I recently asked subscribers of my newsletter< about the number one thing that holds them back from traveling. The near universal answer?
This is something I hear from everyone I talk to: “Matt, I simply don’t have enough money to travel.”
This problem and how to overcome it probably my most asked question.
I answer this question in a plethora of posts, emails, tweets, and Facebook posts. Long-term readers might even be getting sick of me discussing this subject because it is one I talk about so much. One of the questions on my recent Q&A was about how someone who doesn’t work in travel can actually afford to travel. “What can they do?” they asked me.
Since this question comes up so often, I like to constantly remind people of this fact:
You do not need to be rich to travel.
Let’s repeat that.
You do not need to be rich to travel.
I sure wasn’t. I had an average-paying administrative job the year before I left for my first trip. It wasn’t a lot after taxes (I had less than $15k to live on for the year after taxes and loans were paid off).
Yet I managed to save enough to travel the world. How? I made it a priority. If travel is not a priority for you, you will always find some other things to spend money on and you’ll never have “enough” money to travel. I never have enough money to go shopping or buy a new electronic gadget because I spend my money on travel, so there isn’t much left over for non-priority expenses. Everything I do is focused on having more money for travel (and other things I love like sushi, movies, and nice dinners)!
What is your savings priority? Is it travel? If it is travel, what is keeping you from saving money? What are you spending it on?
A few months ago, I wrote about the importance of writing out your expenses and then cutting them to save money for your trip. I offered 20 tips on how to do so — the same tips I used before I went away. At the time, I was still paying college debt, and yet using those tips managed to save over $20,000 for my initial trip around the world.
“But Matt, I work a minimum wage job/am a student/live on Social Security/am underemployed/live with my parents/spend a lot/have kids/[insert other excuse here] and no matter what I can do, I’ll never be able to do it. I can’t even pay back my student loans. What do I do?”
The Ultimate Guide to Cheap Travel
What do you do when you are in that boat? What do you do when prioritizing your budget and using my 20 tips to grow your bank balance won’t even work?
So the focus of today’s “you don’t need to be rich to travel” reminder is to discuss all the ways you can travel for virtually free. You don’t need a lot of money to begin. Even if you don’t earn a lot or have debt, there are ways to go overseas still. If you feel that no matter what you do you will never get ahead by saving money, follow this guide to ultimate travel frugality and see the world on the ultra-cheap:
Work overseas — Not making enough money at your job? Why not get a job overseas? There are plenty of opportunities in the world as long as you aren’t picky — and after all, this isn’t a career you are starting, it’s just a way to earn money for travel. Here are some jobs you can get to pay the bills and fund your travels:
- Au pair
- Hostel worker
- Farm worker (very popular in Australia and New Zealand)
- Dive instructor (some certification required)
- Tour guide
- Cruise ship worker
- Casino worker
- Seasonal worker at ski resorts
- Yacht worker
(Click the highlighted links to read stories of individuals who have done those exact jobs!)
Working overseas often gets discounted as an option because it seems hard to do. It’s not. Just be open. These jobs don’t require advanced degrees or a lot of work experience either. Are you going to get some high-paying office job? No. Will you get a shitty, low-wage job that will pay all your travel bills? Yes! I’ve met people from all walks of life, both from Western and non-Western countries, funding their travels this way.
LEARN MORE: How to find a job and work overseas
Teach English overseas — One of the best ways to make money for travel is to teach English overseas. You can make a lot of money teaching — I replenished my travel funds while working in Thailand, and I have had friends leave South Korea with tens of thousands of dollars in the bank. All you need is the ability to speak English fluently and maybe a TEFL degree, depending on the country you work in. The world is yearning for teachers, and this is a job in high demand; many companies in Asia will even pay for your flight over.
Here is a more advanced, in-depth guide for those ready to take the plunge. Or, read this interview with Emily, who funded her entire trip by teaching overseas.
Get free flights — There are so many ways to earn free flights, I hate when people tell me they can’t afford to fly. Sign up for a few travel credit cards, collect miles, and then fly for free. Most cards offer sign-up bonuses of 50,000 points — and if you sign up for both an airline card (think a United airlines card) and a general rewards card like the Chase Sapphire or AMEX card, you can combine the two point balances and get a cheap flight faster.
I’ve been a travel hacker for a long time and it’s what allows me to fly and stay around the world for free. I collect miles and hotel points through credit card rewards, online bonuses, category bonuses, surveys, and special offers. Travel hacking is how you can travel cheap!!!!
Can’t sign up for credit cards? There are many ways to increase your mileage balance without credit cards. Three high-impact ways are:
- Watch out for deals — I sign up for all the airline mailing lists. I always watch out for special 2-for-1 miles deal, or when they have special card offers to get extra miles. United Airlines just gave me 1,000 miles for watching a demo on their new shopping toolbar. I once got triple miles by buying some clothes from Gap just by seeing it in their mailing list. That doesn’t even utilize all the special bonus offers airlines have on cars, restaurants, and hotels.
- Shop at their member stores — All airlines have special offers with all the big stores: Amazon, Apple, Best Buy, Target, etc. Shopping at those preferred stores will earn you 2–4 miles per dollar spent, sometimes even more. If you spend $1,000 a month, you can earn up to 3,000 miles just by going through their websites. The products don’t cost extra. I do all my shopping through the airline malls simply for the extra miles.
- Put everything on the card — I pay nothing in cash. I put everything on my card, from Starbucks to phone bills. My total monthly spending is about $2,500 per month. That’s more miles for me. Everything I do is to benefit my mileage account.
Stay with locals for free– There are many services that connect travelers with locals who are willing to let them stay with them for FREE. Using this site you will never have to pay for accommodation. Years ago I read about a guy who traveled for years while only Couchsurfing. I’ve used this service about 10 times and always meet amazing people. Sometimes you get a room, sometimes a couch, sometimes an air mattress, but it’s always free. There are also local Couchsurfing group meet-ups that can help you make friends in your new city. Moreover, because of the rise of the sharing economy in the last few years there are now websites that let you not only stay with locals but share rides, meals, train tickets, gear, and much more! These website not only save you a TON of money but they also get you off the tourist track and into the local life. Win-win!
Using the sharing economy – You can find cheaper accommodation, quirky tour guides, rideshare options, and home-cooked meals with local chefs. You can bypass the traditional travel industry with sharing economy websites and gain access to locals using their own assets and skills to become small tourism companies with cheaper prices. (For example, my Airbnb stay in St. Croix was $50 per night while the cheapest hotel I could find was $150.) Moreover, locals know where to find deals. They know which supermarket is cheapest, which stores offer the best sales, and where to find the hole-in-the-wall restaurants and bars with the tastiest food at the lowest prices. Talking directly to them gives you access to that knowledge.
These websites have changed the travel game and made travel more accessible for everyone. The sharing economy has been around for years (Couchsurfing was founded in 2003 and Airbnb in 2008), but became mainstream last year and will only continue to grow. Here are some of my favorite websites:
Hitchhike — A free way to get around destinations that is relatively safe and quite common in many parts of the world, including Central America, Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. I’ve hitchhiked in more than a handful of countries in the world.
Free walking tours — Want to learn about the city, get your bearings, and see the major sights? Take a free walking tour. You can find them in 90% of the major cities in Europe, and there are also a few in large Asian cities, South America, New York, Australia, and New Zealand. To find these tours, ask the local tourist office, your hostel staff (or just walk into a hostel and ask about them), or Google “Free walking tour (city name).”
House-sit — Can’t afford your vacation? Watch someone’s house while they go on theirs. You can sign up for one of the sites below and watch people’s homes for free, allowing you to stay in one destination for a while and get to know it well without having to pay for accommodation. Added bonus: you get a kitchen to cook your food (which saves you even more money!!!) Here is a step-by-step guide on how to become a housesitter.
Cook your meals — The best way to save money on the road is to cook all your own meals. I recently spent $60 USD for a week’s worth of groceries in Stockholm instead of an average of $15 USD per meal eating out! That’s a saving of $150 USD! If you are Couchsurfing, your host will probably have a kitchen, as do many hostels, campsites, and guesthouses. No kitchen? Pack your own container and silverware and make some sandwiches and salads on the go. Not every meal requires a stove right?
Just because you are traveling, it doesn’t mean you need to eat out every meal. You won’t ruin your trip to Paris if you decide not to eat out one day! There’s simply no reason to be spending lots of money on food on your trip!
LEARN MORE: How to lower your food expenses when you travel
WWOOFing — Working on a farm will get you free room and board, while allowing you to commune with the great outdoors. You have to pay to get to the farm, but once you are there, everything else is covered!
And four ways to save money that cost a little but are still very cheap:
Get rail passes — Booking ahead of time can usually save you about 50% of the cost of a train ticket, but if you don’t want to be tied into a fixed schedule, rail passes can save you a lot of money. I’ve saved hundreds in Europe, and in Australia, a train pass saves a whopping 70%.
Sleep in large dorms — Large hostel dorm rooms are the cheapest paid accommodation out there. If Couchsurfing isn’t your thing, this is your next best way to save money on a place to sleep.
Use student and other discount cards — Are you a student, teacher, or under 26? Welcome to the world of 50%-off attractions and a plethora of discounts. Get a student/teacher/youth card and save big!
Get city tourist cards — If you plan on seeing a lot of sights in a city, you should get a city tourism card, which offers you discounted and free access to the major attractions and museums, as well as free public transportation. I saved over $100 with the London pass, $80 with Paris Museum card, $50 with a Helsinki card, and tons more with other city tourism cards. They are an amazing way to save money on attractions that not enough people use.
Between all of these tips, you’ll be able to travel for relatively little money. After all, I recently spent five days in Stockholm on $100 and once spent 10 days in London on $700. If I can do it, you can do it too.
Whether two months, two years, or just two-week vacations, travel doesn’t need to cost a huge sum of money. If I can go to London for $700 then the argument that you must be rich to travel holds absolutely no water. You don’t need thousands to travel. In fact, while $1,400 is a lot of money, that is the maximum amount of money you would need, as there are still ways mentioned in the example to lower your costs even more.
The key is to get out of the mindset that you must travel using the flight/hotel combination. Using out-of-the-box, nontraditional ways to travel can lead to big savings.
And that turns travel from a dream into a reality.