Damian Esteban

Traveling the World on a Budget

Category: Damian Esteban

Demystifying Cheap Airfare

Airfare is a mysterious thing. On any given day, you can pay more money for a shorter flight that you book months ahead than you can pay for a longer flight that you book the day before. What gives? To name the obvious, a lot of factors go into airfare prices. You can hedge your bets on airfare by following these travel hacks and you can always follow these tips to get cheaper airfare. But those tips explored, there’s still a lot about airfare to be gleaned.  

For instance, when you buy a ticket, your money will get divvied like this:

Probably the first thing you’ll do when you are looking to travel some place (oif you’re trying to save some money) is look at the cheaper options. Some airlines are drastically cheaper than others, but how do they get away with it? Consider the below:

That’s all well and good, but when exactly is the best day to book an international flight?

And day of the week?

And months?

Hope that helps in demystifying the mysterious. If you have any other travel tips, please let me know in the below comments.

Safe travels!

Damian Esteban

Doing Justice to the Splendor of Ladakh

In my last blog post, I spent a lot of time glowing about Ladakh. As I mentioned, it’s one of my favorite places in the world. In that post, I supplied a lot of photos, but I realized that they’re a bit limited in their scope. In an effort to do better justice to the splendor of the region, I’ve scoured the internet for some quality media. This is what I found. Hope you enjoy!

Beautiful time-lapse footage:

A pedestrian’s view of Leh:

Not for the easily nauseous, this video provides some good perspective on getting to Leh:

Damian Esteban

Damian Esteban - Ladakh - Worlds Highest Mortorable Road

Ladakh: Paradise in Northern India

I’ve traveled all over the world. I’ve been to deserts of North Africa to the jungles of Southeast Asia. In all of my travels no spot has spoken to me as much as Ladakh has.

A Brief Overview

Ladakh is located in the Northeastern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. In contrast to the rest of India, Jammu and Kashmir is known for its Muslim population. In contrast both to Jammu and Kashmir and the rest of India, Ladakh is known for its Buddhist population. Ladakh’s right on the border with Tibet, so a lot of Tibetan influence flows in.

Damian Esteban - Ladakh

But don’t let that make you think that Ladakh is just a Tibetan satellite. The region has its own unique culture that goes back thousands of years. The first inhabitants of Ladakh were Indo-Aryan, but over the years the region has has changed hands between Tibet, China, and of course India. It’s location in the Himalaya’s has made it a strategic asset to empires of yore. But I think the real reason that empires have waged war over this little region of the world is its climate. It’s just that good.

Getting to Ladakh

In June and July most of India becomes hot. Unbearably hot. Many tourist visiting India at the time and many Indians who have the means to, flock north. Manali, the Indian equivalent of a sleepy Swiss Alps village, is one destination that people visit. But these days, more and more people are heading towards Ladakh. The region used to be more off the beaten track, but it’s now becoming more of a hotspot. A lot of that has to do with Ladakh becoming an easier spot to get to. Over the past several years a public airport opened up (the airport was previously controlled by Indian Air Force) and roads have improved. But before these cushy modern luxuries, Ladakh was one hard spot to get to.

Damian Esteban - Ladakh - 18380 ft.

No parking, no looking down

Damian Esteban - Ladakh

Damian Esteban - Ladakh - Worlds Highest Mortorable Road

We did it!

I’ve been to Ladakh three times. Each time I got to Ladakh by road. Each time has been absolutely painstaking, but filled with some of the most gorgeous scenery I’ve ever seen. There are couple of ways to get into Leh, the main city in Ladakh. I’ve take the Manali-Leh highway twice. If you’re taking the bus, you should plan on being on the road for 48 hours. One time I wasn’t so lucky. The pass that we were taking was still covered in snow. We had to stop. It took us 72 hours. The other main way is to take Srinagar-Leh Highway. Either way, you’re in for a haul. But once you get there, it’s totally worth it.

About That Weather…

Leh is extremely high-up. The weather is almost always dry and extremely pleasant. Plus, it’s sunny almost all year round, which is another reason why Ladakh is amazing: the abundance of solar energy. Because of it’s year-round sunlight Leh is earned a name for itself as being one of the most solar-friendly and energy progressive cities in the world. People cook with solar cookers and there are a number of large arrays of solar panels. The government has even started tapping into geothermal and hydroelectric sources. Yes, there’s still combustion pollution, but the high level of renewable energies being used gives a sort of crisper feeling to the air.

Damian Esteban - Ladakh

Damian Esteban - Ladakh

Damian Esteban - Ladakh
Two of the times that I visited Leh, I stayed in the guesthouse of a guy who works on solar cookers for a living. One day he even took me to the solar panel factory to see how it was all made.

Which brings me to my next point: Leh is very welcoming. It’s very tourist friendly. It has a lot of good restaurants, a lot of guesthouses, and a lot of great people. It’s kinda like Paradise. On top of that, it’s cheap. Last time I was there, I stayed for 5 weeks for 3 bucks a night. My M.O. is to travel alone and wing it, but every time I’ve been in Ladakh I’ve made a new friend.

If you’re looking to explore India. I highly recommend you look into Ladakh.

Damian Esteban - Ladakh

Damian Esteban - Ladakh

Image of palm trees and 7 Ways to Make Travel Even Cheaper by Damian Esteban

7 Ways to Make Travel Even Cheaper

There are a number of steps you can take to make sure that you’re getting the most bang for your buck in travel. However arguably the most decisive factor is where you end up traveling to. Certain countries *cough* the UK, Denmark, Switzerland, Australia *uncough* are sure to make your travels more expensive. Throw a weaker US dollar into the mix and things can start to get even more pricey. That said, even in expensive countries you can find cheaper locales and thrifty ways of enjoying your time. During my time traveling across the likes of Spain, India, Jordan, the UK, and the US I’ve picked up on a few things. Below are my tips for making a visit to an expensive country on a budget (and a not so expensive country on an even cheaper budget).

Watch out for BIG cities

London, Paris Hong Kong, Shanghai, Tokyo, Beijing, Paris, Rome–you get it. “BIG cities” doesn’t just mean cities that are the epicenter of politics, it’s also cities that are large financial and cultural developments to be reckoned with. The price of getting around the city, staying in the city, and eating in the city are going to be markedly higher than in a smaller city. If you’re looking to save some cash, stay in smaller cities or towns. A bonus is that you get an off-the-beaten-path experience. Chances are you’ll even be able to make a better connection with people who have not grown so immune to your tourist’s charm.

Tower Bridge London edited by Damian Esteban

London is a BIG city.

Be flexible with your arrival destination

Along the lines of avoiding the BIG cities when possible, be flexible with where you’d be content to explore. Some airports are just going to be a lot more expensive than others. For instance, if you wanted to travel to Costa Rica from NYC you’re two most obvious options are Juan Santamaria Airport (SJO) in Alajuela or Daniel Oduber Airport (LIR) in Liberia. Event though SJO is the bigger of the two, it’s going to be a lot more expensive than LIR as it’s right smack dab in the capital a.k.a. a BIG city. Flying into either airport would make for good a experience in Costa Rica, but even if you plan on doing something around Alajuela, it’s might be worth it to fly into LIR and bus it down south. The same applies to any other country.

Check out my blog on booking flights like a pro.

Stay in hostels

This one’s kind of obvious, but staying in hostels is one of the easiest ways to minimize your travel costs. Aside from being a cheap place to lay your head, they also provide a cheap place to meet people, eat/make food, and discover/enjoy events. A lot of hostel workers are or have been travelers themselves and make it a point to show those staying there a good time. If you’re looking to save even more $$$ you can always find alternative housing arrangements like CouchSurfing or even looking to staying at a temple.

Exchange wisely

The best way to breeze through most locales is with a zero foreign transaction fee credit card. Of course, some restaurants, bars, scooter rentals are (even in the ritziest of cities) going to be cash-only. The best ways to get the currency you need is by withdrawing from an-in network ATM. You’ll probably have to deal with 1-3% transaction fees, but you might get away with none. If you’re going to exchange money, make sure you’re exchanging it at the cheapest rate. Private companies will have different rates than government agencies e.g. post offices. Get the lay of the land. Figure out what will give you the best price. For more tips, check out this article on NerdWallet.

Cook your own meals

This one’s easy and even applies to our quotidian lives in our home countries: eating out is more expensive (most of the time) than eating in. If you’re in a hostel, cooking food in the group kitchen can be a great way to meet people. I can’t tell you how many good conversations I’ve had over evening spaghetti. Take this idea a step further and prepare food for when you’re on the go. Going to be exploring some ruins later in the day? Pack some sandwiches. Plan on camping out in London’s finest museums? Bring some carrots and hummus to snack on. Just not inside the museum, please.

Drink at dive bars

One of my favorite things to do when traveling is to find a bar where I just might almost not be welcome. I’m talking bars that border on townie-like insularity, but still are welcoming enough that they appreciate a fresh face to talk to. Aside from being a romanticized way of connecting with locals, it’s a great way to get a sense of the community in the area. I find that one of my favorite parts of traveling is #TFW I don’t feel like a “tourist” but like a “human being” among the other “human beings” in a “local community”. Quotes are fun. This touchy-feely way of getting your drink on set aside, you will probably be able to find a dive bar with a tourist-centric vibe. Go there. You will meet fellow travelers and will have great conversations about the joys of travel and, like, the value of seeing things from a different perspective, man. Shoot, I’m romanticizing things again, aren’t I?

Image of two pints of beer sitting on a table edited by Damian Esteban

Cheers, my new friend!

Find the free things to do

London has a bunch of free museums, Reykjavik has a bunch of hikes nearby, and nearly every city has endless walking opportunities. You can do a surprising amount of things without spending a cent. Consult with locals, consult with fellow travelers, and most importantly, use your imagination.

 

For more travel tips, follow me @EstebanRules.

image of kayaks from damian esteban

How to Travel on the Cheap: Booking Flights Like a Pro

When it comes to travel, one of your biggest cost is getting from one spot to another. Generally, plane tickets are pricey, buses are cheap, and trains may be cheap or expensive depending on what part of the world you are traveling in (ditto cars).

Here’s a look at some ways to get the most out of your flight money:

Go Incognito

I got this tip from ThriftyNomads.com and have been using it since. Ever notice an airline ticket price jumping up crazily even though you just searched for the same ticket a few minutes ago and it didn’t show any reason to do so? Some airlines use cookies (i.e. bits of code automatically downloaded to your computer) to track your airline searches. They then jack up the price that you see to pressure you to buy sooner than later. Crazy! Right? To be safe, always search in an incognito window for more consistent pricing.

Pro-tip: Make sure to close all of your incognito windows every time before you search for prices in order to start with a clean, cookie-free slate.

Kayak.com

It’s one of the best price aggregators out there. With Kayak, you can easily compare tickets to and from a destination of your choice. And with a tick of a box, you can also compare rates to Priceline, Orbitz, and other ticket intermediaries. As with many ticket aggregators, Kayak might not include every budget airline out there so if you’re not seeing a budge airline

Pro-tip: Use price alerts to receive daily emails on how ticket prices are faring. Using data on previous ticket prices and trends, Kayak will even recommend whether to buy or to wait a little while longer.

Aggregating the Aggregators

OK. Kayak is great, but you also have a number of other aggregators at your disposal. For a cursory overview of flights, check out Google Flights. If you’re looking for a more in-depth breakdown, check out Skyscanner. Cheapoair and JetRadar are two other great other deal-hunting options.

StudentUniverse

If you’re a student at an accredited college or university, StudentUniverse will help you save big. It functions similarly to Kayak, but has special deals for–you guessed it–students.

Pro-tip: Still check budget airlines they may even be cheaper.

The Icelandic Connection

If you’re going to Europe from the states consider stopping in Reykjavik. The government subsidized IcelandAir offers a stopover in Iceland–for no additional airfare–when taking an IcelandAir flight to any other European destination. That means, depending on where you’re going, you’re getting two destinations for the price of one! Of course, you’ll still have to pay for accommodations once you land in Iceland.

Pro-tip: To avoid the heavy prices of the Reykjavik, head to the country. Accommodations and beer are cheaper outside of the nation’s capital.

One day there may be a quick and easy way to teleport from one spot into another, but until that science-fiction-esque day, airplanes will have to do

How to Travel on the Cheap: Monasteries and Temples

When you think of traveling across the country, you might think of visiting a monastery and maybe snapping a selfie in front of one, but did you know that you could sleep in them? Although definitely an alternative experience compared to staying in hostels, hotels, or even on farms–staying at a friendly neighborhood religious structure is not only cheap, but it can also be surprisingly practical.

Monasteries

Given the deep Christian history in which monasteries are steeped, it may be little surprise that the majority of monasteries are found around Europe. But you can also fi find them in North American, South America, Africa, Australia, and even Nepal.

image of a monastery

Is this what a monastery from your imagination looks like?

Monasteries are surprisingly ubiquitous. And more than being affiliated solely with Christianity, a number of monasteries are affiliated with Buddhism and even Hinduism. For the purposes of this blog, I’m talking about functioning or recently functioning monasteries that still retain some level of mystical decorum, not renovated, luxury spots that could more accurately be called Moneystaries. (OK, that’s a pretty bad pun, but it needed to happen.) Another thing to keep in mind that monastery is a pretty flexible term. There are the giant secluded estates that we know and love, and then there are also a number of other properties (apartments, houses, etc.) that are owned and managed by religious orders.

Some monasteries are open to any traveler looking for a place to stay, while other ones cater to those who are looking to actively worship, meditate, etc. etc. But even if you’re just looking for a place to stay, it would be foolish to pass up the opportunity for at least a few hours of quiet contemplation. After all, monasteries are meant to be quiet places, so why not soak up the opportunity while you can before getting back to your car-horn-polluted city?

Many monasteries will ask for a donation, though some may come with mandatory price tags. Similar to a hostel set-up, you’ll often have the choice of choosing between a dorm or a private room.

Pro Tip: One great way to see several monasteries is to travel the El Camino Santiago. France and Spain and Portugal–oh my!

Temples

Unlike monasteries, most temples are by virtue affiliated more so with Buddhism and Hinduism than Christianity. And instead of being removed to the most remote, quietest, and most secluded parts of the world, temples can often be found appended onto towns or even in the midst of bustling cities. You can basically find temples to stay at anywhere.

image of glaciers

So Damian, you’re saying that we can even find a temple to stay at in Antarctica?!?

Well, maybe not Antarctica (although I’m sure you could find a comfy research station to host you–future blog idea?) and maybe not every city or every country, but you get the point: temples are pretty freaking ubiquitous.

Like monasteries, the price and experience that comes with each temple varies. Some spots offer packaged stays designed around a concentrated religious/cultural experience  while other spots will put you up (near) indefinitely for a limited fee or donation.

Pro Tip: You can get in touch with a number of temples (notably in Japan and South Korea) via the internet, but you’ll need to get in touch with other ones via phone, snail mail, or even the good ol’ fashioned walk-in. Same goes for monasteries.

 

Have you stayed at any monasteries, temples, or other-wise non-secular spots? I’d love to hear about your experiences @estebanrules.

How to Travel on the Cheap: Couchsurfing and WWOOFing

I love to travel and to backpack, but more often than not I end up doing so on a shoestring budget. Setting budgetary limitations is not only an economic strategy, it’s also a way to experience a location in a new way.

Often when I’m traveling (in India, Nepal, Myanmar, wherever) I end up just staying with locals.  I would never dream of doing this in the United States, as there is a pretty good chance that I’d end up dead, but in other places I’ve never had a problem.  I once ended up staying at a Dairy Farmer’s house (farm house) outside Utrecht for a few days and stayed for for a month (and worked on the farm).

Don’t get me wrong. Staying in your own hotel room is nice (and staying in a penthouse suite is even nicer), but there’s something very communal about alternative cheaper (even free) accommodations that can add a different element to your trip. Sure, there’s the risk that you’ll end up in a terrible accommodations situation–and believe me, I’ve experienced that before–but the benefit of making novel connections with people you wouldn’t otherwise meet more than makes it worth it for me.

Below are a couple of accommodations options that I would swear by.

Couchsurfing

image of couchsurfing logo

Couchsurfing is a great way to travel and potentially net a tour guide.

Despite the name, you might not always end up sleeping on a couch. Couchsurfing is a community of people who love travel and understand the value of having a place rest your head for free. Hosts offer up their couches (or spare rooms, air mattresses, etc.) with the understanding that they might at some point need to be in your shoes. Sometimes they will even function as tour guides, don’t expect this to always be the case. Both hosts and crashers create profiles, are reviewed by the website and others–so the chances of you landing in a Deliverance situation are extremely slim. The service is a hundred percent free, but make sure to show your appreciation with a few purchased drinks, a homecooked meal, or a box of chocolates. You can even pay it forward and opt to be a host yourself.

Pro tip: Find a host whose interest mirror yours. If you like music, look for a host who’s a musician. If you’re looking to check out the outdoors, you can probably find a host who know the local mountains like the back of her hand.

WWOOF (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms)

wwoof logo

WWOOF will hook you up with room and board, and a green thumb.

If you don’t mind working and getting a little dirty for free room and board, then WWOOFing might be for you. Similarly to Couchsurfing, both hosts and travelers make profiles in WWOOF, are thoroughly reviewed by the website, and can be reviewed by other WWOOFers. But there is one major difference. In couchsurfing, you crash without having do anything aside from be a decent person. With WWOOFing you work on a farm. Dismiss any grueling labor camp images you might have! WWOOFing can actually be a lot of fun. Most hosts are families, though there are some smaller and bigger opertaions, and are super welcoming. Ever curious about what it’s liked to grow carrots? There’s a WWOOF for that. Ever wanted to raise chickens? There’s a WWOOF for that. Garlic? There’s a WWOOF for that. WWOOFing is a great way to see a part of the world and also learn a thing or to about what it’s like to live on a farm.

Pro tip: You can string together multiple WWOOFing trips to make your way across a country.

I can’t stress enough how safe both of these options are, but you make sure to give a detailed itinerary of where you’re going to friends and family just to cover your bases.

What’s your favorite way to crash on the cheap?

Welcome!

Stay tuned for blog posts about travel destinations, tips for budget traveling and more!

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