There is a myth circulating out there that most people can simply not afford to travel. While there are many people around the world lacking the political and economic freedom to travel, the majority of Americans are not in this group. If you’ve been dreaming of international travel but feel that you are held back by financial constraints, read on! I will give some of my favorite quick tips for traveling on a budget.
Travel credit cards
(Disclaimer: I am not a financial professional. Do not sign up for a credit card if you are unable to pay it off in full every month. These recommendations are based on personal experience alone.)
Generally the largest expense that you will have when traveling internationally is a plane ticket. Most people find it hard to stomach paying $1,000 for a flight to Europe--me included! Getting a free flight, then, would make travel seem within reach for most people, right? The good news is that free flights are in your future, people! I do not have a high paying job that allows me to fly overseas whenever I feel like it. What I do have is an arsenal of travel credit cards that enable me to earn points/miles on everyday purchases. The key to picking the best cards is to look at the bonus miles they award, as well as how you earn points (aside from your own personal comfort level with card limit and interest rates, etc.). The best cards can offer sign up bonuses of up to 50,000 bonus miles (and sometimes even higher!) with a minimum spend amount in the first few months of opening your card. For reference, with Chase, 50,000 points will get you a $650 plane ticket, and through United, 60,000 points will land you a round trip award ticket to Europe or South America. I want to make the point that I am not advocating anyone go into debt or charge more to a card than he or she can afford. If you are able to use a credit card responsibly for as many of your purchases as you can (and pay them off at the end of the month), then it is certainly worthwhile to use a travel credit card. If you can basically make money and earn free travel with your everyday habits, why wouldn't you? In the past year I have used points to fly to and from Ireland, San Francisco, and Guatemala for FREE.
Saving on accommodation
After flying, booking accommodations for your international travel is generally the second biggest expense. Traveling with a bigger group and sharing lodging is one way to save money, especially if you choose to rent an apartment through Airbnb or VRBO, which is one of my favorite ways to experience a new place. And although many people feel averse to the idea of a “hostel,” there are a ton of high quality hostels that are cheaper and sometimes even nicer than hotels in the same area. Not all hostels are dorm beds with nightmarish bathroom situations. In many hostels you can rent single, double, triple, or quad rooms. If traveling with a group of two or three friends, then, renting out a hostel room (which sometimes include their own bathrooms) can be significantly less expensive than staying in hotels. Other bonuses include meeting fellow travelers and usually having access to a kitchen. If you are dead set on staying in a hotel but want to save a bit of money, look for hotels that are a little outside the most touristed areas of a city (although still safe) but have access to public transportation that can take you into the heart of the city quickly. Other options for cheap accommodations include Couchsurfing or camping if you’re more adventurous! And don’t forget, credit card points can also be applied to hotel stays.
Eating and drinking
Eating out can quickly kill the budget of any traveler. Save money on eating and drinking by deciding ahead of time which meals you plan to eat out. Try local markets for fresh food that is generally cheaper (and more fun) or head to a grocery store to stock up on essentials and snacks. If you are staying somewhere with a kitchen, or at least a fridge, buying groceries will cut back on the amount of money you spend at restaurants. And when you do choose a restaurant, avoid places that have a bunch of tourists (or only English menus, if it’s outside the English speaking world). Ask locals for recommendations on authentic places, as these tend to not only be better quality, but also cheaper. For drinking, consider also buying alcohol at markets or corner shops instead of heading straight to a bar. Some of my best memories of traveling involve picnicking with wine, fresh bread, cheese, and fruit--not paying three times as much at a restaurant.
Always do your research
Knowing ahead of time what different products and services cost will save you money. For instance, when buying souvenirs, research what the best products are and where to find them before you leave and decide how much you are willing to spend. It is also helpful to know the costs of various services like taxi rides to ensure you are being treated fairly. In general, being familiar with prices, exchange rates, and other customs will save you time, money, and frustration.
If you have any questions about this list of quick tips or would like help with travel planning, using credit card points, or just choosing where to go, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org