You ask me all the time how I can afford to travel so often and to so many different locations. Now, with sponsors, advertising, and affiliates, it’s a lot less expensive and sometimes even free but I traveled several times a year even as a struggling student with debt. If you make it a priority, it becomes more of a reality. I focused my earnings on what was important, often cutting expenses like dining, clothing, transportation, and extra-curricular by half. Those things didn’t hold value to me. What was of value was travel and experiencing new cultures and countries. I thought outside the box and did whatever it took to bring my travel dreams to light. After visiting more than 50 countries and over 30 years of personal experience, I’ve come up with a few tips to make travel more affordable.
1. Cut Back on Unnecessary Expenses – We can all cut back on expenses. I usually ask myself, “Would I rather have or do “x”, or put that money towards travel?” You’d be surprised with how little you need when you constantly put it into perspective. I stopped eating out at expensive restaurants and starting eating home or packing a lunch daily. (This tip goes well while traveling too. Shop at grocery stores and bring snacks or packed lunches rather than dining at restaurants. Bringing a compact water bottle saves almost as much money as packing lunches. Bottled water can be excessively expensive while traveling. It’s an unnecessary cost.) I cut my own hair, lived in a small, one-room apartment, bought most of my clothes at second-hand stores, stopped paying for cable at home, avoided buying expensive hair and skin products, and reduced my utility bills. They were all small sacrifices for better goals. (Grace at Cultural Life suggests writing down everything that is spent throughout the month and then working out which areas can be cut.)
2. Pick Up a Rewarding, Extra-Income Job – Before becoming a travel writer, I was a high school teacher. I enjoyed teaching students and reading was one of my favorite pastimes. Combining my love for teaching and learning, I offered tutoring lessons after work and on weekends. This had a two-fold effect: I was making extra cash and keeping busy during hours that I would most likely have been spending money. Maybe tutoring isn’t your thing and then it becomes less rewarding, but think about things you enjoy doing and offer it as a paid service.
3. Try Other Forms of Accommodations Rather than Always Paying for Expensive Hotels – Hostels are a cheap alternative to hotels and you can usually meet other like-minded travelers on your journey. I stayed in hostels during my 12-country Europe trip in 2002 and made life-long friends along the way. I also brought a tent and used that whenever possible. It was even cheaper than hostels, but much less accessible in many countries. It is possible though, especially if you plan ahead. What if hostels aren’t your thing but you still want to have authentic, private, good-value accommodations? HouseTrip is a unique holiday rental experience that offers more space, extra bedrooms, a kitchen, WiFi, and laundry facilities at no extra cost, and you can book a whole home for less than the price of a hotel. As a mother and wife now, I don’t see hostels as the best value for my money. There are other options available like HouseTrip, but they require you to have collateral (your own home to offer in exchange) or you lose the privacy (staying at someone’s home). HouseTrip is a more family-friendly, private option that could be cheaper than hotels and hostels if you take into account the number of people traveling and the benefits you receive in return.
4. Get More Bang for Your Buck – If you’re making single-country trips during every vacation, it becomes extremely expensive to see more. Try adding additional countries to your trip and spending less time in one place. This pace is not for everyone, but it works for me. I want to see the world and I don’t have unlimited time to do it so I compromise. I spend a few days in each country or major city and then move on. My favorites go back on the list for a longer visit at a later date. If you combine close destinations you eliminate the biggest expense – flights. My recent trip to Germany, for example, was a long, expensive flight but Germany’s proximity to other countries is a vantage point. From Germany, you can take a day trip to Czech Republic, Switzerland, Austria, and France (just to name a few of the more popular destinations). Europe is at your doorstep; all you have to do is hop on a train or a bus, which leads to my next point.
5. Use Cheaper Means of Transportation – When saving for travel and traveling, I like to consider the cost of gas. Gas prices are excessively high and a waste of money when you can avoid it. Rather than driving to local places, I walk instead. It all adds up quickly and two unnecessary trips to the grocery store when I could have walked equate to fuel for the flight rather than in my car. When traveling, trains and buses are an alternative to planes and car rentals plus you get to see more when you’re not the driver or above the clouds. Public buses are more user-friendly than you’d expect. Pick up a bus schedule and make sure to use the knowledge of the bus driver. They usually know the connections and stops like the back of their hand.
6. Start a Dedicated Travel Fund – Create a new account and feed it regularly. Make it easy to transfer money over from another account and every time you go online to check your balance, make a transfer. Make it fun. Make a game out of it. Make it part of your pay schedule. Just make it happen and whatever you do, don’t use the money for anything else. It will add up quickly.
7. Get Creative – Ask for your parents, spouse, children, friends or anyone you feel comfortable asking to give you travel related gifts for your birthday, Christmas, or anniversaries. My husband recently asked me what I wanted for my birthday next month and I asked for an experience gift for our trip to Hawaii. Rather than wasting money on a birthday card, flowers, or material things, I’d prefer to go on an adventure in Hawaii instead. (Shelby at Nature Preserve suggests booking in the off-season. Their October cruise was half-priced compared to the August trip.)
8. Use Credit Cards to Your Advantage – We use our credit card for everything and pay it off before the end of the month, avoiding interest costs and gaining valuable travel rewards. Choose a credit card that offers special travel perks. These cards not only help customers save money on flights, but also time at the airport. By signing up for the Delta Gold SkyMiles card, you get priority access, which means you can bypass those huge crowds waiting in line, and you get a free checked bag. (Don’t over do it on the credit cards. Signing up for multiple credit cards can hurt your credit score if you’re not careful. Be strategic and always carefully monitor card balances.)
9. Use City Cards – City cards, like City Pass, offer unbelievable savings for those who want to visit several attractions in one destination. If you plan on seeing lots of museums, attractions, and historical sites, one of these discount cards will save you about 50% off the cost of what seeing the attractions individually would have cost. Most museums have special discount times or free days. Before you go, make sure you look on the museum’s website to find out if they offer free visiting hours. If I don’t have a city card, look up the museums you want to visit to see if you can get in for free.
10. Do Your Research – Use a site like Kayak or Travelocity when booking your trip. They search multiple websites at once so you can see prices across the board. Also, search a few days before and after your selected dates to check for drastic price differences. Finally, check all airport options. In southern California, I can use LAX or SNA. Sometimes flying out of LAX is drastically cheaper and saves me time on connections. It’s wroth the extra 20 minute drive if it saves me both money and time.
Share your travel tips below and bring the world to our doorstep.