How to Travel on Any Budget
To start off, congrats! By reading this article you’ve made the first step, intentionally or otherwise, in traveling! Making the decision to read an article that will motivate you to travel means that you’re serious about getting started.
Before we begin, I want to mention that there are a few qualifiers to this information. Firstly, and perhaps obviously, is that this piece is written from my own perspective. The most pertinent details of my perspective on this article are that I do not have any children and I do not own a house. My financial obligations are normal for a recent college graduate.
I decided to write this article because of a lot of comments I seem to hear from people around my age which is that they wish they could travel, but they can’t. And the main reason they feel that they can’t travel is because they don’t have the money for it. While there is no question that traveling requires some money, I think many people overestimate the cost of travel. A few important tricks can greatly reduce the cost of travel and the question becomes more of a matter of whether you are willing to travel in a little less luxury than you might have originally anticipated.
If you’ve been thinking of traveling, it’s probably not news to you that travel can have vastly different costs based on where you live and where you want to go. As a general rule for most of the world, flights are most expensive, followed closely by trains, which are followed more distantly by buses. This is definitely the rule for domestic travel in the US. If you’re looking to travel internationally from the East Coast of the US, flights to Europe can be much cheaper than you might think. A flight to London from JFK can cost as little as $250 if you book on the right day for the right time of year. Generally, as you might expect, traveling during peak vacation season will be more expensive. Transatlantic flights will be more expensive during the summertime and over the holidays, flights to Mexico will be expensive when summer begins. But the difference in price might be more than you would expect. With that in mind, it’s certainly worth booking your flights for off-peak times.
In a similar vein, booking flights further in advance of your trip rather than later will save you a ton of money. The convenience of booking a last-minute flight can cost you many times what the flight would have cost just a couple months before.
My last piece of advice for travel booking can be summed up in one word: Tuesday. Although the many very unscientific studies that have been performed on the best day to book a flight can often conflict, the imprecise consensus is to book flights on a Tuesday. Similarly, the best day to actually fly is typically a Tuesday as well. Again, just in case I haven’t made it clear, these studies are very unscientific. I guess flight dates aren’t the number one priority for big scientific journals. But if you’re trying to save as many pennies as you can, you might as well try for Tuesday.
As for actually booking the flights themselves, Google Flights is a powerful tool. You can look for flights with flexible dates, look at a calendar for the cost of flights, and set up email notifications for price changes for certain flights that you want to keep an eye on. With that being said, it’s usually not a bad idea to look for flights on pertinent websites as well just in case. Kayak, Expedia, American Airlines, etc. A hidden gem that might seem a little sketchy is Skyscanner. I’ve heard whisperings that better deals can be found in an incognito tab, but much like the Tuesday rule, I haven’t seen any Harvard studies to back it up. Despite that, I have found some insanely cheap flights using Skyscanner and they have a couple of great tools for those just looking for a new adventure. The ability to search for flights anywhere in the world from cheapest to most expensive with only a month window as a constraint makes the site incredibly useful for young travelers who don’t have too many restrictions for travel times.
Finally, and importantly, you should always look for travel opportunities that are nearby to you. Can’t afford that flight? Can’t get that time off from work? Take a trip for a long weekend to some nearby attractions or go to a city that you’ve never had a reason to go to before. Because you can. If you can’t make it that far, then take the opportunity to explore whatever is around you. Go to a different part of your own city, take a left on the road that you always take a right on on your way to work. Little excursions like this can help satiate your appetite for travel while simultaneously fueling your interest in going further.
Okay. You’ve booked your travel. That’s usually the biggest barrier to entry for traveling. Next up we have accommodations. My number one recommendation by a large margin for young travelers is staying in a hostel. With prices as low as $15 a night for a comfortable place to stay, it doesn’t get much better for those on a budget. With that being said, this is another time where my perspective should be taken into account in that I am a man. Staying in a hostel can be an intimidating thing for anyone, but I can completely understand the hesitation many women could have with such a style of living. Sharing a bedroom with strangers can be a little weird. But understanding that hostels have their customers’ safety as their top priority can help change your perspective. Throughout my travels and in my time staying in hostels I have met many travelers of all backgrounds and identities and I am happy to say that my experience has been nothing but positive. A well-rated hostel on Hostelworld will provide you with a bed, bathroom, and common area at the very least. Most hostels also include kitchens for cooking your own meals (we’ll come back to this later) as well as a bar and premade breakfast (which is typically either free or very cheap). Staying in a hostel is an amazing opportunity to meet people who are completely different to yourself. In traveling, meeting new people is just as important as seeing new things, and forcing yourself to talk to people that you would otherwise not talk to is a great way to do just that.
For those who are looking for a little more privacy but who don’t want to pay the generally high price of a hotel should look into Airbnb. By now, most of the world knows about Airbnb and the service provides a unique and cheaper alternative to traditional hotels. Staying in a local’s house will give you a point of contact in your new city and can give you a glimpse into the day-to-day lifestyle of the local population. Airbnbs lie between hostels and hotels on the price spectrum, typically leaning closer to the price of a hotel. But in most cases they will provide you with a place to cook and large, comfortable living quarters. They offer more privacy than a hostel for couples or families that are traveling while also feeling a little more adventurous than simply finding the nearest hotel.
The last major cost that is involved in travel is food. With all the walking that you’ll be doing in your travels, you’ll be working up an appetite and constantly eating out can get expensive fast. Hostels and Airbnbs have a huge advantage here in that they give you the tools to cook your own food. For me, I would usually cook something pretty straightforward and fast, but filling and nutritious. Cooking in also gives you the opportunity to explore one of the most underrated attractions of any new place: the supermarket. Supermarkets offer a glimpse into the daily lives of people that live near them. They have local foods that are often different to what you might be used to, they will be set up differently to the grocery stores you’re used to seeing. Food is an important part of every culture, it is important to try new things and enjoy it. Go out to eat to enjoy local food as it is prepared for you, but also be sure to save cash where you can and get another important cultural experience in as you browse your nearest supermarket.
Finally, as I mentioned before, if you are on a budget, try to look for ways to travel close to you. You can get a similar fulfillment from going somewhere a little different to where you’re used to going and it won’t break the bank. For me, when I want to scratch that itch, I find a new place I haven’t been to in New York. I’ll go to a new neighborhood or I’ll bike to somewhere I haven’t been to before. I’m fortunate to live in such an iconic and diverse city, but that same satisfaction in exploration can come from anywhere. All it takes is a little extra effort.
So in summary, traveling for cheap comes down to three main things: travel, accommodations, and food costs. Cheap flights can be found on Google Flights and Skyscanner with enough time in advance of the trip. Hostels are the way to go when it comes to traveling cheap for young people with Airbnbs being a solid alternative. And try to limit your food costs by cooking your own meals, but be sure to enjoy the local food while you’re there at the same time. If all of these savings still represent a trip that lies outside your budget, then get creative. Travel close to where you live, go to the biggest city near you, go for a hike in a nearby mountain range, or just drive until you end up somewhere you’ve never been before and then get out of your car and enjoy the details of wherever you end up.
Although traveling is often something that seems to be reserved for those with a lot of money, satisfaction from traveling can come at any budget. All it takes is a little research, a lot of curiosity, and a strong desire to find something new.