Traveling the world doesn’t have to be as expensive as you may think. I have had the good fortune of seeing many parts of the world at an early age, fulfilling a bucket-list that most people don’t allocate time for, because they think it is impossible to fulfill their travel dreams. Most people wonder what it is I do that has afforded me these opportunities but I assure you, I am no jet setter, I’m simply a smart traveller that knows how to cut corners. This article is for those who are longing to get away and want to experience something beyond the ordinary.
If you wish to jet set, stay in nice hotels and eat at nice restaurants, treating yourself to the kind of places featured on The Cool Hunter.. then this article will be of little use to you. But if you are a true adventure-seeker, not picky about your accommodations, how you travel and the food you eat, then this will be a Pandora’s box of information you can put towards your next trip. With regard to travel, accommodation and food, we aren’t going for the 5 star stellar experience here, although that doesn’t mean that anything less than that will be an unworthy experience.
This is for the middle class American who is longing to take off and see the world without breaking the bank. I must caution that what I discuss becomes exponentially more difficult if you have kids, and the younger they are, the less applicable this information would be to you, as traveling with children can be challenging depending on the things you want to do and see.
Lets start with the destination. There are many places outside of North America that are exciting to see and won’t cost you an arm and a leg to get to. A lot of my friends want to travel Europe, but the thing I always tell them is that Europe is one of the most expensive places to travel, especially with the Euro costing more money to acquire as currency. If you really want to become a world traveller, I would recommend starting off with destinations that are not as costly, then over the years as your money situation improves or you have more time to save, you can then experience the more expensive countries.
Good places to start off are the Caribbean and Central and South America. Airfare to these locations is relatively inexpensive. I say that because there are some places that cost more to fly to and from WITHIN the United States than it costs to fly to Trinidad & Tobago, or Peru for example. From the east coast I fly to California yearly to see my sister and I was shocked to have been able to fly to Trinidad & Tobago for less then the cost of flying to L.A!
You also want to go to places with a favorable exchange rate (which is not Europe!). The American dollar goes a long way in many countries especially the areas I mentioned above. Asia, another area I have traveled, has many countries where you can get a lot more your money for your American dollar. When I was in Thailand I was able to buy lunch for about $100 Bhat, which converted to $3 American. I could just go out to restaurants and eat $3 meals all day long, getting breakfast, lunch and dinner for under $10 bucks a day. There were times when we indulged in more extravagant dinners, but because our dollar was so powerful, it hardly left a dent. The cost of the more extravagant dinners were equivalent to the cost of eating at Denny’s in America.
With the exception of Japan, Korea and Singapore, Asia is a fairly inexpensive place to travel. The bulk of your expenses will be airfare and accommodations. Once you arrive there, day to day expenses for eating and getting around are very cheap.
When traveling to the types of countries that have a lower exchange rate, things are significantly less expensive and the savings is amplified even more when you travel with friends. In Thailand we stayed in a 4 Star hotel that cost us $500 per person which included airfare (both ways) from Hong Kong. Not only was Thailand cheaper than many other places, but the group discount spread the cost among us, lowering our expenses even more.
Couch surfing and making friends with people in other countries is also a great way to significantly cut accommodation costs when you travel. Even if you don’t know anyone, there are ways in which you can offer something in exchange for staying at someone’s house, such as cleaning and cooking. Some people are even actively looking for people to house-sit while they themselves travel, all you have to do is plan your trip at the perfect time that they are leaving.
When I travelled to Japan we didn’t stay at a Hotel, we stayed at the dojo of the Sensei who was training us in martial arts (we went there primarily for a martial arts trip). No beds, just sleeping bags on the floor. We ate at good restaurants from time to time but for the most part we shopped at local grocery stores and cooked our own food.
If you don’t know anyone in a country you wish to go to, here is a website for couch surfers all over the world where you can meet new people and cultivate friendships with those you have something in common with. The website is for people looking for places to stay and for people willing to accommodate travelers, it’s a cool community of people from all over the world who are willing to open their doors to the right personality types. I say that because people are going to want to get to know you and find something in common with you before they open their doors to a stranger. You can check it out at: couchsurfing.com
If you are interested in house sitting, a good resource to use is a Canadian couple who have been traveling and house sitting for the past 5 years. They created an Ebook detailing everything you should know about house sitting around the world, you can check it out here at Hectic Travels.
House sitting jobs can last anywhere from two weeks to six months and give new meaning to the term culture-immersion. A number of websites, such as House Sitters America, The Caretaker Gazette, Mind My House, and TrustedHousesitters.com among others, provide listings for a fee ranging from $20 to $60. Creating an account on multiple websites will increase your chances of being chosen for a coveted house sitting job.
Another popular way of cutting travel costs is to get a credit card that gives you points when you travel, with no blackout dates. Take advantage of this by making purchasing for other people on your card as well as major business expenses if you run a business with a high monthly overhead. For example:
1. Let’s say a family member such as a brother or a sister wants a new pair of shoes, ask if he or she has the cash and then offer to put it on your card in exchange for the cash. You could offer to do the grocery shopping for your family members, put it on your card, and then have them pay you back.
2. If you’re going to dinner with friends, you can front the bill on your card and collect the cash at the end.
3. Put all of your regular bills and spending on your card and pay it off immediately.
If you want to save money, I recommend that you don’t get picky with the airlines you fly. I prefer to fly Air Canada but I also regularly fly United Airlines for 2 reasons. 1. They are less expensive to fly. You get what you pay for and I wouldn’t say that their service is stellar, in fact they mess up a lot by over booking flights, but this leads us to number 2. They compensate their flyers very well for inconveniences. So far I have been offered $1,000 in travel credit by United Airlines. Often when they are overbooked they will ask for volunteers who would be willing to take the next flight in exchange for X amount of travel credit. The last time I volunteered they gave me a $600 travel credit. I had to take the next flight home which was a completely different connection route, plus it was a night flight. I took the next plane to San Fransico, slept on the floor in the SF airport until my final connecting flight was available to board in the morning. It was inconvenient but worth it for a free flight, which I was able to use it for. At that moment in time, the benefit of getting a free flight I could use in the future outweighed the cost of the delay. I fly United because they frequently overbook their flights, which increases the opportunities I can use to get free travel. It all depends on what your comfort level is, after all, it’s totally understandable why someone wouldn’t want to fly United and deal with the hassle for only a chance at an opportunity to get a free travel voucher…… I get that, I’m just throwing it out there in case that was something you want to try.
I must caution that this type of travel requires a certain level of Zen. If long lines, flight delays and less than stellar accommodation stresses you out when you travel, this may not be for you. But if you are young, don’t have kids and up for an adventure, this can be a great way to see and experiences places you might not have been able to afford otherwise. Anyone considering these methods should assess their situation thoroughly first to see if this kind of traveling would work for their personality.
Some people prefer a simpler way of traveling with more accommodations and less hassle. Some people prefer to stay at resorts when they travel. There is fun in that too, especially when doing that with friends, but there are other ways to experience travel. For some people, a resort doesn’t provide enough of an authentic experience of a destination and doesn’t give any experience of the local culture. Getting to know people and visiting local spots is fundamental to the experience of travel, things you won’t experience with a resort. Because if you’ve been to one resort, you’ve been to many. Sitting at one location pool-side with a drink under a palm tree is indistinguishable from sitting at thousand others.
Everyone has a different comfort level when it comes to accommodation and lifestyle, but your cost-cutting adventure doesn’t have to be an overly nit-picky one. It’s important to keep in mind that one of the true joys of traveling is in experiencing the *essence* of your destination. And who says that you can’t splurge and have an extravagant trip? If that is something you can successfully save money for without putting you in debt or limiting your long term financial goals, than go for it! Just get out there, see the world, take pictures, bring back stories, create new memories!
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