Starting out on the freelance travel writing path is an adventure. So why not kick-start it with an overseas adventure?
Say you’ve got $1,000 or so saved. Obviously you want to use your money wisely. And you want to explore somewhere thrilling that won’t break the bank — somewhere that will generate plenty of story ideas, too.
So, where would I go for an amazing adventure on a limited budget?
Let’s start by talking Turkey. Istanbul in Turkey. On the river Bosphorus, this is where Europe runs out and you start to get the scent of Asia. Once known as Constantinople, Istanbul’s roots go back millennia — to the days when merchants traveled the Silk Road, bringing back the treasures of the orient.
From the fabled Grand Bazaar to the Blue Mosque, it’s a glimpse into a story-laden world from long ago… a world of sultans, concubines, and eunuchs. (Don’t miss the old harem in Topkapi palace!) Clamorous streets, apple-tea sellers, carpet salesmen, ‘evil-eye’ charms – you’ll love it. For romantics, nothing beats lounging on a divan in a flowery courtyard under the moonlight, sipping a rose-petal sherbet.
Including taxes, round-trip fares from Newark to Istanbul with KLM in early October are $712. To keep strictly within a $1,000 budget, you may have to settle for a bed in a hostel, but backpackers read travel articles, too. Through www.booking.com the Galata hostel has beds in October for just over $11 a night. Free Wifi is part of the deal…and at that price, you could afford to stay for a week. Eat where the locals eat, develop a taste for kebabs, and you don’t have to spend more than $6 each time you feel the need to fill your stomach.
If you can afford a little more for accommodation, plenty of simple hotels in Sultanahamet, the oldest and most atmospheric part of Istanbul, can be had for around $50 through the same website. Five minutes walk from Topkapi Palace, a three-night stay in Turvan Hotel works out at just under $51 per night and includes buffet breakfast and free WiFi.
There are few places where three people can have lunch and get change from $5. But you can in Ecuador. I know, I took care of one lunch bill in Cotacachi in the Andean highlands earlier this year.
If you’ve never been purified by shamans, shopped at Otavalo (the largest handicraft market in South America), visited a Quechua Indian village, or explored colonial Cuenca, then you’re missing a fantastic travel adventure. And if you also thrill to activities such as bird-watching and zip-lining through jungle, you’ll be in your element.
Including taxes, round-trip airfare from Miami to Quito with LAN Ecuador airlines in October is $579. Once you’re there, bus fares are ludicrously inexpensive, so you won’t spend much extra on travel costs. Attractive budget accommodation – often in historic courtyard buildings — can easily be found throughout the country for under $40 a night. In Cuenca, I can recommend Posada del Angel — $36 including breakfast and Internet access: www.hostalposadadelangel.com
In Otavalo, Hostal Dona Esther was another great find — it’s a small Dutch-owned hotel, not a hostel. Individual rooms are $28: www.otavalohotel.com. Its restaurant serves both Ecuadorian specialties and pizza — from a proper wood-fired oven. The best pizza I’ve ever had outside of Italy. I can’t remember my exact bill, but it was way under $10 — and that included lashings of red wine, too.
Watch for cheap airfare deals from the States to major European cities. For example, Iceland Air (www.icelandair.com) currently offers a round-trip fare of $499 + taxes to London from Boston or Washington DC. But although London gobbles down money horrendously fast, you can do a quick escape on the bus to London Stansted Airport. Budget carrier Ryanair is currently offering 60 destinations throughout Europe for £20.99 — around $30 each way. Some fares are as low as £9.99—and I often see winter deals where taxes are included: www.ryanair.com
My favorite European city is Barcelona in Spain. I don’t think North American travel publications give it anywhere near the attention it deserves. Barcelona has everything: Gaudi architecture, an extensive medieval quarter, the Boqueria market, the Ramblas, Mediterranean beaches, and a wickedly late nightlife that includes absinthe bars that don’t open until midnight.
As elsewhere in Spain, one trick to keeping costs down is to have your main meal at lunchtime. Go into local neighborhoods such as Sant Antoni, or along Paral-lel, and you’ll find numerous places offer a two- or three-course menu del dia for $15 or less (including wine). Then snack on tapas (bar snacks) in the evening — Barcelona has numerous tapas bars. After a $3 portion of patatas bravas, you certainly won’t be fainting from hunger.
Through www.booking.com hostel accommodation averages $30 a night. Simple traditional hotels whose rooms have private bathrooms start at around $70. For example, three nights in Hotel Pelayo, a couple of minute’s walk from Placa Catalunya, costs $232.69 including taxes.
I’m cheating a bit here as airfare is extra, but Cosmos have a 10-day tour of the Kingdom of Morocco in November for $789 per person, based on two sharing. This seems very reasonable as it includes accommodation, breakfast, and six dinners — and you don’t have to untangle the eccentricities of local buses and bus stations.
The itinerary starts in Casablanca and goes to the old corsairs’ city of Rabat, the country’s capital. Then it’s on to mysterious Fez with its medieval medina, the Atlas mountains, oasis settlements, the Road of 1,000 kasbahs, and fabulous Marrakech of the souks, snake charmers, and storytellers. And, if you don’t come back with a stack of wonderful stories, then shame on you! www.cosmos.com
[Editor’s Note: Learn more about opportunities to profit from your travels (and even from your own home) in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.]