On the cheap

Saving money

If you crave authentic travel experiences, chances are, you’re  often thinking about that next trip.  This also means reflecting on how to pay for it -and how to save money during the experience.  Here are nine ways to save money while travelling, that also bring you closer to the local lifestyle.

1.  Do lots of walking and transit vs taxis

This seems obvious, but it’s surprisingly easy to forget.  It’s comforting to fall into a taxi when you’re unsure of your route.  So instead, make the alternatives easier.  Prepare well, by downloading maps in advance.  And consider downloading an app that allows you to navigate offline.  While it still has some glitches,  the Navmii app is one example.  Finally, don’t be afraid to ask friendly locals for advice. Most people do like to be helpful.

2. Spend less on food

We often try to have at least one meal a day on the cheap.  Often this involves buying street food from a local vendor (see upcoming blog for more tips on this topic).  It can also mean buying fresh produce, cheese, and bread for an outdoor picnic, whether from a farmer’s market or local shop.  And, save costs by eating your main meal at lunch -many restaurants charge less at lunch and more for dinner.  Then have dinner in your room/apartment, freeing up funds for entertainment -or a future trip.

 3. Avoid the guided tour, but if you do one, choose a walking over bus or trolley tour.

We’ve come to love walking tours, both because they are less costly than bus tours, and because they provide a more interactive and immediate way of learning about the local history and current lifestyle.  Walking tours are often more amenable to creative touches, including story-telling and personal anecdotes.  Also, they tend to be smaller.

4. Go to a local sporting event -especially if it’s minor league or amateur.

While travelling in Granada, we stumbled on a local cricket game, which gave us fascinating insights into the local community.  Cricket is the slowest game imaginable (you can tell I’m not a fan).  But an hour watching people just hanging with each other, having a laugh, catching up, was worth the entry fee.

And in Mexico City we took a walking tour that culminated in going to a Lucha Libre match.   Definitely one of our trip highlights.

Lucha Libre. Author photo, January 31, 2017


5.  Use your own steam at local viewpoints

Try to walk up and down on your own steam -or at least walk on the way down.  It’s an antidote to any over-indulgences , and you may get to see some overlooked sites.  We paid to go up in the funicular in scenic Guanajuato, but enjoyed the walk down.  The photo  below is of one of the new friends we made in that process.

A new friend we made when we decided to walk down the hill, instead of taking the funicular
A new friend we made when we decided to walk down the hill, instead of taking the funicular

6.  Research local liquor laws

I can remember taking a picnic to a free summer concert in Florence, complete with wine.  Buying your own bottle is way cheaper, when local liquor laws allow it.  Unfortunately most Canadian provinces don’t, but a blind eye is often turned in Quebec cities like Montreal.  It helps if you’re discrete.

7. Check out the local parks and their programming

At least in summer, many North American and European cities often have free festivals, or free events linked to those festivals that charge admission.  Also, look for buskers.  I do believe in paying buskers, but do so according to what you can afford.  It will still be cheaper than attending a more formal event.

8. Use your social network.

If a friend, relative, or a friend of a friend lives in the spot you’re visiting, buy them lunch or dinner in exchange for a half-day tour.  They may lack the in-depth historical knowledge of a paid guide, but they are more likely to point out sites, features, and customs that will interest you personally.

9.  Learn the language

Or arm yourself with at least enough words/phrases plus Google translate to be comfortable reading basic text in the local language.  How will this save you money?  Any restaurant in a non-English speaking country that offers English menus is at higher risk of charging tourist prices.  Conversely, local hangouts will be more ŕeasonable.

When we stayed in an up-and-coming suburb in Prague, the local bar /restaurant had prices 1/3 the cost of those in tourist areas. We had taught ourselves just eight words in Czech, but using them on Day#1 as foreigners must have endeared us to the locals.  One man with a bit more English than my Czech helped translate a few items so we could order.  And so this helped me, as a vegetarian,  quickly learn to say -and spot Greek Salad on menus exclusively in Czech.  (In case you wanted to know -it’s recky (pronounced “retzky”) salat.)

These are just a few tips which could help you save money while travelling, while also putting you in more direct contact with locals and local experiences.  By saving money you’ll be able to extend your travel budget further, giving yourself room for more authentic travel experiences on your next trip, and others in the future.


Connecting by Giving Back

While recently in San Miguel de Allende, I learned of two wonderful, and inter-connected charities.  What does this have to do with authentic travel?  Essentially, while both organizations serve the local population, they also enable North Americans, who make extended stays in that city, to have a more genuine, mutually-beneficial connection to the local people.  We first heard of them when we signed up for a three hour walking tour through the historic city, which has had a long history of ex-pat influence.


One of the stops on the walking tour led by Patronato. Author photo, February 2017
Mural at the Centro cultura bellas artes, which we visited on the tour. Author photo, February 2017.
Courtyard of the Centro cultura bellas artes. Author photo, February 2017.
Courtyard of the Centro cultura bellas artes. Author photo, February 2017.
Our tour guide from Patronato por los ninos. Author photo, February 2017

Founded nearly fifty years ago, Patronato por los ninos provides dental care, and medical services not covered through the social safety net, to children in the hundreds of villages which surround the city.  While the staff delivering the care are all Mexican, the ex-pats do their part through fundraising.  Walking tours are probably the largest mechanism for this.  Patronato is an American organization, which gives tax receipts to all American donors.  A parallel Canadian organization, Amistad has also begun partnering with Patronato in giving care.  This is not a duplication-  it is only by donating through Amistad that Canadians can get a tax receipt, plus Amistad offers other non-medical programs.  For example, Amistad supports the local library and related reading programs, and offers art classes to local children.

This example builds on an earlier post.  It spoke about the role of self-transcendence – accepting that we are all part of a larger universe- in personal authenticity.  The same post also suggested four criteria for authentic travel that would flow from that understanding of authenticity -finding experiences that allow a person to:

  • lose track of her or himself in the experience;
  • become more curious about (and kinder to) others who initially seem quite different;
  • build his or her courage muscles; or
  • enhance an ability to be generous.

From my perspective, even just taking a walking tour with Patronato por los ninos hits at least three of the four criteria.  And, for those ex-pats who volunteer with these, or any other locally-serving charities (particularly ones which have local staff and/or partners), probably all four criteria are kicking in at high gear.  I’d love to her about other volunteer groups that provide this type of mutually beneficial ex-pat and local exchange.

Great neighbourhoods and families

The mark of a great neighbourhood -whether at home or abroad- is its kid- and dog-friendliness.  In other words, great neighbourhoods offer something for all members of a family   Kids, the elderly, and dogs are like canaries in the coal mine -the first to suffer in toxic and unnatural contexts.  And as travellers, we recognize something universal when we watch families enjoy themselves.

We’ve just spent a few days in San Miguel de Allende where families mingle freely in the town square, known as El Jardin (the garden) for its lovely shade trees and numerous park benches.  Abuelas (grandmothers) and mothers seem relaxed as they watch toddlers and ten-year olds running with toys on strings, or chasing after pigeons.  Costumed animators provide another family-friendly distraction on weekends.  And, of course, the balloon sellers are doing a brisk business.

Here, for your viewing pleasure, are some photo examples of this family-friendly town.  From an urban design perspective, some of the most notable features are the wonderful nodes that draw people to the town centre, such as the main square (El Jardin), the large cathedral, and surrounding shops.  These are places where people can spend money- or hold on to every cent they own.  The town also shuts off the streets to vehicle traffic, and widens the range of closed streets on weekends.  And, there are  many places to sit comfortably in shade and in sun.



San Miguel de Allende. Author photo, February 2017.
San Miguel de Allende. Author photo, February 2017.


El Jardin- a square within a square furnished with shade bearing trees to protect against the hot sun, and elevated to allow users a great view of everything else going on in the square. San Miguel de Allende. Author photo, February 2017


San Miguel de Allende. Author photo, February 2017.


San Miguel de Allende. Author photo, February 2015.


San Miguel de Allende. Author photo, February 2017.


San Miguel de Allende. Author photo, February 2017.
San Miguel de Allende. Author photo, February 2017.


Family-friendly square even at night, with costumed animators and musicians. San Miguel de Allende. Author photo, February 2017.
Family-friendly square even at night, with costumed animators and musicians. San Miguel de Allende. Author photo, February 2017.


San Miguel de Allende. Author photo, February 2017.


Indigenous cultures and museums

As someone of Celtic, German and French ancestry, I am not truly in touch with my own Indigenous roots.  Visiting Mexico City’s Anthropological Museum, I was struck by the richness and diversity of the Indigenous cultures there that pre-dated the Spanish.  It was  also wonderful to see many Mexican people (perhaps also tourists from other regions) spending time and engaging with their heritage. 

In our forthcoming book, my co-editor and I have done our best to invite other contributors who are able to bring in some Indigenous perspectives on planning for authentic communities.  Without this knowledge personally, I hesitate to say more at this point in my blog.  But it is an important perspective.  Instead, I offer a few photos that illustrate the beauty and importance of Indigenous Mexican heritage.  All come from the Museo Antropologico in Mexico City.

Author photo, January 31, 2017
Author photo, January 31, 2017
Author photo, January 31, 2017
Author photo, January 31, 2017
Author photo, January 31, 2017
Author photo, January 31, 2017
Author photo, January 31, 2017
Author photo, January 31, 2017
Author photo, January 31, 2017