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14 Tips to travel on a budget (solo or with friends)

*This article originally appeared in the Juliet Magazine in 2017.

If you’ve done some travelling, you know how good it is for your soul; and I’m sure you also know that it can blow your budget pretty easily if you don’t pay attention. The good news is, it doesn’t have to. Take it from a person who has travelled on a big budget and a small budget: the five-star resort is not going to get you the kind of soul-enlightening experience that sleeping in a hammock for $4/night will. Now don’t get me wrong, that kind of vacation has its place and can be amazing – but that’s for another post.

For many years, I assumed that I couldn’t afford to travel. Partly because I was a broke student living in a really expensive city (Vancouver), and partly because I had never really tried to save money for anything. Instead, I made money and spent money, and mostly on stuff—clothes, shoes (oh so many shoes), dinners, and drinks. I hadn’t realized yet that experiences (especially ones accumulated while travelling) were worth so much more than things.

I was 28 when I finally decided to take my first real trip. I had travelled before, but those trips were different (still amazing, Japan and Galapagos were on that list). I knew where I was going to go—and that was about it. When I was growing up, the neighbours across the street from me were Chilean, and I was lucky enough to spend a ton of time at their house, where I learned a little about their food and culture. I knew then that when I grew up, I wanted to take a trip to Chile; so, it only seemed fitting that it would be my first real travel experience. I will do a whole post or probably a 5 part post on Chile, one of the best experiences of my life at a later date.

I launched myself into the planning process, and it turned out to be one big experiment. I didn’t know anything about planning a month-long trip, but that turned out to be the fun part. I learned so much about how to travel during that first trip, and with each subsequent trip (I officially caught the travel bug!), I learned more how to save and plan ahead to make the most out of my experiences financially.

If you’ve always wanted to travel, or want to travel more, here are 14 ways to adventure at a reasonable cost. They’ve certainly worked for me over the years.

Before you leave

There’s so much you can do before you set off on your adventure to keep yourself on track financially.

  1. Do some research and find yourself a credit card that offers travel or straight financial rewards. There are some really great cards out there. Just be careful of the ones that have serious blackout rules—it may be too challenging to ever redeem your rewards.
  2. Start a savings plan before you go. I know this can seem tough, but just set yourself a reasonable goal. It doesn’t to be thousands of dollars—any amount helps, and will ease the stress you may feel about spending money on adventures. Here’s how I save for travel experiences every year:
    • Grab yourself a mason jar, a shoebox, a piggy bank—whatever vessel you want—and keep it out of sight. At the end of every day, take all the change you have in your wallet and add it to the jar. If you find that too easy, include $5 bills as well. Out of sight is out of mind, and if you can’t see it, you won’t spend it.
    • Make coffee at home. Buy it in bulk (I buy 925g cans) and make it in a small percolator so that you don’t waste any. Find a cheap brand you can stand and when it goes on sale, snatch it up. My boyfriend and I went from spending $160/ month to $8/month on coffee. Plus, the great thing is that if you do splurge on a fancy coffee, there’s no reason to feel guilty: you’ve already saved over $100. I add $20 of coffee money I’m saving at the beginning of the week to my change jar. Take the 52-week challenge. This version of the challenge has worked well for me three years in a row: For each week of the year, put the number of the week away in dollars. So the first week it’s $1, the second week it’s $2, the third week its $3 and so on. At the end of the year you’ll have $1378.
  3. Use travel discount sites and apps, like http://www.hopper.com – it tracks airline logarithms and shows you the price points of future travel up to six months in advance.; there are so many out there! If you don’t have a set destination in mind, there’s tools for that too. I will create a list in a future post.
  4. Be flexible about your dates. Travelling midweek can lower your flight cost substantially—Tuesday to Thursday is your best bet. And if you can be flexible on time, and whether or not the flight is direct or indirect, you can set yourself up to save a few more hundred dollars.
  5. Travel during low season. Yes, that means that the weather might not be as perfect, and some attractions might be closed for the season. But, you can bet that things will be less expensive: flights, accommodation, food, drinks, entrance fees, and more. Plus when there aren’t thousands of other tourists around, you can get a bit more of a local experience.
  6. Buy a one-way ticket. With a flexible return date, you open yourself up to opportunities for alternate experiences. Maybe you travel somewhere unexpected and then end up flying home from there for a better price.
  7. Bring your own snacks and headphones on board. It might not seem like much, but depending on where you’re flying and which currency you’re being charged, $5 for headphones and $12 for food can end up being $30 in your own currency. That’s money that you could spend on food, transportation, and accommodation.

At your destination

Now that you’ve put yourself in a good position pre-trip, here are a few ways to save money while you’re enjoying your destination.

  1. Book a place where you have access to a fridge. This way, you can eat breakfast at home every day, which will save you a lot of money. Go to a local grocery store and grab some yogurt, fruit, cereal, granola bars, etc. These quick and easy breakfasts will get you ready for your day on the cheap and get your day moving a little quicker, too. Pick up some instant coffee or tea as well. If you need your caffeine in the morning, boil water at your place and save yourself a few dollars a day.
  2. Eat street food. Not only is it often the most authentic food you’ll eat, it’s also generally the best value for your money. Plus you’re supporting locals in making a living to support their families.
  3. Be smart about transportation. It can cost a fortune if you let it. Public transportation is key while travelling—it’s the most cost effective way to get around. It’s fine to splurge on a cab, here and there, but even then, try finding someone to share those rides so you can split the costs. Also check out ride-share programs in your destination, as many countries have adopted programs similar to Uber.
  4.  Book cheap accommodation. Let’s be honest, do you really spend that much time in your room while you’re travelling? Shared accommodation is the best bang for your buck. You could go old-school and stay in hostels, which usually have a community kitchen—plus it’s a great way to meet people. If you prefer a little privacy and staying on your own, various sites like VRBO and AirBnB offer individual rooms usually for less than a hotel would cost. Or if you want a real local experience, check out www.couchsurfing.com. This site connects you with locals in your destination. You can stay for free, but there can be disadvantages to staying in the home of someone you don’t know (not a lot of privacy, you may have nothing in common, etc.). But you may just have some pretty cool experiences too. Plus, you’ll have a local tour guide who can offer you tons of advice for your adventure.
  5. Get a work visa. If you’re under 30, you may be able to take advantage of an international work visa (usually from six months to two years). With a work visa, you could pick up a part-time job while away. This will allow you to make a little money and meet people at the same time.
  6. Go on walking tours. If you’re wondering what you can do with limited funds while travelling, these are the answer. You can pay for them too—but why pay when you can create your own itinerary? Walking around aimlessly can be the best way to see a city. I’ve made some of my best memories as a result of wandering upon things by accident while my head is in the clouds. Everyone can wander, and wandering is free.
  7. Write about or photograph your travels?  Submit your work to various publications. You never know who might bite, and if you’re lucky, you might even get a steady gig out of it. Check out The Write Life (https://thewritelife.com/travel-freelance-writers/) for a list of popular publications that publish freelance work.

These are just a few of the ways you can save money. Have fun and experiment. You’ll learn so much as you go. And of course, when you set off on your adventure, be smart, be safe, and be open to new ways of thinking. Your travel experiences just might be some of the best moments of your life— moments that you will look back on for years to come.

And I know Covid is making it hard to think about travel, but it just means you have more time to save, plan and build your greatest next adventure!!!

Tell me what you would like to see in terms of travel posts – I have so much to talk about! Comment here, email me, DM me on Instagram, I’d love to hear from you.

Till the next adventure,

Kristen xo

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