When I announced my current yearlong trip across three continents, I got many comments from readers who would like to do something similar. After all, who wouldn’t like to go to exotic locations, learning new languages and cultures?
Unfortunately, the biggest excuse people give me for avoiding those trips they desire is that they simply cost too much. Frequent world travel is a luxury of the rich, in the minds of many people. It’s unfortunate, because it isn’t true.
Inexpensive travel is possible–my first year abroad I earned less than $12,000, and I was able to travel throughout Europe and not come back with any debt.
Matt Kepnes, runs a popular blog dedicated to figuring out how to make world travel affordable for everyone. Because of my current world adventure, I asked him if he could share some of his extensive experience on how to travel the world for less than $50 per day.
How to Travel the World on $50 Per Day – by Matt Kepnes
You do not need to be rich to travel.
Let me repeat that:
You do not need to be rich to travel.
Every day people say to me: “I’d love to travel, but it’s just too expensive.”
But we have that belief not from experience but because we’ve been told our entire life travel is expensive. Ads, TV commercials, and magazines all feature high-end vacations, resorts, and cruises—the kinds of operations that can afford advertising.
And so we follow that pattern and think “wow! Travel really is expensive.”
When I first went overseas, I had this belief too. I knew the main ways to travel cheap – stay hostels, cook your food, take public transportation but beyond that and what was in my guidebook it was a mystery. The discovered Couchsurfing and realized “wait, I can stay with locals who will take me to hidden places for free?” Then I stumbled upon the Paris museum pass and for one low price got into all the museums in Paris and saved over $150 dollars. And then I found out it was easy to work overseas between teaching English, working holiday visas, or working in a hostel.
One discovery led to another which led to another.
Suddenly, the world got cheaper and cheaper without having to expend much effort. And once you know where and what to look for, you find that any destination, no matter where it is in the world, is suddenly a bargain.
Last year, my parents went to Israel for a few weeks. Their trip cost over $6,000 dollars. When I found this out, I was shocked. How on earth did that trip cost so much I wondered. My parents had fallen into the same trap that so many people do: they went with the hotels, the expensive flights, and followed the guidebook. They did what they had been conditioned to do by the media. (And they didn’t listen to my tips.)
I know travel is affordable because I’ve spent the last seven years or so doing just that. In that time, I’ve been to over 70 countries and started a blog to help others travel cheaper, better, and longer.
In order to help dispel the myth and get you traveling on the road, here are some ways to travel and work around the world with limited money:
Stay with Locals
Hospitality networks connect travelers with locals who are willing to let them stay with them for FREE. Sometimes you get a room, sometimes a couch, sometimes an air mattress. Moreover, your host will usually show you around and give you information not found in a guidebook. You get the local perspective. My favorite network is Couchsurfing. I’ve used this service about 10 times and always meet amazing people. I like it because it has the largest active network of hosts and you can always find local meet-ups and events to attend. Similar sites include Servas, Be Welcome, and Hospitality Club.
A lot of people get nervous about hitchhiking and it’s true that it’s not safe to do everywhere. But in many parts of the world, including Central America, Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, Australia and New Zealand, it’s quite common and safe. Many travelers do this and along the way you meet a number of interesting people. The guy who picked me up in Bulgaria was an old fighter pilot and in Belize, the restaurant owner gave my friends and I some free drinks when we got to town.
Free Walking Tours
Taking a free walking tour can help you get your bearings, learn about the history of the city, and meet other travelers. You find these tours throughout Europe, a few in large Asian cities, New York, Australia, and New Zealand. They are (sometimes) very informative and allow you to spot the best attractions for you spend your money on. They usually begin in the morning and last about three hours.
There are countless companies offering free tours in the world but some ones are:
- Australia Free Walking Tours
- Big Apple Greeters (NYC)
- New Europe Walking Tours (All over Europe)
Can’t afford accommodation when you travel? Stay in someone’s house while they go on theirs. Housesitting has become incredibly popular over the last few years as the Internet has made it easier for people to find sitters for their homes. The sites below connect and verify homeowners with people like you who want to stay in one place for a while. If you are looking to visit a destination long-term, consider this option to keep your housing costs down. Some good companies are:
Cook Your Meals
Other than starving yourself, there’s no cheaper way to save money than cooking your own meals on the road. Many hostels, campsites, and guesthouses also have kitchens that are stocked with the basics for you to make a meal. If you’re Couchsurfing or house sitting, you’ll have a kitchen to cook in. No kitchen? Pack your own container and silverware and make some sandwiches and salads on the go.
Eating out less means you can stay on the road longer. Grocery stores give you just as good a feel for local food as restaurants.
Be flexible with flights
Fly midweek instead of on the weekend; fly late at night or early morning instead of during the day, be flexible with your dates. Small changes can save you hundreds of dollars. I recommend using airfarewatchdog.com; it sends out alerts when airlines have sales. Two other sources I often use are Google’s flight search and Momondo. I always get good results using those two sites.
While airfare costs tend to skyrocket when reserving at the last minute, not all aspects of travel work this way. Booking cruises and tours a few weeks before departure can easily knock an easy 25% off your bill. After all, no one wants to send out an empty ship or run an empty tour, so companies always discount spots to fill spaces that haven’t sold.
Avoid All Bank Fees
Bank fees can really eat into your trip. To avoid paying bank fees, sign up for a Capital One or Chase credit card (no foreign transaction fees) and a Charles Schwab checking account (all ATM fees reimbursed each month). Five dollars here and there might not seem like a lot but it all adds up over time. If you don’t want a Schwab account, you can also join a bank that is part of the Global ATM Alliance, a network of banks that waive each other’s fees. By using these two methods, I haven’t paid a bank fee in years. (Note: many local banks offer ATM reimbursement. Be sure to check with your local bank.)
Buy City Tourist Cards
City passes are tourism cards that provide free (or discounted) entry into a city’s museums and activities. If I plan on seeing a lot of attractions, I always get these passes. I’ve saved hundreds of dollars using them and the free public transportation comes in really handy. They are a not-often talked about way to save money that is often too overlooked by travelers.
Get a Job Overseas
Not making enough money at your job? Why not get a job overseas? There are plenty of opportunities for work if you aren’t picky — and after all, this isn’t a career, it’s just a way to earn money for travel. Here are some easy jobs travelers can get:
- Au pair
- Hostel worker
- Farm worker (Very popular in Australia and New Zealand)
- Dive instructor (Some certification required)
- Tour guide
- Cruise ship worker
- Casino worker
- Seasonal worker at ski resorts
Are you going to get some high-paying office job? No. Will you get a shitty, low-wage job that will pay all your travel bills? Definitely.
Teach English Overseas
One of the best ways to make money for travel is to teach English overseas. You can make a lot of money teaching – I replenished my travel funds while working in Thailand, and I have had friends leave South Korea with tens of thousands of dollars in the bank. All you need is the ability to speak English fluently and maybe a TEFL degree, depending on the country you work in. The world is yearning for teachers and this is a job in high demand- – many companies in Asia will even pay for your flight over.
WWOOFing allows people to work on farms in exchange for room and board. It’s very easy to find work and you don’t need any farm skills, just a willingness to work. The website, HelpX, is also another good resource in finding work opportunities abroad.
I’ve learned more about the world and myself in the last seven years of travel than I had in the previous 25 years of my life. I may be slightly biased but I believe travel changes lives. It makes us better people, it us more social, it develops independence and problem solving skills. I’ve been especially able to develop communication skills by traveling. When you don’t speak the language, you learn how to read non-verbal cues and get your point across through hand gestures, sounds, and symbols.
I don’t have a lot of money. I never have (and I’m also naturally cheap); thus when I travel, I look for every little way to get more out of money so I can travel longer and cheaper. By following these strategies, you’ll be able to have a great vacation, be closer to the people in the country you meet, and enjoy everything you’d do on one of those expensive magazine vacations—but without that expensive advertised price.
The above article was written by Matt Kepnes. For those looking to travel, Matt has put together a PDF of the 11 common mistakes people make while traveling and how to avoid them. You’ll avoid the common pitfalls and be a better traveler even before you begin. For more tips you can also check out his blog for tips on how to start planning your trip.