Have you ever dreamed about throwing caution to the wind, hoisting anchor and travelling around the globe? This is exactly what Karen Daniels did in April 2018, when she was inspired by a friend and decided to take time off work to travel full-time for a while. Karen is an Australian mother of three adult children, a grandmother to one beautiful grandson and a newly-minted travel blogger who spent many years raising her children and making a living, before deciding to set off on a brand-new adventure.
We caught up with Karen after her latest Expat Explore tour (she’s completed five in the last 12 months!) to find out more about her journey and get a few tips for all the would-be bucket-listers out there.
Here are 6 top tips for travelling the world on a budget:
“When I first started travelling, in early April 2018, I was with a friend who had invited me to join in on part of her journey, so for the first two months, I had the benefit of a partner in crime. This was a great safety net,” says Karen. “My friend then needed to replenish her funds, so she stopped to do some work in another country (she has an EU passport). This was a pivotal moment – I could now decide how I wanted to proceed and what I wanted to see, all by myself!”
“I had no set itinerary and planned my moves one or two days in advance. Such freedom can be overwhelming, but I was lucky as it seemed to have the opposite effect on me; I thrived. This is how I learned that I am the type of traveller who goes with the flow; I’d never known that about myself before. I also realised that mixing it up and joining group tours as part of my travel plan takes some of the pressure off – you don’t have to research and plan everything. It also allows me to travel with a group and meet new people. Some of the people I met on Expat Explore tours have become new friends.”
“I first found Expat Explore when I went solo at the end of May 2018. I was headed to Prague to visit my niece and booked a tour of the UK. The Best of UK & Ireland tour was much more affordable than travelling solo, plus I didn’t have to plan everything myself, which can become quite time-consuming. It was my first group tour and I loved it. After that I found the perfect balance of solo and group travel – I would give myself two to four weeks between tours to decompress and plan my next move.”
Did you know? Depending on where you’re from, you might need to travel outside the Schengen area to ‘reset’ your visa days if you’re travelling extensively. Karen found it was cheaper to fly back to Australia, stay a few days, and head back to Europe than heading to one of the European countries that fall outside 26 states that make up the Schengen Area. Check your options with a travel agent before making any firm decisions in this regard.
Karen also found that it worked well for her to travel with Expat Explore because she had plenty of free time to head off on her own, and the opportunity to opt-in on optional excursions when she felt like it without any pressure to partake.
“I am normally the type of person who doesn’t like to disappoint others; I tend to give until I have nothing left. One of the things I learned on my odyssey so far is to say ‘no thank you, I will give that a miss, I need to have some me-time’. This may seem like a small thing, but it was huge for me. It was great travelling with a flexible group itinerary and not feeling pressured to join the group when I needed time by myself,” explains Karen.
Insider tip: Karen opted to stay in a private room so she could have some ‘me time’ when she needed it but many group tours, such as Expat Explore European coach tours, offer travellers the option of sharing twin accommodation to cut down on costs. If you don’t mind sharing your space, this is an easy way to save on travel expenses.
“I love really experiencing a place – eating the food, drinking the drinks, learning about history, meeting the people, hearing their stories and making a connection. This is what makes travelling addictive for me. For example, I saw the Eiffel Tower – it was amazing, and I’m glad I saw it – but it was a conversation I had with a man I met on the five-hour train trip on my way to Paris that was truly inspiring. That interaction taught me so much more about the city and France than any reading or researching could ever have accomplished,” recounts Karen.
It can be easier said than done to refrain from having any expectations when you visit a new destination, but Karen found that keeping an open mind when travelling makes the entire experience a whole lot more rewarding.
“I like to be open to whatever comes my way, rather than having any preconceived ideas. This way everything that transpires is a unique experience and there is no disappointment if something isn’t what you’d expected. It’s also worth it to connect with all the various characters you encounter on tour – you never know what you might learn by engaging someone in genuine conversation. For instance, our local guide in Chisinau in Moldova told me that the supermarket and shopping centre we saw was a recent addition and that up to that point most of the residents had grown their own food and traded for what they needed. Had I not asked, I would have carried on thinking this kind of store had been there for years,” says Karen.
Invest in travel opportunities that will allow you to tick off your must-sees. All of us have a few places we’ve always dreamed of visiting – for Karen, this was Chernobyl.
“It’s hard to explain adequately in words the impact it had on me to be able to stand in the place where such a terrible accident had occurred, and hear the stories told by our guide. It stirred up all sorts of emotions and it took a while for me to reflect and process everything I had seen and experienced. Pripyat was a city that was groundbreaking in its design, and about to come into its own, but then stopped short. Now it is slowly crumbling and disappearing, with nature taking over,” says Karen.
“It’s surreal walking down the remnants of the main road that doesn’t resemble a street, looking into the trees to see crumbling remains of houses and building; stop signs in the middle of green space, hospital equipment and records lying where they were left. Everything is quiet and at the same time the space teams with wildlife – birds chirping, animals running through the underbrush.”
According to Karen, most of the countries she visited, even those in Eastern Europe that had recently encountered issues with violence or corruption, are safe to travel if you use common sense and adhere to the same safety rules you would follow back home (don’t wander around alone at night in an area you don’t know, etc.).
“The Eastern European countries I visited on tour were no longer the Soviet-controlled areas that I grew up seeing on the news. It was actually fascinating to see these countries coming into their own, growing into their unique identities whilst still retaining and celebrating their combined past,” says Karen. “Their history is amazing, and the people are incredible – resilient, welcoming, and excited about the future. It’s refreshing and sobering; I feel a lot of us tend to forget how lucky we are to have been born where we were and living where we do.”
There you have it – 6 top tips from Karen Daniels, travel blogger at Kaz-Life Adventures and all-around inspiring world traveller. We salute you for your dedication to the journey, Karen, and hope to welcome you back on one of our Expat Explore travel coaches soon!
Would you like to follow in Karen’s footsteps? Check out the Expat Explore tours she’s enjoyed so far: Balkan Explorer, Italian Delights, Ukraine, Moldova & Romania, Best of UK & Ireland, and Azerbaijan, Georgia & Armenia.