Another question that I get often is how I am/have been able to afford so many trips. Many times I’ve heard, “Wow, you travel so much. You (or your parents) must be rich!” I also hear a lot of, “Wow, you’re lucky to be able to travel so much!” I used to get somewhat annoyed when I heard the former statement but I have come to understand that many people view travel as an incredibly expensive privilege that they simply cannot afford. But here’s the thing – luck doesn’t have a whole lot to do with it, I most certainly am not rich, and my parents don’t pay for my travels. I recognize that some people don’t have the opportunity to travel because they are barely getting by on their full-time, minimum-wage job, but for the average person, it is possible to travel if you are smart with your money and willing to travel on a budget and make sacrifices when it comes to comfort and convenience. If you want to travel as far and as often as I do, five-star hotels and fancy restaurants are not going to be on your radar, but life-changing experiences and memories you’ll never forget will absolutely be included.
My last post was about finding cheap flights; now let’s talk about how to travel on a budget once you get to where you want to go. Here are my best tips to avoid crying over your bank account when you get home from a trip:
- Stay in hostels. Hostels are a great way to minimize costs and meet fellow travelers, especially if you are traveling solo and want to find people to hang out with. Obviously when you stay in a dormitory you are giving up privacy, but who cares? You will make such amazing friends that it’ll be well worth the sacrifice. A plus is that many hostels have organized social events, like pub crawls, enabling you to safely experience the nightlife of the city. When I was backpacking through Europe by myself at the age of 21, that was definitely my favorite part about staying in hostels. As a young female traveling alone, I did not go out late at night by myself for safety reasons, so this was a great way for me to be able to enjoy the nightlife of the various cities I was visiting. Another great thing about hostels is that they almost always include a kitchen, so you can prepare meals there and save money on food. More on that a few bullets down.
- Couchsurf. Ever heard of couchsurfing.com? If not, get ready to fall in love. This website is basically like AirBnB, except it is completely free. How it works is you set up a profile and get references from friends, people you stay with, and people you host. When you are traveling somewhere, you can look up available hosts in that area and then send them a couch request. Always check their references first and be sure to read their profile and send them a personalized couch request. Generic requests are often denied. If/when a host accepts you, you’ve got a place to stay! The host does not charge you anything, but please don’t treat his/her place like a hotel. The point of couchsurfing is to meet new people and be able to learn about the local culture (and to share your local culture, if you are the host). I have met some incredible friends from couchsurfing all around the world and I highly recommend it. The only downside to couchsurfing rather than staying at a hostel is that it’s not as easy to meet other travelers. However, if your host has some free time to hang out, you can learn a lot about the local lifestyle and where the locals go to party/chill. Also, hosts typically allow you to use their kitchen, and it is nice (although not necessary) to cook a meal for your host to express your appreciation. I have couchsurfed in many countries (and U.S. cities) and loved it every time. So many memories I will cherish forever, and friends with whom I hope to cross paths again someday, somewhere in the world!
- Use AirBnB. I know that AirBnB can be cheap sometimes. I have only used it a couple of times but this could be a good option if you’re willing to spend a bit more on a place to stay and want more privacy. It’s still cheaper than most hotels.
- Cook where you are staying. Food, along with transportation and lodging, are the most expensive aspects of a trip. While I know that every place has its own unique type of cuisine that you are dying to try, be careful not to blow all your money on the gastronomic part of your travels. You should definitely try the famous dishes of the city or country you are visiting, but there is no need to go out to eat for every single meal. When I’m traveling, I typically aim to go out to eat no more than once a day, sometimes not even every day depending on how long I am traveling. If it’s a longer trip, going out to eat even once a day will add up quickly. (Oh and, if you go to Iceland, be prepared to eat an actual meal once every 2-3 days, hahaha. Scandinavian countries will eat a serious hole in your wallet!) The best option is to buy groceries from the store and cook at your hostel, AirBnB, or couchsurfing host’s home. During my backpacking trip, I often ate ramen noodles or a can of baked beans for dinner. Sometimes you have to do what you have to do to keep costs down! Now that I’m a bit older and prefer to eat better, I typically buy chicken breasts and some pasta for a quick and easy traveling meal. Salads and sandwiches are good options as well. Look for anything that you know will last you a couple of days (or however long you are staying in that area) until you are onto your next destination.
- Opt to walk. Unless you are going somewhere a significant distance away, grab a map and walk instead of taking public transportation, a cab, or Uber. This is especially great if you are not super limited on time (if you only have a few days in a country you obviously want to see and do as much as possible so in that case it is worth the extra costs). When I lived in Paris, one of my favorite things to do was to just walk around and get lost on purpose. It’s a beautiful way to explore a new place. Just be sure you don’t end up wandering around lost at nighttime…that’s a different story, for sure.
I spent 3 months backpacking through Europe – in that time I traveled to 27 countries and over 30 different cities and spent around $3,000 total. $1,000 a month is less than most people pay for basic bills, myself included. By following these budgeting practices, I was able to use my money on experiences that mattered more to me than a meal in a fancy restaurant or a private hotel room, such as a ticket to Disneyland Paris, entry into Edinburgh Castle, etc. Definitely worth it!
Do you have any budget travel tips that I didn’t mention it here? Or any questions? Feel free to leave a comment!