UPDATE: Check out my newer post, 25 More Ways to Travel Cheap
People always ask how I have the money to travel as much as I do. Well here are a few secrets, my friends! Hopefully you can learn from a few of my mistakes and benefit from some of my tips!
1. The obvious way: travel on budget airlines. When I traveled around Southeast Asia, Air Asia, Jetstar and Tiger were insanely cheap – and I’m talking $65 flights from Bali to Phuket. I couldn’t express how much the phrase “you get what you pay for” applies to these, however, but they [usually] got us where we needed to go.
2. TRIPADVISOR. TRIPADVISOR. TRIPADVISOR. We booked every single hotel after first reviewing them on tripadvisor.com. This website is absolutely essential to get the best value. From splurging on a 5 star hotel in Bangkok (Oriental Residence – best hotel I’ve EVER stayed at) to an amazingly clean and ideally located $20 hotel in Phuket (Simplitel Hotel) – Tripadvisor NEVER let us down. We also always booked through Agoda.com to get discounts and acquire points, instead of going through the actual website.
3. HAGGLE. This obviously can only be done in some countries but it’s possible to pay $25 instead of the advertised $75 to spend the day white water rafting in Bali with transportation, all equipment and lunch included. Just see the advertised price as a suggestion and you’ll probably end up paying half that amount, at most. Don’t be afraid to be ballsy, they love taking advantage of foreigners.
4. Get a little bit of exercise – since it’s usually free and it’s good for you, duh. Go on hikes and check out the natural beauty in every country. Walk places instead of taking cabs/buses and absorb your surroundings. Go jogging on the beach. Swim in the ocean. (Evidence below that the best things in life are free.)
5. Do a little bit of research. A lot of cities will have free festivals (Melbourne had at least one a month) or free museums (the Te Papa museum in Wellington, New Zealand is AMAZING. The colossal squid is out of control.) Research how far your hotel is from the airport & the best way to get there – a quick Google search can turn your $80 cab ride into a [slightly-longer] $4 bus ride. Research if tipping is the custom so you don’t unnecessarily tip your servers in Australia who are already making $25/$30 an hour.
6. Use public transportation. I come from California where the public transport system is essentially non-existent in most cities so everyone has a car. AKA walking down dark, shady subways to catch a train with creepy crackheads shouting obscenities at innocent passer byers did NOT seem appealing. However, how can you argue with $56 a MONTH for unlimited use of the bus, tram & train in Australia (MyKi is essential)– as opposed to $60 a week spent on gas. Public transport may not be the most convenient or the easiest alternative, but it definitely will save you ridiculous amounts of money. Or just get a bicycle and you’re being even more eco-friendly, along with gaining multiple perks (I go on about this in another post).
7. Don’t check luggage!! This is important for several reasons: First of all, you will save HUNDREDS of dollars. It’s anywhere from $25-$50 to check luggage so you can do the math if you’re catching a lot of flights. Learn what the essentials are so you also don’t need to drag around a ton of luggage when travelling.
8. Pay attention to exchange rates. Try to get good rates on different currencies and get it before you go to that country. Call banks and see if they have the currency you need. If the rate is good, get enough for the entire time you’ll be there. This will also help you budget your money because you’ll only have an allocated amount you’re supposed to spend in each country. (Don’t exchange money at airports, the rates are usually terrible.)
9. Get a Charles Schwab bank account or one that will also let you withdraw money on any ATM with no fees. Charles Schwab is an example and you can use any ATM in the world. That means no $5 fees every time you run out of money at a bar and need to withdraw a little bit of cash.
10. Groupons/Scoopons, Living Socials, etc. Superb way to find hidden gems while getting awesome deals. These were especially helpful in Australia where there are hundreds upon hundreds of dining/drinking options that are also twice as expensive as in America. Sign up and get a couple emails a day to get a 3 course meal for $15, a scuba certification class for $150 or a 5 night stay in Fiji for $200. Need I say more?
11. Pregame. I know what you’re thinking and NO – you are not too old to pregame. As much fun as it is to spend $18 on every single cocktail while out each night, try drinking a bit before so you only need to buy a few social drinks at the bar (I’ve perfected this strategy during my college days). Unless, of course, you’re in the Philippines where beer is sometimes 80 cents.
12. Work while you’re abroad. I know, I know – who wants to work while you’re on vacation. My philosophy: you’re life can be a vacation if you work even just a little bit the entire time. If you want to be somewhere a little bit more long term, then get a side job at a bar, café or wherever your calling may be. You’ll make friends, meet the locals and really get a taste of the culture from different perspectives. And you’ll obviously be making some money to fund for the next adventure. It’s a win-win situation.
13. Use Craigslist or Gumtree or whatever site where people can buy & sell essentially anything. I used it to buy a used bicycle and enjoyed dozens of amazing bike rides around Melbourne. Before moving away, I posted it back on Gumtree and sold it for the same amount I bought it for. BOOM.
14. Eat the local food. More often than not, those slightly dodgy-looking hole-in-the-wall places will be the most delicious, authentic food you can get. And also the cheapest. We did make the mistake of eating dog in Thailand (which I would never ever EVER recommend) but it’s all part of the experience, right?
15. Negotiate with cab drivers BEFORE getting in the car (if they refuse to use a meter, which is almost always around Southeast Asia). They can spot tourists a mile away and would LOVE to up their normal fee by 300%. See Tip #3.
16. Blog-stalk. I love reading people’s blogs but one of the more practical benefits is that you can get a first hand take on other people’s experiences traveling where you’re about to go. I blog-stalked like crazy before leaving for Korea and thankfully brought a sufficient amount of deodorant as I was advised since it’s a rare find in this country.
17. If you’re like me and over pack and then also buy way too many clothes abroad, you’ll have to figure out how to get all of your stuff back home. We debated sending a package back but this can be pricey (we’re talking $200 for a 30 pound package from Australia – US). Instead, we packed everything in a giant box and checked an additional bag at the airport. It was still $100 but at least we wouldn’t have to wait weeks for it to arrive. The fun part is lugging around 4 carry-ons and 5 checked items between the two of us.
SEVER TIES AT HOME BEFORE EMBARKING ON LONG TRIPS:
18. Suspend your cell phone for the duration of your trip (AT&T will allow you to do this at $10/month. Other services let you do it for free).
19. Cancel your gym membership (Tip #4 will negate this loss).
20. Sell your car (it’s amazing what no car insurance or car payments will do for your wallet).
21. Work out your housing situation to where you don’t have to pay rent while you’re away (this is where family members come in handy – you might spend some time crashing on their couches) & finish leases or sublet your place.
22. Pay off credit cards before you leave – if you’re spending money to go on a long-term vacay, you probably shouldn’t have debt, anyway! (Easier said than done, right?)
23. Before, in between, and after traveling: sell/give away/throw away your belongings you don’t need. Traveling really makes you realize what’s important in life. So give away that half of your closet that you never wear (if you survived without them for a year, you probably don’t need them). Sell the furniture that you’ve kept in storage for months. Yes, you’ll need stuff when you get back but it’s amazing how much you can minimize if you really try.
SOME EXTRA [SUPER]-POOR MAN’S TIPS:
24. Sleep at airports. Yes, I’m serious. Here’s my logic: if you have a flight early the next morning, what’s the point in paying for another night at a hotel you will barely spend any time in? PLUS – you don’t have to wake up early to get to the airport since you’ll already be there. Another win-win my friend. But please research and make sure the airports are open 24/7 because they WILL kick you out and force you to sleep on the beach, which isn’t as fun as it seems.
25. If you exceed the weight limitation on your carry-on bags (which is a LOT easier than it seems, especially if you follow tip #7), wear the weight. Wear multiple layers and you can easily wear half the weight in your bag (this is actually pretty convenient if you’re sleeping on the beach & need to keep warm because Tip #24 didn’t work out so well). Or, you know, you could just pack light, but where’s the fun in that?
Now that you’ve saved literally hundreds and hundreds of dollars, you can loosen up the purse strings and splurge on the amazing once-in-a-lifetime opportunities that would normally be out of your price range. Being frugal is always good, but even better when it allows you to spend $270 to go scuba diving in the great barrier reef or $600 to to go sky diving in New Zealand. BAM.