Our big secret: how we afford to travel full-time

Tips, tricks and recommendations to save money before and during you long-term trip. This is what we did to afford to travel full-time for over a year.

We always get a lot of questions about how we’re able to travel full time.  Did we win the lottery?  Unfortunately not!

Did we get a big inheritance?  Nope

Were we super rich and just didn’t tell anyone?  Yes!

No, of course not!

If we were, we would have left long ago!  But none of that is important, because we learned that you don’t need to be super rich to travel well.  you just have to make smart choices and be comfortable with your decisions.

So, you know why we decided to head out on this trip, but here’s how we did it.

They say that a journey of 1,000 miles starts with one footstep.  Well, the same goes for this trip.  It takes one decision to make it all possible.  Maybe it was perfect timing for us, but we just decided to do it.  That’s all it took.  A simple yes.  And somewhat of a plan, but more on that later!

There were a hundred reasons keeping us at home.  The good jobs, friends and family, our cat, our condo, the actual expense of this trip, the things we were going to miss out on.  The list goes on and on.  But the fact that we wanted to go on this journey was enough for us to take that leap.

We know we’re putting our careers on hold. And we know we’re missing out on hockey nights and Thursday Happy Hours, but we’ll jump right into that when we get back home.  And the money?  Yeah, let’s be honest, this trip is costing us a pretty penny, but we wouldn’t trade it for the world.

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Peace out Canada, here we come world!

So, how did we save so much?  Well, we were careful with our money.  We had actually started saving to buy a place long before we had this idea.  So a chunk of our spending money comes from the savings we had.  Sure, that doesn’t leave much of a security blanket for later, but we know we’ll be heading home eventually, getting work, and we’ll fill it back up. (Then probably decide to leave and spend it all again).

We actually don’t mind that. We realized that we want to travel more than to have that security anyway.  With everything we do, we do it our way, so we’ll make it work.  We know that this is what we want to be spending our money on anyway, so it doesn’t matter how much we have in the bank now.

Before the trip

So how did we save?  Well, we made sacrifices.  Our priority was to fill our account as much as possible, so that’s what we did.  At all costs.  Did we stop having fun?  No, we just limited the amounts of times we did it.  It’s crazy once you stop buying things, you realize you actually don’t need that much.

So here are some of the ways we saved before our trip. Basically, we looked at what we were spending the most on and started cutting there.  You’ll notice that most of our spending was on drinks and nights out.  We knew that having less fun at home, where it costs more to live, would mean more fun on the road.  That was motivation enough.

Make lunches and dinners

We’ll start off simple, and it might not seem like a lot, but spending $10 on lunch 2-3 times a week adds up real quick!  Ordering in does as well!  Instead, we would make weekly meal plans and make sure we had enough for lunches too.  Your meal cost goes waaaaay down when you start making a weekly meal plan that uses the same ingredients.  We bought in bulk when we could, but avoided wasting food.  Did we coupon shop?  No, that’s not our style, but if it’s yours, then you go with your bad coupon self!

Go out less

We love going out with friends.  Drinks on Thursdays, date nights on Tuesdays, random party nights on Fridays or Saturdays.  And we like to eat and drink a lot.  So that’s the first place we cut.  Not to say that we didn’t go out, but we limited ourselves to going out once every 2 weeks or once a month.  This was a vast improvement from our usual 2-3 nights out.

When out, spend better

This is pretty simple, we would simply stick to a budget when we went out.  We would pick a more affordable (but still delicious) place.  We would only have 1 drink (or none, if we were feeling strong), and pick an affordable meal option.  This usually means no appetizer, but that’s ok!

Stay in and host

We throw epic parties! Always have, always will.  And we love hosting, so it was easy for us to keep this trend going.  One thing we did do however, is to host less, and spend less when we did.  I make insane amounts of food, so Derek had to limit me and veto some of my more expensive choices, but our parties were still epic.

Quit the drinks and snacks

This is probably where most of our money goes.  We love a good bottle of wine, or scotch, and probably make alcohol runs every week to stock up our cellar.  We had to cut on spending here, and make our runs less frequent.  We also limited the number of snacks we got and ate in a week.  Derek is a snack fiend, so this was harder for him!

Be a cheap date

We are firm believers in date nights.  After 8 years together, we want to keep the flame alive, so we try to do a date night every week.  Instead of going out, we would find cute date nights to have in.  Each week, the other person would plan, and it could be as simple as watching a movie, to cooking an elaborate meal with a fancy wine.  If we were feeling extra special, we would splurge on getting a dessert.  There are still tons of things you can do keep the romance alive, without spending a ton of money!

Stop buying

We had started doing this long before this trip.  We realized that we actually don’t need that many clothing options to look good and professional at our jobs.  Trends come and go, and the stores want you to buy more.  Instead, we bought classic pieces that would not go out of style, and didn’t spend on things.  Do we really need 4 pairs of jeans?  Probably not.

Buy with incentive

One of the things we discovered was buying through Ebates.  A lot of the sites you buy on, like Amazon, booking.com, Sephora, and more are on the site.  So when you buy from those sites, you actually get a percentage of your spending back.  And everyone loves to get money back!

Shop the sales & sign up for the newsletters

That’s pretty clear.  If we needed to buy things, especially for this trip, we would only shop during sales.  Mark-ups in retail are pretty crazy, sometimes as high as 60%.  Knowing this, it only makes sense to buy things when they are on sale.  Also, we signed up for the newsletters of all the stores we knew we needed things from for our trip.  Signing up gave us extra discounts that we used towards our purchases.  Another easy win!

Sell, sell, sell as much as you can

We had to clear out our place to move out, so what better opportunity than this to get rid of all those things we don’t need.  We have a rule that we stick to, and that’s if you haven’t used it in 1 year (sometimes even 6 months), then it’s time to get rid of it.  We give a lot to our local Salvation Army and to our friends, but if we had things that were gently or barely used, we sold them.  From clothes to kitchen appliances to furniture.  Whatever we could, we did sell!  We even sold our car, which helped us quite a bit.

Truth be told, we probably could have spent less and saved more, but we don’t like to limit ourselves to the point that being at home is no longer fun.  We kept our budget loose, but whenever we were going to spend money, we would ask ourselves if it was really worth it and if we really needed it.  And if the answer was no, we would just walk away!

During the trip

We also try to keep our spending to a minimum while on this trip.  That means getting creative with the way we do certain things.  We’ll get into detail about some of these but here are some tricks we’ve found that work for us.

Renting our condo out

We didn’t want to sell our place, though, that may have made us some more money in a quick flash.  Instead, we decided to reap in the long-term benefits of owning property and renting it out. We don’t make huge margins because of the way we get taxed, but it’s enough to keep the travel going a little more each month.

Cheap hotels

We don’t slum it completely, but we try to pick pretty cheap hotels.  Truth is, we barely spend any time in our hotel room.  So why spend a huge amount on a place we’ll only be sleeping in.  We pick private rooms (we’re too old for dorms) in hostels, cheap hotels, whatever we can get a good deal on.  If they have laundry or breakfast included, then it’s a major win!

Hotels with kitchens

We love cooking and being away from home, it’s harder to do when we travel so much.  That’s why we like to get rooms that have a little kitchenette.  Even if it’s just to make breakfast in the morning, or pasta a few nights, it’s nice to eat in and to save on meals.

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I’ll take your sweetest mango to go with the sweetest wife

Using referral codes

Because we book so many hotels, we have a pretty sweet deal through Booking.com.  And you can have it too!  We have a special link that allows us to get $25CND back when people book through it.  When you use this link, you get $25 off too!  We have other friends that have this link too, and we use theirs when we book our rooms.  So that’s a whole lot of savings and money back.  Win for everyone!

Another great way to save some money for you and your friends is by referring people to Airbnb.  By having someone new sign up to Airbnb, they receive a $45 discount, and at the same time, you get a $25 dollar credit for you to use.  For anyone looking to get in on this deal, check out our link here.

Hotel collaborations

Because we have a growing following on Instagram and this blog, we have been fortunate enough to work with certain hotels.  In exchange for visibility on our platforms, we get free nights accommodations.  We still end up doing a lot of work to get these, but they do help our budget out.

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A recent collaboration with Bai Hotel in Cebu, Philippines

They are also beneficial to the hotels as they get added visibility and content that they would not get otherwise.  We also offer them other services to help them out.  Each influencer has their own thing, so if you want to do this, find what works best for you and for them.  It’s important that this relationship be mutually beneficial.

Eating smart

This may not be a great solution for everyone, but it works for us.  We usually wake up pretty late, just in time for brunch.  Then, we’ll grab a fruit and veggie snack for a late lunch, and eat an early supper.  By cutting the number of meals we eat during the day, we end up saving quite a bit.  Another solution is to find cheap local eats that are still delicious.  In Japan, the 711s and Lawson’s have some pretty delicious meals that are cheap AF.  Street food in Thailand is also amazing.  The food at local markets give you nutritious and delicious meals at a fraction of the cost.

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Market food is so good, and so cheap

Drink and snack less

This is probably the hardest thing for (one of) us to do.  We drink and snack a lot back home, so breaking this habit was a little tougher.  But once we realized how quickly things start adding up, even the $0.50 beers in Vietnam, we put a cap on our drink/snack spending.  We only drink 1-2 beers with 1 meal.  And we only drink 2 days of the week.  As for snacks, we have a weekly budget so that it doesn’t get too out-of-hand.

Couchsurfing

This is not a way to get free accommodations.  This is a way of life and a great way to connect with people.  We love, love, love couchsurfing.  We have met such amazing people while we have been traveling through this platform.

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One of our best nights in Japan with our Couchsurfing hosts and 2 other couchsurfers

Living with locals, taking part in their daily life, seeing a part of town that tourists don’t see, that is what couchsurfing is about.  Yes, you get to stay with someone for free, but that is just the cherry on top of the sundae.  It’s so much more worth it for the lifelong connection.  But more on that later.

Workaway

Workaway is a great way to give back, stay put and get back to a certain routine.  Basically, you are given accommodations and sometimes food, and in exchange, you help people out.

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Derek doing a little handy work during our Workaway in Langkawi, Malaysia

The types of organizations you work with are smaller, mom-and-pop type operations, eco-resorts or other community-oriented places, which is great because you really feel like you’re giving back!  The type of tasks can range from hospitality, minor construction, cooking, cleaning, whatever.  Usually, you work for 4-5 hours a day, with 2 days off a week.  More on our first Workaway experience here.

Petsitting

This one is for pet lovers only.  We wouldn’t recommend this if you don’t love cats or dogs.  Basically, this is like house-sitting but for people who have pets and who don’t want to put their fur babies in a kennel or pet hotel while they travel.  You live in the person’s house while they are away and take care of their pets.

We did this in Sydney, for 2 weeks over the Christmas holidays and it was an awesome experience.  Not only were we in a great part of Sydney, but we got to get cat cuddles for 2 awesome furry friends.  As you can guess, we’ll have much more on this later.

Relocations

While in New Zealand, we wanted to rent a campervan for the entirety of our stay.  Driving all over the South and North islands ended up costing us more than we bargained for, but thankfully, we were introduced to a campervan relocation online service called imoova.

They operate by renting you the campervan for $1 day in exchange for bringing it from point A to point B within a certain time frame and amount of kilometers.  We ended up taking a huge 4-berth campervan from Chirstchurch to Auckland, in 5 days over 1,000 plus kms.

Thanks to imoova, this journey cost us a ton less than had we rented a campervan on our own.  Details to come on this whole experience soon.

Freelance and make money

I have been fortunate enough to be able to freelance while I’ve been on this trip.  Before I left, I had 2 clients that I helped with branding, social media and business consulting.  It wasn’t crazy hours, but it was enough to add some money in our bank account.  It was more of a “cherry on the sundae” situation, than a “keep doing this and never come back home” thing.  It helped for sure.

If you have a speciality like translation, photography, programming, or anything really, you can also offer these services to hotels, restaurants and small businesses you meet along your travels.  Or, you can put up offers online through sites like Fivrr.

Airport spending

This one is pretty simple.  Keep airport spending to a minimum.  We usually eat before we get to the airport, and always bring snacks and water with us.  This contradicts a previous point, but snacks are essential because Carine gets hangry.  And it’s not pretty!

Also, have you seen the price of certain snacks at the airport?  No thanks!  And with our Lifestraw Go, we can always fill it back up at a fountain after clearing security, so no need to buy bottles of water either.

Buying certain things back home

Inevitably, some things cost more when you’re traveling.  We found this especially true when we were in South East Asia with something we needed everyday: sunscreen.  It costs 3 times the price of what it does back home.  You have much less selection, unless you are looking for a whitening cream, and you can’t find eco-friendly options that easily (because some sunscreens kill coral and we don’t want that).  So do some research and stock up on certain things before you leave.

Drink water anywhere, anytime

This is such a simple solution to save you money and save the planet at the same time!  Instead of spending insane amounts of money every day buying plastic water bottles, we refill our Lifestraw Go.  It’s a win for you and the planet, so it’s just awesome!

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The best water solution out there, the Lifestraw Go

No souvenirs

Can you believe that we have not bought a single thing in 9 months of traveling?  Not a single knick-knack, souvenir, trinket, nothing!  Yeah, sure, we’ve seen tons of cool stuff at pretty decent prices, but do we really need it?  Nope.  Because those things take up tons of space in our luggage, and they just take our money away from what we want to spend money on.  Experiences!

Not moving around too much

Another no-brainer.  It may not seem like it, but you can’t travel for a year like you would on a 2-week vacation.  The pace is impossible to keep up in the long-run.  So take your time and travel slow.

We know we’ll be coming back to these areas later in life anyway, so if there’s something we didn’t see, we can always go back to a country.  But moving around every 2-3 days just takes its toll on you.  And the cost of moving with ferry or bus tickets, taxi fees, entry visa costs and all that, just adds up too quickly.  Not to mention the time and effort it takes to find places to stay and things to do.  No, we didn’t see it all, but what we did see, we got to enjoy and really explore.

Traveling smarter

This one is another easy one.  Traveling smarter means looking for the cheapest but best way to get from point A to point B.  Same as the previous point, we look at where we want to go and see how to get there.  We’re not always married to our next destination, so we use the “Everywhere” on Skyscanner to find the cheapest city to fly to.  We scope out prices online and at terminals for bus or train tickets (usually, IRL is cheaper).  We look for deals or promo codes online to save a few pennies.  It may seem like a lot of work, but to us, it’s totally worth it.

There you have it!  These are the ways we’ve found to cut our spending or earn a little side money.  We’re curious to know if you’ve found creative ways of doing this as well.  Let us know in the comments.


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Learn our secrets for traveling full-time. How we saved, how we spend, tips and tricks to keep the travels going. Includes tips for before your trip and during your travels www.wediditourway.com

Workaway – How to afford travelling long-term

If you want to afford travelling for longer, check out our first experience with Workaway. Plus tips and tricks to make the best of your experience.

We’ve been away from home for over 9 months now, and are still hoping to be gone for the next 5 to 6 months.  To keep the dream alive, we have had to come up with ways to make our money last us a little longer.  We have discovered a multitude of ways to do this along our travels, from Couchsurfing, to pet sitting, to camper van relocations.

So when we meet other travelers like ourselves, we are keen to talk about how we all manage to stay on the road without a steady income.  When we went for dinner in Singapore with Charlie and Lauren (better known on Instagram to their 80K+ followers as @wanderersandwarriors) during an Instagram meet-up, it is no wonder that this topic was broached.

This is when we were introduced to the concept that is Workaway.  It was described to us by Charlie and Lauren as a way for them to stay in Sri Lanka for roughly a month with free food and accommodations in exchange for working 5 hours a day, 5 days a week, at the hostel they stayed in.

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Beautiful Tanjang Rhu beach, a short drive away from our Workaway home

Whether it was checking in guests, helping to prepare breakfast in the morning, or giving people recommendations on where to go and what to see, for a mere 25 hours a week, most of their living expenses were covered.

We made a mental note of Workaway and kept the trip going.  One day in late April,  while we were in Thailand, we were looking at our bank account, and thought to ourselves, that it may be time to put our money-saving knowledge to use!

We had also been moving around quite a lot in those last months, and were looking to stay put for a little bit.  Knowing that we were planing on visiting the Philippines in early June, we figured we should make our journey that way.  So we decided to check out the site and see what we could find in Malaysia.

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We lost count of how many sunsets we saw on Cenang beach, a quick scooter ride away from our home

What did we want out of this?  Well, obviously we wanted to save some money, so having our accommodations taken care for was priority number 1.

We wanted to be by a beach, for sure. But, I mean, who doesn’t want that?

And lastly, we wanted to do work in hospitality.  We figured that since we love meeting new people and hearing their stories, this would be a great fit for us.  Also, we have a dream of getting into the hospitality business ourselves, so this was a natural fit for us.

This is where Odin, Nurul and Langkawi came into our lives.

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Our favourite beach, Skull beach.  This is also really close to our Workaway home in Langkawi.

It’s weird how some things come together naturally.  When we tried petsitting for the first time, it was our first request that came to fruition.  Well just like that, it was the same with Workaway.  After reading Odin and Nurul’s listing, and checking out Langkawi, we sent them our information, and they got back to us right away.

A little Whatsapp conversation later, and that was it, we are on our way to Langkawi to work for 3 weeks!  We also later found out that it was their first Workaway experience too.

Odin and Nurul are a soon-to-be-married couple who are a tad younger than we are.  Their story is actually quite similar to ours.  Nurul has roots in Malaysia, but like Odin, grew up in Sweden.  In their 20’s, they decided to move to Singapore for work.

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You have to love lighthouses!  This is Langkawi’s only stone lighthouse.

Before you knew it though, they decided to make a change.  Tired of corporate work, the proverbial 9-to-5, they wanted something else (ya, that sounds familiar).  Having her roots, and family in Langkawi, they made the decision to move “back home”, so to speak.

They decided to open an Airbnb.  Odin actually stayed in Singapore for a little bit, while Nurul set things up in Langkawi, just in case their dream of island living didn’t go as expected.

Well hard work and dedication paid off, because it wasn’t long before Odin was headed to Langkawi as well.  One year later, they now boast nine units, seven of which are for rent on Airbnb and 2 to house Workawayers like us.  No small feat for such a short timeframe!

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Working hard putting up this towel rack at Rama Rama

Now back to us.  We arrived in Langkawi pretty late, around 10PM, and Odin and Nurul came to pick us up at the airport.  They showed us the unit we would be staying in and told us they would come by the next day to go over our responsibilities.

The next day, they filled us in.  Our main duties would consist of:

  • Checking in and out guests in their 3 units (as 4 of them were not ready to be rented just yet)
  • Bringing the linens and towels to the cleaners after guests checked out, and picking them up the next day
  • Helping them put the final touches on the 4 new places, including some handy work and gardening
  • Being the main point of contact for guests in case they had any questions or needed anything
  • Showing the guests around in case they booked any activities
  • Gardening and maintaining the 3 existing units
  • Insuring that cleaning supplies and required inventory were stocked at all times
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We are always silly, but maybe more so here Dash Resort, the perfect spot in Langkawi to go for a dip

Seeing as though we had to run around doing errands most days, they provided us with a scooter to get around.  I’ve driven a scooter twice before, and quickly fell in love with getting around on 2 motorized wheels!

We spent the first 2 weeks taking care of guests and putting the finishing touches on Rama Rama.  That was the toughest part, physically.  It was so hot the whole time (easily 35 degrees Celsius), and the work was either outside gardening, or inside drilling into ceramic and concrete, without AC!

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The sunsets over the paddy fields by Halia Village were pretty epic!

Even though we were working, we still managed to do a ton of island exploring (take a look at our blog on what to do in Langkawi), and hanging out at one of the many great beaches on the island.  We discovered great food at the local night markets, experienced controversial Malaysian elections and lived through Ramadan for the first time.

The work was different for sure, considering we haven’t really worked since we left in September (though Carine has done some freelance marketing work).  It was a balance of getting our tasks done, staying on top of things, doing our own thing; including still getting great pics for our Instagram, keeping up on the blogging, and enjoying life.  We are on one long vacation after all!

There were some frustrations that came along with our Workaway.  Most of which was attributable to two things: communication and expectations.

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All smiles when we have the day off and visit the Durian waterfalls!

Communication was an issue at times.  Often things would change last minute, like we would be heading out to do some exploring after asking for permission, and then half way there would be told that we had to return back to the units because a delivery was being made in 5 minutes…  This has a bit to do with the way islanders live as well, where nothing is done when expected.

As for expectations, it was little things.  When you think you are committing to working 5 hours a day, we thought that would be 5 straight hours, then we would have the rest of the day to do what we want.  And when you think we work 5 days a week, we thought it would be 2 days off in a row.  And lastly are these days off… we did have a few days where we didn’t have anything to do, but most of our days off still consisted of taking care of a check-in, or a check-out, or dropping off / picking up laundry.

These small things didn’t take up much time on our days off, but they did sometimes make it harder for us to plan doing what we wanted to do.

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We had the Durian waterfalls all to ourselves.

Don’t get me wrong, we enjoyed our Workaway experience, we even extended it to a full month.  We got along well with Odin and Nurul, and even hung out with them for supper and games on certain nights.  We will likely be doing some more Workaways once we get to Europe and cost of living rises dramatically.  But sometimes, those little things can be irritating.

For sure the fact that it was both of our first times doing this contributed to some of these little issues, but it was still a great experience.  We learned a lot on how to run Airbnb units, how things work in Langkawi, we got to make some new friends, got into our little life routine, and best of all, we got to cook homemade meals.

So I guess the thing to take away from our experience for the future is to clarify things from the get-go.

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Fresh fruit is one of the best things about Langkawi

We loved our time in Langkawi and doing a Workaway was a big part of why we loved it.  It let us get a glimpse into the hospitality world, one we may one day also like to get into.  It also let us stay put like we hadn’t done since leaving our home.  We will fondly remember our time with Odin and Nurul, and ever appreciate the opportunity they gave us.

Tips for a successful Workaway experience

Here are a few tips to know to find a great Workaway for you, and to have a successful time with your hosts.

Know your strengths and your weaknesses

This is the most important thing in looking for a Workaway experience.  Know what you like and don’t, and know where you excel.  If you aren’t a people-person, maybe don’t apply to work in a hostel.  If you love to cook, try to find something that will let you use this passion.  You are working, so why not make it as enjoyable as you can, especially since you’re not getting paid.

Read up on your potential hosts’s reviews

You do this when looking for a restaurant, so why not do it to find out who your new “boss” is going to be.  Check out what others are saying about the hosts, what the tasks they did were and how they liked their experience.

After all, the list of tasks and responsibilities are chosen from a predetermined list, so sometimes it doesn’t accurately depict what you will be doing from day to day.  The reviews are a much better way to see what the experience will likely be.

Just be yourself

When writing to hosts or filling out your profile, just be yourself.  Don’t try to make yourself into someone you are not, with skills you don’t have.  Lying about having a certain skill could land you a workaway that you really want (based on timing or where it is), but in the end you will be the one who will probably regret this.

Don’t dismiss the value you bring

You will probably feel like the accommodations you are being freely provided are worth a lot, and they likely are.  But never forget that you are freeing up time for the hosts, and time is the most valuable commodity there is!  What each party provides has value, but don’t feel as though you are in their debt.

Clarify each party’s expectations

As we mentioned it earlier, make sure you talk with your hosts to clarify what you are both expecting from your experience from the get-go.  Ask questions, as many as you can think of.  Ask them what your schedule is, how the time off works, if the food is provided, what your tasks are, what your limits are.  Make sure that you are both seeing eye-to-eye on the major points.

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What a month in Langkawi, so many laughs with this lovely gal!

Make compromises and be flexible

This one is pretty simple, you have to be willing to make compromises, and to be flexible.  Of course we are traveling, and we want to do whatever we want, whenever we want.  This is the ultimate freedom after all.  But know that you will not be able to do that while on a Workaway.  Go into the experience knowing this, and you will have a better chance at having a positive time.


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Discover an affordable way to travel and work - Workaway. It's one of the ways we reduced our costs of traveling long-term. Including some tips and recommendations to make the best of your experience and pick the right Workaway.  www.wediditourway.com

Your ultimate city guide to Langkawi, Malaysia

Tips, tricks and recommendations to make the best of your time in Langkawi, Malaysia. What to do, where to stay, where to eat and everything else to enjoy this island in Malaysia.

Our time in Langkawi was unlike anything we have done so far.  For the first time during this trip, we stayed put for a whole month.  No running around, less crazy exploration. We set ourselves down in the middle of some rice paddy fields, got ourselves a routine with our Workaway, and loved the simple and relaxing island life.

You can enjoy Langkawi and do most of what there is in 3 days, but if you really want to disconnect and immerse yourself in the sweet island life, then give yourself a good week.

Things to know

Langkawi is a predominantly Muslim island, so just be respectful of the locals with how you dress and how you address them.  You shouldn’t touch someone of the opposite sex.  And easy on the PDA when you are around them.

Also important to note that there aren’t many ATMs on the island.  The main ones are at the airport and in malls.  Not many places accept cards, so make sure you always have money on you.  But don’t worry, the ATMs don’t charge fees here.  Win!

Getting around

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The best and easiest way to get around Langkawi is by scooter.

There is no public transportation on the island so the best thing to do is to rent a car or a scooter.  We had the joy of driving around on a scooter the whole time we were here, and can say that it’s quite safe and easy.  Just make you you always carry your license and helmet with you as police road blocks are quite frequent.

Another easy and quick way to get around is through Grab.  Make sure you download the app before getting there.  You can easily get someone to come pick you up and drop you off and it’s super cheap.

Things to do

This island offers quite a few things to do, from fun activities to lazy beaches. There is something for everyone and every budget.

Beaches

There are 3 main beaches on the island, though you will find other small ones too.

Cenang

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Cenang beach on a beautiful afternoon

This is the main tourist beach, where you will find all the bars and restaurants.  You also have tons of resorts on this stretch of beach.  You can also find any water sport that you may be interested doing on Cenang beach.

The sand is white but very hard and full of shells.  The water is nice, but clarity depends on the number of boats running around and if it rained that night.  You can rent long chairs to lounge on or do a ton of activities here, but those aren’t free.

Tanjang Rhu

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Go all the way to the end of the road to find an empty Tanjang Rhu beach

This is where you will find the luxury resorts like the Four Seasons.  The beach is fairly secluded as it’s in a more quiet part of the island.  The best place to enjoy it is all the way at the end of the strip, near where the mangrove tours leave.  There, you have a few local restaurants and shops.  Expect clear waters, calm seas and beautiful sunsets.

Skull beach (Pantai Tengkorak)

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Our favourite beach in Langkawi, Skull Beach

This was our favorite beach on the island.  Soft white sand, clear blue waters and more importantly, barely anyone around.  The first time we went there, there were only a handful of locals.  The next times, there was barely anyone else there.

The entrance for this beach is a little odd: There are a few huts and cottages around and the main area around it is gated, but rest assured you can go and enjoy the best beach on the island.

Other beaches

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We found this stone lighthouse near Pantai Kok

There are a few other beaches too, but when we find one we like, we just stick to it.  You can do the same!

  • Pantai Kok is north of Cenang beach.  It’s small and in the lagoon with tons of boats around, but it’s quiet and lovely.  For an added photo-op, there’s a cute stone lighthouse around the bend from the beach.
  • Pantai Tengah is just around the cliff from Cenang beach.  It’s quieter, smaller, but offers better sand.
  • And finally, Black Sand Beach (Pantai Pasir Hitam), 4 km southwest of Tanjang Rhu, is a stretch of black sand that looks amazing at sunset!

Dash Resort

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Dash’s infinity pool overlooks Pantai Tangah beach

Ok maybe Dash resort is not a beach, but it has a beautiful pool!  It’s quite different than anything else you’ll find on the island, so it’s pretty cool.  If you want to lounge around a beautiful resort pool, Dash is the place.  All you need to do to have access is to order food, or a drink, then the place is all yours!  Ok, you might have to share the pool with others, but each time we went, the crowds were pretty small.

The theme at Dash is “down the rabbit hole”, a theme inspired by Alice in Wonderland.  You will find statues, paintings, and all other kinds of art from the iconic children’s story.

You can even head down to a nice white sand beach, Pantai Tangah.  This beach is quieter than Cenang, and has nicer sand, so win-win if you ask us.

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Dash’s “down the rabbit hole” theme from Alice in Wonderland is out of this world

Waterfalls

The 3 main waterfalls to see on the island are the 7 Wells,  Air Terjun Temurun and the Durian Perangin waterfalls.  As you can imagine, the best time to see these waterfalls is during the rainy season, as they are barely alive during the dry season.  It was only the start of the rainy season when we were in Langkawi, so the falls were not as active.  Entrance to all these falls are free.

7 Wells Waterfalls (Telaga Tujuh)

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Usually, there is a lot more water flowing down the 7 Wells waterfall

Situated near the Cable Car (you can see them from there), these falls are actually seven natural pools that are connected and fed by seven separate waterfalls in Mount Mat Cincang.  To get to the wells and the observation deck, you will need to hike up some 690 steep steps, or about 10 minutes.  But be warned, it’s a hot and sweaty trek.  Is it worth it?  Yeah, after all, these waterfalls are said to be Langkawi’s most wonderful natural attraction… during the rainy season!  They were barely full when we were there!

Locals believe that the Telaga Tujuh Waterfalls are home to fairies, but it’s probably due to the fact that the nature around the falls is so lush and beautiful!  If the heat doesn’t get to you, you can climb to the top of the falls, past huge rocks and through the seven pools.  It will take you around 45 minutes, but you’ll be sure to spot plenty of birds and animals.  There are no bins along the way, so be sure to take your trash back home with you.

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This contraption above us is a viewing platform, where you can see the bottom portion of the 7 wells waterfall

After your hike, you can cool off at the pool that’s situated at the bottom of the 7 Wells. Many locals go to swim there, so it may be uncomfortable for some women as they do tend to stare a little too long for my liking.

If you’re still looking for more to do there, you also have tons of activities at the foot of the hills, like ziplining through the forest.  Make an day out of it and have some fun. These waterfalls are also a short drive from the cable car and Skull beach.

Getting here:  As with everything around the island, you will need to get here by your own means (scooter, car or Grab).  Just put the name of the falls in your GPS and it will lead you there.  If not, here is a handy link on Google Maps.

Air Tenjun Temurun

These waterfalls are in the Mat Cincang Nature Park of Datai.  A perfect place to cool down with refreshing waters coming down from the mountains.  The cascade down is about a 30 metre drop, with a nice pool below where you can swim.  Because the rainy season had barely started during our stay, we skipped these falls.  They are only full after the rain, if not, expect more of a trickle than a waterfall.

Getting here:  Same as for the other falls, just put it into your GPS or find them here.

Durian Perangin

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One of the best places in Langkawi to take a dip in some refreshing “cold” water

The Durian waterfalls are near Tanjang Rhu beach, just about 15 min away.  Thankfully, they don’t smell like durians, but instead, are quite lovely!  This is actually a 14-tier waterfall that cascades down Mount Raya, the island’s tallest mountain.  The falls are a stone’s throw away from the hot springs in Kampung Ayer Hangat.

To get to the top of the falls, you have to hike up a few steps, nothing as crazy as the 7 Wells.  The hike up here is well worth it, again, especially if it rained before.  The locals usually swim at the bottom of the falls, so we had the whole place to ourselves for a good 45 min.

Getting here:  You know the drill, just look up Durian Perangin waterfalls.

Langkawi Skycab

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What a view from the Langkawi Skycab

This is probably the most popular tourist destination on the island: the Langkawi Skycab!  At 950 metres high, it’s the longest free span mono car in the world.  The views from the top here are pretty amazing, especially on a clear sunny day.  While in the Sky Cab, you get a 360 degree view of the lush vegetation, the surrounding islands, the 7 Wells waterfalls and pretty much everything else!  The thrill of going up a super steep cable is also pretty cool and exhilarating, but probably not for those who are scared of heights.

Included in the RM55 per person price tag is the Sky Dome, a 360 degree movie experience that as about 7 minutes long; the Sky Rex, a 4D dinosaur ride that stopped working halfway through; and the 3D trick-eye museum.  However, the Sky Bridge is not included and costs an additional RM5, and if you want to take the Sky Glide, a weird-looking, slow-moving elevator that takes you from the Sky Cab tower to the Sky Bridge, add another RM10 to your costs.

Our advice would be to head there early for 2 main reasons. First is the obvious heat.  It gets super toasty up there when you’re that close to the sun.  You can’t bring water with you so try to avoid the 11AM to 2PM window.  Second, the crowds won’t be there.  This is one of the main attractions on the island, so expect tons of people.  Try to get there before 10AM or after 4PM to avoid them.

Although the views and the overall cable car experience was fun, we have one major complaint about the place.  They continuously force you to take pictures in front of green screens so that they then slap some random background in back of you.  Even when we refused to take the picture, they would not let us pass until we complied.  What a waste of people’s time, of paper and ink!  They print out all these forced pictures and sell them to you later in various shapes and forms.  We found a trick to avoid them printing it: We would cover our faces or make really ugly grimaces.  It worked like a charm!  No paper or ink wasted on us.

Getting here:  There are signs all around the island that direct you to the Sky Cab. You can follow those, or use Maps here.

Top of Mount Raya

At 881 meters, Mount Raya (Gunung Raya) is the tallest mountain on Langkawi.  Located in central Langkawi, you’ll find the Gunung Raya Golf Course at its base.  The mountain is covered with lush rainforest and creates a beautiful backdrop to the island’s landscape!  There are two ways you can get to the peak of Gunung Raya, either drive or trek.

The easiest route is obviously to get a ride up there and should take you about 30 min.  Take the not-too-steep but narrow winding road Jalan Gunung Raya that starts at its intersection with Jalan Ulu Melaka.  Be careful at the turns as many cut corners around here.

Then, if you like to hike, strap your shoes on and get climbing!  There are tour operators that will guide you up there, but from what we heard, you can trek on your own as well.  It should take between 1 to 1.5 hours.  There are no facilities on the way up, so bring food and water, and take your trash back down with you.

Once at the top, there is a resort and a watch tower, with an entrance fee of RM10.  You will get the same views as you do at the top of the Cable Car, but there are barely any people here.  It’s also a great place to watch the sunset.

Duty free shopping

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This is the best place to get alcohol and cigars in Langkawi, and at pretty cheap prices!

In case you didn’t know, Langkawi is a duty free island.  Fun fact: in 1987, the Malaysian Government declared Langkawi duty free in order to boost tourism.  So you know what that means, right?!  There are tons of shops that will sell you tax-free chocolates, alcohol and tobacco products.  Just note that there is a limit to how much alcohol you can buy and you will need to present your passport when making these purchases.  Duty free shops are clearly marked and can be found all over the island, though they are mainly around Cenang Beach and in Kuah.

How good are the deals?  Depending on what you buy, it can be quite cheaper than what you pay back home.  For example, a 1-litre of rum back home will set us back CND$55 but cost only RM30 on the island.  That’s CND$10.  And that friends, is a great deal!

Island exploring

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Located off the west coast of Malaysia, Langkawi is an archipelago of 99 islands in the Melaccan Straits of the Andaman Sea.  So as you can only imagine, there are a ton of islands around Langkawi that you can go explore.  Most are uninhabited and are just thick forest, but they are beautiful.  The famous Pregnant Maiden island is the most popular and is where couples wishing to get pregnant go because of the legend that made this island popular.  Apparently, jumping in the lake there will help you conceive more easily.

If you want to tour the islands, don’t book anything online, as it tends to be more expensive.  Instead, you can check with your accommodations, or even walk along Pantai Cenang and ask the vendors there.  The competition is quite fierce, so you will likely find something in your budget.  Just note that some islands have an entrance fee (around RM6-10) that are probably not included in the price of your ticket.

Drive around

Because there is no public transportation in Langkawi, the best way to explore the island is to drive around.  This may not sound like much, but it’s the perfect way to discover island life.

Go find some water buffalo in the rice paddy fields, stop at the local fruit stand to chat with the vendor and get some insanely fresh fruit.  We found the best mangos we have ever had while in Langkawi.  Drive along the coast and admire the natural beauty of the island.  You’ll find tons of cute little restaurants that will serve you delicious food for a small price tag!

Activities

There is no shortage of activities to do on the island.  There is something for everyone, every type of traveler and every budget.  Most vendor stalls along Cenang beach will offer these to you, and so will your accommodations, so scout out prices and go have a blast.

Here are the main activities you can do:

Mangrove tours:  These were probably the most popular of the tours offered on the island.  The tours take off near Tanjang Rhu beach, starting off on the open ocean before diverting into the narrow tributaries of the mangrove forest on the north eastern part of the island.  These tours are guided and expect to see tons of animals.  A lot of the tours include other activities as well, like feeding eagles, fish farms and lots more.

Parasailing:  All around Cenang Beach, you will find tons of boats and vendors offering to take you parasailing.  The best time to go is probably at sunset, as the ones on Cenang beach are some of the best we’ve seen!

Jet ski tours:  You can also hop on a jet ski and go explore the islands around.  Tours are usually sold in blocks of 3 hours and a guide will be with you to show you around.  Again, if you are hoping to go on some of the islands, expect to pay an entrance fee.

Boat tours:  There are a ton of boat tours available on the island.  They range from more budget-friendly options to higher-end sunset cruises.  Take a look around and find one that best suits your needs.

Zipline:  As we mentioned before, you can go zipline right at the foot of the 7 Wells waterfalls.  They have a whole course in the lush forest in the hill.

Our experience

Like we mention in the beginning, our experience in Langkawi was different than any other place we’ve been.  A few things made it so:

Malaysian Elections

First, the hotly contested Malaysian elections were held during our time on the island.  It was really cool to see the flags of the opposing parties placed all over the streets.  Residents would proudly display their preference on their front door and even their cars.

More than once, we were held behind a procession of cars parading down the streets to show their support.  The main candidates were the current prime minister at that time, who was caught in a corruption scandal, and Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the longest running prime minister who had bowed out of politics in the early 2000’s.

It was really cool to see the people rejoice after the Doctor won, making him the oldest leader in the world.  It’s always nice to see a people stand up and demand change from a corrupt government… but don’t get us started on world politics!

Ramadan

Next, during our last 2 weeks on Langkawi, we bore witness to the Holy Month of Ramadan.  Ramadan is a celebration held by all Muslims around the world where they commemorate the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammad.

During this whole month, from mid-June to mid-July this year, Muslims around the world fasted from sunrise to sunset, not even drinking a sip of water.  They also refrain from smoking, and engaging in sexual relations, and must steer clear of any sinful behaviour that may negate the reward of fasting.

The purpose of this month is not only to cleanse the soul by freeing it from harmful impurities, but it also teaches them self-discipline, self-control, sacrifice, and empathy for those who are less fortunate.  It was really great to see so many people practice this old tradition in solidarity.

During this time, a lot of businesses were closed or changed their working hours, including some local restaurants, tourist attractions and stores.  Also, our favourite night market moved, and it took us a good week to find it again.  The upside was that the night market was replaced by the Ramadan Bazaa, which was held every day, both in Kuah, and near the airport, where Muslims would head out to after sunset to break their fast.

Workaway

Finally, the last thing that marked our special experience on Langkawi was that we did our first Workaway here.  Basically, we stayed put for 1 month and helped a couple run their Airbnb’s.  But more on that later.

Where to eat

Night market: The night market in Langkawi is in a different spot every night of the week.

Monday: Ulu Melaka, Jalam Makam, Mahsuri Lama
Tuesday: Kedawang, near Cenang beach
Wednesday: Kuah Town
Thursday: Temoyong, Mukim Kedawang, Pantai Cenang (Less than 5 minutes walk from the house towards Cenang Beach).
Friday: Air Hangat, Padang Lalang
Saturday: Kuah Town
Sunday: Padang Matsirat, opposite of the Field of Burnt Rice

These night markets were some of our favorite spots to eat in Langkawi.  You will often find the locals eating here, so you know it is good.  Some of our favourite dishes were the Murtabak, the potato dumplings, noodles, these markets have everything you need.  We would often stock up for a few meals here, and the food costs next to nothing!  Just beware that food for vegetarians is limited, but you can find some pretty awesome fare still.

Burgersmith: We loved this place since they offered vegetarian burgers that you could dress with your choice of toppings.  There burgers come with fries and a drink, and all together will run you about 30RM, not bad for some good western food.

Tomato 24: Looking for great, cheap Indian food?  This is the best place on the island to find it.  Situated near Asean resort, it doesn’t look like much, but it’s delish, especially good for you vegetarians out there.  The options are limitless.  We absolutely loved the paneer masala, with rice and naan bread!  If you want to treat yo’self, splurge on the naan bread with cheese and garlic.  And by splurge, we mean spend the extra $0.50.

Where to Stay

Of course, we’re going to recommend the places we were running!  These Airbnb units are cute and homey, and the hosts who run them, along with their Workaway help, are awesome.  You can find the 3 different places here.  To help make your choice, here’s a bit about them:

Sawah Padi Villa

Set on a rice paddy field, Sawah Padi Villa is where you’ll see tons of water buffalo and some of the most amazing sunsets ever!  This home can accommodate up to 5 people and comes with a full kitchen and living area.  It’s about a 20-min walk to Cenang Beach, so you have both the peace and quiet of country living, while being close to the action.

Halia Village

A lovely unit with a full kitchen and living area as well, Halia Village accommodates up to 4 people.  This place was great for us, as it boasts a kitchen and living room.  After all our traveling it is rare that we get the space that Halia Village gave us.

The unit is 15 minutes away from the beach and set in steps away from the rice padi fields

Rama Rama

We help set up Rama Rama, so we hope you like it!  These units are more of a peaceful retreat, with breathtaking sea views and nature.  Still close enough to the action, but far enough that you can enjoy nature in peace.  With your own private veranda, a gazebo and a spot to sunbathe, you may never want to leave this  tranquil haven.

If this is your first time using Airbnb, you can use our code to get a discount off your first booking.

Getting there

There are 2 main ways to get to the island. And you’ve probably guessed them by now.

Fly

There are flights from most major destinations like Kuala Lumpur and Penang from local providers.  The flights are usually pretty cheap and quite frequent.  From Kuala Lumpur, it should take you about 1 hour, and a mere 40 minutes from Penang.

Ferry

Yup, that’s the other way you get to an island.  You get on a boat.  The ferry takes about 3 hours and leaves twice daily to and from Penang.  It cost about RM70.  However, be prepared.  From what we’ve heard, it’s quite a choppy ride.


We loved our time in Langkawi.  It’s not a very touristic island, and there’s enough to do that you can get away from the crowds if you want to.  With tons of activities, delicious and cheap food, friendly locals and pristine waters to just chill and enjoy island life, Langkawi is a perfect little paradise in Malaysia!


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The ultimate city guide to Langkawi, Malaysia. Everything you need to know about having a great time in the city. Tips, tricks, what to do, where to eat and where to stay. www.wediditourway.com