What's the one thing that's stopping you from travelling right now?
The main answer that people respond with is "money" because they are unaware of how to travel cheap. The popular belief is that travel is expensive and only the rich can afford to navigate the world, which is very wrong. Whenever I discuss travel with people, I am always met with the response "how can you afford all that, you must be rich" which is frustrating but at the same time due to the lack of travel knowledge people have. You can in fact save money when you travel, if you do it right. I have more savings now than I have ever had in my time "at home".
If you want a full-proof guide on how to travel cheap, I can't give you that, as it comes down to how you want your travel lifestyle to be. For example, do you want to give up make-up, buying a coffee every day, and video games? When you want to travel cheap and save money there are certain luxuries and habits that you will have to give up but I know that some people can't. Therefore this blog will give you advice on how to travel cheap but it will depend mostly on your lifestyle choices.
How to Travel Cheap
Take Advantage of Credit Card Points
If you haven't read it, check out Nikki's blog on The Best Credit Cards for Travel which will give you an idea of some of the best travel credit cards for points.
In a nutshell credit card companies (mainly in the USA, sorry rest of the world) will offer a sign on bonus when you take up a credit card with them. How it works is that you will sign up to the credit card with the sign on bonus and then have 3 months (sometimes 5) to meet a minimum expenditure to be rewarded with your sign on bonus. The spend usually amounts to $3,000 or $5,000 dependant on which card. You might be thinking how could I spend that much money in 3 months?! In reality, it is very easy to spend this amount of money in a short space of time. Here are some tips for hitting your bonus:
- Purchase EVERYTHING on your new card. This includes your daily coffee, groceries, bills, and whatever else you could think of.
- Purchase something for a family member or friend. I would advise to stick with family unless you really trust your friend, because you will be responsible as it is your card. If your parents need a new furniture set, bed, appliances, or anything big, get them to pay for it on your credit card to hit the bonus.
You will find that different cards will offer different benefits. With the right card, you could end up saving $1,500 on flights, although you still pay taxes and will never get a free flight regardless of what other bloggers say about "how to get a free flight".
Keep in mind that you will need to have a reasonably good credit score and should make sure that you pay off the card every month. Most will have an annual fee with the first year being free, just make sure you cancel it before the year is up, unless you want to continue earning points.
There is no limit on how many cards you can have but you just have to be mindful of your credit score and how it can affect you. I would advise signing up to the best travel credit card before you go to try and earn bonus points because usually the first flight people take is the most expensive, long-haul flight. Then once you pay for that flight with the points, sign up to the next travel card. Sign up, fly, spend, repeat... Simple.
When it comes to accommodation most people believe that hostels are still the cheapest option but the reality is, they aren't really that cheap when you break it down. What if I told you that you can get free accommodation? Well, you can get free accommodation by signing up to housesitting websites.
Housesitting can save you thousands of dollars and you don't even have to do it long-term, you can do it on a vacation too. It works out as a favor to the home owners who get their house and pets looked after and for you, to get free accommodation. The main types of housesit will involve looking after pets, so if you love animals then it would be a dream for you. There are some rare occasions where people will just want their empty house and plants looked after which obviously comes with less responsibility than animals.
Obviously housesitting comes with its downsides, especially if you are looking after animals. You will have restrictions on how long you can be out for and have the responsibility of someone else's pet, but it really isn't a negative aspect when you are getting free accommodation. I have stayed in many housesits now and I haven't found anything an inconvenience, some owners will let you use their car for free too. There are a minority out there that will ask you to pay for bills and ask you to do extra tasks, but there are no rules and if the owner wants you to do it, then you do it. You're staying in their home for free after all. You will get bonus points if you work from home because people like to know their pets have company.
In terms of money, I have saved over $6,000 on accommodation by housesitting now, so if that doesn't persuade you then nothing will.
The main site we use is Trusted Housesitters which has an annual fee of around $100 (not exact). This one works by an application process and if you get approved for a sit by the owner, you travel to the location! One extra bonus you might get out of this is an extra 1-5 nights accommodation, this is because people want you to spend a few days to get to know you. I have had some great experiences meeting new people around the world this way.
We will be releasing a more in-depth blog on housesitting in the near future!
Relax on Your Spending Habits
It may sound obvious when you want to save money that you don't spend a lot, but you will be surprised how many people waste money and end up having to cut their travels short or miss out on experiences. When I say relax on spending, I am talking about the luxuries in life such as clothes, make up, coffee, etc. Not tours and experiences.
When you start to travel you have to realise that you can't live the same way as you used to back home. The only exception would be if you decided to work as you travel, then you can relax a little bit, just don't go on a shopping spree. One of the main things that eats your money away is alcohol and I am not saying don't go out and enjoy yourself, just control how often you go out.
If you are the type of person that must have make up, coffee, new shoes, or whatever luxury item, then try and limit yourself. For example, maybe once a week go and get a coffee, once a month buy a new make up item, or however you want to control it. Just be mindful of why you came traveling in the first place, try and balance everything so you can enjoy everything!
Another point on how to travel cheap is to cook for yourself. Eating out regularly is considered a luxury and it will eat away at your funds. You should purchase food and cook meals in your accommodation to save money. You can still eat out and experience the local food just limit yourself to once every fortnight maybe.
This section may seem really negative and that you shouldn't go out or spend any money, which is not the case. Just learn how to control it and you will be able to enjoy more of what you want to do. On the other hand, if you are a millionaire, you wouldn't be reading this for a start, but you can also enjoy whatever you please if you have the money to do so.
Pick When to Book Your Flights
Another factor to consider with how to travel cheap is booking your flights at the right time. That's not me saying that there is a certain time or day when flights are cheaper, there's not, I am talking about not rushing and buying your flights the moment you decide to travel somewhere. Generally, when you see a price of a flight, that price will change multiple times leading up to the flight. I have done tests with price alerts and discovered that a flight will never drop by more that $150 and will increase the closer you get to the departure date. This might not be true for every flight or website but it was for me. Skyscanner is one of my favorite sites to book on, I know some people will disagree, but it has always been reliable for me, check out our flights page to see it in action.
On Skyscanner you can set up price alerts which basically email you as soon as the flight you are interested in changes in price. I went by the rule that if the price dropped by $50 or more then I would book. I would also recommend that once you know you want to fly, set up multiple price alerts around the dates you want to leave, this will help you find the best price. It is kind of like a game, which can be lost, for example if you decide on one flight only and keep waiting closer and closer to the departure date, the price may be more expensive than when you first looked. That's why I would say to book as soon as you see a significant drop. Don't expect to save $1,000's here. I also recommend setting up the alerts for a 3-4 week period, if not longer.
You don't have to use price alerts to pick the best flights though, you can just return and search manually every day (it is recommended to clear out your cookies before doing this).
Saving $50 - $100 on a flight may not seem like a lot of money but if you continue to travel and book multiple flights, it can be a large sum of money. Let's say you take 10 flights in a year, that could be $1,000. I know I would like an extra $1,000.
One thing I will say though, if you notice that a flight price is too good to be true, buy it. I once came across a Virgin Atlantic flight for $189 from London to New York, this is usually the price you expect from budget airlines. I booked it straight away and paid less than the budget airline I usually flew to the USA with, with free food, drinks, and movies! So if you see a flight that you think wow, that's cheap, then book it.
Hitchhike or Rideshare
It may seem like an old school thing to do or you might get murdered but hitchhiking is still very popular. I have encountered many different hitchhikers when driving, more so in remote locations though. It's a great way to save money and get from one place to the next, it can be very unreliable though. I once met a man who hitch-hiked the whole of Europe and never once paid to get anywhere. It requires flexibility, patience, and confidence. If you are flexible on where you want to go or how long you want to take to get there, then hitch hiking is perfect. Plus you will meet new people around the world.
Obviously, it's not 100% safe and should be treated with caution, especially as a solo female traveler. The best thing to do when hitchhiking is assess the vehicle to see if it looks safe, talk to the driver for a couple of minutes, and let someone know the license plate of who you are traveling with. Equally, the drivers will be sceptical of you too. If something doesn't feel right, then don't do it. You can never really tell what people are like on initial judgements. Aside from that, great way to save money when traveling cheap!
Ridesharing is another way to save on costs. You can find rideshares in hostels (on noticeboards) and through apps/websites. I don't know enough about the apps to recommend any, but there are so many to choose from. Just google the best ones and test them out. When you do a rideshare, you will obviously have to pay money but it will be a much smaller amount when you split with 4 other people. You can either rideshare as a passenger or a driver, so it's a great option for saving money when you want to travel cheap. It's also a good way of meeting new people.
This is similar to what I mentioned about the flights, having flexibility when you travel can save you huge amounts of money and is key when it comes to how to travel cheap. I am talking about everything in general with this point. When you travel, don't make any plans that are set in stone. You might find that if you wait an extra 2 days, the train/flight/boat might drop in price by $100 or more. You could discover that a tour you wanted to do on the Saturday is actually $200 cheaper on the Tuesday.
The point is that flexibility is key to saving money when you travel. This isn't just for money saving purposes either, you will find that when you meet new people, you will change your plans and potentially travel with those people. There is no definitive advice I can give with this point, just to be more flexible.
When talking about how to travel cheap, walking is something that sounds obvious, but people don't do it. Firstly, it's great exercise. Secondly, it can save you money on extensive public transport costs. I will say that this doesn't apply to all countries, if it's $0.40 to ride the bus compared to a 3 hour walk, then just do it. What I would consider here is how often you would be using the public transport and how far of a walk places are. For example, even though New York seems huge, it is very walkable. The main benefit you get from walking places is that you will discover hidden gems. Also, don't listen to Google Maps with the walking distance feature as it doesn't consider walking through parks/alleyways/swimming, or any cut-through!
Do Your Research !!!
This one can't be important enough. Knowing the costs and fees of a country before you visit can be essential to saving money and traveling cheap. I have been caught out so many times before and ended up paying unexpected fees for things. An example would be that if you rent a car, research free parking in cities that you visit. Little things like that can save you thousands in the long run. You should learn the cheapest supermarkets, cheapest petrol/gas, cheapest tours/rental companies, the list could be endless. It doesn't take long to research things these days, so there is no excuse for being unprepared.
I don't like using work as an example of how to travel cheap because traveling cheap applies more to full time travelers who don't want to work. The reason why I added this point in, is more to do with volunteer work and free labour. When you travel, you will come across many different places that will offer free accommodation and/or food in return for some help, many hostels do this. If you don't come across a sign, just ask reception and see what they say.
This is a great way to save money and if you can spare the time to help out with the work, it's a no-brainer.