I’ve heard the excuse so many times: I just can’t afford to travel. And while money is important, it shouldn’t be the reason you aren’t acting on your nomadic urges. Life is short, and not traveling is often a large regret shared by many people.
I am not rich. I graduated from college and worked as a nanny, a barista, an intern at an online cooking school, and a freelance writer. But my wanderlust wasn’t going away just because I didn’t have a hefty paycheck, and so I started to look into ways to travel on the cheap.
Here are my top tips for cheap travel.
Where to Stay
CouchSurfing is a website that helps connect travels and locals to provide free housing options. Locals, or hosts, publish their profiles to advertise their “couches,” and travelers can search the options to find hosts. The site also allows both parties to see who is verified and read reviews, so that you can exercise caution when finding a place.
You can often find hosts who share similar interests, or are willing to show you around the area. In my experience, I’ve been able to cook, eat, explore, and swap stories with my hosts. Personally it’s one of my favorite (and most affordable) methods of travel.
Workaway is a company that promotes a work-for-trade system, enabling travelers to find a place to stay in exchange for providing their services. The services run the gamut; travelers can participate as farm workers, au pairs, and language teachers.
Most hosts will specify how long they expect their guests to stay, and you can find opportunities all over the country. And this company is just the tip of the iceberg! There are other work for trade opportunities, including WWOOFing, Help Exchange, Organic Volunteers, and House Carers.
Hostels over Hotels
As much as I love a huge fluffy hotel bed, I tend to prefer hostels when traveling abroad. They’re affordable and they often come with a kitchen and a handful of other travelers.
The kitchen allows you to cook your own meals (therefore saving more money!) and the common areas allow you to get to know the other guests.
What to Eat
Make Use of Buffets
Buffets may seem expensive, but if you can find one for $15 or less, it’s actually a pretty economical option. You can fill up on healthy carbs, lean proteins, and veggies, giving you the fuel you need to go about your day without having to consistently stop for snacks.
Seek Out Street Food
Street food is a great option as you’re less inclined to spend money on drinks and (if you’re in the sort of country that expects it), you don’t have to tip. It’s also a great way to try some of the local flavor. Some of the best things I ate were off food carts. Just use your judgement–food poisoning while on the road is no fun.
Don’t feel like you need to drop a ton of dough to enjoy a meal with a view.
Simply gather up a few snacks leftover from the hostel breakfast or swing by the grocery store and pick a food-friendly site to picnic.
Great options include city parks, outside of picturesque monuments, or alongside riverside and canals.
If you’re staying in a hostel or Couchsurfing, you may have access to a kitchen, which can help you save a ton of money. It also helps you stay healthy on the road, and allows for the opportunity to bond with fellow travelers.
Reserve Snacks for Special Occasions
I know the temptation of partaking in a daily croissant or gelato scoop, but all of those little treats tend to really add up. If you cut out snacks, or make them a weekly splurge, you’re likely to save between thirty and seventy dollars a week.
Try to Break Your Caffeine Addiction
Caffeine may seem like a travel essential (especially post red-eye), but all of those espressos and daily cappuccinos start to become very expensive. And while some hostels and hotels might offer free coffee, this might not always be the case.
If you have a hardcore caffeine addiction, consider easing it out before your trip. Being less reliant will mean you have less necessities, and ultimately save you the cash.
Carry a Reusable Water Bottle
Even if you’re packing light, be sure to make room for a reusable water bottle. Depending on where you travel, you’ll have the opportunity to fill up for free, which keeps you from unnecessarily spending and wasting plastic.
Choose Cheaper Destinations
Due to shifting economies, travel costs can vary from place to place, and depending on the time of year. I always do my research when planning a trip to test out new places that also fit within my budget.
For 2017, Costa Rica, Mexico, South Africa, Chile, Morocco, Vietnam, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Ecuador, Barcelona, Cambodia, Buenos Aires, Bulgaria, and Georgia are just some of the cheaper options you can look into when exploring.
Enjoy Free Concerts and Performances
I was amazed at all of the opportunities for live music while I was traveling. Lots of bars, restaurants, parks, and street corners serve as stomping grounds for local musicians, and it’s a great way to get some of the culture without breaking the bank.
Get City Tourist Cards
If sight-seeing is a big part of your travel agenda, look into city tourism cards, as they offer free and discounted access to many major attractions and museums. There are city cards for London, Paris, Budapest, Bergen, Amsterdam, and more.
Student Discount Cards
Are you a student, teacher, or under the age of 26? Welcome to a myriad of killer discounts. In many countries, people who fall under this category can get as much as fifty percent off of major sights and attractions.
Look Into Travel Credit Cards
Credit cards should be used with caution, but if you are using them, consider one that offers benefits for travelers.
Start a travel credit card, collect miles, and keep your eye out for opportunities as they arise. You’d be amazed at all of the discounted, and even free, plane tickets you can earn!
Fit Everything Into a Carry-On
There are several benefits to packing everything into a small suitcase. For one, you save on baggage fees, which can really rack up after weeks and weeks and travel. But you’ll also spend less; when you don’t have as much space to store things, you’re not as inclined to buy new things.
Sublet Your Apartment
It’s hard to travel long-term when you have an apartment, as you’re consistently paying rent (or a mortgage) for a place you aren’t using.
If your landlord is cool with it, or you have control over your housing situation, look into ways that you can open up your apartment to temporary guests so that you’re not paying extra cash.
Sell Your Stuff
If you’re anything like me, you’ve got a closet that would send Marie Kondo running for the hills. Go through your belongings, decide whether or not it’s something you need, and visit local thrift or consignment stores to see what you can sell.
While there’s a good chance most of your clothes will be turned away, you can still walk out twenty dollars richer than you were before. Bonus points: you just also lightened your load.
A lack of money doesn’t mean a lack of adventure. Apply some of these tips your next exploratory endeavor to expand your options. Happy trails!
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