Everyone can agree that the number one obstacle to traveling is money, or perceived lack of money. (Actually, it might be fear and self doubt, but that’s a different story.) This whole website is dedicated to showing people how they can travel, have an amazing time, and do it with just a few months of planning and saving. It’s my life’s work!
I’m going to plan a mock-trip, just so you can all see the ways I save money. And I’m going to list the options in order from most to least expensive.
Adopt strategic spending habits.
Continue to make purchases through the airline’s partners, shopping portals and dining programs. Or use a rebate online shopping program like Ebates and save all your money that way. Accompany this strategy by signing up for frequent flier accounts, emails and alerts through the airline, their social media profiles and Airfare Watchdog.
(A shopping portal usually requires you to first go to the airline’s website and log into your account. From there, they list their retail partners. Click on the store you want to shop, usually they have Macy’s, Walmart and Rite Aid and tons more. Shopping this way lets you earn extra points per dollar spent. A dining program works a similar way. You register your card with the airline and each time you use it at a restaurant you earn extra points. Each airline is different so check their websites.)
Credit Card airline miles.
With a sign-up bonus from a major credit card, you can earn a free airline ticket without spending any extra money. Top off your rewards with purchases on your credit card, purchasing through the airline’s partners, and signing up for a frequent flier account. Usually it takes a sign up bonus and some additional spending to earn a one-way flight, but if you start planning early, you could easily earn a return trip, or enough miles to upgrade to first class.
Option 1: Discounted hotel stays
Use credit card rewards to earn free or discounted stays in hotels. It’s essentially the same as cashing in for reward flights but you chose a credit card linked to a hotel. Bump up your bonuses by signing up for the hotel loyalty programs.
Option 2: Hostels:
Stay in hostels instead of hotels. If you want to save even more, opt for dorm style rooms, where multiple people share one room.
Option 3: Rent:
Rent a space through AirBnB orHomeAway or find another way to rent month-to-month.
Option 4: Volunteer:
I like the site Workaway.info. You have to pay a small fee to join and sometimes the opportunities are free, sometimes they’re low cost. I stayed at a farm in Northern Thailand for about $3/day and it included a place to rest my head and all the food and fresh coffee I could handle (fresh coffee meaning we grew and processed it there). Not to mention I met great people and learned a bit about farming.
You can also try to reach out to a farmer using WWOOF.org, the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms.
There are numerous volunteer sites so spend some time searching for a stay that fits you.
Option 5: Couchsurfing:
I’ve used Couchsurfing in Mexico, Thailand and Mauritius and had great experiences each time! I always read a host’s reviews, chat with them ahead of time and meet the person in a public place to feel them out. If you don’t quite feel comfortable staying with an almost stranger, you can also use Couchsurfing to meet people who volunteer to hang out with you for the day. I LOVE Couchsurfing because connecting with locals is the one thing that will ALWAYS make your trip better.
Option 6: Camping:
This is also probably the most risky but if you find a place where it’s safe, you could set up camp and never pay for a place to stay. Check with local authorities and organizations to see where is a suitable place to camp.
Option 1: Buy food from the market or grocery store.
Option 2: Food trucks and street food.
Option 3: If you’re Couchsurfing or staying with a family, sometimes, and this is not a guarantee, but sometimes they will cook a little extra while they cook for the rest of their family. I never expect this because I don’t want to take advantage when they are already letting me stay with them. I like to buy some groceries for the family while I’m there or before I leave. If you can eat with your hosts, this is a wonderful way to eat! So much happens when the family is gathered around a table; it’s a wonderful glimpse into their world.
Curious Sarah taking it to the next level: When I first started traveling, I was very diligent about my money. I realized that when I felt the sensation of hunger in my belly, it would go away if I ignored it and would return in a few hours. I decided I would eat every other time I was hungry in order to save money and extend my travels as long as possible. This didn’t last for too long, though. I stayed with families most of the times so second and third servings were often served as soon as there was space on my plate.
I love Broke Tourist because it lists free things to do in places all around the world. I used this site when I was in Bangkok and found the Century 21 shopping center where each of the six floors is decorated like a famous city.
Meetup is another way to meet people with similar interests. You can search for groups based in a particular city or narrow it down by searching interest groups. Find runners, meditation buddies, adventure groups and more in places all across the globe.
Again, consider meeting someone through Couchsurfing to show you around the city/town for the day.
You can also search “free” in any city on the Tripadvisor website.
One of my favourite cheap things to do no matter where I am is explore. You can always walk or take a bus but sometimes you can rent a moped or bicycle. If you have the time, just get on any bus, boat or train and ride it ’til the end of the line. Consider it a discount tour!
And it’s always worth it to do a quick google search, “free things to do in ______ .”
If you stay open, I’m sure all kinds of fun, exciting and rewarding opportunities will present themselves. One of the best bits of travel advice I have is to keep your schedule open. Sometimes you just can’t plan for the kinds of surprises that happen.
These four categories, (flights, room and board, food and activities) make up the bulk of travel expenses. I’m not saying you should aim for free things all the time, or stick to the cheapest version of everything. You’re traveling to gain experiences and enjoy life. If you have to eat bread and produce for a week so you can splurge next week on scuba diving, by all means do it! Or if you just have a week where you sit on your porch, read and walk around, that’s great, too. (Reading a book is so much cooler if you’re reading it in a foreign city.) I just want to illustrate the many ways there are to save money and show you your options.
If you have more questions, or feel that I’ve left out something important, please comment below. I strive to be helpful and thorough and I always enjoy receiving feedback.
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