“Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller” – Ibn Battuta
One backpack. Two months. 5000 km travelled. 18 cities in Canada and the US.
One million experiences and memories.
I certainly made most of those two months and, much more importantly, I made most of the shitty situation that I had been in regarding my rejected work permit (Read full story here). My aim was to travel as cheaply as possible to as many places as possible on the East Coast. I had a pretty tough start back in Québec having to travel without my backpack for almost two weeks as my luggage had gone missing on my flight to Canada. (Read “Backpackless Backpacking Part I” here) I met the most amazing people who helped me out with everything and who totally had a share in my stay in Quebec being so cool – Esther, Johanna, Marlene, Suzanne (just to name a few). Afterwards I spent the most amazing week in Toronto. Each day was filled with activities and highlights that I will never forget. Especially, Katlyn & Nickii, whom I stayed with in Toronto, made my stay unforgettable. In Buffalo I met Bonnie, a very easy-going British globetrotter with whom I bonded over the fact that Buffalo is such a sleepy city. I spent most of my stay in Baltimore with Mauricio, the Brazilian trauma surgeon, with whom I had a great time chatting, checking out all the cool places around Maryland and trying to find a liquor store that´s open on a Sunday afternoon just to buy one cheap, semi-delicious Budweiser that we drank out of plastic cups with a straw (…). My last three weeks were a constant running around, checking-in, checking-out, tons of bus-rides, a lot of improvising, five or six pints of Ben&Jerry´s Ice Cream, the most amazing travel buddy that I could wish for and hundreds of moments when I just wanted the time to stop for a while. Though, what I liked most about my East Coast trip was the variety of things: Big cities like Boston, Mega cities like New York, Small towns like Montpelier, Fishing villages like Gloucester, Islands like Cape Cod, Beaches (Atlantic City), Mountains (Vermont), Nature & outdoor activities (Montpelier), Nightlife (Washington, Philly, Atlantic City), Gambling (Atlantic City), Historical and cultural spots (Washington DC; Plymouth; Boston; NYC), Remote areas (Burlington; Barre; Hyannis), hot weather, frosty nights, rain, sun, sunsets, sunrises… we pretty much had a bit of everything in those three weeks, which makes the whole roadtrip so surreal.
Also I´ve decided to note something here that I would normally not talk about, which is the amount of money I spent. Now and then I get remarks that indicate that I must be the super rich kind of only-child that doesn´t care how much she spends on a holiday. I would like to take this opportunity and make transparent why I can afford to travel so much/often. My main ‘secret’ is:
WORK – BE GOOD WITH MONEY – SPEND IT ON THE RIGHT THINGS.
On my two-month-trip I spent 1625€ (excl. flights) in total. That amount includes food, activities, transport and accommodation. (To whoever thinks that this is a huge amount of money, I´m sorry, but you are a lost cause when it comes to travelling. 🙂 ). Other people go to Mallorca, Tunisia or Turkey for two weeks in summer in order to be lying on the beach all day and they spend around 2000€ for that. Now, keeping in mind what I´ve seen, what places I´ve been to, would you still say that 1625€ is much? Just to show you what those 1625€ were spent on in detail:
- 560€ for accommodations (49 nights – 2 nights spent in bus = 47 nights)
Saving money on accommodations:
I never stayed in a hotel. I usually stayed in hostels or booked something on AirBnB. Some people might think that hostels are not for them. Well, then you certainly have to spend a lot more on accommodations. The thing I love about hostels is that you meet new people almost immediately. Nowadays hostels are rarely youth hostels any more and I know a lot of middle aged people, families and seniors that regularly stay in hostels. You also have to keep in mind that most of the time you only spend the night there and you´re out in the city during the day… Another good way to save money is by taking overnight buses, for example I had chosen both my long rides (Buffalo – Baltimore 10hrs; Atlantic City – Boston 8hrs) to be overnight rides – you don´t have to pay for a hostel that night AND it even saves you a day.
- 370€ for activities (museums, towers, whale watching, cruises, hop-on-hop-off…)
Saving money on activities:
Back home in Germany, I had already checked out which tickets I should book online to get web-discounts and how to save on certain dates, for example museums usually have one discounted/free day a week, so that everyone can afford visiting that museum. Also it is wise to book certain things in advance to make sure you can actually participate in the activity, e.g. whale watching; Yankee game; FanExpo; daytrips, etc… Moreover, HI Hostels often offer daytrips and other affordable activities for their guests, e.g. pub-crawls, free walking-tours, etc.
- 410€ for public transport (buses and trains)
Saving money on transportation:
It certainly makes sense to do some calculating before you start the trip in order to decide whether to rent a car or travel by bus/train. In my case that decision was made for me – because of my age and my travelbuddy´s age it was rather difficult to rent a car, so we decided (against all odds) not to put too much effort into trying to rent a car, but to travel the old-fashioned way – by bus, by train and of course hitchhiking. It´s very easy to save money using Greyhound or Megabus in Canada and the States. Megabus has very cool offers and early bird discounts – the earlier you book, the cheaper you get it. Greyhound is generally a little bit more expensive than Megabus or Boldbus, however, it is more comfortable and you can get some discounts there as well, e.g. they have web-only-fares when you book your ticket online and also several discounts that may apply to you (HI discounts for HI members). Otherwise I would recommend spending some money on a good, gaudy, black sharpie and a paper block that you can use to draw/write appealing hitchhiking signs with… 🙂
- 285€ for food/living costs
Saving money on groceries:
That is probably the easiest thing to do. It all depends on what you eat, what you drink and how much you are willing to spend on food. When travelling I usually don´t eat out much, I rather use the kitchen facilities in the hostels and cook myself. Sometimes there are even people at the hostel that you can cook with, which means it´s worth buying things like meat or a whole cucumber, because you are cooking together. Also it is worth checking out the ‘free-food-section’ in the kitchen, where people can leave food that they don´t want to take with them when they leave the hostel. Apart from that, I always try and buy food as cheaply as possible. When I was in rather expensive cities like Toronto or New York, I bought all my vegetables in Chinatown and paid about US$ 3 for five tomatoes, a cucumber, an onion and two zucchini. (I know, a lot of people would never do that…those shops, those smells, the dirt! But I always keep telling myself: Chinese people also eat it and they don´t necessarily have different stomachs, right? So I just washed the fruits and veggies for like 10 minutes and I was fine…) It also saves you a lot of money if you buy some snacks (e.g. crisp bread, cereal bars) that you can take with you in case you get hungry and want to avoid having to buy expensive food somewhere downtown, though, there should always be some money left for Ben&Jerry´s or a proper 9oz American steak ;). It also helps to eat vegetarian for a few weeks and not to buy much alcohol (alcohol in Canada is very expensive!!!). Again, it totally depends on your own eating habits, but the more flexible you are, the cheaper you can travel around.
How did I get those 1625€ (+ flights)? As I´ve already explained in my Countdown Part II – Update, I saved around 700€ by successfully implementing the ‘coffee-boycott’ and the ‘only-buy-things-you-really-need’ – technique. I was given about 500€ through donations and airline refunds and took the rest from my regular work remunerations. So, as you can see, there is not a big financial secret to being able to travel IF you are willing to give up certain luxurious things and display some flexibility. 🙂
Facts & Numbers:
Most expensive hostel: HI Boston ($45/night, BUT totally worth it)
Cheapest hostel: HI Québec – Auberge de jeunesse ($25/night; pretty good hostel)
Most accommodating hostel: HI Boston; HI Baltimore; HI Québec
Least accommodating hostel: Burlington Hostel
*Most expensive city (CA/US): Toronto / Washington DC
*Cheapest city (CA/US): Québec City / Montpelier; Atlantic City
Best bus connections: Montréal – Toronto $25; Boston – Burlington $1
Trickiest situation: Trying to find the hostel in Philadelphia; Hitchhiking on Cape Cod
Luckiest moment: Hitchhiking Waterbury – Montpelier
Culinary highlight: Steak in AC; Manhattan-Burger; Fried Seafood Platter in Gloucester
City with most variety of activities: Toronto; New York
City with nicest people (CA/US): Montréal / Montpelier
The unexpected mindblower: Baltimore; Atlantic City
The unexpected letdown: The White House; Buffalo
Most astonishing fact: Baltimore is ranked #3 with most crimes in the US; Montpelier only has 8000 inhabitants.
Personal highlight: Spontaneous jam-session in downtown Montréal; FanExpo Canada; Top Of The Rocks; Atlantic City; ferry-ride from P-Town to Boston; culinary highlights =) ; flight back from NYC to CDG (take-off in sunset over NYC!)
Personal lowlight: Missing baggage for 12 days at the beginning of my trip; Bus ride from NYC to Boston in packed coach and our seats were broken
*measured by living costs / prices for groceries/toiletries
Can you survive in Québec City with just English?
Yes, you can. However, the road signs, the stores, everything is in French. Most people are bilingual, though, so they will help you out if you´re lost in French. 😉
How much did you spend on public transport and does it really make sense not to rent a car?
It certainly made sense for ME not to rent a car. I spent US$ 520 (~410€) on public transport (incl. all fares, taxis, transfers…)
Looking back – what is/was the most rewarding experience on this trip?
Seriously, I think the most rewarding or beneficial situation was for me to travel without my backpack for 12 days, because there are not many things that are worse than going on a trip with nothing apart from what you´re wearing and carrying in your carry-on-luggage. It was beneficial because the people that I met during these days are the ones who are still in my mind and who I am still most in touch with. Also having experienced something like that and having noticed that it is not the end of the world, shows that there is pretty much a way out of everything. AND: What doesn´t kill you only makes you stronger! 🙂
Last but not least, I would like to thank all those incredible people I´ve met for sharing with me your stories, your lives, your humour, your ideas, your traveltips, your food, your music and some for sharing with me their homes. Thanks to everyone who regularly read my blog and showed interest. And also thanks to the e-mail subscribers, who, I only found that out the other day, can´t even see the pictures in my blog. And still you keep subscribing – that´s amazing!! 🙂