People either assume I’m loaded, or they’ll ask me to divulge my secrets in how I afford to travel so much. The truths are: I’m not loaded, and there are no real secrets. I follow a simple set of fiscal guidelines and draw up budgets every month to make sure I’m on the savings track for my next trip. One of the most common myths about travel is that it’s expensive. It can be, yes, but only if you let it be expensive. Travel has four main costs: transportation, accommodation, food, and incidental activities (includes nightlife, shopping, touristy things). Transportation fares and accommodation are the biggest money crunchers because no matter what, you need to move and you need to rest. But there are ways to manage these, and still travel. Saving for long-term travel or living abroad takes longer than a two-week vacation but they operate on the same fiscal principles. I’ve lived abroad 5 times and I’m only 21. It’s doable. It’s all about priorities: money goes somewhere, but whether it goes toward Bahamas spring break or that sexy pair of shoes is your choice. Here’s how to save before and during your trip.
1. Study abroad scholarships follow you
If you want to go abroad for a long-term trip, most collegiate institutions have programs, or are affiliates with other schools’ programs, and your scholarships will most likely follow you abroad. If your tuition is partially covered in the states, it will be over there too. Study abroad is a great way to travel for newbies because most schools have an established presence in the foreign country where you can receive counseling, advice and you have a safety net. Plus, these programs put you in locations where, by nature, other places are more easily accessible, so you can travel on top of that. Read why you should study abroad in college.
2. Work & Volunteer Abroad (Almost, if not fully, free)
There are many work-abroad programs that bring you to other countries. Go teach English in Thailand through Oxford Seminars, or work in the outback in Australia through Visit Oz. You can most likely find a program for the country you want to visit. I had a friend that taught English in Spain through Cultural Ambassadors and said it was the best experience of her life. She went between under grad and grad school.
Or, volunteer with an American organization that has international roots. United Planet runs good programs, and much of the costs are covered by outside donors.
**Sidenote: Most of these programs are competitive and fill up quickly. Start thinking ahead of time when and where you want to go, and try to get in touch with someone who has done the programs so you can get a real feel for it.
3. Build frugal habits, and be consistent with them
Don’t spend money. Ever. Okay, just kidding, but seriously watch the outflow of your cash. Ask your bank for a spending report and figure out where most of your money goes monthly. Then try to figure out ways to cut back on that. For me, it was going out to dinner, a shopping trip to the mall, my phone bill, the bars, college books and Starbucks. So I started cooking more, shopping less, I cut my text package in half and dropped 100 minutes, bought books from Amazon as opposed to the bookstore, and dropped my expensive taste in coffee (no more lattes for me).
By habitually cutting back a little bit in many financial spending areas, it helps me save a lot more.
4. Work your ass off as much as you can, when you can
I waitressed this summer at a diner on Broadway in New York City. I waitress at school 15-20 hours a week on top of classes. I freelance write as much as I can in my spare time. All of these bring in cash, which I sock away toward travel. Even if 50-75% of my paychecks go into my travel fund, that’s good. Then I use what’s left over to live: phone bills, college, bars etc. I’m not a workaholic and I firmly believe in working to live, not living to work. I still go out, have fun, spend money here and there. But holding down a job or two, and maintaining consistent savings will help you reach your goal.
5. Have a few banks, diverse bank accounts, and buy $ CDs
I have three banks with separate checking and savings accounts for different purposes… this helps me to sock away paychecks for travel. Get a separate savings account for travel, and only make deposits until you’re ready to book. If you’re planning a trip far in advance, buy a money CD. This will tie up your funds to make sure you don’t spend them. You’ll incur financial penalties if you withdraw before your CD expires so it’s an incentive to be frugal.
Food, Shopping, Nightlife
I’m a huge advocate for food. I love food. And I don’t think you know a culture until you taste it. But that doesn’t mean you have to eat at a fancy restaurants to taste it.Most hostels have kitchens where you can prepare your own meals. Every city has a grocery store, and it’s much cheaper to spend 20 euro on food for three days, than 20 euro on one dinner. Go for balance: it’s okay to buy yourself a nice meal every once in a while, but food is a huge area where you can save $$, so don’t be afraid to hit up the store.
In Italy, I’d buy a small hunk of cheese, a jar of pesto, fresh Italian bread, a peach, maybe a bottle of cheap wine… all for less than 10 euro. I’d take this all and go sit by the river, or find a cute Italian park for a picnic.
**Side note: Be careful about street vendors, they are notorious for unclean carts, which can lead to food poisoning. The last thing you want is to be curled up on your hostel bed for 72 hours.
7. Threaten the “walk away” at markets
I’m a huge fan of the “walk away” method. No matter how badly you want that bag or pair of shoes at the market, threaten to walk away. If a vendor trumps your bargaining with a high price, walk away, and 10 to 1 they’ll come running after you with lower prices. My rule of thumb is to cut their first price offer in half. So if a vendor wants 50 euro for a leather bag, I’ll pay no more than 25. Period.
8. Clubs take turns charging cover
On week nights most clubs don’t charge cover, and during the week nights, not all clubs charge cover on the same nights. Ask around for the clubs who don’t charge cover. Grab leaflets from club promoters, and ask your hostel desk for any deals they might have. Most hostels have partnerships with clubs where they offer free drinks specials if you go. Remember that the hospitality industry is a business and they want your money. So don’t be afraid to be selective about where and when you spend.
Pub crawls are a great way to meet other travelers, and you can typically negotiate the price down. I’ll show up with a huge group of people from the hostel and because pub crawl workers go on commission, they’re mostly willing to cut huge groups a deal on fees. Plus you get a t-shirt, free entry to the final club, a great tour of the city and free drinking for the first hour or so.
10. Most European cities have FREE walking tour companies
Sandman’s New Europe is my favorite. They do tours in the big European cities, and most meet twice a day. Your guides operate on a tips-only basis, so they are extra entertaining and have great stories. Doing one of these walking tours gives you a great orientation for the city, and it’s essentially a free activity. I’d recommend jumping on one the first day you arrive so you can wander around not completely clueless after.
Plus your guides will speak English and they can suggest good places to eat, shop and party.
The Big Bus Company is a great way to see the city, and if you’re there for more than one day, most bus companies offer multi-day passes with discounts on the second and third days. These tours are great because they take you around the city and you can hop on and off at the main sites to explore at your own leisure.
12. Museums have free entrance days
The great thing about London is the free museums. In countries like Italy, most museums have free-pass days on the last Sunday of the month, and if you book tickets ahead of time online, you can skip the lines outside. Make a lot of friends from your hostels, and some museums offer group rated discounts if you come with a certain amount of people.