Desperate to explore the world but unsure how to do it without breaking the bank? Veteran backpacker, Will Hatton from The Broke Backpacker, has been travelling the world for seven years now on a budget of just $100 a week. Today, he tells us his top tips for exploring the world and having epic budget adventures…

Couchsurfing in Venezuela, The Kidnap-Capital of the World

She met me at the border, all smiles and friendly holas. I looked around nervously, dozens of police and soldiers eyed me suspiciously. I was the only gringo in site. Sensing my unease, she gestured towards a battered car and we made our way past numerous army-check points. A fat officer with a scrunched up face, peered into the back of the vehicle and spotted me. I handed over my passport. Esthela talked rapidly in Spanish and my passport was returned, we sped away from the check-point like criminals fleeing the scene of the crime.

I had been in touch with Esthela for a few months now. I had been nervous about visiting Venezuela, literally everybody I had met, including Venezuelans, had warned me that it was an extremely dangerous country. Seeking more information, I had turned to the Couchsurfing forums. I had received dozens of messages from Venezuelans beseeching me to go elsewhere or face certain death whilst exploring their country. People were making out that Venezuela was as dangerous as Somalia, that to visit was to dance with death. Venezuelans, especially, seemed adamant that to visit was suicidal. I was extremely disappointed, I loved to get off the beaten track, I enjoyed Indiana-Jones-Esque travel but this was looking like it was simply going to be too dangerous. Perhaps I would have to cut Venezuela from my plans?

Like a sign from heaven, a message appeared in my inbox.

“It is a little dangerous here, sure. But, if you would like to come, I would love to show you around. You can stay with my parents and I can meet you at the border to help you cross safely”

Esthela had quickly become my guardian angel. Every time I heard a distressing rumour about Venezuela, I would ask her what was going on…

“Yes, definitely bring toilet paper, it can be hard to get. Just bear in mind that the government-run media cannot be trusted and that Venezuelans themselves exaggerate a lot of the facts. We have some major shortages at the moment, if you can bring us some coffee we will love you forever”

I had instantly headed to the nearest Colombian shopping mall and stocked up on coffee and powdered milk before crossing the border into Venezuela.

Overnight, I joined a legion of international smugglers ferrying crucial yet illegal supplies into Venezuela. Venezuela’s spiralling inflation and crimped economy means that it is in fact more profitable to smuggle milk into the country than cocaine (not that I was thinking of becoming an international cocaine smuggler, I wasn’t!).

With Esthela at my side, guiding me through the police border crossings, we had made it to San Cristobel, a small city just two hours from the Colombian-Venezuelan border. Here, I proudly presented Esthela’s mum with coffee and milk, the whole family were delighted and we instantly began an impromptu chess tournament.

I spent the next two days exploring the surrounding area with Estella who helped me gain a first-hand insight into what the heck is going on in Venezuela at the moment and offered me practical advice on how to travel around the country safely.

I have been involved with Couchsurfing for years and have surfed over a hundred times. For some reason though, throughout my trip in South America, I had found it extremely difficult to get a host.

Venezuela was to prove the exception to the rule, wonderful, kind and unique hosts such as Esthela seemed to be drawn to Couchsurfing; to helping foreign explorers discover Venezuela safely. Whilst in the country, I met many wonderful people but the nicest, most helpful and most outgoing were always Couchsurfers.

Couchsurfing may be dying a slow and painful death in some countries but, in Venezuela at least, it is flourishing. Venezuelans, keen to show the world that their crazy government does not represent all of Venezuela, are throwing open their doors, unrolling sleeping mats and inviting more and more travellers into their homes…

If you head to Venezuela, Couchsurf – it’s a truly wonderful experience and, without Estella, I imagine I may have had a far more difficult time getting to grips with the safety situation during the first crucial couple of days.

To Couchsurfing, and to the wonderful Esthela herself, I want to say a huge thank you – your welcome in my home, wherever that may be, at any time :)



About Will Hatton: Writer and photographer. Adventurer and vagabond. Master of the handstand pushup. Conqueror of mountains, survivor of deserts and crusader for cheap escapades. Will is an avid hitch-hiker, couch-surfer and bargain-seeker. He is a devout follower of the High Temple of Backpackistan and the proud inventor of the man-hug. Will blogs over at The Broke Backpacker about his adventures around the world, you can follow him on Facebook and on Twitter or, if your really friendly, hunt him down on the road for a cheeky pint.

by -
0 427

      You cannot really tell how immense the sea is when you are looking at it from the beach, you know is huge, is right there in front of you, expanding for miles and you know that when you go to it you cannot just keep on walking inside it since eventually you will find your feet no longer touch the soft sand at the bottom, and despite the fact that you realize on some level all of this by simply looking longingly into this big mass of bluish-greenish water, you don’t catch upon the fact of how far it goes… not until you go above it or simply to a gazebo and from there, you are amazed.

            This happened to me, not long ago. I was sharing a nice day with my family at the beach, we love being there, at any beach in any part of world, name it we will be there because we come from a place where the sea runs in our systems, we long for it. But back to the point, it was time for us to go after spending hours bathing at the beach and sleeping under an umbrella with the sound of the ocean right next to us, lulling us into this spectacular relaxed state, I hope you know which one, is a perfect state of mind. We knew there was something up in the mountain, we could see it from the beach, and the entire we were there we were wondering, what is up there? We literally asked ourselves that very question, we could see cars going up and down that hill, little dots moving in the distance. So the time came, we got in our car and decided to go up there, we passed hotels and residential buildings, and still we went up, more and more, until we reached this wonderful place in the mountains, a gazebo to call it by some name, and it was breath-taking to see the sea from that particular spot, to feel the wing in your face, your summer dress lifting up with every current of air or lapping at your legs, we could see the island shaped like a turtle, the fishing ships below us, way below.

            And it felt really emotional, motivating and inspiring to be there. It makes you want for more, you realize how little you could be but you are not, even when you are just a chess piece in the whole wide world, you are still an important one; you can hope, wish and accomplish more than what you already have. You can do anything, the sense of freedom you get from this kind of places, being miles up, away from the noises, the city, the cluster of people that are not even seeing what surrounds them while you walk, and who only make you wish to be home just so you are not close to so many soulless humans; when you go to the top of the world or as close to it as you can be, you realize at that moment, how your life dreams can come true.

            That was how I discovered or rather how I remembered, that nature is the most beautiful thing in this universe, that untouched and unsullied part of the world. This place is in Venezuela, is the ‘Mirador Turístico Virgen Del Valle’. Many places in my country are amazing and worth seeing, and this is definitely one of those with its spectacular view and even more amazing power to make you feel.

            Can you imagine having a house is such a place? And I am not talking simply of this particular spot with its view of leagues of water, I am referring to a place in the middle of nature, a cabin in a forest, a house in a mountain, four walls by a lake, anything like this, a dwelling where you are able to let yourself go and where your mind can be as creative as it can get, I definitely can picture it.

Never give up on your dreams and remember to always chase after them, until you grasp them to never let go. 

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Inspiration Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

by -
0 177


Learning, the hard way

 “Where are you right now?” his mother asked on the phone. The connection crackled.

“In Tucupita,” he responded.

“Ah, Tucupita.” – as if it was New York City or London. The young man grinned. His parents were from a small town in Germany and had never traveled much.

            The young man returned to his travel companions, the couple in the café, and related the story. They all chuckled. Later he went and got a souvenir for his parents, a dried piranha, mounted on a piece of wood. “They will love that!” he defended his choice before his travel companions.

            The day had started out bad. A stranger had knocked at five in the morning on the couple’s door in the cheap guest house. When the young woman had opened, still dazed from slumber, he had offered to take them on the Amazon River jungle tour. Her Spanish wasn’t that great, being half asleep. She just shooed him away with a “màs tarde” – later – and had gone back to bed.

            When they finally got up, she was mad. To have her sleep interrupted on her vacation was unforgivable. Over breakfast at the little café she had scrambled all her Spanish together to really tell the man off. The whole café then witnessed the scene and laughed about the man and the astounded look on his face when the tall, skinny, red-haired lady had thrown swearwords at him.

            The three walked down to the river and found another boat to hire. The tropical heat was already getting unbearable, and it wasn’t even 10 o’clock yet. Equipped with straw hats and cameras they got into the little boat and their newly found guide pulled the rope to start the out-boarder. After a few tugs the motor started and they cruised down the larger arm of the river, past some straw huts build on small islands with a bunch of little brown kids playing in the water. The first narrower arm looked promising, but the guide went on straight until they made it clear, that they would like to see more ‘jungle’. He steered the boat into a narrow river arm on the right and soon they were under a dense jungle cover. They took pictures. After some more debating they convinced the man to shut the motor off for a while so they could take in the sounds. The boat just drifted slowly along. When the guide tried to get going again, the motor didn’t start up. The boat drifted further, still staying in the middle of the narrow river arm, but fifty yards further the mangrove had overgrown the water. They slowly drifted toward the natural barrier, the guide continuously pulled on the starter rope. They hit a branch sticking two yards out of the water. A wasps’ nest was attached to the branch. The wasps were angry. Whoever it was who disturbed their calm home on the river was going to feel their revenge. The girl screamed and dropped her camera into the boat. Her boyfriend swatted at the wasps. The wasps got angrier. Some of them landed on their summer clothing, some landed on bare skin. It didn’t matter. The wasps stung wherever they sat down.  The girl had four stings and the men had two each. The river guide just looked at the spectacle. Stupid foreigners. He just sat still and waited.

            When the boat had passed the branch and the wasps went back to their nest, he tried again to start the motor. This time it started up with the first pull.

            The girl quietly licked her wounds on the boat ride back to the village. After a shower at the guest house they went out in search for a dinner place but the café was the only option in town. The same crowd sat at the same table as earlier.

            The girl took a deep breath and walked over to the man she had scolded so badly earlier. She apologized for her rude words and paid him the fare he would have earned if he had taken them on the boat ride. It was a small price to pay for a big lesson learned. The man graciously accepted it. Later he sent a round of drinks over to their table. She knew she had done the right thing. It felt good to know.

 Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

By Lee Abbamonte

Travel opens your eyes and your mind to a whole new world.

Travel enables you to see the world through other peoples eyes and from other points of view.

Travel increases your awareness of other cultures and people.

Travel makes you smarter.

Travel is the best education you can receive.

Travel enables you to speak intelligently on a variety of global topics.

Travel shows you how global policy effects different countries and different types of people.

Travel brings you to places you’ve only dreamed about seeing.

Travel shows you landscapes you never thought were possible.

Travel shows you what real beauty is.

Travel shows you that everything is beautiful in its own way.

Travel makes books and television come to life.

Travel makes adventures happen everyday.

Travel makes dreams come true.

Travel gives you a sense of enormous accomplishment.

Travel gives you something to look forward to to.

Travel gives you options.

Travel is a lifetime journey that is never the same twice.

Travel makes the big world small.

Travel humbles you.

Travel puts things into perspective.

Travel shows you what poor is.

Travel shows you how unfair this world can be.

Travel shows you people overcoming the longest odds to live their life to the fullest.

Travel shows you triumphs of the human spirit.

Travel teaches you how to say “Cheers” in 30 different languages.

Travel teaches you the International language of beer.

Travel teaches you to appreciate wine and the beauty of vineyards.

Travel teaches you to try new things.

Travel makes you yearn to do new things.

Travel teaches you the difference between a traveler and a tourist.

Travel teaches you to become a traveler and not just a tourist.

Lee Abbamonte is the youngest American to visit every country in the world. I am a travel writer, travel expert, global adventurer and have appeared on NBC, CNN, ESPN, GBTV, Fox News, Jetset Social and have been featured in the New York Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post, Bloomberg, Smart Money, Slate, OK! Magazine, Peter Greenberg radio and many others. I’ve visited 306 countries and am one of the world’s most-traveled people.

“I believe in globalization of everything including people. I believe that I am a citizen of Earth. I believe that people around the world are at their core, basically good and the same. I believe that more people should experience the world and the way traveling can open their eyes and minds to different and exciting things. I believe in just being myself. I believe in life.” – Lee Abbamonte