Last updated on November 30th, 2023
Getting #TravelReady for the Future
This is the third webinar in our #TravelReady series, which is intended to prepare women for the future of travel. In this session, we invited expert Nora Dunn from The Professional Hobo to talk about how to travel in a financially sustainable way by finding cost-effective options for accommodations, including housesitting/ petsitting and volunteer in trade. We also discuss ways to protect your identity while travelling, including VPNs and RFID-enabled products.
This transcript is provided as a service to our readers. If you have specific questions please don’t hesitate to reach out at [email protected].
Designing Your Future Travel Lifestyle
Carolyn: For those that I haven’t met, I’m Carolyn Ray. I’m the publisher of JourneyWoman and I am so thrilled you’re all here today. Today we’re talking about the future of travel and the kind of travel lifestyle that we can embrace in the future.
Then for those of you that might be new to JourneyWoman, we’re the original solo travel publication established in 1994 by Evelyn Hannon. Our ethos is to empower women and help you travel safety and well.
This year, we have been running #TravelReady sessions. We did one in January on Travel Essentials, including insurance, financial planning and legal affairs. Our second session was in February on Downsizing for Travel. Next month we’re doing one on solo travel safety. And we also have our 28th anniversary coming up in April. There are a lot of fun things coming up.
With regard to this session on Travel Lifestyles, I want to share a bit of my story. I started downsizing about three years ago and now live in a very small place. I’ve been getting ready for travel, as we all have been.
Financial Barriers are a challenge
Carolyn: Over the past few weeks, we’ve been doing pulse surveys to get your thoughts and your feedback on what the future of travel looks like for you. One of the things that we learned in the last survey was that financial barriers are a big challenge.
How do we afford to travel, take longer trips plus all the changes that are happening in the world. I reached out to Nora who runs a website called the Professional Hobo. She has actually travelled –before the pandemic – for 12 years full-time, and went to 60 countries. She is going to share her expertise with us today about all the things that she learned.
Nora has two books on her website: one of them is called How to Get Free Accommodation Around the World, and the other one is about trains and slow travel. She’s not only an expert and a former certified financial planner, but she’s also an expert on slow travel.
Like me, she sold everything she owned and started travelling in 2006. She has survived three natural disasters, which I want to hear about a little bit about today, and has had all kinds of interesting things happen to her from passport theft to breakups!
Nora: Yes, more than I care to admit to I think.
Carolyn: Nora has worked in Peru, Ecuador, South Africa, to name a few. We’re going to talk today about different accommodation options, how to travel on a budget, and some tips for solo travel safety.
How to Save Money on Accommodations
Carolyn: That sounds very cool. As I mentioned, one of our pulse surveys looked at different types of accommodation. And what we heard in terms of what type women prefer is that house sitting rose to the top with about 46%, along with homestays: AirBnBs, long-term travel, long-term rentals that kind of thing.
In our survey, we also asked about pet sitting and sea travel, and work exchanges, and staying with friends to look at all the different ways that we could travel.
Nora, accommodation is obviously a huge expense in travel. What would be your secret? When you travelled, you were able to save over $100,000 just figuring out the right kind of accommodation, finding the right place at the right time?
What would be your overall tips on how to choose the right place?
Nora: There are five main forms of free accommodation that you can take advantage of when you travel. The shortest term one would be couch surfing, which is really just a kind of a label name, a brand name for hospitality exchanges. So there are many different websites where you can connect with locals around the world, and stay with them for a few days.
There’s also work exchange which is volunteering in trade for free accommodation. I found that to be an incredibly rewarding experience, and a way to plug into a local community and do some really rewarding work.
That’s not to be confused with voluntourism in that not all the projects that you do when you’re volunteering in trade for free accommodation are humanitarian in nature. In fact, most of them are helping local business owners keep their places going. I actually volunteered at a retreat centre in New Zealand which I actually came and went from for about six months. It was a very special experience.
I’ve done everything in trade for free accommodation. From painting murals, to designing marketing plans, to cooking, and cleaning, and everything in between. House sitting is probably my favourite form of free accommodation because it allows you to enjoy the comforts of home. It’s just somebody else’s home. And in exchange for the free place to stay you are taking care of the person’s home, their plants, their mail, their pets more often than not. And it’s a great way to live a slice of local life. Sometimes they do require you to be on site all the time, or nearly all the time as a security presence of what have you. Whatever it is, and that can impede on the travel experience depending on what you’re looking for.
I also lived on boats for three months in the Caribbean. I lived on five boats spanning three different countries in the Caribbean. And that was an incredible way to actually conquer my fear of the ocean, believe it or not. I suggest if you want to do something like that you do have some sailing experience. Because the environment has changed a little bit since I was doing that, but it was an incredible experience and a very tight knit community. Because everyone knows everybody else when it comes to the nautical community.
And the last form of free accommodation which actually I haven’t had a chance to sample because I had no home at the time is home exchanges. And this is another brilliant way to be able to enjoy the comforts of home, just somebody else’s home from abroad.
And in exchange –there is someone who is taking care of your place when you’re away. And so it definitely works very well. It does not need to be a simultaneous exchange. Most home exchange websites realise that it would be very difficult to arrange a simultaneous exchange. So you’re able to you know, if you offer up your place you earn points and then you can use those points to stay in other people’s homes.
So those are the five forms of free accommodation. And indeed I did save over $100,000 getting free accommodation around the world in my first 10 years abroad.
Carolyn: That is amazing. That is amazing. We’ve been having this discussion on our Facebook group about both volunteering, and websites that we trust. And I wanted to share a few of those today. One is homeexchange.com, Trusted House sitters, there’s Housesit Mexico. And then there’s some new women-only kinds of services, like Go Lightly, and FemmeBnB.
But there seems to be a plethora of all kinds of new alternatives coming onto the market that I think will benefit us as women and give us more choice. And really let us expand our horizons in terms of you know, not just going to a small boutique hotel, or something like that.
I can see in our poll that’s going on right now that the preference looks like homestay, followed by boutique hotel. This is very consistent with the surveys that we’ve done so far. So thank you all for filling that in.
There are also some other interesting ways to travel.
One of the ones that we’ve talked about a lot is Semester at Sea, which many, many in the JourneyWoman community have tried out and recommend.
Another option is Servas– we discussed it in our book club when we read the memoir Travels with My Hat.
Slow Travel: Tips to Embrace Slow travel
Carolyn: This is all leading into a related discussion, which is about Slow Travel. We’re going to be focusing on this in our first April issue and interviewing Pauline Kenny who is considered the founder of slow travel. Now that I’ve downsized, now that I’ve gotten rid of everything and live in a small space, I’d like to leave for like a year and just stay in a place for long periods of time and see what that feels like.
What would be your recommendations on how to embrace slow travel from a budget perspective? Are there any tips on how to keep costs down when you travel? When you think about the different options that we can look at?
Nora: The very act of slow travel is a money-saving initiative, in that the few times that you are changing your location, and getting on planes, trains, buses, taxis and whatnot, the less money you’re spending. Also generally speaking, the longer you stay in a place, the more discounted that accommodation will be.
As well, if you’re staying in a place that has for example a kitchen you have the ability if you’re staying there for a while to buy some groceries, and cook some meals in. So all of those, that’s the trifecta of money saving in terms of the slow travel experience. Personally I find slow travel infinitely more rewarding because it is a way to just go a little bit deeper into the culture. And to meet some people, make some inroads and not feel that you always need to move onto the next destination. I also think it’s important to note that post-pandemic I think that people are going to choose to travel slower and slower. We don’t honestly – nobody really knows what travel is going to look like in two, three, five years, but certainly in the near future, anybody who is travelling in the next two years is probably going to be facing things like possible quarantine periods. Where they need to stay somewhere for a while.
So inherently, it will mean that more people will be travelling slower and slower. And I think that that’s not only beneficial for the traveller, but it’s also beneficial for the destinations to be able to stay somewhere for a while and not just pass through from a cursory level.
Carolyn: How do you look after things at home when you’re so far away? What are some tips you might have on how do you file your taxes? How do you manage your banking?
Nora: There are many things that need to be addressed before you go away. So if you’re going to go away for more than a month, or even a few months, one of the main things that people speak to me about, or ask me about is what do I do with my mail? How do I get my mail when I’m away?
There are lots of services that are designed to help you with this. They’re called virtual mailing services. And basically you set this up as your address and the mail will come to them, and they will send you an email when you get mail. And you can tell them to – they’ll scan – you can tell them to open it and they’ll scan it and send it to you. Or you can tell them to scrap it, or forward it directly to you.
So that way you don’t miss any mail that comes in while you’re travelling.
Carolyn: Who gets mail though? I want to ask that, like the only mail I get anymore is bank statements. But really I mean it’s so much easier now because everything’s electronic right?
Nora: Absolutely, but wouldn’t you, you know feel amiss if you were gone for a year as you will be, and you missed you know something from the CRA telling you that you needed to I don’t know, file an extra return, or a driver’s license renewal. Or a letter from your credit card company telling you that you know, you’ve been compromised. In many cases, we have been able to take 80, 90% even of our things online. But we still haven’t been able to entirely get rid of the mailing address.
Carolyn: There’s a question in the chat about maintaining permanent residence for government benefits. I don’t know if that’s something you can answer or not?
Nora: Certainly from a Canadian perspective, I can answer that. In that because I was never a resident of any other country. I remained what’s called a factual resident of Canada. For tax purposes, I claimed my Canadian taxes – my worldwide income on my Canadian tax return every year. And that allowed me to maintain my residence in Canada. My permanent residence has always been in Canada.
The only thing that happened was because I was out of the province – out of the country for more than a certain period of time – I think it was six months – I did lose my provincial coverage. Which then is a whole other ball of wax when it comes to having the proper insurance when you don’t …
Carolyn: Perfect segue, that’s our next topic.
Nora: Hey, perfect, it’s like I knew.
Carolyn: So let’s talk about insurance. We did a session on this in January but I feel so much has changed since then. We talked about terminology and other details which are on our site: you need to know your trip, you need to know your policy. You need to know your health. You need to know how long you’re going to be away.
What else would you suggest in terms of insurance and choosing the right insurance? Especially for long-term travel.
Nora: Well when we get into the realm of long-term travel as I was just alluding to earlier, the challenge is if you lose – as Canadians if you lose your provincial coverage then you no longer qualify for traditional travel insurance. So your options then are a little more limited, but there are still options. And those options are international health insurance policies, also known as ex-pat insurance.
And this is like a health insurance policy that follows you wherever you go around the world. Now personally I didn’t need a full health plan like that covered doctor’s visits and prescriptions and whatnot. Because that would be very expensive. So I actually designed my plan so that it had a very high deductible. And what that did was it kept my monthly premiums much lower.
So my intention with that was to use it as I would use travel insurance. Which is to say if I had a medical emergency abroad.
And the beautiful thing that you do discover when you travel abroad is much of the time outside of North America medical costs actually can be things like doctors’ visits and prescriptions can actually be quite inexpensive. So I would just pay for those sort of expenses with cash and save my ex-pat insurance policy for travel emergencies.
Carolyn: Nora, do you have any recommendations on websites or places people can go to compare travel insurance or look at different options?
Nora: I’ve recently discovered a company called SafetyWing, which could well be a cost-effective option for many people here. (Editor’s note: SafetyWing coverage ends at age 69).
Carolyn: The other one I’ve heard about that has been recommended by some of the women in our advisory council is SquareMouth.com which is also US, and includes coverage from all the different companies. However, the challenge for many in our audience, is how do you find the right insurance for 65 and over? Insurance right now is so fluid to me. One day there is COVID coverage and the next day there’s not. And with all the changes that keep happening with airlines, and country borders, and everything else it’s a confusing area for sure. And I know that we need to keep on top of for sure.
Nora: It’s daunting to say the least. I know it’s a soul-destroying task, but read your policy cover to cover and make sure that you understand it.
Protecting Your Identity
Carolyn: Yes, absolutely. One of the other things that we want to talk about is about protecting your identity when you travel. We’ve all had those experiences where we’ve had problems with ATM cards, or visas, or you know, bank machines and everything else. And then you worry that something’s happened, something’s been compromised. These are the things that aren’t so pretty about travel.
Could you share a story with us about that side of things and making sure that you’re protecting your identity when you travel?
Nora: Well I’ll share a story and a tip. And the story was I had arrive in Switzerland for a three month housesitting gig when I received an email from my credit card company saying please call us as soon as possible. And I thought oh, this is interesting. So I called the credit card company and they said have you by any chance made $8,000 of purchases on EBay? Did you buy $8,000 worth of Halloween costumes? And I said no, that would not be me. And they said OK, we thought so. So we’ve frozen your credit card. It seems that it’s been compromised.
And then they launched into a process that they’re obviously very well versed in where they cancelled my card, and they immediately shipped out a new card to me in Switzerland. Which I received in two days. And that – so basically I was only two days out in terms of being without a credit card.
I do use my credit card as much as possible while I am travelling for just this reason. Sometimes you will find that you charge something abroad and the credit card is declined. And if you placed a call into your credit card company and say hey, I just tried to charge something abroad and it was declined. They may say oh, well it’s – we flagged it because we weren’t sure whether or not it was a logistical purchase.
And this can happen regardless of whether or not you notify your bank of your travels. It’s generally good practice to notify your bank and say I’m going to be in this country from this date to this date. But it doesn’t always circumvent the automatic flagging system.
I don’t mind it though because it’s keeping me safe. And it’s keeping my finances safe. And when a – when your identity is compromised, and for example $8,000 worth of Halloween costumes are purchased, you’re not held responsible for that.
Whereas if you’re using your debit card for everything and your debit card is compromised that money is going to come right out of your bank account. And there’s very little to any recourse. So for that reason I really do like using credit cards and making sure that’s the first card that comes out of my wallet.
I have two tips about identity protection. One of which is RFID-protected purses and wallets. I was in Ireland a couple of years ago and I whipped out a wallet with a card and I was tapping to pay a bill. And the fellow said jeez you know, do you have RFID protection in that wallet? He said because that’s a big problem now. If you can tap that then someone can walk by you with an RFID reader and they can steal your identity. And they can do this with your passport, your debit card, your credit card. Because they all have these chips in them now.
And an airport is a rife environment for someone to do that. They literally have to walk by you with this scanner in their pocket and they can get all of your information. So your purse, your wallet need to have RFID protection, and you need to keep your credit cards and passports in this all the time.
Carolyn: When you say RFID protection do you mean built into a passport holder, for example? Or a separate tag?
Nora: So most wallets, purses, passport wallets generally have this built in now. And it’s almost invisible. You wouldn’t know that it’s even there as RFID protection. But you would – you’d know it’s there because there will be some sort of label on the wallet, or purse saying that they are RFID-protected pockets.
Now if you have a purse that you really like to use, and it doesn’t have RFID protection you can buy little sleeves. And it’s just like for your passport for example. It’s like a paper sleeve. It looks like a piece of paper. But you slip your passport into it, and it is RFID protected.
Carolyn: I actually have one of these, which is a PacSafe. It’s a little city bag and it’s got all the locks, and everything on it to make it tricky for people to get into your backpack. I didn’t know it had RFID so there you go.
Nora: I adore PacSafe. I’ve been using their products for well over a decade. Now the entire bag itself is not RFID protected. It will only be certain pockets within the bag. And you will see in the bag there will be a little label indicating which of those pockets is RFID protected. So you’ll definitely know.
And the only things you really need to put in there are like I said anything that has a chip in it. Like credit cards and passports.
PacSafe Backpacks: Tried and tested by Carolyn and Amanda
Citysafe CX Anti-Theft Mini Backpack
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Protecting Your Identity: VPNs
Now my second tip is regarding identity protection online. Because if you’re travelling long-term you’re going to need to do things like get into your bank account and pay your bills. Check your emails, really just do the tasks of life online.
And the cold, hard reality of it is even if you were using a password-protected Wi-Fi connection. As in a cafe, or in a hotel. Those passwords are not recycled often enough in that anyone who has ever been in that cafe or stayed in that hotel has the ability to log into your computer while you’re using that connection and read everything on your computer.
And it can be – the ease. I actually watched a terrifying video of a little girl, seven-year-old girl sitting in an airport who managed to watch a video and hack into someone’s computer who was sitting next to her in the airport. So it is not rocket science, and it can be done. And it is done more frequently than we would ever suspect.
So there is a solution. And that solution is using a VPN. Which is short for a virtual private network. It’s very easy.
I’ve used about half a dozen different VPN. My favourite one is Nord, N, O, R, D. Nord VPN. It’s very inexpensive. It’s a couple of dollars a month. You can protect all of your devices.
And whenever you log into any kind of Wi-Fi connection anywhere other than the one in your own home that obviously is very protected then all you have to do is just click a button.
And then what it does is it masks your IP address. So no one can hack into your computer or your phone.
Carolyn: That’s great advice.
What is a VPN?
- A VPN establishes a secure connection between you and the internet.
- All your data traffic then goes through an encrypted virtual tunnel.
- This disguises your IP address when you use the internet, making its location invisible to everyone
Is it illegal to have a VPN?
- anything illegal without a VPN remains illegal when using one
- VPNs are illegal in Iran and China
Why should you use a VPN?
- A VPN gives you online privacy and establish a secure connection which gives you better privacy than a secured Wi-Fi hotspot
I’m wondering if folks have any questions they’d like to ask Nora? Because we kind of went quickly through the accommodations and I personally would like to go back to that and dig a little deeper into hearing some of your you know, when we talked about boats. And different, more unique places that you’ve stayed? What else comes to mind for you other than the – you mentioned the boat experience. But are there any other places to stay that were kind of unique and different?
Nora: Certainly I can say that the quality and also the quirkiness of many of the places that I’ve stayed in, that I’ve gotten free accommodation in have been really amazing. And it’s a misnomer to assume that if you’re getting free accommodation that you are roughing it. Because that is actually in some cases cannot be farther from the truth.
I did a three-month housesitting gig in Panama where I was staying in a multi-million dollar p[lace that was absolutely gorgeous. I would sit on their open veranda that overlooked the pool, and go toucan spotting every morning as I sipped my coffee.
When I was volunteering in Australia in trade for free accommodation it was at a 300-hectare animal sanctuary and a property that had cottages for guests to stay in. So my job was to help tend some of the land, you know it was like chopping firewood, and raking, and cleaning the cottages. And in exchange for that I stayed in a blue stone cottage in this beautiful valley. 300 hectares of property with llamas, and donkeys, and horses. And I had a kangaroo actually that followed me around.
Literally, this kangaroo fell in love with me and followed me around for six months straight. So you know, those are just two random experiences that I’ve had in getting free accommodation around the world. So the opportunities vary greatly.
But certainly, you needn’t sacrifice style if that’s important to you.
Carolyn: There’s a question here from Kate about how do you find these places, Nora, what’s your secret?
Nora: There are a variety of websites depending on what you’re looking for. There are literally dozens of websites. If you want to housesit, it depends on where you want to housesit and what kind of gigs you want. But there are 15 different websites that you could use.
And if you want to volunteer again there are at least 7 websites that you can use and it depends on the kinds of gigs that you want. So you know same thing for boats, same thing for hospitality exchanges. And the largest number of websites are for home exchanges. I mean there’s dozen of home exchange websites, so.
So I would say that it was probably one of my favourite ways of getting free accommodation. Because there was – it was such a grab bag of possibilities. And there were you know, there’s anything from you know working on organic farms, to you know working on people’s properties, and in wineries, and in resorts, and retreat centres. And I mean I’m not even doing justice by limiting it to that selection.
There are so many different ways you can volunteer in trade for free accommodation. And there are again many different websites that you can use to find said opportunities. But the one that I would probably use – it wasn’t around when I was doing my volunteering. But this is my go-to now is called World Packers. And this provides a wide range of volunteer opportunities where you can volunteer in trade for free accommodation.
But one of the many things I like about it is it also has a way to filter for eco-opportunities, and social impact opportunities.
So these are opportunities for volunteering that have a humanitarian bend to it, but it still affords you free accommodation and sometimes meals as well. You definitely get plugged into a community.
Now the cons are – or cautionary tales would be it’s very important to do your due diligence before you accept an opportunity. Because it can be – you know, you don’t know what you’re going to get into until you get there. So it’s important to have a call with the people and understand what the gig is going to be. Understand what’s expected of you. Because you know, I was in Hawaii on a permaculture property where I only had to work an hour a day.
And I was in New Zealand working on a resort – sorry at a retreat centre where I had to work 25 hours a week. So that’s a pretty wide variety of things.
I also had a reader who told me about a gig that she did where – I think it was in Australia, but don’t quote me on that. She arrived at this gig and realized, thinking that there were going to be a lot of volunteers and that this was a fairly large property. And she arrived there only to discover that actually it was a very small property owned by one man.
And she was unfortunately made quite uncomfortable. She didn’t have enough privacy. She was kind of forced into a situation where she had to live, and dine, and recreate with this man who ultimately was kind of difficult to get along with. And it was rural.
So the story ended fine. She was absolutely OK, but it’s one of those situations that could go sideways. And so it is very important to do your due diligence before you go. And make sure that you’re going into something you’re prepared for.
Carolyn: Our surveys show that we are going to see some shifts toward more intentional travel, and purposeful travel. Where we want to go out into the world and be helpful. And do our part especially in small communities. I do think this is going to be an ongoing discussion of where to find those opportunities. One of the other sites that was mentioned was WorkAway. Which I’ve heard now from a few people.
And there’s one called All Hands and Hearts which I actually looked into the last time I was in Puerto Rico. And looked at volunteering there on a farm. I ended up volunteering on a farm with World Central Kitchen which is slightly different than what you’re talking about. But you know, I would almost encourage everyone if you’re thinking about travel at all make sure you build that into your trip and make sure we do something to help these small communities you know, get back into help with their quality of life.
There’s a question here about when do we think we’ll be able to get back on planes? And I know that’s a tricky one and I’m not sure if it’s coming from the States or Canada. Unfortunately, Canada’s rollout is a little bit slower than what’s happening in the US right now. But the other thing to remember is a lot of the countries we want to go to may not be ready for us.
Especially because so many people want to go to smaller places that are off the beaten trail so to speak. We’re seeing all kinds of changes with airlines. You know, all the airline industry I think I saw something today about another airline that may not make it.
So there’s going to be some very serious shifts happening in travel that will influence how long it takes us to get places. How much it costs, and the kinds of places we can get to quickly. Which again I think is all an impetus for really embracing longer stays, and I think a more authentic way of travel. Which I’m excited about.
Thank you Nora so much this has been great.
Nora: No problem, thank you.
I want to share some of our upcoming events just so you have a list of what’s coming up.
We’ve been doing virtual events now almost a year, I can’t believe it. And I still remember the very first time I got on Zoom and didn’t know how to use the camera. So have come a long way since that time, but we do community calls every Friday at 10:00 AM Eastern if anyone would like to join.
We have a Travel Vision workshop this Sunday, facilitated by our editor Amanda Burgess, that’s about aligning travel with your values and thinking about what kind of traveller do I want to be in the future? and what kinds of things do I want to embrace that are important to me in putting a plan together, and looking at ways to overcome any barriers to building the life that you want.
So those are really fun and creative workshops. I know there’s some women on this call that have taken it. And I think quite enjoyed it. And then we have a book club next Wednesday which I’m very excited about which is in honour of International Women’s Day. We’re going to be talking about gender equality, and education. Our book takes place in Zimbabwe.
We have a Solo Travel Wisdom Show at the end of March. Amanda is going to be interviewing some of the women that were just featured in our editorial from our newsletter that came out yesterday. Talking all about hiking, and adventure and I think they’re just unbelievable, inspiring women.
So that’s what we’ve got lined up in the next couple weeks. And I want to thank all of you for coming tonight. All of our events are free, but we do ask for you to pay what you can to thank our speakers, who donate their time.
For this event, we’ll be making a donation to Ernestine’s Women’s Shelter here in Toronto. Which we’ve been doing now for a few weeks and helping women and children. We donate proceeds like this with all of our events. Just trying to give back to communities where we can, and help other women and children in this time.
I want to thank you all for coming. There is a feedback form on our site. I appreciate and value your feedback. And thank you again for coming.
Nora thank you so much for all your expert advice.