Shoestring travelers are the most seasoned and storied among wanderers. They see the place without the touristy pampering and superfluity. With their frugality, they tolerate–if not accept–too boxy a room, strike a conversation with the locals, eat street food, can smell an extortionist meters away, adapt to the place’s mood swings, and are excited–not panicky–when they get lost. Shoestring travelers are hungry for experience unique to every place he or she winds up in.
Shoestring traveling is presumably harder for women. Traveling—which is historically patriarchal—is already a challenge for her. There are every woman’s woes to deal with: dysmenorrhea, “weak” stamina, and fragile frame. So she shall take the challenge head-on. She shall be prepared.
Don’t do a Gaga. A frugal woman traveler must bring the necessaries and not the might-be-necessaries. Forget about doing a Lady Gaga whenever you travel. Flashy clothes can attract attention and extortionists alike. Traveling is not about you. It is about the place, the you in an unfamiliar turf, or the you being part of the grand narrative of the place. Sadly, the place does not evolve around you. So forget about eye-catching clothes. Look and act local.
Bare necessities. Tights, leggings, shorts, tank tops, and loose cotton shirts are the lightest to pack and the most comfortable to wear and still arguably fashionable. A small travel kit is a must as well. For me, I invest light on my backpack and invest heavily on the experience.
Electric water heater. For my nearer trips where flying is unnecessary—say Bohol, Camotes, Leyte, Siquijor, Iloilo, Guimaras, Malapascua, Bantayan Island, or Dumaguete—I now bring my own electric water heater. It has many wonders: a quick fix of noodles, fish or chicken soup, boiled egg, and yes, coffee—which is horribly expensive even in inns and pension houses. Oh, yes, I am proud of this newfound trick.
Strategic Flirting. For women traveling solo, pretending to be single and available can also do the trick to save on transportation and food. Well, it entails the necessary but safe flirting with habal-habal drivers, boatmen, or male travelers. But if you are really single, you do not have to pretend, you can flirt to your heart’s content. A woman, especially a traveler, has many tricks up her sleeves. Believe me, you can pull them off yourself.
Walk inward. It is more on knowing the place than tightening your budget. If you travel on an island, walk inward. All coasts–especially the tourist belt–might look the same, but the heart of the island is in the midst. So walk inward. If you are hungry for the locals’ lives like me, walk. The true nature of a place is most visible to those who walk.
But really, there is no exact blueprint for shoestring traveling. But there are always those who can share their two cents, those whose lives evolve around unfamiliar beds, Point A to Point B, and budget stretching. Some of them I stumbled upon on the road.
A version of this was published on Sun.Star Weekend | March 23, 2013
Somewhere April, some of the travelers/bloggers will share their tips too. Watch out for it. Mine are somewhat whimsical. If you ever have a tip or two with you, kindly share them below! Thanks!