How to Travel: Good, Cheap and Fast

If there’s one lesson I’ve learned from the road, it’s that when you travel you can have two of the above, but not all three…

Anyone here familiar with the ‘iron triangle?’ Originally a management term, it’s also a useful way to plan your travels, wherever you are going and whatever you plan to do. It suggests that when we undertake a travel project, whether that’s volunteering in Poland or backpacking through Vietnam, we can have whichever two sides of the triangle we want, but not all three.

In other words: if you want to travel in a way that is good and fast, then it won’t be cheap. If you want it cheap and fast, then it won’t be good. Or you can have it good and cheap, but you sacrifice speed.

It’s an excellent way to think about travel because it lets you manage your resources accordingly. If you work full-time at a demanding job, you’ll probably find yourself money rich but time poor, meaning that you should just go somewhere good and fast. If you’re an unemployed graduate, unless you’re a trustafarian, you’ll have more time than most but little in the way of wealth. Good and slow is the way that you should travel. Not much time or money? Travel is still possible, just about, but you’ll find that the quality drops. Peanut butter sandwiches in the dorm again tonight anyone?

Charlies iron travel triangle - Charlie on Travel

How to Travel: Good and Fast

When Charlie and I were teaching English in Taiwan, my parents came along to visit. This was a great chance for me to show them my home for the year, yet I desperately wanted a holiday of my own too. Due to the stresses of teaching, my heart was set on a break in the Philippines. If you work full-time, you might find that you don’t have much free time and the last thing that you want to do is spend a weekend searching for cheap flights.

Due to a slight miscommunication (and cunningly phrased Filipino airline websites), we ended up spending much more on our plane tickets than we could of done. With our hotel, we wanted something on the beachfront and with enough room for all six of us, so the price went up again. And we drank all the mango shakes and ate all the aubergine and egg with chilli (tortang tolong) that we could manage. The holiday was good and fast, and I don’t regret it for a minute, but it certainly wasn’t cheap!

El Nido Palawan the Philippines - Charlie on Travel

How to Travel: Fast and Cheap

Overall, Charlie and I had a wonderful time in Vietnam. But we wanted to see as much of the country as possible, we wanted to do it in a month so we could be home for Christmas and we wanted to spend as little money as possible. Not only did this mean cramming in a lot of cool places that deserved more of our time, but it also meant a lot of time on board buses and trains.

Travelling this way is also how we found ourselves on a Vietnamese sleeper bus. Charlie’s has already written about bus survival tactics (she thought she was going to die), but suffice to say it’s not an experience I would recommend to anyone that I actually liked. The bag of powder and the driver’s bright red eyes alone should serve as a warning to anyone considering this travel option! But it was fast, it was cheap, and it let us see more of Vietnam in a short space of time than would have otherwise been possible.

Luke jumping sand dunes in Vietnam - Charlie on Travel

How to Travel: Good and Cheap

This is probably our favourite way to travel! We don’t have much money, we like to have amazing new experiences and we’re very happy to take our sweet time. There are plenty of ways to travel good and cheap, we’ve tried hitch-hiking, couchsurfingvolunteeringteaching abroad and house sitting and highly recommend them all. I’ve also heard good things about scholarships abroad.

This kind of travel sure isn’t speedy! Everyone we meet is amazed that we’ve been in Costa Rica for seven months and counting, but thanks to house sitting we’ve managed to see every part of the country and never live beyond our humble means. With all this time on our hands, we’ve had incredible experiences like hiking through the national parks which are home to amazingly diverse wildlife, seeing the turtle arribada in Ostionaltree-climbing in the rainforest, exploring a Costa Rican spice farm, and just genuinely getting a feel for the culture here. In our opinion, it’s a long time well spent.

Luke guards a baby turtle in Ostional - Charlie on Travel

What to Take Away from the Iron Triangle?

I like the iron triangle because whilst it’s based in real world constraints, it has some travel advice for everyone. For the hard-workers of the world, it says don’t lose too much sleep over finding the best deal: your time is precious and your wallet is larger than most. For those without money or time, it says that you can travel too, if you are prepared to put up with some discomforts along the way. And if, like us, you are prepared to take your time and put work in at the planning stage, you can live like a king for much, much less.

What do you think about the iron triangle? What’s your preferred method of travel?

Luke Nicholson

Luke is Charlie's partner and long-term travel companion. Though currently working as an online marketer, Luke is also a CELTA qualified ESL teacher, experienced house sitter and avid video gamer. He loves howler monkeys too.

16 thoughts to “How to Travel: Good, Cheap and Fast”

  1. Ha, yes! I usually group all my travel experiences using the same principle! If you have enough time and few liabilities – slow travelling is your best option.

    Some of my friend’s get pretty amazed that I spend so much time traveling mostly around France when I can hop on some cheap Ryanair flight and spend each-other weekends at a new country within EU. Sometimes it’s hard to explain it won’t bring me as much satisfaction as going exploring one country and culture to it’s full :)
    Elena@Elena’s Travelgram recently posted…Best French Food Series: BurgundyMy Profile

    1. That’s awesome! 100% agree that if you can, then slow travel is the best option. I think you’re right though, quite a lot of people don’t really ‘get it’ because it’s not something that they’ve done themselves. If I was in your position, I’d definitely want to be hanging out in France on the weekends mostly too. Jetting around for 2 days isn’t worth it in my opinion, it’s all too rushed, tiring and bad for the environment. Here’s to exploring a country and its culture to the full!

  2. Brilliant article. I never thought about travel this way but it makes complete sense. I like slow travel myself in fact i’m more an expat than a traveller but wouldn’t change it. I may not have an impressive list of countries i’ve been too but i feel like i reallly know and understand the ones i’ve lived in. I enjoy getting to know people, their culture and have a go at living the way they live and i find it enriching.
    Never been one to insist on the cheapest options, i don’t splash out either but dead cheap usually means crappy too and what’s the point of travelling if you’re not gonna enjoy it totally: i prefer to pay a decent price to get what i want then cut out some unnecessary items during the trip. I also google lists of Free activities to do, every country/city has some.
    Jameela Deen recently posted…Expat and Muslim in Australia – Guest PostMy Profile

  3. Interesting article. It all makes sense now…I spend every short precious holiday trying to recreate the good , slow travel experienced in the past… Roll on retirement!!

    1. Ahhh I know right. Couchsurfing is great, though we’ve found it works much better in certain countries – Poland was our best experience with it so far! – and it hasn’t been popular our here in Costa Rica. Where’s your next trip going to be to, Hannah? =)

  4. Ah, I wish I could travel slow, since I love traveling “good and cheap”! My husband and I own our own businesses, so there’s no way we can spend months volunteering abroad, but we are lucky enough to be able to make our own schedule, so we’re part-time travelers to the core! I still love traveling as cheap as I can though! :)
    Bailey K. recently posted…Madrid – What to Do and Where to EatMy Profile

    1. Hi Bailey, nice to hear from you :) That’s great! What’s your business? My partner and I also work, we would love to volunteer but that’s not an option for us. It does, however, make us perfectly suited to house sitting assignments as long as there is good wifi, so it’s all good! Glad to hear business doesn’t get in the way of your travels :)

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