I woke up that crisp winter morning with my heart sinking deep into my stomach. It was 8:06 A.M., and it was finally hitting me that I wouldn’t have nearly enough money to last my semester abroad. I had saved $2000 from my previous summer job to cover my expenses for travel around Europe, but when comparing this with my peers, I seemed to have much less money and much more ambitious travel plans. The flight and hostel I’d booked for Paris weren’t cheap to say the least, and as expected, the weekend trip from Italy to France cost a small fortune.
Not only was it incredibly expensive, but I felt deeply dissatisfied with my experience there.
I’d done all the things I thought I was supposed to do; I visited the Louvre, walked up the Eiffel Tower, ate at high-quality restaurants, and I had plenty of picture-perfect photos for my Instagram account.
What did I miss? I felt like an absolute brat; I couldn’t make sense of my negative emotions.
I knew there had to be a more enjoyable, more affordable way to enjoy my travels. I made a list of my expectations for travel and my subsequent list of disappointments, which led me to understand the root of my discontent; I hadn’t even scratched the surface of the city. I’d seen all the tourist attractions, but this wasn’t the experience that my soul craved.
In order to have an invigorating, cost-effective experience traveling, I knew I would have to try a radically different approach. After much contemplation, I realized that there were only three major expenses necessary for travel; accommodation, food, and transportation. By minimizing these costs, my lofty travel plans could become much more feasible. Here are some ways I found my travel style and saved money.
- If you’re low maintenance, up for adventure, and want to see what it’s really like to live in the country you’re traveling to, CouchSurfing may just be for you. It’s a travel community who believes in pure hospitality and deep connections. Using this app/website, you have the opportunity to stay with a local for free on their couch/extra mattress and hear an insider’s perspective on the place you’re visiting. Many hosts will cook at home for you (nearly eliminating all costs for food), and you leave each city with a unique companion to remember the experience by. After staying with over 10 different hosts, I am proud that I can now call these awe-inspiring individuals my friends.
- Definitely opt for this if you’re looking to spend a longer period of time in a country and don’t mind sacrificing a few hours. Through this website, you can look up “hosts,” who will exchange accommodation and food for your services. Whether it’s teaching English, working in a hostel, babysitting, farm work, or even just some help around the house, you’ll get the chance to live like a local and have plenty of time to explore the city. Most hosts ask for only a few hours of work/day for 4-5 days a week, and the rest of your time is left to explore/travel. My Workaway in Hai Phong, Vietnam was teaching English among 13 travelers from Europe, South America, and South Africa at an English Learning Center. Having the chance to travel around the country together on the weekends really bonded us together, and I even was able to be part of the bridal party for a Vietnamese wedding in my time there!
- Street Food/Eating from grocery stores
- Think like a local, not a tourist. If this was your home country, how would you be saving money for food? Eating cheap does not by any means imply that you’ll be eating less tasty or less authentic food, and the bit of money you save every meal adds up.
- While most people envision holding up a sign and putting one’s thumb out on the side of the road, this is not your only option for hitchhiking! In any country, the best spots to hitchhike from based on your route are just a quick Google search away. In many cases, it may be easier to start at a gas station next to the motorway and ask drivers who are filling gas for a lift in the direction that you already know they are heading in. This method of transportation is not only free, but it’s a huge skill builder; you learn how to be vulnerable enough to ask for help as well as establish a sense of trust with someone in a short period of time. In my experiences hitchhiking, I was able to visit a Buffalo Mozzarella farm along the route with one of my drivers and was even invited to spend a week at a driver’s home with his family on Isola di Dino, an island off of southern Italy!
- This car-sharing service is another great way to make some unlikely friendships and save some cash. Drivers will post where they’re going online, and if you’d like a ride to the same place, you can ride with them and split the gas among the members of the car! For some, this may be an easier and safer-seeming option than hitchhiking.
- A free website comparing millions of flights, Skyscanner is perfect for finding the most affordable option to get from point A to point B. The best functions of this site are the “Everywhere” and “Whole Month” options. If you know you want to travel and are flexible about where to go and when, Skyscanner will show you the cheapest location, day, airline, and flight to take. If you’re in no rush to leave, you can even select the cheapest month and the cheapest day within that month to travel!
Although American passports grant access to travel nearly anywhere around the world, the average American has only been to 3 nations. On top of that, nearly 1/3 of residents have never been abroad. The most popular reason for people to postpone traveling is because they don’t have the money, but if you truly want to travel, it really does not have to be expensive at all. It may not necessarily be luxurious, but the wealth of traveling will come from those exhilarating moments that will make you wonder if you ever really need to return home.