How to Travel on a Budget

Do you want to travel, but you are worried you won’t have enough money?

I’ve started to lose track of the amount of times people have told me they don’t travel, because they don’t have money. People always think I must be rich if I’ve traveled to so many places. This assumption is wrong. I’m far from it.

On the contrary, I’m more crafty than I am rich. I have devised ways to travel with barely any money at all. In 2009, I went to Europe for 3.5 months with about $3,000 saved up. In 2011, I went to Ecuador for 3 months and spent $1,500. In 2013, I went to Australia and SE Asia with only $2,000. How did I do this? Well, I’ve mastered the art of budgeting and creating unique travel experiences that actually save you money and sometimes make you money. Here are my tips for traveling for very cheap and still having an amazing experience!

  1. The first step to traveling abroad is booking the flight (after your passport of course). So how do you find the cheapest flights? These days there are so many search engines that can help you.
    • My favorite is Kayak. It let’s you explore flight prices depending on the time of year and see where it is cheapest to travel to.
    • A trick that my sister and I used when going to Australia, was to book a flight with STA travel. This is a student travel agent. They require you have a college email address or be under 25. This only works for young people, but it only cost us $500 one-way to fly to Sydney from LA.
    • Also finding the city in the U.S. that has the cheapest flights to your destination and booking separate flights to that city and then flying direct from there, saves you a ton of money. For Ireland, fly from Boston on Aerlingus. For Central and South America, Miami or LA are good cities. LAN airlines flies directly from LA to Lima, Peru.  Just find the hub of that countries airline and you’ll save a fortune. For flights to Europe, Icelandair has a deal that you can fly through Iceland and layover for up to 7 nights with no extra cost on your way to Europe.
    • I normally book one way flights for long trips, for which I don’t know my end destination. Best to fly to the most expensive one first and end in the one that is cheapest to fly home from.
    • I find it best to book my flight before I even have the money to travel. This motivates me to start saving asap, because I know I’m going no matter what.airplane.jpg
  2. For housing there are many options for saving money:
    • If you want to stay in a nice hotel on a budget, your best bet is agoda.com. This website gives you highly discounted prices on expensive 4 and 5 star hotels. In Chiang Mai, Thailand my sister and I paid $16 for a double queen in a 5 star hotel. The cheaper the country the nicer the room for the cheapest price.
    • Your next option is hostels. Check hostelworld.com or hostelbooker.com. I normally go for the mid-range prices. The super cheap ones are going to be crappy and the difference between the middle priced and higher isn’t that different. That being said, if you really don’t care and want to save, I stayed in a hostel in Barcelona for 6euros a night, in a 25 bed dorm, but it included breakfast and was fun. Always stay at the ones with free breakfast and a kitchen. I’ll address that more when I get to food. Check the reviews to avoid bed bugs or unsafe locations.
    • The next option is Airbnb, these are worth it if you are traveling with a friend or partner. Private dorms in hostels charge per person, but Airbnb doesn’t. You also get the option of a private place or locals to stay with.
    • Last option is couchsurfing. Join couchsurfing.org for a unique experience. I’ve couchsurfed in Europe and Australia. I’ve hosted people from all over the world. This is a great way to meet locals, get advice about a city, stay for free, and make new friends. Read reviews first. I’ve had only three bad experiences, but it just teaches you to be more thorough when choosing a host and to be careful when traveling alone as a woman. All in all, I’ve had amazing experiences. bed
  3. Food is essential when traveling and can really add up in cost when you are trying to save. So here are some tricks I’ve learned along the way:
    • If you stay in a hostel, make sure there is a kitchen. Buy your food  at the local grocery store. Buy something for breakfast that is fast and easy if it’s not provided there, like yogurt. For lunch, a loaf of bread can go a long way and peanut butter is easy to travel with. For dinner, get easy things to make like pasta, rice, or soups you can heat up.
    • To save even more money, if traveling alone, make friends with other hostelers and share a meal. Go shopping together and split the price of ingredients for a meal and cook together. Once, I made a dinner with 5 other girls I met and we only spent 2euros each and had a fabulous dinner. If you buy perishable foods make sure to only buy enough for the days you are there. Label all your food in the fridge.
    • I normally eat out one meal a day or if the country is really expensive, I splurge on just one or two really nice meals and cook all the rest. In certain countries, eating the local food will save you a fortune. In Quito, Ecuador skip the touristy non-authentic food and go for the $1.50 almuerzo at the local restaurants. It is more authentic and you get soup, chicken or fish with rice, and a drink.
    • In places like Thailand and Cambodia, don’t fear the street food. My sister and I ate $1 enormous plates of ramen noodles with veggies almost every day and never got sick. In Thailand, the food stands have the best food. Pad Thai for less than $1, is a steal.
    • So forget your expensive pallet and go local. Visiting local food markets where you can bargain for food is a fun and delicious experience. There are so many aromas and sounds that make it exciting and you get to try new things.  food market.jpg
  4. I’m going to take this one step further and give you an option of getting free food and board. This is the key to really saving money on travel. There are several companies that have popped up in the last ten years, that help travelers have a unique experience and travel practically for free. Here is a list of the ones I’ve used or plan to use.
    • The first is WWOOF, world wide opportunities on farms, and this international farming organization gives you the opportunity to work on organic farms worldwide and get free room and board. The only cost is the initial membership to wwoofing. Go to wwoof.net and you get a membership for the country or countries you want to visit. They give you a list of farms looking for workers. You email the farms and see if they can use your help during the time you are traveling. I personally wwoofed on an olive farm in Tuscany and it was the most amazing experience of my life. These provide very unique experiences. The level of work is dependent on the farm.
    • A similar program, but one that provides varied jobs not just farming, is workaway.info. You must pay an initial 2-year membership fee of $29 for a single person and $38 for a couple, but then after that you can find great work experiences for cheap or free. They are all over the world and include art projects, farming, hostel work, teaching, etc. My sister and I had a life-changing experience through workaway on a Buddhist monastery in northern Thailand, where we learned permaculture and about the Buddhist principles.
    • Another program that revolves solely around hostel work is worldpackers.com. They use your skills to improve their hostel. Sometimes it is working reception or cleaning rooms, but other times they could need social media help or a bartender or tour guide. If you are an artist, there are hostels looking for you. You pay a small fee, agreed upon between the hostel and worldpackers.com, and in turn you get a free place to stay, one to three meals a day, and a unique experience.
    • Also check out volunteer programs in each country. There are bound to be tons of different experiences worth having. In Ecuador, I paid $200 for two weeks volunteering at an Ecolodge. All my food and housing were covered and I got a very unique experience living in the Cloud Forest and making trails. I learned so much about the people and environment this way.
    • If you want to have an extended stay in Australia or New Zealand, look into the work visa for 18-30 year olds. This is how my sister and I flew to Australia with only $2,000 in our pockets and proceeded to travel for the next 7 months through Australia and SE Asia. We got work visas and found outback jobs for 3 months, which pay $600/week. So working in countries that allow you to get work visas for up to 2 years, is a great way to live abroad and then have money to travel after you’re done working.tuscany
  5. Attractions are a big part of why people travel to certain destinations. Visiting Paris wouldn’t be worth it without a visit to the Eiffel Tower or the Louvre. Going to NE Australia wouldn’t be worth it without snorkeling or scuba diving the Great Barrier Reef. So how do you fit in these, sometimes very expensive, tours and attractions?
    • Number 1 tip: Skip tours, skip tours, skip tours!! Tours are so not worth it. They charge you extra money to trail behind a big group of tourists and a tour guide who can tell you the same thing as a guide book. I avoid tours like the plague, unless they are absolutely necessary. If you want to go snorkeling and you can’t drive a speed boat, then a tour is important. If you want to see a new city, just get a map and go by foot. I see so much more by foot than on a tour bus. Navigating public transit is a fun adventure and so much cheaper. Of course, if you can’t walk easily then a tour bus is probably better. If you still have the energy, wandering around a new city and exploring it on your own is so much more rewarding. Every time you get lost, it’s an opportunity to make a new friend by asking for directions. If you can rent a car, instead of taking the tour bus along the Great Ocean Road, do it! (biggest regret) Tours rush you from one spectacle to the next and barely give you enough time to enjoy it. The only tour I would vouch for is the Altherton Tablelands Barefoot Tour in Cairns, Australia. That is a fun party tour!!
    • I’ve developed some tricks for making a trip worthwhile without breaking the bank and doing it on your own. For museums, there is normally a day of the week that is free or an evening that is discounted. Find out what day that is and make sure to visit then instead of paying 10-20euros. The Louvre has a student night with International Student ID for example.
    • For cathedrals, instead of paying to enter, go during the mass and enjoy a unique experience and a chance to view the cathedral for free. I’m not religious at all, but I’ve seen many cathedrals this way.
    • For extravagant palaces, I always go to the gift shop, which is free to enter and peruse through the books with pictures of the interior. If it is spectacular, I pay to enter, but if it is something I’ve seen before, I skip it.
    • For landscape tours, rent a car if possible or make friends with locals who can take you to see the landscape at your own pace. This will save you money and allow you the freedom to take as long as you want. In Jamaica, my parents always make friends with locals and instead of paying the hotel to take us on a tour, we go with a local on their boat or car to see the attractions. This way you are supporting the local economy rather than the corporate hotel.
    • Always, always, always buy souvenirs from the locals if possible. The gift shops in the hotels get their stuff from China, most likely. Supporting locals is so important!!great ocean road.jpg
  6. My last tip is on transportation. Getting around cities, countries, and between countries is important and can also add up. Depending on the country/continent there are different/better ways to travel:
    • In Europe, when traveling within countries having a Eurail pass is extremely helpful and doesn’t require reservations except for in France. The train is fast and efficient and having the pass will save you money in the long run when you add up all the trains you take.
    • Another way to travel within Europe is the cheap airline- Ryanair, which flies between countries for extremely cheap. Just note that it oftentimes stops in a nearby town, not in the major city. It also charges a high fee for checked luggage, so it is best to only have a carry-on.
    • In Australia, there are cheap domestic airlines if you need to travel far distances. Jetstar and Tiger Airways are the cheapest of the four airlines within Australia.
    • Another fun way to travel down the East coast, is by greyhound. The greyhound is not as ghetto in Australia and for $200 you get a hop-on-hop-off bus pass between Sydney and Cairns and it includes some tours and accommodations. It is well worth it! Also renting a van and just driving around on your own is a great option.
    • In South America, the flights are quite expensive between countries. You should take buses every where. They take a long time, but can be super cheap. In Ecuador, you can travel for $13 between most destinations.
    • In SE Asia, flying can be cheap between countries. Take Airasia for these affordable flights. Within countries, buses are your best bet. For super cheap, you will get a really uncomfortable ride, but for $10 more you can take a hotel bus and have hot towels, water bottles, and reclining chairs, as well as private compartments. Within cities, rent a bike and tour around alone or walk. If your feet are tired, bargain with the tuk tuk drivers. transport.jpg

Safe travels! Comment below if you have any questions for me about budget travel!!

 

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