Traveling Cheap: How to travel on a budget without budgeting

Traveling smart allows the adventure to last longer.

I travel often. I will be 24 years old next month and I’ve been to many states and countries with diverse cultures and climates. I hardly go a month without taking one week to one month off. That being said, this is not the norm for most Americans in my age bracket. Young adults in general are ambitiously working to climb the ladder of success in whatever job they may occupy. That’s not to say that they aren’t interested in travel and adventure. This absolutely isn’t true; they just don’t believe traveling often is affordable. Many of us are taught at a young age that you have to dedicate a certain amount of time working in order to reward yourself with a vacation. We’re told that traveling is entirely too expensive to just go off gallivanting at any given moment. I am living proof that traveling cheap and spontaneously at any age is absolutely possible with the right mindset.

Money views 

To start, you have to prioritize your ideas of what money is to you. My view of money is that of a tool; something that is a means to trade for an experience. I work in order to make enough to live and travel off of. I don’t bother with long term saving at this point in my life. We don’t know how much time we have on this earth, so I live each day, each trip, and each impulse to its fullest. Now, I’m not saying I don’t have a few practical moments here and there. I work very hard when I’m home and I occasionally have to forego the impulse to hop on a flight out of the country. Every day that I get up to go to work for another long double I remind myself of my next big trip to quell my urge to run away. That inspires me to keep moving, pushing myself to pick up as many shifts as possible. Living this way requires a large amount of flexibility, a strong work ethic and a lot of energy. There is hardly any down time and I prefer it that way. However if you plan to adopt this lifestyle, consider yourself warned, life happens to pass by rather quickly when you don’t stop moving.

If, so far, this mindset sounds like something you already have, or one that you’re open to, please read on. If not, I urge you to go straight to google and research all-inclusive resorts in major travel destinations of your choice, as these will probably be your best financially affordable vacation packages that require the least amount of creativity.

Transportation

A common misconception is the idea that it has to be ridiculously expensive to travel. This is absolutely untrue. The revised statement  is that it’s ridiculously expensive to travel anywhere if you’re in a hurry to get there and if you don’t consider alternative third-party websites and modes of transportation that may take a bit longer for you to get from point A to point B. I have quite a few tips for you to consider on this subject.

Let’s start with flying. Flights can be extremely expensive if you don’t book them many months in advance. It can also be overwhelming to try to decide what airline to fly. The key is to shop around and lower your standards on what kind of novelties you need when flying. My favorite site to start with when looking at purchasing flights is skyscanner.com. Depending on how you set your preferences, this site will generate a list of all the prices, routes, connections and airlines that can take you to your destination. I set my preferences to price points, so that I will be shown the cheapest routes at the top of the list. While this is my first choice, there are other similar generators to this that you can also try out, including kayak, CheapOAir and Cheap Flights. Once you’ve started here, make sure you do your research. Sometimes carriers offer the same routes for a discounted special, depending on the time of year. Always make sure to visit the actual website of the airline that you’ve found through the discounted site to ensure that it really is a good deal. Sometimes you can find promo codes for that airline through any search engine that will bring the original price to something lower than that of a third-party site.

In addition, don’t be afraid of taking flights that may have multiple connections to arrive at your destination and most importantly don’t be a snob about what airline you fly. Discounted carriers may not always have the greatest reviews, but that’s often due to the lack of cosmetic novelties, such as the inclusion of meals, TV screens that display recently released movies and fancy lighting. Just because an airline offers cheap prices doesn’t automatically mean it’s unsafe. Every airline is required to meet a set of standards by the FAA and they periodically undergo inspection to ensure these standards are continuously met. Your ticket price on these airlines are lower because they lack the novelties of the more expensive airlines. Try to remember that this is just a means of transportation, not the important part of the trip. You can always pack your own meals and watch movies on your own electronic device. If it’s a long flight, you will probably be sleeping most of the time, not admiring the mood lighting of the cabin anyway. Save that extra hundred bucks for something more exciting.

There are many alternative options to flying. Buses, trains, ferries and an abundance of travel apps are at your fingertips. Don’t be afraid to mix and match and try them all! The adventure can be in the journey. I once spent over 24 hours traveling from Salzburg, Austria to the island of Corsica, France via two buses, a cab, a ferry, a train and a car for under 50 euros, approximately $55 with a 2 hour nap on the floor of the train station and a brief swim at a beach in Nice, France. I have no regrets. Buses are one of the cheapest options, but definitely the slowest. If you’re not in a rush, they can be wonderfully relaxing and scenic. Put on some music and gaze out the window for a while. Trains are often a significantly faster option, but the prices can be more than you’re willing to spend, depending on how far you’re going and how late you end up booking your ticket. I’ve found that it’s sometimes worth it to fly on a low-cost carrier than to take a train. Once again, always check all of your options before booking anything. Ferries are a great alternative to flying when traveling to islands. Since you can’t usually use normal ground transportation to cross waterways, airlines are prone to higher prices. Taking the ferry can be a much more affordable option that doubles as a relaxing mini cruise experience.

There are also some great travel apps that we have at our fingertips today. You don’t even have to be tech-savy to use them. There are the popular ones for short distances, such as uber and lyft, but there’s another one that has come to my attention in the last few months. The app is called BlaBlaCar. On the American front, it’s almost completely unheard of. It’s a long distance carpooling service, similar to something like uber. You download the app, put in some basic information and then you’re set. You can put in your place of origin and destination and a list of people driving to and from those destinations will pop up. There are reviews for the drivers’ reliability, the number of seats they have left in their vehicle and a flat rate of how much you will be charged. I’ve used this app successfully twice in Europe with no problems. It was extremely easy to use and cheaper than all other transportation options to get to where I was headed. I met some interesting individuals and had a couple of great conversations.

Accommodation

            One of the greatest expenses to traveling can be where you stay. Western society has ingrained in us that vacation equates to luxury. Most people who book a vacation are in the mindset that they’re treating themselves, immediately researching nice, “affordable” resorts in ideal locations. I absolutely do not recommend this. If I’m traveling to a new destination I don’t plan to spend much time sleeping. In fact I spend as little time as possible inside my home base, basically using it as storage for my backpack. A great way to reduce the costs of accommodation is to travel overnight. I’ve quickly learned how to sleep on any form of transportation for any amount of time. Power naps are my best friend. Right there you can cut out one night of having to pay to sleep somewhere.

My next suggestion is booking a hostel. Many hostels advertise a bed, often in a dorm setting with community bathrooms for an average $15-25 a night. They usually have something you can lock your valuables in, and its easy to just shove your backpack under your bed. If dorm living isn’t for you, most places offer private rooms as well for a slightly higher price. In all of my experiences, I’ve met excellent people and made some quality friendships. As long as you can handle a more primitive style of living, this is a great way to make friends from around the globe.

Back to the wonderful advances of technology, there are two main apps that I’ve used while traveling. The first is pretty popular, known as AirBnb. Through this app you can search pretty much any destination in the world for a couch, a bedroom or an entire house to rent per night. After checking the reviews of the host you can send them a simple message to see if they’re accepting guests. You make your payment entirely through the app and they will either meet you with the key or have some sort of arrangement such as a lockbox. Depending on the location, this option may be more expensive than alternative options, but in my experience it’s usually cheaper than a hotel and I’ve often been able to book extremely last minute with no problems.

My newly discovered favorite app is known as CouchSurfing. This way of travel is absolutely free. If you’re a little more adventurous than this is the app for you. How it works is similar to AirBnb. Users download the app and can put in their destination and message hosts to see if they have a couch, floor or even a yard (for those traveling with tents) open for whatever dates they’re planning to travel. The difference is that there is no charge associated with a place to stay. This can sound pretty questionable and daunting if you’re paranoid when it comes to safety. My belief is that humanity is inherently good and the positive energy you put out will be returned to you. However be smart and read your reviews! You can immediately tell what kind of person your host is by checking the numerous reviews. The great thing about this app is that it is considered more of a cultural exchange. Users create a profile that includes pictures, places they’ve been, languages they speak, hobbies, interests and things they can share and teach as well as things they’d like to learn. I’ve had 4 experiences using this app and each time I’ve absolutely loved the people I’ve stayed with and kept in touch with. It will open your world if you go into it with a flexible mind.

My final suggestion is the obvious one that many people don’t take advantage of. When I travel I meet people from around the world. Whether it’s one fantastic 8 hour conversation or a week of interspersed contact via pubs, clubs, coffee shops or concerts, I keep in touch with the people who have expanded my mind and those that I find interesting. It may just be a Facebook message every few months to catch up on life or a

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Skype session every few days. Either way, I preach the values I was taught growing up in a half Puerto Rican household, “Mi casa es su Casa” (my house is your house). I always have a couch open for the friends I’ve met along the way and they likewise do the same for me. This is my absolute favorite way to travel. Staying with locals has plenteous advantages and I get to see their city or town in a truly authentic light. Don’t be afraid to contact people. You may think you’re burdening them, but I’ve often been told that seeing their home with fresh eyes has given them a new appreciation for what they have. Be flexible to their schedule, gracious of their hospitality and bring gifts. You may have things from your home that are a luxury in their state or country.

These tips and suggestions are simply skimming the surface of the possibilities of cheap travel. What works for me may not work for you and vice versa. It takes a large amount of research and creativity as well as some weighing of the pros and cons of each option. Sometimes circumstances in life require an escape. My escape is to run away for a while to places that remind me how beautiful life is; to give me a new appreciation of humanity. Each time I return, my head is full of new lessons and inspiration. I’m sharing these tips for travel because I know many people who feel stuck and don’t feel they have the funds to do the things they long to do. Money can trap you if you let it, but once you experience how far you can stretch it if you’re smart with your spending, you will be free of it’s grip. The knowledge and lifestyle that come with this type of travel will have you questioning the purpose of every physical possession you have. Embrace it. Allow yourself to change with the transformation of your mind.