Forget everything you’ve been told about how expensive travel can be. An over-the-top adventure doesn’t have to come with an over-the-top price tag. You can toboggan down the Great Wall of China for $12, bungee jump in Johannesburg for $50, or spend a day island hopping off the coast of Turkey for $100. International travel doesn’t have to mean shelling out tons of money; with a little creativity and planning you too can travel cheap and have an Instagram-worthy trip. If you’re craving an international experience but have a tight budget, here are four tips to get you on the move without breaking the bank. Bon voyage and happy deal hunting!
Go Against the Crowd
When most people start planning an international trip, they instantly think of the same dates and locations as everyone else. National holidays, school breaks, and summer are peak vacation times, and Europe, Mexico, and the Caribbean are popular for Americans seeking some time away. By choosing destinations and travel dates that are in high demand, you’re left with fewer options for your budget. Get away from the herd if you want to find the best deals.
To find a good deal on airfare, try traveling during less popular days and times. Most people try to fly out on Friday and Saturday and return Sunday. Some of the cheapest flights I’ve found have departed and returned on Monday through Thursday—I very rarely travel on weekends. To find even lower ticket prices, go during the off-season. Every vacation spot has a peak season, a shoulder season on either side of the peak season when the tourists are just starting to arrive or leave, and an off-season when tourists are scarce. The off-season is when you get the best prices because businesses are desperate for customers. Note that some places, especially beach destinations, will close because of the low possibility of profit, so do your research beforehand. I went to Paris in the winter off-season, but it turns out the Eiffel Tower was still there and the baguettes were still delicious—I would just recommend you bundle up!
The cheapest airfare I ever purchased cost $171 round-trip from Washington, DC, to Santiago, Chile. The second cheapest was New York to the Philippines for $193. When I tell people these prices, they usually think I’m flying a very sketchy airline or that I’m strapped to the wing of the plane. Actually, these have all been with full-service airlines. I usually aim for an aisle or window seat, next to the person who paid five times more than me for the same trip. To find deals on airfare, you have to be vigilant and flexible. Get a Twitter account and sign up for deal alerts. The Points Guys and Thrifty Traveler are must follows for great flight deals. If tweeting isn’t your thing, there are many Facebook groups dedicated to cheap flight deals. One of my personal favorites is the Nomadness Travel Tribe. There are also blogs like Secret Flying and All the Flight Deals that curate and compile deals from all over the web in one convenient place. Sign up for notifications and get ready to snag those deals! Bonus tip if you are near multiple large airports: I live in Washington, DC, where many people fly out of the DC or Baltimore airports. Instead, for my trip to Paris, I bought a $10 bus ticket to New York City and caught my flight from JFK, a larger hub with more airlines competing for customers. By traveling just a few hours north, I saved over $200 on my ticket.
Hotels, Hostels, and Hammocks, Oh My!
Before you leave on your grand voyage, consider posting your home on a site like Innclusive to offset the cost of your travel accommodations. Innclusive is a home-sharing site, similar to Airbnb, that was created by people of color for people of color. Be sure to ask your friends and family if they know anyone with a spare bed at your destination—it’s like Airbnb but for free. There are so many housing options for travelers: hostels, Airbnb, Innclusive, house sitting, couch surfing, and camping! Not only are hotels no longer the only game in town, they’re not even the most exciting! Do some research and you’ll be surprised at what you find. You can sleep in a treehouse in Nicaragua, camp out in the Sahara Desert in Morocco, or sleep in a floating house off the coast of Colombia, each for less than what it would cost for one night in a hotel. Not only will you save money, but you will have a unique story to tell about your travels.
There are so many ways to discover a new city without emptying your wallet. Most popular travel destinations have free or pay-what-you-can tours led by locals. If you opt for a tour that is free, you are expected to tip the guide: the amount is up to you based on what you think the tour was worth. I’ve done walking tours in Cape Town, Santiago, London, and a host of other cities ranging from $5 to $20. Simply Google “free walking tours in X city” and you’ll find the most popular ones. These tours can be customized to you and your group, giving you a more intimate view of your temporary home.
Self-guided tours are also a great option. You can easily find free tour outlines and maps online, which you can customize based on your needs. One of my favorite places to find self-guided tours is the Rick Steves’ Europe website, which offers the Rick Steves Audio Europe Travel App that you can download to your phone. I took a tour of the Louvre using the app that guided me through all of the popular exhibits. The best part? When I needed a break or wanted to linger over a painting, I simply hit pause until I was ready to move on. Many museums offer their own apps or audio-tour devices, but they may have rental fees and aren’t always user-friendly. By having your smartphone on hand, you’ll be able to take advantage of free guides.
No matter what your budget, international travel is always in reach. With proper preparation, some flexibility, and a little creativity, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a globe-trotter!