If you’ve never traveled before, and just casually check some prices online, you might think you have to be independently wealthy just to afford a night in a hotel overseas.
Not true. In fact, there are world destinations that can be had cheaper than flying to the next state over — if you follow these tips.
Choose a cheap destination
You can’t really travel anywhere cheaply if it costs a lot once you get there. Places like Switzerland and Iceland, for example, are notorious for their high prices.
Any place can be gone to cheaply, but there’s no need to make it hard on yourself. Word of mouth is the best way I’ve found to keep a mental list of affordable places. Ever on this list are places with a favorable exchange rate, such as Mexico, Thailand, Vietnam, Morocco, South America and the Ukraine.
Visit a website that monitors rates and decide when it’s most affordable for you to visit.
Save on airfare
Airfare is most likely going to be your biggest expense, depending on how long your trip is.
First, skip the travel agent. Next, download a free VPN program that will allow you to browse privately and make you appear as if you’re browsing from a different country. Websites may deny it, but you will be presented with different prices for the same flight based on your Internet browsing history.
A secured browser is a great way to ensure they can’t use your cookies to adjust your rates higher. I use TunnelBear, but there are other options out there easily found with a search.
Lastly, buy your tickets from a discount site (though many of them are owned or operated by the airlines themselves). My favorites are Kayak, Priceline’s Name Your Price tool, Cheaptickets, Skyscanner and TripAdvisor.
At each of these, you can set up price alerts to make sure you don’t miss out on a last-minute cheap flight they’re trying to sell out.
Use your credit card reward program
Most credit card companies have rewards programs these days. If yours doesn’t, consider switching to one that does. They’ll likely offer you a lot of points just for signing up.
You can find cards that will earn you two points (or miles) for every dollar spent, and sometimes they’ll offer more at select stores. Popular options include Capital One Venture, Southwest, Bank AmeriCard Travel Rewards and Chase Sapphire, which has a huge sign-up bonus. Once you’ve accrued enough points or miles, trade them in for all or a portion of your travel expenses.
Be aware that some cards lock you into that specific airline, (e.g., points accrued on a Southwest Visa can be used only on Southwest Airlines). Some have miles that expire, and others don’t expire and don’t limit you to one airline (but do charge an annual fee).
If you’ve chosen your destination wisely, the cost of a decent hotel will look very attractive in comparison, especially against prices in the U.S.
Or, go out on a limb: Make friends with someone on social media and ask to crash on their couch or have them suggest a cheap, safe place to stay. Review sites and blog posts are a great option if you can’t find (or don’t have) someone local to help you out.
Google Reviews, HostelWorld and TripAdvisor can do the trick. CouchSurfing and Airbnb are built entirely on community feedback, so if a house/couch/bed is rated well, that means everyone who has stayed there has had a good experience. Of course, the opposite is also true.
Eat on the street
Street food is going to be cheaper than restaurants. You’ll also get to experience the food of the people and get a real taste of what the country has to offer.
Double frugal points if you can buy food in the local market and prepare it yourself somewhere.
Note: Still be safe and stay away from questionable food stands. The 10-cent burrito is not worth a couple of days of food poisoning. Watch how vendors handle and prepare food before deciding to buy. Cooked, as a rule, is always better than raw.
Work while you play
Nowadays there are many opportunities to volunteer for organizations that will reimburse you with room and/or board.
Common jobs and industries include farming, teaching English as a second language, working for health organizations and even aiding with disaster relief (previous experience or certifications may be required).
Or maybe you’re one of the lucky ones who can work remotely for your current job from anywhere in the world as long as you have an internet connection. If not that, maybe you have a special skill that you can offer to a local vendor in return for free goods or services. Get creative and dig deep.
Get around without a rental
Renting a car wherever you go is likely not going to be cost effective. Not only that, but you also will have to learn the local driving laws and practices.
But that doesn’t mean you’re stuck in your hotel or just the resort in order to save money. Of course, it will take some research on your part, but here are some alternatives:
- Rent a scooter if you feel comfortable playing in traffic
- Buy a bus pass for unlimited rides for the duration you’re there
- Try bike taxis (if you’re not in a hurry)
- Hop a train — typically much more affordable abroad than in the U.S.
- Or, you know, walk
Japan, for example, has a high-speed rail system that is for tourists only, and the Eurail pass lets you visit 24 countries and 15,000 cities in Europe without any hassle of crossing borders. Besides, think of the people you could meet.
Bargain for the best deal
Make sure to check local customs and culture before you start bargaining.
Once again, resources like TripAdvisor and Google will likely have tips on the do’s and don’ts for the city you’re visiting. In general, haggling is still widely accepted in most developing countries (which are also the cheapest to visit). Other than modern stores, malls and shopping centers, street vendors, cab drivers and small-store owners will be willing to negotiate.
Never pay full price for anything if you don’t have to, and don’t be afraid to walk away if they won’t meet your reasonable offer. (That’s when they chase you down the street to re-open negotiations anyway.)
Of course, always be respectful of the person you’re bargaining with. Remember, you’re in their country, in their home, and saving a few bucks isn’t worth insulting your host culture.
Lastly, never negotiate with a credit card. Always use cash. It’s far too easy for vendors to type in $1,000 as opposed to $10 in their computers.
This might take some travel savvy and familiarity with the language of the country you’re visiting, but if you can make friends with a local, they’ll gladly point you to the best and cheapest places, steer you away from places trying to take your money or even join you and get you the “local discount.”
Start with the employees at your hostel or resort. They will likely speak some English and can answer any questions you have. From there, see if you can buy them a drink when they’re done with their shift. If you found your place using Airbnb or CouchSurfing, there are a lot of hosts who love showing their guests their local attractions.
And finally, if you can’t make friends with a local, look for fellow travelers who know the area. This is especially easy at a hostel.
Without question, always keep your guard up when dealing with anyone you don’t know, regardless of country or language.
If you’ve already traveled to another country, you’ve already paid a bulk of the expenses in your plane ticket. Why not visit the neighbors while you’re there?
True, this will ultimately cost more money in the short term (unless you’ve completely mastered the previous nine tips), but it saves you money in the long term.
If you’ve already bought the plane ticket to London, why not visit Ireland, Scotland and France? That’s more expensive than flying just to London and back, but it’s a lot cheaper to get to France from the U.K. than it is from Kentucky.
Make it one big trip instead of multiple smaller trips that cost multiple international plane tickets. And make more memories while you’re at it.