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Thinking big and spending little, journeys of the thrifty backpackers

An interview with Dave & Jenna, the British couple behind www.thriftydrifters.com

Thinking big and spending little, journeys of the thrifty backpackers

Our new Intrepid Journeys series, covers inspirational travel writers that have taken the plunge to discover horizons new.  This week, we interview Dave & Jenna, the British couple behind www.thriftydrifters.com – a travel blog on how stay frugal with your budgets, whilst on the road.

So guys, where are you at the moment?

We're house sitting in a beautiful Chinese shophouse in George Town, on Penang Island in Malaysia.

And how long have you been travelling for?

We had our year travel anniversary last week – we left the UK in February 2013 and have been travelling semi-continuously ever since, sightseeing, volunteering and working on the road.

We're already 2 months into 2014 – how time flies!  What are your plans for the rest of the year?

We leave here in a couple of weeks to explore Myanmar, Northern Thailand and Laos until we meet friends in Vietnam mid-April. We have tickets for Glastonbury Festival in the UK at the end of June (ticking something off the bucket list) and will spend a couple of months there attending a friend's wedding and also trying to sneak in our own! After that, who knows – we'll see what happens.

We are also looking to develop our website throughout the year, turning it into a travel resource for aspiring thrifty drifters. We also have a few other plans in the pipeline that we hope will come off.

You've travelled to a lot of places in the past 12 months, what has been your most memorable place or moment so far?

Varanasi in India

Varanasi, India

It’s a cliche, but it’s difficult to pick a favourite. Varanasi in India was a highlight, observing the Ganges at dawn as Hindus perform puja and wash away a lifetime of sins was pretty memorable. We also met some fantastic people through our homestays and volunteering in Nepal; we feel privileged to have been welcomed into the homes of people we now consider friends and learnt so much about the differences in our cultures as a result of their attention.

Finally, Cambodia will always have a special personal significance for us as it’s where we got engaged just before Christmas.

Wow, congratulations on the engagement!  From our experience, travelling as a couple holds a special something when you're on the road for so long and can help to overcome the occasional low points.  How do you guys deal with those moments, such as getting the dreaded ‘Travel Burnout', any tips on dealing with it?

We’re lucky in that over the last year, we’ve not spent enough time apart to feel lonely! We have, however experienced travel burnout. 23 hour bus rides in Nepal, Thailand’s rickshaw drivers and papping in India will do that to you.

In terms of advice for others, the biggest thing to overcome in this situation is your feeling of guilt. You've saved hard and left the desk job in order to travel the world, experience a wealth of new things, live in completely different cultures and you’re fully aware that at the same time your friends are doing exactly what they were doing however many months ago. So it’s hard not to feel guilty when you find yourself dragging your feet as you walk into yet another Wat, giving only short answers to the local who shows a genuine interest in getting to know you or passing on the kayaking trip because you really can’t be bothered. At this point, you have to take a break.

What you do is up to you, it might be as simple as making a Skype call to a friend from home to renew your sense of perspective or treating yourself to a nice coffee. If it’s really bad, you might do something as drastic as cut out your next planned stop in order to spend a few more days chilling out where you are, or check yourself into a slightly more expensive guesthouse, you know, one of those where you’ll have your own bathroom and maybe even some bedding.

One thing that has really helped us to combat travel burnout is house sitting. We’ve spent time in proper homes in Thailand, Malaysia, Melbourne and Sydney. As well as giving us time to truly get to grips with a place, it also gives us time to cook our own food, wash all our clothes at once and sleep in the same bed for more than a couple of nights. Bliss!

What has been your strangest moment on the road, so far?

Cat Ba Island Thrifty Drifters

Cat Ba Island, Vietnam

We had an incident on Cat Ba island in Vietnam where we, along with the rest of the bus, were threatened by a man with a rather large, live snake.

The whole experience was rather surreal; none of the bus gave into his demands for money, and after stopping a few times in the dark in the middle of the island we stopped in town and were waved off the bus by the man holding the snake.

Yikes, I hope it wasn't poisonous! It sounds like a menacing situation to come up against.

Onto the topic of money, how did you finance your trip originally?  How's the finances working out for you now?

We both had good jobs in London for a few years before we left the UK. We shared a flat with two friends of ours so we saved a huge chunk of money on both rent and bills. We also behaved like we were saving, we took up opportunities to earn extra money, and didn't eat out without finding a deal on Groupon or our Taste Card. A year later, we still have some of those funds left, but are looking to supplement them through online work. We recently started our own travel website and Jenna works as a part-time examiner and author, which makes us a little bit of money while we’re on the road.

A TasteCard can certainly help with keeping a lid on the expenses of eating out in London, I don't know how we lived without it either!  So, moving onto the topic of packing lists.. Would you say there is something you regret taking with you?

Travellers cheques. We spent time organising travellers cheques before we left home, only to find that the majority of places don’t accept them anymore – we struggled to find anywhere in Vietnam or Cambodia that would change them!

What type of travel planners are you? Was it all booked & planned before you left, or did you have a rough outline and just tried winging the rest of it?

We had a rough idea of what we wanted to do before we left but unsurprisingly, that changed. Our flights for the first few months were booked since we had organised a volunteering placement in Nepal, but between July and December we winged it, taking up house sitting and volunteering opportunities where we could. On December 23rd, we caught a flight to Melbourne (Dave is a huge cricket fan) which had been booked before we left the UK. When we left home, we anticipated we’d need to get Working Holiday Visas in Australia, but fortunately due to house sitting and volunteering we’ve been able to make our money stretch further. We generally don’t bother booking accommodation ahead, we find we get better deals by not booking, and it gives us a chance to check out the room first. We’re definitely more wingers than planners!

Hindsight is a great thing.. What do you wish you had known before you left the UK? 

Volunteering in Nepal

Volunteering in Nepal

We both wish we’d explored more volunteering options before we left the UK.

We had a wonderful time in Nepal volunteering in the children’s home, and have since volunteered for an animal charity and at the CIMB Classic Golf Tournament in KL. However, we probably could have done a lot more volunteering, which would have enriched our experiences and saved us more money.

If you’re into sport, it’s worth looking for volunteering opportunities at some of the sporting events in the places you’re heading to – you can then spectate for free!

Travelling isn't just a journey of the mind, but also the stomach!  What is your favourite food discovery so far?

Penang has been a tantalising experience for our taste buds! George Town has a huge variety of food options and we've been fortunate enough to have not only the time to sample most of it but to also have the guidance of an American food writer who has shared her secrets with us. Lonely Planet has just named Penang as its top food destination for 2014 for good reason… We’re doing a special series on Discovering Penang next week, so for foodies, it’s worth checking out our website.

Thanks to Dave & Jenna for taking the time to share their discoveries and advice of backpacking on a budget.  If you are interested to read more about the Thrifty Drifters adventures, make sure to visit their blog.


About Thrifty Drifters:

The Thrifty Drifters

Dave & Jenna

We are two British travellers in our late twenties. We both escaped from our desks in London in February 2013 to explore the world and experience new cultures. The more we travel, the more we realise just how much there is to see.

We've recently started a travel resource for thrifty drifters where we share our own thrifty tips for travel, and encourage others to do the same, so that everyone can keep travelling for longer!

Check out Dave & Jenna's blog: www.thriftydrifters.com

Follow Thrifty Drifters on Twitter: www.twitter.com/thriftydrifters


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