People often ask me how it’s possible that I travel so much. In fact, the question is posed almost constantly. Every month or two, I am writing and posting photos from another state, country or continent; sometimes gone for weeks at a time. I’m not wealthy; far from it. I make a reasonable-but-not-very-high living as a freelance writer. I’m not married to someone wealthy, a flight attendant, or a stowaway.
The easy answer is that I’m creative. Honestly, there is no secret, magic key to traveling extensively, on really small amounts of money. You just have to know some of the best methods to use, be open-minded about how to travel, and get to know the tools and resources to use those methods. Admittedly, I do some of my travel due to my work as a writer; but then again, I crafted my work specifically so that it supported my love of travel!
One of my very favorite, and frequently used, methods is home exchange. I started exchanging about five years ago; before then I had stayed in homestays in private homes, rented individual apartments and utilized private hospitality accommodations. But with a home exchange, you are actually staying in someone else’s home while they stay in yours (not always simultaneously), and neither of you are paying anything for it.
My first exchange was for an adorable small apartment in Paris, in Le Marais district. Not too shabby, eh? On the same European trip I also exchanged in Berlin and Venice. I was hooked – being able to go places and stay for sometimes weeks, in places where accommodations would create a huge travel budget, was awesome. Since then I have done about 15 home exchanges, many with Keith, everywhere from Portland and New York in the continental U.S. to Hawaii, Canada, Spain, and now Nicaragua.
Keith and I had both always wanted to visit Nicaragua, both having loved other parts of Central America we have visited. Earlier in 2011, Keith snagged us airline tickets using AAdvantage points we had accumulated on American Airlines. My search was on! I got onto the main site we use, HomeExchange.com, and began searching for exchanges in Nicaragua. There were a nice handful, largely due to the number of American expats who have made the country their home.
I quickly connected with Peta, a woman living in the colonial city of Granada with her boyfriend Ben. They have been living in Granada for about three years now, where they run a business, CO2 Bambu, which builds sustainable housing out of the natural bamboo resource here in Nicaragua. Peta and Ben live in a house just a couple of blocks off the main square of Granada, and down the same street they purchased a lot with a crumbling, falling-down old house on it.
There, they constructed one of their bamboo homes, a gorgeous two-story space with an upper sleeping loft, open-air bathroom and lush, peaceful courtyard. Because this is a secondary living space from their home, they could be flexible about when we stayed there, and they would plan to come to Austin later on. (Tip: Many home exchangers use second/vacation homes to exchange, or are retirees, so the flexibility of working out non-simultaneous exchanges is often there. My exchanges have been about 1/3 simultaneous and 2/3 non).
From our home base casita here in Granada, we have spent the past week getting to know the city and exploring nearby areas such as the large markets of Masaya and the nearby volcanoes. Between our airline miles tickets (total cost each: $70.50 for service fees) and this home exchange (total cost: 0), as well as the fact that we chose a country that is very inexpensive to eat and travel in, we are spending less being here than we would be at home.
Take a look at our book, How to Travel for Free (or pretty damn near it!) for detailed tips and resources on home exchanging, plus other really creative ways we travel for free such as work/trade barters, house sitting, etc. We also share a wealth of information on how to accrue and utilize airline mile points much faster and more frequently.
We do this all the time – and you can too!
Bon voyage for now – we are off to La Isla Ometepe, an island in the middle of Lake Nicaragua, for a few nights to end our time in Nicaragua. Until next time!
Shelley and Keith