The 100-Mile Tourist

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You’ve probably heard of the 100-mile diet. I’m a globavore so I don’t follow it, but I admire what they’re hoping to accomplish: healthful eating, smaller environmental footprint, and increased awareness of your local community. These are all good things, and I encourage anyone to try a 100-mile diet for at least a month. You’d be surprised what foods are near you! (In BC, absolutely brilliant Salt Spring Island lamb, the world’s best spot prawns, and amazing white wine are all close. Be jealous.) This isn’t about that though. This is about why you should “travel local” as much as possible. In 830 words, here’s why I’m a 100-mile tourist.

I’ve been all over Europe, Asia, and North America, so I’m very lucky. I’ve shot a wedding in Santorini, kissed a girl in Paris, set foot on Mount Fuji, puked in a bar in Newcastle, fished in China, visited Ground Zero, read “Hamlet” in Bruges, played music in Grande Prairie, and contemplated seeing a sex show in Amsterdam. There’s probably more, but that’s all that comes to mind for the time being. I’ve travelled, and I’m grateful for that. Recently though, I spent a weekend in Kamloops – technically 162 miles away – and started weighing the pros and cons of travelling local vs. travelling global. What I found was, outside of bragging rights, I was actually having an equal amount of fun in my own backyard! The best part? AT NO POINT DID IT STRAIN MY FINANCES. For people looking to save money while seeing more of the world, start with the places close to you. It can be equally as adventurous, and it’s more likely you’ll be able to bring your friends with you as well. What you discover is even MORE valuable because you know it’s accessible at any time! And because it’s cheaper, you can go more often! It’s win-win!

Instead of one big vacation every few years, I now travel locally once every few weeks. Within 100 miles of me, I’ve formed great memories with friends. 89 miles northwest of Vancouver lies a retiree community called Courtenay, BC. I still remember visiting the Kingfisher Oceanside Resort, and walking down to the water with my friend “S” in the middle of the night. Looking out across the water with no light pollution around, the sky was filled with stars more vibrant than I’d ever seen. The ocean was pure black, the night was quiet, and we were alone. As I dipped my feet into the water, it felt like we were on the edge of the world. Even now, I look back on that as my fondest memory. You don’t need to go far to experience the best the world has to offer.

Or what about Pemberton, 75 miles north? Hiking around Nairn Falls, the best hotel I’ve ever stayed in, and the restaurant that served me life-changing pesto? Brilliant. It’s my happy place, and I can go there anytime. And then there’s Whidbey Island, 94 miles south. I went with “L” and caught a private Amanda Palmer concert there, shredding away on my ukulele despite knowing only two chords. Of course, I have even more stories within 100 miles of Vancouver, and that’s kind of the beauty of it: Every time I made the decision to travel local, my experiences didn’t diminish. My microtravel made it so I could travel more and form even more memories using up less time and money! It seems crazy to me that people fly halfway across the world without even knowing what’s just across the border. It’s equally nuts that people can blow $1,000+ on a single two-day trip when they can have five $200 microtrips! I’m not saying world travel is bad necessarily. I just believe if you’re looking for bang-for-buck, microtravel might be something you’d want to consider.

There’s less pressure to see all the sights and pack your itinerary full too. Most of my memories of Europe are marred by fatigue, and though I’ve technically visited some of the greatest cathedrals in the world, I was bleary-eyed for most of them. Microtravel means no jetlag, and less guilt for sleeping in. I’ve had vacations in the past that were more stressful than my day-to-day life because we were always rushing around. Remember how I said I’ve been to Mount Fuji? The truth is I was only there for 20 minutes before we all had to pile back onto the bus. My 100-mile tourism has always been more relaxed. For someone like me, microtravel met my needs in both leisure and frugality. Maybe it’s just right for you too.

In 10 days, I’ll be spending the weekend in Nanaimo in a private room for $10/night. 38 miles west, and it’s just a short ferry ride away.

What’s near you?

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Ben Beats Me to Mexico, or How to Travel for No Extra Money At All

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I was so fucking jealous.

With all that’s been going on, my trip to Mexico got sidelined. I suppose I still had the funds to go solo, but going without my friends wouldn’t have been the same. One got a new place and understandably couldn’t blow a few hundred on travel, and my roommate had to work. C’est la vie. These things happen.

Ben got to Mexico though. I’m scrolling through all the food pictures he’s been sending me. Tortas; empanadas; tacos; at least three things so cheesy, I can’t even identify them; enough salsa to drown a man; and various other antojitos… and I think at that point, he was only halfway through his trip. For a food nerd like me, it was painful. I asked him how he did it, and what it cost.

“Where are you staying?”

“With a friend who’s from here, at his parents’ place, with what will be like 11 other people, but right now it’s just 2 others.”

He sent a picture of himself standing next to a giant “CDMX”: Ciudad de Mexico.

I asked him how cheap things were.

“What would be a half hour walk, we’re taking an uber, for $0.50 each.”

He then sent a picture of a bottle of rum and its price tag for 120 pesos. Holy shit, it was $6 USD. The same bottle in Canada would be $30 or more.

“Estimated cost in USD of the entire trip?” I asked.

“Probably $800 max.”

For 12 days in Mexico, this was starting to make sense. Ben was taking advantage of geographic arbitrage. Using his hard-earned US money in Mexico meant his dollars could go further.

“We’ve been generally having two meals a day though, and so it’s around $14.”

That’s less than I spend in a day just at home. Could it be possible to actually SAVE money while travelling the world? Well, lots of people do it already.

*****

The math works out. If you take what I spent in January – $2,250.95 – and average it out for only 12 days of spending, you’re looking at $871.34. Ben’s spending roughly the same amount for 12 days in Mexico. I decided to do more digging. I found this article on living overseas. I found this infographic on places where the cost of living is significantly lower than in the US. Living in Taghazout, Morocco is only $881/month? WHAT?!? (The surfing and fishing are great, I hear.) Suddenly, I felt a wave of abundance again. Travel seemed ALWAYS financially possible, as long as I paid attention to a few numbers and avoided overpriced tourist destinations.

This was very exciting to me for a variety of reasons. Suddenly, the $725,479 I thought I needed to retire COULD be way less! Did you know a “couple can live comfortably on less than US$1,500 per month” in Belize? If you’re willing to move and have a sense of adventure, you really can save money and travel the world AT THE SAME TIME. If you own property too, you can REALLY make bank, renting a suite out for Vancouver prices while living in Turkey and meeting ALL your needs for $676/month.

This is DOABLE. This isn’t a fantasy for the super rich anymore. If you can find a job that allows you to work remotely, you can make North American cash and live somewhere where meals are $1. Have you always wanted to travel? Consider this post the kick in the ass you needed to do it.

Oh, look. I have over 35,000 Avion points again. Check out this post to help make your travel points go farther.

Your Free Shit Can Get You Even More Free Shit

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The breakup hit me hard.

It was August 31, and I was suddenly single again. To make matters worse, there was still so much to sort out. She’d have to change her address, and I had to cancel the flight we’d booked to Ottawa to meet her family. I was a fucking mess. I hadn’t eaten a proper meal in days, and I was trying not to lose it on the phone with RBC Rewards. I felt like I was either going to cry or puke. Puke, probably. I felt too numb to cry. The automated recordings ended and an actual person picked up the phone.

“Hi, you’ve reached RBC Rewards. This is __________. How can I help you?”

“Uh, hi. My girlfriend and I broke up, and I need to cancel our flight to Ottawa.”

“Well, I can certainly help you with that, sir. I’ll just have to ask you some security questions…”

I was trying REALLY hard not to puke. It was sad that I was only cancelling my ticket. My ex was still going to see her family on Christmas because I couldn’t take that from her. That’d make me a monster. Splitting up the tickets felt so fucking final though. I had to snap back to reality.

“… So, as a non-refundable ticket, we can’t credit you back with the Avion points you used, but we CAN give you a WestJet credit for $818.”

“Uh, sure. That sounds good.”

Wait, what? That seemed like a pretty wicked deal. I’d only used 35,000 Avion points to pay for that ticket, but I also knew how far WestJet dollars could go. I hung up and decided to do some research.

For non-RBC users, a typical RBC Avion card gives you 1 Avion point for every $1 you spend. There’s an annual fee of $120 for the regular one, and a discounted annual fee of $50 for the business one. I hold both, so I pay $170/year. Both cards had a welcome bonus. My personal Avion gave me 15,000 points and my business Avion gave me 20,000. My flight to Ottawa and back was already “free”. Now, it’s worth $818 WestJet dollars? I clicked over to their website. Within minutes, I found what I was looking for: a flight to Cancun and back for less than $500.

Our friend K is a world traveller. Just the other night, he was telling us about Mérida and nearby Progreso, where his family owns a beach house. Drunkenly, we agreed and marked off our calendars. It was decided. We go to Mexico and explore Yucatán in March. Suddenly, for the first time in two weeks, I felt okay again. Everything was going to be fine!

Yeah, I know there are still gonna be taxes on my flight. I figure I’ll probably end up using $700 of my WestJet credit. Still, to get to Mexico on Avion points alone would’ve actually been 45,000 points! I got it for 35,000 points AND I got an extra $100+ in WestJet credit. I’ll most likely use it to help K pay for his ticket. I think of it as investing in a kickass tour guide.

Don’t just look at the simplest option in front of you. In money, banking and reward points, there are often ways to play the system to get more of what you want. What happened with WestJet was a happy accident. Imagine what you could get away with if you did some proper research!

Obviously, get what you can, but draw the line the moment your requests start to affect actual people. Don’t hassle customer service reps or be an asshole. They’re not paid enough to deal with our bullshit. Just find tiny loopholes, and keep more cash in your pocket. You could save thousands.

I guess I’m going to Mexico!