BY MELISSA ROY on Budget Travel Tips…
$1,145. That is the average per person cost of a vacation, according to American Express. That’s $4,580 for a family of four. To many, these are a daunting numbers.
The high cost of travel is frequently cited as a top reason Americans don’t take vacations, much to their own detriment. The benefits of taking time off are well documented and extensive. Moreover, traveling as opposed to taking a “staycation” has been proven to make us happier, healthier and even more conscientious people. The word “invaluable” comes to mind, and that’s what brings us back to so-called budget travel.
Allow me to throw out another figure: $33. Instead of saving for years for a traditional dream vacation, $33 per day is the only amount you’ll ever need to go exploring. That’s right, it’s possible to travel the world, experience new places and embrace different cultures on a daily budget of less than a new pair of jeans. I’ve explored 100 different countries – from Singapore to Switzerland – and so can you.
You just have to be a little flexible and open to doing things a little differently…. Here are six steps for making your dream vacation possible with limited funds.
Be smart about booking
Do you know where you want to go and when? Great! That’s the first step. The second is getting there. Don’t get discouraged after that initial Kayak search for flights. Airfare prices can vary wildly and quickly, so be patient and stick with it.
- Set up alerts for flash deals. Download the Skyscanner app to your phone so you can compare prices and book from anywhere.
- The Priceline Negotiator lets you name you own price to see how low an airline will accept. Don’t worry, routes are bound by both timing and number-of-stops so you can be assured you won’t get a nightmare itinerary.
- Plan your travel for “off” days – such as Tuesday and Wednesday – which will usually yield some pretty steep reductions, particularly on discount airlines.
If you’re like me, you probably want to minimize any extra costs your airline may tack-on, such as baggage fees. Fortunately, everything you need can travel for free.
- Wear any large items, such as good walking shoes and a jacket, on the plane.
- Invest in a small duffle/large purse that can fit under the seat as your personal item. Rolling clothes saves space while reducing wrinkles, and Ziploc bags help remove air so you can maximize limited space.
- Throw in phone and charger, a couple small toiletries, and a travel points credit card – no foreign transaction fees! – and you’re done.
Stays don’t have to be at hotels
Though the idea may initially seem scary, I highly recommend CouchSurfing for almost every destination. The service pairs local hosts with travelers for little to no cost, and the authenticity of staying in a real home cannot be beaten by even the best hotel.
- Be sure to read reviews online first, and use conservative judgement when it comes to your safety. Book as early as possible because good places go fast.
- Choose a host home that is walkable or easily accessed by public transit so that you are free to get out and really explore.
- Finally, if you’re not 100 percent comfortable with CouchSurfing, AirBnB is the next best way to go. It’s more affordable than hotels while still providing flexible options and increased privacy.
- *Pro-tip: Speaking of AirBnB, renting out your own home while you’re out is a great way to help cover costs while you’re away without having to lift a finger.
Metro, Uber, Ride Sharing, and more ways to get around
Sometimes, host families are willing to pick you up from the airport or show you around in their own car (and many are willing to negotiate this for the cost of gas). If not, then don’t sweat it.
- Most major cities have train and bus lines offering daily, weekly or single-ride passes.
- Research to see if ride-sharing services are available where you’re going. For instance, BlaBlaCar is a great ride-sharing app widely used across Europe.
- For longer trips, download Rome-2-Rio app as the best guide for finding the cheapest way from Point A to Point B. This is particularly helpful when you want to see more than one city while you’re away.
- *Pro-tip: In most developed nations, Wi-Fi is everywhere so don’t be afraid to use your smartphone abroad. Just be sure to turn off your cellular data when you arrive to avoid high roaming fees (it’s under “Settings”).
Eating inexpensively doesn’t have to mean fast food chains
There are better ways to eat cheap than resigning yourself to fast food dollar menus (not that there’s anything wrong with that). No matter where you are, dining on a budget doesn’t have to be an ordeal.
- Grab a baguette and protein spread – like peanut butter – from a local market to take on the go.
- Local vendor stands, such as the iconic hot dog carts of NYC or food trucks, decorate every major city and offer great food at a better price than restaurants.
- A personal favorite, many host families will be delighted to include you in their home-cooked dinners so long as you’re thankful and offer to help. There’s simply no better way to experience local cuisine than in a real kitchen.
Hang with locals for the best experiences
Famous landmarks can be amazing, but if that’s all you see then you risk missing the true charm of a destination. Just like with food, there’s no better way to experience a culture than with a local.
- Ask your host if they would be will be willing to have you along as they go out. Without fail, this is the best way to get a truly authentic experience.
- If you see a local engaging in an activity you want to try – say, surfing – ask them if they’d be willing to teach you and negotiate a price. It’s a great way to try something new at a fraction of the cost of hiring a professional instructor.
- Ask about museums and heritage sights that are free of charge. You will learn a lot about a destination by its history, and best of all such places are usually open no matter the weather.
While every place is different and some will always be more affordable than others, any destination can become your dream vacation. It just requires a little flexibility, research legwork, and an openness to get off the beaten path. In my experience, the beaten path is kind of boring. I prefer to go exploring.
Melissa Roy is a self-funded world traveler based in Los Angeles (when she’s home!). She celebrated visiting her 100th nation in 2015, with a personal goal to explore all 193 U.N. member states by the time she’s 35. You can follow her adventures on Instagram and her blog.
For more budget travel ideas, check out Nadia Sobehart’s post on doing Tokyo on the cheap.