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Sunday, May 23, 2010

How to travel around the world for $1,000 or less

One hundred twenty-six years ago, Thomas Stevens left California and became the first man known to travel across the U.S. on a bicycle.

Upon reaching this goal, he decided he wanted to be the first man to ride a bike across the world, and then fulfilled that dream, too, ultimately racking up close to 14,000 miles.

While an around-the-world bike trip isn’t the first thing that comes to mind for many, we’ve all imagined what it would be like to abandon the expectations and daily duties we have in our normal lives and hitch a ride on a boat across the Atlantic or travel around the world with nothing but a backpack and what’s in our pockets.

How can the inexperienced traveler make this dream a reality? How can one travel around the world for $1,000 or less? You’ll need to use some alternative and creative travel methods.

Hitch a ride on a private yacht

Your major budget barrier is what makes up 70 percent of the Earth: water. Try working as a crew member on a private yacht heading across the ocean. As a crew member, you have to clean and help out, but you get free meals and more important, a free ride across the ocean. Some owners offer to pay for your return air ticket, as well.

There are online compilation sites with crew listings that can help you get started, such as the Global Crew Network, but an always reliable method is just to get yourself out there and network.

Head down to the local marina where boats congregate and find any owners traveling where you want to go, and express your interest in helping out. Once you become a friendly face at the marinas and local sea towns, you’re all the more likely to land a spot.

John Scott, crew manager of the Global Crew Network, said there are “no guarantees that you will find such positions with ease.”

There are no qualifications needed to crew on private (non-commercial) yachts, but to crew on commercial (fee-paying, passenger-carrying) yachts, you need STCW 95 Basic Sea Safety qualifications. STCW 95 – Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers – is made up of four qualifications: Personal Survival, Fire Fighting, First Aid and CPR, and Personal Safety and Responsibility.

You must have this certification to work on passenger-carrying and charter vessels, and may not need it for privately operated yachts.

Know that crewing on a yacht is undoubtedly the cheapest way to get across the Atlantic, but that it also may be the most risky, because however you look at it, you’re on a boat in the middle of nowhere with who knows who, and only your skills to truly rely on.

‘Air-hitch it’ around the world

Discount airfare across the Atlantic alone is already upward of $300 one way. A much cheaper air travel method is to fly standby.

Started in 1969 by Robert Segelbaum, AirHitch works like this: The organization makes deals with various airlines that if there are unfilled seats on a flight, you, the customer, can use a voucher you obtained from AirHitch to buy an empty seat from the airline for a deeply discounted price.

There are more difficult aspects of the process, though. AirHitch doesn’t have a central company website, and they’ve even denied they’re a company. The only way to get in on the AirHitch business is to find a way into their instant-messaging chat room, where you’re expected to directly message their “employees,” who supposedly register you for a voucher.

If you think this sounds all very hypothetical, it is. Your voucher can only be used for empty seats, and many times airlines won’t announce that they have empty seats or accept vouchers until right before the plane takes off. Therefore, you have to be ready to fly on a whim, and may spend many wasted mornings at the airport, as it’s expected that there will be a lot of other people with vouchers, as well, and limited seats.

The upside is that you can get a flight for less than $300, and the prices are about the same for any route or destination and can be used mostly anywhere. Since the popularity and effectiveness of AirHitch has gone down in the last decades, to become a member requires a significant amount of determination and perseverance, as their customer service is notoriously bad, as well.

Besides AirHitch, there is a similar company, AirTech, and numerous and considerably more reliable standby flight companies. Nowadays, anyone can fly standby.

Get comfy away from home

If you want to travel around the world for next to nothing, you have to become a social person who’s trusting of others. They key is to find places that let you stay for free.

One option is to join an organization, and get involved. One enormously popular and reliable option is the CouchSurfing network. You sign up and enter your itinerary, and you can find a multitude of members in your area who are willing to give you a place to stay for a night or two. It’s easy to join.

There are many other sites, as well, such as Global Freeloaders, the Hospitality Club and Hitchhikers.org, and many regions have their own networks. You could be a house sitter for a home at your destination by finding openings on networks such as Caretaker.org.

Showing your interest in contributing and teaching whatever volunteer work you can offer is helpful, as many places strongly desire such help and will thank you with free lodging. A popular and reliable option is WWOOF – World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. The network can match you with sustainable organic farmers looking for help with the land who will offer room and board in exchange.

And finally, don’t underestimate the power of a friendly demeanor and a sincere interest in the location – many locals are readily willing to offer a place to stay for the night.

Backpack

When gathering cheap travel ideas, one you hear most often is backpacking. But this is too much of a generic term – backpacking and budget travel isn’t always one and the same.

According to Bjorn Kruggel, of Backpackers-Planet.com, “ ‘Backpacking’ is not so much about money anymore than a certain way to look at what you’re doing. It’s about choosing the ways to travel and the places to stay where you can actually experience the country you’re going to see.

Go freighter

Some cargo ship companies allow passengers to buy a spot on their boats. While this may not be the most economical method, starting at $75 a day in some cases, it’s creative and unique.

It’s also possible, if you’re a dedicated searcher, to work your way across the ocean as a cargo ship crew member.

Contact the major cargo companies, such as Bank Line and Canada Maritime, and request information on being a passenger. There are also Internet sites that can assist in finding a spot.

Be a legal air courier

There are companies and organizations that will pay for or heavily discount by more than 75 percent your flight or voyage if you transport their documents or materials to the country where they need to go. As the only condition, you can usually only bring one carry-on bag for your luggage.

You must be at least 18, have a valid passport and meet the company representative at the airport before your flight. And luckily, the majority of the companies that hire couriers are reliable and completely legal. Realistically, courier trips are found less and less.

Backpack, hitchhike, take a hot-air balloon – the adventure lies with you. What it takes is creativity and ingenuity. The key is to put yourself out there. Make friends, join communities and networks, become part of the culture and be willing to work your way across the world.

Samantha Glavin is a senior at Souhegan High School who plans to study communications at Saint Anselm College.