Balancing precariously on a rusty steel beam, I slowly inch across trying not to glance down at the treacherous river hundreds of feet below me. The Caminito del Rey is not your typical hike.
I’d traveled to this remote corner of Andalucia in the South of Spain to hike the Caminito del Rey. This path is famous around the world with rock climbers and adrenaline junkies due to its shocking state of disrepair. Just looking up at the hazardous path full of holes and missing sections sent a shiver of fear down my spine.
Barely clinging to the vertical canyon walls it’s attached to — ready to crumble at any moment.
Known as Spain’s most dangerous path, or the most dangerous walkway in the world, the Caminito del Rey (The King’s Little Pathway) is over 100 years old and 100 meters (350 feet) high. The perilous concrete trail winds through steep limestone cliffs near the small village of El Chorro and into a hidden valley.
Would I really go through with this risky journey? By myself? I was starting to have second thoughts…
Hiking The Caminito Del Rey
Walking the entire length of the 3 kilometer Caminito (sometimes called the Camino del Rey) has become an exclusive adventure sport for people crazy enough to attempt it. There are numerous sections where the concrete has collapsed, creating large open air gaps that are bridged by very narrow steel beams, themselves often rotting away.
A via ferrata cable runs the length of the path though, allowing hikers to clip in with a harness. You need to bring your own gear or rent one from a climbing shop. Or you can make your own Swiss Seat (like I did) with some webbing, climbing rope, and a few carabiners!
However the integrity of the safety cable running the length of the path is unknown, as it’s not officially maintained by anyone. So you must rely on it at your own risk.
Dangerous & Beautiful
On the hike itself, wind whips through the narrow canyon, testing my nerves as I carefully place one foot in front of the other. Hoping my next step isn’t my last. I’m not the only one attempting to conquer my fears though, there are other adventurous hikers up here flirting with death.
Sometimes we must pass each other, which can be complicated on a 1 meter wide path full of holes. In many places the entire path has completely fallen away, leaving just a three inch wide steel beam to balance on. Other sections don’t even have beams — forcing you to cling to the face of the rock.
The Caminito del Rey is made up of two different sections. They each traverse a narrow area of the Gaitanes Gorge, with a stunning hidden valley located between them. “The Valley of the Orange” is completely surrounded by mountains, with orange trees growing near the Guadalhorce river as it flows through the middle. There’s even an old ruined house at the bottom.
Less hikers attempt (or know about) the second part of the walkway. Much of it has no safety line, save for a few very sketchy sections that require some rock climbing skills to pass. After about 3 hours I finished this wild adventure at the far end of the valley. Luckily in one piece.
History Of The Path
The walkway was completed in 1905 after 4 years of construction so workers could move materials back and forth between the two hydroelectric power plants at Chorro Falls and Gaitanejo Falls on either end of the canyon. A water canal also weaves its way through tunnels in the mountains.
The suspended catwalk allowed easy access to this canal for inspections and maintenance work, controlling the flow of water when necessary using a series of steel doors lowered into the canal with gears.
Spanish King Alfonso XIII inaugurated the pathway in 1921, which is why it’s now called “The King’s Little Pathway”. The King himself walked the length of it to marvel at the beautiful & scenic landscape.
Deaths On The Caminito
There have been at least 5 deaths on the Caminito del Rey, the most recent few occurring in 2000, and many more accidents over the years. The path hasn’t been maintained since the 1920’s — rust eats away at many of the metal support beams.
Large gaping holes in the concrete are common. Sometimes whole sections of the treacherous walkway are completely missing, after they’ve crashed down to the bottom of the canyon 100 meters (350 feet) below. If you’re afraid of heights, it’s the stuff of nightmares.
Restoration Plans For 2015
Work has begun on a €3.12 million restoration program that will transform the entire walkway into a much safer route, opening up the path to more people and regular tourism. The aging concrete will be replaced with wooden slats and glass panels with a handrail.
King Alfonso XIII’s great-grandson, Prince Felipe, has been asked to open the new camino when work is complete on March 28th 2015.
While more people will get to enjoy the views of this magnificent canyon, sadly the adventurous spirit of the Camino will be forever changed once it’s all fixed up. I’m very lucky I was able to hike it when I did!
Trying to pick a place to explore for the very first time as a solo traveler can be daunting to say the least, especially if you are a woman.
The world tells us to be afraid and to be hesitant about traveling alone overseas; even now after 8 years of solo travel, people still question me when I talk about my ventures around the world, and even more so when I mention that I travel alone.
It’s hard not to be discouraged when you are faced with such negativity about your travels, especially when starting out. But if you are considering traveling solo for the first time, here are some relatively easy and safe destinations for women that are great starting spots to begin.
Iceland has definitely become a hit place to visit, now with cheap and frequent flights both from Europe and North America – you can even do a free week-long stopover with Icelandair between the two continents to make the most of a trip overseas.
Iceland with a population of just 300,000 people on a good day, it makes sense that it has a small-town vibe nationwide. Iceland is probably one of the safest countries I’ve traveled to over the years and I felt totally comfortable there on my own.
Between its location, ease and accessibility, culture and safety record, Iceland is the perfect place for first time solo travelers, especially women.
While Peru might not initially strike you as a great destination for solo female travelers, I’ve found the opposite to be the case.
I’ve included it on the list because I wanted to cover most continents and Peru is such a popular tourist destination. This means it has a moderately solid tourism infrastructure, at least for South America.
If you travel here alone, for the most part you likely won’t be alone, there will be a lot of backpackers and other travelers in similar situations.
I found that I didn’t have any problems there traveling for 2 weeks a few years ago, and I found it incredibly helpful that there was an established tourism industry in Peru, making the logistics and planning less of a hassle.
3. New Zealand
One of the main reasons I decided to base myself in New Zealand is because it is such a welcoming and open destination for solo female travelers like me.
Seriously, I don’t think there is a safer or easier country to travel to – New Zealand is perfect for first time solo travelers. It’s very easy to travel around whether by bus, car, planes or even hitchhiking, which is still a very common practice here.
The people are incredibly friendly and helpful if you have any problems or get into trouble and because there are only 4 million people nationwide, it very much has a small-town vibe like Iceland – everyone knows each other.
Southeast Asia is a great place for solo travelers. It’s a major backpacker hub and it’s a very easy place to travel around.
It has quite the reputation for first time travelers, especially because it’s so cheap and your money can last a lot longer there – because of that though it’s often caters towards younger backpackers on a budget, though I’ve found that you can have a very good boutique or even luxury trip for an affordable price.
Thailand has a very established tourism industry as well and if you’re looking for a good place to start traveling for the first time alone in Asia, it’s ideal.
5. South Africa
Africa doesn’t always have the best reputation for solo female travelers, or even solo travelers in general, but I’ve found that to not be the case at all.
I recently spent a few weeks in South Africa and had the most amazing time. Cities like Cape Town are very hip and fun, and I found them to be accessible and easy for solo travelers.
There are a few things you have to be more cautious and wary about in South Africa, like not walking alone at night and avoiding bad neighborhoods, but the same can be said for many urban centers around the world.
If you are looking to visit Africa as your first solo destination, South Africa is a great place to start.Read More
But this isn’t a post about fawning over the U.S. (this post is). This is about how you can travel around the U.S. on a budget because, as it turns out, this country is incredibly easy to travel on the cheap.
After 116 days on the road, I spent $6,262.67, or $53.98 per day. While that is slightly higher than $50 a day, there were many parts of my budget I splurged on (see analysis below). Here is how the numbers break down:
Miscellaneous (movies, toothpaste, shampoo, conferences, etc.): $170.00
A couple of things hurt my budget. My Starbucks addiction* was unnecessary and added to my costs. Moreover, as a lover of sushi, trying various restaurants throughout my road trip drastically raised my food costs. Sushi, after all, is not cheap. In general, I ate as if I wasn’t on a budget and rarely cooked, which is why my food expenses were so high relative to everything else. I would have definitely gone below $50 if I bothered to cook more often.
But while I splurged in some places, three other things really helped me to keep expenses down: First, gas prices were low, averaging around $2.35 a gallon over the duration of my trip. Second, once you leave the big cities, prices for everything drop by nearly half. Third, I Couchsurfed and used hotel points often to keep accommodation costs down.
Overall, while I could have done better, I didn’t do too bad and am happy with how much I spent.
How to Save Money on Your Trip
There are numerous ways to travel around the US on a budget. Whether you want to do it cheaper than I did or splurge a bit more, there are always ways to cut your expenses and focus your spending on what matters most to you.
This will be your biggest fixed cost, and lowering it will do the most to lower your overall expenses. Luckily, you have plenty of options:
Couchsurfing — Couchsurfing is a service that allows you to stay for free with locals. Using this website or similar ones is the best way to lower accommodation costs, as you can’t get cheaper than free. More than that, it’s a wonderful way to meet locals and find off-the-beaten-track stuff to do in the area you’re visiting. The site is a double win: you meet cool people and save money at the same time! I Couchsurfed in Richmond, Napa, Reno, Phoenix, and a few other cities. There are so many hosts across the United States, you’ll rarely find problems finding someone to put you up.
Airbnb — A more comfortable alternative to the cheap hotels listed above, Airbnb is a service that lets you stay in people’s homes and apartments. It’s far cozier than any hotel! You can find a lot of single rooms as well as shared spaces for $30–40 per night. I used this option a lot on my road trip. The prices are affordable, you’re staying in a nice house, you have access to a kitchen, and you get to meet cool people. Note: If you use this link, you can get $25 off your first stay.
Cheap hotels — When you can’t find a Couchsurf or Airbnb to use at the last minute, there is a plethora of cheap roadside hotels such as Motel 6 and Super 8 to the rescue. Rooms start around $40 a night, but including tax, they work out to be $60 on average. Rooms are basic and always look well worn. You’ll get a bed, bathroom, TV, tiny closet, and maybe a desk. They are nothing to write home about, but for a quiet place to sleep, they do the trick. Tip:Even if you’re traveling with someone, always say the room is for one person, as these hotels charge you more for two people.
Hotel points — Be sure to sign up for hotel credit cards before you go and use those points when you travel. You can get upwards of 70,000 points as a sign-up bonus, which can translate into a week’s worth of accommodations. The points came in handy in places where I couldn’t find an Airbnb or Couchsurfing host. Be aware that most hotels charge parking fees if you have a car, and adjust your budget accordingly.
Hostels — There aren’t many hostels in the United States, and most of them are overpriced. A dorm room typically costs around $30 a night. You can obtain a similar private room on Airbnb at that price, and if you are traveling with others, it’s often more economical to get a budget hotel than a bunch of dorm beds. However, if you are traveling solo and want to meet others, the social benefits may outweigh the price. Some hostels I loved: Sweat Peas (Asheville, NC),South Beach Hostel (Miami), India House (New Orleans), Jazz Hostels (NYC), International House (San Diego), and The Green Tortoise (San Francisco and Seattle).
Camping — Around all the national parks are inexpensive campsites, so if you have a camper or gear, my recommendation is to camp when visiting the parks. Campsites are between $10-30 per night. Additionally, you can find a TON of RV parks and campgrounds around the country via the company KOA for $20–30 per night. Moreover, check out the sharing economy website, Camp in My Garden, where you can camp in people’s backyards for a small fee.
My recommendations for keeping prices down: Try to Couchsurf as often as possible, use Airbnb or hotel points in major cities, stay in hostels when you want a good social scene, and camp at the national parks.
Cook your own meals and avoid expensive meals and restaurants as much as possible. If you are looking to find cheap food, use Yelp!, ask people on websites like Couchsurfing, or inquire at the desks at hostels. Avoid Whole Foods. Avoid trying to eat sushi like me everywhere! Don’t feed your Starbucks addiction and cook often. Food in the United States is very affordable and there’s no travel hacking ninja techniques to help here. Cook, save, be happy.
There are three ways to lower your sightseeing costs:
A National Parks pass — For $80, you can purchase an annual National Parks pass that provides access to all 59 national parks (as well as any other recreation areas administered by the National Park Service). At $15–20 a visit, seeing five during your trip makes the pass a money saver. The U.S. national park system is amazing, and you can’t trek across the country without stopping at many of them, especially when you get out west. Though there are a lot of options, I highly recommend Yosemite, Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, Glacier, Redwood National Park, Zion, and the Grand Tetons.
City tourism cards — City tourism cards allow you to see a large number of attractions (and often include free public transportation) for one low price, usually $30–40. They provide free access to museums, reduced access to attractions, and restaurant discounts. Be sure to look into them if you plan on doing a lot of sightseeing, as they generally will save you money. They can be purchased at tourism information centers or online before you go.
Free museums and events — Inquire at tourism centers, use Google, or ask hotel or hostel staff for information about free events and museums. Many museums offer occasional free or discounted admission throughout the week.
Getting from point A to B in the U.S. isn’t always easy, as our infrastructure isn’t that robust. Sadly, to really see the country, a car is a must. We have few non-car options outside the major cities, and besides organized tours, it’s hard to get around the countryside and to the national parks.
Hitchhike — This isn’t something I did on my trip, as I had a car, but it’s very doable (and relatively safe). Here’s a post by my friend Matt who hitchhiked across the United States.
Rideshare — Taking on riders can be a way to lower your costs. On my first trip across the U.S., I offered rides to people I met in hostels. On this trip, I had friends and readers join me along the way. You can post ads on Craigslist and Gumtree and at hostels to find riders. This not only makes the trip more enjoyable but lowers your gas costs. Or if you are a rider, you can use the same services to find rides to get you places.
Get a car — You can buy cheap used cars from car dealers or owners on Craigslist. There are lots of listings, and you can resell the car at the end of your trip to recoup some of your initial purchase cost. While this is easy in other countries, it’s hard to do in the United States, so remember a couple of key points:
- You’ll need a U.S. address for registration documents to get sent to. I would use a hostel or hotel address and then set up a forwarding address with the Post Office.
- You’ll have to buy car insurance, which can greatly add to the costs of your trip.
Another option is to use a car relocation service. This is when you take someone’s car and drive it across the country. You are usually paid, and gas is covered. The downside is you don’t often have a lot of leeway on timing, so you might not have much time to stop and sightsee along the way. Car relocation options are also usually limited. Two companies worth checking out are Transfercar and Hit the Road.
Some miscellaneous things
- The highways are filled with junk food restaurants. I’m not proud to say I ate at Subway a lot on my trip. Stock up on sandwiches at grocery stores to avoid having to choose between Taco Bell, McDonald’s, and Subway.
- Parking costs add up. I didn’t really find a super awesome way to lower parking costs when I was in major cities overnight, but if you have suggestions, leave them in the comments.
- Take a metal water bottle to refill along the way. Plastic water bottles add up!
A road trip across the United States is a fun way to see a lot of diverse landscapes, experience different cultures, and meet interesting people. The United States isn’t very expensive outside the big cities and you can easily travel extensively throughout the country on a budget.
*Note: I actually don’t drink coffee. I’m just hooked on their iced green tea lemonade!