If you don’t have a ton of money and are looking for a break from the ordinary, traveling is the best thing you can spend your rainy day fund on. Instead of packing your closet with designer purses, you can pack your life with rich memories, insane stories, and invaluable lessons that last far longer than the soles of the Stella McCartney Flatforms you bought last spring because Elle Magazine said they were the next big thing in footwear.
So, how do you see the world and make out with cute Italian boys on a limited income? We’ll show you.
You probably don’t want to sleep in a dirty train station, catch bedbugs from the hostel with only three positive reviews, or spend what little money you have on a one night stay in a centrally located hotel. Finding a happy medium can save you tons of money, keep you safe, and engage you with the local culture.
Couch Surfing is your answer. Not the kind of couch surfing your cousin does while trying to find investors for his marijuana delivery business after dropping out of college. Couchsurfing.com is an online community that connects travelers with hosts from around the world. Creating a profile is free and takes just a few minutes. Couch Surfing lets you read hosts’ reviews and reach out to them through surfing requests and personal messages.
People want to host you as a cultural exchange of sorts. You’ll tell them stories about American football and Times Square and they’ll cook you spaghetti Bolognese after taking you on a midnight scooter tour of Florence. Read reviews carefully, trust your gut and it’s perfectly safe. You’ll most likely end up making lifelong friends whom you’ll continue to connect with throughout your lifetime of adventures.
If you’re not gung ho about sleeping in a stranger’s house, there are plenty of other options including hostels and last minute hotel sights that look to fill empty rooms by offering low rates. Sights like EuroCheapo and HostelWorld are great resources for finding lodging in almost any major city in the world. They include photos, reviews, lists of amenities and convenient online booking. Prices range from $10 to $50 a night — the equivalence of a pomegranate martini and half of a bacon wrapped fig in Manhattan.
Planes, Trains and Automobiles
The second most costly thing on a long trip is getting from place to place. The greatest thing about almost every country besides America is that it’s relatively cheap to travel from city to city or even country to country. RyanAir and EasyJet are two low-cost, European airlines that offer tickets starting from just 10 Euros. They advertise during the entire flight, have tray tables the size of index cards, and never turn the cabin lights off, but it’s all part of the adventure. Plus, you’re flying from Zurich to Santorini for about 15 bucks. The airports used by these cheap airlines aren’t usually the central one to the city so you’ll most likely have to pay for alternative transportation once you arrive. The good news: Most outlying airports offer cheap shuttles into the city!
Some swear by the Eurail pass. Others claim it’s a scam. I say, if you know your travel plans ahead of time and will be trekking to more than a few countries, spring for the Eurail pass and avoid the hassle of flying. You can tailor the pass to your travel needs and the convenience of hopping on a train in the middle of Paris to take you to Prague is worth the few extra bucks — if you have it.
Train travel is truly the way to go for Southeast Asia. You can book as little as three days ahead conveniently online with helpful sites for around $20. Plus, with such natural beauty, it’s best to let someone else do the driving while you take in the sites.
For shorter distances, check out BusBud. This site has a ton of options for bus travel. Many city-to-city tickets are under $50 and bus travel can be a great way to make friends and rest those weary legs and livers. Use the bathroom before, pack snacks, and take some Dramamine as most roads are windy and bus drivers are allergic to braking.
Getting around cities can be pricey if you hail cabs everywhere. Do yourself a favor and get a nice paper map at the train station’s tourist info booth (because you probably shouldn’t have a data plan while traveling, it’s costly). Try to walk as much as you can. You’ll see more things and save the $14 for a liter of wine or street kabob later. If the public beach is just too far, look into hopping on a city bus – which often costs just a few dollars.
Dining out is usually pricey no matter where you go. If you absolutely have to eat meals out, try to find restaurants that offer free bread. Just kidding (kind of), but really who doesn’t love free bread? On a serious note, a lot of the less expensive, more authentic restaurants aren’t located on main tourist drags. Try asking locals (like your couch surfing host or hostel manager) for hole-in-the-wall joints off the beaten path that they frequent and save your “splurge meal” for dinnertime. No matter where you go, dinner is usually the most intricate, culturally relevant and satisfying meal of the day.
Open-air markets are a great place to buy breakfast and lunch. Often times, you can get out of there with a basket of goodies from the local farms for just a few dollars.
Also unlike our motherland, most places let you drink in public, or at least very lax about drinking laws. If you’re not slamming beers or stumbling around drunk, you’re probably okay to partake in a little park side happy hour.
When dining or drinking out, sit at the bar as many places will charge you a small amount extra for table seating. Don’t order water, anywhere, ever. It’s not free and you either shouldn’t drink tap water in many South American countries or they won’t offer it in many European countries, even if you ask. In fact, wine and beer are usually cheaper then water. Now we can drink at 10 a.m. and have a valid excuse. To stay hydrated while consuming this cheap alcohol, buy water bottles from the supermarket or fill up at portable drinking stations around town when you find them.
Part of traveling half way across the world is to see world renowned sights like the immaculate Grand Palace in Bangkok, the rugged Cliffs of Moher in Ireland, or the secretive smile of Mona Lisa. Most of the time these tourist attractions are expensive, packed with people, and the size of a laptop (we’re looking at you Mona). While they are worth seeing, you’ll need to put in a little extra effort to wake up early or go in the evening when a lot of attractions are nearly vacant and discounted.
Make a top three list in each city to help prioritize your budget and time. Many museums are free after certain times or on Sundays. Tourist info centers offer “bundled” passes to many famous sights. A lot of very old, important monuments, buildings, and works of art basically litter the streets of certain countries so chances are you’re walking on history.
Many larger cities offer bus tours with audio guides that tell you a brief history about the pile of rocks you just passed and also allow you to get on and off at certain stops with no extra charge. You can view the entire city this way and then decide what you really want to see up close.
Read up on some history about the place you’re visiting before you go. That way, you’ll have a better idea of what attractions and activities you want to spend money on. There isn’t necessarily a cheap way to see certain things, but you can decide if you want to splurge and take a hot air balloon tour of Nice or sit on the beach for a relaxing day.
No matter how you slice it, traveling outside your country is worth every penny. No amount of material possessions, promotions at work, or long term relationships can prepare you for what you’ll experience by stepping outside of your comfort zone. It’s worth it and you can do it, so what are you waiting for?