Traveling, especially traveling abroad, has many personal and cultural benefits. However international travel can become expensive very quickly, forcing many of us to give up the opportunity. I have been fortunate to live and travel abroad – many times on a student budget. Here are eight of my “how to travel on a budget without sacrificing the experience” tips:
- Credit Cards, Currency, and the Exchange Rate – There are only about 10 countries that use the US Dollar as their official currency, which means you will need to exchange your money. There are three ways to do this: 1) Exchange it before you travel (banks, AAA, and a couple of other organizations will do this for you). 2) Exchange your money at the airport before or after your flight. I would only suggest this if you have no other options. Airports often add large fee because you are a captive audience. 3) Use your credit card. Your money is automatically converted upon your purchase. You can save upwards of 15% if you use your card – but you need the right card for this. Most credit cards companies charge a foreign usage fee, so get a no-foreign-transaction-fee card before you travel. I also suggest making sure your card has a “chip” in it – many countries do not except cards that can only swipe. Regardless of how you convert your dollars, always pay attention to exchange rates. US$1 will get you farther in Mexico than in France.
- Location, Location, Location – If you simply want to travel abroad, and are up to any country, try exploring less “touristy” countries. One of my favorite places to visit in Europe was Croatia, it is stunning and affordable (but hurry before everyone figures out Dubrovnik is a major filming location for Game of Thrones!) Other locations to think about are Cambodia, Argentina, and the Dominican Republic. You will still get beautiful views, amazing history, and a great trip, but for less money. Just remember, you should always do research on the country you are traveling to beforehand, even if they are a popular travel destination. It is important to be safe.
- Timing can be Everything – This is especially important if you want to travel to major tourist location. Try to plan trips for “off-peak seasons” or “shoulder seasons”. Every travel location has one, so do research on your specific location. For Australia off-peak is roughly April to August, for the UK it is November through March. But timing is not reserved for the time of the year, it also applies to flight times during the month, week, and even day. As well as how far in advanced you book your flight. Utilize sites like Skyscanner to compare slight prices across. Avoid flying on the weekends if possible, and research the best day to book your flight (it’s 276 days in advance for Europe, 144 for the Caribbean).
- Think about Embracing the Rise of the Sharing Economy – The Sharing Economy is when a person uses their assets or time to make extra cash – Uber and Air BnB are prime examples. If you are comfortable with connecting with locals/ strangers then think about looking into these services. They offer a more authentic, unique, “off the beaten path” experience, often for considerable savings. Always remember that even those these services are regulated by the company, you do assume a bit of risk. If you want a more traditional place to stay, think about Hostels and Bed and Breakfasts. They are often cheaper than hotels; but if you shop around you can still get decent, inexpensive hotels. Use sites like Trivago, Cheaphotel, Kayak to price shop. And remember it might be better to splurge a hotel in a great location if it will reduce costs elsewhere.
- European Car Trips are Fun – This tip is mostly for Europe, but depending on your travel destination it could be applicable elsewhere. Think about traveling to different cities and even different countries throughout your trip. Europe is small compared to the United States, and it is easy/cheap to travel between most countries. Explore ways to optimize your trip. Rent a car, take a train, fly, or go by bus – I traveled all around Western Europe using MegaBus and never paid more than US$150 roundtrip. This also flying “open jaw” (flying into one airport and flying out of another), which is cheaper. There is always a degree of culture shock when traveling, so when traveling to multiple locations, I always suggest to fly into a more “mild” culture change. For example, fly into England and work your way to Estonia. This will reduce the chances of getting sick and feeling overwhelmed.
- Public Transportation is your Friend – Most countries utilize public transportations better than the US. Public Transportation will be a cheaper alternative to driving yourself (which can be stressful) or taking a taxi (you could get taken advantage of). Renting a bike and walking are good options as well – in major cities, most attractions are closer together than in the US. Study public transportation maps beforehand. And get comfortable with the stops you will need to take – look at Google Maps– and try to avoid rush hour, when everyone is going to work. Also look into travel passes.
- Do you Really Need that Souvenir? – Little trinkets are fun, but do you really need them. I always like to budget out how much I am going to spend my souvenirs for myself or friends when I travel. That makes me really think about what and why I’m buying something. Is it really something that you, your friend, or family member would enjoy and associate with that country? Also remember you only have a limited amount of space to bring everything back, and airlines can charge you for going over their weight limit.
- When in Rome, do as the Romans do – Do a little research on the country’s culture. This will make your trip a bit easier, and could save you some money. Is it common in the country you’re visiting to negotiate? Is gratuity/ tipping a common practice and what is the standard rate (only in America will you see anything close to 20%)? What are common souvenir scams? Those are all good questions to answer, but other ways of saving money is to eat like a local. Many restaurants that cater to tourists are not cheap, and do not always offer the best quality of food.
Traveling internationally on budget usually calls for planning, flexibility, and a bit of creativity. It is, possibly, a once in a lifetime trip so make the most of it without sacrificing your savings. Happy traveling!