Travelling with £100/Month: A Conversation with Alice Slater
After cycling around Morocco for three months as a single woman with a budget of less than €100/month, Alice Slater cycled around Europe for another five months. Then, she flew across the Atlantic in order to cycle from Cancun to Chiapas. Within one week, she cycled and hitchhiked her way from Cancun to Maine without spending any money. About 363 days after her initial flight to the American continent, she returned home as a happily married woman who had travelled, seen little fragments of the world, fallen in love with its people, and learned more about herself.
There are so many different ways of living life. Why did you decide to become a traveller? What is it that makes you want to travel?
I think the reason why I started travelling was because I wasn’t content in the usual ‘prescription’ for life… study for 20 years, work for another 40, then retire to regret all those things you should have done before you got too old to. After working for 10 years, I realised staying in one place wasn’t an option for me anymore, I just felt compelled to ‘go’. Travel was the opposite of what I’d done for so long, it seemed like the right thing. Even though I didn’t feel like it had a purpose or reason at the time.
When you were a child did your parents or friends travel? Who has influenced you to become a traveller?
It wasn’t until I returned after my first 7-month long trip that I discovered that my mum and dad, before I was born, had left their jobs and bought a minivan and travelled the UK for 3 months! So perhaps it is in the blood
What are some of the travel accomplishments that you’re most proud of?
The biggest thing I have learnt through travel is about… myself. At school, I was very awkward and unhappy. I never thought I would be talking to complete strangers, asking people for help, let alone in a foreign language. Forcing yourself out of your comfort zone, where anything can happen and you can’t control it, opens many doors to the world and into your mind.
Within two weeks of starting my first solo trip, my bicycle broke down in the middle of nowhere in Morocco–the chain snapped. Uh! I was very upset. A truck came along after a while, I flagged him down, and he loaded me on-board and dropped me off at a mechanic! “That was easy,” I thought. Any problem usually has an easy solution. Asking for a ride when I needed it eventually led to me crossing an entire continent in that manner. Something that sounds like a bad experience actually gave me the confidence to ask for help again and again. People love to help, and you’ll return it to someone else someday!
I met my husband amongst 2000 people gathered in the jungle in Mexico. We worked together building a small kitchen out of palm leaves to feed people arriving. We were just being ourselves, not trying to prove anything or gain something from each other. And a year later, we got married! Now I have a soulmate to share in all of life’s adventures. Do what you love to do, and you’ll find others who love it too.
Let’s talk about basic travelling needs. What’s your monthly budget? How do you move around? How do you find places to stay? How do you feed yourself?
Most peoples’ largest expenses are food and accommodation. So restaurants and hotels, even hostels, are not an option for an extensive trip. Get a tent, tarp or hammock – it’ll cost you one night’s sleep in a hotel – and you can keep using it! I’ve slept in the woods, in fields, in people’s gardens, in empty buildings – I ask if I’m not sure. The worst anyone can say is ‘no’, so just try again. I cook all my own food on a fire or small stove and can comfortably survive on £50-£75 per month. Much less if I really tried.
I love my bicycle for travel; it’s low-cost maintenance if you can do it yourself. Hiking and hitchhiking are also good ways of moving without much money, although I still continue to do all these things even when I do have money! The experience of getting yourself to a destination, not just sitting on a bus/train/plane waiting to arrive is very rewarding.
How did it happen? Did you wake up one day and decided you would go around the world travelling on a budget?
I loved the small holidays I would take with my family and friends but I began wondering what was ‘between’ all the cities that we flew to… my boyfriend at the time had built me a bicycle and I thought: “Now here’s a way to see the in-betweens without spending hundreds on a plane ticket!” But it was a process. The idea manifested itself for 2 years before I eventually left. No one else shared the desire to go with me so I went alone, and I’m so glad I did.
What are the biggest challenges you have to face travelling the way you do? How do you deal with it?
You once said: “Life is like a game, and the days I don’t spend any money, I am winning.” Why do you feel like that? Could you afford to travel in a different way? Staying in hotels sometimes, eating in restaurants? Why don’t you do it?
Initially I was very focused on saving while I was working, thinking every 2 GBP saved was another day of travel… it helped me rationalise it in my mind. I’m not so strict these days, and the occasional paid room really is very welcome when you’re drenched, sick or exhausted… But you really appreciate it when you don’t do it all the time. A restaurant or cafe is a real treat once in a while. I could travel differently, buy more transport, etc. But it’s simply not as fun!
I love the freedom I feel when travelling slowly on foot or by bike, and the interaction with people in asking for a ride somewhere. I consider package holidays as ‘box-travel’. You move from your home (a box) to a taxi (a box) to a plane (a box) to your hotel (a box) to eat in the restaurant (a box) and then to buy stuff to bring back to decorate your box. That is the most expensive way to travel and the least fun for me. It isn’t even travel. You could be anywhere and you don’t feel the people.
It’s clear that travelling changes us as people. How has the way you’ve seen the world and its people changed throughout your travel experiences?
I have come to realise that the world isn’t as scary as it looks on TV. People are good. Those with less give more. And what people do professionally isn’t who they are. Now I don’t ask people: “So… what do you do?” when we first meet – what sort of stupid question is that, as if you could judge their whole being by their means (or lack) of income? People are quick to judge me when they realise I don’t have a career plan laid out for my whole life. What people do to enrich their lives and those of others is much more interesting.
I’m also much more understanding of other people these days. I grew up very differently than most people on the planet, but at the same time we’re also ‘one’. People are people. Love and community are stronger ties than job security or a retirement fund.
What short and long term life and travel projects are you currently working on?
With the money that I never spent on travelling or rent, I’ve bought land with my husband and we are building ourselves a home. It’ll be a lifetime project, and it’s comforting to know there’s always somewhere to camp! Of course we’ll be building our own structures and growing our own food – both a rewarding, sustainable and low-budget way of life that I got used to while travelling. Seeing the garbage of our ‘modern’ way of living scattered all over the streets of third world countries (plastic bags, disposable nappies, fast food containers) makes me realise the impact of our unsustainable ways, so we want ‘be’ the change, not just talk about it.
Of course we’ll still be moving – we love to travel – but we are both at a point where we’ve done our soul-searching, and we are comfortable in who we are. Now we’re going to do more focused travel – we’re heading to New Zealand to volunteer with some people building their eco-homes, then we can take what we learn and bring back some knowledge with us to get started in our own space. Then we can return to the world what we’ve gained.
Do you have any recommendations for others who dream of travelling the same way?
Travel slow, travel light, prepare but don’t plan, don’t worry, just go! I somehow ended up at a short series of seminars on various topics in Miami, and one of the speakers really stood out to me. He was just a normal guy who decided he was going to be a marathon runner. The thing I remember him saying was this: “If someone tells you ‘you can’t do that’, what they actually mean is ‘I can’t do that’.”
People who you expect support from, your parents and friends, will tell you that you’re crazy, stupid, you’ll get killed – as if they have any experience in these things. Their sources are from the media which is biased to bad news. They don’t know, it scares them, and they’re jealous that you even had the idea and courage to do something out of the ordinary. They think travel is a holiday, that you’re lazy and hate working (like they do), not that you just want to grow and find your place in the world. Just go, don’t worry about all the logistics, you can problem-solve along the way. And the one problem you might have will far outweigh the hundreds of amazing things you’ll experience in the meantime.
Photos by Alice Slater.