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France is not one of the cheaper countries to visit in Europe. If you’re on a budget, definitely avoid Paris and aim for one of the other gems. So far, my favorite is Bordeaux. If you end up backpacking in Bordeaux as I did, here are some tips to save you money. As always, the less you spend, the longer you can travel.

Find a Host on Couchsurfing

My favorite accommodations will always be Couchsurfing. There’s no better way to visit a city than staying with a local host who can help you with suggestions. It’s even better when you provide some ingredients so they can show you how to prepare a local dish. I’ve even had several hosts who went out of their way to tour me around their city, show me the landmarks, perhaps take me out to a party and generally integrate me into the culture better than any hotel or hostel could have.

In Bordeaux, I was honored to stay with Bertrand and Stéphanie. They both had very busy schedules, but still made the time to talk with me, watch a French movie, and cook some amazing meals. I arrived late on Sunday night after all the shops and restaurants were closed, and they had a delicious quiche ready for me. For the next night, I brought home the ingredients for fondue, and they provided the proper cooking dishes and utensils. At Lidl, the ingredients were less than $10 for all of us. I might not have made it to any restaurants in Bordeaux for a fancy meal, but I still felt I ate like royalty.

Only Go Window Shopping on Rue Sainte-Catherine

France is one of the best countries in the world when it comes to fashion and shopping. I think the French actually spend more time shopping than any other country in the world. In Bordeaux, the primary walking and shopping street is called Rue Sainte-Catherine. This street follows the original course of the Roman market street and is now one of the longest walking streets in Europe (or maybe the world). It travels north and south over three-quarters of a mile from the Grand Théâtre de Bordeaux to the Gate of Aquitane.

Rue Sainte-Catherine

There are hundreds of shops of every type lining the street, and hundreds more down the side streets. A slightly fancier area is the Saint-Catherine Promenade, located on the west side of the street not far from the Grand Theater. If you’re on a budget, this probably isn’t where you’ll end up unless you’re looking for McDonalds or Starbucks, but those are two places you’ll never hear me recommending, as I’ve been boycotting them for years.

One product you absolutely have to try on the street is called canelé. This is a French pastry unique to the Bordeaux region and has its own interesting history. When they make wine in Bordeaux, they use a ton of egg whites by putting it into the top of the vats and letting them settle to the bottom, collecting any bugs along the way. Afterwards, they have all the egg yokes left over. They use the egg yokes to make the canelé, along with flour, butter, salt, sugar, vanilla and a touch of dark Agricole rum. I thought they were delicious.

Purchase the Bordeaux CityPass

If you’re going to be in Bordeaux for a couple days or more and want to see many of the key attractions, or even just want to visit the Cite du Vin Wine Museum, you need to get the Bordeaux CityPass. A 48-hour CityPass is worth well over $100 between all the attractions, a tour of Bordeaux and transportation that it includes. Cite du Vin by itself is $22, and a 24-hour public transportation ticket is $5.50, so $43 for the 48-hour card isn’t bad.

Bordeaux CityPass

The best value is the 72-hour card, which includes a full-day tour to either Saint-Emilion or the Citadel of Blaye. This card is $47.50. The cost for three days of public transportation and Cite du Vin comes out to $38.50.

If you’re on an extreme budget, the CityPass might still be too much. However, Bordeaux is one of those rare cities with attractions that you just can’t miss. Cite du Vin was voted as one of the best museums in the world by National Geographic. So if you can swing enough money to get this card, I’d highly recommend it.

Eat at a Corner Deli

If you want to eat on a budget in Bordeaux, you’ll be hard-pressed to find any restaurants within your price range. Numbeo.com puts the average meal in an inexpensive restaurant at $13.20! While there are the usual cheap options like fast-food restaurants and kebabs, I’d suggest finding a corner deli to get a meal at, or all your meals for that matter. The one I found was called La Mie Câline. They provided everything from sandwiches and focaccia to several flavors of Croque monsieur.

At lunchtime, I scored a fantastic deal – a mere $5.50 for a sandwich, pastry and drink. The sandwich flavors are all in French, but the staff speak English and are really helpful in getting you the perfect lunch. There are three La Mie Câline locations in the center of Bordeaux, plus plenty of other corner deli options to choose from.

Take the Right Backpack to Bordeaux

If you’re planning to be backpacking in Bordeaux, chances are you’ll be taking one of the budget airlines to get there and will probably find a ridiculously cheap ticket. I found my tickets from Edinburgh last minute for only $13 each way! Unfortunately, the budget airlines make their money from baggage and other fees. I usually travel with my Osprey Farpoint 40 backpack, but that’s no longer free with companies like Wizz and Ryanair. In fact, the fee for the bigger backpack (usual carry-on size) is sometimes more than the ticket itself.

Carry-On Backpack

Instead, try to travel with something like the Osprey Daylite Plus 20L backpack. This one will fit under the seat in front of you on the plane, which is what is now considered a free carry-on with many of the budget airlines. It’s big enough for a laptop and several days worth of clothes, if you pack smart and roll everything up.

Traveling with a small backpack has another benefit – it prevents you from loading up on souvenirs and thus saves you more money. Then again, Bordeaux has some really lovely items that you’ll probably want to take back with you. I would have brought back a large pack of canelé, but unfortunately I found the Lindt outlet – Switzerland’s finest chocolatier – with every manufactured flavor available…and a mystery box containing 10 flavors for only $11. I obviously had to get my own, thus using up the tiny bit of extra room I had left in my backpack.

Lindt Outlet in Bordeaux

Of course, if you’re arriving by train or bus, such as Flixbus, using the Osprey Farpoint 40 backpack is a great idea. I learned that having a great backpack was of the utmost importance before I even started traveling, and it’s become even more true over the past five years.

How Much Does it Cost to Go Backpacking in Bordeaux

On an extreme budget, you could always get by in Bordeaux on just a couple dollars a day (like I used to do in my early days of travel). It would require Couchsurfing, eating cheap meals at a local supermarket like Carrefour, walking everywhere and not going to any of the paid attractions. Personally, I got tired of that kind of shoestring budget. If you utilize the five tips given above, you could spend three days in Bordeaux for $25-$30 a day. If you only spent one day, it would cost more like $40-$50, since the 24-hour CityPass itself is $32. It really just depends on what and where you eat, and if you want to see any paid attractions not covered with the CityPass (there aren’t many).

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Further Reading

If you have more time in Bordeaux and like wine (or perhaps even if you don’t), you definitely have to take a Bordeaux Wine Workshop!

If you’re going to get one, read my full review of the Bordeaux CityPass.

Here’s some extra reading to save hundreds on your next vacation or stage of your journey.

Budget travel in Cyprus is nearly impossible. It’s not that the country is particularly expensive – it’s more than the Balkans but cheaper than the Nordic countries. No, Cyprus just makes it really difficult to enjoy the country if you’re not rich and looking for a luxury vacation.

Updated October 2019

Transportation

Flights to Cyprus

Since Cyrpus is an Island, your only real option to get there is by plane, unless you’re planning on getting the ferry from the coast of Turkey (which is not budget-friendly). While my blog post on finding cheap flights will give you some great tips, there’s another trick which is invaluable for finding the cheapest flight to Cyprus. Using Skyscanner, search for round trip flights starting from Cyprus, select “everywhere” in the destination, and then find the location closest to you. When you reverse the route from that airport to Cyprus, the price should be about the same. For instance, I found round-trip tickets from Cluj to Larnaca for about $45 (€40) and was able to get a ride from Bucharest to Cluj for $17 (€15) with Blablacar, saving over $100 (€90) compared to what a direct flight from Bucharest would have cost.

Inter-city Buses

Once you get to the island, you might want to rent a car to truly be able to explore some of the best places. If the minimum $20 a day for a rental car is not in your budget, don’t fret. The intercity buses are quite cheap. Round-trip tickets are mostly $8 (€7). You’ll probably need one between Larnaca and Limassol, and another between Limassol and Paphos. The cities themselves are mostly walkable, as long as you get accommodations not too far outside of town. Having said that, I did walk a whopping 50 miles within 5 days in Cyprus! Hopefully you can find some locals, Couchsurfing hosts or other travelers to team up with.

Selfie on the Bus to Kyrenia

Local Buses

There is a local bus system on the island, but the locals say it’s horrible. It doesn’t show up on Google Maps, and you have to pay to download their map. They have a website that you can use, but navigating it can be difficult. While it’s in English, you still need to know some Greek to find the locations. However, if you do work it out, bus rides are only $1.65 (€1.50) per ride. A central hub for the buses in both Larnaca and Limassol is the Old Hospital bus stop. Yep, the stops have the same name in both cities. Seriously confusing!

The timetable for the buses can be found on their website. One thing to know is that they don’t really follow the timetable, and they all stop around 6-7 p.m. Also, there are far fewer buses on the weekend, especially Sunday.

While Google Maps has hardly any data for Cyprus, you’ll find everything you need on the 2Gis App. If you can navigate through the Cyrillic alphabet, you’ll find all the bus stops. It’s also the best app in general for navigating around the island.

Selfie on Cyprus Bus

These photos make it look like I’m the only one who used the buses in Cyrpus. Sometimes I just got lucky, but they were often full.

Hitchhiking

Unfortunately, hitchhiking proved to be rather difficult for me, but perhaps you’ll have better luck.

Accommodations

Hostels

First of all, the Cypriot government ordered all hostels to shut down in Cyprus back around 2014. Most of the cities – Larnaca, Nicosia and Paphos – complied with that order, but you can still find three available in Limassol. Ironically, they’re all within a couple minutes of each other, just down the street from the inter-city bus stop. They cost about $17 (€15) a night. There are few cities in Europe where you can’t find a hostel cheaper than that.

I stayed at Lima Sol Accommodations House and Trip Yard Hostel. Lima Sol was nothing to write home about. On the other hand, Trip Yard was fantastic. But there’s a secret I probably shouldn’t be telling you. Trip Yard is listed on Couchsurfing and you can get your first night there for free if you are on an extreme budget. It’s not in the dorms but rather outside in a tent or hammock. In the summer heat during my week in Cyrpus, the tent was actually the most comfortable place for me.

Selfie in Tent at Trip Yard Hostel

Update: Since my visit, several more hostels have opened up in Cyprus, primarily in Larnaca, Paphos and Ayia Napa. Most of them are charging around $30 a night, which hardly puts them in the budget range. There are other apartments and cheaper hotels for that same price, and for a better rating. Also, the Trip Yard moved in 2019 from Limassol to Larnaca. I don’t think their tent is still available, but they’re now the cheapest place to stay in Larnaca.

Couchsurfing

Speaking of Couchsurfing, that’s obviously the best way to explore Cyprus on a budget. But Cyprus is also the first place I really ran into trouble with Couchsurfing, other than just not being able to find a host. In a nutshell, I was confirmed to stay with a host who completely disappeared a few hours before I was scheduled to arrive, and only contacted me at midnight the following day, asking where I was! Then there was another guy who was very insistent that I meet up with him for sensual activities. Apparently this pervert contacts every traveler and host on the island. Read the whole story about my crazy adventures with Couchsurfing in Cyprus.

Couchsurfing wasn’t entirely horrible there, and I did end up with a truly fantastic host who brought me out to the waterfalls, a truly hidden gem of a restaurant and swimming in the sea. He spent most of the time at his girlfriend’s house so I had his place to myself. There wasn’t any air conditioning or fans, but that’s usual in Cyprus. Get ready to sweat a lot when you’re there.

Couchsurfing in Cyprus

Airbnb

If you’re not traveling solo, I’d definitely recommend getting an Airbnb. There are some fantastic ones on the island, and they come out to less than individual beds in the hostels. Click on this link to get a $29 credit to your next Airbnb reservation.

Food

The food in Cyprus is the one department where you won’t have to watch your budget…too much. While there will always be the fancy, five-star restaurants to blow your wad at, Cyprus offers a wide range of eateries. There are bakeries offering sandwiches and salads, kebab shops with gyros and doner wraps, street food trucks selling cheap hamburgers and hot dogs, and supermarkets where you can get all kinds of meals, or food to cook at home. Getting a meal for $4 (€3.50) is not hard. A large bottle of water costs about $0.75 (€0.60).

Usually I’d say to avoid the touristy spots of town, like the harbors, city centers and old towns, but this isn’t necessary for Cyprus. Even the fancy harborfront in Larnaca has some surprisingly cheap restaurants intermingled with the tourist traps.

Gyro at Derlicious – Larnaca

On my first day walking along the waterfront of Larnaca, I ran into a perfect gem in the center of Mackenzie Beach near the airport. Derlicious is a small chain of small Greek food stands serving gyros and souvlaki (Greek grilled meat on skewers). For a really delicious, fully-loaded gyro and a drink, I spent $5.50 (€5). That’s less than half what the other restaurants on the beach were charging.

Selfie at Derlicious

Sample Platter at Mezedokamomata Sotiris

My abovementioned Couchsurfing savior brought his girlfriend and me to a tiny hole-in-the-wall joint up in the hills outside of town. The place was called Mezedokamomata Sotiris and the lady running it was just tickled that a foreigner was eating at her restaurant. She didn’t speak a word of English, but she understood just how much I was enjoying the food. Most of the portions are $4.50-$5.50 (€4-€5). As with most places around the world, the small family-run places in rural locations tend to be the cheapest, as long as they’re not on a tourist route.

Sample Platter at Mezedokamomata Sotiris

Ice Cream Tower at E. Pygra

It’s no secret I love ice cream. I eat it all the time when I travel, especially in hot countries. Thus, I was overjoyed when I found E. Pygra at the Old Harbor in Limassol. For a meager $1.65 (€1.50), I purchased an all-you-can-stack ice cream cone! Umm, twice…or maybe thrice. Don’t judge me! Anyway, Cyprus gets really inventive when it comes to their ice cream. Not only is it homemade, they have some really wild flavors such as halloumi and watermelon, or loukoumades (a Greek honey dessert). Check out this full list of crazy Cypriot ice cream flavors.

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Attractions

Nearly all the historic and archaeological sites I found, such as castles and excavations, were $2.80 (€2.50) for entry. Unfortunately, not all of them were worth it. If you’re interested in these locations, they are all worth a visit for that price. But if you’ve been around the world as much as I have, there’s not really anything special at most of them.

Kition Ruins

The Kition Ruins in the center of Larnaca were small with faded information panels and a casual walk-through doesn’t take more than a couple minutes. There’s a single walkway over the excavation site and I couldn’t read the faded words on the panels. The attraction might be budget-friendly, but still not really worth it.

Kition Ruins in Larnaca

Tomb of the Kings

The Tomb of the Kings in Pathos is another matter entirely. While there are a lot of negative reviews for the place, and several of the people leaving while I was there said it wasn’t worth it, I found the attraction highly interesting. Technically, there were no kings buried here, but rather high-ranking officials. The ruins are extensive and really take at least an hour or two to explore. Just make sure you avoid the mid-day heat in the summer months, and bring lots of water for you. There isn’t a lot of shade except in the underground tombs, and those are even hotter.

Paphos Tomb of the Kings #2

Larnaca Salt Lake

There are also plenty of free attractions on the island. My Airbnb host told me about the Larnaca Salt Lake, and I made it a priority. After a day trip to North Cyprus with WayAway, I met up with Sarah Funk for an absolutely delicious meal at Militzis Traditional Tavern before going for a photo shoot on the lake. If you get a chance, try to get to the for sunset. You might even get to see the flamingos there, depending on what time of the year you arrive.

Selfie Jumping on the Larnaca Salt Lake

Some of the better attractions on the island, such as the Blue Lagoon, Aphrodite’s Rock and the Troodos mountains are only accessible with your own transportation. I enjoyed a hike to the Caledonian Waterfall with my Couchsurfing host, but would never have made it there without a ride in his car.

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Summary of Budget Travel in Cyprus

Aside from your flights, I would recommend budgeting $15 a day on Cyprus, plus accommodations. If you can get a Couchsurfing host, then it will be that $15 or less. If you have to pay for a hostel or Airbnb, expect your expenses to double ($30 a day). Obviously, you’ll have to do the usual things to stick to that budget, including skipping the fancy dinners, expensive tours, cocktails and hotels. But if you’re a budget traveler reading this, you should already know all those things.

Sure, there are other places in Europe you can visit for far less than $30 a day, but I would personally recommend a visit to Cyprus at least once in your travels. I completely fell in love with the country…except for the unbearable heat. I’m looking forward to going back someday, preferably in the spring or autumn. Will I see you there?

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Planning to Visit Cyprus?

I feel like I only scratched the surface of activities to do in Cyprus, especially without my own car to get around with. If you’re interested in the places I did make it to, here are my articles on them.

Here’s some extra reading to save hundreds on your next vacation or stage of your journey.

5 Steps to Book Cheap Flights
Hostels: To Book or Not to Book
Is Workaway Worth it for the Traveler?

It’s been many years since my first day of travel but still feels like yesterday. All I had was a one-way ticket from Los Angeles to London. Nothing else was planned. I only knew that I wanted to travel the world. Originally I planned to travel for 10 years and then reassess my life. It wasn’t long before that changed to a desire to travel for the rest of my life.

That first day was quite the adventure, and one I never really told in full. So here’s the story of where it all began.

Oh, and please excuse the images in this post. I’ve come a long way in my photography skills.

Riding on My First Boeing Dreamliner

My journey really began in Portland, Oregon. After leaving my job in Los Angeles, I went up there to spend a couple weeks with my sister, get my blog up and running, and prepare for my travels. I purchased my backpack – the Grand Tour 85 from REI. Sadly, it’s a model no longer produced, but REI is still one of the best outdoor clothing and equipment providers in the US.

Back in December, I had bought my plane ticket from Los Angeles to London for an amazing $200 (it later dropped to $180 ten days before my flight!). At that time, I hadn’t planned to go up to Portland, so I had to purchase another flight back down to LA. I managed to get a deal for $80, but when I got to the airport, my flight was canceled! Luckily, the airline had great customer support and they put me on another flight leaving only a couple hours later so I could still catch my flight to London. Even better, the replacement airline had free baggage, so I got a $25 refund!

I only had a slight hiccup when I was sitting at the gate and heard my name called over the intercom. Turned out I had left my passport at the security checkpoint! I had a bit of a laugh over that.

In Los Angeles, I only had a couple hours between flights, but I was able to do that whole hassle of picking up my bags and then checking in again for a different flight in just a few minutes, despite LAX (the Los Angeles International Airport) having security lines up to 3 hours long back then.

Boeing 787-800 Dreamliner

And then it started. I was on my first international flight. Well, I’d flown twice to Mexico City, but I don’t think that counts. This was a 14-hour flight with Norwegian Air on a Boeing 787-800 Dreamliner, my absolute favorite aircraft in the skies. I might have only slept a couple hours on that flight, but that was just because I was so dang excited!

If you’ve never flown on one, it’s hard to imagine how good they are. The cabin is pressurized to simulate a much lower altitude than other planes, the windows are digitally dimming and there’s a fantastic A/V system on the seatback in front of you. The disadvantage was that my budget ticket came with absolutely nothing, not even a bottle of water or a blanket, and I was wanting for both by the end of my flight. Live and learn, right?

A Long Walk Across London

I landed in London just after noon. It took me a bit to get oriented and for my roaming data to kick in. I also had an interesting encounter with the immigration officer who didn’t like my answer when I said I had absolutely no plans and didn’t know how long I would be staying in the UK. Visa? Huh, what’s that?

At least I had the foresight to purchase a bus ticket from Gatwick Airport to London before my flight, and I managed to find the cheapest option. Back then, it was only $2.70 to get a bus ticket in advance! By 1 p.m., I was on the EasyBus to Victoria Station. So far, so good!

Bus from Airport

Now all I had to do was get to my Couchsurfing host. He had said he lived in the Golders Green district of London. Google Maps showed me it was almost a straight walk up the road to get there. Somehow the 6.5-mile distance didn’t really register with me, or perhaps I really didn’t care. I was in London after all and nothing else really mattered.

Selfie in Hyde Park

With my backpack filled with over 70 pounds of clothes, gadgets and, well, several items that I really didn’t need, I made my way across London. The weather was freezing, but I had my Craghoppers clothing on. As I was crossing Hyde Park, the snow started to fall. I started to cry. With “Good Life” by One Republic playing on my headphones and policeman riding by on horseback, the pure joy of being in Europe really sank in. I’d left a lot behind in Los Angeles, both good and bad, but this trumped all of that. This was the beginning of my new life!

My First Couchsurfing Host

At the end of 2016, I discovered Couchsurfing. My first time using it was between Christmas and New Year’s when I rode my motorcycle from Los Angeles to Portland and needed a place to stay in between. Ananda was a wonderful host, and I even got to stay with her a year later when my dad and I did a road trip on the PCH.

The circumstances with my first Couchsurfing host overseas were quite different. I had posted a public trip on the website, allowing others to offer to host me. The only offer I got was from a man named Uzi. His profile was impressive and long. He’d been to nearly all the countries in the world, he spoke over a dozen languages, he’d been a paratrooper in the Israeli army, and he was gay.

I made it to his place just before 6 p.m. (yeah, it was a really, really long walk). I was a little nervous, and I had my hand on my phone with my sister’s number on speed dial just in case. Uzi greeted me at the door and led me up to his flat (British English for apartment). It was tiny. I later learned it wasn’t an uncommon size in London, but by tiny, I mean it was one very small room. No bathroom (that was down the hall), a micro kitchen, a tiny office and couch, and a loft bed above the office.

I can’t say I was fully at ease, but Uzi was really hospitable and welcoming, and I was tired. At first I didn’t like the idea of him offering me his bed while he slept on the couch, but I didn’t want to argue either. We had a fantastic conversation before I went out for dinner.

My First Fish and Chips – Indian Style

My travels started with me on a shoestring budget. I actually ended up spending only £100 (about $135 back then) during my first 10 days in the UK. To get started, I went out in search of a cheap meal. I really wanted fish and chips, but all the restaurants were so expensive. I finally found one with a £5 special. The only catch is it was an Indian restaurant. Looking back at it, I don’t think the fish was all that great. At the time, I thought it was simply divine!

Fish and Chips

I walked around a bit more to see the other restaurants, pizzerias, chippies and ice cream parlors before returning to Uzi’s. I was just in heaven exploring London (I think I already said that) and I also loved listening to the deliciously sexy British accent.

Sleeping in a Bar

I had a good sleep that night (not that I could have helped it considering how tired I was) and cleaned up in the tiny shower down the hallway. In the morning, I was supposed to leave early as Uzi had to leave himself, but he ended up sleeping in so I did too.

I wasn’t up for another trek across London, so I picked up my first Oyster Card and made my way back to Victoria Station. I saw Westminster Cathedral (yes, there is such a place) and then Westminster Abbey. I took selfies at Big Ben and saw the giant blue chicken at Trafalgar Square (not an official attraction; a temporary replacement for another statue). I walked past St. John’s and eventually made it down to Cannon Street.

Loose Cannon Bar

Under the train station was a pub called the Loose Cannon (since renamed the Steel Yard). There was supposed to be a Couchsurfing event there in the evening, but I was hours early. I asked the barmaid if I could sleep on one of the couches since no one was really there yet and she was fine with it. It wasn’t dignified, but nothing was about to bring me down from my euphoria.

An Epic Couchsurfing Event

After a great conversation with Adela, the aforementioned Romanian bartender, the Couchsurfing event started. I’d already been to a few in Portland, but those had a dozen or so people in attendance. This one had over 100! It was great because I primarily wanted to find a host for that night. Uzi could only host me for one night and I was daunted by accommodation prices in London.

I hobnobbed with dozens of locals and travelers, telling them of my journey while hearing their stories. I also found a few potential hosts, but they all fell through when their roommates said no. Finally, Mathew (one of my favorite fellow travelers) connected me up with Emily who’s flatmate was gone for the weekend and therefore wouldn’t object to me crashing on the living room couch. I got to stay with her for a couple days before accidentally heading off to Brighton on my way to Bath (it should have been Bristol!).

The Future is History

I’ve since become far more travel savvy, although I still have my adventures with accommodations that fell through (like in Cyprus), and I’ve stayed with dozens of more Couchsurfing hosts, not to mention hosted several times myself (both in Scotland and Thailand). Yet despite everything, the first few hours of my travels will always hold a very special place in my memory.

Why Keep Going?

As I flew across the pond to begin my adventure, my plan was to travel for 10 years in which I would visit every country in the world. After that, I would reevaluate my life to see which direction I wanted to take. It was less than three months before that plan fell through. I quickly realized that my travels would not end in 10 years, but would continue for the rest of my life.

Granted, I’ve slowed down in my country hopping. Instead of the 35 countries I passed through in my first year of travel, I’ve been averaging about 15 a year since then. I also work from “home bases” now, setting up a stable place to keep my bags for a couple months and then doing short trips from that spot.

I never want to be fixed in one spot, but I definitely want a tiny home to travel in, with my own bed, books and a good kitchen. I’ll also have a wonderful woman traveling with me in the tiny home, and someday will have a kid and a puppy too. Those are the plans, and I plan to bring them to fruition in the very near future. And if I ever need them, there are all those great travel quotes to keep me inspired.

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Further Reading

Enjoyed reading about the beginning of my travels? Here are some more stories about how I got going and the early days of my travels.

Here’s some extra reading to save hundreds on your next vacation or stage of your journey.

My day in Cluj came about almost by accident. I never had Cluj on my itinerary, and I had no idea what I would do if I spent a day there. Now that I have, I can give you an idea of what’s available…which isn’t a lot.

Ending Up in Cluj

Cluj is the second-largest city in Romania, after Bucharest (the capital). It’s located in the northwestern quarter of the country not far from Hungary. As this region used to be part of Hungary, many of the people there are Hungarians, the cuisine is partially Hungarian, etc. The landscape is thick forests and mountains with some amazing hidden waterfalls and not-so-hidden castles.

St. Michael's Church in Cluj

After six weeks in Romania, I decided to take a trip to Cyprus. The only problem was that the flights from Bucharest (where I was living) were nearly $200 round trip. Following the tips I give for finding cheap flights, I searched for flights to Cyprus from any city in Romania. The cheapest last-minute tickets were from Cluj – a paltry $50

Getting to Cluj wasn’t too hard either, even though it’s nearly 300 miles from Bucharest. In Europe, one of my favorite ways to get around is with the Blablacar rideshare website. I was able to find a ride for only $15, which would get me to Cluj a couple hours before my flight. Sure, I spent the whole day traveling from Bucharest to Cluj to the airport to Cyprus, but I saved over $100. When it comes to long-term travel, that’s the way to do it!

I didn’t have any time to explore before my flight. Instead, I spent a day in Cluj when I returned from Cyrpus, and before I took a bus to Moldova. I even had a local help to show me around, which is the best way to explore.

Cluj City Center

Cluj is fairly similar to other Romania cities as far as architecture goes. Despite being the second-largest city in Romania, it doesn’t have nearly as much traffic or chaos as Bucharest. I started my exploration in the old town at St. Michael’s Church. It wasn’t nearly as busy as I was expecting it to be, especially for the summer. Maybe that’s just because it was still morning, and the city was way too hot for walking around.

Interior of St. Michael's Church in Cluj

Reminiscent of Timisoara and Brasov, the city center was lined with cafes and terraces. There were no market stalls set up. Instead, they were constructing a large concert stage for the jazz festival that was launching the day after I left. Speaking of which, there were three large concerts coming up, including the Electric Castle which I’ve been wanting to attend for years. I even had a friend working there who offered me a free ticket, but it coincided with my Portuguese press trip! (sad face) I’d say next year, but I might be in Zimbabwe then…

There are only a small handful of other attractions worth visiting in the city center. Next to St. Michael’s Church is the Matthias Corvinus Statue (the Hungarian king that was born in Cluj). A couple streets away is another beautiful gothic church – the Assumption Cathedral (now housing the University of Cluj Faculty of Art and Design). Lastly, just down the street from the cathedral is the Cluj Tailors’ Tower, part of the 15th-century fortifications.

Alexandru Borza Botanical Gardens

A little past noon, I met up with Madalina, a local I’d found on Couchsurfing who was able to take a break from studying for her medical finals in order to spend a couple hours exploring with me. I’d seen the botanical gardens on the map, and she agreed they were worth a visit.

The entrance to the gardens is 10 lei ($2.50), or free if you’re a student. The gardens are nearly 35 acres and include a watchtower with a great view, Japanese gardens, greenhouses, a stream running through the middle and most of the rest of the things you usually find in a botanical garden.

Madalina at Cluj Botanical Gardens

Perhaps the best part of the gardens was the ability to escape from the summer heat. In truth, I might have enjoyed learning about my host Madaline and her stories of Romania more than I did the gardens. Not only is she finishing medical school, she’s also a mountaineer, a black belt and an avid traveler. I recently posted my views on traveling solo, but you’re never really alone when you travel. Couchsurfing is a great way to meet up with locals and learn about the culture, cuisine and customs.

Other Attractions Near Cluj

That’s about all there really was to see in the city of Cluj, but there are other attractions out in the countryside.

Turda Salt Mine

A 20-mile drive southeast of Cluj, the Turda Salt Mine is on part with the Wieliczka Salt Mine in Krakow, Poland. The mines are nearly 1,000 years old and opened as a tourist attraction in 1992. They’re not nearly as famous as the Wieliczka Mine, but still definitely worth a visit.

Bánffy Castle

There are dozens of castles throughout the hills around Cluj, many of which offer tours. The one I’d like to visit is Bánffy Castle where the aforementioned Electric Castle Festival takes place in July. I’ll let this video speak for itself.

Vadu Crişului

If you have a couple days in Cluj, spend one of them out in nature. I’d recommend Vadu Crişului, where you’ll find some stunning waterfalls and a deep cave you can go spelunking in. You might need to rent a car to get out to this location or find some friends on Couchsurfing to join for a trip there.

Off to Moldova

The day certainly didn’t last long, and after a couple hours, she had to get back to her exams while I went for my bus to Moldova. That 14-hour bus ride wasn’t most comfortable I’ve been on, but Moldova was fantastic. I’ll get those posts written soon. And then there will be Ukraine to write about…

Selfie on Bus to Moldova

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A Day in Cluj Pin

Further Reading

Don’t forget to also read my stories on Timisoara and Brasov, or any of my articles on Bucharest:

Here’s some extra reading to save hundreds on your next vacation or stage of your journey.

I love Couchsuring. It’s my favorite way to travel, and I’ve never had a problem with it. Until now. Here’s how I nearly got stranded Couchsurfing in Cyprus, and how I was saved.

It’s been some time since I used the Couchsurfing website to find a host. I was hosting myself for three months in Chiang Mai, and then staying with friends in Bucharest. Unfortunately, sometime this year Couchsurfing decided to become money motivated. It’s now a membership platform, and you only get 10 requests to hosts each week without paying for the membership. There have been some cities where I’ve messaged fifty hosts without a response…but that’s another story.

In Cyprus, I sent out my ten requests, and then established a public trip. It got weird almost immediately.

My first response was from Chris Karmani, or “the infamous Chris” as he is known locally. He messaged me almost immediately, saying he or a friend might be able to host me, but definitely wanted to meet up. I thanked him profusely and accepted his help, and then I read his profile. There wasn’t anything alarming in his profile, but way at the bottom there was a small note that he was in the “Nudist” Couchsurfing group. I wrote back to him to clarify that I wasn’t gay, and while I’m willing to try new things, I wasn’t totally comfortable about being nude with another guy while couchsurfing. The request shortly fizzled out. Turns out, he has contacted nearly every traveler going to Cyprus, and local hosts as well, trying to get together with them. Consider yourself warned.

The next host that contacted me was Iro Michael. She said maybe, and then asked me to pay 10 Euro a night, as she usually rents out the room on Airbnb. I said I really didn’t have that, or I would have booked a hostel. She relented and agreed to let me stay for free. I messaged her several more times that day, but she never got back to me, and I ended up staying at a hostel. The next morning, she messaged me saying I could come anytime. I asked her where I should go, but she had disappeared.

Finally two minutes before midnight, she asked me why I had never called her, and the room was now ready for me. I said she had never given me her phone number, and the public transportation had long since ceased for the day. Her neighborhood was several kilometers outside of town, and there was no way to get there. Her next message was the following morning, when she asked me why I didn’t get someone else to call her. With what number?! Then she wanted to know why I didn’t message her back. Really?! Did the five messages I sent not count? Here’s the full conversation:

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The evening of the second night, I was searching through Couchsurfing and found that one of the hosts had a hostel, but was allowing people to couchsurf in the back yard, either in a hammock or a tent. Hell yeah! My friends Sarah Funk and her boyfriend dropped me off at Trip Yard Hostel, which gladly gave me one of the tents. Since this is Cyprus, I didn’t need any sleeping bag or blanket, and I actually had the best night sleep on the island! In the morning they let me use their (really clean) bathroom and shower. The hostel has a bunch of Ukrainians running it, and they are really friendly! I’d have been happy to go back and pay for another night (as only the first night was free), but the final host to contact me was my savior.

Trip Yard Backyard

Artem (his friends call him Artie) was incredibly chill in offering to host me. Originally agreeing to host me for my last two days in Limassol, he was quick to accept me for the third day that Iro was supposed to host me. What’s more, on that day he and his girlfriend came to pick me up at the cafe I was working at and took me on a road trip into the mountains in the middle of Cyprus! We stopped at the amazing Monagri Grape Farm for a free wine tasting, and then drove to the Caledonia Waterfalls where we hiked for over an hour.

Selfie Wine Tasting at Monagri Grap Farm #2

That evening, they took me out to the beach where we swam for awhile. Finally, we went to a small, remote village which supposedly had the best pizza on Cyprus. Unfortunately, the pizza parlor was closed, but the little mom and pop restaurant across the street was open. We got the “everything” platter. I can’t even list everything they served us, but I can tell you that I’ve completely fallen in love with Cypriot food! Between the salad, the sausages, the grilled halloumi and roasted chicken, I was in heaven.

Dinner at Mezedokamomata

For the rest of my stay, Artie went out of his way to help me out. He picked me up from the town center, we made dinner together, he gave me all kinds of advice for Limassol and Cyprus, and we really got along great.

Couchsurfing in Cyprus is definitely possible, but not the easiest. The island is really spread out, public transportation isn’t the best (the locals say it’s horrible), and many of the hosts are out in the villages. My recommendations would be to avoid Chris and Iro, and see if you can get Artie. Don’t forget, you always have a night at Trip Yard as a last resort. Or a first one, because they’re just really cool and you should stay there at least once.

Resources:

Here’s some extra reading to save hundreds on your next vacation or stage of your journey.

5 Steps to Book Cheap Flights
Hostels: To Book or Not to Book
Is Workaway Worth it for the Traveler?