You have a knack for travelling for free. Can you tell me about some of the places you’ve been?
The first place was the Costa del Sol in Spain. I was living in England and the woman whose house I was staying in was a flight attendant for a chartered airline. So I got to know her workmates and one of them was a pilot. We used to go out on Saturday nights and became pretty friendly. He said he wanted to go to Spain and asked if I could take a week off and he’d give me a free flight.
Later that year, four of us went to the Canary Islands and that was the same deal – the woman I lived with worked for the company and got a super cheap deal. It’s a pretty grim place, just this massive rock poking out of the Atlantic Ocean and they blast big sections of the rock away and build a hotel. So there’s not much there. There’s beach and cheap booze and sunshine and that’s pretty much it.
But you’ve had some better trips since then for free…
The next one was to Peru with Intrepid Travel. It was a package tour, which I won from a competition on SBS online. They had a trivia competition and you get your results and then they said for a chance to win a $10,000 Intrepid Travel voucher, ask the news team a multiple-choice question.
What was yours?
Mine was: “The Bosnian city of Mostar has a statue of someone to promote peace and reconciliation between the warring factions. Who is the statue of?” And I think the choices were Bill Clinton, Kofi Annan, Maradona or Bruce Lee…
It’s not Bruce Lee…
Yeah, it’s Bruce Lee. There’s a big bronze statue of him standing there with nunchucks under his arm.
That’s funny. Why him?
The reason they chose him was because if you had chosen anyone from the Western world that would be a Christian and the Muslims would be upset. If you chose someone from anywhere in Europe or the Western world someone’s going to get upset about it. Bruce Lee, being this Hong Kong Kung Fu expert and his movies were hugely popular in that part of the world, so they chose him as someone that everyone could agree on.
Did you see Machu Picchu in Peru?
Yes. We started in Cuzco and then we went to a place called Puerto Maldonado, which is in the Amazon part of Peru. Then we went to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley. So it was phenomenal –such a spectacular place…it’s just amazing.
The latest trip was to Kuwait through university. It was a student journalist delegation trip. It was more of a trip than an actual holiday but it wasn’t like we were working. Each day we’d go and visit a government department or institute and speak to some people about what they did and about Kuwait.
For example we went to a university and spoke to some students there and asked them about their feelings and perceptions of the Arab world in the western media. We did speak to a couple of Kuwaiti journalists as well.
I’m sure our readers would love to know your secrets for travelling for free. Any tips you can share?
Try to be good company, I think is the best way. Sometimes there are the odd former stock-brokers or whatever who chuck it in and go backpacking instead but still have a little pot of gold to spend on their tours. I did meet a guy who said he made friends with this fellow who turned out to be some financial whiz who’d thrown it all in and asked five or six people in their hostel who wanted to go on a boat tour from Croatia and paid for everyone to go on the trip.
And competitions are another good way. You’ve gotta be in it to win it. I entered this competition and thought there was no way I was going to win but if you don’t try then you definitely can’t.
It would be good to do some travel journalism as well but I think they’re pretty sought after gigs and hard to come by. People often start by just helping to update [guide] books and then build up from there. I do know of somebody who did just that - they let a book know that a particular bus didn’t leave from the airport in Budapest anymore…and he got an email back asking what the rest of his thoughts were on Budapest. He did all right out of that.
What’s been your favourite place to travel to and why?
I really loved Europe. I went for a holiday in Dubrovnik when I was living in Japan and it’s just phenomenal for someone who’s Australian to go and stay with friends who live in an apartment building that’s 300 years old. There’s just so much history and, it sounds kind of a sterile something to say, that a place has a lot of history, but if you sit there and think about the fact that this apartment is 300 years old, you think, wow, imagine all the people that have come in and out of here and if someone sat in this spot 250 years ago what were they thinking? If I’d have to pick one spot, I’d say Prague.
What are your best travel tips?
The best one I got was to take a digital photo of your passport and email it to yourself so that a copy of your passport is only as far away as the Internet and a printer. If you just take a photocopy with you and you lose all your stuff, it’s gone but with email it’s always there.
I’d also like to add that you don’t always have to go places that are fun to be interesting. I went to Bosnia in 2001, about five or six years after the war had finished. A lot of the buildings still had bullet holes in them or had been blown up. It was really confronting and not particularly fun, but it was very worthwhile and I had a good experience that made me realise that there don’t necessarily have to be beaches and booze…it can be something quite serious and well worth the trip.
Dan Bray is an Australian journalist currently working on his Masters degree in Media and Communication. You can read more about his travels in Kuwait in his article here in the Upstart online magazine.
Have you done any travel for free? Share your tips by commenting below.