Now, more than ever, seeing the world is so accessible. But most people don't know it.
Even with all the knowledge at our fingertips, there's still a preconceived notion that those who travel have hefty bank accounts. That could not be further from the truth.
I know. I newly live in the UK, where I have easy access to all of Europe for very, very cheap. However, I traveled way before living here, and I also lived in super remote, middle of no where places like Columbus, Mississippi (thanks, Air Force), 2.5 hours from the nearest airport, and Klamath Falls, Oregon (also thanks Air Force), 5 hours from the nearest airport. Even still, I was able to see new places very often, whether it was in a surrounding area or the other side of the country.
Now when I say travel, it doesn't have to mean world travel. It could mean seeing other cities within the US, or North America. Anything that gets you away from your hometown for a couple days at a time is considered travel, but for the purpose of this post, the main focus is going to be international travel on a budget, though many of the tips can be used traveling within your designated country as well.
Before I jump in: I am very well aware that there are people in certain unfortunate circumstances that - no matter how bad they wish - cannot travel or do the things they want to do, whether it'd be living below the poverty line, or having health or family issues. My heart sinks for people whose circumstances are against them. I, of course, believe that you can live a fulfilling life anywhere you are, whether or not you've seen the world. I stress about the importance of travel only as an additive to an already wonderful life. Travel is not a necessity, it is a privilege that I am very grateful for.
With that, this post is geared toward individuals who have some sort of income who have the strong desire and intention to travel, but don't necessarily have the tools or know where to start. Indeed, you do not have to be rich to see the world, but it obviously takes some money. This is a guide on how you can travel smart without having to completely wreck your bank account.
So let's get to it!
Part 1 - Getting There and Making It Happen
1. Prioritize - time, money, & PTO
Obviously, if you don't have the desire to travel, then you don't have to! Travel has the power to open one's mind, change perspectives and learn about different cultures, but it can also be stressful and draining (more on that in a different post). Travel isn't for everyone, but if you follow me, you most likely do because you like travel content.
So, if you really want to travel, but don't think you have the means, I'm here to tell you that you have to first move traveling towards the top of your priority list.
A fiery desire for adventure is a must. If you really want it, you'll make it happen. If you don't, then it'll forever be on the back burner. I totally get that you only have a certain amount of PTO, or you have family obligations. That's ok! We all do. But it's up to you to say, "this year, I want to travel to two countries, and I'm going to make it happen one way or another." You then plan your time off, you start saving, and you do the damn thing.
Think about how much money you spend that's not bills. Is it nights out? Clothes? Dinner out? That $40 shirt could be three nights in a hostel! Try cutting back on those expenses for a few months and add it to the travel bank.
2. Be Strategic with timing
Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the best time to buy flights. Weekends they'll skyrocket, knowing most people are browsing during their free time.
It's a good idea - if you're looking at a specific place and dates - to put an alert on the flights so you can see if they're going up or down. You can also use an app like Hopper, which not only tracks flight prices but also predicts if prices are going to increase, decrease or stay the same. It will alert you when the city you want to fly to is at its lowest.
Say you have the time and want to go somewhere, but don't know when and where. Use SkyScanner. You can put in the ideal dates you want to go and a departure city, and it will show you everywhere you can go starting from with cheapest price. This is how we discovered Majorca in Spain!
Try to be flexible with your travel dates and use that flex function on Kayak or Expedia. Prices can differentiate hundreds depending on whether you leave on a Wednesday versus a Friday.
On kayak.com (what I primarily use), keep an eye out for those green dots on the calendar when choosing dates. That means it's a steal of a price!
3. Keep your eyes peeled for budget airlines
Norwegian now flies from London to major cities in the States like Denver, LAX, SF, Oakland, NYC, Ft. Lauderdale, Seattle and Vegas - to name a few - for much cheaper than major airlines like Delta or American. My roundtrip flight, direct from London to Denver, was $400. I've seen that same route as low as $200. Likewise, my husband flew direct to LAX, a cool 11.5 hour flight, for $200 one way. See point number 2 to really work the budget airline system.
And, the best part is, once you get to London, you can get anywhere. London is one of the biggest hubs of the world (it has six airports...SIX), with cheap and quick access to Europe and beyond. UK budget airliners like EasyJet and RyanAir offer stupidly inexpensive flights to awesome cities in Europe. I literally once saw one for $10 roundtrip to Dublin.
I'm not super well versed on Asian travel (yet), but I do know that Peach, JetStar Asia, Scoot and Air Asia are good budget airlines to look out for when picking flights over there.
Also be sure to check other means of tranportation while you're at it. Obviously you need to fly to cross the ocean (unless you're taking the Chunnel across the English Channel to Paris), but when traveling short distances, compare a rental car, bus, train or bike prices before buying.
4. Apply for reputable travel credit card.
If you already use a credit card, this one's a no-brainer. Ryan and I are going to Bali in May all because of credit card points. We didn't pay a dime for flights. We have both the American Express Platinum and the Chase Safire Reserve. We mostly use the Chase here in the UK, and you get 3X the points on travel and dining. When you use your credit card for all purchases like we do, points accumulate fast. Obviously, it helps if you're a responsible credit card user.
If you or your significant other are active duty military, you can get the American Express Platinum annual fee waived, which has similar rewards. The Chase used to do this, but not anymore. We still find the benefits beyond useful, so we pay the annual fee of $495.
A bunch of my friends, including fellow world traveler Taryn (@tarynbstewart) probably has well doubled me on the amount of places she's visited due to her rewards credit card, but she started with the Chase Safire Preferred, which is much less expensive with an annual fee $95 and similar benefits to the Reserve. She now has the Reserve, but her Preferred points rolled over when she made the switch. Taryn says:
Keep in mind, Taryn works full time as a financial analyst in NYC. She's got a good paying job, but keeps extremely busy and virtually has no time at all. But her love of travel prompts her to plan her PTO months to year in advance. See point number one :)
5. Choose your destination wisely
If you're on a budget, places like Switzerland, Australia or Scandinavia - even though they're beyond lovely - are probably the least budget-friendly places to visit. I'm not exaggerating when I say we paid $40 for a burger and $11 for a cappuccino in Switzerland. While it's an extraordinary country, you may want to be prepared to spend a lot more than bargained for if this is on the top of your list.
Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, and Southern United States are particularly budget-friendly. While you may spend more on the transportation to get to places like SE Asia, you're going to spend next to nothing when you're there, because the US Dollar goes so far. Western Europe is naturally more expensive than Eastern, so look into places like Croatia, Slovenia, and Hungary - all beautiful countries!
6. Book hostels
When booking where to stay in your chosen destination, the absolute cheapest and best way to go is by booking a hostel. We did this the first time we traveled to Europe, and my good friend and traveler Lindsey (@lindseyhanson_) managed to live off of $20 per day when she embarked on a 5 month post-grad journey through Australia, SE Asia and Europe, all because she saved so much money booking hostels.
There are different tiers of hostels you can book (not so nice to comfortable). In Europe, hostels range anywhere from $10 to $30 a night depending on where and how nice it is. Asia is even cheaper, with hostels averaging $7 a night. Whether or not you prioritize comfort over budget when choosing a place is completely up to you!
Hostels are also an amazing way to meet new people. Lindsey traveled solo for much of her journey, and was able to feel safe in hostels with other likeminded travelers. We met tons of people from all over the world through ours, and hostels also typically have group/discounted rates to a lot of organized activities in that particular destination.
I am also a huge fan of AirBnb, if you haven't already noticed from my travel diary entries. While it tends to be more expensive, if you have a group to split an entire place with or have the extra cash I highly recommend it. You won't find places nearly as unique as other people's homes, and it really adds to the experience. In addition, if you don't think it's too awkward, many people offer a private room in their house for much cheaper (around $40 a night), which, in my experience, has been way more comfortable with many more amenities. Be sure the place has great reviews first! Superhosts are also a plus.
Part 2 - Watching your Wallet Once You're There
So you finally made it to your destination and you want to have a good time while still not breaking the bank. Lindsey has a good point - try to find travel buddies who also want to save money (good travel buddies in general are also good). You can still get a great and fulfilling experience on a budget! Here are a couple quick tips:
- Withdraw a set amount for the day and only spend that cash (be sure to store it safely).
- Take free walking tours! These are all over Europe and are a great way to see the city.
- Eat locally. Street vendors and quick bites to get you through the day are great ways to save. Be sure to look up reviews and make sure the street food is clean and reputable (unless you want Montezuma's Revenge). Avoid touristy restaurants - those are the ones usually right near a well-known landmark, and almost always rack up the prices.
- Rent a city or motor bike to get around (they cost $10 a day in places like Bali)
- Be a bit spontaneous. Part of the fun is to do things based on what you're feeling in that moment. You can usually book a hostel the day you arrive and the prices don't change. It may even be cheaper! So if you're flexible, go with the flow and see what is the least expensive and fun option for you in that moment.
- Prioritize. Again, what's more important? Souvenirs or experiences? Maybe you want that woven basket but you also know you want that famous kabob around the corner. There's no right answer, but choosing to put your money in the right places will ensure you don't waste a dime.
- Read travel blogs. I hope mine helps you a bit, but since I'm relatively new, there are several helpful resources out there that go beyond Trip Advisor and Google Reviews. Travel bloggers tend to have more of an inside scoop on the do's and don't's of a location because they do it for a living.
Whether you're a CEO or serving at your local Mexican restaurant, travel can be for everyone. Budget traveling simply takes a bit more thought, commitment and time, but the experience is surely worth it.
The Earth is your oyster,
Special thanks to Taryn and Lindsey for sharing their wisdom!