If I had a dime for every time I’ve heard someone say, “I’d love to travel, but it’s just too expensive,” it’d be about time to smash the piggy bank and start living large. But, since the young people who air this grievance don’t often have the impulse (or the dime) to reward me for listening, I’ll have to settle for smashing the myth that travel has to be exceedingly expensive.
I love to travel, and, due to a flexible work schedule, I have been able to do plenty of it over the past few years. I do not, however, like to spend money. Like many of you, I used to think these traits were mutually exclusive—until I decided to do a little research. I discovered that traveling on a budget, or on somebody else’s nickel, does not often involve first class seats and five star hotels but there are definitely enough options out there so that even finicky travelers can find something that fits their needs. Here are a few of the money saving travel strategies that I’ve discovered in the hope that they will enable other young people to get out and explore the world, without breaking the bank.
Travel with a Purpose
In the old days, joining the Navy was just about the only travel option that wouldn’t drain your life savings. While the Navy is still an option, today we have many organizations where travel is a definite perk. Whether you’re a grass roots type trying to save the world one granola bar at a time or a hard core business person who’s only worried about making a buck, there is an organization out there aligned with your ambitions and often willing to pay some or all of your travel expenses if you’re willing to work for their cause. For those of you who want to make a more “permanent” travel arrangement, you can get a job that involves travel or join the Peace Corps. And, for those with shorter-term aspirations, there are a whole range of options depending on your ambitions and qualifications.
Here’s just a small sampling of what’s out there:
Volunteers for Peace: A nonprofit that organizes volunteer groups to work on community service projects all over the world for 2-3 weeks at a time. You must pay for transportation to the project along with a $300 registration fee, but room and board are free.
Rotary International Group Study Exchange: An all-expenses paid (including airfare) vocational/cultural exchange program for people 25-40 years old that involves a month-long trip to a host nation to learn about their profession in that country.
Willing Workers On Organic Farms: An organization that provides opportunities to work (unpaid) on organic farms in foreign countries. The stay on the farm is free except for a small registration fee (which varies country to country) and cost of transportation to and from the site.
Stay with Friends and Family
Most of us are already familiar with this form of lodging; however, it still deserves to be mentioned, mainly because it’s free. In addition, your host knows the area, and will be able to recommend sights and activities you might have overlooked on your own. Although keep in mind that the activities recommended by your knitting-obsessed grandmother might differ from those of a college buddy whose obsessions run more along the lines of beer, beer, and beer. Finally, your host might introduce you to their friends in the area, who could someday turn into your friends too.
Limit Time Spent in Major Metro Areas
I realize that many of the attractions tourists want to see are located in major cities, but unless you’re talking about Mogadishu, everything in the big city is more expensive. One way around this is to stay outside the city in a less expensive locale and take a day trip to see the sights. Many secondary destinations have more charm than a larger city, no crowds and cost a fraction of the price.
Be Flexible with Food
Limit the number of times you eat in restaurants, they are usually significantly more expensive than purchasing food at a grocery store. Also, shopping where the locals do can add another dimension to your cultural experience.
Do Your Research Ahead of Time
The most important tip, whether you are acting as your own travel agent or not, is to research the area you plan to visit, not only to compare pricing of hotels and restaurants but also to find other people who have “been there and done that” so you can learn from their experiences. Good research may help you avoid scenarios like finding an inexpensive hotel or hostel that appears nice, only to wake up in the middle of the night with a cockroach (or worse) crawling up your leg. Or finding out that every place in town is booked solid and having to get cozy on that train station bench for a long, albeit, inexpensive night. Or locking in a great price on a decent place to stay, but arriving to find that it’s in a neighborhood that resembles a demilitarized zone and is 25 miles away from everything you want to see and do with no easy access to public transportation. These kinds of situations and countless others can be prevented with a few hours of surfing the net and sending a few emails. Some of the sites I’ve found useful are www.virtualtourist.com and Google Maps.
It’s often cheaper to plan and reserve places to stay before you travel otherwise the options left available may not be the nicest or the cheapest.
These suggestions have served me well time and time again. I hope they’re as useful for you as they have been for me.
Alexander is a writer and Registered Representative who can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.