosi is located in Southern Bolivia, it has around 200.000 inhabitants and it is located at an average altitude of 4067m (~13,300ft).

Yes! That is high!

I have been to Potosi twice. First time I felt dizzy and had a hard time breathing for the first couple of hours. Second time it was better.

But this is such a unique place to visit, that it is worth suffocating!

Or maybe not…

Anyway, I would like to share with you a little bit of my experience here.

Cerro Rico

In order to understand this place, you have to know its history, which is closely linked to Cerro Rico (the Rich Hill), the mountain at the feet of which Potosi stands.

Cerro Rico is (was?) incredibly rich in silver and other metals and minerals that attracted numerous people who (over)exploited the mountain’s resources, especially during colonial times.

Potosi’s golden age reached its peak around mid 17th century and its former glory is still witnessed by the beautiful and rich colonial architecture in the city center. At that time the Potosi counted a population of about 160,000 inhabitants, made up mainly of Spanish colonizers and Quechua mine workers.

The main destination of the silver extracted in Potosi was Spain, and this played an important role in the monarchy’s ability to finance its wars.

Silver or bones?

It is said that so much silver has been extracted from the mines of Potosi over the years, that you could build a bridge from Bolivia all the way to Spain.

A more indigenous version of this theory says that you could build the same bridge with the bones of all the people who died in the mines.

And this is where I was trying to get!

Working in the mines of Potosi is very dangerous and once you get in there you can’t be sure you will come out alive. 

Quechua polytheism

The great majority of mine workers come from a Quechua background, which is polytheistic. And this is clearly seen among those who work in the mines of Cerro Rico.

When they are outside, the miners worship the Catholic God along with Quechua divinities: Pachamama (Mother Earth, to which they regularly bring offerings of alcohol and sometimes llama foetuses), Inti (sun) and Quilla (moon).

However, all these divinities are considered to be ruling the outside world. While they are in the mine, there is only one god they can turn to: El Tio.

El Tio

El Tio (the Spanish for “uncle”) is Satan and miners believe he is the lord of the underground. Though he is generally viewed as an evil character, he is said to protect the miners and give them natural resources, as long as they worship him.

Inside the mine there is a big statue of El Tio, to which the miners are supposed to bring offerings of cigarettes, alcohol and coca leaves.

Personal conclusion

I have to admit, visiting the mines was a bit creepy! But there is something else that stood out to me.

What I could see, beyond the worshipping of El Tio, was the frailty of life and the miners’ desperate cry for security and protection.

My prayer for all of them is that in the deep, dark tunnels of the mines of Potosi they might find The Light!

Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.

Isaiah 60:1

Choo-Choo Lucky-Lucky

I am happy to introduce to you Choo-Choo Lucky-Lucky, my new travel dummy.
The name comes from the Indonesian “cucu laki-laki”, meaning grandson.

If you are wondering why that name, there is no reason other than the fact that it sounds funny.

IMG_20190207_075049

Characteristics:

Name: Nomad
Surname: Dummy
Occupation: nomad dummy
Height: 1 and a half  bananas
Weight: 1 small potato
Age: not your business
Hobbies: traveling, watching cat videos on youtube, taking selfies.
Personality: Instagram narcissist

IMG_20190207_094004IMG_20190207_151842

 

Fez, Morocco – Living the Telenovela

I grew up watching Mexican telenovelas.

No, I’m not proud of it. And yes, for some weird reason, Latin American soap operas were extremely popular in Romania back in the 90s and early 2000s. Thalía was my friend, I held back my tears when Marimar ate mud, held my breath when Soraya Montenegro almost killed “la maldita lisiada” and thought people were dumb if they couldn’t tell Paulina Martínez was “la usurpadora“.

My Latino readers will get it…

But what in the world do telenovelas have to do with Morocco?!

The Clone

If you asked yourself this question is because you are not Latino.

In 2001 The Clone, a Brazilian soap opera, came out and it was a hit all across Latin America… and in Romania as well. The Clone was based in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and Fez, Morocco and it told the story of a Moroccan girl who fell in love with a Brazilian guy and twenty years later with his clone.

Yes, telenovelas can get that weird!

So when you tell a Latino you’ve been to Morocco the next think s/he’ll ask is “Did you visit Fez? Is it just like in The Clone?”.

Well the answer is yes! The Clone offers a rather realistic representation of Fez, or at least of its medina*. So let me share with you a little bit of my experience there.

First impression

I did very little planning before my trip to Morocco. Basically I found a cheap ticket and booked it without thinking too much. I like being spontaneous when I travel and I love getting lost…

I flew into a small city in Northern Morocco and took a bus to Fez. I got dropped off in front of one of the gateways to the medina and as soon as I crossed the old gate, I found myself in a cramped and crowded maze with well preserved ancient architecture, people wearing traditional clothes, a lot of hustle and bustle, vendors trying to sell you everything, camel heads for sell, colorful spices, donkeys…

I felt like I was catapulted 1000 years back into the past.

Culture shock

I was overwhelmed. I was experiencing the strongest culture shock ever!

So I looked for a touristy coffee shop, I tried to calm down, plan for the following days and download a map (yes, I didn’t even have a map!). The first two days I could only eat some chocolate and McDonald’s in Fez’s new town.

Yes, I know what you are thinking and believe me, I’m not that kind of tourist! It was just a lot to take in for an unexperienced traveler.

Leave me alone!

My main source of stress were the vendors, who can be extremely annoying. And the medina is a big marketplace where at every step there are merchants trying to get your attention and push you to purchase stuff you don’t want to buy.

It is part of the culture, I know, and I should have been prepared for that. But I felt harassed.

Overcoming

Thank God I met some really nice locals though, and I managed to overcome the initial shock. They invited me over for tea (Moroccan mint tea is by far the best tea I have ever had) and we ate tajine together.

Tajine is a typical local dish, cooked and served in an earthenware pot and it is one of the most delicious foods I have ever tried.

Happy ending

Looking back, I can say Fez’s old town is one of the most unique places I have ever visited. And it was worth going through all that stress. Once I calmed down I was able to appreciate the kindness of its people and the beauty of the place.

Fez is the only city where I genuinely felt like I was time traveling.

*a medina is an old Arabic town and Fez’s medina is the biggest one in the world. The new town is very similar to any other contemporary Middle Eastern city, with apartment buildings, shops and wide roads.

Reactions To My TOP 5 Favorite COUNTRIES

Every country I have visited so far had something unique and fascinating that made me fall in love with it. Sometimes it’s the people, other times the culture, the food, some place in particular, or a mix of different elements.

Here is a list of my top 5 favorite countries and my reaction to them:

5 China – what in the world…?

I’m crazy in love with China.

I got to live there for almost one year and what I loved most about it is that the culture is so completely different from anything my ignorant foreign eyes had ever experienced that a simple walk out on the streets would leave me like: “What in the world…!”

But apart from that, China is an interesting mix of huge urban areas and incredibly beautiful ancient architecture. Also, its extremely rich traditional culture is something that I cannot get enough of exploring.

I’m still wondering though why would someone go out in pajamas in downtown Shanghai or shave on public transportation in Beijing…

4 Peru – flabbergasted by Machu Picchu

This country has been my obsession for many years.

When you think about Peru you think about Machu Picchu. I know, you will probably say it is over touristy and that is true. Nevertheless, Machu Picchu is one of those places that before visiting I had seen tons of pictures of but when I got there I was literally astounded.

Pictures simply can’t do it justice. There are just a few places that have left me completely in awe, and Machu Picchu is definitely one of them.

3 Bolivia – incredibly diverse

Bolivia is probably the most diverse country I have ever been to.

Though it is mostly known for its highlands, there is so much more than that! There are flat lands, forests, jungles, pampas, lakes, deserts, salt flats, and so on.

It is incredibly diverse from a cultural point of view as well. Over 30 indigenous people groups mix with mestizos, whites, blacks, Japanese and Mennonites.

There’s only one thing it lacks: sea!

But at least it has lake Titicaca…

2 Italy – get lost!

I love Italy! I called this place home for many years and if there is one thing I love doing, that is roaming aimlessly and getting lost in its historic centers.

Most cities, including small ones, have incredibly beautiful architecture that dates back to a period that spans from Roman age to early 20th century and mixes Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Neoclassic architecture.

Sit for a coffee in a beautiful plaza, then get a gelato and go for a walk. That’s how you visit Italy!

1 Singapore – heaven for OCDs

I’m not OCD but every time I see people throwing trash around, skipping lines or just not sticking to the rules in general my muscles contract, my face turns red and my head explodes in an atomic mushroom cloud (I’ve probably watched Tom&Jerry too much).

Or is that what OCD is like?

Anyway… Singapore to me is the definition of perfection. Incredibly organized, clean and efficient. Yes, they might even fine you for stinky breath but trust me, it is worth it!

Moreover, Singapore is a beautiful mix of colonial buildings, Chinese architecture, mosques, Hindu temples and modern skyscrapers, all placed in a beautiful, green garden. East meets West in Singapore. Urban landscape meets the garden of Eden. And don’t get me started about food! They took the best of Chinese, Indian and Malay cuisine.

What are your favorite places and what was your reaction to them? I’d love to hear your opinions.

Push That Boat! Stuck in the Peruvian Jungle

I have funny stories and not-so-funny stories about almost every single trip I have taken to the Amazon rainforest. This one is both of them.

August 2018. Together with a Bolivian friend I visited a Shipibo indigenous community in the Peruvian Amazon. I love to adventure deep into the jungle every once in a while, but this time I risked to stay there.

Pucallpa – Alfonso Ugarte

We flew into Pucallpa, Ucayali province, and then spent almost 10 hours sailing on river Ucayali and its tributaries. We got to our final destination, a small Shipibo community called Alfonso Ugarte, after sunset.

I was psychologically prepared for a long, uncomfortable trip, yet the last couple of hours I felt a bit like Shrek’s Donkey: “Are we there yet?”

Return trip

Yes, it took us longer than expected to get to Alfonso Ugarte, but it was nothing compared to the return trip.

On our way back we had to sail upstream, which means we were moving a lot slower. Moreover, it was dry season, so we got to a point where the water was rather shallow and we got stuck in the mud.

As the boat was overcrowded, many of us had to get off and push it or walk on the river bank. I personally had to do both things.

Rolling in the deep…mud

One of my first thought was “Should I take my shoes with me?”… Little did I know there were points where the mud was just below waist level.

That whole time, there was one thing I was trying not to think about: anacondas. They usually hide in the mud on river banks, so coming across one wouldn’t have been too unexpected.

We did not see anacondas but one of the guys traveling with us unfortunately got bit by a venomous snake. He managed to get the antidote soon enough though, so he survived.

End of story

Do you want the happy ending or the bad ending? You can choose which one you want to read.

Happy ending: after about 2 hours we managed to get the boat going again and we made it back to Pucallpa after almost 24 hours on the river! What an amazing trip it was!

Bad ending: we missed our flight back!

But it was worth it!

When I Was a Terrorist…

This is one of the most surreal travel experiences I have ever come across.

I was once denied access to Thailand because they thought I might be a terrorist. True story! But let me give you a little bit of background.

Back in 2016 I took a trip to South East Asia. My plan was to visit Singapore, Malaysia, Cambodia and Hong Kong and then return to Mainland China, where I lived at that time.

Struggling in Cambodia

Cambodia turned out to be a bit of a letdown. Extremely interesting country but not very tourist-friendly. Everything is overpriced for foreigners, so I found myself spending more than budgeted. That’s why I decided to change my itinerary.

Imma go to Thailand!

Dumb idea!

But yes, I heard Thailand was more tourist-friendly than Cambodia so I didn’t think twice and took a bus from the capital Phnom-Pehn to the border with Thailand.

At the border

I went through the Cambodian customs office and got to the Thai one, but then I was denied the visa because I didn’t have a flight out of Thailand. I told them I could book a bus ticket back to Cambodia, since I was going to fly out from there. They were not satisfied with that and after trying to convince them for a while, I understood there was no way they were going to let me in.

Back to Cambodia

I went back to the Cambodian office and asked if I could get back in. They were surprised that I wasn’t allowed to cross the border, so one of the Cambodian officers took my passport and went to talk to the Thais. After a few minutes he came back and the conversation went something like this:

Immigration Officer: Sit down!

Nomad Dummy: *I think this is getting serious*

I.O.: See, you have a Tunisian visa on your passport.

N.D.: *puzzled* Yes, I worked in Tunisia for a while. What does that have to do with Thailand?

I.O.: Tunisia is a Muslim country and the Thais are afraid of terrorist attacks.

https://knowyourmeme.com/memes/confused-nick-young

N.D.: But I’m a Christian!

I.O.: I know but there are many young men who look like you, but then they are actually terrorists.

N.D.: *what in the world…*

I.O.: And your passport is Romanian. Romania is on the black list for fake passports.

N.D.: *say that again!?* What?! My passport is not fake!

But yeah… there was nothing I could do. So I had to pay for the Cambodian visa again and go back.

I was really angry at first but I got over it. But the day will come when Thailand will ask me to go visit and I’ll be like: “Maybe.”

Brazil-Peru-Brazil-Colombia-Peru in Less Than 2 hours. True Story!

This is one of those stories that are fun to tell but stressful to experience. It all happened at the 3-country border between Peru, Brazil and Colombia, in the Amazon rainforest.

In November 2017 I traveled from Bolivia to Benjamin Constant, a small town in N-W Brazil, for an indigenous conference, together with 3 Bolivian friends. We flew into Iquitos, Peru and then took a 36 hour boat ride on the Amazon river in order to get to the Brazilian border.

But the chaos unleashed on our way back.

Brazil – Peru

Just like chickens before slaughter, we were enjoying the beauty of the Amazon, unaware of what was about to happen.

We took a small boat and crossed the Amazon river from the Brazilian side to Peru, where we were supposed to take a boat back to Iquitos, and from there fly to Bolivia. We headed straight to the immigration office and SURPRISE! The officer told us we were not allowed into the country because we didn’t have the Brazilian entry and exit stamp.

Yes, we had entered Brazil illegally. Border control in that area is lax, so we were like “whatever!”.

Dumb thing to do!

Peru – Brazil

We didn’t have much extra time, so we desperately rushed back to Brazil and took a taxi to the immigration office. That whole time I was rehearsing conversations in my mind and trying to find the right words to explain the police how and why we spent 3 days as aliens in their country.

The immigration officer didn’t seem to care though. He gave us the in&out stamps and we were free to go.

What a release!

But no, the adventure was not over.

Brazil – Colombia

There was no ATM on the Peruvian side, so while still in Brazil I tried to withdraw money, since we didn’t have cash to pay for our boat tickets back to Iquitos.

SURPRISE, again! I found out my card was not accepted in Brazil, because… I don’t know why. So we went into “somebody-help-me” mode again.

At that point my Bolivian friends crossed back to Peru, while I had to take a boat to Leticia, the closest Colombian town and look for an ATM. It took me around 15 minutes to get there. I obviously didn’t go through immigration (again!) because I was running for dear life!

I have to say Leticia had a very distinct feel and the short, desperate minutes (about 30) I spent there were somehow pleasant. The music on the streets and the people’s accent confirmed that I was in Colombia. And I love Colombian accent.

Colombia – Peru

I withdrew money, felt rich for 5 minutes (Colombian pesos have lots of zeros), exchanged currency and rushed back to Peru.

But no, the torture was not over! The immigration office was closed! We knocked and knocked until the officer re-opened for us and we finally managed to get our entry stamps.

We quickly hopped on two rickshaws and raced to the port on a dark dirt road surrounded by huge grass.

We boarded less than 10 minutes before the set departure time.

Hallelu – yay!!! We could finally breath after 2 hours swimming in adrenaline.

If only we had known the boat was going to leave one hour late…