When someone learns what I do — the exciting part, anyway, which is go to some of the world’s most amazing places to play hard and come home all busted up and grinning broadly, usually anyway — their lament is that they don’t have the resources.
Part of why I say this is that so many folks simply assume I fly first class, stay in pricey resorts. Not exactly. (Most of my tents have holes, and I end up covered in bugs, dirt and spiders. I happen to enjoy that but I’m definitely not normal.)
Another part is that so many of us have no notion of how much we waste every day, week, month. The small purchases that add up at month’s end to hundreds of dollars. Largely, for nothing- especially when some minor preparations can allow us to avoid spending.
Let’s be clear. I’m no trust fund baby. Like most of us I have to scrape if I want to do a trip on my own dime. There are some things that each of us can do, however, which can lead to a major escape. And I have one girl’s story (pilfered from Outside Online, which should know something about living out loud) for you to read as a perfect example. Stay tuned.
For some of the very best updated advice for the cheapest places to travel in the world, I strongly recommend Tim Leffel’s website: https://www.cheapestdestinationsblog.com/. Leffel is the best source of knowledge for living cheaply abroad (if you just itch to live overseas for a while, see :https://www.amazon.com/Better-Life-Half-Price-cheapest/dp/1505651697. He constantly updates so it’s wise to get the newsletter to get the latest.
Here are a few of my favorite tips to get you started if you ache for the epic but think it’s out of reach:
Years of flying for work set me up with an airlines points program. That said, it’s also hugely easy to build airline miles by using a credit card for everything. That said, don’t be foolish enough to run up your debt just to get points. Make sure you pay off your balances or keep them very low. It’s remarkable how fast your miles add up, and suddenly you’ve got enough miles for a round trip to Chile. No kidding. It happens fast.
These are the best mileage cards out there :https://www.creditcards.com/travel/. Most require good to excellent credit. However, Capital One also has a lot of other options which might provide a stepping stone. I have the United Chase Platinum and the Chase Sapphire Card. Both come in right handy, and every time I pay with either ( my household bills, groceries, etc) I am banking my next international trip. Like everyone else, I had to build up to these cards but it’s worth it.
The Points Guy is a great resource for lots of ways to earn miles which don’t involve credit cards: https://thepointsguy.com/guide/earn-airline-miles-other-than-credit-cards/.
How often are you at Starbucks? Let’s say you spend on average $10 a day every day. For a year. For the sake of ease (my math sucks) we’ll call that $3650. You have any idea what you could do with that kind of dime in a place like Indonesia, one of the great adventure capitals of the world? With the rupiah going for 14,000 against the dollar, you can have an awful lot of fun there. Delta has a flight for just under $1000 if you can handle red-eyes and economy, so even if you bought the flight, your money would go a very long way. Or, if you have between about 90–100k miles depending on the airline, you can get there for free.
Hey, I do red-eyes all the time. You recover. I save my money for the adventures. If you’re not ready for a night in steerage, then you might want to pony up for a bit better ride so that you don’t land exhausted.
Love to eat out? Here’s how that can add up fast: https://www.moneyunder30.com/the-true-cost-of-eating-in-restaurants-and-how-to-save. While I like to go out, I have found that limiting restaurant meals has left a lot more in my bank account. Even fast food can add up. Instead, I pack food in my car, which prevent stops for pricey food, bad food, fast food. Good habit. Cheap habit. Healthy habit.
Takes seconds to pop almonds, a banana, a few boiled eggs, celery and peanut butter, whatever suits your fancy, into a bag for your car or job. Pennies, as opposed to a $10 lunch. Like Kind bars? I do. But rather than buy them for the huge markups at a gas station, get a supply at Costco instead. Such small savings add up swiftly when you get into the habit.
If this sounds like a pain, let me ask you this: how painful is it to hear the stories of your buddies who headed to Peru when you didn’t have the funds? If this sounds like a pain, how long are you going to say “I’m gonna get there someday,” only to have the years pass you by? Precisely. Peanut butter and celery. Worth every bite for the opportunity to have memories for a lifetime.
Another piece is where you stay. I’m a hostel girl, but not a party hostel. I have to sleep. But not the first night. Do try to get a nice spot the first night for recovery, and then stay cheap later. Hostelworld.com has lots of spots, so does International Youth Hostel. Booking.com and Agoda.com often have good options as well. Check the exchange rate to see what kinds of deals you can get. AirBnb might also give you better options, but do your research. I’ve not used them and don’t plan to, but that’s just my preference.
If you’re a Lonely Planet reader like I am, I swear by their suggestions for cheap travel deals. However, long experience has taught me that the hostels and other spots they highlight get very overbooked simply because of the Lonely Planet mention. Sometimes the places aren’t as nice anymore from overuse. Booking.com has rarely let me astray, but Agoda can sometimes beat their prices by a pretty good amount.
I have bought NatGeo travel books for the details, but the writers tend to assume you and I have major dime to spend. I ignore that and use the book for reference and ideas.
Finally, consider traveling during low or shoulder season. When I went to Patagonia I landed in their spring. The down side was constant winds. The upside? The crowds were at least a month away. Argentineans tend to flood south in December and January, so it works to put up with a little weather to really enjoy the sights. Prices also tend to drop. For further explanation see https://www.tripsavvy.com/whats-shoulder-season-1895678.
These are enough to get you started. However, here’s a perfect example- along with plenty more good suggestions- of how one girl saved for a dream trip Down Under:
This Woman Saved $3K in Six Months for an Epic Aussie Adventure
To make your dream trip happen, you'll need a good savings strategy, like the one adopted by my friend Teresa. She's a…
Setting a goal, putting a name to your account are powerful reminders that you’re feeding your dream instead of your face. While you have to eat, how you do it (as well as cut extra costs here and there) can make a huge difference in how fast your small savings become several thousand. Careful timing, as the author describes above, also allows you to parce out your purchases in such a way that you aren’t slammed all at once.
Can you travel? That’s not so much the question. Can you discipline your spending, shift a few habits here and there to make it happen? Dreams don’t happen over night. In many cases, we simply put a penny into the piggy bank one by one.
Suddenly, it’s time to pack.