For 20-somethings, the time is now to travel before life happens and responsibilities grow. We all want to go on adventures, learn more about the world and ourselves, and have a blast while hopping from city to island to mountain. The problem is the having the funds. Unfortunately we don’t have the cash to jet set around without worrying about where we’re staying, how we’re getting there, and if we’re going to have to eat McDonald’s. (Actually, trying familiar fast food joints abroad can be fun since they cater to the local cuisine, but try it once if you must then enjoy the local dishes.) You can have the trip of your lifetime on a minimal budget, so don’t let that stop you from seeing the world.
1) Get the cheapest flights. The flights will probably make the biggest dent in your wallet, so make sure you’re getting the best deal. Check out StudentRate where you can enter your location, your destination, and the dates, and it will give you the cheapest flight options. You should also look into using frequent flier miles, if you have that benefit on your credit card. However, sometimes it can be smarter to pay for it and save the miles for next time, so compare how much it would save to how much it would cost. Travel websites often put cookies on your computer so that they gain more information about what you’re looking at and searching for. Sometimes, if you compare flights on multiple websites the prices you see could be elevated because they assume that you are very interested in buying. Clear your cookies while browsing and compare away!
2) Choose the best deal on accommodations. Pick places that are within your budget constraints. It is generally cheaper to travel in Ecuador, for example, then London because of the exchange rate and the cost of living. If you are planning on traveling in an expensive area, then getting the best deal on accommodations is even more important. You should do your research and look into staying further from your point of interest but in an accessible location, like if it is on a line of public transportation. Stay in hostels (you can get a discount here) instead of hotels if that makes economic sense, but sometimes if you go with a group it may be cheaper to split a hotel room and get a cot, or have someone take one for the team and sleep on the floor. Hotels or lodges can be very affordable in certain countries, but remember to look into safety of the immediate area and the community. If you are brave and use your best judgement, check out Couchsurfing, where you can literally crash at a stranger’s house for a few days.
[I took this while biking in Vitznau, Switerland. You can rent bicycles for cheap in many places in Europe!]
3) Take advantage of cheap and free activities. The best part of traveling is just looking around and absorbing the new sights and culture. You can walk around the city and see awesome things for free, or hike in the outdoors and see more awesome things! There are many free attractions, you just have to look into what’s available before you embark on your journey. Certain cities’ attractions are especially budget friendly like Washington D.C., which has free museums and monuments to visit. You can explore parks, landmarks, hidden treasures, and local favorites while catering to a young adult’s budget. Bring a student ID with you wherever you go, as Europe is especially generous with student discounts (there’s no shame in the game even if you’ve graduated). Some attractions even offer discounts to people under 26, as do certain rail passes. Listen to local music, go to festivals, check out when there are events going on in the area.
4) Get first hand advice. Contact local travel bloggers, friends and family that have ties to your destination, and look into travel forums to get the real scoop. Find out what to avoid (hint: pub crawls tend to be touristy and expensive), and what you can’t miss, where to eat, what locals do for fun, etc. Finding out where the locals like to eat is important, especially since a big part of the experience of traveling and having new experiences. You will probably discover that eating at a hole-in-the-wall local’s favorite joint is much better than a jazzed up restaurant in the heart of a tourist area, and much easier on your bank account! Enjoy street foods, little cafes, and mom-and-pop places as they are cheaper and probably more authentic. The best food I had in Amsterdam was not in a trendy spot in the restaurant district but was a raw herring sandwich from a food stand by the water that was caught that morning.
5) Save money. Go to the grocery store and buy some staples like bread, peanut butter, and water bottles so you can avoid eating out at least one meal per day. Water can be bigger expense than you would imagine: tap water in a glass in Switzerland can cost you upwards of $4! Buy a water bottle and refill it throughout the day if you can. Avoid buying bundled tickets to attractions. Do the math before purchasing these combination tickets, because you will often end up spending more money because it can include places that you are not interested in visiting. If you are visiting a country that negotiates, get ready to haggle. Foreigners can be overcharged like crazy because they are expected to just accept the price. Get an idea of what the locals pay and be prepared to walk away if you are getting a bad deal.
[Baked goods in Paris: Try to avoid eating out 3 times a day. Sample delicious and inexpensive food throughout the day so you can splurge on a great authentic dinner later!]
6) Know the exchange rates and choose the best method. Before you embark on your journey you should check with your bank about foreign transaction fees and exchanging money at the ATM (which is usually pretty competitive). Shop around before you exchange money. You can also cash a traveler’s check immediately at the airport, just know that you have to walk the line between not carrying too much cash and saving money on fees by taking out more. Notify your bank that you will be abroad so they do not cut off access to your credit card. Walk, bike, or use public transportation. If you must rent a car, rent it at a discount.
Happy traveling: be safe, be frugal, and have the time of your life!
[images: my own, 1]