More than 17 years ago, Andy Graham started his travel adventure. The man they call Hobo Lee hasn’t stopped since. He’s been to over 107 countries, including East Timor during the 2006 civil war, Bantul during the 2006 Indonesia Earthquake, Cote d’Ivoire during the 2011 Election War and a canoe trip between Ecuador and Peru after the opening of the border. He’s an expert at traveling cheaply and having wild adventures along the way. Graham, who just turned 60, gave us his wisdom from a room in Kpalime, Togo that costs him $6.50. Per month.
“Over-planning is the reason why most people fail. They procrastinate until they can’t go anywhere because they have too many fears. In adventure travel, like going to Iraq, Haiti, or other places that people consider dangerous, you have to adapt on the fly. You cannot anticipate every possible danger. The serendipitous part is what makes travel fun. When people come to Togo and they tell me what they are going to see, I tell them that they should just let it flow by them. The best way to screw up a good trip is to go looking for what you’re supposed to go looking for when you don’t know the country. Let the county come to you. When you can’t find a Lonely Planet on it, that’s where I love to be.”
“I always carry three pieces of mosquito netting so I can tape over the windows in my room and spray it down. I always, of course, carry my passport. I always carry $500 in US dollars. Only USD keeps you safe. You can always buy your way out of something. And if you’re in an extremely dangerous place, there’s always a five-star hotel you can hide in. When I was in Iraq, the Palestine Hotel and the Sheraton were off-bases for Saddam [Hussein]. He let the reporters stay in those hotels. There are always these strange safe areas, but you need cash to pay for them. I always carry my gym shoes. Sandals don’t make it. If you really need to do a 12-mile trek suddenly because the van broke down or whatever, gym shoes make better sense. Even though I’m almost always in the tropics, I always carry one pair of long pants. There are places where it’s just not good to be in shorts.
I don’t carry any weapons, but I know how to make weapons. A sock full of stones is a good weapon. Carrying a weapon is just a way to have people come at you with weapons. A lot of people think they should carry a jack knife, but I think that’s asking somebody to knife you.”
Skimp on Accommodations
“I’m 100% sure there’s always a cheap hotel. When you don’t believe it, you don’t find it. But in about 225 countries, you can find a $10 room. A billion people on the planet make less than a dollar a day. Probably 75% make less than $10 a day. If you can’t live as cheap as them, you’re saying that they are smarter than you.
I never get a hotel reservation until I arrive. If I get a reservation, I know that I’m reserving a room that costs 50% more than I need to pay. I flew into Malta and the guy told me it was 20 euro for the taxi to the hostel and 17 euro for the hostel. I said, ‘I’ll sleep in the airport.’ There’s not much difference between an airport and hostels. It’s either 17 snoring people or people walking around you.”
Stick to Budget
“Saving one dollar abroad is like earning five dollars. It’s not the big things that normally get you, like the room. It’s the knickers, like constantly sucking on a bottle of water. Some people don’t figure that they spend three or four dollars a day on that water. I do, because that’s a huge expense.
I also don’t take public transport until I’ve walked the city. The worst thing you can do is start out on public transport. You have to start out walking. That way, you get to really understand the ground level before you start jumping around.
If I’m in Europe or someplace really expensive where the budget is difficult, I’ll put 10 euro in my pocket when I leave the room and that’s all I have on me. I’ll have an ATM card in case of an emergency, but cash in your pocket gets spent. So I’ll have 10 euro and when it runs out, I know I’m screwed. That guarantees I keep my budget. The reason most people have problems with a budget is because it’s not really a budget. When I say I’m going to spend 10 euro a day, I do it. I’ll walk around a supermarket until I figure out how to spend three euro to eat.”
Crawl, Walk, Run
“I adhere to the same rule as Paul Theroux: You fly to the land, and then you go from ocean to ocean. When I’m on the continent [I want to be], I try to go by land as much as possible. Last year, I was in the U.S. and I wanted to go to Europe. I figured I could go one-way to almost anywhere for about $700. I have a travel consultant in Thailand that I use, so I called him and he said I could go from Orlando, Florida to Oslo, Norway for $200. The last place I would pick out would be Oslo, because Norway is so expensive, but when you get a $200 flight from America to it, it pays off. You really have to think outside the box on airplanes. Go where the tickets lead you, not where you want to go. You can get on Kayak Explorer, tell it where you are, and it will give you the price for all kinds of locations around the planet.
I want to go to all the countries. Which order I take them doesn’t really matter. That’s difficult for a person who can’t imagine going to all countries, right? It’s about opening your brain and realizing that you could go to 15 countries this year. If you think you are only going to go to five countries in your life, you limit yourself. Being that open is a very scary thing for people.”