How to Travel Cheap
I believe that to travel cheap is to travel often. Read on and I’ll tell you how I manage to travel cheap AND often while still maintaining a full time career.
I keep seeing all these articles and blog posts about “Why I quit my job to travel the world” and don’t get me wrong, it’s incredibly inspiring to see people following their dreams. But, just like some people like to travel and not plan a thing vs. me who plans almost every detail before a trip – that’s not my dream, and may not be yours. And that’s okay.
There’s so much pressure from social media these days, and it often makes us feel like we’re missing out if we’re not doing what everyone else is doing. But that’s just not the case. Social media is the highlight reel and doesn’t show the full story. Sadly, it’s becoming a huge problem affecting people these days. I think that whatever you want to do is exactly what is right for you.
I was raised by my grandparents, who were the product of the depression. The most prudent lesson they taught me was how to be prepared for the future. So, the fact is – I am concerned for my future. I don’t need much to live on in retirement since I really don’t have many needs and I live a fairly simple life besides my adventures. In retirement I hope to buy land and adopt a bunch of senior dogs to give them room to play! But, I also don’t want to be working full time into my 70’s and 80’s. Therefore, I need my job now to prepare for a comfortable retirement. Some people make money off their blog while traveling, and that’s great, but not everyone can do that, and not everyone wants to do that.
So, if you’re not going to quit your job to travel the world…how can you still travel cheap and see the world with limited vacation time?
People often give me crap about how much I travel. As if traveling as much as I do means not working and/or not saving any money or having any responsibilities. I work hard, and I am very responsible with my money. Here are some tips for how I manage to travel cheap and see as much as possible while still working a 9-5 job.
- Take long weekends, and drink a lot of coffee
One way to travel cheap is to take advantage of those weekends. Some people are lucky enough to work from home occasionally – use it! If you can work from home sparingly, head somewhere on a Thursday night and work from home all day Friday. Sure, you’re still working Friday, but then you are where you want to be vs having to travel on a Friday (and it’s often cheaper). If you can’t work from home or get off early, leave after work Friday and take the first flight home Monday morning, or the latest flight on Sunday. I usually prefer the early Monday flights because there are fewer flight delays.
Or drive somewhere nearby! We go to the Sierras a lot, even though it’s a 5 hour drive, and the local southern California mountains for a quick weekend of backpacking. We’ll often leave around 6:30pm, after traffic, and get to our destination real late. Yes, we spend a lot of time driving, but the views make it worthwhile.
You’ll need lots of coffee come Monday morning because you’ll likely be tired, but at least you’ll have great stories to look back on when you’re older!
Don’t splurge on every trip
The way I look at it, the less I spend on each trip, the more trips I get to go on! So, pick your poison. Do you want to stay at that really expensive hotel with all the bells and whistles? Or could you be fine staying at the nice, clean, simple hotel or hostel that you’re barely going to spend any time at anyway?
Maybe, take one long weekend where you stay at a nice place, and then for the longer trip, stay at a hostel with a private room and a shared bathroom. It’s all about prioritizing what’s most important. And if you want to travel cheap, the bells and whistles can’t come with every trip. For me, it’s more important to see as much of the world as I can vs staying in the nicest hotel.
Plus, I find that I get better local tips from people staying at the hostels and homestays than I would the larger resorts, in terms of what to see, where to eat, etc. Hotels will send you to the people they’ve partnered with, and sometimes that’s fine. But the smaller places send you to the good stuff they go to.
Traveling, I think, should be about immersing yourself in the local culture. Not paying a ton of money to do what you could in your own backyard.
I know, that’s an evil word for some people. Spontaneity is the spice of life, or something like that. But not if you want to travel cheap.
As much as your life might be spicy with your spontaneity, it also may be inefficient and costly. Planning ahead means that you may be able to find better deals on hotels, transportation and activities. You’ll also be able to spend your time doing cool things vs researching from scratch while you’re there, or missing out on things you didn’t even know were there.
Touristy stuff is usually easy to fine, but there is so much more out there to discover, and often only if you know to look for it. You don’t need to plan the whole trip down to every last detail, but have A plan.
I was able to do a quick week trip to Iceland for less than $2,000 with airfare from San Diego after everything (hotels, car, gas, food, booze). I got to see a ton of stuff in a very short period of time, because I planned ahead. We left some days open to explore and be spontaneous, but I did have a plan for where we were staying each night. I also did research on what there was to see and do in those areas. It was helpful so that we had an idea each day of what we could do, vs starting from scratch in the morning. This also worked to our benefit because the ice climbing tour we did on the Glacier is often sold out if you don’t book ahead of time, and this was the highlight of our trip!
Explore more where you live
I think when people think of vacation, they often think of far-away lands. But, there is so much in our own backyard that we miss out on by doing that! I think a combination of both is important, but by doing trips locally more often, you get to still adventure and travel cheap. Much cheaper than if you try to only go international all the time.
When I was still living paycheck to paycheck, I did a lot of camping trips, and slept on a lot of couches. It wasn’t glamorous, but it allowed me to travel cheap and get a head start on seeing the world. I actually started my adventurous life when I was unemployed and had to find free things to do – and hiking is very free once you have the gear! If you don’t have gear, find friends to borrow stuff from (and make them dinner to say thanks).
Yes, this means your weather will likely not be perfect, but it also means it will be cheaper and less crowded, which for me is a much better experience. We hiked Everest Base Camp early season which meant we got hit with 2-3 feet of snow along the way.
But it also meant that we were treated to the most incredible snow-capped views of the Himalayan Mountains, and pretty much all to ourselves because people weren’t able to make it to Lukla with the storm. The hike was immensely more difficult, but we had serenity vs staring at a strangers’ feet the whole way.
Off-season may not give you the best weather, but you can travel cheap with fewer crowds, and that’s often well worth it. If the busy season is May through September, check out prices in late April and early October. The weather will still be comfortable enough!