At the beginning of 2017, I decided to start traveling and my goal was to visit a different country each month.
I was self-employed and worked online, so getting the time off to travel wasn’t really the issue. The issue was being able to afford to travel because at that time I was far from rolling in cash!
The good thing is that I didn’t have to be rich in order to see the world…and neither do you.
My first year of traveling was definitely what you would call ‘ traveling on a shoestring.’ But it was still possible, even on a very tight budget.
As long as you don’t need, or expect, to stay in seven-star hotels and catch first-class flights, then accomplishing your travel goals might cost less than you think.
Here are a few hints and tips to help you with your shoestring travels.
Tip #1 – Be realistic about where you can afford to go
I am based in the UK, therefore I planned to visit countries in and around Europe first.
That just makes commercial sense. Europe is on my doorstep and therefore I can easily find return flights for under €100 – sometimes under €50!
Obviously, if I were to plan a trip to New Zealand or Australia, it would cost a considerable amount more on airfare.
If you are traveling on a shoestring budget, you do not need to go halfway across the world to experience new cultures, new foods, and new cities. Often, you can find these places on your doorstep.
Also, take into consideration your currency conversion rate and the cost of living in the place that you are visiting. Ideally, you want to visit a country where the exchange rate works in your favor and you can get a lot for your money.
Tip #2 – Reducing flight costs
The first task of budget traveling – find cheap flights!
My absolute favorite tool for this is Skyscanner. They will compare millions of flights to find you the cheapest deals.
I regularly search other flight comparison websites along with the costs of booking direct and about 95% of the time, Skyscanner always comes out on top!
Here are some extra tips to help you hack the system.
1. Avoid weekend travel
Flight prices are changing constantly depending on when you plan on traveling as well as the date you book your flight. Both of these factors can have a big impact on how much you pay.
Flying on a different day, or even at a different time, can save you some cash. I usually find that flying on a Tuesday or a Thursday offers the best value, but still be sure to check other days of the week if you have the flexibility to do so.
Use Skyscanner’s free price alert emails to monitor the flights that you are interested in. Once you have set up your price alert, Skyscanner will email you if there are any price changes. I have used this feature several times and managed to bag a couple of flights just after the price has been dropped.
2. Try flying from a different airport
Depending on where you are in the world, if you have the option of flying from a few different airports then be sure to check the prices from each of them.
I am based in Cheshire in the UK and can fly from Manchester, Liverpool, or Birmingham airport. When using Skyscanner, I can easily see the cheapest prices from each individual airport.
Recently, I changed my departure airport from Manchester to Liverpool and my flights to Budapest went down from £159 to £90 – saving £69 (approx €77).
3. Don’t have a specific destination in mind
If you are happy to go wherever the wind may blow you, just type ‘Everywhere’ into Skyscanner’s destination box. It will then show you all the flights from your location and you can sort them by price.
This a great way to discover places that you originally wouldn’t have even thought of or previously considered – and these types of trips often make for the best adventures.
4. Points mean prizes – or in this case, points mean air miles
Sign up for a few travel credit cards (please do so responsibly) and start collecting air miles. A lot of schemes will also offer sign-up bonuses that will enable you to get your first flights cheaper or completely free!
Most of the time you can collect points by just buying your usual products and services. You don’t necessarily have to buy flights in order to get air miles.
TIP: Sign-up for the mailing lists of different airlines. They sometimes have special deals and ways that enable you to claim extra miles.
Tip #3 – Reduce accommodation costs
We all need a place to stay with a comfy bed to rest our heads (I’m a poet and I didn’t even know it) as soon as we reach our destination.
At this point, we would usually start scouring hotels looking for deals. If you can afford to, and you would prefer to stay in a hotel, then scour away! (May I recommend booking.com) However, I do have a few cheaper alternatives up my sleeve.
This is a cultural exchange website where you volunteer your time to work in exchange for free accommodation and sometimes food.
The usual requirement is 5 hours of work per day for 5 days a week, although this can vary depending on the placement and your chosen hosts. You put in your hours and then can explore the area during your time off.
The work can include anything from helping out in a hostel in Italy, painting boats in Greece, farm work in Spain, or childcare in France.
Your stay can last from a few days to a few months, and it’s a great way to live like a local and get immersed in their culture.
2. HostelWorld (make sure you get the app!)
This is my favorite option and how I choose to do most of my budget traveling.
HostelWorld has the widest selection of hostels and 1000’s of reviews to ensure that you are going to a safe, clean, and friendly place.
I love hostels and by using HostelWorld I can usually get myself a hostel located in the city center for around €20 per night – and sometimes that includes a free breakfast!
Facilities and bedroom choices vary depending on where you are staying, but often include dorm rooms, private rooms, en-suites, bar, free wi-fi, 24-hour security, air conditioning, security lockers, breakfast, free city maps, pub crawls, free walking tours, and more!
It’s a great way to meet other travelers, just like yourself.
This site allows you to find homeowners who are happy to rent out their home/apartment to you – and at the fraction of the cost that you would pay for a hotel room.
If you are going to travel with a partner or a few friends, then an Airbnb may be your cheapest and best value option. If everyone chips in their share, you can often get a very swanky pad for a very low cost.
You also have the choice to stay in treehouses, castles, lighthouses, and boats! How awesome is that?!
Tip #4 – Reduce costs whilst you’re there
The whole point of traveling is to get out there, see new places, try new food and have new experiences. You don’t want to be staying in your room all day watching TV.
But at the same time, we are on a shoestring budget, so here are a few tips to help get the most out of your travels, without burning a hole in your pocket.
1. Free walking tours
About 90% of the cities in Europe will offer free walking tours – this is a great way to make sure that you get to see all the major sights.
If you are staying in a city center hostel, make sure to check with them, as most will run free city tours on a regular basis, and if they don’t they’ll probably know someone who will.
If all else fails, just Google, ‘free walking tour [enter city name]’.
2. Cook your own meals
Eating out can be expensive. Instead, go to the local market or grocery store and cook yourself.
Hostels will usually have a kitchen and dining area.
One of the highlights from my travels last year was getting together with the other people in my hostel and planning an evening feast. We all put in a bit of money, went to the supermarket and bought a selection of food, cooked and ate it together. It was a great night with great food, good wine, and awesome company – and it cost us just €4 each!!
3. Rail passes, bus passes and city tourist cards
If you are going to be traveling around the city using a lot of public transport, and you want to visit a lot of the major attractions, signing up for discount cards will help save you money on travel fares and entry fees.
I recommend visiting the Tourist Information Center first. Tell them what you plan on doing and they will be able to recommend the best, and most cost-effective options for you.
4. Save on your travel money
Whatever you do, don’t exchange your money at the airport, it will be very expensive.
When I was traveling around Europe I used WeSwap.
WeSwap is a pre-paid debit card that you top-up using your home currency and then exchange it for another currency – It’s one simple card can hold up to 18 different currencies.
That means you no longer need to carry around hoards of cash or plan your travel money months in advance.
Alternatively, there are other cards like Monzo (and some credit cards) that will allow you to use your card abroad either for free or for a fee. Just be sure to check the small print!
EXTRA BONUS TIP: Get cash back!
Before booking or buying anything online, make sure to check cashback websites for deals.
I am a member of TopCashback which allows me to claim cashback on my online purchases.
For example, I can currently get 42% cash back on any booking that I make with HostelWord. This is based on the percentage of my deposit at the time of booking and is not payable until my stay has been completed – but every penny counts.
So far, I have earned just less than £100 (approx €112) buying and booking things I would have done anyway – so it’s pretty much free money!
You can get cashback for almost anything you purchase online! Check it out.
I hope this little guide helps you save some money and travel for less. If you have any other travel hacks or tips that I have missed, please comment below and let me know.
Enjoy your next adventure.