“I really want to travel but I don’t have enough money.”
This is one of the most common problems I hear from people when they talk to me about travel. While on the surface, traveling can seem like a luxury for only the rich, this is certainly not the case! With some flexibility, research, and a bit of organization, you can travel budget travel and have an experience of a lifetime. If you’re determined to see the world, there is no reason why money should hinder you, especially if you’re willing to get a little imaginative with how you travel.
Whether you’re hoping to travel for a couple weeks or a couple months, I’ve discovered some fantastic ways to explore the globe for virtually free.
Usually the most expensive part of traveling is the plane ticket. Luckily, there are so many ways to save up for your flight and get great deals on tickets.
Cut the coffee.
If you buy one cup of coffee per day, you are likely spending around $80 per month just on coffee– That’s $960 per year! If you can cut the addiction, then put those $80 that you would be spending on coffee in a separate bank account each month and watch it add up. In less than a year, you’ll have more than enough money for a round trip plane ticket.
Particularly for flights to Europe, flying from October to April will cost nearly half as much as flights during the peak summer months. Not only will you get cheaper airfare, but you’ll find less expensive hostel rooms and Airbnbs, and have more of an immersive experience by meeting more locals than tourists.
Use the best flight search engines.
When looking for flights, it’s best to compare different discount websites to find the best deal. But keep in mind– if a ticket is incredibly inexpensive, read the fine print! These flights sometimes don’t include checked baggage, food onboard, and often have pretty lengthy layovers. Nevertheless, with a bit of investigation, there are a ton of cheap airline options. Here are some of my favorites:
◦ Skyscanner.com (Compares millions of flights to give you the cheapest deal)
◦ Cheapoair.com (Similar to Skyscanner, but may include different airline combinations)
◦ Airwander.com (Turns layovers into stopovers so that you can visit more destinations in one trip)
◦ Studentuniverse.com (Great for students! I just bought a roundtrip flight from LA to Barcelona for only $550 with no layovers)
Paying for accommodation can be another huge money-sucker, especially if you’re planning on traveling for more than a few weeks. Check out some cheap/free alternatives to traditional hotel rooms:
Live for free.
Sign up for Workaway to live in a foreign country for free and fully immerse yourself in a different culture. Workaway is an amazing site that connects hosts (such as hostels, families, campgrounds, festivals, etc.) with travelers who are looking to work for a period of time in exchange for accommodation. This past summer, I worked for a hostel in Barcelona through Workaway for two months and it was a fantastic way for me to not only live without paying a cent, but also get to know the city and the people on a much deeper level.
Through IVHQ you’ll be able to do some very impactful and meaningful volunteer work while traveling. This site will set you up with a host family while you’re volunteering for an organization/sector of your choice across the globe. I used IVHQ to teach English at an orphanage in Cusco, Peru and gained some valuable experience while working with the incredible children at the orphanage and also had a ton of free time to explore the country.
Skip the hotel.
Hotel rooms are significantly more expensive than hostels and most Airbnb’s, and can be total vortexes! It makes me so sad when people travel to a foreign country and then spend most of their time in the hotel. Instead, book a room in a hostel to meet some other travelers, or get an Airbnb to meet a local. Depending on the season, I’ve found that Airbnb’s are actually less expensive than hostels (and much cleaner!). But if you’re traveling solo, I’d recommend booking a room in a hostel because it’s safer and you’ll inevitably meet other travelers. Check out Hostelworld to find the best hostel deals and read reviews before you book.
3. Prioritize & Explore
So you’ve saved up, bought your ticket, and booked your room. Here are some great ways to explore and enjoy your travels fully without breaking the bank:
Decide your main reason for travel.
Are you traveling for arts and entertainment? Adventure? Food and wine? Pick one or two aspects of traveling and put most of your money towards it while cutting back on the rest. For example, if you’re going to Berlin for the music and nightlife, then spend less on food by cooking your own meals (usually hostels will have a kitchen), bringing protein bars, making yourself a picnic in the park, or eating street food instead of dining at a restaurant. On the other hand, if you’re going to Paris to to eat and drink like a king, then you may want to pass on the concerts, shopping, and museums.
See museums for free.
At full price, some museum tickets can cost around 20 euros. To save some cash, bring your student ID to get free or reduced museum ticket prices. Also keep in mind that on the first Sunday of every month, most of Europe’s museums open their doors to the public for free.
Avoid touristy restaurants.
Steer clear of restaurants on busy boulevards with “we speak English” signs and waiters handing out menus along the street. These places usually serve less authentic food with high prices. Instead, move off the beaten path and try a restaurant that’s filled with locals. If they don’t have an English menu, take it as a sign that you’re in the right place!
Take a free walking tour.
Want to learn more about a city and see the major sites? Walking tours are a great way to familiarize yourself with the city and to get an idea of the places you’d like to explore more. Most large cities around the globe offer free walking tours year-round. Just ask hostel staff, a local tourist office, or Google to find these tours.
Familiarize yourself with public transportation.
Taxis and Ubers can rack up a lot of money when traveling. Instead, take the metro, bus, or rent a bike to get around the city.
All of this being said, traveling does not mean that you have to cross the globe. I’ve had some of my favorite adventures without leaving my home state, let alone leaving my country. But if you’ve got the travel bug like I do, take the time to save up for a big trip while exploring the environment around you. There’s no reason why you can’t be a traveler in your own home.
Not having enough money to travel should never be an excuse, especially if you make traveling a top priority. So if you’re truly hungry to see the world without any frills, then all that’s necessary is a bit of planning, an open mind, and a whole lot of creativity.