It’s amazing how much money you can save while traveling if you’re willing to do inconvenient things. In fact, the entire purpose of money is to make life convenient. If we wanted, we could all live in the wilderness, building our own shelters and catching our own food, with no need for cash. But nowadays most of us prefer to make money so we can pay other people to do these things. That way, we have more time for Pokemon Go ;).
These boots are made for walking
When you’re an English teacher living in Madrid, however, your priorities change. At least mine did. I’ve become very willing to sacrifice some comfort and convenience for extra euros, because the more money I save, the more traveling I can do. Madrid is in an ideal location for traveling – smack-dab in the middle of the country, well connected by roads, trains, and planes, that it seems wasteful not to travel like mad.
To be specific, this entails a lot of walking. Whenever possible, and sometimes when it isn’t, I walk. I buy cheap shoes and march until they’re in tatters, and then I buy another pair. This strategy has three advantages. Most obviously, you save money. You also get fit (I’ve lost 20 pounds so far). Plus, you get a richer experience.
Walking is not just an activity, but an attitude. When you get on a metro, you commit yourself to a specific destination. But when you walk, you let yourself take in your surroundings.
True, it isn’t always so tranquil. When I was in the Basque Country, I wanted to visit the famous hermitage, San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, which is situated on a little island about 25 miles from Bilbao, where I was staying. I didn’t want to rent a car or pay for a cab, so I took a bus as close as I could get and walked from there. Unfortunately, my phone led me on a narrow, twisting country road with no sidewalks, so I constantly had to duck into bushes and trees to avoid oncoming cars. The entire walk took about an hour, during which I had about three heart attacks. But I got there, and the hermitage was so beautiful that I didn’t regret it. So walk often, but walk wisely.
Sharing is caring
There are two websites that I use constantly, Airbnb (which probably most of you have heard of) and Blablacar (which is rising in popularity in Madrid). Blablacar is a website that allows you to hitch a ride with someone else, often for much cheaper than the price of a train ticket. They have to register on the website and get rated, so it’s quite safe. This is especially useful in Madrid; since even the most remote corners of the country are only a six-hour drive away.
Both have their inconveniences. The most affordable places on Airbnb are often rooms in shared flats far outside the city center, sometimes in unattractive neighborhoods. You have no room service, you have to share a bathroom, and the fridge is already full of another person’s food. Likewise, your Blablacar driver might want to leave at an inconvenient hour from an inconvenient place. Besides, you have to make conversation with the driver, and who knows if they’ll be pleasant.
There’s another drawback to sharing, one that goes beyond inconvenience. Every time you trust a stranger, you take a small but real risk. I know the first time I used both Blablacar and Airbnb I felt really nervous but it soon subsided and I have had nothing but positive experiences with both.
There are also many advantages, however. Besides saving money, you also might (and probably will) meet some really charming people. Two of my best friends in Madrid are the couple I stayed with when I first arrived. Best of all, by meeting locals you get a window into their community, not to mention some great recommendations. The only reason I knew about that hermitage in the Basque Country, for example, was because my Blablacar driver told me about it on the way to Bilbao.
Like walking, sharing is not just a strategy to save money, but an attitude. You don’t travel to stay in your familiar bubble. You travel to experience something out of the range of what you can experience at home.
This is why traveling on the cheap can be the most meaningful way to travel. After all, some of the most rewarding experiences are also the most inconvenient.
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Roy Lotz is an English teacher living in Madrid. Originally from New York, he studied anthropology in university, with a focus on East African music. When he isn’t teaching or traveling, he is either reading a book or thinking about reading a book. Occasionally he writes too.