When it comes to traveling, what’s the biggest lie you tell yourself about why you can’t see the world? For most of my adult life, I rehearsed the lie that I’d never be able to afford to travel internationally off my income alone, so all of my adventures would have to be domestic. ?Every dollar I made was allocated for bills and my savings account, and after factoring in monthly miscellaneous expenses, there was always little left for a serious travel budget. Thankfully, everything I’d believed about the life I wanted to live and the adventures I wanted to have were challenged. With each domestic trip, I learned creative ways to cut costs and budget effectively. Before long, I was ready to put my skills to use overseas.
The travel bug first hit in 2014, the year my best friend and I took a cross-country road trip from Maryland to Los Angeles, California. She was making the big move to L.A., so we decided that driving would give us an exciting multiple-city vacation while cutting costs on shipping her belongings across the country.?We hit eleven cities over seven days, and utilized various travel apps to help maximize our time on the road. The following year, we took everything we’d learned on the first adventure and planned a trip abroad. We had discussed dreams of backpacking across Europe many times before, but 2015 was the year we’d finally put action behind our words.
By October 2015, thirty days after leaving for our backpacking journey, I’d successfully traveled to ten cities in seven countries using only the funds from one paycheck. As I reflect back on my journey, I see that my experience isn’t one-of-a-kind, and such an adventure is attainable for anyone who’s serious about properly planning. So, how do you ditch the money concerns and live your best life overseas?
- Flight deals are your friends. The most intimidating part of traveling overseas is that dreadful flight cost; depending on the destination, you can spend upwards of $1,500 on international flights. Knowing this, keeping a keen eye out for flight deals is crucial. Set Google alerts, shop around on discount airfare sites, and try to remain flexible on travel dates in case your trip falls during a popular vacation season. Additionally, don’t be afraid to fly with airlines you’ve never heard of before. Internationally-based flights, while not as popular in the states, often have a great reputation abroad and even better prices. For example, we flew to and from Europe on WOWAir, an Icelandic airline that only flies out of four U.S. cities and stops through Reykjavík, Iceland. While completely foreign to us, WOWAir is wildly popular in Europe, had an incredible flight crew, and the best part? The prices. Our flight from Baltimore’s BWI Airport to Amsterdam was only $333, and returning to BWI was only $89! This wasn’t a flight deal, either; even almost two years later, their flights are still this unbelievable.
- Don’t check a bag. This may seem like an impossible feat, but you can save around $100 per person with a carry-on versus checking luggage. For 30 days, I had nothing but an industrial-sized backpack and paid zero luggage fees, thanks to handy vacuum-sealed bags. For my trip, I used four bags—one for four pairs of pants, one for seven shirts, another for undergarments and pajamas, and the last for sweaters. On the surface, it seems excessive, but the vacuum-sealed bags allowed it to fit into the backpack with ease. And since they’re re-sealable without the use of a machine, reloading clothes was a breeze.
- Break away from hotels. While hotels are easy and convenient, they’re also your most expensive option. Believe it or not, I spent only $125 on lodging my entire 30-day trip. How? Well, aside from a night in a hotel and one night in a hostel, we kicked off our trip with family and friends. A relative in Amsterdam housed us for our first five days, and then he connected us with a friend in Berlin who opened her home for another five. Having the connection of family and friends, even distant ones, allows you to allocate funds for the things that truly matter: experiences.
If you’re not able to connect with relatives or friends, try a hosting service like Airbnb. Airbnb allows local residents to rent rooms or the entire home to visitors at rates much cheaper than hotels. It’s truly a “home away from home,” with amenities, comfort, and sometimes even a host who makes meals for renters. To ease any concerns, Airbnb conducts background checks of the hosts and provides extensive profiles of everyone on the site. Renters may see photos of the home, read reviews from other guests, and communicate directly with the host. Airbnb is quickly becoming the preferred method of lodging amongst travelers who want an authentic experience abroad.
We took a more adventurous route with the Couchsurfing app. Couchsurfing is similar to Airbnb, except the host stays in the home with the guests and offers a couch, air mattress, or spare room for travelers. Did I mention that it’s 100% free? The traveler simply makes their journey public, including the number of travelers and number of nights needed, and the app alerts hosts in the area. If the host has an opening, he or she will visit the profile of the traveler to get a better idea of who will be staying. Travelers and hosts must include details like gender, age, lifestyle information and even religious affiliation to understand just who they’ll be interacting with. Because the profiles thrive on reviews, hosts provide excellent service to ensure they’ll receive good reviews, which help tremendously when they decide to travel abroad using the app. In fact, our host in Vienna, Austria used our great reviews to boost her ratings, which came in handy when she backpacked through the U.S. months later. While this option is more adventurous, we were fortunate enough to have hosts who cooked, showed us around the city, and focused on building lasting friendships. If you can help it, opt for a rental home versus a hotel, which will save you hundreds and offer a unique experience.
- Plan your meals. Sure, you’ll sacrifice gaining the inevitable vacation weight, but planning meals helps cut costs tremendously. With each city we visited, we researched a signature dish and allocated funds for our meals. In Italy, we budgeted for gelato, pizza, and pasta, and decided which meals we’d splurge on. Instead of stopping for food while wandering aimlessly, we created a plan and spent a little more on meals large enough for two. We splurged on craft beer in cities like Vienna and Prague, but kept alcohol consumption low which kept our pockets happy.
Most importantly,? live as a traveler, NOT a tourist. Global tourism is a trillion-dollar industry for a reason. That reason? Tourists! Flights, hotel/resort costs, rental cars, and “famous” restaurants all contribute to the economy of the country, so prices are inflated. Look for ways to merge with the city and live like a local instead of flocking towards places listed on popular travel sites. Talk to local residents to learn about hidden gems that don’t market to tourists eager to spend money. Sure, you may have to learn the local language, but that’s part of the journey! After 30 days, seven countries, and only one paycheck worth of income spent, I’ve learned that there’s endless beauty in learning about the culture, food, and people of a distant land, and it doesn’t take a fortune to do it.