How the Economy Affected 16 Travellers in 2009

Man and his bicycle
Coming home. Photo taken by Marlis Seelos.

How has the economy affected your travels in 2009?

That’s the question I put to the internet’s finest travel bloggers last week. For some, the economic crisis put trips on hold, while for others it seems to have had no impact whatsoever. Whatever the case, their responses show one thing: if you’re passionate about travel, you can pretty much always find a way to indulge that passion.

Credit should go to Debby Lee of Tea, Sugar, a Dream for suggesting this discussion topic. Thanks Debby!

Ara Sarafian from The Life Less Travelled

As a long-term traveler the economy has affected me quite a lot. Seventeen months ago, before starting my current trip, I had saved enough money so that I could in part travel with the bank interest. At the time the interest rate was over 8% in Australia, but then it suddenly crashed below 3%, meaning I was receiving less than half of what I had before. So I had to seriously re-think my expenditure.

Luckily I was in South America – where things are relatively cheaper anyway – but I planned my route so that I would move toward cheaper countries. But I still had to budget a lot harder and stricter.

Things which help include: eating where the locals eat; cooking for myself; Couchsurfing; avoiding hostels and restaurants recommended in guide books (their prices always rocket after such exposure);travelling by bus; and camping and hitchhiking (if you’re confident to do so).

But a big, over-looked money-saver is: traveling during low season. Hostels are cheaper, bus companies have special offers, and you have a better chance of negotiating discounts and bargains in tourist areas. Remember, an economic crisis means less tourists and therefore businesses dependant on tourism suffer also.

Matt Kepnes from Nomadic Matt

The economy hasnt effected my travels at all. In fact, I wouldn’t know there was a problem if you didn’t tell me. I don’t have a job really tied to the “real world.”  While some of my advertising revenue is down, the internet is still pretty well insulated from the overall crash because people continue to use it more and more to find travel information.  Additionally, I save good so, even if my income dips, my travels don’t have too!

The economy affected my travels by teaching me that money never really mattered.

Daniel Roy from The Backpack Foodie

Like everyone else’s savings, mine took a hit in October 2009. I stared at my 401K, sitting there in the bank waiting for me to grow old. I quit my 6-figure job, sold everything, and took my life on the road to my dreams.

Here I am: jobless, homeless, and happier that I’ve ever been. The economy affected my travels by teaching me that money never really mattered.

Eileen Smith from Bearshapedsphere

Since I’m an expat, I see the crisis up close but from a different angle. Traveling is already a luxury activity in Chile, and has been for years (maybe always), so my occasional jaunts to the northern hemisphere have generally seemed peculiar and decadent to many people I know. This has not changed, and neither has the fact that I don’t talk much about those trips, except to people who ask directly.

But in terms of pleasure travel, I find myself scaling back a bit, choosing local spots over things further afield, jealously guarding my frequent flier miles and trying to take advantage of incentives that local and international airlines are spinning. In truth, it’s not a bad thing, as there’s a ton of interesting stuff right outside my door, and I’ve never really given it its due to begin with.

What I do notice now that I’m staying closer to home is that the number of travelers coming to this area continues to rise, including recent grads who have been excluded from the job market in the north, so they’re down here weathering the storm, traveling or expatting. It’s been this way for about a year already, and I expect we’ll continue to see this trend.

Nancy Sathre-Vogel from Family on Bikes

Today’s tough economy has certainly added a whole lot of stress to our journey!  Although we made the decision to not call off our trip, we are doing what we can to keep expenses down.

When we initially made the decision to ride our bikes from one end of the earth to the other, we figured the interest from our savings and the rent from our house would cover expenses.  However, with interest rates approaching negatives, and rental rates the lowest they’ve been in decades, that hasn’t happened.  We made the decision to keep going and dig into the principal on our retirement account.

In order to reduce expenses, we are staying in lower-budget hotels than we normally would and are cutting out big-ticket items like visiting the Galapagos Islands.  Although we would love to take our children to the islands, we simply can’t afford it right now.  They will have to learn everything from other activities!

More information:

Ant Stone from Trail of Ants

I’m in the throes of travelling; the big plan was to arrive in Wellington, throw down the backpack and absorb some of the real world. I have a 23-month working holiday visa and a shiny CV. So, how has the economy affected my travels?
For a start there are very few jobs available in New Zealand. Secondly, the successful applicants for those very few jobs are quite rightly resident Kiwis. I’ve never been asked so many times what kind of visa I have, or how long until it expires. We’re just coming over the brow of the Global Financial Crisis — or whatever we’re calling it these days — and companies are looking to invest in their long-term, and hiring a quick-buck backpacker won’t do them any good.
I’ve tried my knowledge bases in publishing houses, plus a host of charities, retail, bars, cafes, museums and galleries. I managed to land one job – volunteering for a retail chain that supports the Fair Trade ethos. The situation wasn’t quite as bad in Australia, but unfortunately I’m locked out, having used up my once-in-a-lifetime Australian WHV. Perhaps for me to fund my travels — I’ll have to look back towards England: the homeland I thought I’d traded in.

Jon Brandt from Travel Guy

Now that I’m based out of Buenos Aires, I’ve been traveling less while I get to know this area. However, I am working for a travel agency, and it’s obvious all around that tourism is down in the last year. While people are hopeful that it will turn around, that has yet to be seen. The true test will be this summer (December-March) as a traditional peak season begins.

About a month ago I was at the San Telmo fair, a big spot for tourists where you can buy antiques and other things. It was still winter, but it was a beautiful day, yet the streets weren’t that crowded. Going back there last Sunday, it was another great day and the streets were loaded, so much so that it was hard to get through the crowds. That in itself is a good sign that things are picking up again.

For me though, it’s all about opportunities and how much money I have at my disposal. Generally a frugal traveler, I’m always watching what I spend no matter what. Now the question is time. Working a full time job here, I just don’t have the option to take off for a few days and see another region, though I do have plans to visit Patagonia in January for a vacation. That, however, will be a trip not taken on my expenses.

Homeless man sculpture
Homeless man. Photo taken by Marlis Seelos.

Richard Stupart from Cape to Cairo

I think that while the dedicated RTW and rough-travelling crowd are sufficiently set on their plans that, even if the state of the economy means deferring them for a bit, they will continue on their journeys in due course. I think that if you are willing to travel a bit rougher than you were intending to before, then your traveling aspirations can still be pursued, albeit slightly off the beaten path (and isn’t that, after all, where many of the most interesting adventures lurk?). Realizing that for longer trip it is often possible to exchange flight costs for taking a train or a bus at a more relaxed pace between countries can not only cut your costs but make for a much richer journey. Less cash to burn on traveling may also mean deferring buying that nicer camera or new laptop, or trying to find shortcuts to saving on travel insurance and other unavoidable expenses. While it makes you travel smarter, it need not keep you from traveling.

For long-term travelers, prior savings that seemed sufficient are now scary in light of the looming possibility of unemployment upon return.

Andy Jarosz from 501 Places

2009 and the economic crash has been a year of opportunity for me. My job came to a natural end at the start of the year, and I took the plunge to set up my own writing business. Travels have not been affected, and in fact I no longer have the restrction of annual leave allowance. This has allowed us to take 4 weeks in December to visit Laos and Cambodia, a trip that would otherwise have been a 2 week rush. If work comes in while I’m away, a wi-fi connection and a couple of hours of work on an evening might pay for a few hotel nights!
Jodi Ettenberg from Legal Nomads

There’s no question that the current state of the economy affects most travelers, including myself. For long-term travelers, prior savings that seemed sufficient are now scary in light of the looming possibility of unemployment upon return.  And the many friends I have who were considering a round-the-world trip have either put off travelling for now because they don’t want to risk quitting work when they actually have a job, or because they are too skittish about leaving so open-endedly when the economy is a bit of a disaster.

I’ve been travelling for close to 18 months now, on and off. There is no question that I have started to watch where my every Baht or Ringgit goes, even if it means walking a few blocks to get the same food just a bit cheaper.  I’ve also crossed off Europe and a return to Australia or NZ from my list, since those destinations are much more expensive. That’s not to say I’m truly penny-pinching:  travels through SEA, India, Nepal and China can be done very cheaply, while remaining extremely fulfilling. Some tips: eat as much street food as possible (it’s usually more fresh and definitely tastier than tourist restaurants) or use the kitchen if you’re at a hostel and cook, try CouchSurfing out for size, take overnight buses and trains to save on lodging costs, and try and take advantage of student discounts where you can (and if you are not a student, you can buy a student card on Khao San Rd in Bangkok – but you didn’t hear it from me!).

Linda Martin from Indie Travel Podcast

I don’t think the economy has affected my travels at all. I planned my travel schedule before the recession really hit, and have stuck to it. That said, though, I planned to do very little travel! We’ve just returned from three years of full-time travel and have been spending some time at home.

Lower income this year has meant we’ve had to scale back some of our plans for next year though – we’re still going to travel as much, but on a smaller budget. We’ll be using our friend network and be doing a lot of couchsurfing!

Debby Lee from Tea, Sugar, a Dream

I chose to travel locally this year, instead of abroad. Part of this decision was economical. While I already am a budget traveler when I journey anywhere, the two trips I took this year were definitely inexpensive – a backpacking trip within my own state, Washington, and an exploration of nearby Alaska.

But there were other financial reasons for these travel choices, because luckily the economy has affected me in a positive way. Not only am I fortunate enough to still have my job, but also because of lower housing prices, lower interest rates, and the first-time home-buyers credit, my Love and I were able to buy a house this year. For the first time in a long time, I now truly enjoy staying at home!

Therefore, my local travels not only allowed me to have extra money for our new home, but I have been able to spend more time at home as well. But, my travels this year were not any less fantastic than any travels that I have had abroad. In fact, they were both spectacular trips, filled with adventure and fun.

There is something wonderful to be said for both traveling abroad, and for staying near home!

To make my holiday pounds go further, I’ve readjusted my sites to include more local destinations.

Dave from The Longest Way Home

Since the “Economic Collapse” I’ve heard budget guesthouses in Asia say there are less people around. But, at the same time many places are booked out. I think a lot of people who have already budgeted for 2009 travel went traveling as planned. 2010 may be more interesting in that regard.
I’ve been traveling around the world for 5 years on a budget and I’ve not noticed prices going up. But I have noticed a few more places closing down. This makes for a more competitive market; however it means the consumers power of bartering is slowly slipping away.
Mass tours seem to be becoming more popular for popular day trips as well. And even though I don’t like them, they are becoming cheaper in some places than independent travel.
I’ve also seen more cheap flight style guesthouse pop up and take over smaller hostels. Check yourself in, basic amenities and less staff on hand. They also carry brand name security, you know what you are getting.  
If you’ve not been effected by a job loss etc, and can plan and budget yourself properly, these are the only differences I’ve come across.

Greg Wesson from Greg Wesson’s Esoteric Globe

When I first moved to the UK from Canada last year, I figured I would be doing a lot of weekend “city breaks” (as they call them over here) to places in Europe.  Originally when I was envisioning these weekend city breaks, I pictured myself jetting off to exotic locations in Europe like Riga, Copenhagen or Bratislava. Thanks to the “credit crunch” (as the alliteration-obsessed British press call the recession), the British Pound is in a sad state compared to the Euro.  To make my holiday pounds go further, I’ve readjusted my sites to include more local destinations.  Instead of jetting off to foreign locales, I’ve spent weekends visiting places like Cardiff, Dover, Brighton and Liverpool, and taking day trips from London on other weekends and getting out and exploring London when I’m at home.  

Actually, I’m glad the pound’s poor performance has forced me to stay within the UK borders.  It has given me an opportunity to get out and see the country in which I have chosen to live, and become a little more familiar with more of the people and places in the UK.  I still want to visit Riga, Copenhagen and Bratislava, but it is nice that the recession is forcing me to ensure that I am not neglecting my adopted country and my new home.

Steve James from Overland Tales and Free Wifi Guru

The downturn in the economy has certainly affected my travel habits – but not in the way you might expect!  In response to the tougher market, the European budget airline RyanAir has been aggressively marketing “bargain” flights on a regular basis, with differing promotions offering fares at £5, £1 and even as low as 1p from my home airport.  The trick is that there are cunning additional fees for checking luggage, paying by credit card and forgetting to check in online; these extras bump up the cost for most punters who’ve been lured in by the promotion – but not me!  As a budget traveller who sets off with just a 40 litre carry-on pack, pays with a Visa Electron card and checks in online, I’ve been able to book up a wealth of cheap flights.  For less than £30 total I’ve been to Eindhoven, Riga and Bratislava this year so far, and have further flights booked to Budapest and Milan for the princely sum of £10 total.  So curiously the recession has seen me travel more, making a flurry of week-long trips into Europe that I wouldn’t have otherwise made.

Tammie Dooley from Solo Road Trip

The economic downturn has affected my travel, as in a 15-day trip to Spain/Morocco canceled just days prior to an October 8th departure.  It was the prudent thing to do. The be-a-good-steward with your money thing to do. Responsible. Grown-up.  It sucked.
Similar to justifying the purchase of something simply because it’s “on sale”, it’s the absolute cost of the outlay that drove our decision. $5,000 on sale, is still $5,000 out of your pocket. It wasn’t a matter of taking the trip for less or going to a less expensive destination for a shorter length of time. It was the simple outlay of cash we chose to not make, regardless the amount. 
What did we do to alleviate the 1) disappointment and 2) the stress associated with too much work and not enough play this year?  My husband called restaurants all over town and found one serving paella and gazpacho.  We dined there and drank plenty of sherry and Anis liqueur to drown our sorrows.
Then I chose to bring life to the Spain/Morocco trip by starting a new series on my blog for those of us forced to travel in our robes and slippers – The Fuzzy Slipper Travel Chronicles.  A trip to the downtown library netted a stack of picture books on Spain and Morocco and we’ve flipped through those every night of what would have been the trip.  And enjoyed the fall weather and the sherry we’ve learned to love.

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