10 Ways to Travel Affordably
A lot of us have big travel dreams, but lack the budget to match them. But let go of the belief that you have to be loaded to see the world. I will let you in on a little secret: not only is it possible to travel on a tight budget, it’s also possible to travel for free, or very close to it.
I’m not talking about becoming a tour guide or working on a cruise ship, although these are certainly possibilities if you are interested in doing so. There are some very specific resources and methods that enable average people – without a huge budget – to spend nothing, or very little money, to travel. The secret lies in completely discarding conventional ideas about how to plan for and take your trip, and opening yourself up to creative possibilities instead.
Take it from me - I’ve traveled throughout the entire world dozens of times, spending far less money than I would have if I’d simply stayed home. From a weekend getaway a few hours from home to a continent on the other side of the planet, here are the 10 methods I use to do this.
Become a Master at Airline Frequent Flyer Programs
This is by far the easiest and fastest way to book a flight to your dream destination for free, only paying the taxes on the ticket. All of the major airlines have frequent flyer programs with multiple ways to rack up points quickly - the main one being their credit card offers, which often come with huge miles bonuses (typically enough for one round-trip domestic ticket, and often enough for an international flight). Pick the right program and take advantage of all the ways you can earn miles, from credit cards to things you use anyway such as banking and utilities, and you can earn free tickets faster than you think. Credit card churning is the best way to rack up a lot of miles quickly, and I earn over a hundred thousand miles each year doing this. Obviously, you don’t want to go into credit card debt to do this; I use the spend requirements on a new airline offer to buy things I would buy anyway - there are sites where you can pay your rent with a credit card, buy your groceries and insurance and pay the card balance promptly, with the money you would normally be paying anyway for these items. I also plan carefully when I have a big expense item coming up (medical, car repair, etc) and make sure to use a card that will get me big miles rewards for the purchase.
Research Low Cost Airlines Thoroughly
This is the second-best way to get practically free flights. All around the world, regional cheapo airlines offer some of the most amazing deals. By knowing who they are, subscribing to their e-bulletins, and keeping up with their sales, you can often find flights where the only thing you have to pay for is the airport taxes. Ryan Air is famous for this in Europe (I’ve bought tickets between Paris and Barcelona for 5 Euros).
Ride Sharing, Biking and Walking
Don’t assume that the only way to get somewhere is by plane or vehicle. When driving by car, you can often save huge amounts of money, or even get a free ride, by sharing the journey. The sharing economy today makes this super easy. Biking and walking are usually free too, and the United States as well as many places around the world offer incredible journeys by foot or bicycle. The bonus is you get to see a lot more when you travel slowly like this.
Hostels, Homestays and Couch Surfing
Once you arrive at your destination, it’s not necessary to spend a lot of money on a hotel. Staying in a local’s home through homestay and hospitality programs is usually very cheap and sometimes even free, and hostels aren’t the dirty dorm rooms that they used to be. Some hostels, in fact, rival boutique inns and are design-centric and full of amenities. These types of accommodations have the added benefit of more interaction with other travelers and locals. Many people, myself included, also rent out our own homes when we travel and use that money to fund our own trip.
Home and Hospitality Exchanges
Often overlooked by most travelers, exchanging homes or guest hospitality is one of the easiest, and most interesting, ways to get completely free accommodations that I’ve ever come across. In fact, this is the top way that I’ve stayed in accommodations completely for free, not spending one time, all over the world. I’ve exchanged homes more than three dozen times, and made a lot of very interesting friends in the process.
House Sitting and Caretaking
There are also many opportunities for caretaking other people’s homes, pets, businesses or land for free accommodations. Last fall I worked a farm stay in Hawaii, spending 10 days on a small two-acre suburban farm on the west coast of Oahu. I spent a couple of hours a day walking the dogs, feeding chickens and collecting their eggs, and letting the geese in and out of their pens. In exchange I received free accommodations and even use of the owners’ car while they were on their own vacation, and the rest of the time was mine to enjoy the beautiful (and free) beaches a few miles away. The owners even lent me their snorkel gear!
Monasteries, Camping and Work Trade
There is an almost endless choice of options out there for cheap or free accommodations, from staying in a monastery or convent for just a few bucks, to bartering your work or volunteer time in exchange for a place to stay and sometimes even meals as well. Many websites exist for barter networks where you can find opportunities to work in exchange for your accommodations.
Crowdfunding is huge these days, for raising non-profit donations to funding a new business venture. But it’s also a way that many people raise money for their dream trip; in fact, it’s become a very popular wedding gift registry for the honeymoon. I funded my first trip to India in 2005 this way - I was going there partly to volunteer in an orphanage and when I shared my crowdsourcing donation request, people were only too happy to support my trip.
Find Free Activities in your Destination
Just about anywhere in the world, there are a ton of completely free activities that you can do. Even in some of the most expensive cities, like New York, I have taken advantage of free concerts, plays, museums and more. Websites exist covering most major cities for “things to do,” including free activities; and most major museums offer certain free days or hours each month. One of my favorite things to do when I arrive in a new place is take a free walking tour, run by locals and offered in many places throughout the world. By going online and doing a little research on your destination, you can likely fill your itinerary with completely free or very cheap ways to explore and enjoy.
Eat at Local Markets
Another of my favorite things to do when I arrive somewhere is check out the local markets, whether those are food or artisan (or both). It’s a wonderful way to get to know the culture of the place, and the food there is both incredibly fresh as well as inexpensive. Even in pricey destinations like Australia, I’ve been able to eat for under $10 by going to markets, and had a great time in the process. And when you’re staying in someone’s home because you’re exchanging or house sitting, you have the added bonus of being able to buy food that you can take home and cook, saving even more meal money.
Read more from Shelley Seale at her website, tradingplacesglobal.com.