If you’ve got a serious case of wanderlust but think traveling is way too expensive, you’re only partially right. While exploring new places certainly isn’t free, there are so many ways to cut back on travel costs that with a little ingenuity, you can make your trips that much more affordable. Let these 14 tips inspire you to start planning a life-changing vacation.
There’s a lot of chatter around which days are cheapest to fly. Rumor has it that Tuesdays might win out, but there are so many variables that it’s hard to say. “It’s worth noting that because airfares change minute by minute and day by day, anointing one particular day of the week is not necessarily the best predictor of a ‘good-deal’ fare,” says Expedia’s 2015 Air Travel Trends report. A better strategy may be to give yourself a few days’ buffer when researching flights. Sites like Kayak allow you to add three days before and after your ideal travel dates. That way you can keep the Tuesday/Wednesday/Saturday advice in mind, but you’re not automatically excluding flights that are more affordable on other days.
It’s the easiest way to keep tabs on prices that can turn visiting your dream destination into a reality. Try sites like Kayak and AirFareWatchdog, which can deliver deals straight to your inbox. You can even download Hopper, a free app on iOs and Google Play, that monitors flight prices in real-time and pings you when it makes good financial sense to buy.
What law says you have to go to a tropical island smack dab in the middle of summer? Planning to see the sights at the beginning or end of the off-season will help you cut back on costs, and as a bonus, not be surrounded by as many other tourists. I’ve been to Mexico, Costa Rica, and Turkey in their off-seasons, but I don’t have a single complaint about the weather. I do have some leftover savings-induced euphoria from how much less I spent, though.
Many of them charge beaucoup bucks for conversations you have away from home. You can download Whatsapp, a free instant messaging program, and call your current service provider to find out what they offer for data and phone calls. If you don’t think you can get by on their deals, consider T-Mobile’s Simple Choice Plan. You can get unlimited data and texting in over 140 countries, and calls are only 20 cents a minute.
Not sure about switching carriers? Another way to score more data is purchasing data-only SIM cards in other countries, which can work in your phone as long as you get your carrier to “unlock” it. (Make sure to keep your original SIM card somewhere safe!) Call your service provider to find out how they handle unlocking, since it varies from brand to brand, and research which foreign SIM card is best for where you’re going and where to buy it. They’re often in large airports, but sometimes you may have to venture elsewhere to find them.
And if the issue is that you have long calls to make, consider buying Skype credit so you can call landlines and mobiles. It can can cost as little as $2.3 cents per minute depending on where you’re calling.
If you get the right one, swiping your card is like putting money into a virtual travel piggy bank. Find one that either doesn’t charge ATM fees anywhere foreign or refunds them, like the Charles Schwab debit card. You can also check out cards that shower you with airline miles after you spend a certain amount.
Getting a dirt-cheap flight on a budget airline like Spirit or Frontier can seem like a steal, but again, the fine print is key. Budget airlines sometimes make you pay for everything from carry-on luggage (in addition to checked) to your seat assignment to a cup of water on the flight. Depending on how much you’d be saving, it might not be worth it in the end.
Whether you go by train or by plane, the company you choose to travel with may charge based on how much luggage you’re bringing along. Saving $25 here or $50 there might not seem like a lot, but wouldn’t it be nicer spent on a good meal or cool new adventure than transporting a bunch of clothes you probably won’t even need? Plus, that way buying things on your trip won’t potentially push your luggage into overweight territory. If this woman managed to travel for nine months with everything in a carry-on, you can at least leave some of your stuff behind.
Before you make a beeline for major cultural hubs when you arrive, do some research to see whether museums and other tourist attractions offer free hours. Chances are at least a few do if you’re in a well-traveled spot, meaning you can soak up enlightenment without breaking the bank. Same goes for cool tours that show you around—they can quickly add up, so doing some digging for similar tours that are free, or at least less expensive, can give your wallet a break.
Especially if you’re in a place where the exchange rate doesn’t favor the U.S. dollar. Sure, private transportation is inherently more expensive, but there’s also the fact that people might take advantage of you being a tourist by either using a longer route, overcharging you, or both. Taking public transportation negates a lot of those issues, plus you have a way better chance of actually meeting local people and getting a feel for the place! Just be sure to read up on the public transit situation before you get there, so you know the rules of the rails.
Meal prep won’t just save you money at home, it can help you stick to a budget abroad, too. Cooking whenever possible is an easy way to cut back on spending, but that’s especially true when it comes to snacks. Roaming around in wide-eyed wonder can be more exhausting than you realize, so when you find yourself without food, hanger can push you to buy whatever’s convenient—and expensive. Although your bites will likely depend on the local fare, these make-ahead snacks can give you some ideas.
Serendipity is wonderful, but so is saving money. If you head out without a clue of where to go for meals except the heavily-trafficked areas, you’ll probably spend unnecessary cash and not get as much of an authentic experience. Doing a bit of research beforehand can lead you to a restaurant that’s a little more out-of-the-way, a lot nicer to your wallet, and more memorable to boot.
You can also check out EatWith, which lets you share food in a local’s home. It offers meals in over 150 cities, and the prices vary based on where you’re looking—but the menus are prix-fixe, and tip is already included. EatWith can be a cheaper method of having a nice meal, especially since some of them include alcohol, which would normally drive up the cost.
As in, sponge off people you know who live in the locales you’re visiting. Technology makes this incredibly easy nowadays: post your travel plans to Facebook, and ask anyone who has a place to stay or knows someone who might to get in touch! (Be general about when you’ll be traveling until you’re chatting one-on-one. Stealing from people who have made a social media announcement that they’ll be away has unfortunately happened before.) You’ll be surprised how many people will open their doors to you for a few days in exchange for you treating them to a meal. That will still cost you less than separate lodging would, and they can introduce you to local food. Win-win.
If a sponge tour is out of the question, hostels can be a cheaper alternative to steep hotels. If the word “hostel” conjures up less-than-flattering feelings (perhaps due to a horror franchise of the same name), good news! Depending on where you go, the hostels can easily be almost as nice as hotels for a fraction of the cost. Even better, if you’re hoping to make a few travel buddies, a hostel is a great place to start. Read reviews on Yelp or TripAdvisor to make sure it’s up to par.
Hostels aren’t for everyone, in which case you can also scope out Airbnb, a service that lets you rent people’s homes or apartments. It’s often somewhere in between hotels and hostels price-wise, but you can likely bring the cost down a bit by staying in a farther-out location. As long as it’s close to public transit so you can get to the main areas, you’re good to go!
You can also opt for a homestay, meaning you’d live with local people, often for free. Couchsurfing is the most popular site that caters to matching hosts up with people in need of shelter. It finds housing for four million travelers per year, but it’s really all about forging connections between people who might have otherwise never met. They also have listings for every country, so your travel possibilities are endless.
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