Updated: Mar 29
A friend recently asked me if I had retired in order to travel full-time. She was convinced that I had abandoned my career and devoted my life to traveling the world. I couldn’t help but laugh. I wish! Unfortunately no one pays me to travel. I still have bills to pay, a mountain of student debt that hangs over my head like a giant thunder cloud, and all this travel to fund. But travel is a priority for me, therefore I have found ways to make it work on a limited budget. And I am here to tell you that the same can be possible for you! Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way, advice for anyone who wants to get out there and explore but, like me, doesn’t have endless resources.
1. Don’t be Picky About The Destination
A few of my recent trips evolved from a quick google search for “cheap international flights.” I find an inexpensive flight to a destination that peaks my interest, I do a little research on the place (safety, cost of food/housing, things to do), and then I buy my ticket. Many people assume that a trip overseas should cost at least 4 figures, and so they dish out the cash willingly. That is simply not the case. Prices are always fluctuating and there is always a deal out there to grab. However, if you are dead-set on seeing Paris in the springtime and will not accept anything else, this option may not be for you. (Instead, see #2!).
2. Book Tickets Separately
I live in the middle of Ohio. Rarely can I find a roundtrip flight from here to Europe that isn’t under $1000. The way around this? Book a flight to NYC, and book your flight to Europe directly from NYC. You can save hundreds of dollars by booking your flights separately, as there are always fairly cheap direct flights from New York to major European cities. Just make sure that all flights are out of the same airport (there are 3 in New York) and you have sufficient time between flights.
3. Be Flexible About Your Flights
If you can withstand longer lay-overs and/or be willing to give up your seat when the plane is too full, you could end up saving money or even better, making money. Some flights offer a great price when there is a lengthy lay-over in another city. I think this is a win-win. You get to see a different place, and save money on your total flight cost. Along these lines, airlines will often overbook their flights and ask people to give up their seats. If you are willing to stay another night (on the airlines budget) you could get a chance to extend your vacation a bit longer and actually earn money/points toward more travel in the future.
4. Get a Travel Rewards Card
If you plan on making travel a central part of your life, getting the right rewards card is an absolute must. You need decent credit to get the best offers, so if your credit is not up to par you will have to work on that first. I use travel credit cards for everything I buy. Then, 2-3 times a month I pay it off in full straight from my bank account. Therefore every time I buy anything, I’m earning points toward my next adventure. Just make sure you don’t have an outstanding balance at the end of the month, or the interest you pay will cancel out any benefits.
5. Don’t Be Afraid to Fly Budget
Disregard everything you’ve ever learned-In traveling, its not about the journey, its about the destination. Seriously, how important is it to get all the perks on a flight? Do you really need in-flight entertainment, free Cokes, and a reclinable chair? If so, then ignore me and book on a main airline. If you can suck it up for a few hours, bring a book and your own snacks, then fly budget. On these airlines (think Spirit, JetBlue, Frontier, etc.) you are literally paying for a seat on an airplane, nothing more. Just be sure to pay in advance for any baggage or carry ons you are planning on bringing to avoid any unexpected costs.
6. Avoid Resorts and Hotels, Stay Local Instead
For my recent trip to Cartagena, Colombia, I booked an apartment in Getsemani through AirBNB, and avoided the expensive resorts in the main part of the city. I spent $50/night for an entire apartment, in the heart of the most vibrant neighborhood in Cartagena. No, it was not glamorous. No one made my bed every morning and I had to hang up my towels because no one was coming in to replace them. There was no hot water. The coffee machine didn't work. But there was a fabulous family living downstairs who helped me out, I was in a superb location, and I had all that money left over to actually do stuff. All I did in that apartment was sleep anyway!
7. Eat Like a Local
Watch out for overpriced, mediocre restaurants placed strategically next to big tourist attractions. The Coliseum in Rome is a great example. Don’t be surprised if you pay $15 for a crappy piece of pizza across the street from this famous spot. You’ll also be sitting amidst countless Americans wearing fanny packs and Reeboks and talking too loud on their cell phones. For a more authentic experience, better food, and a lower cost, walk a few blocks away from the main attractions. Find a quieter, less obvious place where the locals are eating. Better yet, ask a local for a recommendation. I promise, you won’t be disappointed.
8. Find the Off-Season
Does a place have a peak season and an off-season? Most do. I went to Tuscany at the end of October and it was deserted. We booked a gorgeous room at an incredible winery for a fraction of what it would cost in the summer. The scenery was spectacular (Tuscany in Autumn is a sight everyone should see). And there were no tourists! Yes, you run the risk of crappy weather and things being closed down. But you avoid big crowds and get the locals all to yourself.
9. Avoid Third Party Fees
This goes for anything you book online-hotel rooms, tours, etc. Often I will search for what I want and then call the company directly to book a reservation. This can save a substantial amount of money in third party fees.
10. Get Off The Beaten Path
Sometimes its best to avoid the tourist attractions all together. Yes, we all want a picture of ourselves holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and would anyone really believe that you visited Paris if you didn’t climb the Eiffel Tower? But there is so much more to a place than the tourist traps. My favorite memories always stem from the unexpected. Getting lost, meeting locals, discovering places that aren’t tagged on a million Instagram accounts already. If your only experience of a place is the tourist spots, you will go home with the impression that the world is like a giant shopping mall. Dig deeper, get off the beaten path, and you’re guaranteed to find hidden treasure.
Last but not least, you will need to do some research tailored to your specific destination. I learned that in Italy, tipping your waiter is not standard procedure. In Colombia, Ubers are actually illegal and if your driver gets busted you may end up stranded at the side of the road. In Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, resort food is outrageously overpriced but if you walk into the city you can find local eateries for a fraction of the cost and the food is way tastier. Everyplace is a bit different, and you can learn simple ways to save costs depending on where you are headed.
In summary, if you can forego a little luxury, think more like a local, and have the courage to step off the beaten path, you will not only save some serious cash but you’ll have better stories to bring home in the end.
I hope this has inspired you to get out there and start exploring! Stay tuned for more tips coming soon at candidvoyage.com.