How to Use Couchsurfing to See the World

What if I told you there was a different way to travel? A way to see the world outside of the hotel chains, guidebooks, and tourist traps. A way to intimately experience the real culture of everyday life. A way to connect with like-minded travelers and interact with some of the most hospitable locals you could possibly find.

Well, it's not too good to be true thanks to Sure, it takes some effort, a little kindness, and a dash of confidence. But let me reassure you, it's well worth it. My ultimate goal is to help take you from the "I would never do that" phase into the "huh, this might be something I should look into" phase. I hope simply to pass along just a small portion of the incredible amount of hospitality I've received from the site and the community in the last couple of months.

What exactly is Couchsurfing?
Technically, I believe it's referred to as a "hospitality exchange network". But in reality it's a social networking site, much like Facebook or Myspace, but that focuses on enabling fellow travelers to connect, meet, and even host each other. And yes, it's free.

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More about...Frugality, Travel

How to Find Great Deals on Vacation and Travel

My wife and I have begun to explore the idea of taking a trip later this year. We're in the preliminary stages of our research and budgeting. Though we aren't ready to book anything yet, it's fun to look at what's available, and to dream of where we might go.

Over the weekend, I polled my followers on Twitter to ask their advice for finding great travel deals. Here are some of the tips and websites they recommended. I'm sure I'll refer to this list often in the coming months.

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More about...Planning, Travel

The razor’s edge: Lessons in true wealth

Our friends have a profound effect on our personal finance habits. Some friends can lead us to spending and to debt. Others offer insight into the virtues of thrift. For me, my friend Sparky has been the latter. Through his example, I learned that frugality can help me achieve my goals.

"Develop a plan that is so amazing, so glowing, that you are willing to walk blurry-eyed to work every day to make the money necessary to reach the light." — Sparky's advice to GRS readers in 2006

After my friend Sparky graduated from college, he drifted. He couldn't hold a steady job, and he didn't stay in one place for long. He traveled to Mexico. He moved to New England. He lived in various cities in Oregon and Washington.

"I don't know how you can do it," he told me once when he saw our new house. "You have a home and a wife and the same job you had five years ago. I'd hate that." He lived as a First World nomad. Continue reading...

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The Nonconformists’ Guide to Personal Finance

My short life as a daytrader
In my second year of college, I decided to take out $10,000 in student loans and become a daytrader. I could earn far more than the low 4% rate the loans came with, and I planned to finance my education with the winnings.

Sounds like a great idea, right?

There I was, hanging out in the school library, taking up two or three monitors with stock tickers running across the screen and Excel spreadsheets tracking my trades. A copy of Barron's would be spread out beside me, and the Wall Street Journal wasn't far away.

So how did it go? Well, there were a couple of problems.

  1. Real-time trading was hard to do in 1997. Back then, the internet was up and running well, and Datek Online had just launched, but real-time trading was still restricted to people with a lot faster connections than my school library had.
  2. Apparently, the school library was not designed for my exclusive use. For some reason, the library staff grew weary of my hanging out in the library all day, taking up three computers. I tried to play it cool when they asked me about it — "Oh, is there a problem?"— but in the end I was put on library restriction: I could use only one computer at a time, and if others were waiting to do academic work, the stock trading would have to stop. Not wanting to pay for a better computer and connection at home, I finally gave it up.

Fast-forward ten years, and I haven't done any stock trading since then, but I've managed to choose unusual paths most of that time:

  • I lived in West Africa for four years, working as a volunteer for a charity without taking any salary.
  • I've worked as an entrepreneur for most of my adult life — ten years and counting without the dreaded “real job”.
  • After spending so much time overseas, I've found that I really enjoy traveling to places most North Americans never go to, so I recently set a goal of traveling to every country in the world before my 35th birthday in 2013

Each of these experiences has taught me a lot about personal finance, and in a few important ways, my belief in unconventional living has carried over to how I handle money. I've made a lot of mistakes along the way, but I've also done a few things right.

With that in mind, I've written a two-part summary to explain more about how I handle my finances. While I don't expect that anyone will adopt my own system in full, I do hope that this summary may help others who see the world similar to the way that I do. My thanks to J.D. for providing a forum for this summary here at Get Rich Slowly.

Back to basics
First of all, I'd like to think that most of what the GRS site advocates — and what GRS readers consistently practice — represents a great start to a nonconformist approach to personal finance. Sadly, the majority of North Americans are woefully under-informed about financial matters and do not set savings goals.

Simply by planning and taking deliberate action with your finances, you are already in a league of your own.

Further, as different as I may be, I am an advocate of most of the basic financial advice presented here on GRS and in other like-minded publications. Some financial advice is fairly generic, but there really are some good principles that are true for everyone.

For example, I believe in:

I think of these things as The Basics. Simply following The Basics will put most of us far above the curve.

Also, I am generally skeptical about retirement as it's commonly defined (more on that later), but I am even more skeptical about Social Security. If you're under 50 years old, I don't recommend you count on Social Security for anything. Consider those payments you make each month as a parent or grandparent tax.

Where I diverge from the conventional wisdom is over the issues of debt, focused spending, home ownership, traditional employment, retirement, and charitable giving.

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More about...Travel

Cheap vacation: Be a tourist in your own hometown

Last weekend, long-time GRS reader Vintek came to Portland. Kris and I joined him and his wife for a Saturday morning culinary tour. On our four-hour trek, we visited a bakery, a cooking store, and a brewery (where I drank beer for the first time — seriously). Along the way, I saw places and learned things about the city that were new to me. Afterward I realized how fun it would be to actually spend a weekend touring Portland as if I didn't know anything about it, as if I were visiting it for the first time.

With record gas prices and soaring airfares, a hometown vacation is a great option for frugal folks. Last fall, Mrs. Micah noted that hometown tourism can save money and sanity because:

  • You can save big on hotel rooms by not having any.
  • You can pack meals from home.
  • You save gas and other travel expenses.
  • You stay in your comfort zone.
  • You can use your knowledge of the area to pick cheap attractions.

But you don't have to pinch pennies if you don't want to. You'll still save money even if you stay in a nice hotel, dine in fancy restaurants, see a show, and take a couple of tours. Because you have no travel costs, and because you're familiar with the area, your vacation dollars go further in your own city. Continue reading...

More about...Frugality, Travel

Bargain Summer Vacation Destinations

My recent series of interviews with author Tim Ferriss has given me the travel bug. I find myself plotting grand vacations (or mini-retirements). But I don't have the money to spend on a trip to London or a cruise to Alaska. My sights are set a little lower.

Fortunately, several recent articles have addressed this subject. On Sunday, The New York Times published a list of 31 places to go this summer.

"The summer of 2008 is starting out like a cruel joke, with air travel increasingly a nightmare and with wildly escalating gas prices threatening to make the road trip all but obsolete," the authors write. "The summer vacation is still an inalienable right, however. And there is no reason to forgo it this year. It will just take a bit of creativity — and perhaps the willingness to stay a little closer to home this time around — to pull it off in 2008."

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How to take a sabbatical

photos of people and places on sabbatical

In his book, The 4-Hour Workweek, Tim Ferriss proposes that we shift our focus from end-of-life "macro" retirement to more frequent mini-retirements, which might be spaced throughout a working career. Consider it a type of sabbatical, but one that you can take multiple times throughout your working life -- and not reserved for academics or the super rich.

Ferriss took time to speak with me about his notion of mini-retirements. Last week, I published the first part of the interview, in which he discussed using mini-retirements to get more out of life. In today's excerpt, he provides some real-life examples of how to put this concept in action.

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More about...Books, Retirement, Travel

How to Track Travel Expenses and Stick to a Vacation Budget

Most families need to stick to a budget when they travel. But tracking daily expenses, especially in a foreign currency, can be tricky. Here are some easy tips to make it easy to keep track of how much you're spending.

Before you leave:

  • Create an email folder for your trip. Each time you make a booking, place the itinerary confirmation and receipt into the folder. You can use the folder to help you build your final itinerary before you leave, too.
  • Set a daily budget that includes lodging, food, transportation, and entertainment. During the trip you can track your spending against this goal.
  • Find out how much it costs to get money, and know which source is the cheapest. For example, what fees does your bank charge for using an international ATM and withdrawing foreign currency? What about your credit card? What is the exchange rate? If you expect to travel a lot, you might consider opening a Capitol One credit card with no international transaction fees.

On your trip:<

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More about...Budgeting, Travel