“Jackie, how do you afford to travel so much?”
This is a question I’ve been asked many times since I first began traveling on the regular. And usually, it is asked with a bit of hesitation from the questioner so as not to seem too offensive. After all, one’s financial situation is somewhat personal, and asking this question somewhat implies a willing openness about said finances. It also seems to imply that the cost of traveling has to be expensive. Right? I mean surely, galavanting across the globe can’t be CHEAP. But what if I told you it’s actually a lot less expensive than you think?
Well, it is. It just requires a little bit more research and an extra dash of flexibility. But fear not, if I can do it, then so can you. And lucky for you, you have me as your guide! So sit back and relax, as I give you all the insider hacks I’ve picked up over the years so that you too, can travel on the cheap without breaking your bank account. Sound good?
Alright, so first things first. Transport. Transport to and from wherever you decide to travel is likely the biggest expense you will have while traveling. And whether it be by plane, train, or automobile, there are gazillions of websites and resources out there that can help you find transport at a reduced cost. You just gotta know where to look.
The best place to look for discounted flights I’ve found is on Skyscanner.net. This website compares prices of flights across hundreds of different websites in order to offer you the best ones. Sometimes, cheaper may mean you have one or two more stopovers in between, but when it saves you over $100, it can often be worth it. Skyscanner also offers the option to look at a variety of dates at once, giving you prices each day over an entire month. So, if you’re able to have flexible dates, choosing to fly on the cheapest days can also save you a lot of money.
Other websites for airfare I’ve used regularly are kiwi.com and kayak.com. I find Kayak tends to have better deals within the United States, and Kiwi has great deals all over, especially when flying to New Zealand and Australia. When looking for flights, also consider checking out several airports within the region where you are looking to go. Sometimes you will find cheaper flights from smaller regional airports if you are flying within European countries.
Generally, on international flights, it’s best to buy your return ticket at the same time. Search engines will typically give you a better price when buying flights together instead of separately. I’ve also heard that the best time to buy flights is about 6 weeks before you plan to leave. However, if you plan to fly around any major holidays, then you want to give yourself plenty of time in advance to purchase tickets as prices tend to increase pretty drastically closer to the holiday.
And now for a few internet search hacks. Because of the genius of marketing these days, websites can track your search history, which means, as soon as you start looking for flights, the chances of the cost increasing goes up. If you want to keep searching and aren’t comfortable purchasing your tickets the first day that you look, then make sure to clear your internet browsing history. This keeps websites from tracking your earlier searches and jacking up the prices each time you do a new search. Lastly, flights typically sell for cheaper on Tuesdays as that is when airlines release discounted faires. Once you have the dates and locations of where you want to travel, then you can easily plan accordingly.
Now, say you have a certain budget you want to spend and you’ve got a little more flexibility with dates and location. A great way to travel on the cheap is checking websites that offer discount vacation getaways at the last minute and during off-peak season. You can sign up to get emails from Groupon.com or Travelzoo.com if you’re in the USA. Often, airfare and accommodation are included in the price, and everything is booked through an agent, so it saves you a lot of time and stress of actual planning.
Great Value Vacations is also a great company that offers trips as a package deal for a great price. I planned a trip with 2 friends to Ireland, and the price included airfare, accommodation, rental car, and several museum entrances. Everything was planned in advance and I didn’t have to coordinate anything. The whole trip was so much more enjoyable because all the stressful details were out of my hands and I could simply relax and go along for the ride.
Now, as far as other transportation goes, it’s best to just search around and find the best deals by comparing several websites. Taking the bus is usually the cheapest option if you want to see more than one location and don’t feel like dealing with the hassle of rental car fees and worrying about insurance. However, you will also sacrifice a bit of your freedom to decide where to stop if you go that route. Most places offer affordable car rental through smaller companies (which can be helpful to avoid the driver under age 25 fee), and a quick google search can help you find the best option. Keep in mind that picking up and dropping off a rental in different locations will incur an extra fee. And if you’re brave, renting a scooter can be a fun option that tends to be quite a bit cheaper than a car.
Taking the train can also be a more affordable option, though be sure to give yourself plenty of time to figure out where you are meant to go if you are traveling in a country where the first language isn’t English. Train timetables and stand numbers can be a bit tricky to navigate in a foreign language. Also, train and bus tickets are usually the cheapest if you buy online, so plan ahead and book in advance.
And finally, there is always the option of hitchhiking, though I wouldn’t recommend for longer stints of travel. If you’re in a rural area and need a lift to the next town or city, hitchhiking can be a fun and free way to get around. However, it’s best to ask around to see if the area you are in is a good place to ask for a lift. Some countries are friendlier and safer than others. In that situation, it’s best to use your common sense, and if you get any bad vibes, just don’t do it. That being said, people are often a lot friendlier and willing to help than you might expect, so if it feels safe and you wanna try, just give it a go!
For traveling within cities, it’s cheapest to avoid taxis and use local transport options. Or better yet, walk. However, metropolitan cities provide buses or trams/trains for cheap that can get you to and from all major attractions within the city so you can give your legs a break. If you want a little extra information about where you’re traveling, a hop-on-hop-off bus can be a fun way to see a city and learn some of its histories. Uber can also be a cheaper alternative to a taxi if you want to get somewhere quickly without any hassle, as well as other local rideshare companies like Lyft, Ola, and MyTaxi. Just easily download any ridesharing app on your smartphone, create an account with a valid credit card, and you’re good to go!
Now, onto accommodation. Depending on your age and personal preferences, the type of cheap accommodation available to you may differ some. The cheapest type of accommodation would obviously be the kind that you don’t have to pay for. So this might include asking around family and friends for connections they may have with people in the area you wish to travel. It can also be a great way to connect with a local who can offer you tips and show you around places you might not be exposed to if you were to stay in a hotel.
Couchsurfing.org is also a great network to connect with other travel enthusiasts, where locals kindly offer a couch or sometimes an air mattress for you to sleep on for free. Again, it’s best to use discretion when choosing a host to stay with. The website provides reviews of both surfers and hosts though, so just make sure you look for any questionable reviews first. I’ve never couch surfed on my own, but I know others who have and had positive experiences. I’ve done it many times with a companion and also hosted surfers before and had many great experiences doing both.
If bumming it with strangers doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, then hostels are a great way to go if you’re looking to save a couple of bucks. Though if you’re over 35 there are often restrictions on staying at youth hostels, so a room on Airbnb might be a better option. Hostels.com and hostelworld.com are the most popular sights for hostels used worldwide. Airbnb.com is now used pretty much worldwide and offers a variety of rooms and entire flats for a wide range of prices. Some countries even have hotels advertising cheap rooms on Airbnb.
Maybe you still want to feel like you’re pampering yourself, yet don’t want to go all out on a 5-star hotel. In that case, hotels.com and booking.com are my two favorite websites for finding cheap hotel rooms that are a step above a motel, but less expensive than 5-star luxury. And if you’re into the last-minute deals, lastminute.com can be a good place to look for fancy hotel deals on a whim.
If you’re planning to do an extended road-trip, then renting or even buying a second-hand camper van can be a great alternative to paying for accommodation (Just easily sell it to another traveler when you’ve finished your trip. Facebook Marketplace is a great place to buy and sell used cars). Though the actual thriftiness totally depends on where you’re traveling. Some countries like New Zealand and Norway offer plenty of options when it comes to freedom camping, which means exactly what it sounds like. You can park and camp for free. But other countries will have stricter laws on where you can legally park and camp, so be sure to research each country’s specific laws before you decide to park your entire kit and caboodle.
Next, the actual expense of sight-seeing. If you’re into seeing all the tourist attractions a place has to offer, then there isn’t really a way to get around paying entrance fees and such. Though you can almost always get a discount with a valid student ID. However, if you are no longer a student, often you can find deals for multiple tourist attractions at a discount price if you purchase them as a package from a travel agency. These can usually be found online or be purchased at a travel agent’s kiosk at any major attraction. Again, this is when planning ahead of time can save you a bit of extra cash.
However, not to put a damper on anyone’s hopes and dreams of seeing all the touristy stuff a place has to offer, but I think it’s important to at least mention here that often you can find unique spots away from the main tourist trail that will give you a memorable experience you can’t get anywhere else, and all for FREE. That being said, some museums and natural parks are certainly worth every penny it costs to get into them. So, if you only have so much money to spend, do your research ahead of time and read reviews about places you’re interested in to decide which ones you most want to see.
And remember, no matter how much you see and do, you will never see it all. So whatever you see and do, just enjoy it for what it is. And if something is a bit disappointing, oh well. It’s all a part of the experience. At the end of the day, as much as you plan ahead and think you have it all figured out, there will almost always be a cost or unforeseen event that you didn’t plan for. But, if you start with that information already in your mind, it will be much easier to adapt to the changes and adjust your budget and schedule accordingly.
And now the last main expense of travel: food. This one really is the most commonsensical, however, it is often one of the areas people end up spending way more than necessary when traveling. And again, it comes down to planning. In a lot of countries, it will almost always be cheaper to buy food at a grocery store and cook for yourself than it will be to eat out. Just like it is when you are at home. And if you’re staying at a hostel or an Airbnb, this is a really easy affordable option as you will have a kitchen to use and refrigerator to store your groceries. Hostels also often offer meal and drink deals with local restaurants and bars if you do feel like going out and don’t want to spend a lot.
But let’s be real. One of the best things about traveling is tasting the local cuisine, which requires going out and spending money at a restaurant. Luckily, in some countries (actually pretty much any country not in the first-world) eating out is actually cheaper than cooking at home. Just remember to stay away from the touristy restaurants as the prices are usually higher. Go where the locals go. And if you don’t know, ask around. Or look online. Yelp and TripAdvisor can be great resources for finding amazing food on a budget. And if you are in a first-world country, then budget by only eating out one meal a day. You can get the rest at the grocery store. Some groceries even offer quick meal deals for only a few dollars, which not only saves you money but also time eating out or cooking at home.
So there you have it, my friends. That is my complete list of travel hacks for trotting the globe, or maybe just your nearest city, on the cheap. I hope you found this information helpful and are realizing now how travel doesn’t have to be expensive. Traveling cheap may require a little more research and planning, and sometimes a bit of resourcefulness. But if you really want to go somewhere and not spend your whole life savings, it is possible.
As always, thanks for reading along. I hope you enjoy your travels, wherever they may take you! Oh, and don’t forget to stay awesome 😉
PS: If you use any of these hacks or know of any other useful hacks, please comment below! I’m always learning better ways to travel more affordably, so I’d love for you to share your knowledge, or rather, share the wealth, as they say. 🙂