A travel bug skuttled around the house as I grew up, buzzing through hallways lined with photographs of faraway places. My parents met while on a three day trek in New Zealand, so I guess it was inevitable that they would bring the bug home with them. I try to follow in their footsteps and travel frequently. I have had multiple misadventures, misspoke in some serious language mishaps, and have four fantastically frugal foreign feats to share.
Much Ado About the £5 Play
Mr. Mechanic and I had half a day in London before our overnight train to Edinburgh. We had checked off the big landmarks in a previous trip, so we didn’t make any plans this time. Hefting our backpacks, we decided to take to London on foot and figure it out as we went. We took a tube into the city and decided to stroll along the Thames. After an hour, we wished we could drop our bags off somewhere.
Walking past Shakespeare’s Globe Threatre, we noticed some signs advertising a play for £5. We ignored them at first, thinking it must be a member price or other trick to get you to look again. It was mid-London afterall, those would be impossibly cheap prices. After walking past, we started to have a change of heart. Even if tickets were not cheap, we were curious about the plays anyway. I love theatre and thought it might be worth it for our day out in London. I went in to enquire after the tickets and it turned out the £5 tickets were legitimate and available for the play in three hours. The only catch is that you would be a “groundling,” standing at the foot of the stage to watch the play. Tickets included access to the coat check where we could drop off our bags for the day and retrieve them after the play. Score!
We stood in the “yard” or the big pit right next to the stage and imagined that we were old-timey peasants in the Elizabethan era. However, we were quickly transported to Mexico during the 1914 revolution.
Much Ado About Nothing stunned us with the creativity of the set and the wild colors. The actors would sometimes walk directly through the crowd, and we were in the middle of the action. The fantastical play is definitely one of my favorite frugal finds.
Generosity in Scotchland
In Scotland, scotch reigns. There are tastings, tours, and bottles to buy on every corner. We try to do as many authentic things in each place as possible while attempting to not be too touristy about it. For example, we tasted haggis, buckfast, ironbrew, and scoffed down a scotch egg (which actually originated in the UK and we could only find in a Tesco…), but we didn’t bother buying Mr. FM a custom kilt from the marked up shops on the main street or a tartan scarf for me. Our tourism is mostly food related, and I’m okay with that. One thing I really wanted to try was a scotch tasting but we were on the Royal Mile, the main street where prices were doomed to be outrageous.
The time was winding down on our Edinburgh trip, the train would be leaving at midnight. It was already 8pm and we hadn’t had any scotch! I will admit it, we are not party people. We do not go out past 9pm. You will find us reading, drinking tea, sitting in front of the hostel fire and falling asleep while our hostel-mates prep for wild nights. Tonight was different. We had time to kill before our train. Might as well go out on the town in the meantime right?
We made it to a merry bar, people jostling jovially, gesturing over drinks with a band playing a lively tune. I started chatting with a guy at the bar while waiting for the busy barmaid to notice me. He revealed that he worked at the bar and had just finished his shift, but he sometimes stays after just to hang out. I joked that the last people he would want to hang with were a couple of lame tourists with questions about scotch he’d heard a million times already that day. In response he leaned over, got the barmaid’s attention, and before we knew it, he was pouring us three different glasses of scotch. He told us it was on him. This from a guy on his break! He walked us through each sip, watching for our reactions. Happy, warm, and amazed by the generosity, time evaporated as we chatted. We made sure to pay for the rest of his drinks before he left for the night. When he did leave, we checked our watches and realized that we would have to run to catch the midnight train. Worth it!
Travel writer Rick Steve’s dubbed Bruges the “chocoholic’s mecca” of the world. So we made a pilgrimage. The deep, rich smell of chocolate wafted across every street. Prices range depending on how fancy you go, but most of the shops had a deal of $3 per 100 grams of chocolate. However, for a country’s famous delicacies we head straight to the grocery store.
In almost every country you can find amazing local foods for a fraction of the cost. In Greece we got greek yoghurt (well, it was just yoghurt but we were in Greece so it counts!), swiss cheese in Switzerland—you get the picture. For $10, I stuffed my backpack with thick bars of Belgium chocolate. I am still savouring them now, nearly six months after the trip.
Mailing Ourselves to a Grecian Beach
Like fools, we did not book our ferry to Santorini in advance. We now had an extra day in the questionable city of Heraklion, unsure of where to go. The woman at the hostel desk circled a couple of beaches on a map and explained that you just had to show the bus driver the map and he would drop us off. On the way back, she said, just stand by the side of the road and hail the bus home.
When we stepped off the bus we shielded our eyes from the sun to try to see the beach. Miles away tiny pinprick people shuffled around. A long road weaved ahead of us down to the coast. We started the trek, sweating already in the hot sun. We started to wonder if the beach was real, or maybe just a mirage shimmering in the distance. I still remember the sweat lines where my backpack straps slung over my shoulders.
In near desperation, we stuck out our thumbs. To our immense relief, a van pulled over in front of us a few minutes later. A man stepped out and let us climb into in the back, slamming the door behind us. We looked at each other a bit wide-eyed, second guessing our decision to climb into a stranger’s big white van. We were in the back of a
smuggler’s mailman’s truck! With all of his packages!
We trundled along, unable to see where we were going. Eventually we slowed to a stop, and the doors opened. The man ushered us out with urgency, explaining in broken English that taxis get mad if locals give free rides to tourists.
While I would be careful where you hitchhike, it was a great way for us to get around in Greece while meeting some really interesting people. Besides the mailman, a French couple picked us up when we headed back. No busses would stop for us on the side of the road, and it was starting to get dark. So maybe not the safest, but definitely one of the most memorable travel frugal finds.
Part of gaining financial independence for me is the opportunity to travel. Mr. Mechanic is tied to the US for his job for the next few years, but after that I hope to live abroad or try global arbitrage, where we head off to live in Thailand, Vietnam, or a tiny island off the coast that no one has ever heard of before. Travelling does not have to be expensive. Most of my favorite memories are of these crazy frugal feats in foreign lands.
Share your story in the comments! What was your fantastical frugal find abroad?