If there’s one thing I’ve learned on this journey called life, it’s that there’s NEVER the perfect time, amount of money saved, or set of situations to do something. And if you wait for those aspects to all perfectly align before you take a leap, you’ll never fly.
One major area in life this applies to is travel. My whole life I wanted to see all the beauties of the American West and travel out of the U.S. borders to visit new countries, but I continued to make excuses about money and time. Up until I was 22-years-old, I had never been further West than St. Louis and had never broken through U.S. borders. Now at 24, I’ve tripled the number of places I’ve traveled to in my entire life.
How did I do this?
While some of it was getting over my fear of spending money, the biggest factor was that I stopped waiting for the perfect situation to pop up. I said all the things you’re probably saying to yourself all the time, “If I could just save x more dollars, then….” or “yeah but I’ve got this one obligation and that just doesn’t seem like a great time,” or maybe “hmmm yeah but if I did it, I couldn’t see x and wouldn’t be able to do x so it may not be worth it.”
I’m here to tell you traveling is almost ALWAYS worth it and taking the risk will be something your 80 year-old-self sitting in a rocking chair will lean back, smile, and pat yourself on the back for.
You’re ready to start planning, right?
Here are six of my tips for planning a trip on a budget!
Two weeks, four days, overnight, one month, I don’t care how long you’re wanting to travel, fit it all into a carry-on. While this may only save you $40-$100 on shorter trips, (still a significant amount to the budget traveler) it can make all the difference on longer trips where you may be plane hopping from one country or city to the next. Every flight will charge you an additional fee for your checked bag, and it can really start to add up. Not to mention, it’s a lot easier to travel around with a small carry on than it is to lug around a big, heavy checked bag!
When a friend and I traveled to Europe for two weeks, I only had a carry-on and a backpack while she had a massive 50 lb checked bag. Little did we know or plan for, Europe is a taaaaad bit older than the US, and didn’t really have a lot of elevators. The majority of the time our rooms would be on the third or so floor of a building, and she’d be struggling to get it up to our rooms. We’d also be walking around a lot (to save money on buses, Ubers, and taxis) and rolling it around the old rugged streets of Paris and Dublin. So it will also save you from a whole lot of sweat and inconvenience!
Try rolling your clothes and fitting them into your suitcase that way! Remember you probably won’t see the same people twice, so bring a few staple outfits that can mix and match and roll with it!
Four’s a Crowd.
Don’t get me wrong, traveling alone is an amazing experience that everyone could benefit from. But if you’re trying to travel on a budget, try to find one friend to join, two tops.
Here’s why: 2-3 people can squeeze in a one bedroom Airbnb, 2-3 beds in the same room of a hostel are easier to find than 4+, and finding people who are a good fit to travel with is hard. You all have different expectations and needs – balancing more than three people’s ideas can become stressful and put a damper on the trip.
Personally, I like traveling with just one other person. You can share meals, beds, and take photos of each other. Also, some Airbnbs with just one bed only allow two guests anyways. It’s like traveling alone but splitting the cost.
Travel in the Off Seasons
This is a big one. When I traveled to Europe, I was in Paris on Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is an American holiday, so people aren’t exactly traveling out of the country for this celebration, and airlines take note of it. Not only that, but traveling to Europe in November isn’t exactly in popular demand. For my roommate and I, we thought this could be a good time to travel abroad, and when we looked at flights, we were assured of that.
We ended up booking all of our flights from Los Angeles –> London –> Dublin –> Paris –> Los Angeles for under $500. Yes, you heard me, for less than $500 we saw three different countries and marked so many things off of our bucket lists.
While the weather was somewhat cold, hazy, and rainy, we didn’t mind! That’s how the weather is the majority of the year in those places, so it felt way more authentic. Not only were the prices lower, but it was less busy and places to stay were slightly cheaper! When there are fewer tourists, you get to see a little bit more of how locals go about their days and beat crowds.
Google Flights always has cheap options. If you are flexible on your travel dates, et up flight alerts for different locations to know when the prices fall or rise. Look at bigger international airports in close-ish cities, they’ll have more options. Figure out how to get there later, whether it be via bus or helpful friend.
Don’t be afraid of budget airlines and non-existent leg room. Mouth breathers and $5 water may suck for a few hours, but it’ll be worth it once you land, I promise!
Hostels, Campsites, and Airbnbs, oh my!
Really, really want to see that national park or go see your favorite band but can’t afford a hotel? Or maybe you’re going to a new country and aren’t sure how to find somewhere to stay in your budget? Well, you’ve got some options!
Camping is the cheapest way to travel. Most sites are just $25-$30 a night, and some are even free! Grab a $25 tent from your nearest Walmart, grab some pillows, blankets, and a cooler of cheap meals, and you’re looking at a good cheap night in a new place.
Looking for some free camping spots in the United States around your destination? Try www.freecampsites.net.
While these are a major staple when thinking of traveling abroad, they can also be a great resource in the United States.
Hostels (as long as you do your research and pick ones you feel comfortable with) are not scary at all and actually enhance the traveling experience! While the beds may not be Tempurpedic with down feather pillows, you get to meet people from all over the world, who like you are in a new place just looking to have fun and experience new things, and you’ll more than likely make some long-term friends!
Not only this, but hostels often times offer amenities you wouldn’t get elsewhere, like bus trips to popular locations, shuttles to the airports, group pub crawls, and lots of helpful local advice from the workers and other guests.
You can find hostels for as cheap as $20 a night! Such a steal, and you get to experience so much more than if you were staying in a hotel room.
I know Airbnbs aren’t exactly known for being cheap, but if you look you can find some pretty great deals on places that would be way more expensive for a hotel.
In Paris, we really wanted to stay somewhere walkable to the Eiffel Tower. This was tough to find on our budget, but we found an Airbnb on the cutest street and only a short walk to the Eiffel! Since we stayed in hostels most of the trip, we were able to splurge a little bit on places that mattered to us.
Airbnbs are great when you want a prime location but can’t afford the resorts or hotels, and it’s cool to be immersed in the home of a local.
Work While You’re Away
This may only pertain to some of you, but if you have ANY type of work or creative skill that you can do remotely, DO IT. Bring your camera and take some photos to sell as prints when you get back, write blogs for brands on your traveling experiences, do some freelance design, tell your boss you’ll work from your laptop and take meetings over the phone. Think creatively about how you could take a few hours a day while traveling to still be making money.
As a business owner, I work while on my trips all of the time, whether that’s taking product shots for brands, building websites while hanging out in a coffee shop, or getting some graphic design done from my hostel bed. This helped me to also not be as stressed out when I returned home and had to jump back into work.
Find a Credit Card without Foreign Transaction Fees
Lastly, one small step I took before traveling to Europe was researching a credit card that wouldn’t have foreign transaction fees. Spending adds up overseas because of the difference in currency, and there are some hefty fees to exchange US dollars for any other physical currency. But you’ll also have a foreign transaction fee on your credit or debit cards for everything you buy, which can be anywhere from 1-3%!
I made the decision to apply for a Bank of America card that did not have these fees, and it ended up saving me a lot of money! I just bought everything on that card and paid it off when I got home.
At the end of the day, traveling on a budget takes a lot of preparation, research, bargain hunting, and sacrifices, but it’s always worth it.
These tips and more can help you finally check items off your travel checklist, and put an end to the cycle of “well…if I could just…then maybe I could…” because if you’re waiting on the perfect scenario and the perfect amount of money, well, you’ll be waiting forever.