How do you afford to travel like you do? This is a question I get a lot from friends and family and I think it’s because travel gets a bad rep for being always unattainable. While I know travel isn’t attainable for everyone (definitely a lot of privilege and luck has helped me travel around the world), I wanted to write a guide for people looking to travel more who maybe just have an extra $100-$300 in their budget every month. This might seem like a big chunk of change, but before you read this and say you could never save that kind of money, try a few of my saving secrets so that you too can bouge (French for "to move around") on a budget.
First, you should go through your bank/credit card statement and circle all of the things that aren’t necessities. In the past week I have a face serum(€7.50), a beer (€6), a hot chocolate for me and a coffee for my boyfriend (€6.50), a wax (€38), and a sandwich (€7.50). There is €65 in one week where I could’ve saved maybe €50 by eating at home, inviting friends over and splitting a bottle of wine, and not whining over shaving. For me that adds up to €200 a month that I could set aside for traveling. Two months of cutting back and you have a not too shabby weekend trip, three months and you’ve got a pretty good vacation, six months and you got yourself an international journey.
After you’ve finished circling all of the purchases that aren’t necessities you should skim through your statement again and notice the categories you spend the most on. Is it clothes? Food? Drinks? Once you’ve found your spending weakness try doing a spending fast. Maybe do a month of not eating out or a month of no-drinking or a month of not buying any new clothes. You can do a longer or shorter fast, but you’ll save money cutting out these expenses from your budget.
These are just two easy ways that you can start saving money, but there are plenty of other tups online if you think them. Once you have your spending priorities straight, you can start thinking about your next vacation. And as soon as you’ve got that money in your savings you’ll want to make the most of all the effort you put into saving it so here are a few of the budget-travel secrets I’ve learned over the past few years.
I love Kayak for their “fly anywhere” feature. It’s seriously a game changer for last minute trips and for anyone you just wants to travel for the hell of it. All you have to do is choose your home airport and then click in the empty “To?” box and an option will appear saying “Can’t decide where to go? Explore your option with anywhere search.” With this feature you can search for specific dates, weekend-only trips in a 4-week period and a range of days in a certain month. With my job, I can travel on the weekends, so I enter “Paris,” “Anywhere” and click weekend Thursday-Monday in the month of January. I’ve got a $31 round trip ticket to Milan, $20 round trip to Porto, Portugal, and $51 round trip to Stockholm. It’s a blessing and curse because I wouldn’t be surprised to see $50 out of my pocket by the time I finish writing this post.
2. Grocery Store/Market Shopping
If you’ve read my weird habits post you’ll know I love going to grocery stores and morning markets when I visit a new city. Not only do you get the opportunity to try food specialties and eat fresh, but you’ll save money. One of my favorite things to do when I go somewhere is to picnic on Sunday afternoon. In Europe almost everything is closed after 1:00pm on Sundays so there isn’t much to do. Usually, I’ll wake up early on Sunday morning (more like 10:30 if we’re being honest) and head to the open-air market or farmers market to collect goodies for a Sunday picnic/dinner at my airbnb. If you stay at a place with a kitchen (which I would highly suggest!) you’ll also be able to give yourself a DIY cooking class using traditional recipes with ingredients that might not be available in your home country. It’s the best.
You shouldn’t just stay in an airbnb because they will have a kitchen where you can good your newly acquired morning market snacks, but because it can be way cheaper than a hotel and even cheaper than hostels, the og cheap stay, if you are staying with friends. Hostels will usually charge you between $20-30/night per person, where as you can get a pretty good airbnb for three for $50/$60 leaving you either saving money or paying the same price, but having more privacy, bigger beds, a kitchen and maybe even a washing machine which can save you money at laundry mats or luggage charges if you had to pack enough clean clothes for 2 weeks!
4. Travel in Off-Season
This is my go-to money saving trick because this is really what will save you hundreds. Yes, maybe you won’t see New York during the Christmas season or Paris in the early summer, but honestly I think there are a lot of benefits to visiting a city in the off-season. Last year my friend and I went to Portugal in February. Yes, we missed on out the sunny beach days, but we also missed out on the huge crowds, the high priced airbnbs, and fully-booked trains. Our trip was so much less stress-free than it would’ve been if we took it in August and I would do it again in a heartbeat. For me, cities are so much more enjoyable when they aren’t crammed with tourists.
5. Travel Light
Like I said in my advice to stay in an airbnb, getting a place with a washing machine might save you on extra luggage charges because you won’t have to bring as many clothes. If I’m on a two week vacation and moving around a lot, I’ll make sure at least 2 of the airbnbs I stay at have washing machines because I’ll only bring clean clothes that will last about five days. Traveling light won’t only keep you from an unhappy surprise at the airport in the form of a $50 charge on your credit card, but will just leave you off a better traveler. I promise there has never been a moment traipsing through a city with a huge rolling suitcase that I wished I had brought more — it’s always the opposite. I now do all of my trips, even international, with just a carry-on. It’s doable, it’s better for your stress-levels, and will save you the money and whining.
Airport food is notoriously overpriced. I’m talking $10 smoothies, $15 breakfasts and $13 sandwiches. I used to spend at least $15 every time I was in an airport (but sometimes up to $40) and let me tell you that will add up! I seriously recommend packing a snack if you know you’re going to be traveling around meal times. I usually pack nuts and a sandwich which are both great to have especially if your form of transportation ends up running behind.
I love Rome2rio when I’m trying to get anywhere because it will show you all of the ways to get someplace. If I type in my city Rouen to Paris, it’ll show me the four ways I can get to Paris: train, bus, rideshare, and driving, along with the time and price of each. It’s really great because it gets you to think about other ways to get somewhere besides flying. I’ve taken 11 hour overnight buses, 14 hour overnight trains, and taken rideshares across Europe. If you want to travel on a budget you’ll have to sacrifice certain things (like a night in your bed) to save some money.
8. Walk it Off Rule
If you’re eating out in a new city you’re usually going to want to try all of the specialties no matter how rich and how many there are usually leaving you happy, but stuffed. After a big meal I always need a good long walk to help with digestion. The best way to get your way-in after a meal is to walk outside of the center of town to eat. Not only, will this leave you walking off your meal as you head back into the city, but you’ll save money by not eating right downtown. The central square/big boulevards will probably be home to lots of restaurants, but they’re not necessarily the best and they’re certainly not the cheapest, so I would suggest doing a little google maps search on your phone for places that are at least a 10 minute walk out of the city center that way you can save money and get your walk in too!