With international travel once again becoming an option for many Americans the pursuit of dream travel destinations is once again becoming a reality. Although the pandemic has changed many aspects of travel one thing that has not changed is the high cost associated with international travel. Many of these costs however can be mitigated by using some creative planning and a bit of preparation.
Alex Hagerty had just graduated from University and purchased a home when he began to work on another life goal of his, to travel the world. In lieu of earning a high income and having unlimited paid time off, he had to get creative in finding alternative ways to accomplish this. After months of research, he had booked his first trip to Europe and was hooked on travel from there. Over the next three years, he managed to travel to 41 countries all while maintaining a full-time job and rarely spending more than $500 on any trip including flights. Below are some of his best tips to travel without breaking your budget.
1. Utilize airline miles and points
By far the biggest expense of international travel will be the cost of flights so bringing this expense down will reduce your budget dramatically. You don’t have to fly on an airline to earn miles, many airlines will partner with banks that offer miles for credit card spending. The key to this is to locate an airline that flies to your destination and choose a card that earns those miles. Use this card for most of your everyday transactions making sure to pay this card off in full every month as any interest charge will negate any benefits. I had found that with my normal spending I was able to earn a free flight in less than a year. I compounded this effect by selecting cards that offer large sign-up bonuses of 40 or 50 thousand miles which is usually enough for a round-trip flight to many international locations. I never got carried away with excess spending trying to earn miles and just treated it as if it was my debit card and if I hit my monthly spending limit, I’d stop using it.
2. Maximize your days off
I only had two and a half weeks of paid time off per year which left me very little time to travel. Luckily though I had a job with flexible shifts seven days a week which enabled me a bit more flexibility. I would work maybe eight or nine days in a row and then take a Friday through Monday as my regular two days off each week giving me a four-day weekend. I would then use one or two paid time off days to give me five or six days off in a row. This made my vacation stretch much further throughout the year and although five or six days may seem short for such a big trip, I would always choose a short trip over a weekend spent on the couch.
There are other ways to maximize this such as booking red eyes immediately after a work shift or early morning returning flights before the beginning of the workday. I once booked a red-eye flight from Beijing that arrived in Oregon at 6 AM and went straight back to work from the airport. I realize that this might be too hardcore for many people but for me, it was always worth it.
3. Offset your living expenses
Something a lot of people don’t think about is reducing your living expenses while you go on a trip. Normally when you go on a vacation, you’re stuck paying for all your home bills in addition to all the expenses of housing and transportation while traveling. I figured a good way to do this was to cut unnecessary expenses and utilize the free space in my home. I did this by renting unused rooms in my home as either long-term or short-term rentals. The extra rental income was able to offset a lot of lodging costs while traveling. You could also rent a space as storage, rent out your car or offer RV parking on your property. There are really a ton of ways to offset living expenses, it’s just a matter of finding which one works best for you.
4. Stay in hostels
I feel like anytime I mention to someone living in the United States that I’ve stayed in hostels the response is usually something along the lines of, “wasn’t it scary?” I have stayed in dozens of hostels and while not all have been amazing, I have never seen one that lives up to the “scary” perception.
There have been hostels I’ve stayed in where I’ve actually had a better experience than staying in a five-star hotel just because of the interesting people you meet and the laid-back culture that comes with many hostels.
Most hostels will even have options for private rooms if being surrounded by other humans isn’t so much your thing. Hostels will cost a fraction of a hotel and in my opinion, the only time spent at your lodging should be sleeping and showering, you didn’t travel this far to sit in a room, go out and see the things you came here for!
5. Live like the locals
One thing I’ve noticed that seems universal wherever you go is that tourist prices are always higher! Locals in these destinations know that tourists will be willing to spend more and cater prices accordingly. This goes for almost everything, food, transportation, lodging, and definitely anything you’d want to take back home with you. A common theme amongst restaurants in touristy areas is large English menus posted out front catered to travelers. It’s always tempting to go towards some sense of familiarity when somewhere unfamiliar, but be brave and try somewhere without English menus, often the food is better and more authentic. The same could be said for transportation, if most locals take the bus it’s likely that’s your cheapest option. And the cheapest transportation option of all is of course to walk, just make sure you have a navigation plan dialed in if you go this route. You usually don’t have to go far outside the tourism center to start seeing discounts on lodging which if you don’t mind a short walk as mentioned above, can do wonders for your budget.