Everyone dreams about traveling to distant lands, full of culture and beauty, but few actually do it. The biggest drawback to international travel, for many, is the cost involved. Don't let this deter you from your dreams! Yes, it is a bit daunting when you add up gas, flights, hotels, and food, but there are ways you can cut corners to make a trip more affordable.
What do you NEED? Emphasis on need. When packing, it’s easy to think about all of the possible weather scenarios that you could encounter. What if it rains? What if it’s too hot? Unless you are hitting snow and beaches on the same trip, you’ve already thought too much about it. Pack a pair of pants, a pair of shorts (get the zip off pants for a space saving bonus), a couple shirts, your undies and your toothbrush. Ok, maybe contacts or glasses if you actually want to enjoy the sights.
If you only pack what you need, you will save space and you will know you can at least survive what mother nature throws at you. Typically, budget travelers prefer backpacks to suitcases because they are easy to carry and hard to lose when attached to your back. For more tips on traveling ultra light, check out Tim Ferriss's How To Travel the World with 10 Pounds or Less.
Unfortunately, there are not too many ways to save money on flights these days (other than this location hack, earning transferrable points on credit cards, or simply keeping an eye out for deals)—so take advantage of the things you can control.
- Avoid checking bags at all costs. This is going to save you a lot of headaches. Even if one airline offers free checked luggage, another may not. If you are trying to visit multiple destinations on the same trip, you may be required to switch airlines several times. Assume that it will cost you money. Most airlines allow for a carry on bag and a personal bag, which allows you too keep important things easily accessible during the flight.
- Fly coach everywhere. It’s always tempting to upgrade for a comfier seat for that 8+ hour flight, but don’t do it. The phrase, “it’s not about the destination but rather the journey,” does not apply here. It is absolutely about your destination, and every penny helps get you there.
Transportation is another aspect that can make or break a trip. Do your research before diving in without a built in budget for transportation. Many countries, including most of Europe, even Asia, have a lot of easy-to-navigate public transportation options like trains, buses, and even crazy affordable flights. Taking buses and trains, rather than taxis, is a great way to experience the culture rather than drive through it. It’s also usually the most affordable option, and is almost guaranteed to get you near where you are trying to go.
However, there are times when it just doesn’t make sense to rely on public transportation. Say you are traveling through Norway, and you’ve read that you can take buses and ferries to pretty much anywhere. You get to Norway, and have mastered the bus-to-bus-to-ferry-to-bus-to-ferry-to-bus process and while it’s a hassle, it’s worked out. Now imagine you have one day left and have yet to get to to Kjerag, one of the three places you just traveled 4,000 miles to see, and the ferries are only running 3 days a week because it’s the off season. What do you do?
Rent a car! It’s not always going to be cheap, but sometimes the extra cost is worth the view. If you are planning on staying in the same location for a few days, a car allows you the freedom to go wherever you may want or need to go without having to waste time waiting on buses.
One of the most exciting parts of going new places is trying new food. Everyone loves a fresh French macaron, or some grilled calamari. Sadly, food isn’t free. Eating out can be expensive. An easy way to cut some costs is to find the local grocery store. Sure, it’s not glamorous, but it’s sustenance. Absolutely make it a point to have a nice dinner a few times while you travel, but don’t miss out on other opportunities because you think you need filet mignon nightly.
The internet has opened a lot of doors when it comes to international travel. Some of these doors, are literally being opened by locals for you stay in. Airbnb is an incredible resource for finding affordable accommodations. Many cities have hostels, but it’s always a gamble on who you are spending your nights with. Couch Surfing is another alternative, but Airbnb goes to more lengths to keep users safe. It’s important to check reviews when browsing listings, and a good rule of thumb is to ignore places with zero reviews or bad reviews. Sometimes you may get lucky and land a sweet room at a good price from someone new to the site, but it’s always best to play it safe.
Airbnb requires approval from the lister, which gives both parties an opportunity to talk about the needs of the traveler and what the residence has to offer. Remember that backpack with just a couple outfits? These people are also contributing members of society and are likely to have their own laundry machines, cars, and kitchens for you to cook in. While you may not always be able to take advantage of this, many people love to share their culture with travelers and will go out of their way to make your stay memorable.
Spending money is never fun, but sometimes it’s worth it. Don’t be afraid to do whatever it takes to get the experience you always dreamed of. Going over budget is never fun, but this is the perfect time to use your new credit card with all the travel perks.
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