From the moment that I first told people that I was going to start traveling all the time, I got one question from everyone:
“How are you going to pay for it?”
That’s a good question. Logically, a 21-year-old writer a year and a half out of college shouldn’t be able to afford traveling the way that I do.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m lucky – since I can work from anywhere traveling around isn’t a challenge for me. But the answer that all I need to work is my laptop and an internet connection didn’t seem to placate the people who kept asking this question.
There’s a perception out there that traveling is expensive. That you need to have some money saved up to travel at all. And while it’s true that traveling can be pricy – that assumption is simply incorrect.
There are a ton of ways to save money while you’re traveling – even traveling in a group. Of course, as someone who always travels alone, it’s far cheaper for me than for people paying for an entire family. But there are still ways to keep things cheap.
The problem is, people are used to luxury travel. Well, if you’re traveling on a budget, it’s not always luxurious. In fact, it’s very rarely luxurious.
But I’m not traveling for the luxury. I’m traveling for the experience. As long as I can afford it, I don’t need to be comfortable to travel.
Deciding where I travel is a process for me – because when I decide where I’m going, I have to compare the prices of transportation. How much does it cost to stay? Then I create a budget with whatever is left over for my bills and – of course – food and activities.
So, I have a myriad of websites and apps that I use to help me plan my trips. Without these, I wouldn’t be able to manage my finances nearly as well – and certainly less efficiently.
The one that people are more curious about is transportation. How can I afford to pay for transportation from place to place? Flying is expensive, after all.
Yeah, that’s true. But I very rarely fly. It’s usually only if I’m traveling a long distance all at once, or all of my other options turned out to be the same price – which has happened before, but rarely.
Mostly, I take buses. There are several bus services that run really cheaply – even if you buy last minute. Of course, it pays to know where to look for deals.
I normally use a website called Wanderu to book my bus trips. It’s my choice because it lists prices across several different bus companies – and trains, so you’ll know that you’re getting the best deal for where you’re going.
I also use another site called Go To Bus if I suspect that there’s a better deal – or if I can’t find a direct bus from one destination to another. Since they use different services, they sometimes have different lines. So, I make sure to do some double-checking before I make my final purchase.
For trains, I mostly just stick to Amtrak.com and just play around with the dates and times until I find a good deal. This can be annoying and time-consuming. But since traveling on a train is generally more comfortable – in my opinion – than most other forms of long-distance travel, it’s generally worth the hassle.
Of course, as I mentioned earlier, some of the bus sites that I use will compare rates with Amtrak, so you can use those to ensure you’re getting a good deal as well.
When it comes to flying – as I said – I don’t often fly because it’s just not cost effective unless you’re hopping coasts, islands, or countries. And I try not to do that, because it’s much cheaper – and it’s also more fun, in my opinion.
It’s more of a challenge to plan bus rides across the country, seeing what the cheapest possibilities are. Planning it this way makes me add places I may not have even considered before to my itinerary – and sometimes unplanned stops are the best stops.
But, when I do fly, I usually check my fares on Kayak. I like using it because – as someone who rarely travels with exact dates – I like that they have flexible departure options.
And, like the other websites I use, it checks fare prices across different airlines. Not to mention it gives you information on legroom, baggage, layover, airports, etc.
I also follow a blog called the Thrifty Traveler – which is always promoting flight deals. I keep an eye on their blog so that if a really good deal pops up (and it does, from time to time) I’m ready to pounce on it and change my plans if necessary.
The most important part of planning where to go is to find where you’re going to stay. I may be adventurous – but if I have my way, I won’t ever sleep on the street. That’s a no-go for me. So usually when I start deciding where to go, I start looking at hostels.
Hostels are my favorite part of traveling, hands down. That may surprise my friends who know me – but I really enjoy brushing elbows with other travelers the way that you can in a hostel.
It’s a unique experience – and I deeply enjoy it. It’s not really comfortable – in fact, it’s very rarely comfortable.
I’m not a picky person. I can put in earplugs or headphones, pull a hood over my eyes, and fall asleep. And once I’m asleep, I stay that way. So staying in a dorm-style room like in a hostel doesn’t bother me in the slightest. But I’ve heard that it can be annoying.
Sidenote: You also see some really… unique things when you stay in a hostel. I spent a fair amount of time trading weird stories with some of my friends I made while staying in Philadelphia. So be aware that sometimes, you may see things that you weren’t expecting…
I normally use hostelworld.com to find places to stay, as you can search by place to find good prices, as well as see the location of each hostel on a map. I’ll also use hostels.com to cross check prices.
If you can’t find hostels in your destination on those sites, you can do a quick Google search. Sometimes cities don’t have hostels. Sometimes they’re just not listed on the other websites. It doesn’t hurt to check.
Now, if you’re really on a tight budget, there are some cities that can be unmanageable. For example, in America: New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and many others, hostels can be an upwards of 40 USD a night.
For people who aren’t familiar with hostels – in other countries, hostels are closer to 10 USD per night – or less. Some countries it can be less than 5 USD.
I’m a stubborn person. So, looking at cities that are pricy like that doesn’t stop me from planning to go. Step number one is usually to figure out if I have friends in the area that might let me crash with them.
I’m lucky – I have friends and family all over the country, so usually, I can find someone to stay with if I look hard enough.
But I know not everyone has the same network as I do – and I don’t have connections everywhere. So if I’m looking at a tight budget, I often check up on Couch Surfing.
Couch Surfing can be a little weird at times. You are, quite literally, sleeping in a stranger’s house, after all.
But as long as you know what you’re doing, it can be just as safe as staying in a hostel. And it’s free! Yep, that’s the best part about it. Couch Surfing isn’t an exchange of money – it’s an exchange of knowledge.
You can update your profile with things you know how to do and are willing to teach, and you and your hosts teach each other things while you’re there.
You can also offer to help with chores, cook meals, or whatever else. It’s completely up to you. I highly recommend it for the traveler on a tight budget.
Be careful, but as long as you take precautions, you’ll do just fine.
Wait, That’s It?
That’s the secret, friends. I’m very careful with my budget and look for the best possible deals. I’m not picky about where I stay (though I’m careful), and I’m willing to make sacrifices to achieve what I want.
That’s how I make it work. It’s not easy – nor should it be. I wake up every day to a new adventure and I love every minute of it.
If any of you are thinking about taking a trip in the near future, I encourage you to bookmark those websites to help you find the best deals you possibly can.
In a future post, I’ll talk about how exactly I manage my budget each month to ensure that I can afford everything, on top of saving. But for now, I think that’s enough.
I always welcome comments and suggestions if you know of some travel sites that I don’t! ***Header image credit: Shutterstock***