“How do you afford to travel so much?”
Boy do I get asked this a lot! The answer is simple: you can afford anything if you decide you want to. Even if you’re super duper poor. Really, really!
Poor is basically my natural state so I’ve become somewhat of an expert at traveling while broke. In the last year and a half I’ve gone on 9 trips and visited 5 countries, all without breaking the bank. Read on to learn how you can travel on a tight budget.
You have more money than you think
…you just spend it on different things. Ask yourself these questions:
- Do you go out to dinner once a week with friends?
- Do you get drinks after work on occasion?
- Do you get a manicure every few weeks?
- Have you been to the movies lately?
- Do you have a Netflix account (that you pay for)?
- Have you ordered take out in the last two weeks?
- Do you have AC in your apartment?
- Do you Uber a few times a month?
If you said yes to any of the above, then congratulations! 🎉You have enough money to afford small luxuries in life, which means you can travel.
You just have to compromise. 😋
All of those expenses, small as they seem, add up very quickly. Budgeting isn’t fun (and it definitely isn’t easy) but like any other skill worth learning, you can start small and learn to free up enough money to book a trip if you set your mind to it!
Travel has never been more affordable
One of the biggest misconceptions out there is that you have to be financially well-off and debt-free in order to travel. Bologna!
If you are anything like me not too long ago, you might think a trip to Europe costs thousands of dollars – plural.
In my younger naive years I would rarely check the prices of flights and the few times I did, there was never anything under $800-900. So I assumed that’s just how much it costs to fly to Europe. And since no one has a thousand dollars laying around to spare, I mentally categorized international travel as “not gonna happen”.
But wow-oh-wow have things changed in the last few years! The prices our parents paid for flights are a thing of the past. Four digit travel expenses are officially extinct. And the belief that Europe is reserved for the super elite is DONEZO.
It’s about where you travel
I will be honest with you: some places are way more expensive to travel to than others. South East Asia, Africa, Australia… these flights are always going to be in the $900-$2000 range. In fact, finding one for $800-$900 is a deal. Those are all places I am dying to go to but they aren’t feasible financially right now.
Now on the other hand, in the last few years there’s been a real increase in affordable airfare from the US to Europe, which has opened up travel to a whole new demographic of people: us, the mid-twenty poor people.
A typical flight from the US to London, France, or Norway goes for anywhere from $300-600 these days, which is much more doable.
It’s also about how you travel
I can’t tell you how many people associate travel with luxury and 5 star dinners and 7 days of nonstop treat yo’ self. And sure, if you’re insisting on staying in the fanciest of places and eating the most extravagant of meals and staying for “at least ten days, because otherwise you don’t do the country justice!” then yes, your trip is likely going to pretty darn expensive.
But you don’t have to travel like a celebrity to do a country justice!
I’ve run out of money on more than one occasion in another country and I lived to tell the tale! I always stay in hostels for less than $20 a night and most of my trips are for 4 days. I never ever check a bag on a flight. I try to only eat out at a sit down restaurant for one meal a day, and rely on street food and cheaper food items for the others. There are tons of ways to save money traveling.
Maybe someday I will take a fancy pants trip with all the bells and whistles but for now in my 27 year old life, my reality is that I am not a millionaire with a disposable income. I can neither afford a trip like financially, nor can I afford taking that many days off from work.
I’m guessing most of you reading this are in the same boat? 🙂
Where to start?
There is nothing more overwhelming in the entire universe than being a complete newbie and trying to piece together a trip from scratch while comparing prices and dates and locations all at the same time. Creating a travel itinerary within budget is a work of art.
You spend hours trying to find answers to questions like: Where can I find affordable flights? And how do I know it’s a good deal? How long do I have to think it over before the price changes? How do you pick where to stay when there’s a million options? When should I go and how long do I stay? Do I book the flight first and then ask my boss for the time off, or do I ask for the time off and then try to find a flight that fits into those days?
Answering all of the above and then pulling the trigger and clicking “book” can be an emotional roller coaster, which is why I recommend taking it one step at a time.
Book your trip in parts
I never, ever, ever book all the parts of my trip at once. That is way too much money and commitment than one person can handle!
Step 1. BOOK YOUR FLIGHT
Do this first! I always book my flight first because that’s the most important step – it’s the scariest part and the one that sets your trip in stone. Everything else will fall into place from there. Do this first!
Sometimes I have to book my flights separately, because I have vouchers on different airlines or because I’m waiting for a better deal on the return flight, or because #poverty. That’s totally fine too! Just book SOMETHING! If you have booked the first leg of your trip, you are a million times more likely to follow through with the trip as opposed to if you “waited for the right time”.
Step 2. BOOK YOUR LODGING
Then book your hostel/hotel/airbnb. And do it via Agoda so you can choose the “pay later option”.
Step 3. MAKE RESERVATIONS
Anything that is important to you during the trip, like dinner or tickets for museums. I book these after the flight and lodging are taken care of since these are less time sensitive and will give me longer to have the funds available. Many of these have a pay later option too!
Step 4. CREATE YOUR ITINERARY
Start thinking about what each day will look like, research restaurants and cool areas to check out. Then estimate the cost for each so you can start budgeting it out. (For this I use a combo of google sheets and pinterest boards).
Get alerts on the best flight deals
These are my favorites:
Secret Flying is unique because they track abnormally low priced flights and error fares. Updates from them are not as frequent as other ones on this list, and most of their deals are posted to their Facebook page to make sure to follow them there to get the alerts!
SkyScanner is one of my all time favorite ways to figure out where I want to go and when. Skyscanner let’s you choose “everywhere” as your destination so you can search for the cheapest places to visit, and by month. I use SkyScanner most when I’m trying to figure out where I should go.
Airfare Watchdog is how I booked my very first trip! You set up flight alerts on all the places you want to visit and Airfare Watchdog will email you when there are cheap flights available to those places. I was alerted that flights to Paris were under $500 and booked it immediately. I’d have never known they were so low without this site!
Scott’s Cheap Flights. Scott is out there doing God’s work. Scott spends his time perusing the internet for dirt cheap error fares, fares that are obviously a mistake and will probably be gone soon because there’s no way it’s supposed to be that cheap. I haven’t booked a trip through Scott’s Cheap Flights yet, but he has alerted me to fares from Boston to Greece for under $400 and flights to Hawaii for $300, which are INSANE. He has two subscription options: the free one, which grants you about one low fare email a week, and the paid membership, which gets you 5x more low fare deals!
The Flight Deal sends out a daily email with the best deals of the day. It’s always mixed bag but there is almost always one deal departing from each major metro city.
WOW Air Club. I’ve preached my love for WOW Air many times before, but I suggest you take it a step further than just browsing their website and join their email club. They frequently send out deals for 20% off flights using a promo code and only people in the email club get this!
Jet Blue Deals. Jet Blue is America’s Airline in my opinion. And in addition to their awesome flight attendants, routes, and already super low fares, Jet Blue has recently been launching extreme sales every few months. Join the email club to get alerts on these. Some of the most notable are fares from BOS-FL for $30. Thirty Dollars! I mean wow.
Google flights has been my new favorite way to book flights. I love it because you can use their grid system to see what changing your departure or return date by a day or two can do for your overall price. It also lets you search by airline which is great if you have a voucher to use.
Hitlist. No, this is not a list of people you want to take out. Hitlist is an iPhone app where I keep a running list of everywhere I want to go. This let’s me create a travel vision board of sorts, which is great for my manifestation, but they will also alert you when there’s a deal on any of the destinations on your hitlist!
A few of my favorite money saving tips
Convert your US dollars before you go to avoid outrageous exchange fees. You can end up paying a significant amount in fees if you wait to change at the airport or once you’re in your destination country. Many banks like Bank of America will change your money free of charge, and even let you order currency online to be mailed to you.
Bring an empty water bottle with you to the airport. Fill it up for free once you’re through security. Nobody should pay $3 for a bottle of water!
Does your company offer a FSA for commuter benefits? Guess what. You can use your commuter FSA card (the one you would use to put money on your train pass every month) to order refreshments on a flight. Yes. You read that right. You can order wine, beer, chocolate, and more with your commuter benefits on a flight. You’re welcome. This won’t work on every flight (it recently didn’t on Iceland Air), but I can confirm that it works on Delta, United, and American!
I hope you find these tips helpful! How do you save money when traveling?