Are you wondering how to afford travel? Maybe you’re yearning for more than a once-a-year vacation to somewhere amazing or desperate to finally get to Europe even though your day job doesn’t make it seem realistic. Several years ago, I completely revamped my approach to travel planning. The result? That year, I visited five international destinations, two US national parks, and three US cities…all while working full-time. You can do it too!
- Save Money on Travel
- 1. Book Cheap Flights
- 2. Extend a Business Trip
- 3. Save, Save, Save
- 4. Use Travel Guidebooks
- 5. Travel on a Budget—Work Remotely
- 6. Home Exchange
- 7. House Sit or Pet Sit
- 8. Eat In on Your Trip
- 9. Save Money on International Telephone Plans
- 10. Take Long Weekends
- 11. Steal Tour Itineraries
- 12. Find Free Things to Do!
- 13. Use Travel Credit Cards
- 14. Make Your Travel Dollar Go Further
- 15. Be a Tourist in Your Own Town
Save Money on Travel
Is everyone independently wealthy? Did you miss the memo on how to make that happen? Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. People who can afford lots of travel rely on a whole host of travel hacks and secret deals I’ll share with you here.
Who knows better than travel bloggers? The suggestions below come from those who have day jobs and those who are full-time digital nomads. Whether you’re looking to add an extra getaway or take a year to travel the globe, these 15 travel hacks will stretch your travel dollar in big ways.
1. Book Cheap Flights
Travel smarter! One of the most expensive ways to travel is to choose a destination and a date (particularly in high season) and then book tickets. I did this myself for so many years!
These days I’m all about more affordable world travel. I watch for flight deals and then choose my dates and destination accordingly. This is how I booked roundtrip nonstop flights LAX to Barcelona for $340 and roundtrip tickets LAX to New Zealand with a stop in French Polynesia for $1000 each. A fare that also included three days at a resort in Tahiti!
So how do you do this exactly? One of my favorite ways is to sign up for emails on flash sales at Scott’s Cheap Flights. It’s free to sign up and you won’t be spammed.
This works well if you are prepared to buy within a day or two of the sale (even if the actual a trip will occur many months later). Or, let’s say you have some dates for travel but can be flexible on the destination.
2. Extend a Business Trip
contributed by Jackie and Justin at Life of Doing
Some people may dread going on business trips, but we love them! There is something special about taking a flight to your next destination, accomplishing your work goals, and even taking an extra one to two days (or a weekend) to explore the area.
It’s one of the best ways to travel. We always prioritize paid time off since traveling is important. Your company paid for your round trip flight, so you’ve saved money. Plus your hotel accommodations may extend the discounted business rate for your personal stay.
A work colleague may even become your unofficial local tour guide…introducing you to their favorite restaurants and local attractions. Otherwise, it’s easy to plan your own sightseeing activities and have new experiences!
One of our most memorable trips was when we stayed for a weekend after working in Boston, Mass. It was fun to try lobster rolls and seafood, walk along the Freedom Trail in the snow, and meet up with friends who lived in the area.
Take advantage of business trips to travel more. You never know when you’ll be back to visit. In the meantime, enjoy a life of travel courtesy of your day job!
3. Save, Save, Save
How to save money for a trip? These days I buy very little that isn’t travel related. Once I realized how far a little extra cash could take me, I resolved to cut out my trips to Starbucks and shopping for shoes.
It’s almost counterintuitive: Wouldn’t a new pair of boots bring me more pleasure than a trip that’s over in two weeks? And yet, I find it’s just the opposite.
My travel photos are my most important souvenirs. I revisit them often and am instantly transported back to some of the most amazing days I have spent on this planet…to the top of Fox Glacier in New Zealand and the lavender fields in Provence to a memorable meal in Tuscany or snorkeling with sharks on Moorea.
Save money to travel by devising a saving strategy that’s effective for you. The act of actually planning a trip is what motivates me most to save.
And one of the best ways to do that is to indulge your travel fantasies on Pinterest by pinning inspirational travel photos, potential itineraries, or foodie destinations.
Then set a savings goal with a plan to make a monthly deposit to a dedicated travel fund. Keep planning that dream to stay motivated so you can sacrifice fewer meals out or forgo other luxuries. So commit to a travel savings plan today!
4. Use Travel Guidebooks
contributed by Sally at Our3kidsvtheworld
There are lots of ways to travel the world. One of the best ways we save money is by using guide books to travel independently which enables us to travel more frequently like we did during our trip to Myanmar.
My guide book of choice is Lonely Planet: with detailed information, maps and recommendations for nearly every attraction in every city.
Best of all are the restaurant recommendations, from budget to high-end cuisine…You’ll learn about the cheapest and best eats in town. This approach has often saved us from hiring guides; we just take our Lonely Planet books, hit the pavement and see what we can find. (Otherwise, traveling with a family of five can get pricy with guided tours.)
Frequently, we cut down on weight in the backpack by leaving the book itself in the hotel. Instead, we just snap a photo of the relevant pages on our iPhones of the places we want to visit.
Then we add it to google maps and head out on foot. One of my favorite aspects of these guide books is that accommodation recommendations have been vetted by the authors who have actually stayed there.
Options typically range from budget to luxury. ( I love a luxury stay!) Also, the guide books are sorted into geographical areas so it’s easy and convenient to find a restaurant recommendation close to where you are staying. All the hard work is done for you!
5. Travel on a Budget—Work Remotely
contributed by Maire at Temples and Treehouses
Saving money for travel can be as easy as leveraging your full-time job. Get a job that travels! If you’ve got limited vacation time, consider negotiating remote work from another country. It’s one of the best ways to travel more often when time is a challenge.
International companies with offices around the world are often surprisingly happy to let employees work from another country, especially when you present a plan on how you’re going to share ideas and benefit your role while on the job. And then you can spend all your evenings and weekends exploring and going on day trips!
Another bonus is that slow travel is a lot cheaper. So if you want to travel on a budget, this is a great way to do it. In fact, if you can stay in one place for a month, you can get huge automatic discounts on Airbnb apartments. Many homeowners offer savings of 30 percent or more when you book to stay for at least a month.
At my previous job, I negotiated a three month-stint working from my company’s Barcelona office. I ended up staying in an amazing little apartment in the central Born neighbourhood for a fraction of my London houseshare rent.
Concerned about not speaking the language? Don’t be. It’s easy to get around language barriers with a little creative thinking.
6. Home Exchange
If you’re wondering how to save money for travel, look no further than your existing home! If you own a home, you may be pleasantly surprised about the (literal) doors it can open when it comes to how to afford traveling abroad.
Concerned that you don’t live in a tourist hot spot? You might be pleasantly surprised to find travelers who are interested in visiting your area.
Find out with a “reverse search” on homeexchange.com. Search for homes in areas you’d like to visit whose owners are also interested in your area.
Perhaps someone has a daughter in college or an old friend in your area. Maybe there’s a business connection. I heard about a French family who traded their chateau for an Airstream trailer based in Michigan once. They’d always wanted to do a U.S. road trip!
It’s all about finding a home, an area, and a traveler or family who feel like a fit for you. (Or consider swapping hospitality stays for a truly local experience…You stay in their home for free while they are there and then return the favor.)
7. House Sit or Pet Sit
Talk about traveling on a budget…We’ve been traveling full-time for two and a half years and have had housesitting gigs for 6 months of that time. It has saved us so much money! We pay no rent or bills when we’re housesitting.
As animal lovers and pet owners, we knew we would be a good fit for housesitting. We are a family of three and started housesitting when our daughter was seven. I think it helps having a slightly older child; however we do know other families with younger children who have also housesat.
It has so many benefits besides saving money. As you are staying in someone’s house, there is often really good wifi which can otherwise be a challenge when traveling. As a digital nomad family, we rely on a good internet connection. You’ll also usually find a fully-equipped kitchen.
And then there’s the joy of being around a furry/feathered friend. Our daughter loves animals and really misses our pets, so having temporary pets is wonderful for her! She has learned so much about caring for different kinds of animals as we have looked after all sorts of pets.
Our top tip for getting housesitting gigs: Get good references. Pet owners need to be able to trust you and know that you will look after their animal family. The best way? Try volunteering at an animal shelter or walking your neighbor’s dog.
You can also hire a free house sitter for your own pets while traveling to save on kennel expenses. It’s free. Check out Trusted Housesitters to explore both options.
8. Eat In on Your Trip
It is always more fun to go out to eat whilst you travel, but if you want to travel more often, consider cooking some meals. As you venture out to different countries, one of the great ways to connect with the local way of life is to shop where they shop and eat accordingly. Not only you will discover the ins and outs of the local culture, but you will also save big bucks!
When we travel to different countries, we like to stay in Airbnbs to feel a part of a neighborhood. We always choose an accommodation with a good kitchen and close to the shops.
Then we choose breads and pastries from nearby bakeries or patisseries, get our essentials at nearby small supermarkets and find the freshest fruit and veg at weekly farmer’s markets.
Our kids love it when we find foods that they have never seen before. Every country has their own delicacies, so why not have a taste? Be adventurous!
My recommendation is: Get to know the locals, their cuisine, and their recipes. Cook up memorable meals while you cut your food budget in half. And as you travel more with the extra dollars that you’ll save, you’ll only grow richer through your experiences and your memories.
9. Save Money on International Telephone Plans
One of the things that adds up quickly on an overseas vacation is international data charges. Of course, you can sign up for your cell phone carrier’s international plan for the period you’re gone, but you will likely find that you exceed the data limits, particularly if you’re using Google Maps. (And who doesn’t as they navigate a new area?)
So instead of spending $20 dollars a day and receiving several notices that you’ve exceeded data limits and racked up even more cost, try one of these two far less expensive solutions:
The first option is to buy a local SIM card. It’s very easy and straight forward. As soon as you arrive in the airport, head to a kiosk (there’s usually one in the airport) and request to purchase a SIM card.
You can frequently get two weeks of data that will see you through texting, Internet searches, Google Map use and even posting to Facebook and Instagram for under $40 or so. (Most apps are typically big data sucks!) The cashier will even install it for you. Hang on to your original SIM card as you’ll need to put it back in when you get home.
The only downside of the SIM card approach is that any texts someone sends to your original number will not be received. In fact, they’ll go into the ether and you’ll never know you got them. (If you’re from North America, download WhatsApp and ask your friends and family to communicate that way. It’s what the rest of the world uses for texting.)
The other option–if you’re American and travel internationally frequently—is to sign up for TMobile cell service. You’ll pay the same monthly rate like you do for any carrier but data usage is free in most other countries.
Everything has trade-offs, however. With TMobile, Internet connectivity is sometimes slow unless you pay for a daily upgrade to the plan.
10. Take Long Weekends
Unless you are your own boss, most of us face the challenge of limited time off when planning trips. In fact, in some countries, avid travelers can feel stuck working with only two weeks or a month of time off annually.
Here’s what to do: Take advantage of holiday weekends. Public holidays frequently deliver an extra day for a free long weekend to travel. (Or even a four-day weekend.) Best of all, it’s easy to advance plan travel since the Human Resources Department of a company can often share published holiday dates a year in advance.
While a long weekend can feel short, it’s also a great way to sample somewhere new. While working in the United States, I used numerous long weekends to check out new neighboring states and major cities. (Martha’s Vineyard is an easy weekend from NYC, for instance.) Then when winter rolled around, I turned my attention to scenic ski resorts across the country.
Now that I live in South Korea, I use long weekends to travel to completely different countries and have since traveled to Vietnam, Japan, and the Philippines. While it may sound daunting, those published holidays mean early planning for saving money on advance tickets.
So if you’re short on time, use long weekends to scratch that travel itch!
11. Steal Tour Itineraries
My biggest time saver and money-saving hack for luxury travel on a budget both time and money wise is to use the big tours as my planning aid. I take the tour I would love to do and dismantle the itinerary. Here’s how: I look at where they stay, where they go, and the route they take.
Then I research the hotels used and the tour companies they partner with, as there is usually a third party involved. Next, I choose the locations that I would love to visit and piece them together to fit my budget and time limitations. This way I can have my dream adventure on my terms.
On numerous occasions, this approach has helped me fit a week-long trip into an available weekend For instance, once I condensed a weeklong tour in Finland down to three nights. I stayed in the same hotel, but rather than repeat activities I’d done in the past, I looked for new activities offered by the same tour operator.
So instead of visiting the reindeer farm I’d seen before, I went dog sledding and cross country skiing. The savings by booking myself? Over €500 to enjoy the most meaningful activities to me. And that allowed me to save my annual leave from work (and money) to spend on longer trips that tour companies just don’t offer.
12. Find Free Things to Do!
contributed by Patrick at Germanbackpacker.com
One advice I could give you to enjoy a better travel experience while also traveling on the cheap is focusing on authentic, free things to do and visit at your destination. If I visit a new city, I love attending a “free walking tour” – these tours are typically funded only by tips, guaranteeing you an engaging and fun guide.
I’ve always enjoyed memorable experiences on these tours, since it’s also an easy opportunity to get to know other travelers and gain local insights. It’s a great way to meet other solo travelers too. After the tour is over, most people are normally looking for a place to eat, connect and grab a bite together.
While couch surfing is mostly known as a website connecting travelers with locals who host tourists for free, I’ve also used the app many times just as a way to connect with locals over a meal or activity while staying at my hotel. Y
You’ll always meet excited and open-minded locals on Couchsurfing who are more than willing to show you around the city or meet you for a drink.
I’ve made some good friends this way! For example, during my recent visit to London, I had beers with a few locals and travelers who I met online. They’re friends now.
And in places where it might be a bit harder to meet other travelers—like in Yekaterinburg (Russia) or Khartoum (Sudan)—I just posted a public message on the city board explaining that I’d be in town on certain dates. Locals always reached out offering to meet me and to show me around.
13. Use Travel Credit Cards
What better way to rack up free airline miles and hotel stays than with the money you’re already spending on other monthly expenses? That’s where travel credit cards come in. There’s a whole array of cards that come with different benefits and costs. (You can find a current round-up of best values here.)
What they have in common is that they reward travel, frequently offering two or three times the points on travel-related purchases and generous sign-up bonuses. You can then pay for hotel or airfares with points instead of cash.
This is also a perfect example of how I combine many of the travel hacks listed above to earn free travel. We enjoyed a beautiful two weeks in a private villa in the south of France (right next to a gorgeous national park) in fall 2019 this way. It was a home exchange that was owed to us so there was no cost.
I cut costs further by watching for flash sales from Scott’s Cheap Flights (mentioned earlier) from LAX or SAN to Nice or Paris. Then I booked $600 round-trip tickets and car rental using the points I’ve racked up from Chase. (Be sure to choose a card with no foreign transaction fees.)
I stocked the kitchen from the local farmer’s market and patisserie to save on food, while also booking several destination restaurants. That two weeks in the South of France cost about the same as staying home!
As an American who loves long weekend getaways in the states, I was thrilled to qualify for two years of free companion fares on Southwest Airlines by combining sign-up bonuses on a business and personal card in 2019.
We also qualified for a third year of Southwest Companion fares in 2020 by each opening a Southwest business card. And remember, Southwest also flies to Costa Rica, Mexico, Aruba, Bahama, and more!
Also consider a premium credit card, like those in the Chase family. I’ve loved my Chase Sapphire Reserve the last three years. While it comes with a hefty $450 annual fee, $300 of that is credited back through travel-related purchases.
The $150 in fees I actually pay (after the credit) provides airport lounge access, one free application for Global Entry annually (expedited US customs), and outstanding travel insurance (including primary rental car insurance and travel delays or cancellations).
Unfortunately, Chase raised the fee of the Sapphire Reserve yet higher in 2020 so I’ll likely be trading it in for another card with a better value proposition before my card expires this year. My strategy will remain just the same though as I work to minimize fees and maximize points and miles to afford more travel.
14. Make Your Travel Dollar Go Further
Aside from using strategies to accumulate points and miles for cheaper flights and accommodations, you can shave thousands off the cost of your trip by being smart about expenses while traveling.
Saving money when you’re actually traveling is one of the very best ways to ensure you have funds for your next trip!
When we travel, we typically eat out just one restaurant meal daily. (And we research and book ahead to make sure it’s a memorable one!) We also plan trip itineraries that judiciously mix bucket list sites in high-cost cities with more time in off-the-beaten-path villages.
Travel just 30 minutes from Paris and you’ll eat just as well for a fraction of the cost. You’ll also find you enjoy a more rejuvenating trip with more authentic experiences than if you fill your itinerary standing in lines at popular tourist sites.
We’ll also plan on a portable breakfast like coffee, yogurt, and granola that fits in a hotel mini fridge if we’re not staying in an Airbnb with a kitchen. Prix-fixe lunches (three-course meals) out in major cities cost far less than dinner in the same places.
Spend time collecting regional specialty foods in open-air markets during your days and then stop for an evening picnic to taste-test jams, pastries, and specialty meats at sunset when the spirit moves you.
If you are visiting expensive locales like New York City, London or Paris for many days, invest in a city pass. It’s one of my top museum tips! You’ll pay just one price to access museums and transportation for multiple days.
15. Be a Tourist in Your Own Town
When I’m between trips and feeling that wanderlust grip me, there’s just one thing to do: See my own town with fresh eyes. Have you actually been to those famous landmarks that tourists visit in your area? Have you explored attractions that make for an easy day trip?
One year when our kids were young and money was tight, we planned a staycation in our area where we went on a day hike to the mountains, visited Disneyland, spent time at the beach, and ate out at local restaurants that were family favorites. Last summer, we booked an Airbnb experience for a private sunset sail in San Diego’s harbor.
What about a walking tour with a local guide? Or a food tour? Resist the temptation to spend weekends at home doing errands and laundry.
Try new restaurants. Explore a new neighborhood. The sky’s the limit!
Need more inspiration to travel more? Check out my interview with Nomadic Matt, who roams the globe as a full-time digital nomad.
“It’s better to see something once than hear about it a thousand times.”
1. How can I travel the world cheaply?
First, set a daily budget and stick to it! Sign up to be a house sitter (see above) where you can watch pets in exchange for free lodging. If you sign up for a house sitting website, you can be notified when gigs in your preferred destinations become available.
Join a travel rewards program to earn and bank free airline and hotel miles. Then be flexible by choosing your destination by what’s on sale and where there are last-minute deals.
2. How much money do I need to travel the world for a year?
The amount you’ll need will vary widely upon the destinations you choose (Paris is quite expensive while Thailand is not) and the style in which you travel.
Are you a backpacker who’s comfortable with hostels or do you typically stay in luxury hotels? On a $100 per day budget, you can expect to spend around $36,500 in a year.
3. How can I travel for free?
In addition to home exchanging and housesitting (both described above), you could teach English abroad, become a WWOOFer (where you trade your labor for a free stay), do short- or long-term volunteering, join a government-funded “discover your roots” visit to the “old country” based on your heritage, crew a yacht, or even give up your seat on an overbooked flight for travel credit. Get creative!
4. How can I afford travel in retirement?
The most important thing is to set a budget before you head out. This will determine your travel choices.
If your retirement funds are limited, you may be happily surprised how much further they go if you live in spots popular with retirees. (Think Mexico, Costa Rica, Portugal).
If you’re hoping for London, however, you may need to consider a home swap or house sitting.
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