Travel is expensive. People who tell you otherwise are probably lying. How frustrating is it to hear from budget travelers who brag about slumming it, then mention their $10,000 savings account or how their around-the-world trip was really a gift from their parents?
We promise to never do that to you. The authors of this blog are actually broke. As in, some days we can’t afford to eat, and our parents are definitely not in positions to help us (I once called my sweet, deeply loved, wonderful mother and I was crying and very concerned about money. I asked if she could help me out if I were ever homeless/in dire need. She responded: “what, like $50 bucks? Yeah, I could probably do that, honey.”) Yep. Totally broke. But we’ve still managed to travel the globe, which means you probably can, too. You just need a lot of scrappiness and almost no dignity at all.
1. Work. No, not like WWOOFing or volunteering at a hostel in exchange for a free room (we’ve done both), because you’ll still actually have to pay for your flight and other expenses and truly broke people cannot do that. Find an actual paid job abroad – we’ve done it plenty of times, and it isn’t hard if you’re flexible (and potentially willing to jump through some legal hoops). There are plenty of migrant labor jobs available in Australia, it’s easy to get a working holiday permit in New Zealand, Iceland has some of the laxest laws anywhere, and while we don’t really recommend teaching English abroad, it is one of the easiest jobs on the planet to get. Many countries don’t even require CELTA/TEFL certifications, though for the sake of being a good teacher, you might want to practice first. Speaking a language is not the same as teaching a language. Alternately, learn some sweet skill like programming or transcription where you can work remotely. Or you could always busk along the way to keep your costs even with your spending.
2. Shop around for flights. Here’s something you might not know: flights are cheapest if you purchase them on Tuesday and Wednesday, and they’re priciest on the weekends. Note that I’m not talking about the days you intend to fly (obviously that will be more expensive on the weekends, no news there), I’m talking about the days when you actually purchase the ticket. Tons of flights go on sale midweek, so if you wanna buy that pricey ticket for a holiday weekend, buy it on a Tuesday. I searched for a flight on Saturday and then checked again the following Wednesday: $300 cheaper for a flight on the exact same dates. Cheaptickets.com, kayak.com, orbitz.com, and travelocity.com will sometimes have wildly different prices (there was a $600 range on the tickets I just snatched up) so look at all of them.
This is another annoying little quirk: sometimes the same site will show you different prices for the same flight, depending on the search parameters you use. For example, I searched using the flexible dates check box, and tickets were hundreds of dollars more expensive than when I searched for rigid dates. What’s with that? I suggest you use the “flexible dates” feature as a starting point, but before purchasing, search again for the dates which seemed to have the cheapest flights.
Sometimes you just want to be spontaneous and go. For those times, http://www.skyscanner.com/ is the best site in the universe. Just plug in your departing airport (and, maybe, dates) and leave the destination airport field blank – it will tell you the where the cheapest places to fly from any given airport are. You can add a specific destination (city or country) and it will show you a graph of the cheapest days to fly. It’s amazing.
3. Ask for what you want. This is a hard one for me, but it gets you a long way. I wanted to participate in a program in Nepal, but couldn’t afford it. After working with the coordinators, they offered me a $1000 flight voucher and they waived all fees for me. They’ve been incredible, and I never would have been able to do it had I not just sucked it up and asked. You may be broke, but plenty of people are not broke! Plenty of people are actually loaded, and sometimes they like giving their money away! Accept it graciously, and if you stop being broke someday, pay it forward.
4. Be creative. I met a guy in Cartagena who was hitchhiking around the world.He hitched on a boat from Africa to South America, and hasn’t paid a dime for transportation during the entirety of his 2+ year journey. We’re not saying you have to do that, but there are plenty of sweet opportunities if you’re willing to think outside the box; for instance you can sleep for free in many monasteries, because “hospitality” is one of their most important principles (and they’re absolutely beautiful, if cold).
5. Don’t worry too much about spending what little you have. I stress out about money all the damn time, but it’s important to keep in mind that money is a renewable resource. Yeah, stability and saving is important, but spending what little money you have on experiences can feel really wonderful, too. I blew most of my savings on a short trip to Greenland. It wasn’t the most fiscally responsible thing to do, but who knows if I’ll ever get another chance to go there? For that matter, who knows if Greenland will really exist by the time I’m wealthy enough to afford a trip there without breaking the bank? Then again, make sure you always have something to fall back on, whether it be loans from family and friends or just a credit card with a high enough spending limit to get you through an emergency. Barring unforeseen circumstances, you will never have to use this fall-back.
Of course, you probably don’t wanna be a cheapskate all the time. But if you’re planning on focusing on one region and hustling a little bit, even the brokest people should be able to discover the thrills of travel.