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Saturday, July 4, 2015

Cheap Travels Through Latin America



Here I was working with a non-profit organization earning a modest income. And the day before my 30-day vacation was to begin, I received a surprise e-mail from my company's executive director wanting to know where I was going “this time.” Excited, I responded with my list of travel destinations. She quickly responded back with a border-line, snide comment about my ability to do all of this traveling on my salary. Well, let me tell you my story!

This particular vacation included trips to México, Perú, Panamá, Colombia, and Ecuador. From Ecuador, I flew to New York to visit family. Finally from New York, I made it back to Oakland just in time to return to work the following day. How much did all of this cost me? $1,422! How did I swing this?

Airfares have been known to drop on certain days

First of all, I began planning my vacation about four to six months ahead of time. I went on line to check the travel booking sites such as cheaptickets.com, tripadvisor.com, and kayak.com, among others. I found that when you schedule your flights to leave on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, and return on any day except Sundays, prices drop even more. And when you are flying out on a holiday, you are just asking for it! 


My cabbie and I on a beach on the Sun Coast of El Salvador

One Thanksgiving day, my round trip ticket from San Francisco to Lima, Perú cost me $537, and that included a 7-hour layover in El Salvador where my cab driver and I spent that time hanging out at the beach gulping down fresh coconut juice and chomping on a scrumptious seafood lunch. We then cruised the Sun Coast of El Savador before  making it back to the airport to catch my next flight.


 Beach on the Sun Coast of El Salvador

Once I reach any of my travel destinations, I make it a point to bypass tourist areas and head straight for a local community where I can rent a nice clean room, eat good food, and buy items of interest at a much cheaper cost.


The Ballumbrosio family of El Carmen, Perú.
I'm standing in the back with the fellas, second from the right. 

I try to stay with families, such as that of the late, great maestro Amador Ballumbrosio, the godfather of Afro-Peruvian music and dance. This family showed me so much love that they influenced to adopt their home as my home away from home whenever I'm in Perú. On my second trip, I tried to pay the mother like I did on my first trip, but this time, she simply laughed at me and brushed me off. That old Spanish saying, mi casa es tu casa (my house is your house) certainly applied here.



My god-daughter Daniela (wearing pink)
and members of her family (Perú)

 
My god-daughter Daniela (front right)
and members of her family

Thus, with all of this frugality going on in my travels, I was left with enough money to thoroughly enjoy the country that I'm visiting, and at the same time, reach out to local citizens so they can enjoy themselves with me.


 Popular Travel Guides

The key to big savings in your travels is doing your homework. These are some excellent travel guides: Lonely Planet, Moons Guide, Rough Guide, and Go Girl. Although Go Girl was written by a black woman for black women, I found that a good 80% of the information contained therein will benefit anyone, including me. 

The $18 - $22 that you invest in any one of these books will pay for itself many times over as you learn sophisticated techniques to stay out of trouble, stay safe, and get the best bang for your buck in the midst of your enjoyment.


 
 Gloria of Quito, Ecuador whom I met through Facebook

Facebook is another method I use for travel networking. Because my Spanish is at a level where I can fairly take care of myself in a Spanish-speaking country, I created a separate Spanish Facebook account from my English account, and made over 300 friends in the countries that I want to visit, so when I arrive, I will at the very least, have some warm contacts. My late, dear friend Gloria, of Ecuador, was an example. She took me in like family, and showed me the ropes of her hometown of Quito, the nations capital and surrounding areas. RIP Gloria María Chalá Ananganó!



Felix of Caracas, Venezuela whom I met through Couchsuring.com

Couchsurfing.com is a must for all budget travelers. It is an international network of more than 10 million people in 230 countries around the world. Felix of Caracas, Venezuela and María of Barlovento, Venezuela were couchsurfing hosts from heaven. They not only gave me free places to stay and showed me around per couchsurfing guidelines, they went above and beyond by making sure all of my personal needs were met while in their country.

To show my appreciation, as I did with Gloria in Ecuador, I paid for all of their meals, public transportation, and drinks while we were out and about. And before my departure, I bought them all gifts. To date, I stay in touch especially on their birthdays. Such show of appreciation was a small price to pay considering how much I saved in travel expenses.


María of Barlovento, Venezuela whom I met through couchsurfing.com

I could have explained all of this to my executive director if she had only asked. All you need is an ardent desire to engage in such a gratifying adventure we call travel, which broadens the mind and nurtures the soul. Travel is more than just seeing of sights. It's a journey within igniting deep and permanent changes in the ideas of living. Regardless of your income, you can indeed enjoy travel.


 You can indeed enjoy travel!