I am not a trust fund baby. I don’t have a sugar daddy. I didn’t win the lottery. If traveling is something you truly want–listen to me, you can make it happen. In fact, say this out loud. I. can. make it happen. Depending on your flexibility and where you choose to go, you can literally spend less money than you would to live and pay rent somewhere in the states.
Everyone achieves their travel goals and funds in different ways, and there are many creative ways to make it work. For me–I was extremely fortunate to have an incredible serving job for three years in college. I can’t even lie, I made great money for a college kid–but the important thing was that I saved it. I chose travel over designer bags. I chose experiences over materials, and I worked my ass off. While most people were partying and having fun, I was working towards my bigger picture–to be free after college. You heard me. Not to race towards a silly “big girl job” and the so-called “real world”, but freedom. To explore the real real world. And as much as I wish this weren’t true; freedom requires funding. Sometimes it takes patience, sacrifice, and hard work–but you can absolutely do it. If it is a priority in your life and something you’ve been dreaming of, the sacrifices are worth it. I have since worked the most random jobs including working at a global science convention in New Orleans, promoting for an app, and bartending at the Skyboxes of the WMO. I have paid for every adventure myself, and so can you. This is my best attempt at helping you get out there!
First, how tight is your budget? If you are working with a pretty low one, I would suggest going to Southeast Asia. By far the most expensive part of the trip will be your flight but once you get there, everything is unbelievably cheap. You will truly spend less than you would at home if you’re smart.
Make a separate travel account. Put as much as you can into it. Stop buying expensive objects that will ultimately be nothing but an object. Stop buying five dollar coffees. Stop going out to eat. Stop shopping for things you don’t need. Choose what you spend your money on very wisely. Sell things you don’t use. For me personally, tell me I’m not alone—food is my weakness. Literally my bank statement is all food and honestly, I regret nothing. My solution? Get really really good at cooking, which I’m proud to say I have. For some people it’s shopping. For some people it’s partying. Whatever it is, lock it up. Weigh the importance of it with your desire to see the world and decide from there. So you have a lease? Get it covered. So no one can go with you? Go alone and grow twice as much. You’re kind of scared? Good. Your excuse is only valid if you let it be.
Be a flight wizard. Let me help. The best way to get a cheap flight is to be flexible. I use Google Flights and honestly have yet to find anything better. The green highlighted flights on the calendar are the cheapest dates. I found a roundtrip ticket from LAX to Bali for $580. Another great site is Skyscanner. While getting to and from Europe is give or take 1,000 (from western US–east coast will be less!) **(Tip: Use Norwegian air, usually the cheapest way to get there and they offer random killer deals if you’re flexible–just look into it.) it is so incredibly cheap to get around once in the EU. I’m talking 25 dollars one way cheap (Ryan Air, Easy Jet etc.). You have to find these flights and sometimes book them a bit in advance to get the best price. Times have-a-changed and flying around Europe is both faster and cheaper than taking a train, usually. A little heads up, quite a few airports around Europe are outside of the city center by up to an hour. This means you have to find a bus/shuttle/train to the airport, get there early, go through security and all the lovely shenanigans that come with being allowed to board an airplane. Research what is the best for the specific route you’re on and take it from there. Sometimes saving 6 hours of travel time by spending 20 extra dollars is so worth it. Count on using a bit of everything–flights, trains, busses, and ride shares for plotting the best and/or cheapest route. Local busses can be super cheap, reliable and easy. You usually can just show up and buy your ticket at the bus station (after looking up the bus schedule). No security lines, no hassle. Obviously they move slower than airplanes though so take the distance into account .Trains can offer comfortable travel but are often more $$ than a flight (imagine that!). Upside again–no security or silly liquid rules means you can bring ALL the olive oil from Italy to France!! Boarded the train from Milan to Nice with over 16 oz!
Last up–ride shares. The only one I have used being Blablacar. Oh the beautiful, perfect, easy most double edged form of transport offered. You sign up on the website, look up rides from point A to point B, and (hopefully) get a list of people who are driving that route and the date. It’s great. Usually you meet at a train station, you all pile in the car and you’re on your way for a fraction of the cost of any other option. Most drivers have reviews from other people who rode with them and most have a photo, sex and age of driver. Every blablacar I have ever taken has been normal, sweet and not sketchy in the least. That being said, after booking a ride from Marseille to Barcelona, our driver cancelled last minute and the train cost about $150. So, we booked another ride with no reviews and no photo. By the name I assumed it was a female and felt comfortable enough with that fact. Upon calling the driver to let them know we were at the meeting point I was shocked to hear a man’s voice on the other line. Before I even said a word he seemed stressed, almost shouting at me that he was almost there. Bad vibes. After hiding behind a sign in order to observe his behavior as he pulled up, he arrived in a large van and began pacing around. In addition, I was watching him try to call me and the call wasn’t going through. I took that as a sign and was thoroughly certain that he was not a good candidate to travel nearly 6 hours in a car with. We cancelled through the website right away (50% refund) and bought that expensive train. Because while saving money is important, being and feeling safe is infinitely more so. Likelihood of him being a bad person: low, but possible. So moral of the story kids: take a ride with reviews and a photo so you are sure they’re legit and can ride in peace. And trust your gut, always. It knows more than your head and your wallet combined.
I’m sad to say, hostels are no longer the most affordable option in Europe, at least in every city. To me, a lot hostels in Europe realized they became trendy and started upping their prices. Not every hostel–but a lot. I try to use a healthy mix of AirBnb and hostels. Especially if you are traveling in a pair and can share a full size bed, you’re cutting your AirBnb price in two–it’s almost always the cheapest way to go. Upside to AirBnbs include staying with a local, sometimes free breakfast, cool unique rooms and generally more comfortable and private than a hostel. Downside–you might not get that communal lively hostel vibe or meet quite as many people. But AirBnb does actually have hostel beds as well, and I’ve stayed in a few of those. I have to admit–I love AirBnb. I stayed in an AirBnb for a few months when I lived in Barcelona (cheaper room offers per month) and it was amazing. I have been staying with them everywhere I have been for years. The company is amazing, their customer service is top notch. Big fan. When I grow up I want to be an AirBnb. You get the idea. Here is a $35 AirBnb credit towards your first stay should you choose to book one! Hostels have their perks as well, such as an automatic group of friends to go out/hang with if you’re lucky and might be cheaper when solo traveling. I personally have not used couchsurfing (yet) but I reckon it’s the cheapest of all and definitely worth looking into.
Here we go, my weakness. I’m probably biased because I have so much passion for this subject, but I say this is the one place you should kind of fudge your budge;). That is not to say all the best food is expensive because street food is some of the best you’ll ever have BUT, sometimes you get what you pay for. Europe is brimming with amazing food and let me tell you where it’s not. The touristy restaurants. Generally pricier and not even good. Just say no. I have found myself giving in and just sitting at one of those ever so conveniently placed patios out of either sheer laziness or optimism (Aw give em a chance! It can’t all be bad!). No. Regretted it every time. Get advice from friends, ask a random local where the best food is (your AirBnb host always knows whats up). One time I went to a restaurant in Naxos, Greece based on the hostel owners suggestion. My friend actually almost cried it was so good. It was spiritual. A Greek grandmother goddess forced us to have more wine (literally) and that’s what its all about right?
That same friend also almost cried because we had an awful omelet and croque madame at a tourist restaurant in Paris. Sadness filled our stomachs as we tried to fathom why? Why would something like this happen to nice girls like us? Well, because we chose a tourist restaurant. Because we were hungover, lazy and hungry. Learn from us and don’t. Another thing I will say is a great majority of Europe doesn’t do breakfast quite like America. You can find great eggs benedict and pancakes and things like that every once in a while but on the whole- Euros keep it simple. You can save a lot of money by grabbing yogurt and fruit from the market to put in your hostel or airbnb fridge for the morning for most days. Most airbnbs allow you to use the kitchen, and a lot of hostels have kitchens as well. This means you get to cook! Its cheaper. Its healthier. Its your masterpiece! Its fun! By the way, cooking in hostels is so fun-I encourage you to encourage it. Making a meal with strangers makes them feel like fam. Go to the store together, grab some wine and ingredients and go at it. I baked fresh chocolate chip cookies for the whole hostel twice in Fuerteventura. It’s flat out inconsiderate to let people go through life without tasting cookiedough you know? Imagine trying to translate “baking soda” in Spanish and track it down on a desert island.
What I’m trying to say is enjoy yourself. Save where you can but don’t rob yourself of your best experiences.
Many credit cards have awesome travel benefits if you rack up enough points. Find one with no foreign transaction fees and you will thank yourself over and over again. Those babies add up and it sucks. My Chase Sapphire Preferred card fully paid for my last minute round trip flight to the Dominican Republic one year and 54,000 points later. That doesn’t suck.
The first time I was in Europe, I was in Barcelona for three months, and having a phone was both a headache and a necessary pain in the ass. I got a Spanish SIM card, had a Spanish phone number, and had to pay to load data onto my phone. Any time I was outside of Spain, I had to have wifi in order to use my phone. Now don’t get me wrong, wifi hunting is doable. But then you are obligated to buy a cappuccino at that wifi cafe and it’s just not ideal. Do yourself a favor and get T-mobile. They teamed up with cell carriers and their respective towers all. over. the. world. I had unlimited data nearly everywhere I went in Europe the second time around and that can really help when you need a map or information while on the road. (Tip: you can download city guides on the TripAdvisor app and access them without needing service!).
This might seem overwhelming, but it all will come together once you make traveling a priority in your life. There are many creative ways to afford to travel the world while you work as well–teaching English/your language, working on a cruise ship, bartending, to name a few. Find what works for you, leave your fears behind and buy that ticket.