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Travel Cheap By Traveling Smart

Updated on February 9, 2014

Let me preface this by commending you on taking interest in the possibility of travel, and by assuring you that your wanderlust may realistically be indulged despite a possible lack of funds. I know this to be true because I've done it myself. Once the desire to travel sets in it grows so strong that it prompts you to use whatever ingenuity and resourcefulness you possess in order to find ways of making it happen. Allow me to expedite the search for you.

Interior staircase of the hostel in San Diego in which I stayed.  4 nights cost me under $100
Interior staircase of the hostel in San Diego in which I stayed. 4 nights cost me under $100


This article addresses travelers more so than it does vacationers, though both could benefit from the suggestions I will provide. The reason behind this is that the way I see it, at the core of vacation is leisure while the foundation of travel lays in discovery. With this in mind, I want to urge you aspiring travelers to be open to various forms of accommodation. Hostels are my personal favorite of these because they reduce the cost of housing significantly enough to make it possible for you to travel when you didn't previously think you could afford it, while also providing a unique experience.

First of all, hostels are cheap. Sometimes so dirt cheap that the good quality of rooms is downright surprising. In my experience, hostel dorms range anywhere from $18USD to $45USD per person per night. There's the first selling point; hostels do not take a large chunk out of your budget, leaving room for reallocation of funds. Second, in a shared space you have endless opportunities to meet fellow travelers, which can lead to sharing financial responsibilities if you team up for activities, transportation, etc. More on that later in this article.

Third, many hostels offer a "free food bin" which speaks for itself. Lots of backpackers stock the hostel refrigerators with more food than they end up eating, so when it comes time for them to leave they are encouraged to donate their leftovers to those who are remaining in the hostel by dropping the products off in these bins. You can take a look inside to see if there is anything appetizing or of substance left behind and freely take it for yourself. Many hostels also provide a continental breakfast. Just like that food costs are reduced. Many hostels also have a bar either inside or attached to it with great drinks specials, as well as cheaply priced offers for bar crawls lead by the staff. And it doesn't end there; most hostels offer free tours of the cities and towns in which they are located, minimizing your sightseeing costs.

Finally, many hostels even offer FREE accommodation in exchange for a few hours of usually easy work per day, or per week if you are sticking around for a prolonged period of time. Check in fellow travelers at the front desk for 3 hours in the morning and you get to stay that night on the house, for example. Or sweep the kitchen and vaccum the common room, and you get the same deal. I've met tons of backpackers from all over the world who made their way across the globe without spending hardly any substantial amounts of money just by contributing to the upkeep of hostels and their grounds. This is an excellent opportunity to save money and it taught me that it is possible to get yourself to where you want to be with simply a willingness to put forth some effort.

How to Find People to Split Travel Costs With

The way in which adding a companion to your agenda can slash your spending is simple and is the same rationale which propels the whole idea of hostels; splitting costs among multiple people brings individual costs down. This is particularly helpful to solo travelers so that they do not have to bear the financial burden by themselves. If you are traveling solo, you can make friends with whom to split costs at a hostel very easily, or just about anywhere if you are so inclined. To be more specific, check out the tourist traps, so to speak. Offer to take someones photo for them when you see them attempting a selfie shot. Try to spark up a conversation and see where it leads. Head to the tourism bureau office in the town if there is one. It is guaranteed that there will be travelers there seeking information and maybe the same thing as you! Hostels, public squares, coffee shops, and libraries also offer community boards on which you can either find or post a flyer seeking people interested in participating in some activity in order for each person to be able to afford it.

Renting a car with other individuals is a common proposal I've seen, and in many places in the world getting from point A to point B this way might only cost a fraction of the price it would to take public transportation on your own. I went on a road trip through the Outback and up the coast of Western Australia when I was studying abroad with some other students of the University of Western Australia by responding to one girl's open invitation in our public portal whom I hadn't known prior. It was an incredibly memorable and unique experience of my life, and it cost me very little out of pocket. We vagabonded around the western region of the land down under in a rental hatchback, taking turns driving though all of us came from countries where driving is done on the opposite side of the road. We split all costs five ways, making our considerably large amount of groceries very inexpensive for each of us. This leads me to my next point...

Certain places like public parks in Australia offer BBQ grills for anyone's use.
Certain places like public parks in Australia offer BBQ grills for anyone's use.

Groceries Minimize Your Food Costs

Rather than eat out for every meal, stock up on groceries for the duration of your trip. If you do not have access to a refrigerator, buy nonperishable items. Pack yourself a lunch before you head out so that you are not left with no choice but to spend your dwindling money on a $10 sandwich.

I once spent a total of only about $4AUD on food in three days in Tasmania, though Australia is a relatively expensive country. I fueled myself with carbs by buying a bag of pasta, a jar of alfredo sauce, a couple of cans of ravioli, and a small loaf of yesterday's bread from a local bakery. That along with the "free food bin" at my hostel kept me well fed for the duration of my stay. By this point in my travels through Australia I was on my last pennies and still I got by just fine. You can also volunteer at a local farm or at a farmers' market in exchange for a whole plethora of goods. Some locations in the world even have public facilities for cooking such as the grill in the photograph at right. This was in a park we had stopped at during our road trip through Western Australia.

Near the housing quarters of Fazenda Ambiental Fortaleza
Near the housing quarters of Fazenda Ambiental Fortaleza


WWOOF stands for World Wide Opportunities On Organic Farms. The basic concept of WWOOFing is the same as the exchange of labor for accommodation in hostels which I described above. WWOOF is a network of organic farms throughout the world which accept volunteer workers in exchange for room and board, including meals and often activities.

I spent time with WWOOFers from all over the world on an organic coffee farm called Fazenda Ambiental Fortaleza in the Sao Paulo state of Brazil. The effort put into the work was admittedly difficult, but the setting was so spectacularly beautiful that it was well worth it and the feeling of contributing to sustaining such a treasure of nature and agriculture was quite rewarding. Every meal was provided and each item came directly from the farm. There were some farm animals on the property which provided milk for us to make our own cheese for dinner of that same night. The fruits and vegetables were colorful and full of flavor, and the coffee was splendid. Such high quality food products are expensive and often difficult to come by, especially on a tight budget while traveling, so this was quite the deal.

The owners were very hospitable and lovely people, and invited everyone to participate in activities such as horseback riding, swimming in the ponds and under waterfalls on the property, and even coffee cupping to determine the best variety of the season. The only real cost involved with WWOOfing is getting to the farms, but in my case we hitched a ride with a truck delivering supplies to the nearby villages. I plan on WWOOFing many more times and in many more locations around the world because of this most amazing experience, and I encourage you to think about it and give it a chance as well.

Part of the property of Fazenda Ambiental Fortaleza
Part of the property of Fazenda Ambiental Fortaleza

Work Exchange

Work exchanges are very similar to WWOOFing in that you provide help by volunteering your efforts to various organizations or individuals in a broad range of fields in exchange for food and accommodation in the country of your host. The opportunities vary from teaching and child care to building and general maintenance. The site I really like which promotes such fair exchanges is linked below, and as it says on their webpage "Workaway is the answer for low cost travel!"

Beautiful Bondi Beach, Sydney Australia
Beautiful Bondi Beach, Sydney Australia

Study Exchange

First I want to make the point clear that studying abroad, no matter what type of program, is EXPENSIVE IN AND OF ITSELF due to the educational costs involved. This is merely a suggestion for how to decrease the cost of it if it is an opportunity you are interested in anyway.

For those of you who are university/college students, not only are you more likely to lack the funds you believe are needed for travel but you may only be aware of study abroad and not study exchange. The difference is monumental and was ultimately the deciding factor behind me having been able to study in Australia for a semester.

As part of a study abroad program you are paying tuition to your home university as well as to the institution you are traveling to. The tuition you are paying to your home university is sometimes lower than what it would normally be, but this is still yet another large sum of money. This adds up to tens of thousands of dollars, which makes it seem impossible to do for many students. I was determined to find an affordable program, because I was NOT going to finish my college career without having studied abroad. It had been my goal since jr. high school. What I found was an exchange program, through which universities hosted each other's students and the students only paid tuition to their respective university and not to the one hosting.

In my case, I studied at the University of Western Australia while only paying the University of Illinois fees as I usually would, and on the other end students from UWA were studying at UofI but still paying fees only to UWA. This means that besides the costs of travel and accommodation (which admittedly were high, but still far better than paying tuition to two separate universities simultaneously) you get the chance to have a totally different educational experience in another country without any extra tuition fees. This was by far the best option for me to be able to continue my education but also travel at the same time. It was thanks to this exchange that I went on that road trip and traveled all over Australia and New Zealand.

The chart below details the costs for a study abroad program to Vienna from the University of Illinois and those for an exchange program to Vienna from the University of Illinois. The difference in price is quite clear and the savings of $5,279 to be had by choosing the exchange program over regular study abroad are very substantial.

Research your options and see if an exchange is available.

Difference In Cost Between Study Abroad and Study Exchange In Vienna For University of Illinois Students

UofI Reduced Fees
UofI Admin. Fees
Vienna Fees
Total Study Abroad
UofI Reduced Fees
UofI Admin. Fees
Vienna Exchange Fees
Total Study Exchange

These prices do no include miscellaneous expenses such as housing and visas. Since both programs shown are in the same city, the miscellaneous expenses would be roughly the same for both. The difference is clear, and choosing the exchange program r

Now Its YOUR Turn

Now that I've shared my suggestions for reducing the costs of travel, I hope I have helped to disprove the notion that it is always expensive and that without a large budget it cannot be done. Travel may provide you with the greatest experiences of your life, so why not put some effort towards making it happen, whether you can "afford it" or not? Pick a spot on the map below and JUST GO FOR IT!!!


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