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How to Travel Cheaply (and Never Feel Like You're Missing Out)

Updated on October 2, 2011

How I Began to Travel Cheaply

When I decided that I wanted to take some time off after college before diving back into grad school, I knew I wanted to travel, and I knew I needed to travel cheap. While my classmates chose high-paying jobs to get ahead in their careers, and a few just hadn’t quite figured it out yet, I was 100% certain that I was going to travel.

You can read my hub on Almeria, Spain if you’re curious just where I ended up, but here I want to give more general advice about how to travel the world without breaking the bank, and tips to save money doing what you love.

The first trip tip is to think about where you want to go. I would advise leaving this as a general region at first, instead of a specific place, which will allow you the flexibility to travel cheaply when the opportunity arises. If you are set on going to, say, Amsterdam, you are fairly restricted to what and how much you can actually do on a tight budget (although, even in Amsterdam or Paris, there are ways to save money).


Traveling cheaply in Amsterdam is not impossible!
Traveling cheaply in Amsterdam is not impossible!

Plan to Travel Cheap

Conversely, you can ask yourself: What type of travel do I want to do? If you are set on using one of the travel networks like WWOOF, then I would recommend being as broad as possible in terms of region, and focus instead on the type of WWOOFing experience you want. There is a big difference between helping farmers in Granada make bread and cheese, and clearing fields in rural Spain for 5 hours. Often you may not know exactly what you are getting yourself into, but at least consider the type of work that they claim you will be doing. You could be in the most beautiful place in the world, but if you are shoveling manure all day, you probably won’t enjoy it. But maybe you will, I’m not one to judge.

WWOOF, World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, is a great way to travel for less. If you want more information, this is their website: http://www.wwoof.org/

Other examples of activity-driven travel would be finding great surfing spots for cheap, or spending as much of your trip as you can on the beach (Almeria is a great choice for this!).


Beauty doesn't always come with a price
Beauty doesn't always come with a price

Air Travel Tips

Once you have your primary goal figured out, the first step (and most expensive) is buying the initial plane ticket. Sorry, I don’t have too many traveling tips on this one. My advice?

1. Scour the web. Seriously, spending time to find a good ticket is worth it. Bing Travel other sites with flight price predictors are your best friends, even if they don't give you the best flight price.

2. Consider flying into other cities and taking a train or bus. If you want to go to Amsterdam, look into flights to Belgium and take the train. Similarly, if you want to go to Mendoza, Argentina, fly to Buenos Aires and bus it. In sum, be creative, and you might even end up seeing some cool places that you would have never seen otherwise.

3. Monday nights and Tuesdays for some reason seem to generally be the cheapest for plane tickets.

4. For some strange reason, round-trip tickets can be much cheaper than one-ways.

5. I just found this out, but there is such a thing as a “Round the World” ticket. The price, number of stops and time limit vary, but for those serious about doing one huge World Tour, it might be a good option.

Travel Help: The Details of Cheap Global Travel

So, now you have a shell of a trip, but haven’t figured the details. This is the point at which you should start looking sites like WWOOF or Help Exchange if you want an experience working in a foreign country in exchange for room and board. Some consider these ways to travel for free, but remember, you are supposed to be working some. And again, the experience completely depends on where you end up, and I’ve heard everything from “it was horrible” to “best experience of my life”.

Another idea would be to search for teaching jobs abroad, either temporarily or long term. Teaching English abroad, either through a government program like the ones in France or Spain, at an independent English school, or giving private lessons, is an easy (if sometimes quasi-legal) way to subsidize your travels. The year programs usually require at least 9 months of work, but for me, at least, it was worth it. In fact, while my original idea was to go to Argentina, the benefits of the teaching program in Spain (including a legal visa to be there) overwhelmingly outweighed the alternative, so I put my South American plans on the backburner and hopped across the pond.

Just one of the many things I missed out on by not going to Argentina, sniff....
Just one of the many things I missed out on by not going to Argentina, sniff....
Couch(surfing) in Amsterdam
Couch(surfing) in Amsterdam
I would have never had this view of Lisbon without Couchsurfing
I would have never had this view of Lisbon without Couchsurfing
Beautiful, romantic Prague
Beautiful, romantic Prague

Where to Stay for Cheap

Lodging is the next big question when it comes to cheap travel. For programs like WWOOF, your lodging is provided, and if you are staying somewhere for an extended period of time, consider renting an apartment. For stays of a week or less, you of course have your run-of-the-mill hostels and guesthouses, which range from borderline expensive to dirt cheap, but for something a little more alternative, try camping or look into Couchsurfing.org.

The organization is increasingly more popular, and while at first, the idea may seem a little sketchy, staying with people you don’t know at all, my experiences have been nothing but positive. I’ve gotten to know Prague and Lisbon, for example, in ways that I would have never been able to otherwise. Plus, my gracious hosts would sometimes even cook meals, show me the city, or help me get into places, like museums, for free. It was refreshing being able to stay with locals instead of the hoards of young, foreign travelers that usually fill up the hostels.

I have little advice about food, because that’s usually the one thing I splurge on. I’ll take a good authentic meal over shopping any day. The little advice I have on this topic is as follows: cook if you have access to a kitchen, eat street food (with caution, for those without an iron stomach), and know if the water is potable. Even if the locals don’t drink it, that doesn’t mean you can’t, just find out for sure.

That pretty much covers the basics, but there are always little tricks that we find to save a few dollars (or your currency of choice). Walk when possible, take public transportation, be aware of the tourist areas since the prices are usually higher there, look for free museum days, free walking tours, etc. Feel free to leave me a comment if these tips were helpful, so that I can vicariously travel with you, or let me know if there is something I left out!

Buen viaje, bom viagem, buon viaggio and bon voyage (sorry that’s all I got without an online translator).

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