Ask almost anybody and they’ll say that they would love to travel more, but they just don’t have the money. It’s a common problem.
Whether you’re just looking to make your once a year family vacations a little more affordable, or hoping to set out for a year-long sabbatical, it’s always nice to save money while traveling.
The problem with most budget travel advice is that it often boils down to saving nickels and dimes — and while those do add up, they can often come at the expense of actually enjoying the trip.
The common refrains are to cram into local “chicken buses” or to sleep on the couches of strangers or cook Top Ramen in your hostel before crowding back into your 10-bed dormitory and wearing ear plus to drown out the snoring of your bunk-mate.
When I quit my job, I wanted to travel, but I knew I had to do it cheaply — and none of that traditional budget advice really appealed to me. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m no longer a recent college graduate, but I expect a little more from my travels these days, and I certainly don’t want to ever go back to a hostel dorm.
After setting out to travel full-time more than four years ago, I’ve learned a lot about how to save big money on my travels, and move beyond the nickel and dime stuff.
Here are the four best ways to save BIG money while traveling, in my opinion.
House sitting, aka taking care of other people’s homes or more often their pets, while they are away on vacation is an excellent way to save huge money on your lodging costs.
In exchange for a little bit of work — feeding and walking their dog/s, watering their plants, etc — you get a lovely home to yourself, often for a decent length of time.
Some of my best travel experiences have been settling into a place for the long-term, letting me live like a local, enjoy a different neighborhood, and to cook and shop at the market.
The best part is that these opportunities are available all over the world, in some of the most desirable (and expensive) cities you can imagine.
Andrea and I spent three weeks in an upscale apartment in one of Mexico City’s best neighborhoods, caring for an adorable little dog and eating at some of the best restaurants (since we were spending almost no money otherwise).
Another time found us at a remote, off-the-grid home tucked into the mountains of Baja California. Our only neighbors were the cows, desert scrub, and a million stars.
Thanks to the internet, there are hundreds or even thousands of house sitting opportunities available to you all over the world.
Overlanding, aka road tripping with a twist, is how I got my start into the world of long-term travel. Overlanding means being entirely self-reliant within your vehicle (think truck camping or van life) where you’ve got your transport, sleeping arrangement, and even cooking all within your vehicle.
Being self contained like this allows you to save hundreds that you’d spent on hotels or eating out.
I spent nearly a year road tripping around the American West and exploring some of most spectacular scenery on earth… But overlanding isn’t limited to your home country.
Indeed, the idea becomes even more interesting when you consider traveling to foreign countries by road trip. Most recently Andrea and I have been driving through all of the Americas, exploring all of Central and South America as we make our way to Patagonia.
Thanks to overlanding we can go where we want, when we want, and we can get far off the Gringo Trail, avoiding the typically backpacking hotspots (which are more expensive) and we avoid paying for public transport, can camp out more frequently, and can save money by cooking since we’ve got a propane stove and full kitchen gear.
Overlanding is probably my favorite way to travel.
This trick applies to longer term travels, not just your week-long vacation, and is perfect for those who really want to settle in to immerse themselves in a new culture, language, or place.
Many people dream about moving abroad, but the costs can seem daunting.
If you aren’t familiar with geo-arbitrage, it basically means traveling or moving somewhere where your dollars go a little further thanks to a low cost of living and the current exchange rate.
If you couple that with becoming an “Airbnb Landlord” where you find a local apartment with an extra room or two that you can rent out to other travelers, you can often live rent-free (or close) and maybe even turn a slight profit to subsidize your cost of living.
I used this technique when I decided to settle down for six months in Medellin, Colombia, by renting out two bedrooms in my three-bedroom house for about $20 per night.
My rent was only about $300/month, which meant I only needed about 15 nights of guests between the two rooms to cover my expenses. There were seasonal fluctuations in terms of business, but I was at minimum able to cover the majority of my rent, and in busy times I was able to earn a little extra.
Travel Hacking isn’t as nefarious as it sounds, was my first exposure to saving BIG money on travel. This strategy goes toward collecting miles in airline loyalty programs which you can redeem for virtually free flights to anywhere in the world (you just pay taxes and fees).
It works by taking advantage of credit card offers which reward you with miles for becoming a new customer, thanks to a number of “hacks” you can meet the minimum requirements to redeem to the offer without spending any additional money out of your own pocket. The miles are then yours to keep.
I’ve used miles to fly home for Christmas when flies are crazy expensive (saving my about $700 out of pocket), I’ve used miles to fly overseas, including flying first class (with access to the airport lounges during layovers) for only $118.
It’s a crazy good feeling to be chowing down on First Class food, sipping wine, and boarding first, while knowing that you spent far, far less than even the cheapest Coach passenger in the back.
I got my start in travel hacking thanks to the incredible work of Unconventional Guides, which taught me all I know about milking those miles for big travel savings.
I actually wrote a book about these tactics, since not all are common, and they certainly aren’t commonly used in combination with one another (ie overlanding to another country and landing a house sitting gig, or flying for free to another country and then becoming an Airbnb landlord).
The book has been well received by even more experienced travel veterans, and has received well over 100 positive reviews on Amazon. I go into great detail about the ins-and-outs of each strategy and how you can best get started with each.
If you’re into travel and hoping to reduce your expenses, I hope you’ll pick up a copy of my book Big Travel, Small Budget — it also makes a great gift for friends or family!
Big Travel, Small Budget is available for Kindle and in Paperback — Kindle is just $4.99 and Paperback is $9.99 — but if you use even just one of the tactics outlined in the book, you’ll be sure to save hundred if not thousands on your future travels.
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