Welcome to the latest installment of the "Save, Splurge, Steal" interview series. Getting great value when I travel is always such a fun challenge for me and I love to learn how other people get the best possible experience for their available time and money. I'm asking pro travelers to share their expertise and I hope you enjoy their responses as much as I do!
Meet Robert from Reid on Travel, National Geographic, ESPN, and even featured in Fiddlehead Focus...
Robert Reid is National Geographic Traveler's Digital Nomad. He's been in travel publishing for over 15 years, his writings appearing in the New York Times, Lonely Planet and ESPN. He's appeared on TV shows like CNN's Headline News and NBC's Today Show to talk travel trends, and he was once featured in the fricking Fiddlehead Focus of Aroostook County, Maine. He creates the "76-Second Travel Show" and buys vinyl from his home in Portland, Oregon.
1) How do you save money in order to travel?
Oh, I'm totally crap at saving money. I have no money saved. And I'm sort of old. Just yesterday I happened by a record store and ended up spending $19 on two records I've long had CDs for, and don't need. But the Beach Boys "Friends"? Seriously? You never see an old copy of that. I need to live, right? So, of course I bought it.
I'm lucky in that I incorporated my work life with travel life, so travel is already "built in." I so rarely just take trips for trips' sake anymore. Back before I did that, I made sure I took at least one trip a year. I'd try to save a little from each paycheck, but usually failed. So I just racked up serious credit-card debt. I banked several trips off the cards, and it took me years to pay for them. I don't regret it at all.
2) Everyone needs to splurge now and then – describe a time when you blew your budget and it was worth every penny.
I have a theory. Every living human should live above the "sushi line." Unfortunately they don’t. All the “sushi line” means is that, on any given day, if someone invites you to go get some sushi – the good stuff, maybe $100 a person – you don't think twice. You go eat that sushi, and have a grand time. We should all be able to do that – not every day. Just when the occasion arises.
Trips are jam-packed with these moments. And not all of them involve sushi. I once hired a yacht in Turkey, me and a few others, and went out like Duran Duran does in that "Rio" video. The captain's folks cooked us food, and we dangled feet in the cold water and ate on the deck. It was decadent, but not THAT decadent.
I guess that's the key. Leaving room for a Duran Duran moment in a trip is the trip.
3) There’s nothing like a bargain – name your favorite great steal of a deal?
Studying Spanish in Guatemala. It's funny, all this talk about study abroad programs in college lately, and the secrets behind immersive travel, that the best experiences I've probably ever had came simply staying with a family in a place like Xela, Guatemala, getting four hours a day of Spanish classes with a private tutor, and all my meals -- for $125 a week.
That's the best deal in the world. You learn some Spanish, see a lot of local life. It’s a really really great travel experience.
4) What tips do you have for a traveler to get the best value for their money?
It's simple. If you don't have a lot of money, go where it's cheap. Go where your budget last two to five times as long. Plus cheaper destinations are often ones in bigger flux. Paris or Norway will be there when you have more money, while Laos or Nicaragua may a completely different thing.
5) Time is valuable too – how do you make every moment count?
You can't. The whole FOMO notion -- fear of missing out -- forgets we are always missing out. There are countless stories and experiences we can have anywhere we are, so we are constantly missing out. So don't worry too much. Because sometimes you just want a room-service burger and watch HBO. That's OK too.
On the other hand, I really try to take in the somethings I DO experience. And it’s difficult because we, as humans, tend to suck at understanding the importance of the moment. So, on trips and at home, I consciously try to imagine what my Future Self is trying to tell my Present Self: “Hey, look left, you – you're missing something."
I spent the first summer of Russia, after the USSR fell, studying Russian in Moscow and St Petersburg. And all I did was photograph onion-domed churches, you know, that image of “Russia” I had before actually being there. What my Future Self would have told me is, "Dammit! Look there, that babushka selling the toothbrush outside the metro station, because suddenly SHE CAN! Watch that instead. Talk to her, fool! That random sort of DIY experimentation with the new free market will be gone in a month. And those churches will be there for centuries!"
I walked by them every day, and never really gave them a passing glance. Knowing what matters in a moment – that moment right now – is hard, particularly in truly exotic places.
Sometimes I wonder about "moments" lost by some people who seem in a race to count countries as part of some sort of Travel United Nationsy passport quilt. It's fine to do that if you want. But it reminds me of Shakespeare’s pencil collection. He only had one sad stubby pencil. Think "Hamlet" cares? Look what he made with it.
I see our “Travel Life” that way. It’s not necessarily built by the number of places we go, the stamps in our passport, but what we make with the trips we do take. What we see and learn, how they make us feel. After all, where we go really isn’t that important. Burma equals Nebraska Panhandle, if we try. You do that by going ssllllllooooowwwww, bro. Slow! Being open and curious, and really trying to take in the few “moments” a place does offer. Wherever there’s people in a place – someone pumping your gas, or inviting you to tea or their beehive collection, laughing over someone’s stray fart heard in a dining room – there’s a way. To have a moment. A moment worth remembering.
And then you can always celebrate by watching “Walking Dead” back on your hotel TV.
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