You don’t need to be rich to travel and there are plenty of ways to travel cheap, especially if you’re willing to be flexible and creative. Since I’m on my early 20’s and most of my travels were made while I was studying, I never had a lot of money to spend on them. That’s why I want to share my tips to travel on a budget or simply lower the costs of your trip. The three things where you actually need to spend some money (most of the times) are transportation, accommodation, and food. Let’s start with the first.
Getting to the destination
Flight tickets are usually the biggest expense of traveling, but finding a cheap flight is not as hard as it may seem; it simply requires a bit of patience and flexibility. One thing I learned during my travels is that a direct flight is not always the best option. Mixing and matching airlines can save you a lot of money and will likely get you the best deal. This method requires some extra research, but websites like Kiwi and Skyscanner (my favorites) already compare multiple companies to find the best deal.
Another advantage of this is that you also have the option of spending a couple of hours or even days in a different city! When I flew from Portugal to Costa Rica, I spent 3 amazing days in Miami with the money I saved by not booking a direct flight. And a few years ago when I was going to Munich, I spent 5 hours in Riga and discovered one of my favorite cities so far! Basically, you can save money, giving you some extra to spend on your destination, and possibly even get a free mini trip within a trip! Just don’t forget to check the layover time and whether the country has visa requirements for people in transit (like the U.S.A., for example). Personally, I think that if you’re not in a hurry, want to explore as much as possible and save money, this is the best option. Also, if you’re flexible on your travel dates, you might save a lot of money by booking a flight with a one day difference.
Moreover, using private/incognito mode on your browser while searching for or buying flight tickets on Mondays or Tuesdays has been said to lower the prices as well. While I’m not sure about these things, I usually do them, and I honestly think they work. Anyway, it doesn’t hurt to try!
Transportation in the destination
When you arrive at your destination, you still need to figure out how to move around. My advice is to take public transport instead of taxis or private shuttles and walk as much as possible, especially if it’s a short distance. You will see and get to know better the place where you’re at, it’s good for your health and it doesn’t cost anything! In certain countries, renting a bike is also something to consider. I’ve also tried hitchhiking a couple of times and it worked perfectly, even though I would not try it everywhere. Always trust your instincts, and if you don’t feel comfortable doing it, then don’t!
Where to stay?
I guess most of you already know that hostels are usually cheaper than staying in a hotel, but even if you want a private room or some more comfort and quietness, there are many cheap hotels around the world. Booking.com is where I usually find the best deals, and hostelworld.com is great for hostels. Airbnb is getting very popular as well, and even though I haven’t tried it myself, I’ve only heard good things about it. If you want to lower your travel expenses even more, you can also try Couchsurfing, a website where people from all over the world offer their sofa/extra bed to travelers. You can stay in locals’ homes for free and get a more in-depth experience of their culture! Camping is another cheap option, and you can even do it for free in some countries (Sweden, for example). Also, a lot of night trains have compartments with beds, and they’re usually quite nice, at least in Europe!
“Sandwiches” is the word when it comes to saving money on food while traveling. Tuna, sausages, ham, cheese, “pâté” or other spreads are all good options to add to your bread. If you include some vegetables, yogurt, and fruits, you have a simple, but complete meal. If you’re staying in a hostel, it usually means you have access to a kitchen, so don’t miss the opportunity to cook something nice! Pasta with tuna or vegetables is a classic, and you can even share it with the other guests, making it cheaper and a good opportunity to meet new people.
And don’t forget to bring food and water with you whenever you can! Shop at grocery stores or bring food from home instead of eating in restaurants. If you decide to eat out, consider having lunch instead of dinner, since in most places a lunch deal is a lot cheaper than the full price charged at dinner. Street food is another option, and it’s usually absolutely safe and cheaper than most other places. There’s a lot of fear around this, but if you can see the food being prepared and cooked in front of you, I don’t see why there should be any problem with it. Besides, it’s a good way to emerge yourself in the local culture.
A lot of cities (like London, for example) are full of free museums, including numerous art, history, and natural sciences exhibits. In some cases, they charge a small entrance fee, but even if that’s the case there should always be a discount you can use or a free entrance day. Do some research and I’m sure you’ll find a deal!
Free tours are an amazing way to get to know a city from the locals perspective. I did it in Riga and I absolutely loved it! Since there’s no obligation to pay, you can decide what the tour was worth or what you can afford.
When traveling in Central America, I realized that some places like waterfalls or beaches, even if they’re public and open 24/7, have people charging money to get in (sad, I know). However, if you arrive early in the morning or later in the evening, no one will annoy you and you won’t need to pay to enjoy those places!
Be sure to pack only the essentials and items needed in case of an emergency, such as a first aid kit. Taking only a carry-on backpack can save you a lot of money on airlines, avoiding checked luggage fees. No matter how long you’re traveling for, you can always get away with a carry-on. I use a 60 liters backpack, but you can make it with even less (50 liters is the ideal). Remember, the more you pack, the more you have to carry.
Volunteering during your travels is another way to lower your expenses. Besides that, you’ll be helping someone and gaining experience in some area! I might go in more detail about this in another post since I’ve done it for 3 months in Costa Rica, but for now, you can check Workaway and get inspired! The website offers the opportunity to work with a family or a small organization, 4-5 hours a day, usually getting food and accommodation in exchange. It’s the ideal way to get to know the everyday life of a foreign country while making a difference!
– Travel off-season, there will be fewer crowds and lower prices.
– Track your budget, so you can better manage your money. I like to write my expenses in a pocket diary, but you can use your phone if you prefer (there are even some apps for that).
– Get a credit card with no foreign transaction fees, such as Revolut.
– If you’re young, broke and have time, travel slowly and don’t always take the easiest way. Take the long road and you may even end up with quite a few adventures to tell!
– Try to smile as much as possible, be positive and make new friends. Get to know the locals, they have the best tips!