How to Travel on a Budget From Someone Whose Been There

 

It is not uncommon that I am asked, how can you afford to take all these trips? And each time I hear this I end up delivering a less than impressive response: I just do. The only concrete answer I can give is that I am able to travel because I make it a priority and during my mini-travel hiatus I’ve been focusing on this priority of mine and working my little hiney off to prepare for my trip to Southeast Asia in June.

There is obviously more to the operation than “just doing it,” but I don’t typically like to bog people down with the small details if they aren’t prepared for a winded answer. But then I realized that I own a nice piece of internet real estate where I can bug people all I want! So if you are interested in traveling or in the market for money-saving tips and travel-savvy hacks, there is no better place to have found yourself than right here!

Now to make sure we are all on the same page, I’ll start by saying that I don’t have money hiding in the crevices of my couch. To be honest, I don’t even own a couch. I decided I didn’t need it anymore and sold it to make a little extra money before leaving for Central America. There are also a lot of blogs and articles out there that say you don’t need to be rich to travel, but from one couch selling penny-pincher to another I will tell you that this is not entirely true. I mean, it’s not really a lie either because you don’t need to be rich per se, but you do need something to get you from Point A to Point B and all the way to Point M and back. But I’m here to tell you that all hope is not lost because you need something far greater in value than money to get where you want, you need passion and sacrifice and, lucky for you, those things are free! Once you have those two things in your pocket you are halfway there and soon you’ll see that the world is your oyster!


Step One: Passion.

Travel is a choice (and a good one, I assure you) and I choose to do it; I choose to see new places, to immerse myself in interesting cultures and to learn and grow from my experiences. But like anything else in life it necessitates passion. To travel is a beautiful thing that literally connects you to the world and I can’t emphasize enough how much getting out there leads to deeper individual development and self-discovery. Sometimes it can be lonely and tough, but it tends to be the challenges that make us better anyways. If you have a passion for learning, then travelling is the most wonderful opportunity to open yourself up to new ideas, but be careful though, once you realize that you can be anywhere in the world you may never sit still again.


Step Two: Sacrifice.

Once you’ve set your sights, it’s time to aim! If you’re like me and you don’t have money laying around collecting dust then that means you have to get out there and earn it. Now as lovely as it sounds to save up all my paychecks it isn’t exactly ideal because bills still need to be paid and flights need to be bought and hotels need to be booked and on and on and on. Ergo, sacrifice!

Working. I work in bars and restaurants because between minimum wage and tips it can be a pretty lucrative business. Do customers drive me nuts sometimes? Yeah. Is it hard work? Of course. Is it worth it at the end of the night? Absolutely. I also have a few odd jobs that keep me busy; during the day I help a friend maintain her Etsy site and design items and once a week I coach Special Olympics track & field. The work isn’t hard, quite enjoyable even, and I get paid to do something fun, which is a win-win! Remember, it never hurts to ask around and see if anyone needs an extra hand, even if it’s a weird job it is likely temporary and you can learn a random new skill while you’re at it!

Living. I make little daily life changes to get where I need to be. For example, instead of buying coffees once a day I make them at home and splurge once a week or so (that’s almost $500 in savings a year, which is kind of alarming after I did the math…) and instead of buying lunches and dinners I’ll go to the grocery store and pick up snacks and ingredients to make things at home (saving ~$3,000 a year, which is an equally disgusting number). I also try to limit unnecessary purchases, which is a task easier said than done in my case. No, I don’t need another book, I have an entire stack I’ve been meaning to read! No, I don’t really need another pair of cat socks. No I don’t need that reusable bag with Yoda’s glorious face on it. But I’m human and occasionally splurge on random things I convince myself I “need,” however I am much more conscious of this vice of mine and am trying to reel it in. But I did end up buying that Yoda bag in the Target dollar aisle. Oops. What can I say? Sucker I am, good deal I must have.

Step Three: The Money. 

Passion and sacrifice are all good and dandy, but now it’s time to get to the nitty gritty… Personally, I like to travel on a budget, but I like to keep it within reason. Basically, I believe that traveling should be easy, enjoyable, authentic and at least decently comfortable. To reach this happy medium I try to make everything affordable and, like everyone else with two legs, I enjoy a good deal and will hunt down a steal like a lion stalks its prey. Through my experiences abroad I have learned a few tricks and ways of saving to make life a little easier and I hope that they can help you too!

Airlines
Skyscanner. I can say with near-absolute confidence that you and this site are about to become best friends. Be careful though, some airlines look cheap but will end up charging you for your seat, check-in bag, carry-on and anything else a price tag can be put on, when for the same price you could have avoided the hassle and saved time (ahem, Spirit Airlines, ahem). But overall, Skyscanner will find a steal of a deal.

RyanAir. Cheap and 100% reliable European flights. Don’t question it, just do it.

Google Flights. Everything about Google is pure magic and their flight finder is no exception. It will almost always find an excellent price but I crosscheck with Skyscanner before purchases. My favorite feature on Google Flights is that for roundtrip tickets they show you each departure and return date combination and price in one nifty graph! 

Random Flying Tips:

1. Saturday and Wednesday tend to be the cheapest day to fly.

2. Ticket prices go down on Tuesday afternoons (I have no rationale for this, but it’s a thing)

3. Check the price difference between one-ways and roundtrips. It’s a bit ridiculous, but it’s sometimes cheaper to buy two one-ways than one round trip to the same place on the same days.

4. Check which cities are cheapest to fly out of for certain airlines.

Example A: A one-way ticket from Costa Rica to Peru was $550, but a ticket from Costa Rica to Fort Lauderdale ($100) and from Fort Lauderdale to Peru ($200) was $300. Yes, it was on Spirit, but Spirit’s main hub is Fort Lauderdale, making flights in and out pretty cheap.

Example B: Wow! Air is the big airline for Iceland and their main hub is Boston. So we could buy round trip tickets from Seattle to Iceland for $800 or stop and visit Boston first (RT $200) and go to Iceland from there (RT $425). It does add days you’d pay for a hostel and food, but in the grand scheme of things, we got to see another place so for us it was worth it!

5. If you can’t make your flight do a “no-show” because if you call and cancel your ticket there is a $200 fee.

6. Pack light and try to avoid checking your bag. Even if it’s a little over the dimensions, you can usually slip through and if you start to board and they deny your bag they just throw it in a pile to be put in cargo later, and boom, no check-in fee!


Transportation

City Buses. Guaranteed to be your cheapest option. Buses can be confusing in unfamiliar cities but locals are usually willing to help you out and drivers basically know everything (shout out to our thick Boston-accented driver!) but I Google routes first and it makes it much easier.

Local transportation. This depends on where you are. Taxis are the main transportation in Cusco and are dirt cheap but the same can’t be said in Paris. Tuk Tuks are the way to go in Southeast Asia and in America we don’t even know what the hell Tuk Tuk means. Just check price averages for taxis beforehand and make sure the meters are on to avoid getting ripped off.

Uber. It’s not just an American thing anymore! Uber will almost always be cheaper and more convenient than taxis, except when your phone dies, then it’s completely obsolete…

Walk! This is my favorite way to explore a new city, because you can stop a hundred times if you want, take it all in at a slower pace and it’s a more genuine way to experience a place in my opinion.

Campers in Iceland
Water taxis in Panama
Terrifyingly close bus rides in San Jose, Costa Rica

Food

Happy Hour. I don’t need to elaborate here.

Hostels. I like to book hostels with kitchens so I can cook something cheap, like spaghetti. I also book places with complimentary breakfast because that can save you a little moolah too.

Grocery stores. I’m not suggesting you down 7 jars of Nutella and slather it across 4 loaves of bread over the course of a month, but it’s cheaper to pop in for yogurt, fruits and snacks here.

Just get to the store before it closes, which can sometimes be a bit complicated to actually figure out..



Accommodation

HostelBookers. Great site for good deals!

Hostelworld. Typically the same prices as HostelBookers, but not as easy to use in my opinion.

Airbnb. Sometimes you’ll find more comfortable rooms than in hostels and for cheaper, plus you get an experience as a local. I wouldn’t choose this option if you are looking for alone time though, hosts tend to want to be involved and get to know you, but if you’re up for meeting people then this is a great way to do it!

Couchsurfing. Not always a couch (it’s often a bed) and it’s free! But the Couchsurfing community is big on emphasizing that it isn’t a place to just crash and leave because the goal is to connect locals and travellers together.


Activities

Free Days. Many museums will have a day that is free for visitors, such as the Louvre in Paris, France which has free entry on the first Sunday of the month and to those 26 and under on Friday nights. Check around for deals before buying passes!

Buy tickets online. A lot of places offer a 10% discount for getting tickets in advance online.

Bring your student ID. My college ID doesn’t have any years on it and I’ll look young until I’m at least 55 because of my young-looking face, so even though I graduated two years ago I still get discounts galore!


If you are looking for a cheap and truly authentic trip look no further than… Workaway!

This may be my biggest travel hack that boasts endless benefits and I’ve talked about it in posts past but it is too great to not share again. It’s not quite working and it’s not quite volunteering, but more of an exchange of sorts. WorkAway connects travellers with people around the world looking for help, so it’s like a massive help-wanted ad broken down by country but instead of getting paid you get a free place to stay, your meals covered, the opportunity to learn a new skill or build on what you already know to help a community, get to know locals and have an unforgettable experience. Typical stays are for a longer period (2 weeks, 3 months, etc.), but I think that really accentuates the idea of quality of quantity. Whether you’re into teaching English in Laos, herding sheep in Ireland, slinging drinks in a hip Argentinian hostel or working at a cat farm in Thailand, there is seriously something for everyone. (Membership is $29 for two years or $38 for a couple.)


Step Four: GO!


Overall Tips

1. Travel to places that are easy on the wallet yet still safe and comfortable. You can do Cambodia for $30/day, while Florence, Italy is going to cost at least $60/day.

2. Travel in the shoulder or off-season for better deals.

3. Sell your things. Have a garage sale to rid yourself of excess stuff and watch the money come in. It’s crazy, but people want some weird shit. Your junk, their treasure!

4. Get a credit card that fits your lifestyle and score points. Not only does my Chase Sapphire card not generate foreign transaction fees, but I get one point for all purchases and double points on dining and travel. Essentially I get to benefit from my endless appetite, working in restaurants and by doing something I already do! The rewards are pretty sweet, too. You can claim giftcards to Amazon, Target and a bajillion other normal places you’ve actually heard of and you can also book flights (which can be overpriced, so I stick to Skyscanner mostly) or places to stay. Plus, it’s one of those fancy heavy cards that have cashiers nodding in approval because they think you’re a totally rich badass that must have many leather bound books and items made of rich mahogany when in reality you’re a poor little peasant who doesn’t even have a couch and is subsisting off of Peanut Butter Nature Valley bars. (And if you’re actually thinking of getting one, hook a sister up with your e-mail and I can refer you and we can be winners together!)

5. Be kind to everyone and don’t be afraid to talk to people because each person has something to offer and the faster you learn this the better off you will be. People are generally very friendly and eager to help, so let them! You may find a connection for work, get a lift, score an extra slice of dessert or you may meet someone from a country you’ve always wanted to go to and now you have a new friend, a place to stay and a tour guide! People have an immense amount to offer each other and it goes much farther beyond free goodies. If you are open-minded and open-hearted you can learn and experience such incredible things. I promise you won’t regret it.

New friends in Paris
The best group of people in Venice
The sweetest and most humble Peruvian familia
My precious host dad in Costa Rica!

I know that was a lot of information to handle but it is my hope that fellow travellers and aspiring adventurers can take away a thing or two to add to their arsenal of travel information. It can be costly, sure, but there are ways to save money along the way and it is possible for anyone to do. Go ahead and re-read that. And then again. And maybe once more for good measure. Here, I’ll even repeat it: travel is possible for anyone to do. With the right amount of ambition, a little splash of sacrifice and a hefty helping of passion there is no where in the world you can’t find yourself. Quite honestly, there is no one you can’t be either; We all have such amazing potential within us and I believe travel has a way of bringing out amazing parts of our being. Some may travel to escape and others may be on a search for inner meaning; Sometimes we take off for work while other times it as simple as wanting to see a certain place or meet a particular person. So whatever it is that gets you moving, I encourage you to hold on to that and let it lead you; I implore you to be brave, to embrace the unknown and to challenge yourself and be open to new perspectives. The world truly is your oyster and it is overflowing with an unimaginable amount of pretty pearls just waiting to be seen so get yourself out there and find every perfect little one you can!

Bon Voyage!

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Sloth enthusiast, Nutella extremist, and all around sassy human with a deep love for hoppy beer and discovering the world's many gems. Currently gallivanting the globe while drinking more coffee than necessary.

3 thoughts on “How to Travel on a Budget From Someone Whose Been There

  1. Love your post! Step one is so essential. I don’t think it could ever be over said on how in order to travel, which everyone has the authority to do, it all begins with passion. Once you desire to explore the unknown, the other steps aren’t has difficult as one may think.

    I seek to travel myself every chance I can and recently began my own blog, https://easyonthewalletexploring.wordpress.com. I would love to hear back on your views and hear about your experience traveling on a budget! Thank you.

    Like

    1. Hi Michaela Shae!

      I love stumbling upon fellow travelers so it’s great to meet you! I like your site and budget tips too (if you have advice about Southeast Asia I’m all ears). I saw you work in an international office, what is it that you do?

      Cheers!
      Caitlin

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Cailtlin!
        While an undergraduate student (for only 1 more month), my title in the international office is a Global Ambassador student manager. I help all student who want to go abroad, go! It’s a great feeling, with slight jealously that it isn’t me. Currently I don’t have personal budget tips for Southeast Asia, though I have had plenty of friends give me some from their experience. Visiting Thailand is on the top of my list! Are you going to Southeast Asia for your own leisure of travel or for business?
        Great to meet you!
        Michaela

        Like

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