Fact #1: I want to see everything. I’ve never been content with staying in one place for very long. Even if it’s just for a weekend, I live to see new sights and experience all that life has to offer.
Fact #2: My wallet is light enough to get caught in the breeze and flutter away like a small bird.
Fact #3: Fact #1 and fact #2 are both true, but they manage to coexist.
Society often makes traveling seem incredibly exclusive; it sometimes feels like if you don’t have unlimited funds, you’ll never be able to see the world. But I think it’s about time to debunk that myth because it simply isn’t true. Is traveling on a budget always easy? Not quite. But is it a lot easier than you’d expect if you’re willing to put in a little effort? Absolutely.
If you want to travel, I’m here to tell you that it is possible, even if your savings account has seen better days. Here’s how to do it, plain and simple. No more excuses—off you go!
(Heads up: If you’re in a rush to start booking, check the TLDR; at the end of each paragraph for a quick summary of my suggestions.)
PART I: GETTING THERE
Getting to the airport, going through security, ever-changing gates, delayed departures—flying can be a pain. But it doesn’t have to be an expensive one!
Personally, Momondo and Skyscanner are my go-to websites for finding inexpensive tickets. Both allow you to find the cheapest available flights and, if you have a flexible schedule, will show you the least expensive days to fly. Checking both is usually the best plan of action as sometimes one will catch a deal that the other missed. Although I like the Momondo app (rather than the website) best for user-friendliness and on-the-go booking, I’ve found that Skyscanner finds cheaper flights more consistently. Skyscanner also allows you to see flights on the same day for the same price but at different times—helpful when you need to catch a 6AM flight home in order to make it to class at nine! Alternatively, you can try Google Flights, Kayak, and Fly Me Anywhere to search for good deals.
I also recommend being open to departing from a different airport than you usually use, as sometimes you can find cheaper flights that way. Both Momondo and the website Kiwi will show you what airports in your region have flights available for cheaper than the one closest to you.
Twitter is another incredible yet underrated resource for finding cheap flights both within the US and to places all over the world. Personally, I keep notifications on for Airfarewatchdog, Fare Deal Alert, Secret Flying, Airfare Spot and The Flight Deal, all of which tweet out dozens of incredible domestic and international flight deals every day.
Finally, students are in luck: StudentUniverse is one of the best resources for travelers between the ages of 18-25 who are enrolled in college or university. All you need to do is create an account with a .edu email address to get instant access to thousands of special deals, plus coupons and discount codes sent straight to your inbox. (Plus, you can get $20 off your first flight if you use my link to sign up!)
TL;DR Momondo and Skyscanner are my favorites for finding the cheapest flights and dates possible. Kiwi allows you to find the cheapest airport to depart from. Follow flight deal Twitter accounts for great deals you might otherwise miss. Students can find both cheap flights and special discounts by registering at StudentUniverse (and you can get $20 off your first flight by using my link!)
Trains & Buses
If flights are still a bit too costly, you can also travel by bus or train. Spending a full day on a coach bus cramped between groups of old women, relentlessly hollering babies and someone who’s been on the phone for six hours straight is basically a rite of passage for any young traveler. Wanderu will tell you how to get that experience for as cheap as possible! All jokes aside, it really is a great resource and the trip will almost always go by faster than you expect.
GoEuro is like the European equivalent of Wanderu, showing the cheapest ways to travel within the continent. The cool thing about the GoEurop app is that it compares prices between buses, trains and flights so users can see every travel option available. (I plan to test-drive GoEuro a bit more as my travels continue, so stay tuned for updates on this one!)
While they may get you to your destination faster, trains tend to be slightly more expensive than buses. Personally, I prefer saving the extra cash and taking the bus. The rides may be long, but take it from a veteran—they’re really never as bad as you think and the low cost is well worth the journey.
TL;DR For cheap trains and buses in both the US and Europe, try Wanderu. To compare prices between trains, buses and flights in Europe, use GoEuro.
PART II: STAYING THERE
Lucky for you, getting there is usually the most expensive part—finding somewhere to stay is becoming increasingly affordable. The main advice I can give for saving money on lodging is to find somewhere local rather than overspending on a hotel. Not only do I think it makes for a more genuine experience, but lodging locally can be a great way to make friends in a new city!
Of course, the beauty of hotels is the ease of complete information on arrangements, as well as your privacy and almost guaranteed safety as a guest. For the options below, always be sure to read reviews, check the safety of the location of your arrangements, and use gut feelings to determine whether or not a lodging option seems safe or not before you book!
As one of the most popular options for today’s world explorers, Airbnb has changed the travel game for so many people, and you’re next! With millions of hosts worldwide, Airbnb allows users to rent rooms or even entire apartments and homes owned by locals in your chosen destination. There are options to stay for as little or as long as you need, as well as accommodations for all price ranges and lifestyles.
Hostelworld allows travelers (read: university students on holiday and American post-grads backpacking through Europe in an attempt to delay adulthood) to find lodging at hostels, one of the most inexpensive and popular options for those traveling on a budget. It also compares hostel prices to nearby hotels, apartments, campsites, and bed-and-breakfasts, allowing users to find and book the cheapest accommodations around.
Like Airbnb for free! Couchsurfing hosts open up their homes to travelers for absolutely no cost. The majority of both hosts and travelers registered on this site lead lives dedicated to traveling and are interested in making international friends, so prepare to meet interesting people who have traveled and lived all over the world on your journey. There is also a “Wants to Meet Up” option for users seeking friends to hang out and adventure with.
(Heads up: Although I’ve heard mostly positive reviews about Couchsurfing, it does involve rooming with strangers for free, so there are potential risks. Again, be sure to use your gut feeling to determine safety, and try to stay with members who are verified and communicative and who have good photos, descriptions, and reviews.)
TL;DR Airbnb will let you rent the home of a local for a few nights and has both low-cost and high-end options available. Hostelworld compares prices of hostels, hotels, apartments, campsites, and bed-and-breakfasts. Couchsurfing is like Airbnb for free and almost guarantees making cool new friends.
And that’s it! I’m always on the hunt for new ways to travel for less, so I’ll be sure to update my blog with new resources for low-cost adventures. Until then: get off the internet and get out there!