Today I take a break from my adventure stories, and mourn for the loved ones I left behind in the cold, frigid winter of the Northern Midwest. A good portion of my blog readers fall into that category, and probably hate me more and more with each post about enjoying the outdoors without catching frostbite on my nose. As the envy of a region, I figured it would be wise to share my secrets and tips on how I can afford to travel (and run away from the cold) on a limited budget, and how you can too!
1. SAVE, SAVE, SAVE!
I cannot stress the importance of saving every penny you can before and during your trip. I worked my butt off for 8 months in order to afford traveling for a few months, plus I picked up side gigs like house sitting and babysitting for extra income. I was careful not to waste money on unneeded purchases, and put every bit of my paycheck I didn’t need into my Savings Account. Saving money is important obviously to fund the trip, but also to have money set aside for bills and an emergency fund. Since I’m traveling for a long period of time, I calculated how much my bills total for the time I’m gone and made sure I had at least that stashed away as “untouchable” money in my account. Then I added another chunk for unforeseen expenses such as car repairs (I needed that!) or hospital bills (haven’t needed that, knock on wood). My point is, save all you can so you can travel with peace of mind.
2. Choose Where You Stay Wisely
Why waste $150 on a hotel stay when you can spend $35 on an Airbnb? Unless you are planning on spending your entire vacation in your hotel room, there’s no reason for your biggest expense to be a bed and shower. I am a lover and advocate of using Airbnb.com to book a room, an entire house or apartment, or even a tent space. It’s not always the case, but many times when I am comparing the cost and value of hotels on discount sites like Travelocity with the cost of an Airbnb rental, Airbnb wins out by a good chunk of money. It’s also pretty cool because you literally get to live like a local, and if you’re renting a room in a house you’ll probably meet the really awesome owners who can give you tips on the area.
My next suggestion is that if a friend offers up their place (even if it’s just their living room), take them up on it! Not only are you saving a ton of money, but you also get to hang out with someone who loves you enough to welcome you into their home. Buy them a cool souvenir or a bottle of wine as a thank you, and be a considerate guest. My home base for my winter travels has been Los Angeles. There’s no way I’d be able to afford to live here for a few months and stick to my budget if my friend didn’t offer up her living room for rent.
3. Go Grocery Shopping
Another huge waste of money is eating out every single day. Once again, unless you’re a foodie who is traveling purely to taste local cuisine, nourishing your body shouldn’t be a major expense. When I go somewhere to hike for a few days I only eat out once, usually after my most difficult day. The rest of time I eat meals I can make in my hotel/Airbnb room, and pack lots of snacks for when I’m out exploring. The average meal eating out on vacation is around $15 for me, and when I go grocery shopping when I roll into town I typically spend less than $15 for my water, apples, carrots, bread, peanut butter, and jelly.
4. Go the Postcard or Seashell Route for Souvenirs
We all want to show our family and friends we were thinking of them in our travels by bringing them home something cool, but souvenirs can quickly get spendy and the costs add up. Although I think the coolest thing you can bring home for them are your awesome stories and excitement about life, nothing showcases where you’ve been like a professional photo you can write a note on for $0.25. Five for $1?? Awesome! Or if you’re somewhere with unique rocks or a beach littered with seashells, find the coolest ones to give as gifts. If you want to cut the cost down to zero, take a photo on your camera of something on vacation that reminded you of that person and send it to them on your phone or through social media. Remember, people don’t expect you to go on travels to buy them extravagant things (and if they do, they shouldn’t). Don’t drop money you don’t have on something that will collect dust on a shelf.
5. Be a Deal-Sniffing Shark
Really want to take a 2-hour cruise but don’t want to pay $30 for a ticket? Check out Groupon.com for discounted rates, or check the tourist brochure rack for a $5 off coupon. Apply this frame of mind to everything you do. When going out to eat, look for a highly rated place on TripAdvisor with only one $ or two $$ by it. Need gas? Search gas stations on Google Maps to find the best rate in your area. Savings add up quickly.
Or better yet…
6. Take Advantage of the Free Things To Do
Everywhere I go I do a quick Google search of “free things to do near me,” and I end up with a variety of activities that won’t cost me a dime. I’ve found some pretty cool things this way, like free museums in the National Parks, local hikes with beautiful landscaping and statues, and even a lemon-shaped house to take pictures of. Some of the quirkiest things I’ve seen have been a result of that Google search. You never know what you’re going to find!
7. Ask for Travel Items as Gifts (if you celebrate birthdays or holidays with presents)
My family celebrated Christmas with me before I left for my road trip, and I got all the snacks and hiking supplies I needed for my entire trip, plus Subway gift cards to feed me for weeks. My brother even bought me a SirusXM subscription so I wouldn’t have to lug my scratched CDs across the country (my family is awesome). People will love giving you something you will use. You can even show them how much you love it by sending them a picture of you using it somewhere awesome (combine this with tip #4).
There are many ways to save money while traveling. If you plan your expenses ahead, save extra money before you travel, and cut corners when possible, you can travel without depleting your Savings Account. Need more tips? Feel free to comment or email me with questions.
Happy budget travels!