Travel is one of those things you may dream of, but never actually do. Why? Because the perception is travel is expensive, and even if you do have the money, there’s always another “more important” way to spend that money. When most people sit down to compare a weeklong Caribbean vacation to installing hardwood floors their home desperately needs, they’ll choose the latter. However, this mode of thinking does not make you happier or more satisfied. An abundance of psychology research has shown experiences bring people more happiness than possessions.
When most people think of traveling, they imagine five-star hotels, expensive meals out, shopping sprees, and luxe living that provides a break from the doldrums of daily life. If you travel like this, you’ll quickly break the bank, but travel doesn’t have to be expensive. It depends on your willingness to go outside of your comfort zone, release expectations, and find your inner thrifty traveler.
1. Rethink your lodging
To save money, you don’t have to book a seedy hotel. In fact, hotels (even the worst ones) are one of the most expensive ways to travel. For your own space and access to bonus amenities — like a full kitchen — try out a serviced apartment, meaning the apartment or home’s owner rents their space out to travelers like you. Airbnb, HomeAway, and 9flats are good websites to check out. You can set up your own pricing restrictions and pinpoint a certain location to find the best options.
If you want to get really cheap, check out a site like Couchsurfing, where you literally stay for free on someone’s couch, floor, or spare bedroom. It’s a great way to push yourself out of your comfort zone and meet new people. Hostels are also an easy and inexpensive back-up plan where you can book a dorm-style or private room for your stay at a low price.
2. Minimize food costs
One of the great things about travel is trying local food and experiencing new textures and tastes. You don’t have to give that up, but rather than eating out three meals a day, cut it down to one. Find a nearby grocery store and stock up on fruit, granola bars, and muffins to make for an easy-to-grab breakfast. Eating out at lunch, rather than dinner, is one way to save some money, as restaurant’s lunch menus are typically less expensive than their dinner options. For dinner (or lunch), buy a loaf of bread, peanut butter, and jelly, and enjoy a light, easy-to-make meal. Feeling motivated? Utilize the kitchen at your hostel or apartment rental to whip up a bowl of pasta, salad, or soup.
3. Choose your destination wisely
You may dream of Paris, London, and New York City, but if you’re looking for a low-cost vacation, you’ll need to rethink your destination. Countries in Central America, India, and Southeast Asia are always an inexpensive option. And be sure to take a look at exchange rates, which can make a big difference in your overall budget. When a country has a low cost of living, you’ll have the opportunity to live like a king – think $10 massages in Thailand and the best Indian food you’ve ever had for less than $5 in India.
4. Thrifty flights
If you do a quick search for tickets to Prague, the price may scare you off. This just means you need to get creative. Do a bit of research and scrounge up those airline miles you forgot about. If you don’t have enough miles saved up to book a flight, consider signing up for a travel-branded credit card that offers a high signing bonus. Several offer up to 50,000 airline points, which can pay for a round-trip ticket to Europe. Some cards like Chase Ultimate Rewards give you the flexibility to transfer miles earned to your favorite airline.
If you have an open schedule, book travel during your destination’s off-season when flight prices aren’t at their peak. Another way to find great prices is to look at flying mid-week rather than over the busy weekends. Not only will both booking options be cheaper, but you can avoid the crowds.
5. Skip foreign transaction fees
What’s the first thing you do when you land at the airport in another country? Before you can find a taxi, figure out the public transportation, or grab a snack, you’ll have to hit up the ATM. When you do, your bank promptly charges you a foreign ATM withdrawal fee, while the foreign ATM takes their share. A few dollars here and there may not seem like much, but after your third ATM run in two days, you may be getting hit hard with extra charges. Beat the cycle by banking with a bank that advertises no foreign transaction fees. Charles Schwab not only doesn’t charge you but will refund you any money foreign ATMs charge you.
6. Take local transport
When you get off a long flight and you’re lugging your giant suitcase through the airport, it may be tempting to grab a cab and relax on your way to your destination. Stick it out and travel like a local. Get a metro map, ask the information desk for the best bus route, and save yourself a significant amount of money. So many travelers skip public transportation because it can be frustrating and confusing, but part of traveling is getting lost and figuring out how to navigate a new city. If you’re up for the challenge, you can skip the $50 cab fare and get to your destination for less than $5.