When I was fresh out of college and broke, I challenged myself to travel as cheaply as possible.
Yes, I was one of THOSE kinds of people. I stayed in scary bedbug ridden guesthouses, hitchhiked, and had my share of stomachaches from questionable (but oh so delicious) food. I also discovered GREAT experiences for minimal cost.
Nowadays, I’ve moved past my miser tendencies, paying well for a memorable meal, performance, or stay at a special hotel. I see the benefit of the best value over the cheapest price. My friend Jayne would be pleased to know it as she once had to wait an hour while I haggled over $1 for an embroidered place mat. One hour over a dollar!
However, some old habits just don’t die.
Wherever I happen to be in the world, I seek out favorite freebies learned in my penniless past. The following excursions never disappoint me.
My first order of business in a new destination is to find a public area and sit. I love observing locals. Take Japan, for instance. There are all these businessmen in funny dark suits with high water slacks and funky hairdos. There are Goth Lolitas. And those school kids looking miserable in their sailor outfits and bowler hats! I can sit mesmerized for hours.
Communing with nature helps me ease into a new place and get my bearings. Even countries not so “foreign” on the surface set me off balance at first. I schedule a nature excursion early in my trip to escape the traffic jams, pollution, or crowds. Hiking in a reserve, I breathe fresh air, relax, and start to process where I am in the world. It’s also a simple pleasure to admire the trees, plants and flowers indigenous to that region.
Visiting Cultural Sights
Temples. Churches. Shrines. Monuments. These free sights I hit by walking on foot. Beyond the obvious features of setting or architecture, I love to visit these spots to observe the local connection to them- who congregates there and how they interact with it.
I love local markets, and the weirder the better. Show me a pig head floating in a vat of soup, and I’m excited. In fact, markets are educational. It’s easy to converse with vendors and learn about their way of doing business. Besides, it’s just fun to see the bizarre things people around the world like to buy.
Attending a Local Community Event
My favorite free thing to do abroad and perhaps the best way to transcend feeling like a visitor is to participate in a community festival. They are usually well attended, involving huge cross sections of society from babies to elderly people. It’s fascinating to observe the public bonding aspect of it, as well as just how a particular community deals with logistics of crowd control, personal space, and handing out refreshments. Locals are proud of these traditions too, so they are likely to welcome and incorporate foreigners.
What are your favorite free activities when you travel abroad? Share your tips here!