In today’s installment of “4 Cheapo Questions for…” we interview Tim Leffel, an award-winning travel writer, editor of the narrative webzine Perceptive Travel, and all around knower of budget travel tips.
When we last chatted with Tim back in June at the Travel Blog Exchange conference in Keystone, CO, he was hard at work wrapping up the latest edition of his book, The World’s Cheapest Destinations. We had plenty of questions for him then – as we do now – and love his perceptive, er, perspective on travel. We think you will, too.
Question 1: We’ve been fans of yours for years and appreciate you participating in our Q&A series. Can you first let our readers know a little about you and what led you into such an expansive travel writing career?
Like a lot of your readers, I took off on a round-the-world “trip of a lifetime” and had trouble stopping. My first trip was 20 years ago though, with my now-wife, and we circled the globe two more times, teaching English along the way and in my case, getting some toes in the door with editors as a travel writer.
I kept at it as a part-time writer for many years before finally quitting my day job and becoming a full-time travel writer and publisher last decade. I added a site here, a blog there until one day I woke up and realized I was a real business owner.
Question 2: Congrats on the success of “The World’s Cheapest Destinations.” It must be fascinating to see how budget travel has evolved since its first edition. What have been the biggest changes since the book’s initial publication?
The first edition came out 10 years ago and I’m quite embarrassed now when I look at it. The book is a lot better and meatier now.
The main changes in the world of travel though all stem from one trend: far more travelers. Every place is more crowded with tourists than it used to be, except for a few holdouts like North Korea, and while you can still quite easily get off the beaten path if you want, the flood of images on the web means there are fewer unknowns out there. Everything is easier and more organized.
There’s also 100 times more information about 100 times more places than a decade ago, which overall is probably a good thing. The world is wealthier overall, which is also a good thing, even if it does mean prices have inched up in some of our favorite places.
On the negative side, it saddens me to see four travelers sitting silently around a table, all exchanging messages with friends back home and posting status updates. Sometimes that goes on for a half hour, nobody talking to the person right across from them. There’s less experiencing, more sharing. Less reflection, more blabbering. Get the photo, upload, move on.
People seem unable to let go and just be in the moment, in the place, without immediately connecting to the home they supposedly left behind.
Question 3: Let’s talk Europe. You cover a lot of ground in this book and we’re interested in the trends you see shaping up across the continent. What destinations do you think should be on a Cheapo’s radar these days? Why?
My big destination change this time was removing Turkey and adding Slovakia. Turkey’s still great and I’m heading there later this year, but it’s definitely gotten more expensive as the economy has taken off and more cruise ships dock there—especially Istanbul. A decent value still, but not a great one for backpackers.
In Slovakia you can still feel way ahead of the curve. It’s beautiful Olde Europe with castles and historic architecture, plus surprisingly good wine in addition to the good beer, but it gets a tiny fraction of the visitors of the Czech Republic or Hungary. The main drawback is, because there aren’t many backpackers, there aren’t a lot of hostels and cheap day trip tours.
Although I’ve had Bulgaria in the book from the start, I was relying on third-party info and interviews. I finally made it there this past year and was blown away. It’s as cheap as some places in Asia and Latin America, with incredible scenery and excellent food. I’m itching to go back again and do some longer hiking trips, staying in mountain huts that are priced like hostels.
Cheapness depends a lot on exchange rates too, of course. Hungary felt less expensive this time I visited than it did four years ago, almost entirely because the dollar was stronger.
Question 4: What’s the next big trip for you and how are you doing it on the cheap?
I took my family to southeast Asia last summer, moving around as backpackers for three weeks, and it wasn’t hard to do it on the cheap there. Our budget was $150 a day and for that we really lived it up in Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam.
Nice hotels, three daily restaurant meals, frequent massages, etc. In the near future though I’m doing a lot of writing trips for articles, things where it’s not all on my dime. I’m doing a biking trip in Portugal in May though and am curious to see how prices there are looking during the ongoing crisis.
In the summer I’m moving back to Guanajuato, Mexico with my family though for two years and will be doing most of my travel the second half of the year there and in other spots in Latin America. I find Mexico quite affordable if you are in the interior rather than at the vacation resort areas.
I’ll probably get to Ecuador, which is another place you don’t have to try very hard to travel on the cheap. And oddly enough, they even use the U.S. dollar.
Sounds fantastic. Thanks for stopping by, Tim, and good luck with all your upcoming travels!