Some of these are common sense, some of these you may never have heard of, but all of these can help you get closer to that foreign soil.
1. Realize that travel is a lot closer than you think.
You’ve seen enough “Top Travel Destinations” lists to last you a lifetime, and every time it’s the same story: You scroll through, and think to yourself, “I want to go to there.” Then you close the tab, and resume your regularly scheduled routine. We write off traveling because it’s either too expensive, too far and scary, or too difficult to finagle. Thankfully, you do not need to be rich to travel, and there are a host of resources available for cutting costs and making your dream adventure a reality. Sure, traveling can be scary and the lands you long to see may be a world away, but it’s the distance and the journey that make the trip worth it. And yes, sometimes it’s tricky to integrate travel into your life, but doing something as simple as deciding to make travel a priority will both increase the likelihood that you ultimately get to where you want to go, and also make it that much more rewarding when you finally arrive.
2. Consider what you want.
Before you start jetsetting, consider where you really want to go and why. Do you want to go to Hawaii, or just a tropical beach getaway? Do you want to go Athens, or just see some really awesome ancient ruins? Being aware of this distinction will be instrumental in guiding your pre-trip research, as there are a lot of wallet-conscious options that will get you what you want out of your trip, possibly better than the top tourist destinations that first come to mind.
3. Do a bit of research.
A lot of the world’s museums and art galleries have a “free” or “discount day,” and knowing when that is can save you a ton on entrance fees. Knowing the appropriate expected gratuity for different services abroad can also be of critical importance when planning and budgeting. Plus, your own free custom walking tour of your destination is a handful of minutes of Googling away. You get to choose what you want to see, and how you want to go about seeing it. When you get there, you’ll already have a leg-up on the tourists.
4. Try to travel during “off peak” seasons.
While it sucks to wait for awkward months to travel, traveling during the times of year that are not peak will save you an insane amount of money (in some cases, it can even cut your travel expenses in half), plus it may give you a more genuine and honest experience at your destination when the tourist-specific industries pack up for the season.
5. Use the phone to make reservations.
My generation is rapidly becoming alienated from “the phone call”, opting instead for the safety and anonymity that comes from pure internet booking. Unfortunately, when you book completely online, it also means you don’t have the opportunity to ask someone (who has the power to influence your rates) what the cheapest options are, or if they have any unadvertised specials that you can only score with a verbal request from a manager.
6. Watch the trends.
And watch closely. Decades after a country gets bad press for something like an epidemic, travel to that country is still affected. This means that going to those places where “no one wants to go because of the outbreak of whatever ten years ago” becomes a remarkably attractive option, financially speaking. The tourism bureaus of that country work hard to show the world that that destination is safe again, to the benefit of the traveler.
7. Groupon is your best friend.
For me, one of the most daunting hurdles preventing travel is in booking all of the little parts of the trip. You’ve got to book airfare to your destination, hotels at your destination, transportation between your hotel and wherever you’re going, and try to budget for all of the activities and expenses you might encounter once you get there. The fabulous part about Groupon, is that with “all inclusive” trip packages that also include airfare, almost all of those aspects are already covered, often at a pretty steep discount.
8. Consider a cruise.
For a long time I thought cruises were for fancy-pants rich-folk who had nothing better to do than hobnob over expensive cocktails before embarking on safaris. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still quite a lot of that, but depending on what you’re trying to accomplish and how many sites you’re trying to see on your trip, a cruise can actually be remarkably cost-effective. Consider: You want to get away to the Bahamas for 5 days. You’d like to see the key islands, and perhaps pop over to that internet-famous island with the swimming pigs at some point. You’d need to figure out how to get to the Bahamas, where you’d stay for 4 nights, budget for food, and budget/arrange for travel between all the islands you want to see. Or, you can take a cruise and have all of that taken care of for $25.80 a day (calculated from the Book and Go special on the Carnival Cruise Lines website).
9. Look into airline credit cards.
Credit cards are scary, I’ll admit. But, one of the things I’ve learned in my travels is that frequent flyer/points cards are a broken system everyone should be taking advantage of. Imagine if you put every expense you incurred throughout the year on your XYZ Airline Card. No matter what airline it’s for, that would almost guarantee that you earned a free ticket, since big or small, a year of expenses adds up.
10. Fly cheap with Norwegian Air.
New airlines are offering no-frills flights around the world at insane prices. For example, hit the right dates and you can go from Los Angeles to Paris for about $260 each way. You can’t even fly between the coasts of the USA for that.
11. Stay for cheap with AirBnB.
If you haven’t heard about AirBnB by now, you’ve been missing out. This search engine allows you to find an incredible variety of accommodations in 190 countries for any price range. Want to stay canal-side in Venice for under $50 a night? No Problem. A proper Disney-esque castle for $100 a night? Totally doable. A tree house mansion in an exotic forest? You can find that too.
12. Stay for free with Couchsurfing.
Cautiously, of course. Couchsurfing is rapidly becoming one of the most most popular resources on the internet, given that it enables you to find a place to crash virtually anywhere in the world, for free. It’s also a great way to meet new people.
13. Stay for work at local hostels.
The backpacker’s best-kept secret, hostels the world over are known for cheap accommodations, but most offer programs that allow you to work in-house for your stay.
14. Impulse trips don’t have to mean added expense.
More often than not, taking an impulse trip will work out against you, since last minute fares across the board are usually the most expensive they can get. That said, resources like the Hotel Tonight app can help you find a place to stay last-minute from the “leftover” vacant rooms at premier hotels, and at better prices than if you’d booked months in advance.
15. Pack minimal.
A backpack holds a remarkable amount of things. At times, even someone’s entire collection of worldly possessions. You’d be surprised at how little you really need when you’re trying to travel light, and at how much you save not having to check and look after many bags. Plus, it’s just easier to be spontaneous, race to catch a bus, or hostel-hop when you’re not dragging extra luggage.
16. Use the ATM.
Cash rules, so having it means you’ll be able to haggle for souvenirs as well as pay for things with no international premiums, unlike the credit alternative. Exchanging currency, on the other hand, can be an expensive nightmare. Thankfully, most countries will allow you to withdraw funds in the native currency from ATMs at a flat rate, and the lowest rate you’re likely to find.
17. Once abroad, know your transit options.
Planning on bouncing around Europe for a bit? You’ll probably want to look into a Eurail pass. Want to island hop in the Exumas? You’ll want to look into different ferry options. Knowing how you’ll get from point A to point B means you’ll also have a pretty good idea about how much that trip will cost, and how to minimize that expense.
18. Love public transit.
Among the biggest expenses incurred abroad include renting and insuring a car, or taking taxis (especially from airports to hotels). The best way around this is to travel like the locals do, on public transit. Plus, it’s another fabulous opportunity to make new friends.
19. Walk as much as you can.
Aside from the obvious health benefits of walking, the great part about walking is that it’s entirely free, will get you where you’re going eventually, and is the easiest form of transportation to change your destination on a whim. It’ll also allow you to engage your destination in a more intimate way, outside the sealed and sterile environment of a vehicle interior.
20. Talk to some locals.
Not just for making friends! Locals can help you find the best things to do and see once you’ve arrived, many of which involve spending nothing at all. That crazy sculpture in the free dog park in Barcelona? You’d probably never have known it existed if someone living nearby hadn’t told you about it.
21. Spend more time in fewer places.
A guided tour will rush you all over a city, because they’re designed to hit a lot of things in a small amount of time (for general appeal). That world-renowned museum you just got into on “½ off admission” day? You can really stretch that admission out by spending all day there if you want, studying the displays until you’re ready to move on, or skipping over the ones you don’t want to see. Found a gorgeous park? Sit in the grass and soak up the sun until you really feel like you can’t anymore. After all, you’re on vacation, shouldn’t you let your life slow down a little?
22. WiFi is king, and usually free.
Guide books are awesome, but they are pretty heavy and take up an awful lot of space in your luggage. Furthermore, they’re sort of a traveler faux pas, and you don’t want to be that guy (or girl) standing in the middle of a busy intersection with your guidebook out, advertising your out-of-placeness and asking to be taken advantage of. With WiFi becoming increasingly easy to come by, everything you ever wanted to know about where you are is a screen-tap away.
23. Eat the street food.
A food cart is a food cart is a food cart. It’s a brilliant and cost-effective way to have incredible local food. It’s authentic, homemade, and one of the best resources a budget-savvy traveler has in their arsenal for getting hot food for little money.
24. Find the local grocery store.
Another way to really cut food costs is to either stock up beforehand (sacrificing precious pack-space) or buy provisions at a local grocery store or food market. And if you’re staying via AirBnb, you’ll probably also have access to a kitchen and can probably talk your host into an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime potluck.
25. Just do it.
From impulse trips to adventures decades in the making, from perfect getaways to utter travel trainwrecks, every trip you take will leave you with a story– and I have yet to meet anyone who felt that that story was not worth the time, effort, and money it took to get them out and traveling. We have so much to learn about the world we live in, and about ourselves. Traveling affords us a special window of insight into both. So if you have travel lust, make the “what if’s” into “where to’s” and before you know it you may just find yourself in places you’ve only ever seen in pictures on the internet.