I travel A LOT.
When I chose a self-employed lifestyle it was partly because of how much I love being able to pick up and go on a dime.
But when I talk with people about traveling, I usually get two reactions, “How can you afford to travel so much?” and “Must be nice to have so much money for travel.”
Both of these comments perpetuate the myth that all travel is expensive
It drives me crazy when I hear about $10,000 honeymoons or people going into debt to take a vacation.
You should never go into debt for travel, and you don’t have to.
Here’s to a travel-tastic 2017. To get you inspired, I put together 33 travel tips that will help you plan your next adventure on the cheap.
1. Go to cheap countries. Here’s a list of countries where travel costs less than $25 a day (and some of them cost a fraction of that). The way they describe Albania, that might be my 2017 spot.
2. Follow your friends. We all have friends across the globe, they just may not be our best friends…yet!
If you want to take an epic trip next year, search your brain (and Facebook) for old friends and acquaintances who may want to host you (or let you stay in their house while they’re on vacation).
3. Take a ‘work’cation. The most cost-effective way to travel is to make it a work trip. Find an industry conference, a key client that needs a site visit, or a global office that you want to collaborate with, and approach your boss with the proposal. Companies generally have a set budget for employee travel, so give them something to spend it on!
This has been my top strategy for affording travel. From Egypt to Asia to Antarctica, I’ve leveraged my work obligations to see the world without dipping too deep into my own pockets.
4. Pick the right season. Popular travel destinations are drastically cheaper in the off-season. Think Italy in the winter, Hawaii and Florida in the summer, and SouthEast Asia during monsoon season.
I hit up St Martin in the Caribbean this August and The Bahamas over Labor Day weekend. Not only was it significantly cheaper because of our off-season timing, we had the beaches almost entirely to ourselves!
5. Fly for free with travel hacking. If you’re anything like me, the sound of flying for free sounds too good to be true. Well, I’ve lived it and it’s legit.
Ever since leveraging my first credit card sign up bonus to fly to Germany for $25 in 2014, I’ve been banking rewards points for future travels. I currently have around 300,000 miles collected from various credit card reward offers just waiting for me to jet set somewhere fabulous.
*Note: I only recommend travel hacking with credit card rewards if you pay your CC bill on time and in full each and every month. If you’re stuck paying interest on the purchases you made to get your free flights, it’s really not worth it.
6. Fly on off-days. If you’re flying internationally, try scheduling your departure on a Tuesday or Wednesday and return on a Monday or Tuesday. It may seem trivial, but in this case, a couple days can save you hundreds of dollars.
7. Use Google’s “discover” feature. Google Flights did for budget travelers what barre did for millennial women – changed their freakin’ lives.
The discover feature on Google Flights allows you to select your trip length and departure airport, then tells you where and when you should go to get the best deal.
Only problem? You’ll waste hours daydreaming…
8. Check multiple search engines. When it’s time to plan a vacation, most people head to Expedia and stop there. But not all search engines are created equal and it’s possible to get vastly different deals if you spend the time to shop around.
Two of my favorite search tools are Hitlist and Skiplagged. With Hitlist, you build your list of dream-destinations, then get notifications when those destinations go on sale.
Skiplagged specializes in ultra-low cost flights by finding airfare loopholes like hidden city ticketing, (when it’s cheaper to book a flight with a connection in your destination city, than it is to book a flight directly to that that city).
9. Consider alternate airports. Alternate airports often offer cheaper rates and sometimes serve local airlines that are much more cost effective than the large carriers.
For example, just because you want to fly into Bangkok doesn’t mean you have to fly into BKK, the large international airport. In fact, if you’re willing to make the hour-long trek out of town to DMK, you could save hundreds on your airfare.
If you’re flying out of New York City, smaller nearby airports like the Westchester County airport may offer cheaper flights, not to mention added convenience if you’re coming from the ‘burbs anyway.
10. Go on a free road trip. Sign up for a service like Roadie that allows you to make extra money on trips you’re already taking, by delivering things to the next city, state or even across the country. It’s like ridesharing but for stuff, Roadie connects road trippers with people who need an affordable delivery solution. Plus, it’s a green way to use resources already on the road.
11. Do a house-swap. If you live somewhere interesting and don’t mind strangers using your shampoo, think about arranging a house swap and staying for free, literally anywhere in the world. Here’s a guide to get you started.
12. Couchsurf. Couchsurfing is a great way to make friends (and save money) when you’re traveling alone. Just be safe.
I couchsurfed around the US a couple of years ago as a 20-something solo female and had no issues. That said, I made it a point to stay with couples and families who’d received great reviews from previous guests.
13. Rent an apartment. Week-long apartment rentals are usually cheaper than hotels and give you the option of cooking your own food, saving you even more money,
We opted for a beachfront condo booked through AirBnB during our stay in St Martin this summer, which saved us a TON compared to a traditional resort or hotel room.
14. Sleep while you travel. If you’re the kind of person that can fall asleep anywhere, plan your flights and long train rides during the nighttime to save money on lodging. Just make sure to keep your belongings secure while you snooze.
15. Don’t discount hostels. Somewhere between The Beach and Hostel III, hostels got a bad rap. But it’s not fair! Not only are they cheap, they’re (mostly) clean and a great place to make friends.
Just read the reviews and watch your stuff. Some hostels even offer private rooms. The last one I stayed in was in Moscow.
16. Make your own meals. Most travelers eat out every meal, making food one of the biggest day-to-day expenses while traveling. You can cut your travel budget significantly if you’re willing to do your own cooking (at least sometimes).
Think about it this way – a package of pasta and a bottle of wine will run you about 8 Euro in Venice at a grocery store. The same meal at a restaurant? 25 Euro.
That’s not to say you should never splurge on the fine dining experience, but maybe not daily.
17. Pack a picnic. Lunch looking up at the Eiffel tower? Breakfast in Central Park? Cheese and crackers on the edge of the Grand Canyon? Yes please!
Bring your own picnic to tourist attractions to avoid paying ridiculous prices for mediocre food.
18. Eat away from tourist streets. In some cities, you can walk a few blocks out of the tourist area and buy the same exact meal for $10 that you just saw for $30.
It still blows my mind that people spend $25 per dish at Olive Garden in Times Square, when you can walk two blocks west to 9th ave and get some of the best Thai lunch specials in the city for under $10.
19. Pre-game. This strategy works just as well as home as it does on vacation. Don’t be afraid to pick up a bottle of wine from the grocery store and have a glass (or two) before heading out to dinner.
20. Go to museums and tourist-attractions on free days. Most cities across the world have free-entrance days for their museums and major tourist attractions. Here’s a list of 50 free attractions in Europe and a list of all free attractions in major US cities.
(If you’re visiting in New York City, check out items 24-49 of my 66 Ways to Save in NYC)
21. Explore on foot. Not only will you save money on transportation but you’ll burn off all that amazing local food you’ve been indulging in by using your own two feet to get around. Not to mention walking from place to place is the best way to discover local hot spots and hidden gems off the beaten path.
22. Get a city pass. In most major cities, you can buy a city pass that covers admissions for all the top attractions and can save you hundreds of dollars.
Pro tip: Read the fine print and make sure it actually includes the attractions you want to see, and that it’s not limited to certain days and times.
23. Dig out that college ID. Across the world, students get discounts just for being students. Eurail passes, hostel prices, museum entrance fees, etc.
So make sure to pack that college ID. And if you’re already out of college but still have the ID, I won’t tell…
24. Don’t exchange money at the airport. To get the best exchange rates, use an ATM to pull out local currency or just pay with a credit card (if your card offers no foreign transaction fees).
In general, I try to avoid exchanging cash. Though it’s good to have a few small bills on hand for bargaining at local markets, in which case, I make a quick trip to the ATM.
25. Go to a Meet-Up. Not only are meet-ups a great way to make new friends, but you’ll get local-approved suggestions for things to do and see, and you just might get invited to be a house-guest.
26. Follow the dollar. Currently, the US dollar is strong (fingers crossed), which means that right now is a really good time to travel. Destinations like Europe, The UK, Canada and South America are all struggling with currency declines, which is great if you’re thinking of traveling soon.
27. Make it a write-off. For all you self-employed folks, travel is your friend come tax-time! Just make sure to connect your trip to your business – attend a lecture, meet up with local experts, write a location-specific essay or do related research. Here are some rules to get you started on planning your next business trip!
28. Win a trip. Start saving your soda lids, folks! Do a quick google search on sweepstakes and you’ll find hundreds of vacation giveaways.
For those of you that are dubious that anyone ever wins, know that it actually does happen!
29. Pack light. Save money on baggage fees and give your back a break by underpacking on your next vacation.
International flights often comp your checked bags, but if you’re planning on flying on local airlines in foreign countries, you’ll be paying for each bag.
30. Drink local. Local drinks are cheaper than imported alcohol and give you a taste, (literally), of the local culture. Here are some local drinks you can’t miss.
31. Start farming. For those of you that are really really reallllly adventurous, think about becoming a WOOFER. Woofers travel the world working on Organic farms, getting their lodging and food covered in exchange.
Has anyone out there tried this yet? If so, I want to hear from you!
32. Check your insurance details. The last thing you want to do is go on the ultimate budget vacation, then get hurt parasailing in Costa Rica and end up going into debt over medical bills. Check the fine print of your health insurance or invest in some quality traveler’s insurance.
33. Talk to the locals. Don’t be afraid to ask locals about the best and cheapest options for restaurants, lodging and entertainment. Not only do they know the best spots, they know all the hacks for enjoying them on the cheap!