How To: Save for Budget Travel

By the time you’ve paid rent, utilities, internet bill, phone bill, insurance, car payment, gym membership, and Netflix subscription, you’re usually left with just enough money to have some fun and buy your groceries. I hear it all the time…”How do you afford to travel?” It is not something that magically happens overnight. But it is simple.

My mother always used to tell my brother and I as kids, “You can do anything you want to do, if you want to do it badly enough.” Long before my spiritual journey, these words became a lesson from my childhood that I still often reflect on. I did not know how right she was at the time, but I would learn someday.

Before I go on, I’d like to address something very important. Money is a tool. Money will not make you happy regardless of how much you believe it is the missing factor. Nothing will ever be as valuable as being on your own time. This leads many to confuse freedom with money, but lets be clear: they stand alone. Now lets go to Europe!

First, review your spending habits. Do you buy your morning coffee at Starbucks a couple times a week? Do you buy things you “need” but know you may only use once or twice? Where do you and your friends go to hang out? Do you smoke a lot of cigarettes? Ignorance is not bliss when it comes to checking your bank account. Hold yourself accountable! Where can you be spending less?

Next, and once you can trust yourself with spending, do yourself the ultimate favor and apply for an air miles credit card. I use Capital One Venture. It gives you double points on all purchases and 40,000 bonus miles ($400 airline credit) when you spend $3,000 in the first three months. Plus, you can use your miles on any airline. I use my credit card for all of my purchases and pay it off at the end of every month. I haven’t paid a cent on any of my departing flights (normally $500-$900 each).

With airfare out of the way and a firm grasp on your spending, it’s time to crunch numbers. I travel every year. When I am returning from a trip, it is immediately time to start planning and saving for the next one. I would recommend around 10 months of prep before your first trip, if you’re starting from the bottom. Let’s say you’re going to Europe for one month, and have a budget of $60 per day. You’ll need to have money in your account when you return, money to cover any additional airfare cost (whatever your miles don’t cover/baggage fees on cheaper airlines), and $1,800 for your expenses once you’re there. You should plan to return with about $3,000 (this also adds a nice emergency buffer, in case you ever need it). I’d plan for about $800 in extra airfare cost, depending on the time of year and where you are flying from. In total, you’d need to save $5,600. Over the course of ten months, starting with nothing, you’d need to save $560 per month. Most of you won’t be starting from absolute zero, but some of you may have some debt or costs to cover at home while you’re abroad.

Now I know some of you are saying, “Vanessa, there is no way I can save $560 a month, are you insane?” Light your doubts on fire and for a moment just imagine that it is not only possible but it is happening. Now hold on to that excitement and let it fuel you to the finish line. Your greatest obstacle is the belief that your dreams are out of reach. Print out pictures of your dream destination and look at them every morning and every night. Envision being there. It will not be as hard as you are conditioned to believe it will be. I will be posting more tips on saving as time goes on, but for now, just start here. Be excited!

The world is at your fingertips my loves. No matter what obstacles you think stand in your way, they can be overcome. Set yourself free. Unplug and venture far!

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Fails in the Philippines

Flying in, watching a beautiful sunset from above the clouds, I had anticipated this moment all day. It had been a long morning and afternoon…we were scheduled to land at 7:30pm in Manila, and I couldn’t wait to crash at the hotel. An announcement over the radio said our landing would be delayed…and so began our hilarious streak of bad luck in the Philippines.

After about 45 minutes of aimlessly flying in the sky, we finally landed. We hurried to get our bags and requested an Uber that was 9 minutes away. I watched the little black car on my phone make it’s way to us…and then turn around, make it’s way towards us and then turn around. After almost 45 minutes, I cancelled the ride. It was after 9pm. Another ride request service was located outside the airport, and they quoted us a half hour for a driver to arrive. We broke down and got a taxi.

The driver was very nice and talked to us about where we were staying and where to go on the island. The hotel was only about 5 miles away…food, shower, then bed! I’m so close! I thought…

The traffic was the worst I had seen anywhere. Rush hour in LA would have been a godsend in comparison. Gone were the peaceful law abiding freeways of Taiwan, and into the madness we stumbled. It took us an hour to drive 5 miles. At 10:15pm, we checked into Amorsolo Hotel. After a 15 hour travel day…there’s nothing like finding out the hotel you booked online is located in a red light district. Great. We made plans to leave Manila in the morning.

After another failed Uber experience in the morning, we took a taxi to Victory Liner bus terminal and made our way out to Subic Bay at 11:30am. Our taxi driver from the airport had said it was about a 3 hour trip, and roughly 90 miles. It turns out the traffic is just constant and it took an additional hour and a half to get out of the city. We arrived in Subic Bay around 4pm.

We stayed at The Pub Hotel. Great reviews on line, right next to the beach, this was exactly what I was looking for. A few days on the beach would be the perfect send off back to the US. Funny though, none of the reviews mention that National Highway, where the hotel was located, was yet another (larger) red light district. I laughed inside and let it go. You can’t win them all!

I tried to see the situation with as much humor as possible but the deathly energy of Subic Bay was very present. Young beautiful girls flaunted their bodies everywhere, and I felt their emptiness. Old men smoking in the streets, I felt their anger. There was a draw on my own energy. I exuded as much love and peace as I could and will never stop praying for the lost souls I encountered. I will never stop hoping that someday their eyes open and they see how much power and magic is within them.

We hid out at our hotel for the evening and left National Highway in the morning. We headed south to Olongapo and stayed at the Horizon Hotel for two more nights before heading back to Manila. The Horizon was located in a better area, very close to a large mall and water activity centers. It was another long bus ride back to Manila to catch our plane to Vancouver. It may not have been the perfect send off, but it had me itching to come back to the US.

No matter what the country or the experience had there, there is still purpose, understanding, adventure, and fun to be had. My adventures in Asia may have come to an end for now, but they will live within me forever. Growing up, I could have never grasped just how rich and fulfilling my life would become. I couldn’t be more grateful. Now off to plan the next chapter of this incredible journey we call life.

A special thank you to all the beautiful souls I encountered, this big wide world to explore, and YOU. Xox

Taroko National Park

It was a restless night. I was awake for what felt like most of the night, still energized from my experience on the train earlier, and excited about the following day’s adventures. When morning did come, I wasn’t tired. We got ready and headed to the 7-11 down the street to get some waters and snacks for the day ahead.

While we were dead set on going to Taroko, we still weren’t entirely sure how we’d get there. In all the other countries we went to, an international drivers license wasn’t needed and there were practically no road laws. Every website and forum online stated that we would need one for Taiwan if we hoped to rent a motor bike. Undeterred, we decided to try our luck anyway and hope for the best. We decided our best option would be to go back to Hualien Station (just one stop from Ji’An, and the hub to go to Taroko) and talk to some of the vendors offering motorbike rentals. As it turned out, some of the vendors were willing to rent motorbikes to foreigners without an international drivers license…for a severe upcharge. That was until a friendly man named Paul handed us his business card and gave us a great deal. Transport to and from Taroko? Check!

We filled up with gas, got breakfast at the Aqua Cafe, and headed out. It was just under an hours drive to the National Park. For the last 15 minutes of the drive, we could see the fog covered mountains that awaited us. We stopped in at the visitor center to grab a map and were informed that there had been a lot of rain the night before and most of the trails were closed for repair, but we would be allowed to take the scenic 45 minute drive through the park. I would have been slightly disappointed had the drive not been one of the most spectacular moments of my life. Truly one for the books.

The vines I saw on the train ride were within touching distance from my head. They hung down from the thick foliage surrounding the road. I don’t think I could have counted all the waterfalls if I tried…I guess that rain storm was just preparation for an incredible showcasing of mother nature. Large tour busses struggled to round the tight corners and squeeze through the water dripping caves. Definitely rent a motorbike if possible. We were able to see so much more of the park being on our own rather than with a tour group. Plus, there really is something magical about driving through leaky caves getting splashed with water.

We spent several hours taking in the serenity of Taroko before heading back to town. We returned the bike, grabbed a pizza, and made some chaotic plans to get back to Taipei in time for our flight tomorrow. We would be leaving at 7:30am, and getting to Taipei way too early, but all the other trains were sold out, and better to be too early than too late. Our next adventure would take us to our last country before heading back to the United States. It was bittersweet, but Taiwan had given me some incredible experiences and growth. I am so thankful.

Ji’An

Preparing for our departure south made for a chaotic morning. We had planned to take an 11am executive train to Ji’An station, one stop past Taroko where we were going the following day. Not only did we arrive at the main station too late, the train had already been sold out since the night before. Although it would take an hour longer than the executive train, there was another train leaving in 45 minutes and turned out to be significantly cheaper. We got some snacks and boarded.

I watched our location on Google Maps as we rode through the foggy mountain landscape. Seemingly in the middle of no where, waterfalls trickled from rocky cliffs, vines crawled through trees and dangled from branches, and nature lived in peace and solitude. I would have loved to stop the train just to spend a few hours exploring but a grander experience awaited ahead.

The long train ride offered the perfect opportunity to catch up on some audiobooks and ponder life’s wonders. I had come to Asia in part for spiritual growth, and I felt the connection to my inner self grow exponentially while in Taiwan. I looked back on my tumultuous years prior with nothing but a deep understanding of their importance. It felt as though I was sitting inside the protective vessel of my body, indulging in the magic that surrounded me, absent of the mind that once took over my life. I felt overwhelming amounts of gratitude, significance, love, excitement, purity, and happiness. I had experienced moments like this in meditation, but they always subsided with time and rarely occurred this intensely. I marinated in this state of bliss while I watched the countryside pass by the window. Four hours had passed and we slowed to a stop at Ji’An station.

Our hotel was less than a mile from the station, so with 2 backpacks and now a third bag carrying our Muay Thai gear, we walked to Fang Yi B&B. It was located on a small side street just off a main road. There were no distinctive markings outside the building, but we were able to find the entrance. A girl in her twenties greeted us and gave us “house slippers” before welcoming us inside. Her english was impeccable and she greeted us by name. Her name was Stacy. The home was owned by her mother, who rented out multiple rooms upstairs. The home was filled with exotic furniture, large crystal statues, and photos of her mom’s dancing career. The entire place felt like home. Starving from the train ride, we checked in and looked for a place to grab some food.

On Google Maps, I noticed a little cafe located nearby called the Aqua Cafe. Little did we know that Taiwan would become home to the greatest waffles and lattes of all time. The inside of the cafe had an under the sea vibe, with blue aimg_9940nd white walls and window murals of the ocean. The owner was so kind and created a true masterpiece for our late lunch.

Worlds Fastest Elevator & an Upside Down House

We woke the next morning, well rested and ready for the day. There was only one coffee shop open but it ended up being a great spot to grab some breakfast. It was a little more expensive than everywhere else we had been traveling, but severely inexpensive for a first world country. We had no plans for the day, and while looking at Google Maps, we saw a marking for Huashan 1914 Creative Park. After doing a little more digging, it seemed to be worth checking out. We mapped out how to get there (again, praise Taiwan’s Metro system), and we were on our way! (TIP: Get the day pass when using the Metro! It’s cost effective if you’re planning on a busy day and you’ll get coupons to use throughout your trip! Including one for Taipei 101 which we used)

The Creative Park was located just across the street from Zhong Xiao Xing Sheng Station. It started to rain as we made our way to the exhibitions, but there were plenty of cute little shops to spend time in while we waited for the storm to pass. From handmade miniature wood figures and giant beetles preserved in clear plastic, to upside down houses and 3D museums, there’s plenty to do and something for everyone. We spent a couple hours walking around before heading to a nearby mall to grab some lunch, and then going back to our hotel.

In the evening we went to Taipei 101, the world trade center in Taiwan and home to the worlds fastest elevator. Just how fast are we talking? 38MPH fast. It only takes 40 seconds to reach the top, and there is no lacking in the ear popping mild motion sickness department. But the ceiling of the elevator offers a “sky full of diamonds”-esque show to keep you entertained. 

We waited until it was dark outside so we could view the city lights, and from 89 stories up the view did not disappoint. When purchasing our tickets, we were given coupons to use at the shops and vendors located at the top, including specials on mango beer and souvenirs. The 89th floor is the viewing floor, but visitors are also allowed on the 88th floor, which boasts luxury items for sale for the uber wealthy (like you’re ready to drop 400k USD on vacation for a giant globe kind of wealthy). All kinds of novelty items were for sale, from huge amethyst geodes and fluorite fountains to carved coral thousands of years old.

 

Before I knew it we had already spent several hours at the trade center and didn’t get back to our hotel until almost midnight. The following day, it was time to head south towards Taroko National Park.

Taipei, Taiwan

We checked out of our hostel in Phuket at 2pm and took a taxi to the closest bus station. The airport is pretty far from town and Taxi’s were charging 800 baht to get there. Getting to the bus station only cost 400, and then another 100 from the station to the airport. It was a long bus ride considering the distance due to traffic and frequent stops to pick up other passengers, but we arrived at the airport plenty in advance for our flight.

We flew Nova Airlines to Taipei, with a layover in Bangkok. It was a late flight, departing at 11:30pm, and arriving in Taipei at around 7am. The Phuket airport was run down, and poorly maintained, but new terminals are scheduled to be opened in September 2016. Our layover was in the middle of the night and sleeping on the second plane proved to be near impossible. After a long night of travel, we arrived early the next morning and quickly made our way out of the airport. Immediately, it was as if I had been transported to another world. Was I still in Asia? Taiwan was so advanced and clean. Their public transit seemed so organized and efficient, which was a vast improvement from the lawless roads of Thailand. There are buses every fifteen minutes to Taipei Main Station, where we would be taking a train to our hotel. It was a little under an hour before we made it into town. The main station was flooded with people but we navigated through the crowds to our line and made it to our stop.IMG_9860.JPG

We stayed at MetroStay Plus Shihlin Station. It is located on a bit of a side road, but in a safe section of town and very close to the train terminal. The room was small but comfortable and clean. Due to the early flight, we couldn’t check in at the hotel when we arrived, so we relaxed at a coffee shop around the corner for a couple hours until our room
was ready. We were exhausted from our lack of sleep, so we took a long nap in the afternoon, headed out for dinner and then relaxed at the hotel for the rest of the evening to prepare for the following days adventures.

Work Hard, Play Hard

I’d be lying if I said I made it to every class but I have learned so much and could not have asked for a better, more authentic experience. I have nothing but great reviews about the facility and staff, who pushed me beyond my imaginary limits. So what did I do while I was playing hookie from Muay Thai? I drove along the breathtaking coastline and swam through the jade waters at Surin beach.

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40 minutes from Tiger Muay Thai, Surin beach is a true gem of Phuket. While Patong beach is regularly crowded, Surin offers a peaceful alternative. The sky was slightly overcast but the water was still warm. The scenic drive alone would have been worth the distance, but playing in the water was a sweet cherry on top. Parking was abundant and the beach itself was relatively clean.

The tide was very strong, and it was truly a magical day. I am an avid fan of beaches, but beyond my bias I believe the oceans hold the some of the greatest powers of emotional and mental healing. I’ve never known someone who can stand in front of such vastness and not be effected in some way. My mother hates going to the beach, but during some bad days prior to my parents divorce, we sat in the sand on multiple occasions.

Soi Ta-iad was starting to feel like home. Every day, we ate at restaurants up and down the street. We shopped for groceries. We did our laundry. Some days, we drove up to Central Festival Mall for dinner. It was so comfortable and I will absolutely be back. But for now, our time in Thailand has come to an end, and it has gone above and beyond it’s purpose.

As fate would have it, this is not the end of our journey. Sam and I never travel with a plan. It can be stressful at times, not knowing which country you’ll be heading to next. (Can that really be counted as stress though?) Take your guesses.