Don't wait to get rich before you see the world. Travel for cheap by prioritizing what's important to you---and scrimp on everything else.
The first step in your cheap travel adventure is to prioritize. But you probably already know how to do this with your day-to-day living expenses.
Some people want to live in a nice house, but are willing to drive a beater car. Others squeeze into minuscule living spaces in order to follow their dreams in exciting cities.
The little things count, too. Maybe you splurge on gourmet coffee but buy the store brand for everything else.
The same choices apply to travel. If you want to do it cheaply, you need to think of the experience as the ultimate prize. Everything else is negotiable.
Can you stay in a hostel because you’re going to spend most of your time sightseeing anyway? Will you make breakfast and dinner at home so you can eat out for lunch and enjoy a drink or two at night? Is there a budget airline that flies to your destination? Can you pack lightly enough that you don’t have to check a bag?
Of course, there’s no need to feel completely deprived. Just choose your splurge wisely—and make sure it fits in your budget.
You may have heard that airlines are switching to revenue-based loyalty programs, meaning that you earn points based on how much you spend rather than how many miles you fly.
While that may mean it takes longer to earn a free flight, there’s no reason not to start trying. It’s free to sign up and if you’re new to the program, you may be able to earn tens of thousands in bonus points for opening up a travel rewards credit card.
Travel rewards programs aren’t limited to airlines—hotels have them, too. And you can earn points on a wide variety of purchases through the loyalty program’s partners.
One of our favorite travel credit cards is the Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card, which has no annual or foreign transaction fees. That’s already big savings, and it means you don’t lose anything from keeping the card around.
You’ll get a neat 25,000 online bonus points, and you only have to spend $1,000 in the first 90 days of opening the account to qualify for them. What’s even nicer is that you’ll earn 1.5 points for every dollar you spend using your Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card, and that’s without limitations.
If you’re a big spender, you might want to consider the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card, which offers two miles for every dollar charged across all categories. You’ll also earn 50,000 bonus miles when you use your card for $3,000 worth of purchases within three months of opening the card.
Keep in mind, though, that this card has a $0 intro for first year; $95 after that—only apply for it if you’re spending enough to make it worth it!
Airfare is a relatively easy category to save money on because the experience of flying is largely the same regardless of which airline you choose or how much you paid for your ticket.
When I’m planning a trip I like to start with Google Flights because it shows you how much you could save on a ticket if you alter your itinerary by a few days. But not every airline is listed, so you still need to look around to find the best deal.
Europe is an especially friendly place for budget airlines, but some are also branching out to offer international service. Norwegian Air offers budget fares from the east and west coast to destinations all over the world.
But to make sure you find the lowest possible ticket price, you’ll need to put a little more time in. Familiarize yourself with all of the airports that serve your destination. In many cases there may only be one, but larger cities tend to have multiple options.
Budget airlines usually fly in and out of smaller airports. Check the websites for the airport(s) you plan to use to get a list of all the airlines that stop there. Then you can compare fares on the airlines’ websites as well as on search engines like Expedia and other vacation planning sites.
Try to limit your packing to a carry-on bag so you can avoid checked luggage fees. You can do laundry in the middle of your trip if you need to—your vacation doesn’t have to be a fashion show.
Do you have friends or family who live in interesting places? Plan a trip to their city and ask to sleep on a couch or spare bed. The best part about staying with someone you know (other than the free accommodation) is getting insider tips about what to do and see while you’re there.
Even if you don’t know anyone in your destination, you can use the Internet to find a free place to stay. Most people have heard of CouchSurfing, where you can find a free couch, bed, or space on the floor to sleep.
You may also be able to find a housesitting gig, which means Airbnb-like accommodations but for almost nothing. MindMyHouse charges $20 for an annual membership, which connects you to over 18,000 homeowners across the globe. There are currently about 200 “house sitter wanted” posts, many requiring some form of animal care.
House swapping is another option if you own your home. New and established home swapping sites such as HomeExchange, LoveHomeSwap, HomeLink, and Intervac allow you to list your house, browse other listings, and contact members about potential swaps. Most charge a monthly or annual membership fee but offer free trial periods so you can see if it’s for you.
What if you don’t need a whole house or don’t want to couchsurf? Try a hostel. They may not be free but they’re a good cheap accommodation option if you’re willing to stay in a dorm-style room.
Unless you’re currently homeless (or your rental contract is expiring) you’ll be leaving an empty living space at home. Don’t let it stay empty.
Just as you’re trying to find cheap places to stay on your travels, there are thousands of people doing the same in your area.Take advantage! List your space with airbnb – you can earn a considerable amount of money, maybe even enough to cover your own cost of living while you’re away. This can be a great way to fund your dream adventure.
If you stay in any of the kinds of accommodations listed above, you should have access to a kitchen. Use it to save money on eating (and drinking) out.
Remember, the experience of travel is your priority, so who cares if you don’t get a complete break from washing dishes on your trip.
When you do want to enjoy a restaurant meal for the sake of pleasure or convenience, make it lunchtime. Even fancier restaurants usually offer reduced prices at lunch.
A similar strategy applies to drinking—look for happy hour specials.
If you’re not picky about the timing or destination of your next trip, you can save money with last-minute deals on hotel rooms, vacation packages and airfare.
With a little advance planning, some flexibility, and the right attitude, there’s nothing standing between you and your dreams of exploration.
Cheap travel is as good for your soul as it is for your wallet. It prioritizes the joy of discovering a new place over the desire for a “luxury experience.” So stop making excuses and start looking for your next adventure.
How do you save money on travel? Share your favorite cheap travel tips in the comments.