Do you daydream of jetting off to far away places? Wish you could quit your day job and travel the world? But wait… you don’t have nearly enough money to fulfill that dream.
The question I get most often from friends back home is how I afford to travel for months on end. They assume that traveling requires a lot of money for food, accommodation, and transportation. The truth is that vacation often requires a lot of money, but traveling doesn’t. While on vacation many people travel a certain way where they spend the majority of money in restaurants, hotels, and experiences. The truth is, you don’t need a lot of money to have an incredible adventure abroad.
Not everyone has the ability to travel if they save a bit more money. Billions of people around the world don’t have the resources or time, and those of us who have the flexibility, mobility, and ability to travel cheaply or at all are very privileged. Budget travel does not apply to everyone (although I wish it did).
For myself, traveling cheaper requires a little creativity and being open to different possibilities.
Here are some track hacks for when you want to travel but have no money.
1. Plan Ahead
Research the experiences you want to do ahead of time. Signing up early could get you a discounted rate, and knowing your plans ahead of time will allow you to account for the extra costs in your budget.
2. Choose a Destination in Your Budget
This might seem obvious but when you are planning a budget trip, choose a destination that you can reasonably afford once you get there. In Southeast Asia, for example, you can get by on 35USD/day while in New Zealand or Western Europe that would be challenging due to the exchange rate and different economic situation.
3. Travel Off-Season
Travel at times of year when others aren’t traveling – this is one of the best ways to save a lot of money fast. This is not available to everyone but if you have job flexibility, consider going to Europe in March or Southeast Asia in February. You will save loads on your plane ticket, accommodation prices will be lower and there will be less crowds at tourist attractions.
4. Stay in Hostels
Staying in hostels is the best way to save money on one of the most expensive parts of traveling. If dorm rooms aren’t your thing, get a private room for a fraction of the cost you would find at a hotel. If you do choose a dorm room, I typically stay away from places where ‘party hostel’ is mentioned in the reviews because I tend to prefer sleeping over partying. Pick what works for you.
5. Stay Outside the City
Accommodation outside the city center is always less expensive. Choose a hotel, AirBnB or hostel away from downtown and take a bus or train into the city to see attractions. It will be a fraction of the cost per night that you would pay closer to the main sights.
6. Use Couchsurfing for Accommodation
I cannot speak highly enough of Couchsurfing. This platform has given me a gateway into experiencing local ways of life and has allowed me to develop friendships all over the world. I have been lucky enough to stay in a townhouse in Prague (with a pool!), an apartment in the center of Vienna (all for free, remember) and I have even hosted a few Couchsurfers in my home. It is not just free accommodation, it is a platform to facilitate cultural exchange and mutual generosity. And contrary to popular belief, I have always slept in a real bedroom, never on a couch!
7. Optimize on Free Breakfast
When booking a hostel, look to see if they have breakfast included. A few bucks more per night could save you the cost of 2 meals, depending on how much you can eat in one sitting!
8. Cook for Yourself
Making your own meals saves lots of cash in the long run. If all you know how to do is boil pasta water think of a few meals you really enjoy and learn to make them before you start traveling. You will save lots of money (and learn a new skill!) by cooking yourself rather than eating out ever day.
9. Eat Street Food
When you don’t feel like cooking, street food is a quick, cheap, and delicious choice. Usually the best food isn’t at a restaurant, but at a little stand on the street with a line of locals waiting outside. In many countries it’s even better than what you might eat in a restaurant. Many restaurants serve glorified street food anyway, so save a couple bucks and eat on a park bench instead.
10. Talk with Other Travelers
Other travelers often have the greatest tips to help save you money as they are looking to save extra cash just like you. Ask backpackers in your hostel about free things to do around the city and other activities they really enjoyed. This is also a great conversation starter to make friends while traveling.
11. Do Activities You Genuinely Enjoy, Not That You Think You Need To Do
If you don’t want to go to the #1 critically-acclaimed art museum, don’t go! If its 20$ to get in and not something you truly enjoy, skip it. It has taken me awhile to realize that just because I travel to a place doesn’t mean I have to do every single touristy sightseeing there is to offer. I enjoy myself more (and spend less money on visiting attractions) when I seek out experiences I truly like.
12. Go Off the Beaten Path
Once you’re there, mainstream attractions can be expensive. Companies and museums know that vacationing tourists will pay the high entrance fee, but oftentimes the ‘second rate’ places to see are equally wonderful and the price is less.
13. Take Free Classes
Look on Facebook or Couchsurfing for free yoga classes and gym intro offers. There are often free yoga classes in parks, and many studios allow a first class for free to try it out. Ask at your hostel if they know of any free or by-donation activities nearby.
14. Go to Facebook and Couchsurfing Meet-Ups
Facebook and Couchsurfing are great ways to meet like-minded travelers. Meet-ups are typically in a low-key bar and hosted by a local person who is well-travelled themselves – they are a great resource to learn about the city and other activities.
15. Go On Free Walking Tours
Free walking tours are the perfect activity for a budget backpacker. They are offered in all major European cities are increasing in popularity around the world. The premise is that if you enjoyed the tour, you give the tour guide what you feel the tour was worth. Free walking tours I’ve been on have been extremely informative, entertaining, and a great way to meet other travelers.
16. Go To Free Museums and Galleries
Many cities have a handful of museums and galleries that are free for public access. Ask at your hostel or look online for public attractions that are free or inexpensive for travelers. Make sure to ask for student discounts if that applies to you, and be sure to carry your student ID card.
17. Get Outside
Outdoor attractions like nature walks, hiking, and visiting parks often have free access. Have a picnic in a park or walk around the green spaces in your city. Nature is free!
18. Travel Overnight
** Always be careful of your belongings ** but I really recommend taking night buses, trains and planes when you are on a budget. You might not get the best night’s sleep but you will save on a nights’ accommodation. I took night buses in Serbia, Bulgaria, and Romania six times and saved about 50 USD/week. Make sure to bring an eye mask, a pillow and earplugs to make yourself comfortable.
Walking everywhere is a great way to get exercise, save money on transportation, and just explore a city. If the area feels save, consider walking instead of taking the bus. You will discover new neighborhoods, restaurants and cafes that you otherwise wouldn’t have seen.
20. Volunteer or Work on a Farm (WWOOF or Workaway)
I worked on organic farms in France and Italy and spent less than 50USD/week while working. While working for accommodation, food and a place to sleep is provided in exchange for 3-4 hours of work per day. When I wasn’t working my hosts often drove me to explore the nearest city or I would spend time with their family. Not only did this give me a truly authentic experience but I also learned valuable skills and developed friendships with other workaway-ers and wwoofers.
21. Travel Slower
Traveling slower is key to saving money on transportation – and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Staying a few extra days in a destination will give you some down time and a chance to see more than Trip Advisors ‘Top Ten’ list. You might discover neighborhoods and experiences that surprise you.
Now you know – you need some money to travel, but not nearly as much as you think! Choose your destination wisely, plan your time, and use the people and resources around you to cut your travel expenses.
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