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.
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. 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?
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 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.
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. 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. 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 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. 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.
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.