Harel Etzion

@hareletzion

Travel Philosophy

The Compilation Of 18 Months On The Road

Exposition

“Don’t wait around. Don’t get old and make excuses. Get a world atlas. Start looking at every page and tell yourself that you can go there. You can live there.” Jason Gaspero (Vagabonding)

18 months ago I started traveling through Europe to what ultimately became the biggest transformation of my life: 3 months turned to 18 (Between Europe and America) and might continue for many more.

Throughout my journey, I met some incredible individuals who’ve been traveling for months/years all over the world. I began to educate myself from their experience and drink up all the knowledge they offered, think about this scene from the matrix :)

Unlike Neo, I don’t claim to “know traveling”, but after 18 months on the road, it’s a good opportunity to share the knowledge I accumulated and make a small contribution to any future travelers in need. This article is for anyone considering long-term travel or currently on the road and need some insights on particular topics.

I compiled a list of topics, feel free to skip to the ones that interest you the most. Everything in here is geared towards Europe, North America, and Latin America (the places I’ve been to so far).

  • Inspiration
  • Why Travel?
  • How To Start?
  • Money
  • Accommodation
  • Food
  • Transportation
  • Volunteer
  • Visas
  • Safety
  • Health
  • Wifi/Data
  • Weather
  • Destinations
  • Localizing your experience
  • Languages
  • Alone or with others?
  • Developing your own style
  • Mindset
  • Best Advice

Inspiration

To start building the appetite for travel I highly recommend charging up with some inspiration: books, movies, ted talks… whatever can get you excited and start marinating some ideas.

Books

  • “Vagabonding”
  • “The 4 hour work week”

Movies

  • “Into the wild”
  • Maidentrip”
  • “Samsara”
  • “Zorba The Greek”

Talks

Why Travel?

“There is an overwhelming social compulsion to get rich from life rather than to live richly” Rolf Potts (Vagabonding)

If you’re currently experiencing the following symptoms you’re definitely a candidate for long-term travel:

  1. A disconnect from your city/environment.
  2. Stagnation in your work/social life.
  3. Feeling that you need massive self-work and time to reflect on your life.
  4. The answer to the question what would you rate most of your days as? is 4–6

You’ve just been diagnosed with a life flu, It’s time to hit the road ASAP!

How to start?

“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” Henry David Thoreau (Vagabonding)

Many people I’ve met have asked me for advice on how to start traveling, and although the answer should vary according to the passport you have your background and intentions… this guideline can serve as a general starting point:

  • Decide on a continent (Europe, Asia…) and on a time frame (3–6 months will be common to start with).
  • Design a plan to “freeze” your life at home, and come up with the money to start the journey.
  • Minimize your belongings and start educating yourself on long-term travel. *Read “Vagabonding” by Rolf Potts.
  • Plan only the first chapter, it can be 1–2 weeks, book a hostel for your first destination and go from there.

My own personal example was booking a hostel in Lisbon (Portugal) for a week and then another one in Lagos (the south of Portugal). From there my European adventure evolved organically to 8 different countries in 11 weeks.

Money

“Long-term travel isn’t an act of rebellion against society; it’s an act of common sense within society. Long-term travel doesn’t require a massive “bundle of cash”; it requires only that we walk through the world in a more deliberate way.” Rolf Potts (Vagabonding)

The first question that comes up revolving travel is money! how much do you need in order to travel long term?

  1. The style of travel will dictate the cost, if you travel while working/volunteering your money can go far, if you’re just on the spending side you’re basically living as a ticking time bomb waiting to explode. I’ve met people traveling while volunteering for a few years on a total budget of 10–20 thousand$, where from the other side of things the majority of travelers I met were mostly spending money on the same budget on a period of 3–6 months and then finishing their trip.
  2. In general, I would recommend hitting the road with a minimum of 5 thousand$. Considering you always have unexpected expenses, and depending on the continent where a ticket home can be 1000–1500$, I would never let the bank account drop bellow 2000$.
  3. Close expenses at home: sublet/rent your apartment, lease your car (if you have one), and try to be as close to zero money dropping from your account on things you’re not using while traveling.
  4. Destinations are key: 3 months in a major European city can be equivalent to 6–12 months in South/Central America. The extreme comparison will be 1 month in North America can be the same as 1 year in Asia (depending on the place of course).

Europe

  • The North (Scandinavia) is the most expensive (sell some kidneys before going there).
  • The Center (Germany, Switzerland) will be second place and still very expensive, especially Switzerland that is the most expensive place in Europe by far.
  • The West (Portugal, Spain…) is relatively affordable, especially Spain and Portugal that have many cities that are great to visit and will not drain your wallet.
  • The East (Greece, Turkey, Hungary) is the cheapest area in Europe, where your money will go the furthest.

Latin America

  • Central America (Mexico-Panama) is affordable in comparison to Europe but still costly in the major cities.
  • South America (Colombia-Argentina) is very cheap in comparison to Europe with the exception of 4 countries: Uruguay, Argentina, Chile and Brazil. Peru and Bolivia take the cake as the most affordable (10$ budget a day can quite easily keep you going there). *fun fact about Uruguay: they favor anyone using a credit card and will give you a discount anywhere you go if you use one :)

Accommodation

Hostels (Dorms)

  1. Apps: “Hostel World” and “Bookings” for finding and reserving places.
  2. Try to ask other travelers or locals who have stayed in the particular hostel before booking, reviews on the apps are very unreliable, best bet will be a personal reference.
  3. Depending on the season, always book in advance (2 weeks prior for high season) and take in consideration events in the city will drive the prices to the sky. *I had to leave big cities because I was unaware of events and was left with no room in any hostel in town for less than hundreds of euros for a dorm.

Airbnb (Short term apartments)

  1. Open a profile on the app before hitting the road.
  2. Always choose places with reviews. This is non negotiable, especially in continents like south America. Unfortunately people sometimes open fake profiles and you show up to a place and no one is there. *In that case, contact Airbnb and the’ll will return you the payment.

Couchsurfing (Being hosted by locals)

  1. Developing a profile on the app is a challenge and requires references from other travelers and friends to get it going. *Ask other travelers you meet if you can exchange references.
  2. Always request to stay with people who you actually think you would get along with and would be happy to meet. Of course only profiles with reviews, and check the reviewer’s profile as well.

My Travel Philosophy: mix your style, go from a few weeks of hostels to some airbnb and couch surfing for a while. Hostels are not sustainable for more than a few weeks from my experience, as the lack of privacy and living like a sardine in a dorm can get depleting. To meet locals and to experience a place through the lens of the people living in it, you have to rent some apartments and be hosted. *As you grow in your experience you understand better what kind of people you’re looking to meet, and can make more educated choices when you choose your hostels/hosts.

Food

  1. Depending on the destination, your currency can go far and allow you to experience the local food through restaurants. *Peru is the best place I’ve been to so far in this aspect: best ratio between the price and the quality of the food. You can get a 3 course meals for 2$, and if you feel like fine dining it shouldn’t be more than 10–15$ a plate for a great restaurant.
  2. In general, if you want to travel long term, learn how to cook. Buying food in supermarkets is always cheaper, especially in South America where the local markets are extremely affordable.
  3. Eat place specific: If you’re in a port town like Valparaiso (Chile) or Lisbon (Portugal), go for seafood because it will very cheap. If you’re in Argentina, go to the local butcher shop and buy meat for a week for only 15$. Use the place’s strengths and adjust your diet accordingly.

My Travel Philosophy: learn how to cook! visiting local markets is a great way to feel like you’re living in a place even if you’re just passing by. Restaurants are awesome in places you don’t know the cosine, especially in South America where they’re so affordable.

Transportation

Rome 2 Rio: a great app that lays out all the options between any 2 points in the world, highly recommend!

Flights

  1. Websites: “Momondo” and “Sky Scanner” for finding good deals.
  2. Try to ask locals if they know specific airlines that have better deals you might not heard of.
  3. If you’re flexible with time you can search for flights to near by locations, and get buses/trains from there to your destination. For example: you’re in Portugal and want to fly to Germany, try to extend the search to near by cities or neighbor countries and compare the direct flight to the flight + bus option. In a continent like Europe it might be very useful.
  4. Fly low cost! Recently I flew from Barcelona (Spain) to Mexico city, it took 40 hours and I had to go through Russia and New York, but the total price was 484 Euros. *Just try to avoid airport food! for some reason airports think their shitty food should be insanely priced.

Trains/Buses

  1. European Apps: “Alsa”, “Amtrak” and “Go Euro”. Europe is the best continent I’ve been to for exploring these method of transportation: cheap, organized, and way less tiring than flying.
  2. North American Apps: “Greyhound” and “Mega Bus”.
  3. In South America the difference between flying from neighbor countries to taking a bus can be hundreds of dollars. Taking a 24–30 hours bus can save a lot of money.

Boats (I’m not kidding)

  1. Taking a boat/cruise somewhere can save money, try to check this option especially when you have longer flights. For example: you’re in Brazil and need to get to Chile, it might be more economical to take a cruise than flying.

Car Share

  1. “BlaBla Car” app is extremely useful in Europe for long distances. Traveling between cities can be a matter of 10 euros when you’re sharing a ride with someone. The app operates in 22 European countries currently.

Short Distance Transport

  1. “Uber” app works world wide (depending on the place), and offers a safe and affordable option for travelers, especially in countries in South America where taking a taxi might not be the best thing to do. *In countries that don’t have this service, try “Cabify” instead.

2. “Google Maps” app is an incredible tool to use for short travel navigation, enter any destination within a few miles and you receive a few detailed options for possible routes, from buses to cycle/walking, this app is my “navigation god” on the road. *If you’re based longer in a place (weeks), it will always be better to buy a subscription ticket for buses/metros or even a bicycle rental option.

Driving License

  1. Issue your international permit prior to travel.
  2. Places like Eastern Europe can be very affordable for renting a car, where South America is not at all.

My Travel Philosophy: avoid airport security at all cost! there is nothing more exhausting and taxing than dealing with flights, delays, and bags not showing up. Europe is the ultimate continent to bus/train/car share your way around. Last summer I crossed between 8 countries in 11 weeks with no flights and had a great time, each ride meeting other people or travelers that made those trips engaging.

Volunteer

  1. Bartering Websites: “Workaway”, “Helpx”, “Worldpacker”, and “Wwoofing”. These sites offer the opportunity to volunteer somewhere (farms, schools, hostels) in exchange for accommodation and food, the common demand is 5 hours a day for 4–5 days a week.
  2. Organized Websites: “europe.eu”, “Aiesec.org”, “aegee.org”, and “goabroad.com”. These sites can offer long term programs for students or interns looking to live abroad.

My Travel Philosophy: volunteering is an awesome way to travel while having meaningful experiences and proving value for others. The main point to remember is that it takes time to find places that suit you, and you might try a few before you settle down in one job. *Always have a skype interview with the employer to get a clear picture of what will be the trade.

Visas

Tourist Visa

  1. Research before choosing your destination if you can enter the country! or if you need an exit date. I had 2 occasions where my Israeli passport required me to have an exit date out of a country (Colombia and Uruguay). Always check these things in advance to avoid being at the airport and having to step out of check in line to purchase an overpriced ticket out of a country you might not even use.
  2. Do not over extend your stay in places: especially in Europe or north America, you don’t want to be in a position where you get kicked out and banned (I heard of many banning stories from those places, after just a few weeks of an overstay). *In Europe you can check the schengen countries list: https://www.schengenvisainfo.com/schengen-visa-countries-list/ and act accordingly. A cool way to bypass the restrictions will be to exit these countries and fly to the UK for 3 months and then head back.

Working Holiday Visa

Getting a working visa to a country can be an incredible way to integrate yourself into a new place, while making travel very economic. If you’re Canadians, Australians or New Zealanders you’re in luck! because it should be fairly easy for you to receive a working visa for countries in Europe or South America.

Student Visa

  1. Getting a student visa for a place can be a great way to hack your way into a country, while hopefully enjoying a good academic experience. Europeans can study abroad via “Erasmus” which is a European student exchange program.
  2. Applying to a language school can also be an interesting option to explore abroad. Try the website: “EF Education Language Programs Abroad”.

My Travel Philosophy: Since I don’t have personal experience with these categories yet (work/study), I can only observe from the side and say that if you’re looking for an experience that will integrate you into a new country, you should not live with other exchange students! and always seek out home stays with local families that can integrate you into the culture while practicing the language.

Safety

  1. Memorize your address: you can get robbed/lose your phone… always remember your current address to be on the safe side.
  2. Extra attention in big stations: ignore suspicious people who seem to “try and help you” get a ticket to places or figure out the local transport system. Big subway/bus stations are the meccas for thieves and people who want to take advantage of the tired/unalert traveler that just took a 12 hour bus ride.
  3. Consult with the locals: always ask any local contacts you may have about dangers ares in a city, and how to navigate your way through the new environment.
  4. Pad locks: Get 2 locks with you to be used in hostels/gyms.
  5. Leave your belongings: avoid taking any valuable things to places like markets or very crowded subways.
  6. Golden Trifecta: guard your passport, credit card, and phone with your life! These are your 3 life lines on the road, be very conscious with them at all times.
  7. Passport security: make 2 photo copies of your passport and carry one on you at all times. You’re in a foreign country, always be prepared to identify yourself.
  8. Cash vs Credit: avoid carrying a credit card with you and always bring some cash on you that you can afford to loose.
  9. Phones in the streets: try to avoid using a cellphone in public places in any big metropolis. In particularly, South America where theft and violence are extremely common. From my own personal experience I can recommend extra caution in Mexico City and Medellin (Colombia).
  10. Keep in mind: human life is treated differently across the world, some countries will not value your safety, and you‘re the only one who‘s in charge of your security in those places.

My Travel Philosophy: learn from your mistakes and the mistakes of others around you. If your roommates in your hostel got robbed, don’t make the same mistake and carry a phone in your pocket in that location. Trust the locals and the intel they provide, and avoid countries who are “hot zones” like Venezuela or Honduras.

Health

  1. Get health insurance (non negotiable). *Some travel companies have insurance at an affordable price, check with the local companies before you go straight to your medical institution.
  2. Research the destination and get vaccinated accordingly.
  3. Avoid street food that is not extra cooked.
  4. Ask the locals about the tap water.
  5. Advise with locals in case you’re in need of a doctor, and try to get one to come with you if translation is in need. *In Chile this principle saved me when my airbnb host joined to the hospital after I’ve been bitten by a street dog (Chilean Spanish is impossible to understand!).

My Travel Philosophy: avoid tap water and street food (especially in South America). In most places you can get bottled water for cheap in supermarkets, and the street food will not be worth it when you’re spending your week in a Colombian village with food poisoning. Be conscious of different sanitary customs, South America vs North America for example. Ignore the “heroes” that will tell you things like: “I drank tap water in India for 7 months and nothing happened to me”, just because 1 person’s ignorance wasn’t rewarded with sickness doesn’t mean you will be spared.

Wifi/Data

This topic is very continent specific: Europe and South America are very affordable where North America is expensive.

  1. Get a Sim Card at the airport upon arrival to the new place, it will make the trip to your accommodation safer and smoother. Recent purchases: 10$ for 25 days of data (Mexico City), and 12$ for 30 days of data (Buenos Aires).
  2. For Europe use the website “Three.co.uk” that allows you to purchase 4GB of data for 1 month (13$) with a sim card that works anywhere in Europe.
  3. Apps: “Wifi Map” and “maps.me” can help if you don’t have data.
  4. Get the service “NordVPN” If you’re worried about hacks on public wifi networks.

My Travel Philosophy: try to always have data with you, and if you don’t then use the maps app prior to arrival. Internet is key when you want to travel safely in foreign places.

Weather

  1. Best weather conditions are at the countries surrounding the equator: Ecuador, Colombia, Mexico, and Panama. The European star is Spain where the climate is cyclic but very good and warm in general.
  2. Traveling in the winter requires more equipment to carry around, try to avoid it at all cost :)

My Travel Philosophy: Fuck North America’s winter...

Destinations

Europe

If Europe was a woman I would marry it in a second, it’s my favorite continent and has a few big strengths: it is the most mobile (easy transportation methods to get around the countries), it has great diversity in languages and different styles of cultures, and by far the best destination to pick if you want to maximize value for money but still remain in western countries. *My favorite places have been Lisbon (Portugal), Budapest (Hungary), Valencia (Spain) and Granada (Spain). All are places I would consider living in for a period of time.

North America

This part of the world requires a lot of money! Transportation, food, and accommodation can be brutal in certain places. Biggest advantage has to be the language, which makes it very easy to connect with locals and integrate into the places you visit. *My favorite places have been Montreal (Canada) and Austin (Texas) that both have a very similar since of community and hybrid nature to them (French-Canadian and Mexican-American).

Central/South America

If the world is a menu, then Latin America is a very particular dish with strong flavors in it, you either connect to it or you don’t. Advantages are many here: very affordable, loose visa requirements, incredibly nice and welcoming people (in most places), and amazing food! Unfortunately there are some big disadvantages as well: safety, the language barrier, and of course above all… the horrific Regeton music :( *My favorite places have been Valparaiso (Chile), Santiago (Chile) and Medellin (Colombia). Santiago has to stand out for how livable it is, and Medellin has very unique feel to it that I haven’t experienced anywhere else (just be very careful there).

Localizing Your Experience

To integrate into a place fully you must live with locals, work/volunteer there and preferably learn the language. To live with locals you can be hosted on “Couchsurfing” or rent an “Airbnb”/sublet an apartment.

Social Hacking

There are many ways to meet locals while you’re traveling, even if you’re just passing by for a few days:

  • Use the apps: “Couchsurfing”, “Meetup”, and “Hangout” to find events like language exchanges and activities that connects travelers and locals.
  • Use Facebook to look for events that are happening in the city.

My Travel Philosophy: Approach, approach, and approach! Use your interests to meet locals: yoga classes, climbing gyms, salsa… are all great opportunities to interact with the locals. *You’re traveling! there is no social persona being cultivated here, in most of the places you will be a few days/weeks so use this as a weapon: approach in bars, internet cafes, buses/trains and everywhere you can.

Languages

Learning the local language can transform your traveling experience entirely. I highly suggest picking up a new language while you’re vagabonding your way through a different continent. Soon I’ll post a Spanish specific article.

  1. Choose a culture that you want to explore, and according to that pick the language. If you like french philosophy or cinema, learn french. If you love Spanish music, go with Spanish. From my experience, if you don’t have an interest in the culture you’ll never endure the learning process.
  2. Live with native speakers is the number 1 rule when it comes to picking up a new language. I lived for 5 months with Latin roommates in South America, and suffered my way into semi fluency.
  3. Go to language exchanges to meet as many locals as you can (don’t come home without at least 1 local phone number).
  4. Consume the language according to your interests: music, cinema, literature, podcasts, YouTube videos, stand up comedy… anything that can connect you to how people actually use the language.
  5. Learn the structure via YouTube videos and articles online.
  • If you want to avoid the topic all together you should look for northern/central part of Europe for English fluency, Holland is leading the pack. In Latin America it is Argentina that‘s the most fluent in English. check out this article for further info.

Alone or With Others?

  • Solo Travel is by far what I would recommend for any beginner traveler over the age of 24. I wrote a post covering this topic: “Solo Traveling”
  • Traveling with friends is a case of win big or loose even bigger :) pick your partner wisely! and make sure 1 key component will be always present: alone time. Big groups will cause isolation wherever you go, and not what I would recommend in general.
  • Traveling with family is surprisingly more common than we would think. I met a lot of brothers/sisters on the road, and it seemed to work well. Big tip: rehearse with a week somewhere before hitting the road for 4 months together.
  • Couples - This category is the most risky in my own personal experience. Traveling as a couple can be an intensive test for the relationship. I’ve met some great couples along my journey who managed to make it work long term, but I would say it requires a solid base of experience prior to traveling. I would say to test small (days/weeks) before heading on a year adventure. Spending 24/7 with someone can amplify the dynamic and bring a lot of stress and weight to any connection.

My Travel Philosophy: after 18 months on the road of solo traveling I can say that this category has the potential of transforming your life, and is the easiest to change on demand. I’ve traveled with others for days/weeks on different occasions, and always came back to my starting point which was solo travel. I expect this style to evolve as my journey continue, but I cannot stress enough how greatly I believe solo travel is the best platform for developing yourself.

Developing Your Own Style

When you’re a beginner traveler you can find yourself asking these following questions: “what am I supposed to do?, with who should I spend time?, should I volunteer? should I go to big cities or smaller ones?”. It takes time to develop clear ideas of the things you’re looking for, and I find that in my experience those ideas keep changing constantly.

  • Try a lot of things, and see what you gravitate towards. If you find yourself feeling lost, that’s great! and perfectly natural, this process is a unique inquisition that will stretch your capacity to make decisions and investigate your experience. For example, hostels can sometimes be like whirlpools that suck you in, and quickly you can be in a situation where you’re drinking with Australians for a few days in a row and can’t remember which city you’re in… or my personal “favorite”: taking selfies on bridges with some girls you met and now you’re the selfie choreographer for the day :( Through these “mistakes” you will grow in your understanding of the people and activities you want to engage in.
  • Be minded of your needs: If you want to work, choose the hostel/Airbnb wisely (no “party hostels”). If you need to rest, be smart about it, and avoid crowded places and activities that will exhaust you, call your Jewish grandma and get a good soup recipe and relax.
  • Learn from other travelers: be attentive to stories/experiences you hear and draw ideas constantly. If you meet someone who did some volunteering in a farm, listen to their story and ask relevant questions that interest you.

Mindset

“Bear in mind that the special advantage of vagabonding is the experience of not really knowing what happens next. The challenges you face offer no alternative but to cope with them. And in doing that, your life is being fully lived.” Ed Buryn (Vagabonding)

There is nothing more valuable in life than our mindset, and on the road it serves as the ultimate asset. Everything that can go wrong will and then some… Know that this is the game. Plans are shit, preparation is key, and then you improvise. You loose a shoe, you get bitten by a dog, or get food poisoning… you adapt quickly by using the traveler mindset. Traveling is a platform that will serve you unexpected challenges on a daily basis, the potency of the medicine is in the depth of the affect. Not every traveler will experience this tool as beneficial, but the ones who do will know it and will feel compelled to evolve their mindset accordingly.

Checkout these articles I wrote in the past on this topic:

A Journey Mindset

Moving Your Environment

Scarcity Vs Abundance

Resistance

Best Advice

  • Traveling is a skill: Many people ask “but how do you do it?” or “traveling is too expensive...” “it’s too complicated or scary…” Traveling is like any other skill in life, your understanding of it will grow with experience and evolve by learning from others. Every time I was exposed to another possibility like volunteering or being hosted by people, my decisions became more educated. Even a “simple” thing as booking flights and understanding transportation can be a big breakthrough that will make your money go further. In order to travel long term you have to treat it like you would with any other skill, investigate and research others who are doing it and start the leaning curve. You can view it as a “new world” you’re entering to as a white belt. If you’re prone to spending money it would be better to start in a continent that is more forgiving (economically speaking) like Central America or Asia. You enter the new “world” and start growing your skills, after a few months/years you can explore other places and test your skill set and understanding in a different environment. Whenever you meet an interesting traveler, learn whatever you can from them by observing them and exploring their perspective. Consider the travelers you meet along the way as scientists that are trying to crack the same problem as you. Every time you exchange experience/information with them you tap into the collective knowledge and able to advance your journey.
  • People are the best resource, be tribe oriented: I’ve had countless experiences where I was in a predicament and the determining factor was a friend who helped me resolve the issue. Your money/phone will only get you so far, without local people to help you, the experience of solo travel can get intimidating and overwhelming at times. You can get robbed and left with no belongings, but if you’re well connected to the people you meet along the way you will always have a starting point to bounce back from. Our experience in life is most affected by the people we’re with, and developing your tribe (on the road or not) is the essential component that makes it all worth it.

If you liked this post: please press the clap so it can reach more people, and checkout the renewed website https://vagaex.com and Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/vagaex/ to get updated on new releases.

If you didn’t like this post: here’s a nice clip from the master-movie “Samsara”, this scene is the ultimate protest I can think of:

Topics of interest

More Related Stories