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“And then there is the most dangerous risk of all — the risk of spending your life not doing what you want on the bet you can buy yourself the freedom to do it later.” – Randy Komisar

You’re not the only one who has at times let money get in the way of your next adventure. Priorities depend on so many different elements, and tend to shift regularly over the span of your life. Finances don’t have to get in the way of travel though, even if you’re not up for “roughing it.” There are a couple tips you can take into account when figuring out if you have the budget to go a wandering in your time off…

20.1 Getting There

“Jobs fill your pocket, but adventures fill your soul.” Jamie Lyn Beatty

If you’re trying to come up with cheap travel plans, your best bet is always to simply find somewhere exciting yet relatively local so that your travel costs will be low. Hiking up that mountain or camping next to that lake you’ve been looking at your whole life can be equally exhilarating to flying across the world to climb some other, better known mountain. Plus, if it’s been on your “one day” list for a while, it will give you a great sense of accomplishment. Barring that type of scenario, what are your options?

First off, if you’re planning a trip where you need to fly somewhere, try and book your travel period off-season. This makes for way cheaper flights and far more enjoyable travelling, as you’ll save yourself the hordes of tourists you would normally be part of. It’s also always a good plan to fly on weekdays as opposed to weekends when more people travel in any season. If you don’t have a specific date by which you absolutely must arrive at your destination, check out standby options. This is basically when airlines sell tickets last minute at reduced rates when they haven’t filled up a flight. Which means if they do fill up the flight last minute, you have to wait until the next one. Nevertheless, if you don’t mind a little uncertainty, it’s a great way to get a deal.

Also, if you happen to have any friends who work in the airline industry you can ask about going with them to their next destination, or plan a trip around one of their flights. In general airline workers get around 75% off tickets for their guests. Signing up for notifications about flight deals can also be a good thing as flight prices fluctuate quite a lot. Think about all the different cities close to where you want to go and see if flights happen to be cheaper to get there. Then see if you can get a cheap local flight or ground transportation to your actual destination.

Another great way to travel inexpensively and to have hugely enriching experiences is to do a bit of volunteer tourism. For this to pan out in your favor you obviously need to take the time to research organizations that do work that’s meaningful and makes sense to your socially and politically, but there are numerous opportunities out there for learning from and about cultures worldwide while also having a positive impact. Ask around in your social circles and see if anyone has something to recommend!

20.2 Getting Around Once You’re There!

“Take only memories, leave only footprints.” Chief Seattle

First things first. Don’t fall into tourist traps! Every country has their version. The fake taxis that pick you up at the airport and then charge your triple the normal rate. The throngs of tour guides pushing their all-inclusive deals that seem incredibly tempting in their pre-organized simplicity. Sure, maybe you might be lucky and stumble upon something that’s both fun and budget friendly. But generally speaking you’re better off arriving and getting local information from someone you trust, or who you get to know once you’re there.

Depending on where you’re going, language barriers etc. it’s very much worth doing some research before going on your trip and gleaning information from friends, friends of friends and chat groups with tips to share on local customs and deals. Most things obviously aimed at tourists are not what you want to go for if you’re looking to save money and get an authentic experience.

Secondly, travelling by land once you arrive is always cheaper (and more environmentally savvy) if you can figure out the local public transportation systems. Renting a car or taking taxis everywhere can add up, depending on the country. Bus, train, rickshaw, boat, dogsled…all these will likely be way less expensive and more interesting than flying. Some countries also have reliable and easy ride-sharing platforms you can use, particularly in Europe.

20.3 Where to Stay?

If you’ve ever doubted the value of having a solid social network, travelling will make you rethink your position. The more people you know and the better you are at being…well, friendly and respectful!…the easier it is to travel for very little. Why? Because people will like having your around and recommend you as a great guest! This means when you call up your long-lost aunt in Scotland on a cousins recommendation she will be happy to host you. It also means that you’ll likely get good reviews whenever you stay at places from airbnb or on couchsurfing. Housing and food are what costs the most once you get to wherever you’re going, so reaching out to your network beforehand (or even once there) is a must. Staying with friends, relatives or friends of friends is the number one way to avoid extra costs and have an awesome time, as they will know the ins and outs of what to do and see locally!

If no one you know knows anyone where you’re going, and you’re comfortable getting to know new people, you can try out Couchsurfing! Couchsurfing is an online platform that connects people worldwide who enjoy meeting new folks and who need places to stay or want to host travellers. It’s similar to airbnb in many ways only the focus is on the people more than the place. Plus, it’s free! If you’re looking to get away from people for a while, Airbnb can be a great, less expensive option, but it’s worth booking a ways in advance if you want to get a deal. Also check out regular old B&Bs and hostels as these are in the same price range in many countries.

On the free side, if you have a longer chunk of time in which to travel you might want to look up house sitting or house swapping sites. These are exactly what they sound like: online platforms where people get connected to those in need of someone to take care of their house (plus sometimes plants, cats, dog, etc.) or who want to exchange houses for a short period as a way of seeing a new place on a budget.

20.4 What to Eat?

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” Helen Keller

This can be more or less complicated depending on your dietary restrictions. Ideally you want to investigate the food habits and accessibility of certain types of food in whatever country you’re going to visit before arriving if you have very specific restrictions. Vegetarianism is hard to explain in some countries, let alone veganism, as is the idea that dairy and gluten could be bad for you. If you have these types of restrictions you may want to focus your travels in larger cities where there will be more variety in restaurants and grocery stores, or countries where the normal diet lines up well with your needs. There’s always going to be a bit of adaptation involved.

Otherwise, when it comes to eating on a budget, as always your best option, both in terms of money and meaningful experiences, is to get to know people and/or plan your trip around staying with local hosts. You can’t necessarily expect to just be fed for free your entire stay, but even pitching in for collective meals is way cheaper than eating out every night, no matter where you go. If you’re on the move and not staying with hosts, picnics are a great way of avoiding high-cost meals. Also remember to always pick up snacks to carry with you on day trips so you’re never stuck desperately hungry in a one-horse town with one super expensive tourist-trappy restaurant. Plan ahead!

When you do end up eating out, aim for local “mom and pop” type restaurants. Ask a local where people from the area eat. This will inevitably be better and less expensive. Try and eat foods that are in season and produced locally as these will also likely be less expensive.

There are also numerous “free food” organizations that exist in different countries, from more political organizations such as Food Not Bombs, which operates worldwide (you can check out their website for exact locations), to many religious and spiritual groups offering free or inexpensive meals, if you’re comfortable navigating those types of environments. Most are quite inclusive and open to people of all denominations.

20.5 A Few Final Ideas…

There are a few other basic pointers that will help you get around without overspending. Number one is to have a predetermined budget. Figure out how much you can afford to spend on your entire trip and then break it down into days. Give yourself a little bit of head room in case something comes up where you need to splurge on a once in a lifetime opportunity, but otherwise stick to your daily “allowance,” as it were. This is a surefire way to keep yourself from being stressed by not knowing if your trip is going to ruin you! If not you’re not in the habit of budgeting it may seem like a confining way to go about travelling, but in reality it gives you the freedom to enjoy and think about other things. You know how much you can spend if you want to come out on top. You take control of the situation by setting our own limits. Simple as that.

It’s also a good idea to travel with a bit of cash, or to be able to withdraw some while travelling. Many places across the globe don’t accept credit or debit. You may find that in some situations paying cash will actually give you bargaining leverage if you want to negotiate the price of something (note: this is actually a custom in many countries, and if you don’t try and haggle the merchant in question may be sorely disappointed! Another reason to read up on the place you’re visiting before going!). Plus, paying cash will most likely help you spend less!

In many cities you can now access podcast tours of all sorts when visiting places of note instead of hiring an actual guide. While this has its downsides (missing a chance to meet and converse with locals, not supporting the local economy which may depend on tourism, etc.), if you’re on a super tight budget and want to immerse yourself in information about a place, it can be a good, and usually free, option.

And finally, it can’t be said enough, get yourself a reusable water bottle with a good quality filter! Staying hydrated while travelling is super important and many places don’t have public water fountains or don’t provide tap water as an option (besides which, you probably don’t want to drink tap water just anywhere without having a filter!). Bottled water is not only bad for the environment, but also unreasonably priced in a lot of places. Save yourself the headache and spare the world a couple dozen more pieces of plastic flotsam!

20.6 Action Point Summary – Here’s What You Need to Do Now!

“Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.” Jack Kerouac

We’ve only skimmed the surface of some of the creative ways to travel on a budget, but these pointers should provide an ample springboard for you to get out there and see the world without worrying so much about your financial downfall! The most important things is for you to realize that it’s possible to explore the world, no matter what your situation. Sometimes you just need to adjust your ideal to suit your means.

  1. Travel by land or book flights off-season on weekdays.
  2. Get tips in advance on local deals and free fun things to do. Travel by land whenever possible once at your destination.
  3. Aim for free housing: friends, friends of friends, couchsurfing. If not possible, look into second-tier of affordable options (airbnb, etc.)
  4. Make friends and have group meals! Check out possible free food organizations. Or, have picnics and eat at popular local spots rather than touristy places.
  5. Don’t forget to predetermine your budget!
  6. Travel with cash.
  7. Try out podcast tours.
  8. Bring a reusable, filter water bottle!
  9. Have fun!

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