Tag: Budget Travel

Are budget airlines really within budget?

Recently, airlines such as Frontier and Spirit are offering fares remarkably lower than the competition. You are hard pressed to even book with a major carrier when you see the fares offered by a budget carrier.

But, what happens when you discover how they keep prices so low? The task of finding cheap air fare becomes difficult and frustrating.

In order to save a buck, Spirit airlines began charging for carry on bags. Yes, you read that right, carry on bags, usually free on most airlines are now costing you upwards of $100 one way.

No middle ground here. Sink or swim, suckers.
No middle ground here. Sink or swim, suckers.

Perhaps the incentive is to pack light, saving on fuel costs. But not everyone has the luxury of living out of a purse for a week. For a “budget” traveler, deciding you need to bring a carry on rather than a small personal item might break the bank.

Are airlines punishing us? Or is this a marketing ploy that pulls in a certain demographic only to reveal hidden fees and  unfair charges after it’s too late? Either way, it’s no news that travel is a luxury, especially by air. But trying to mask a budget fare that has hidden fees associated with a basic need (a carryon)  almost compels me to book with a carrier who charges a bit more in fare but includes a carry on and personal item.

What are your thoughts?

Finding the perfect vessel

It’s official: I have itchy feet.

The only thing that makes my feet even itchier is being in a relationship with a guy who loves to travel too. At the drop of a hat, we can see ourselves anywhere at anytime. We both are aware of our freedom and the excitement associated with the open road.

Jon and I are both living in Chicago in our studio apartment. It’s a nice neighborhood and we both have good jobs. We go out to eat, get dressed up and relax just like any other normal people do.

But after a few months of hibernation after Hawaii, we both put on a few extra pounds and missed our Vitamin D. I have become increasingly burned out with work, as well as him. There’s nothing quite as exhausting as working as a server in the restaurant industry 5-6 days a week, 8 hours a day. Dealing with people in general is exhausting. Most days, we like to come home from work and just zone out.

I know this is not my personality. I typically enjoy talking to and meeting new people. But when people start talking AT you, it becomes tiring, mentally and physically.

In any case, Jon thought of an idea which I think is a good one and we’re going to try it out together. The traveling couple.

Since both of us work jobs in the hospitality industry, our schedules are pretty flexible. The industry is almost always looking for help considering the transient nature of the business. Both Jon and I have wandering attention spans and get burned out quickly. Plus, we very much enjoy leisure time.

Since our time together, we average about 3 months of work and 1 month off. This gives us enough time to save money for our next “jaunt.” I enjoy the change of scenery, and most of all, I enjoy that sweet month off.

We decided that instead of getting ourselves into a lease, furnishing a place and making a life every where we land, to instead be turtles and live with our house on our back.

For that reason, we spent weeks searching for the perfect vessel.

The romantic idea in which we put into fruition is that we would like to travel and be free agents. We want to be able to go wherever, whenever, within reason.

Both of us have never seen many parts of the United States, Canada or Mexico. So we decided on an extended road trip. This trip will be comprised of work and play. It’s going to start off with camping around various places in the United States for a few weeks, possibly a month. We are going to blow off some steam, camp, fish, hike, and reconnect.

From there, with the help of websites like www.CoolWorks.com and www.WorkingCouples.com, we plan to find seasonal work, preferably jobs that offer employee housing (many of them do), as our perfect vessel can be lived in, but is a bit tight for full-time usage. If we had to, we could, as it’s fully functional.

About our setup

The per-requisites for our vessel became clearer as our dream unfolded. This was our wishlist:

Something small

Has to be relatively stealthy (We want to off road and “boondock” meaning going off the grid for a week at a time)

Good on gas mileage (HUGE!)

Must be attached to or BE and everyday vehicle (We were looking for a Vanagon, but those are very hard to find in the Midwest!)

Affordable (Under 10K)

Relatively new with good resale value

Must have cooking space, shower and toilet,self-sustainable


As we looked, we discovered the RV world. We looked at and test drove Class A, Class B and Class C motor homes. We popped our heads in pop-ups and considered just roughing it in the back of a van with camping gear. Until we found what we were looking for.

We stopped by the Airstream dealer one afternoon on a whim, as a previous lead that day didn’t pan out. Then we saw it:

Our 2006 Northstar 850 SC Truck Camper!
Our 2006 Northstar 850 SC Truck Camper!

This camper is perfect for many reasons. It was within budget, a relatively decent year (2006), had one previous owner who took immaculate care of it and had every basic amenity we needed. PLUS, it looks stealthy enough on the back of a truck, is completely self-sustaining and would allow us to live in it for weeks, maybe even months at a time. Not only that, but if we ever wanted to, we can leave the camper behind and take our “every day” vehicle, the truck, out for a spin when need be.

Here is an overall view of the layout:

Kitchen, toilet/shower combo, dining area, bed. What else do you need?
Kitchen, toilet/shower combo, dining area, bed. What else do you need?

The inside of spacious enough. When it’s traveling, you fold it down, but when it’s time to get in and live a little, you crank up the ceiling, or pop it up, for extra head space. The unit also has an outdoor awning so we could set up a barbeque and some chairs for a nice evening under the stars.

I tried to capture a few photos, not all of them great. I’ll be updating more with time, but here are some preliminary ones:

From the outside looking in. Notice the awesome USA stickers. I want to fill that thing OUT!
From the outside looking in. Notice the awesome USA stickers. I want to fill that thing OUT!


Jon checking out the storage under the bed
Jon checking out the storage under the bed
The toilet/shower combo.
The toilet/shower combo.
Hello, new lifestyle
Hello, new lifestyle

In any case, there are many new things to learn with this new lifestyle. Jon and I are studying up about waste removal, water tank capacity, electricity and power. It’s definitely going to be a learning curve, but a very fun one, I think!

We purchased a Ford F250 3/4 ton truck with 4 wheel drive and an off road package. The vehicle is used, a 2004, with about 150,000 miles on it. It has a 6.5 foot bed and extended cab for extra storage space (hello charcoal grill!) Pictures of that and the complete, put together vehicle soon to come.

I am excited for this journey on the open road. The only plan now is to head west. We both love the idea of a week or two of remote camping and hiking in Colorado (and places along the way) before trying to find some work. Oh yeah, and hot springs. We both want to find some hot springs. Shouldn’t be too bad, right?

Good times ahead, me thinks
Good times ahead, me thinks

Common Thai scams and how to avoid them

Somehow I just lived through a whirlwind trip to Thailand in Southeast Asia for a week: yes a week. Between days-long flights, nasty airplane food and being dropped in another world, I was already ready to throw the towel in upon landing in Bangkok. I’ve seen Japan‘s airport. Yeah, I used the little fancy bidet and music maker on the toilet. I set foot in Bangkok. It was enough to say I did it and go home, right?

Flushing sound, sounds while…flushing

Not so. It was time to make the most of our week in Thailand, jetlagged or not.

After a not so restful night of sleep after traveling 23 hours, the girls and I sprang out of bed at 6 a.m. to hit the streets of Bangkok for some site-seeing. Our presence as Westerners must have been obvious…we walked for about 5 minutes before a man came up to us, offering us directions to some nearby MUST-SEE temples. He was even kind enough to hail a tuk-tuk for us.

Sly devils

1. Never believe that a tuk-tuk ride would cost you 15 Baht (75 cents, USD maybe?). A more decent fare (depending on where you’re going) is about 100 Baht. Our tuk-tuk driver took us on an escapade of Bangkok, taking us to various temples, waiting for us, giving us our own private tour around this new foreign city. Score, right? Wrong. Half the day later, he dropped us off at a tailor that wanted to sell us expensive cashmere coats and silk ties (neither of which we had any use for, by the way, it being 100 degrees and muggy outside). When we refused to buy anything, he insulted us and basically chased us out of the shop. The driver guilted us and said that if we bought something, he’d get gasoline coupons. We tried to appreciate his honesty (even if it was after the fact) and paid him normal fare instead being dragged around town to gem and tailor shops so that he could gain commission.

2. A taxi ride from the airport is not 1,000 Baht, contrary to jetlagged-melted-brain belief. A much fairer and common rate is 400 Baht. Always go to the taxi stand and have a taxi that is METERED take you on your journey. It’s so much cheaper. And it’s illegal in Thailand for taxi drivers to pick up fares without using a meter. A metered Thai taxi is your friend. Remember it.

Tuk-tuk, motorbike, taxi? There’s many ways to get around in Thailand

2. Haggle the shit out of your vendor for a better price. If it’s not low enough, walk away. I had a woman offer to sell me a deck of cards and dice for an outrageous 1600 Baht. That’s about $45 dollars! It’s clearly a joke and they expect you to haggle with them. The common rule of thumb is offer 1/3 of the asking price. If they deny it, start walking away. Then they usually ask, “How much you pay?” Now we’re talking.

Do it right? Mad loot.

3. Whatever you do, don’t book your side trips through the agency T.A.T. Luckily we booked through a different agency, but we we warned against the inherently evil and malicious T.A.T. “They’ll eat your firstborn!” they warned. “They want your blood!” our concierge bemoaned. Not really, but we were told some horror stories about people being charged upwards of 4 times the amount it really costs for train transport, tours and accommodations on islands like Koh Samui and Koh Phangnan. Best said: do your homework. Don’t listen to strangers off the street who want you to spend money. And be wise with your cash! No refunds!

All in all, these scams weren’t dangerous, just annoying. A small blip in an otherwise amazing trip!

Workaway vs. HelpX: Which do you use when planning a working holiday?

I’m currently planning my first extended stay abroad in Australia! I’m filled with feelings of excitement, nervousness and overall anxiousness. I don’t want this to be a typical vacation for me. I want to step out of my comfort zone and really immerse myself in a different culture.

For that reason, with the help of websites like Workaway and Helpx, I’m able to plan a less traditional vacation to Sydney.  I want to do a combination of couch surfing and volunteer work (in exchange for room and board) to extend my travels.

Both Workaway and Helpx are sites that allow travellers to access a database of hosts by country and region of working holiday opportunities. The idea is that in exchange for 2-5 hours of work a day (usually 5 days a week) at a hostel, farm, eco-project or family home, travellers are rewarded with free room and board. This offers the off-the-beaten path traveller the unique experience to extend their time away while not breaking the bank.

I’ve been using both sites religiously while trying to secure a spot abroad. Below are the pros and cons of each:


– Membership costs $29 USD for 2 years


  • You can see all of the amazing opportunities that await you by viewing a host’s listing. You won’t, however, be able to access their contact information unless you sign up for a Premier Membership for the above cost. They definitely tease you a bit and lure you in to pay for that exclusive contact information!
  • You cannot upload a photo unless you upgrade to a Premier Membership.


  • Creating a profile is free.
  • Helpx postings are sorted by which ones have been most recently updated. This way you’ll know that you’re emailing and active host rather than one that let their profile get old, or one that forget they had it all together.
  • You are encouraged to answer back all inquiries, even if you are declining an offer, so that a potential inquiry doesn’t hang in thin air, so to speak. There’s nothing more nerve-racking than waiting to hear back for a confirmation that will never come.
  • What do you say to sell yourself? After all, these people are opening their homes to you out of the kindness of their hearts. Helpx offers a page on what to write to people, suggesting that you stay away from mass-messages and add a personal touch to each note.
  • The companion tab is like a Craigslist for travellers. Here, you will find a constantly updated forum of travellers world-wide looking for company, whether it be someone looking for a museum buddy in Italy or someone to fill the last seat in a caravan for a an east coast Australian road trip. The possibilities for meet-ups are endless.


-Membership costs  $29 USD for 2 years


  • You can’t tell how recent the hosts’ postings are. You can be emailing a host’s posting from yesterday or last year. There is no way tell the last time a host updated their profile. I’ve received emails from hosts saying their circumstances have changed (sometimes drastically), they have moved across the country, or are generally unavailable and didn’t bother to take down their listing.
  • I have hard time getting a consistent reply from those I emailed. About half of those I’ve messaged have gotten back to me with bad news and the other half have not responded at all. I have one possible host out of many many emails I’ve sent out, nearly exhausting all of my options.


  • The layout is more comprehensive and aesthetically  pleasing.
  • Their mission is commendable- making travel more affordable AND rewarding
  • Workaway is a great way to facilitate initial contact with possible job opportunities abroad

If you are looking to join either of these websites and only want to sign up for one, which one do you choose?

The winner? Helpx, mainly because the postings are more consistently current and the repsonse rate is high.

Which site do you use to organize your working holiday volunteer opportunities? Have you used Helpx or Workaway? Which do you like better?