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Tropics are the Cheap Travel Stomping Ground

SUCHITOTO, El Salvador- I don’t want to travel with Petra in the tropics anymore, my wife told me. My heart sank. I know that this statement is akin to saying, “I don’t want to travel anymore.” Because the tropics are the budget traveler’s true stomping ground. There is a belt around the mid-section of planet [...]

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SUCHITOTO, El Salvador- I don’t want to travel with Petra in the tropics anymore, my wife told me.

My heart sank.

I know that this statement is akin to saying, “I don’t want to travel anymore.” Because the tropics are the budget traveler’s true stomping ground.

Stay near the tropics to travel cheap

There is a belt around the mid-section of planet earth where the weather tends towards being warm, seasonal change means little more than rain or no rain, lower than mountain height you never need to think about wearing another layer over your t-shirt, the days pass slow, there is lots of sunlight as a rule, and the people, almost, invariably seem to have a amiable, conversation prone demeanor.

Happily, this is the zone around the planet where the living is also, typically, the cheapest.

A tropical traveler can move about the world for a decade through 100 countries without the need for carrying a coat of any sort in their rucksack, rarely ever needing to pay more than $400 a month for food, water, and shelter — often paying vastly less. The tropics are a traveler’s stomping ground for more reasons than one: it is not just paradise here, it is paradise on sale.

In the tropics, the environmentally derived living pressures are often far dimmer than deep into the northern or southern hemispheres. In the tropics, a man wear clothes purely out of social convention, there is little worry about keeping warm, fruits fall at your feet, it is too hot to do much work, and a house does not even need windows or a door to be habitable. The basic living is easier here, so the people tend to work less, and sit around watching the days pass more.

The tropics are a good down shift of gears for a northern or southern raised traveler. As soon as your plane lands in a location in the tropics, as soon as you step out into the sun for the first time, you feel the heat, your eyes squint tight, and you feel this immense sucking feeling of all inertia, energy, and impetus leaving your body. You are into the tropics, it is time to enjoy time.

In the north and south, the seasons get frigid, a man is at constant odds with his environment for three quarters of the year, food needs to be hearty, warm, and filling, a house needs to be insulated properly and equipped with full infrastructures of heating gadgetry, you have to dress yourself or freeze, and base subsistence tends to always be a slightly convoluted endeavor. You learn how to work hard in the north, only a degenerate would sit around all day playing time pass. And the living is expensive.

For two thirds of the year the northern sun carries a frigid smirk as if to say, “Tricked you, sucker. What, did you think the sun was suppose to warm you up or something? You’re in the cold, you’re in the north, dumbass.”

I have no idea why people other than skiers, dog sledders, prospectors, fishermen, bearded hermits, and blubber eating Intuits choose to live in the cold. I have no idea why the northern and southern flanks of the planet have not yet joined up to invade and take over the warm and tropical climes of planet earth. The far north and south may have money but they don’t have the sun, the warmth, and the easy days of the tropics.

The old time travelers use to say that they were going out to “girdle the globe” when they planned an around the world trip. This term implies more than merely a journey around the world, it means a journey planned out along the strips of latitude where, if able, lady earth would wear her girdle: the tropics.

Who would dare think of traveling anywhere else?

My wife would, apparently. There is a flip side to traveling in the tropics, and that is the fact that the grand majority of malicious insects, parasites, and an entire array of illnesses have also discovered that the tropics are a pretty good place to live.

When you travel in the tropics, you often take a far higher risk of contracting severe illness. Perhaps this is a matter of opinion, but I doubt it: malaria, dengue, all sorts of other raunchy illnesses abound, grow, and multiply in abundance in the tropics. Deadly illnesses that can strike at any time are part of life here. To travel in the tropics means facing illness on a far greater scale than moving about the world in the temperate zones.

Petra picked up some amoebas a couple of weeks ago — Chaya blamed it on the tropics — she came down with a slight bacterial infection last week — Chaya blamed it on the tropics.

Rightly so, perhaps.

But traveling outside of the tropics often means paying three times as much money to live three times more poorly — unless we want to spend all of our time in the Balkans, Northern China, or Mongolia. In point, the cheap travel zone of planet earth roughly follows the lines preset by the Tropic of Capricorn and the Topic of Cancer. To travel the world continuously and cheaply, you need to girdle the globe.

Knowing these parameters, Chaya and I needed to work out a new travel strategy. We will not avoid the tropics, to do so would mean budgetary masochism, but we will travel the tropics mindfully:

There is a loophole of geography here, and that is the fact that some of the highest regions of the world fall within the tropics. In the mountains there is no malaria, no dengue, and tropical illness are kept down below in the steaming lowlands.

Though most of the highland areas in the tropical zone are also cheap to travel and live in. We are looking towards the Himalayan foothills, the Andes, the bare naked mountains of North Africa, Ethiopia is a highland country, and there are low ranges of mountains that stretch right across China and into Central Asia.

We will still travel in the tropics, though we will do so with coats on. I must say that this will probably not be the image conjured up when I say we are tropical travelers.

Climate | Geography


Filed under: Travel Strategy, Travel Tips

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 90 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3691 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: Trenton, Maine

5 comments… add one

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  • Reina May 6, 2010, 5:02 pm

    Why not stay put in that tropical belt. and ascend to cooler climes. In many tropical countries the highlands shine with
    ideal perennial springtime weather. Really much more agreeable than the hot and humid lowlands.

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com May 6, 2010, 6:35 pm

      Haha, that was the solution we came to! Was going to write it temporally, but you already nailed it.

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  • Caitlin May 7, 2010, 11:00 am

    Boliviaaaaaaaaa. Guess how much malaria’s going on at 3600 meters in La Paz?

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com May 7, 2010, 12:35 pm

      Right on, Caitlin, right on. Now to figure out a way to get in and not pay $400 for the family haha. Hmm, maybe look for English teaching jobs.

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