Living on an island, the Irish have always been a nation of travellers, and during the boom some of my co-workers flew to Majorca and Cyprus as frequently and casually as their parents travelled to Dublin. Now that money has become lean again, however, many are finding travel far too expensive to do frequently.
My family never had any money, and never took holidays, so I never travelled growing up. I took one plane ride with my grandmother when I was seven, to Cleveland, as far as I ever travelled in the USA, and that’s all – I’d never seen another country. In adulthood, however, I tried to rectify that, eventually moving to Ireland. I’ve still never seen the East or West coast of the USA, but I have no particular desire to. What I have found, however, are several ways to travel cheaply.
One of them is the business trip -- my job paid for me to go to London three times in the last year, and each time I stayed on extra days to see the sights. My employer had to pay for a return ticket anyway so it made no difference to them, and each time I got to see London for several days, I ticked more items off my “bucket list.”
If your job doesn’t send you abroad, however, some airlines offer standby tickets, which allow you to take a flight as soon as a passenger misses their flight. If you don’t work full-time, you might try being hired as a courier, to accompany a package to a destination, and see if a company will pay for most of your plane service.
When you want to stay in another country, hostels are usually the best place to sleep. Most of them are as comfortable and clean as any hotel, but a hotel room might cost you a few hundred euros a night, while a hostel can cost you ten to fifty. They differ from conventional hotels in that they often do not offer single rooms, with the private showers, televisions and maids that most hotel-goers have come to expect. Instead, most hostels require visitors to sleep in rooms with several other people, but this is not as difficult as it might sound; most hostel guests respect the privacy and sleeping habits of others and, as they are spending the day working or having fun, use their rooms only for sleeping.
Hostels also offer the chance to mingle with other guests in a way that hotels do not. Since most people in hostels use their rooms only for sleeping, and spend their time at the hostel sitting in common rooms, hostel guests have the opportunity to chat with others if they choose. Hostel guests also tend to be young and adventurous, often backpackers or other casual travellers, and come from all over the world. When I stay at a hostel, I soon have enjoyable conversations with people from Russia, Australia, Africa and many other parts of the world – all with stories to tell.
You might think that seeing a foreign city would be expensive, and every city is different. In many cities, though, the most amazing sites are the statues, buildings, rivers, bridges and public parks, and those are almost always free.
Many other great entertainments, however, are surprisingly inexpensive. Musical plays are in great demand right now, so their tickets run into the hundreds of euros, but amazing plays starring world-famous actors can have very cheap seats. I saw a play starring Keira Knightley and other well-known movie stars for about 30 euros, little more than a movie ticket with popcorn these days.
Travelling around a strange city can often be part of the adventure, and while most cities charge more than they should for public transportation, most also offer the opportunity to pay one charge for a whole day or week. The London Underground, for example, charges the equivalent of 8.50 euros to ride all day, but that takes one anywhere in the city for half the price of a short taxi ride.
Finally, eating in another city or country doesn’t have to be expensive either. We tend to pay more for food when we are hungry, intuitively enough, and take less time to enjoy the food. If you want to eat cheaply and enjoy your food as much as possible, therefore, buy cheap, healthy snacks at a grocery store. Snack on fennel or apples as you walk or ride from one attraction to the next, and keep yourself from getting too hungry and impulsively buying food, and you will truly be able to enjoy the restaurants you do visit.
I was almost thirty years old before I got a passport, and while there's never much money to go around, I want to make sure I travel while it's as cheap as it is now.