I have lost count of the amount of times people have asked me how I afford to travel so often. Obviously it takes a little bit of planning and saving but travelling really isn’t as expensive as most people seem to think. After leaving British Columbia this year I managed to travel for 6 weeks to Quebec, Jamaica and the USA with less than $3000 CAD (£1800). That was inclusive of all flights, accommodation and spending money. Whilst part of it is down to being careful with my money and living pretty simply, there are certain things I do to keep my costs down.
Skyscanner is my go to website for booking flights and since discovering it I haven’t booked another package holiday. I never book anywhere else now because I always find the best deals here. I love showing people how cheap flights can actually be. There is currently a flight from Germany to Belgium for £3 on there. Seriously. I often combine two trips in one by flying back from a different location. For example, rather than flying Edinburgh-Las Vegas and back, you could fly from Edinburgh to Las Vegas, take a bus to Los Angeles and fly home from there after exploring for a few days. It usually ends up costing around the same.
Finding the cheapest flights requires some flexibility. Search for flights leaving from your whole country rather than one city (e.g. United Kingdom instead of Edinburgh) and under the depart date section select “cheapest month”. If you type “everywhere” into the destination box it will show the cheapest destinations. For my UK friends, there are flights around Europe for less than £10, to Dubai for £67 and USA for £100! Click below to search.
I once found a flight from Edinburgh (closest airport to my hometown Dundee) to Miami for £350 but after using the above search method I found one from Manchester-Miami for £161. I booked it and got my bus from Dundee to Manchester for £1.50. Bargain. Which brings me to my next tip…
If you’re in the UK, USA or Canada you can find buses for £1/$1 if you book around 4-8 weeks in advance. This is particularly handy if you want to plan a short break rather than a holiday. Today I booked a bus from Dundee to London for £15, leaving next week. It was even cheaper at £5 when I checked a few weeks ago. A longer journey yes, but better than paying £150 for the train. Advance booking is the key to finding cheap deals (most of the time).
When I was in Quebec I was considering going straight to Miami from there and the flight was $200. Then I looked into doing a bus journey. I ended up flying to Jamaica instead but if I’d done it I could’ve stopped in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, Atlanta, New Orleans, Orlando and Miami for $70. Crazy! Because you’re booking the journeys separately you get to decide how long you want to stay in each place. If you’re flexible with your time and willing to take longer journeys, you can have all kinds of adventures.
Yup, I’m mentioning hostels again, soz. I honestly can’t recommend them enough if you’re trying to save money. Also great if you have no one to travel with as it is such an easy way to meet new people (even if you’re super shy like me). If you are willing to share your sleeping space for a couple of nights you can get a bed for as low as £3 a night in some countries. In Mexico I got a hostel with a rooftop bar and pool, free breakfast every day and free cocktails for 1 hour every night. For £6. In Miami I got a hostel right on Ocean Drive beside the beach for £12. Both were super clean and safe too. Compare that to the cost of even the most basic hotels and you can understand why I always choose hostels. Use TripAdvisor to make sure the reviews are decent and you’re all set.
Also: the more I stay in hostels, the more friends I make from around the world which means I’m lucky enough to have free accommodation in many countries.
Work for stay
I have only done this once (read here) but in Canada I met people who have been travelling for over 2 years doing it. Basically, you work between 15-25 hours over 5 days in exchange for a free bed and most of the time, free food. During your time off you are free to travel around and do whatever you want. Some will even let you drive their car. Although you don’t earn any money, it reduces your travel costs significantly and I spent absolutely no money for the two weeks that I did it. There are tonnes of options available- I worked with a family doing general housework and childcare but there are people looking for help with boats, hotels, hostels, construction work, farm work and a load of other things. I used the website Help X to organise this and you can find out more here.
Once you’re there
Of course even if you find the cheapest accommodation and flights, you still need some money to spend when you reach your destination. But that doesn’t need to be as much as you might think. Here are some things I do to save money whilst away:
- Buy groceries. If you book somewhere that has a kitchen (most hostels) you can reduce your food costs by cooking some or all of the time. If you don’t have kitchen access you can still buy snacks, non-perishable food or alcohol. Even if you just buy food for breakfast/lunch and eat out the rest of the time you’ll save loads. Obviously, you should experience the culture by trying out local restaurants and bars too. I usually do it about half and half which allows me to enjoy myself without being reckless. Although I have to admit when we were in Miami, we ate $2 ramen noodles one day and spent $90 on lunch in a Cuban restaurant the next. Oops. It’s all about balance, friends.
- Take public transport. I used to always take taxis when I travelled alone because I was scared of getting lost (and/or kidnapped). But now we have Google maps to tell us which bus/train to get and give you directions along the way. It works offline too if you don’t have data where you are. Easy.
- Uber. If you don’t want to take public transport, see if the city you’re in has Uber. If you’ve never used it: Uber is an app you download on your phone to order private cars at half the cost of a taxi. You can ‘pool’ with other riders to make it even cheaper if you want and sometimes it’s cheaper than taking a bus. You get a free ride when you first sign up too! Sign up here.
- Groupon. Everywhere I go I always check Groupon to see what deals they have on restaurants/activities/onward travel. If you’re planning to visit any major tourist attractions, you can probably find a discounted ticket on Groupon.
Doing these things is what has allowed me to travel so far and so often for the past 5 years. It’s not really about having loads of money but more about being careful with the money you do have. If you have any other tips to add I’d love to hear them!