Traveling by boat can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be.
Before we left to go cruising, magazines intimidated us with all the luxuries and potential safety equipment we might carry. Ads taunted us with “How much is your life worth?”
Our budget answered that otherwise unanswerable question. We bought a 31-foot boat, simply outfitted because that was all we could afford at the time and we were unwilling to postpone our dreams to some indefinite future which might never come to pass.
Aboard we figured out how to live on $33 a day, the income that our house rent brought in each month. Yes, we lived in remote places, away from modern conveniences, without television, cell phones or Internet access. With the complexities of our lives gone, we were left just to enjoy where we were at that moment.
Nature provided vast entertainment, all for free — fortunately, given our budget. We spent our time doing things that didn’t cost money: snorkeling, fishing, swimming in waterfalls, hiking through lush tropical rainforests and using free wind to sail from place to place even when the wind was barely perceptible.
It wasn’t always easy, but we went on to sail 34,000 miles over the next seven years, far further and longer than we ever imagined we would on that little boat, which my husband couldn’t even stand up in.
We found out something that surprised us: the smallest, simplest boats often stayed out the longest and ventured the farthest. Perhaps it was because they were more affordable and easier to maintain, perhaps because they carried more adventurous people aboard. It’s hard to say. But I doubt we had any less fun than those aboard larger, more luxuriously equipped boats.
Sometimes we did things the “hard way” because we had more time than money. But in the process we often made some surprising discoveries. Chasing down a part or a workaround solution locally in remote anchorages often put us in contact with locals who rarely interacted with foreigners.
We took risks we might not have taken if we’d been risking our life’s savings. We faced typhoons, storms and times when we thought we might lose our boat against a coral reef or that a towering ship would crush our home into kindling and plunge us into the icy North Pacific. But that was part of the adventure. These risks brought us rich rewards. Our struggle to survive and meet our basic needs never let us forget that we were alive.
This was the reason we set off on this journey. It wasn’t about outfitting a boat and reproducing all the comforts of home; it was about living differently. After all, that’s what adventures are for: jumping into the unknown, taking risks and challenging yourself in new ways.
Here are a few tips for voyaging cheaply:
1. Start with a small and simple boat that you know how to fix yourself. When things break — as they inevitably will in such a harsh, corrosive environment — ask yourself, “Can I live without it?” The time lost to fixing things or waiting for parts can put a damper on your voyage and sometimes is not worth the trouble.
2. Be flexible. Being easygoing about your schedule and your “needs” will improve your chances of living cheaply. “Needs” are often “wants” in disguise.
3. Avoid motoring because fuel is expensive, especially outside the U.S. You’ll get there when you get there. Challenge yourself to sail instead.
4. Avoid marinas. In most places you can anchor for free. And when you’re tied alongside, it’s much easier to spend money at one of those tempting and pricey waterside eateries and shops.
5. Venture to more remote anchorages. Where there are “yachties” you’ll find what I call “yachtie inflation.” Local prices have a way of creeping upward when people on the “trip of a lifetime” are around.
6. Spend time with locals and learn their way of life if you can. Simple interactions can offer some of the most satisfying aspects of traveling.
7. Skip the imported name brands and try local foods. You may make some amazing discoveries.
8. Give alcohol a miss. Alcoholic beverages are expensive nearly everywhere. If you live without it, you can save big.
9. Learn to cook, draw, write, paint, sew, program or play the guitar.
10. Relish the simple pleasures of life afloat: identifying tropical fish during an afternoon snorkel, hiking to waterfalls gushing with yesterday’s rain, sunsets in the cockpit, spearfishing for the night’s meal, experimenting with recipes and reading.
Traveling by sailboat can be an amazing way to see the world (albeit S-L-O-W-L-Y) and an experience you’ll never forget. For me, the best memories are those unexpected surprises, the times when I just let the situation unfold to see what might happen.
Check out my blog for more tips on life afloat or read my book, “Tightwads on the Loose: A Seven Year Pacific Odyssey,” for stories of our adventures afloat.