Being in my early twenties, I’ve been sent mixed messages about travel:
“Do it while you’re young, before you settle down.”
“Focus on school & building a career and travel later in life.”
“You can’t afford traveling while you’re so young!”
“Travel the world and embrace being young and broke.”
I always thought that studying abroad would be the best way for me to marry my love of travel and education. However, after one meeting, I quickly realized that I couldn’t afford it. In efforts to marry my love of travel while honoring my low-budget-while-getting-an-education plight, I devised a plan that has allowed me to travel internationally on a tight budget. Here’s what I’ve learned.
While I’d love to commend the vagabonds who float around on vibes and claim that the world is their home and their longest relationship is their hair, I simply think they’re crazy. Having a homebase is something I could save money on by sidestepping, but it’s an area I splurge on.
I admire my friends who live full time on the road rent free, windows down, music up. But I’ve found that settling in a place and working hard for a few months allows me to recharge and save up for a few weeks of adventure at a time.
Although I am constantly instagramming pictures from my travels, making it look like I’m always up to something, the truth is I probably uploaded it from the local coffee shop on a study break or in the fifteen minutes between a double shift. Seventy or eighty percent of your time will be working and saving for the twenty or thirty percent of your time that you actually spend traveling.
Tourism is becoming, like, touristy. As millennials, we are so over the classics. Just show us the cafe where the locals hang out. We don’t even want the Eiffel Tower visible from our corner by the espresso machine. We stay for a few days, learn the barista’s name and feel entitled to roll our eyes at the hoards of people with cameras around their necks and gift shop bags weighing them down. But hear me out… what if you were the barista? Working abroad is a great way to afford living in your dream place for a while. It gives you an automatic group, your co-workers. It pays. It usually allows a much longer stay. Volunteering is also a viable option, as most volunteer positions come with room and board. My top recommendations for employment abroad are: Tour guide, WWOOF volunteer, au pair, and teaching abroad (most asian programs even pay for your flight!).
Room and Board
If you’re planning an extended stay, there are lots of options that won’t break the bank. Airbnb is growing exponentially. While it is cheaper than a hotel, you can do even better. Although I think it goes without saying that hostels are cheap and you should stay in them, HOSTELS ARE CHEAP AND YOU SHOULD STAY IN THEM.
Check out the surrounding suburbs instead of staying in the heart of your destination. Use couchsurfing.com. Consider house sitting for a free, hopefully clean, place to crash.
For all of my family reading this, I have never hitchhiked and absolutely do not condone it… but… let’s just say that I have a friend who got around this way for a while and they’re still alive. While I wouldn’t necessarily do this in America, it’s very common in most other places. Be smart. Don’t do it at night or in sketchy areas. Biking, train passes, buses, walking, and mopeds are also great modes of transportation that are worth the investment if you’re staying long term.
To and Fro
This is where you’ll spend the most-- getting to your destination. I’ll spew the same five flying tips at you that you’ve seen splashed across the cover of every travel magazine ever, because I think they’re important enough to reiterate:
- Fly indirect
- Be flexible with your dates
- Go in low season
- Get a travel credit card (mix Chase Sapphire and Starwood Preferred Guest AMEX to combine points)
- Compare LITERALLY EVERYTHING
There’s a romanticism in impulsive travel, but it’s far more logistic to plan ahead. Like, way ahead. Hermit up for a few days and do your research about six months in advance. Search for flights incognito, read the fine print, mix airlines, and check for student discounts.
Helpful Sites / Apps for Cheap Travel
Airfare Watchdog: Exploiting hidden airline deals for you since 1999 (disclaimer, I don’t actually know when they were founded).
Flyertalk: Frequent flyer community. Here I wanted to say “not a chat room unless you count customer support,” but it totally is. Utilize this for helpful tips from people just like you, learning the tricks of the trade and ballin' on a budget.
Oneworld Awards: This little gem allows you to combine total points from multiple airlines instead of individually scrounging up ten little piles.
Couchsurfing: Stay with strangers! Save your mom a heart attack and tell her you’re staying in a hotel. This site is actually super safe and reliable. All hosts have been verified and you can check their references before you make a decision.
Ryan Air: A stupid cheap airline if you’re traveling light. Mic drop.
Student Universe: Students, these guys feel your pain and they’re here to help. They offer discounted rates to students on flights, hotels, and tours.
Sky Scanner: They’ll keep an eye out for you and give you a heads up when it’s time to book.
Meredith Reitemeier is a writer, artist, traveler, photographer, and climber living in Fayetteville, Arkansas. She works as a guide for the university outdoor center and is always planning and saving for her next adventure. You can follow her journeys at @reitemeier or thoughtstashblog.