Updated: Nov 8, 2021
I’m not a budget travel but I travel a lot. How do I afford it? This is a list of 25 tactics I employ to be able to travel so often.
1. I was a Foreign Exchange Student
I have craved cultural interactions my entire life. I never got to participate in an international exchange during undergraduate studies because I had a double major. All of my major classes had to be taken at my university. To fit all of my credits in over four years, I had to remain on campus all four years.
But, when I was working on additional professional and graduate degrees, I made sure to look for foreign study and international student internship opportunities to meet my desire to travel. I was able to do both as a student. I still had to pay for my plane ticket, tuition and housing to participate in these programs. But, I was able to get discounted, student tickets and to see new continents due to foreign study and an international internship in graduate school.
2. I Value Everything by Its Travel Trade-off
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Every time I think to buy something or spend money, I think of what the travel trade-off is. A night out with friends for the cost of half a day in Europe. For me, there is no comparison. Yes, I like spending quality time with family and friends. But, I look for a less expensive way to do so. I’d rather have the half a day in Europe.
One of my friends mentioned the price to make reservations at an expensive campground in my state. All I could think of was that I could go camping for a week for the cost of a plane ticket to Europe. Nope! I will choose Europe every time.
3. I Don’t Eat Out a Lot
I normally take my lunch to work. Many of my coworkers were ok going out to lunch daily and “only” spending $10 per day. No, I’m not anti-social. I’d go with them sometimes but I’d bring and eat my homemade lunch. That $2,620 saved on eating lunch out in a year can go towards a nice trip.
I don’t go out to eat dinner a lot either. I like to cook at home.
A lot of food in the United States is “seasoned” with sugar. I like eating healthy and knowing the ingredients in my food. Although I enjoy tasting new foods and going for social activities and dates, I try to keep my food expenditures at home to a minimum. I am so disappointed to have paid for a meal when I could have made something better myself at home. I’d much rather spend money trying a new dish in another country. My wallet and my figure appreciate me choosing to eat at home.
4. I Book My flights within the Same Airline Family
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Some people simply go with the cheapest carrier. But, if you fly a lot and build a status with an airline by flying frequently, you get a lot of perks. These perks save you money in the long run. Some of these perks include things like mileage, free upgrades and free baggage.
I have commuted by plane three days one-way to reach a destination. On trips like this, on the return, I have accumulated enough miles for an airline ticket based on miles.
If you accumulate enough mileage, you can also earn airline lounge access that can save you money at the airport. In the lounge, you can catch a free bite to eat. You can relax in style between flights instead of perusing airport stores where you might be tempted to spend money.
5. I Never Pay for First Class Plane Tickets
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I have flown first class thanks to mileage upgrades. But, I’ve never paid for first class tickets. I look at the price of first price plane tickets and think of how many additional airplane tickets I can buy with the extra money.
I don't buy the cheapest airplane tickets. I always make sure to pay for seat selection. I do not want a seat near the rear of the plane due to turbulence and noise. I also pay for seat selection when flying with my daughter because I don't think it is fair to ask someone to switch seats because I was trying to be cheap and save a few dollars on our airline tickets because the other person had to pay for their ticket too.
Although I don't buy first class plane tickets I will, occasionally, buy first class train tickets. I have found the comfort levels on trains to be worth the minor expense. I will also take a faster flight or a train rather than a bus because time is money.
6. I Pay Cash for Everything
I know that this may sound completely insane as the world is transitioning to a credit culture. Five years ago, I made the decision to cancel all of my credit cards and to just pay cash for everything. I figured if I could not afford to pay cash for something that I probably could not really afford it.
Once incident that sparked my decision to ease my reliance on credit was a trip to Guam. I was planning to use 2 separate American Express cards to pay for my hotel and for my rental car. I landed and picked up and paid for my rental car. By the time I arrived at my hotel, I received e-mails from American Express notifying me that they had reduced the credit limit on both of my credit cards. I had no remaining credit on the two cards.
Imagine if that had been my only way to pay for my accommodation. I had to pull the funds from other sources to pay for my hotel. I was not prepared for it. It definitely put a damper on my trip. I decided at that point that I really did not need to depend on credit ever again. Since, I've cancelled my credit accounts, I never went back.
It is also not fun to be stuck working and paying for a trip that you enjoyed. It feels much better to be planning and saving for the next trip. I’ve learned to save cash and pay for all of my trips in advance.
I also save spending money and money for travel emergencies. When you buy travel insurance, you generally have to pay for hospital care and transportation up front for your insurance carrier to reimburse you for in the future.
7. I Make Use of My Layovers
I always make use of my layovers, expected or not. I flew a KLM partner to Africa. This allowed me a free stopover in Holland for as long as I liked on my outgoing and returning flights. I squeezed in a week stay on my return.
I spent a week layover in Iceland by flying an Icelandic airline to Europe.
If I have a five or more hour layover in a country, I figure out something nearby to do. I leave the airport (making sure to leave plenty of time to clear security and customs) and go exploring on my longer layovers. I saw Frankfurt, Germany and Ostia Antica in Italy like this.
On another occasion, a connection through western Europe ended up allowing me to stay overnight in Amsterdam due to an airport shutdown. Other passengers were angry, upset and yelling. I hadn’t been to Amsterdam in about 15 years. I was simply delighted. I got a hotel room and went into the city. It’s essential to have a strategically packed carry on that you can actually carry to be mobile and to have your necessities in situations like this.
8. I’m a Minimalist
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Some women collect shoes. I collect passport stamps. No, I don’t dress simply and I don’t have a wardrobe of all black or neutral clothes. I don’t buy everything second hand. I don’t always shop sales. It doesn’t matter how much you save if you bought something you didn't need.
I live a life a full color. I have some designer clothes. I know myself well enough to have developed my own personal sense of style. I only like certain colors, certain fabrics and certain cuts. I don’t buy things just because I may like them. Unless something screams “love,” it stays at the store. I don’t spend money. I don’t go window shopping. I spend my money only on what I need and what truly brings my heart joy.
9. I’m Self Employed
Some people can’t afford to take time off of work. Some jobs have no leave. If you don't work, you don't get paid.
Every job that I have held in the United States has been a Contractor or a Self-Employment arrangement. Companies are cheap and don’t want to pay employee benefits. So, they often hire employees in my field as an Independent Contractor. I have to cover all of my own benefits.
But, being self-employed, actually helps me in many ways. I can work for more than one company at a time. I can also allocate how much time I’m going to spend working. I traveled for several months in 2018 and 2019. My income did not suffer because I worked my butt off when I was home. By being self-employed, I could take off whenever I wanted. And, I was not tied to a static work schedule like in a traditional job.
10. I Buy My Plane Tickets 6 Months in Advance
The last time I flew to Europe I purchased tickets (flying from a small US city) for $700 six months in advance. Two to three months before departure, ticket prices went up to $1,500. They never came back down.
Plan and pay for your trip early to save the most money on your plane tickets.
11. I Don’t Buy Cars
I bought myself a new car . . . in 2007. I still drive it. I love my car. It works fine. Why should I spend more money on a new one? The money spent on a car payment can be spent on other things. This goes back to Minimalism.
Only buy what you love. If you really love your car, why should you replace it when nothing is wrong with it. I have a family member who has bought 4 new cars in the past 6 years. If the body style changes, she needs a new car. She complains that she doesn’t have the money to travel. Which brings me to #12.
12. Travel is My Priority
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Set your priorities. If travel is your priority, assess your life to figure out what you need to do to make it possible. Do you want a new car because there is an update or do you want to spend next summer living in Paris? I will always choose Paris.
I have decided that travel is a priority in my life. Therefore, all decisions and purchases that I make take my travel priority into consideration.
13. I Don’t Upgrade My Cell Phone
When the new iPhone is released, everyone is rushing to buy it, everyone except me. A relative showed me their new iPhone. I responded that it was the cost of plane tickets to Europe. Again, I’m equating the cost of things with their travel trade off because I have already set my travel priority.
When I first repatriated back to the United States, my coworkers ridiculed me for still using my cell phone with a stylus pen which I had bought five years prior when I was living in the US. The phone worked fine. I kept using that phone for another 2 years until it became unusable.
When my phone breaks, I always try to salvage it by taking it in for repair first. I NEVER upgrade to a new phone unless my current phone is inoperable AND unfixable. When I do upgrade, I don’t buy the most expensive new phone.
14. I Drink Tap Water
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I love a glass of wine with a nice dinner out. But, I realized a long time ago that every time I ordered a drink that I was throwing money down the drain. That $3 adds up over time. Drink tap water instead except for when you are traveling in a country where drinking tap water is not recommended.
You will also save money if you don’t spend money on drinks at the grocery store. You will cut cut down your sugar intake and feel a lot better too.
15. I Have Worked in Other Countries
I have always valued positions that have allowed me to personally grow over financial gain. I have held volunteer positions, unpaid internships and low paying jobs in the U.S. and abroad for experience, good causes and once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. These once-in-a-lifetime opportunities have also equipped me with the knowledge and experience to gain better opportunities farther down the road.
Applying to work in other countries, has allowed me to travel to, live in and work in a few countries. Sometimes, I have paid my own way and expenses. Sometimes my job has. When I lived in the Federated States of Micronesia, my job flew me and shipped my belongings. When you have to travel to work, you are generally able to collect those frequent flyer miles for personal use. By living and working in Micronesia, I was close enough to be able to hop over to Japan and Guam when I took time off.
16. I Normally Book Homes Rather than Hotels
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Book an Airbnb or VRBO early.
When I was younger, I used to be ok staying in hostels. But, I haven’t been ok with hosteling since I was in my 20s.
After my unfortunate encounter with and allergic reaction to bed bugs at a mid-range hotel (check out my blog post about avoiding bed bugs during travel). I am have very discerning accommodation requirements. I will not ever skimp on accommodation quality. I have more selective accommodation requirements the older I get.
Better priced accommodations books early. Like airline tickets, accommodation prices increase closer to your time of travel. Book accomodation shortly after you buy your airline tickets.
When traveling somewhere for more than just a couple of days, I try to book accommodation with a kitchen. I don’t like eating out every meal. Sometimes, I want something simple or something homemade.
A kitchen and a washer and dryer make travel more comfortable. A kitchen also helps me to save on food costs. I can pack lighter by staying somewhere with a washer and dryer to wash clothes.
17. I Reduced My Housing Expense
Do you want to spend a lot to stay at home or do you want to see the world? It is a simple choice for me.
I lived a little farther out from the city than my friends. I also paid less than what my friends paid splitting rent in fancier apartments with roommates to live simpler and solo. If you have family you can live with (who won’t drive you crazy), that can be a great option too. Multi-generational living is normal in many cultures across the globe.
18. Sometimes I Split Travel Expenses
I love solo travel and mother/daughter travel with my young daughter. But, occasionally, I travel with others for companionship, safety and reducing expenses. You can save money and prevent headaches if you are able to choose a compatible travel companion.
19. I Avoid Taxis and Renting Cars
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Taxis are the more expensive mode of transportation in countries. If you can figure out the city’s metro and bus system, that may be the cheapest option. Uber and other taxi alternatives may also be more affordable than traditional taxis. Remember to always keep your safety in mind, particularly as a women traveler, when deciding on your mode of transportation. Don't opt for saving money over safety.
20. I Don’t Buy Souvenirs
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When I first started traveling, I bought souvenirs and gifts back for myself and for my family. I used to have a double bookshelf where I would display many of the items. But, after about 15 countries, I grew tired of the knickknacks and got rid of most of them.
I remember all the trouble I went through to secure and bring back gifts for my family and for my ex-husband’s family after I had spent a summer in Africa. I was so proud of the items I had found for each person in our families. Most of the people did not even seem to appreciate the items I had spent so much time locating and acquiring for them. Only one of the people still has the gifts now.
Now, I only buy things that I “love.” I don’t bring back souvenirs for the sake of having souvenirs or momentos. My memories and photos are my souvenirs. The one thing that I normally only buy is tea. I love sitting down at home, having a nice cup of tea from a country and reminiscing of my time there.
21. I Constantly Reassess My Expenses
People assume that signing up for a subscription saves them money and makes it easy to renew products. But, I have been shipped items that I did not. Stay on top of any subscriptions that you decide to sign up for.
Check your bank account regularly. Discontinue any services that you aren’t using. I had 7 outstanding credits on my Audible account. Why was I continuing the service? That was easy to discontinue. Ancestry DNA was billing me $80 every 3 months. I never used the service. It was almost half the price of a plane ticket to Europe for a service that I wasn’t even using.
Every year around Thanksgiving, I look at my cell phone plan to see if I can switch to a cheaper plan. Normally, there is one.
I also check the subscriptions in my phone every few months to see if there is anything I need to discontinue.
22. I Tell My Kid “No!”
“Mommy can I have? . . .” “No!” Kids do not need to buy EVERYthing. They will be perfectly fine without every material belonging that all their friends have.
My daughter has everything that she needs. But, you know what I don’t mind spending money on for my child? . . . Education. I will spend my last dime on something educational for my child. And, do you know the best way my child learns about biodiversity, the environment, geography, government, history, art, languages, social studies, science, cultures and acceptance of others? She learns it by traveling.
This worldly education is called “worldschooling.” You can worldschool children by incorporating world curriculum into their studies or by letting them learn firsthand through part-time and full-time travel.
My daughter is the 5-year-old who flies to Paris on a red-eye, checks in with me to the Airbnb the next morning; walks a few blocks with me to go grocery shopping; showers; eats dinner and then at bed time says that she is not able to sleep because she hasn’t seen the Eiffel Tower. And, she was dead serious.
I figured out how to make it in the metro to the Eiffel Tower and took her straight there. While other kids ask for Disney Paris, she asks for the Mona Lisa and cooking and art classes with French Chefs and Artists. And, I don’t have a problem spending my money on this because it’s educational. But, spending money on another plastic toy or another video game I can easily say “no.”
My daughter in Paris that night.