I’m in Hawaii this week. Among much else, it is a milestone for me: I have now visited all fifty US states! I’ve also made it to 21 countries, a respectable number (though not as respectable as this guy). While I’ve been quite fortunate to have a life situation that has enabled this kind of travel, it has also happened because I prioritized it. For much of my adult life, I would save up for a while (sometimes a year or two at a time) and then go traveling for as long as I could, all while still holding down a job.
And when I have traveled, I have almost always done it on the cheap. I once took a round-trip cross country bus ride (New York to San Francisco and back) with a friend, and we both spent $100 each. Round trip. And hey, we got to save a few nights of lodging, since we slept on the bus! This example might seem a bit extreme, but it’s illustrative.
Traveling on the cheap is great, and it enables you to do two things, one possibly obvious, and the other possibly counter-intuitive:
1) Cheap travel enables you to travel more. This shouldn’t be overlooked. If you have $1000, and you can budget $500 for trips, you can go on two of them. But if you have $1000, and you budget $1000, you can only go on one! Personally, I’d rather find ways to spend less money while I’m traveling so as to be able to travel more.
There are many ways to minimize travel spending without adversely affecting one’s trip. Stay in hostels instead of hotels. You’ll meet cool people and usually have a more interesting time. If you don’t want to share a dorm room, hostels often have private rooms that are still usually cheaper than hotels. Go on to Airbnb and stay in someone’s spare bedroom. Buy a bus or rail pass and take overnight trips to save on lodging. Make street food and supermarket runs part of the travel experience instead of just eating at restaurants. Don’t go on package tours. The scenery is usually free, so go see it. And above all: slow down. Don’t try and do it all; you’ll tire yourself out and spend too much.
It helps if your purpose for the trip is illumination and experiences rather than shopping and expensive destinations like resorts. Shopping can be fun, sure, but I submit that you’ll probably have a more rewarding time if you go to see places and do things that are different from your usual routine. There will be plenty to buy when you get back home, and not bringing back a carpet from Morocco (or similar souvenir) will save you tons on airline baggage fees. (I still wonder how people get all that stuff home.)
2) Cheap travel enables you to not travel cheaply…sometimes. This is a trick I’ve taken to over the past few years. When I’m on the road, I’m usually in a hostel, doing the dorm bed experience. After a few days or a week of this, I check out of the hostel and spend a single night in a nice hotel, or at least a private room. And wow, a simple private bathroom feels quite luxurious and satisfying after spending four days in a dorm room. You can afford to do a splurge here and there when the majority of your trip isn’t that way.
For example, a few years ago I was in Dubrovnik, and I spent a night in the HI hostel (20 Euros) followed by a night at this place (280 Euros). Another extreme example, to be sure, but you get my point. After dealing with screaming children all over the hostel, it was nice to have a private place in which to chill. Never mind that the bed at the hotel was more uncomfortable than the one at the hostel; that’s a different lesson.
I believe that the best objectives when traveling should be to see, to experience, and to learn. It’s much harder to remain fearful of the outside world and the people who inhabit it when you actually go out and greet them. Xenophobia and other biases won’t fit in your suitcase on the way home. And this is good regardless of whether or not you have an amazing time.
I sum up travel experiences like this: When you have a great experience while traveling, you learn about the world. When you have a terrible experience while traveling, you learn about yourself. Either way, you win. So don’t blow the budget on traveling, because you simply don’t have to, and you’ll be better off if you don’t.
But enough about me. What strategies do you employ when traveling, either to save money, or to travel more?