Traveling can seem distant and unattainable to those of us without a high disposable income. Once upon a time, I believed that traveling was a privilege exclusively reserved for the wealthy. After meeting many inspiring travelers who have found a way to live their dreams, I am happy to announce that this is not true. Travel is for the determined and resourceful. As a budget travel enthusiast, I have done extensive research –both online and first-hand– on ways to travel not only inexpensively but creatively and immersively.
Here are some travel hacks to put to use immediately:
Get a cheap flight
Plane tickets are expensive, and navigating the complicated landscape of online flight booking can be intimidating. Despite this, there are many ways to reduce the flight expenses that are holding back your dream trip. I make sure to subscribe to airline websites for regular updates on flash sales and flight deals. This is how I found round trip tickets to Manila from Shanghai for only $220.
I am lucky to have flexibility in choosing my travel dates, but if you work a 9-5 or with set vacation times, it helps to be open-minded about your destinations. Unless your heart is absolutely set on a trip, having flexibility about your destination allows you to find great deals to places you never expected to go to.
Once you have a baseline for ticket prices, it helps to cross check your route on multiple airline search engines. I use Kayak as a starting point, and then check on sites like Momondo, Skyscanner, and Airfarewatchdog to ensure I am getting the lowest price I can.
Searching foreign airlines and local travel information providers directly can help you find deals on smaller airlines overlooked by international search engines. Since I am in China, I use AirAsia, Spring Airlines, and Qunar for savings on plane tickets I would not find elsewhere.
Racking up airline mileage is equivalent to free money. Join frequent-flyer programs and religiously log miles from previous flights. Other easy ways to accumulate miles is signing-up for travel credit cards and earning points for each dollar you spend. Many cards have large sign-up bonuses, and allow you acquire even more points for spending money at partner restaurants, hotels, and retailers. Some great traveler’s credit cards are Chase Sapphire Preferred, which offers 40,000 points if you spend $3000 in 3 months, and Barclaycard Arrival World Mastercard, which offers 40,000 points for $1000 that you spend within the first 90 days. That is a value of $500 and $440 respectively.
Many cards offer additional perks, including waiving foreign transaction fees and free check-ins for luggage. There is a great deal of information available on the Internet these days about travel credit cards. Take advantage of Google and start earning miles immediately for free flights.
Sign up for a bank that does not charge ATM fees
Avoid wasting money on ATM fees and do your research before choosing your bank. The Global ATM Alliance is a joint venture of major international banks that allow cardholders to use their ATM and debit cards interchangeably at ATMs of partner banks with no international fees. Members include Bank of America and Barclays. Some restrictions on countries where this applies do exist, so make sure to always check with Google before each destination!
Stay in cheap accommodation
I am a firm believer that everyone should stay in a hostel at least once. Hostels are a great way to familiarize yourself with the global traveler community and meet like-minded people. They are also extremely affordable. Sites like Hostelworld and Hostelbookers make it easy to find hostels all over the world. In Southeast Asia, you can find hostels for $5-$10 a night. Europe and North America are more expensive, but you can still find reasonable deals between $20 and $50.
For free lodging, try working at a hostel. Many places will offer a place to sleep if you provide basic labor like cleaning or taking care of the front desk. Couchsurfing is another option to meet locals and sleep on a couch for free!
If you are looking for nicer accommodations but are restricted by a budget, websites like AirBnB and Travelmob for the Asia Pacific have listing for apartments, villas, rooms and vacation homes that are more reasonable than five star hotels.
Take public transportation everywhere you go
Cabs are a good way to rack up expenses quickly. Take subways and buses in major cities around the world to avoid high cab fares, or rickshaws and tuk-tuks when you are in Southeast Asia for a quick, cheap thrill. In Shanghai, it costs $5 for me to get to work in a cab, and $0.50 on the subway. In countries where cabs are even more expensive, this cost difference is even larger and accrues mercilessly. Save money on transportation and use it towards visiting more attractions and crossing even more exciting things off your bucket list!
Don’t be scared of street food
Street food and small local restaurants fill you up cheaply and happen to be incredibly delicious. You really experience a culture through its cuisine, so this is a great way to really immerse yourself in your environment as well.
If you are staying in a hostel with a kitchen, you can purchase food from local markets and grocery stores and whip up your own meals. This is a way to save money and make healthy food choices while you are on the road.
Bring your student ID card
With a student ID card, you can get half off at many well known attractions! In China, I saved significant money on entry fees at the Great Wall, Yellow Mountain, and a variety of temples. If you are not a student or have not been one for a while, borrow a friend’s card, use an old university ID, or pass off another card as a student ID. Most places really don’t check that carefully, but we’ll keep that to ourselves.