Why do people say that they would love to travel, if only they had the money? To me, that’s just an excuse.
I wasn’t born into wealth- far from it. I started working when I was 11 years old, and surely haven’t (yet) achieved the lifestyle of the rich and famous. No matter; travel is as important to me as water and oxygen, human interaction and artistic expression. I have written before about my struggle to acquire a sustainable lifestyle of nomadic tendencies, and it’s not easy. But, alas, we all have our priorities. As one of my favorite writers, Paulo Coelho, wrote in his novel, Aleph, “Travel is never a matter of money but of courage.”
So the question is not, “Do you have enough money?” Rather, it is: “Are you brave enough to lose yourself in the world’s vast beauty without a safety net?” If you are, read on for some simple, yet extremely helpful suggestions.
Travelin’ on the Cheap- 11 Recommendations
- When booking your flights, it is not only the days you travel, but also the days you book your flights, that matter. Be flexible with your departure and return dates- travel is most expensive from Thursday/Friday through Saturday/Sunday, depending on where you’re going and current holidays. Overall, travel from Monday through Thursday tends to be the most economical. Also, since most flights are booked during the weekend, it is suggested to book your flights on Tuesday or Wednesday, when fewer people are searching for flights (less demand = less cost). Some websites I favor: kayak.com, cheapoair.com, and travelocity.com- my old and faithful.
When traveling long distance within a country or countries, take overnight buses in lieu of flying. While it takes much longer, the cost is often drastically cheaper. This also saves you from having to pay for one night’s accommodation- a win-win situation. (Of course, this is considering that you don’t have many time constraints.)
While at your destination, don’t be lazy. It’s as simple as that- walk whenever possible, take the bus or other form of public transportation in lieu of taxi. An astonishing amount of cash can be saved just by using your two feet and commuting as the locals do.
- Instead of heading to five star hotels, think about staying in hostels or homestays. Hostels aren’t so scary as some (eh-hem, Tarantino- bad production choice!) portray them to be, have safes/lockers, and offer private and dorm rooms. Hostelworld.com, hihostels.com, and hostels.com are some straightforward and convenient websites, describing amenities, rules, and honest reviews. Also, airbnb.com and couchsurfing.org offer homestays with locals (paid and unpaid) that oftentimes provide a more private and authentic experience. (Disclaimer: do your research and don’t just stay with anyone! Make sure the person is verified, vouched for, and has positive reviews.) Also, making local friends can provide potential hospitality offers, not to mention life-long friendships! N.B.: Just be flexible and aware of your (many) options.
- Shop at local markets and cook your own food (again, don’t be lazy). Many hostels and homestays offer communal kitchens. A favorite habit of mine is to pack oatmeal around for breakfast, mix in fresh fruit, and voila! A filling, cheap, healthy breakfast that is quick to prepare. If traveling short-term, bring high calorie snacks, such as trail mix, nuts, dried fruit, or protein bars, to substitute meals and provide plenty of energy.
Okay, you’re traveling around and bound to eat out. And you should. To keep the cost low, however, look for: holes in the wall (with plenty of customers present), street food, or daily specials. In Latin America, I often ate the same “menu del dia” every day, for too many days, every lunchtime. It gave me the energy and nutrition I needed, but never again will I eat that same fixed meal… Also, skip the sodas and such- drink tap or bottled water. Not only does it keep you better hydrated, it’s also more friendly to your pocketbook.
- Avoid packaged tours by any means necessary. You can get to most places on your own, spend as much time as you want at the location, explore surrounding areas at your leisure… not to mention avoid being ripped off. I had a horrific experience while going to see the “Not-So-Great Wall of China,” with the tour company’s relentless attempts to sell jade and tea (not to mention glazing over the main attraction). It’s just not worth it!
- Okay, I admit it. I love jewelry and even spent a considerable amount of time purchasing handmade pieces of wearable art with the purpose of resale… However, if you’re not of the entrepreneurial spirit, as I attempted to be, the term “shopping” shouldn’t be in your vocabulary. This is, after all, budget travel. Buy only what’s necessary and stay away from frivolous purchases. Maintain a strict limit on souvenirs for those unique “never before have I seen, never again will I see” kind of items. Consider sending postcards, or even post of a picture of yourself in your exotic location on your friends’ Facebook pages. It’s the thought that counts, right?
- For budget travel, budgeting is (obviously) the most important. Plan in advance and keep track of your expenditures on a daily or weekly basis. Believe me, I learned the hard way that it’s way too easy to squander hard-earned and obsessively-saved money on a bunch of nonsense. (You can live in the moment without spending in the moment.) A good tip one of my best friends from Ecuador suggested: Take out your weekly allotment in cash and limit yourself to only that throughout the week. It will make you reanalyze what you should, and especially should not, buy in a heartbeat. Save credit cards for emergencies.
- When traveling on a budget, travel lightly. Not only will this keep you from looking like a bag lady, it will help you avoid extra costs of storage and having to travel long distances to retrieve mere possessions. Also, it is much easier to get around on public transport without a concierge in tow.
Be practical and keep your wits about you. (This will obviously help in other areas, too.) Just because you’re traveling doesn’t mean that you have to indulge daily on booze, cigarettes, drugs, dessert, designer fashion, or any other unnecessary (yet oh-so-tempting) products. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule, and making the most out of indulgent cultural experiences is oftentimes in order for all the financial sacrifices you have already made.
So that’s it for my list of 11 recommendations for travelin’ on the cheap. If the world is calling you, listen to it. You will only regret the places you didn’t see.
*If you are visiting Europe, please check out my extensive guide for budget travel in the region.
What are you recommendations? Any other advice or difference in opinion? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!
5 thoughts on “11 Ways You Can Travel on the Cheap”
Great tips! Same ones I use. If your readers want to do this but with children in tow, I tell them that these exact tips work for families. Hostels are no longer for the lone traveler and as you know most rooms have 4 beds so you get a ‘private’ room without even trying. Going to a local market or even a supermarket in a foreign country is an amazing experience for children. They can spot the differences between their own American stores right away and they’ll explore it as if it was a museum. Reading labels in different languages and figuring out what the product is.
Never, ever use a taxi unless it is absolutely necessary. Children love to travel by public transportation. You will never see a greater variety of characters anywhere else but in a public bus or subway! To my boys, learning how to use the subways of the world capitals has been super fun. As your children grow you can hand out the travel logistics responsibilities to them. For example, at the airport my sons are in charge of telling me what gate our flight leaves from, when we have to be there, when they are calling for boarding, etc. At the subway station I let them buy the tickets from the machines or from the attendant and then they have to tell me what train to get into. Same thing at the train station. They have to read the massive board of train schedules and find ours.
Traveling is a learning extravaganza when you travel with children. For them and for yourself. For you see the world and it’s people again but through the eyes of a child. Priceless!
Thank you for the great tips, Magda! If and when I have children, you’ll be the first person I ask for tips in regard to budget travel with kids in tow. You’re absolutely right, traveling on a budget not only saves money, but it teaches any individual much about self-sufficiency, planning and navigation. Traveling itself is a wondrous experience; I can only imagine witnessing your children’s reactions and reflections. Please let me know if you’d like to write a guest post on travel with children I’m sure many of my readers would benefit from your expertise!