One Man Globetrots After Getting Laid Off
With the unemployment rate the highest it’s been in nearly two decades, the threat of getting axed by the man looms overhead. Many of us would prepare to make a beeline for the unemployment office, schedule medical appointments before our health insurance coverage ends, and ration the last of the cans of baked beans. Certainly the last thing on our minds would be to take a vacation. However, 32-year-old Joel Shaughnessy, known by acquaintances and friends alike to be frugal to the max, was able tap into his severance package and savings to be a regular globetrotter (he is not on unemployment of any sort). Taking a whirlwind of a trip around the world than spanned several continents in four months, Joel is back in the States for a short while more before concluding the last leg of his travels. In this exclusive Cheapsters interview, Joel explains exactly how he went about seeing the world on a shoestring budget.
Jackie: Why did you decide to take a trip around the world?
Joel: Back in college, I kept my head down and didn’t do any study abroad or anything like that. I studied engineering and I didn’t see a lot of opportunities to go to other countries. Of course, I didn’t look very hard, either. I didn’t do much traveling at all, really, though I always expected I would eventually. A few years ago I went to Japan to visit a good friend who was teaching English there. I saw so much cool stuff and met so many interesting people from all over; I felt very unworldly as a result.
So, it was partly a desire to overcome a feeling of inferiority for not having seen much of the world and partly a desire to have fun like I did when I went to Japan.
The reason it became an around-the-world trip, though, had more to do with my indecisiveness and cheapness. I wanted to go to so many places and couldn’t decide on any one area to settle on. It just so happens that airline networks have around-the-world deals that cost about as much as a couple of trips to Australia. Airline networks include the Star Alliance and One World Alliance which are made up of groups of airlines. I went with the One World Alliance which includes American Airlines, British Airways, Qantas, Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines. So, it became my mission to take advantage of their around-the-world plan and get the most of my traveling money.
Q: Why did you decide to get voluntarily laid off?
A: That was an easy choice. The company I was working for had been floundering, and I was hoping to get laid off for a while up until then. The first round of layoffs happened a year before, but my department didn’t get cut. I knew I wanted to travel and had been saving up for it for a couple of years, but I really wanted a severance package to support me while I did it. So, I ended up working a year longer than planned just because I wanted that sweet bit of free money.
I actually liked my job, and waiting did end up paying off. By waiting for the severance package, I got paid for five months. I don’t feel super comfortable gloating about waiting an extra year to start traveling. Most people advise you to follow your dreams and go for the gold and all that. I agree in theory, but am super pragmatic and bad at making decisions so I usually just wait for the most perfect time to act. Luckily, that opportunity came to me.
Q: How do you feel being unemployed?
A: I am a big fan of not working. After college I worked for a year at the Patent Office and really wasn’t a fan of it. I saved up about $10,000 and quit on my one-year anniversary. I spent the next nine months playing drums in the basement of my house and teaching myself to make little web-games in Flash.
I never felt useless or depressed or bored, which is something people feel when they’re unemployed for a while. I relished it. The only reason I went back to work was because I was out of money and wanted to give my engineering degree another chance.
Q: How did you plan your trip?
A: My trip was mostly planned based on where I had friends. Of course I want to visit people I know, but the more practical and cheap side of that is that I got a free tour guide, a free place to sleep, and tips of what to see and what not to see.
Now, being an international mooch can be sympathetic only if you pitch in when you can. I try to always do the dishes at places I am staying, and it helps to throw in something for the house if you can, be it a six-pack, bottle of wine, flowers, or a cool souvenir from the last place you visited. Above all else, be considerate, helpful, and try to leave the place in better shape than it was when you arrived.
Q: Where did you go?
A: I went a whole lot of places and still have more to do. The basic gist is Europe, East Africa, and a bit of Asia. [Full list at bottom!]
Q: How long was your trip?
A: I was out for four months, an now I am back in New York for four months before I head back out again for another two months.
Q: What kinds of things did you do to save money?
A: The first thing I did was to move out of my apartment. Cutting rent and bills went a long way toward making my trip possible. I was very lucky to have some super generous friends with basement space who could store most of my stuff for me. That was also quite helpful.
While on the road, I stayed with friends, which definitely saves on room and board, but can also get expensive when you start going out for drinks with friends. If you’re really looking to keep it cheap, many hostels are less than $20 a night and have kitchens inside where you can whip up a meal after a quick trip to the grocery store. Hostels are also a pretty good place to meet people who would want to eat, drink, chat, and sightsee with you.
You can find great hostels through sites like www.hostelworld.com and www.hostels.com.The reviews can be a bit schizophrenic like any online review site, but after awhile you see patterns. Other hostel perks to look for are free breakfast, lockers, Internet and Wi-Fi, since paying for those services can often make the cheapest hostel one of the more expensive ones.
Since I was traveling alone and spent a short time in many places, I tended to eat out rather than buying groceries. I didn’t feel that eating mac’n’cheesearound the world would give me quite the world experience I was looking for, since food is such a big part of most cultures. I did try to make it to the grocery store when I was in town though, if only to see what sorts of funny names the products had. In Switzerland I ended up buying bread and cheese at the grocery store and eating it in the park, because eating out was so expensive there. A pizza slice from a mall kiosk ran about $8 and a curry entree, not including drinks, at an Indian restaurant in Switzerland would run about $40.
Q: What are a few of your favorite memories?
A: One of my favorite things I did was ride scooters around the mountains of Taipei, Taiwan. A friend of a friend that I was staying with had two scooters and we rode up through the hills to an Aboriginal town for some traditional veggie dinner. It was exhilarating and beautiful. I’d love to go back and do the whole island that way, though hopefully not during typhoon season. I think next time I travel I’ll pay a bit more attention to the expected weather conditions where I am going.
I also enjoyed being an extra on the set of a Bollywood film. There were plenty of us Westerners staying at the Salvation Army there and we were taken over to the set on two big buses. I doubt I’ll get any time onscreen, but it was a fun experience. That said, it’s not a good way to make money since we got about $10 and a meal for doing 11 hours of standing around and getting dressed up with whatever we could find in their limited costume supply.
It’s very easy to meet people in hostels, because nearly everyone there is a backpacker looking to have fun and meet new people. It’s much harder to meet local people who aren’t trying to sell you something, but when you do it’s one of the best ways to get a feel for a country. I had a bit of luck the few times I used was www.couchsurfing.com where I met some really friendly, helpful people. That site is full of interesting folks.
Q: What was it like traveling around the world?
A: It’s amazingly fun and exciting and scary and lonely and humbling and eye-opening. Once you get out and do it I was surprised to find how many people I met from all sorts of backgrounds who were travelling similarly.
Q: Did you learn anything from your travels?
A: Ethiopia is really green and wet; that was unexpected.
Q: What was the trip’s total cost?
A: Well, I’m only half done. The big expense was the ‘Round the World’ airplane ticket, which cost $5,500 after taxes and includes my airfare between five continents and flights within them. It could cover up to 20 flights total, with one entrance and exit flight from each continent and 3-4 flights within each. I spent an additional $1,000 on a month-long rail pass within Europe and about $1,000 more on 8-9 flights within East Africa.
Food, room and board were probably another $2,000 and then of course miscellaneous adds plenty.
Overall, I’ve spent about $14,000 without ever feeling like I was missing out on stuff. I imagine that it’ll end up costing me around $20,000 which is certainly a lot of money but not bad for all of my living expenses living for half a year on vacation.
Q: Best part of traveling?
A: Meeting new friends.
Q: Worst part of traveling?
A: Missing old friends.
Q: Any advice for people who would like to take a trip around the world on the cheap?
A: Staying in hostels is something I was initially worried about, but turned out to be a really great way to travel. Get a dorm unless you’re traveling with a group and you can really save cash.
Many countries don’t have rules about drinking on the street, so rather than standing in a bar paying too much for drinks before your night out, you can take your pre-party outside and couple your boozin’ with sightseeing.
Exchange rates are different everywhere, but one thing I found was that electronics are mostly cheaper in the U.S.A.
Investing in a guidebook (i.e. Lonely Planet, Fodor’s) is a great way to save money if you’re anxious to see as much as you can in one place.
My least favorite part of traveling to a new place was landing at the airport late at night and having no idea what to expect, because invariably you get ambushed by a taxi driver looking to profit from your ignorance. A little Internet or guidebook research before you arrive can save you lots of hassle AND cash.
Public transit is your friend; just do a bit of research before you arrive somewhere. Safety is most important of course, but a ride on the bus from the airport can usually save you at least $20 over a taxi wherever you are. Also, look for buses between major cities as it is usually cheaper than trains and planes. This isn’t always true though, particularly with some of the incredibly cheap fares on discount airlines in Europe (i.e. Ryan Air and easyJet).
Expect to bargain in Africa and the Middle East. Many of these places also charge more for tourists than for locals. A bit of bargaining is good, but be considerate and be sure to recognize that it’s usually not worth getting into a heated argument over a 50-cent difference.
Use ATMs rather than credit cards, though this depends on the policies of your bank and your credit card company. My credit card company charged me a conversion fee any time I made a transaction in a foreign currency. My bank simply converted it at the going rate and I paid a small fee to the ATM operator.
In general, my advice for anyone traveling is to be frugal, but don’t miss out on what you really want to see, because it’s a lot more expensive to come back again!
Helsinki | Krakow | Berlin | Frankfurt | Dresden | Prague | Budapest | Munich | Amsterdam | Zurich | Geneva | Bern | Vienna | Rome | Pisa | Milan | Barcelona | Madrid | Cairo | Addis Ababa | Axum | Lalibela | Bahir Dar | Gonder | Nairobi | Mombosa | London | Dubai | Mumbai | Hong Kong | Taipei | Tokyo
Beijing | Sydney | Aukland | Santiago | Buenas Aires | Lima |Sao Paolo