The Perils of Travel: Money, Money, Money

Following up on the last post regarding “What Travel Means,” and in response to a reader’s question regarding the often exorbitant cost of global travel, I thought I’d write about ways in which one can travel without breaking the bank. First off, if travel is a priority, then it is likely you will spend most of your expendable income on it—for example, you’ll forgo a mortgage, kids, fancy cars, brand-name accessories, etc. etc.

Vietnam, 1996

I, for one, am all for making travel a priority, and as a result, make it a point to save in order to get away from home. This may not be for everyone. That said, even for those on the most stretched budgets, there are many ways in which to have a wonderful experience abroad. Here are a few suggestions to get you on your way (and all photos are collected from my travels over the past 15 years):

1) Spend Smartly (Part 1): Apply for a credit card that accrues rewards points for each $ you spend (my personal favorite: American Express). Keep a watchful eye for your card’s promotional offers (for example, my Amex recently offered triple points for any airfare purchased in the next 3 months and last year I received double points on all gas and groceries). Sit back and watch the points (which equal airline miles and hotel stays!) add up… and count the days to your next getaway.

China, 1996

2) Spend Smartly (Part 2): Watch your purchases both at home and abroad. That double soy vanilla latte at Starbucks you drink every day? At $4-5 per day 5 days a week, over the course of 6 months, that little coffee costs you $600! That’s the equivalent to two nights (or even three or four in this economy) at a swanky hotel on the beach in Thailand! Shop at vintage and thrift stores if you must, scour flea markets (more on this in upcoming posts) and be frugal. Set aside a “travel fund” where you can stash cash for your next trip and put it in something higher-yield and less liquid (perhaps a 6 month or 1 year CD).

3) Air Wars: Here’s where those Rewards Points can come in handy—international travel! But aside from the points, it pays to be ruthless and persistent in your quest to find cheap air travel. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Price shop websites like kayak.com, expedia.com, and sidestep.com. When at all possible, set up fare alerts so the site can let you know when prices drop. Flexibility in dates (and the # of stopovers) also makes for cheaper prices. I’ve also found that searching at different times of day/during the week can make a difference in fare prices as well – shop around for a few days to get a feel for this (I find that weekends are generally better).
  • Student discounts galore: If you’re a student (even a grad student!) sign up for (and look for) discounts at STA Travel.
  • Courier travel used to be the best way to find cheap airfare. This is not as easy these days with the increased security in air travel, but still worth a try. Here’s a good place to start your research.
  • Make friends with someone in the airline industry. Okay, that may sound strange, but having friends in “high” places (pun intended) pays off — friends can easily dispense “buddy passes” for which you will only pay taxes on international travel and have access even to business class seats. The same rule applies for accommodations (like large hotel chains).

South Africa, 2010

4) Go the Grant/Fellowship Route: A perpetual student? Fund your travel habit by applying for the numerous academic grants and fellowships available for the nerds among us – the Fulbright is a good option for many. For a more comprehensive list, contact your university’s scholarship office.

5) Travel in the low season: Don’t mind a monsoon or two? Pack your bags when everyone else is staying home. This means traveling to Southeast Asia, the Caribbean, and Central America during the summer months. This also means traveling to the Southern Hemisphere during the Northern Hemisphere’s summer (and vice-versa). In general, avoid major holidays – and this often means more than just the well-known Western holidays like Christmas and Easter… traveling to China during Chinese New Year or the Mid-Autumn Festival, for example, can not only be expensive but also an agoraphobic’s nightmare.

This guy looks game for a trip! (China, 1996)

6) Travel with a friend: Sharing the expenses of accommodation, food, and wine can work wonders on your budget. Make friends with travel-savvy folks and start planning!

7) Be friendly!: Here’s the best part about traveling—it creates more opportunities for travel! One of the perks of being abroad is meeting like-minded travelers, often from all over the world. And in the era of Facebook, keeping in touch has never been easier! Take that new friend up on their offer to visit them in Prague or Timbuktu, but just be sure to be ready to return the favor.

8.) Stay and Play Local: I’ve found that often the cheapest way to travel is in a group (several friends or family members) and to stay at home or two homes on your vacation. Some great websites to search for rental homes abroad are: vrbo.com and homeaway.com. If you already own a home in the States, another option is to house swap with someone – this is often free! Finally, bed and breakfasts are a great alternative and often provide really homespun experiences (I’ll never forget Gerald’s Place in Edinburgh with Gerald’s homemade Canadian sausage for breakfast).

Ahhh... Costa Rica, 2008

9) Know Your Guides: Let’s Go (my personal favorite), Lonely Planet, and Rough Guides are all great resources for budget-friendly travel. I’m biased towards Let’s Go (I wrote and edited for them in college) especially as their guides are the most up to date of the three.

10) Volunteer Your Way Around the World: If you can find a cheap flight, there are several ways to stretch your dollar (for quite a long time) if you are willing to put in a little elbow grease. Sometimes, quite literally. To start, here are a few volunteering options that will at least pay your way to live/travel abroad:

  • WWOOFING!: Although it sounds like a nasty cough, WWOOF (which stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) is a great organization, particularly those with a green thumb. Through WWOOF, you are put in touch with organic farms in your country of choice; you can then work for a predetermined amount of time on the farm in exchange for room and board. (I plan on posting more on this soon as I have a few friends who have traveled using this route.)
  • Teaching English: Teaching English abroad is one of the most foolproof ways to support your traveling lifestyle, providing you are a native English teacher and have a college degree. There are always countless opportunities, especially in Asia, Africa, and South America. To start, go here.
  • Have a Talent?: Whatever your talent, there’s probably a use for it abroad. Bartender? Waitress? Engineer? Go online and start planning your adventure…

Wish You Were Here! (Costa Rica, 2010)

11) Start a blog (or become a travel writer): So I have yet to reap the benefits of this blog, but I have *heard* that some bloggers can make a living writing travel blogs. Another way, of course, is to become a travel writer. I financed a trip to China in college by doing this (hooray for Let’s Go!), but there are certainly many opportunities in journalism, although you will have to build a portfolio and start small.

12) Prioritize: Finally, traveling is all about prioritizing. Travel is definitely expensive, especially during a recession (and especially especially during a Great Recession). If you love being abroad, perhaps considering a move abroad is the way to go so that you can enjoy all the perks of living in a foreign locale. If you cannot afford to travel internationally, make the most of “staycations” – go camping in a national or state park, drive out of town (perhaps without GPS?), or seek a good last minute deal at a local hotel. Being a traveler is about having a traveler’s mindset. To get in the mood, I highly suggest Alain de Botton’s The Art of Travel. Get reading and best of luck!

**Please feel free to post any additional suggestions on the art of traveling cheaply through the comments function below.**

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About Kaitlin Solimine

Kaitlin Solimine was raised in New Hampshire but has considered China a second home for the past two decades. She is the author of the award-winning forthcoming novel Empire of Glass and co-founder of Hippo Reads, a media start-up connecting academic insights with real world issues. She lives in Singapore.
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One Response to The Perils of Travel: Money, Money, Money

  1. My friend Cecilia alerted me to another great way to travel for cheap – free!: http://www.wazzamba.com/wazzamba-web/wazzamba/en/index.html

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