Photos from around the Globe

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Travel Free and Easy in New York City

When you tell friends you heading to the Big Apple you usually get one of two (and in many cases both) responses.

The first is that New York is an awesome city. This statement is virtually unanimous and something quite unique in the world of travel. Few cities on Earth live up to or exceed their expectations and when those expectations are as large as those heaped upon New York, that is no mean feat. There are lots of cities where you really don't know what to expect and they pleasantly surprise you (Damascus and Melbourne are two that spring to mind) and there are those where the expectations come high are they are by and large big let downs (LA). Finally those with big raps on them that deliver and deliver big. Paris and Istanbul are two in this category but New York is king.

The second statement you generally here is how expensive it is going to be. This entry is to debunk that myth, particularly for traveler. There is one caveat to this statement and that is the issue of accommodation. If you are having to rely on paying for your accommodation then yes it is going to be expensive. Land is of a premium and where demand exceeds supply prices are high. This goes for renting and hotel accommodation alike.

A couple of tricks to get around this problem would be to firstly tap your own network of friends and colleagues. The beauty of New York is that it attracts people from everywhere to make their home (to see if they can make it there....). You shouldn't require too many of your 6 degrees of separation to find someone you know not too distantly acquainted from you. Post a message up on your Facebook account and see what comes back. Every New York apartment I've been in is by and large the same - small with bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and lounge room but without fail in that lounge room, the couch is a fold out bed. Ex pats know if they want anyone to come and visit them, this is a requirement. Put it out there and see what happens. It cant hurt to ask and usually comes at the cost of bringing over what they crave from home - their Mum's cookies, a magazine they can't obtain etc.

If this doesn't work then consider Couchsurfing NYC even if you wouldn't do so normally elsewhere. Take the time to cultivate a relationship with your host so that by the time you arrive it is like staying with a friend as above.

Moving into the pay realm try Air BnB or iStopover. We prefer to stick to free in this blog but you can find lots of articles on the web about these spare room rental businesses.

Once you are sorted for a bed it is time to get out and get the best of free New York. No city comes close to giving the casual travel the best of their city without dipping into your pocket. The following is all the things we did and saw for free on a couple of trips to NYC.

Day one get yourself a New York Greeter. This amazing program now being replicated around the world is GOLD. A real New Yorker to show you around and share their tips on the best places to visit, eat and shop. In their own words "Big Apple Greeter’s services are available FREE OF CHARGE, and there is a NO TIPPING POLICY." Wow. You need to request about a month in advance of your stay. Personally I went for Harlem as it was an area my host could tell me the least about and where wandering the streets with a local added a huge level to the comfort zone. My Greeter's family was from Ethiopia although they were born and bred in Harlem and it provided an amazing insight on many levels to what the fabric of New York is really all about. It was actually the best thing I did in New York and my Greeter invited me to a party later in the week with his friends. We are still friends and catch up via Facebook. I look forward to repaying the favor one day. It must be said it doesn't always work out this way and there is no obligation on the Greeter to go the extra mile as mine did but it will always be a positive way to start a journey through the great city and get some insider tips.

Downtown or Lower Manhattan is another amazing place for those who like their travel free. The Staten Island ferry is the number one must do. It takes you right past the Statue of Liberty for the must have photo opportunity as well as fabulous water views of the Lower Manhattan skyline. It is of course free. Most people get off the ferry at Staten Island and then get straight back on and head back to Manhattan. The island is one of the five boroughs of New York and worth a wander around. Next time I go I might get a greeter for the Island to get under the skin this least popular borough.

Back in Lower Manhattan, it hard to pass up a wander across the Brooklyn Bridge and back on a fine day. Again the views and photo opportunities are magnificent of a skyline that is familiar to most. On the Brooklyn side of the bridge is the wonderfully named DUMBO (Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass). This post industrial neighborhood has numerous cutting edge art galleries that are free to wander around to see what is happening in the world of art. As it would now be around lunchtime - checkout Grimaldi's Coal Fired pizza down by the water - an institution and arguably (and plenty like to argue!) New York's best. Whilst not free, sitting in the park by the water's edge opposite the Manhattan skyline eating it is.

Back in Manhattan you stroll into the scene of the defining moment for all generations born after the Kennedy assassination - the site of the old World Trade Center. There was surprisingly little in the way of information or memorial when I was there. That may have changed now? Whilst possibly a little macabre I found myself a spot on a park bench at the site and fired up the free travelers favorite tool - my iPhone. I listened to some of the phone calls recorded from the day.
It was a real Lest we Forget moment. This may not be everyone's cup of tea but for me a poignant way to remember what happened here. There is free wifi at 7 World Trade Center to download - no need to use your own roaming!

Whilst the main body of tourists to the city will find themselves at the top of the Empire State Building or Top of the Rock at the Rockefeller building to get those Manhattan Island views from up high. The free version is to go to the New York Academy of Sciences at Level 40 7 World Trade Center. Amazing views!

My other favorite in this area is to go and hang out at Union Square for a spot of people watching. This is a meeting place for friends and great to soak up some of the color and fashion of the city. Personally I popped on a bit of my favorite NYC tunes (Guru's Jazzmatazz - there is free wifi in the park if you want to download it) and stayed until sunset. I didn't do it but the Union Square partnership does a free walking tour as does the Greenich Village Alliance and the Times Square Alliance. The Union tour is generally on a Saturday afternoon which unfortunately clashed with the Chelsea Brewing Companies free tour with FREE BEER!

On another day I headed to the Downtown Alliance (are you picking up a theme here). At the time I was there they had a free bike program happening where you could take a bike for 2.5 hours absolutely free. I'm not sure if that is still happening but they do have a free hop on and off bus around downtown. Over the summer on Governors Island you can get a one hour free bike rental from Bike and Roll every Friday. On one of my trips to NYC I actually got a bike for free on day 1 off Craig's List. Just checking today's Free posts and sure enough here is one. New York by bike was awesome. It is especially good for Central Park. When I was finished I dropped it off at a great community project in DUMBO called Recycle A Bicycle.

Wednesday is a big day for the Free New York traveler to head to the Bronx. Today the Bronx Zoo is free to enter! Well worth a look at New York's famous zoo and whilst up in the Bronx it is worth swinging by Yankee Stadium (both the old and the new). Sports fans might want to break with the free travel plan and spring to go see a game of the American National Sport if it is on. The Bronx Museum of the Arts has a pay as much as you wish day on Wednesday.

Many of New York's Museum's have a pay as much as you wish time slot. You can see a full list here. Essentially you can spend a whole week checking out museums for free if that is to your tastes. My favorites were the Andy Warhol exhibition at the Guggenheim. The MOMA on a Friday evening is also a must.

When night falls is when New York starts to get a little expensive. With the entertainment scene always in flux it is difficult for me to say exactly what is going to be going on during your visit. I highly recommend you sign up for the feeds of the Village Voice, Time Out New York (TONY) and the New York Press free newsletters to keep your finger on the pulse of nightly activity. There is always a band on somewhere for the cost of a beer.

You will probably notice if you are regular reader of this blog that I rarely mention free places to eat. Its not because they don't exist - a brief sweep of the net came up with some free Malaysian food if you are in NYC right now - but that is because what I save on travel experiences I personally am happy to spend on eating well. I'm of the live to eat variety as opposed to the eat to live.

I especially like the underground supper club scene of NYC. It's not free so I won't go on too much about it here but if you want to meet people as well as eat some great food at a bargain price you can check out the links here to a number of home based eateries or social dinners.

If you are looking to cut some corners on the eating front then I suggest you get yourself familiar with the latest in social media, if you are not already. Businesses are always trying to get the edge using the cutting edge and when they first start out they generally offer something free. You will find free food on Twitter (#NYC, #free - see the free beer with free circus sideshow or free burger), Foursquare and in the future Scvngr will be the next front of dining for free.

There are so many other things you can for free in NYC. Join free improv classes, watch some street basketball, seek out Graffiti or public art. It is all FREE.

Remember the favor your host is doing you and be sure to reciprocate when they come to your home town and bring them something they couldn't get without you coming. That will keep the magic door ajar for the next lover of free travel to visit the great NYC.

Happy Free Travels in the Big Apple.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

One week after the Free Travel Money post.........

Thanks to all who spread the word about last weeks post about how to get free travel spending money to go with your free travel. It resulted in record amounts of people reading the blog and may have a played a small part in today's most read article in the Sydney Morning Herald

The next post on my travel free and easy in NYC is coming soon.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

If Free travel wasn't good enough - how about free travel money! (seriously)

This is really for the Australian readers right now but at different times it works for everyone.

This week the Australian dollar reached parity with the $USD for the first time in 28 years or so. It might last for a little while longer but the smart money would say this is a temporary situation. If you are traveling between now and February - awesome for you. Your shopping, eating, transport and sleeping whilst OS in most destinations is going to be cheaper or go further.

Of course if you are following the original post of this blog then this is mainly irrelevant to you because you are traveling for free anyway. I say mainly because you will still have some food, drinks and souvenirs to buy along the way. If you are planning your trip for the future then you can now have the opportunity to get those things for free as well.

How do you do this?

Instead of putting some money away for your vacation by leaving it in your savings account I recommend either changing that money to USD whilst the rate is at this historic high OR changing them into USD travelers cheques (safer to carry, replaceable is you lose, pay more commission for them initially for these benefits).

For example you change $1000 AUD into $USD today you'll get about $950 USD. The bank is keeping the other $50..... When you travel in 8 -12 months time it is very likely the US economy will be picking up and the AUD will be back in its natural habitat around the 85 cent mark which means you would be changing for 80 cents and getting $800USD for your $1000 AUD. You now have a $150USD more to spend. If that is all you spend then that money was free!!!

This of course only works if traveling to country that uses $USD or has its currency tied to the USD. It wont work for example if you are thinking of going to Europe. The AUD appreciation has been far slighter against the Euro and the gains will be eaten by the commissions of currency changer.

There is also the slight risk that the AUD could stay high (or go higher) by the time you travel (ie the US succumbs to double dip recession) so you'll have to assess whether that is a risk you are willing to take.

Friday, October 15, 2010

I've rented my free camper, how can I camp for free?

Following on from the post yesterday about how to travel for free by getting yourself a free relocation camper van, the next step is to how to minimize your expenses whilst going from your start point to the end point.

I traveled for 18 months around Australia over a decade or more ago now. I have also camped for free the half a dozen or so times I've rented free relocation vans. It is actually surprisingly simple and just takes some common sense and respect for those around you.

If you are only staying one night anywhere, you are usually OK to just pull up, cook some dinner, have some beers or a wine and go to sleep in the back of your camper van. You are fully enclosed and so no different to any other vehicle parking for the night.

I personally avoid highway parking bays because they are unattractive, noisy and people pull in and out all through the night making it difficult to sleep. In fact when traveling I avoid major highways full stop. They rarely show the best a country has to offer in term of scenery. Stick to the B roads. Highways are for those in transit and give little for those who are looking for travel experience.

In New Zealand and Australia there is a big culture of camping. Don't feel like pulling over for FREE is doing something wrong. People, especially families spend many of their holidays camping at their favorite spots and generally those spots are free for all to enjoy. Many times people with young families don't travel more than 50km from their home to go camping. They head to the local river, mountain or lake and set up for a week or so.

The trick therefore is when you pull into a little village to buy your supplies for breakfast or your bottle of wine, don't be afraid to ask where the salesperson goes camping locally. 95% of the time people are extremely accommodating and indeed proud of sharing their local favorite spot and you leave not only with your purchase but with directions and a mud map. These are rarely places you can just stumble across.

The biggest tip I can offer is to seek this advice at least 2 hours before dark. Finding a secret spot in the dark, in an area you are not familiar with, is not fun.

As a back up - there are a couple of books you can buy that list some spectacular (and some not so spectacular) free camping spots. In remote regions these books are gold but in more popular areas lots of people have these books so it is unlikely you'll have the beautiful spot to yourself or may even turn up to find the place full.

Cities pose the biggest problem for free camping but even this is not insurmountable. Two tips I would give - try and arrive in cities on a weekend because this is when most good stuff is happening and find the inner city industrial area. There is always one very close to the city, usually close to a public transport link, with free parking and deserted from midday Saturday and all day Sunday. You cant bother anyone there and no-one should bother you.

Happy FREE camping!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Travel Australia, New Zealand or the US for Free

Another regional specialty for the lovers of Free Travel is a great trick to travel parts of Australia, New Zealand or US not only for free but also in Comfort and style.

There is a great website called Standby Relocs which offers unbelievable deals on a weekly basis in Australia, New Zealand and parts of the US.

So how does it work and how is it free? First off there is a charge to ensure that Stanby Relocs has a contract with the person renting the vehicle. This is usually $1 or $5 a day. However depending on the vehicle and the route they actually give you money for your journey. An example from today is that they will give you $210 to go from Adelaide to Perth. They are charging $5 a day and have a time limit of 6 days. Therefore if you can get from Adelaide to Perth for $180 in fuel, it is totally FREE!

What do you get and how does it work? This is the real beauty of this scheme. It is not some crappy car you get but usually a fully equipped camper van that others are renting for $130 a day. It works because tourist regions are seasonal and is seasonality forms part of the camper rental companies fleet management strategy. Rather than have vehicles in each location sitting around dormant in the off seasons, which is expensive and a waste of a depreciating asset, they move their vehicles around in the seasons to cater for demand. If YOU don't take the camper they have to PAY someone to take it for them. Not just fuel money but fuel money plus a wage and then it gets expensive for these companies.

I have used this scheme on numerous routes around Australia and NZ and looking forward to getting to the States to do a San Fran to Vegas run in a nice new fully equipped camper on someone else's tab. The campers usually have a big bed, cooker, shower and sometimes toilet inside. It is luxury camping and you can use all the facilities the same as a full price renter!

Like most things FREE there is compromise involved. I say most things because the original post in this blog had what is still the best free travel out there without compromise. The compromise here is that you cant choose the route you want, when you want. However if you follow the pattern over one year - you will find it is similar every year. For example now is the time that they are moving campers from the mainland of Australia to Tasmania for the Summer. At the end of Summer (April/May) they move them back again. Wet season is starting in the North of Australia so campers from Cairns and Darwin are heading south for the dryer Summer in the South. I get the Standby Relocs newsletter every week and have done for 4 years. I can now look back to see the pattern and travel for free in Australia, New Zealand or the West Coast of the States by timing my arrival time and arrival city accordingly. Get in touch if you want to know more about these patterns and happy FREE camping!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Travel to the Galapagos Islands for Free

A further development in the Travel for Free world is that one of the big soft adventure travel companies - GAP Adventures - now advertise on their website about the opportunity to travel for free using the exact strategy mentioned in the original post.

You cant any more proof than hearing it from the horses mouth! To see what their offer is - check here: Travel for Free with GAP Adventures.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Travel For Free

Is it possible to Travel the World for Free?

I read an interesting post on the subject posted on the Matador site. You can can read it for yourself here: How to Travel For free

It sparked some serious debate amongst others who also read the article. Some were inspired whilst others thought the whole notion totally implausible or impossible. Some traveled the world using the couchsurfing network. Whilst helping to keep down one element of travel, it is not entirely free travel. Others bunkered down in caves in Mexico and fished for their supper! That was probably free and an experience but it was hard to move away from your shelter and food supply.

So is it possible to travel the world for free? Happily it is. I've done it. - numerous times using a variety of different strategies that I wanted to share with those adventurous souls who like Kerouac or Ghandi before them want to travel for free.

For the purpose of this blog I define FREE TRAVEL as when the FREE portion of the equation becomes more important than the TRAVEL experience then for me it has gone too far. Free travel generally requires compromise (although the major strategy outlined below involves NO compromise for maximum experience and is absolutely free) but I reject begging, stealing or starving as strategies for free travel.

So how did I do it?

Having traveled independently for a number of years I was lucky enough to fall into the tour leading business. For 4 years I lived and traveled through the Middle East from Morocco to Iran. Not only was it free but it was also (modestly) paid for. It definitely paid enough to have your own independent adventures when not leading which was approx. 3 months of the year.

To become a tour leader there were no specific educational requirements. You just needed to be a friendly, easy going people person who was willing to deal with the challenges of travel on behalf of a group of people who weren't. Using this method I traveled to places such as Libya, Eastern Turkey and Yemen as well as the mainstays of the Middle East - all for free. It was inspiring, uplifting, frustrating and deflating. Most of all it was free. To learn more contact any international travel company and pitch your wares. Dragoman, Kumuka, Intrepid Travel, Tucan, On The Go, Contiki - you name it, they are all looking almost all the time.

Not everyone however can stop their life to go and wander the wilds of the earth for periods of years. Some us have other responsibilities in our lives these days like jobs and families but that doesn't mean we have to give up on the dream of traveling for free.

If you are passionate about travel and famous amongst your friends and colleagues for being passionate about travel then there is a good chance you are already the go to person for all travel advice. This is who I was, actually who I still am. I will talk to anyone - all day and night about their travel dreams. However to travel for free I needed to focus my energies. What I did was contacted all my friends - very easy these days with social media. I said I'm going to Ethiopia in 9 months time - who wants to come. I will organize everything - you just need to say you want to do it. Ethiopia was the first trip I did like this - 6 years ago now. After much too-ing and fro-ing 9 friends and acquaintances committed to the travel. Be sure to set a cut off date at least 4 months in advance.

With the crew confirmed I contacted several of the companies listed above via their special groups departments. I said I have 9 people plus myself who want to do your Ethiopia itinerary as a special group. We will do it with you if I can travel for free and the other 8 can get the trip at a rate less than you advertised as your retail price. How many of the companies do you think agreed to this deal? ALL OF THEM!

So how can this be? Travel companies operate the bulk of their business through wholesalers and retailers to whom they pay varying rates of commissions. If you go direct - they are saving all this cash. As long as the company is still turning a profit they will accept your deal. I've tried with 6 plus myself and been refused - actually they didn't refuse but for me to travel for free meant my friends had to pay higher than the retail price for a special group. To convince other people to want to travel with you, you need to get them a deal, so for me that was out.

In a nutshell if you can find 8 people who want to travel with you - you can travel for free. I have just completed my 9th free trip. All have been wonderful and shared with friends, old and new.Try it! Post your experiences here of which companies gave you the best deals or contact me if you need any further help or advice. Happy (free) Travels :-)