How to Travel the World on a Budget
Budget travel is easier than you think
It’s a barely-kept secret that budget travel is a lot easier than anyone might think, and although you probably won’t be able to get away with dollar-a-day budgets like your grandfather might have been able to do back in his day, life abroad is usually a whole lot cheaper than life at home, and if this is a dream of yours, it’s time to start living it.
Low-cost travel options
How to travel abroad without going broke
If you travel long enough, you’ll meet plenty of people who have volunteered in some jungle conservation project, worked in an orphanage, taught English, or just found a couch to sleep on somewhere. It’s a totally different sort of experience than hopping from hostel to hostel, getting drunk with fellow Western backpackers, visiting bars playing top 40 American hits, and stumbling your fatigued way through a guided tour the next morning–though days like that can be fun, too.
There are a number of opportunities out there for people who want to travel on a budget, from work experiences to volunteering, to the freeloading options that, although not always easy to find, are becoming more common, and increasingly available on the web. Let’s get to it!
Travel Cheaply by Working Abroad
Find a job abroad and enjoy the life
If you’re willing to work for your accommodation, you can generally find a place to stay, and maybe a few meals a day out of the arrangement. Once the sort of thing that was a show-up-and-ask sort of situation, prearranged work arrangements are becoming increasingly easy to find, especially online. Some of the most available options are to:
Similar programs include Organic Volunteers (Growfood.org), and Help Exchange (Helpx.net). Both of these projects emphasize farming and other rural tasks, but they’re not limited simply to outdoor work.
Work in a hostel. Plenty of travelers also do this in hostels, finding a place they enjoy, and asking if they can pitch in. You might get paid for this kind of work, too, on top of getting a free bed, but expect it to be just enough to get by, especially ifthey’re paying local wages. Remember, it’s about the experience!
Housesit or babysit. People need home and child care all the time, with sites like HomeExchange.com and HouseCarers.com offering this sort of work. Perhaps a little quieter than the options above, but maybe you want some peace and quiet to finish your novel while you’re living rent-free.
Teach English. Another mainstay of the budget traveler, teaching English can be enjoyable, rewarding, and in some cases, lucrative. If you’re looking to make a paycheck, Asia is generally the way to go. Check ESLcafe.com, one of the biggest listings of English teaching job services out there. Many of these projects are long-term (a full academic year), but you can also find summer camps, winter camps, and other shorter-term opportunities, all over the world. Tutoring is another way to get by abroad, if you don’t want to commit to full employment.
Find random jobs. There are plenty of people looking for low-cost, basic labor all over the world, and sites like AnyWorkAnywhere.com aim to connect people with these options wherever they might be.
Volunteer Abroad and See the World
Less cheap, still fun
Volunteering abroad has been a popular option for a long time, with increasing numbers of high school and college students doing “alternative” spring breaks or summer volunteer programs all over the world.
What a lot of people don’t quite know is that volunteer work generally costs money. In fact these programs might cost thousands of dollars per month, which is often more than the cost of traveling in the destination country in the first place. Although administrative fees, accommodation and organizational arrangements aren’t free, the price tag will scare away plenty of potential altruists.
But, fortunately, there are some cheaper ways to volunteer abroad, and not just the Peace Corps. VFP.org specializes in low-cost, short-term volunteer projects that generally cost a few hundred dollars for a couple weeks, which shouldn’t be too far out of the travel budget for most people.
That said, plenty of volunteer work consists of farming, and if you’re willing to try WWOOFing (see above), you might be able to find the same kind of work without writing a check for the privilege of working for free. Same thing with HelpX.net, which might be able to connect you with similar projects minus the price tag.
The idea isn’t to bad-mouth volunteer work here; it’s to point out that volunteering abroad is not always a cheap way to travel, and if you’re here, you’re here on a budget. Most international volunteers put their time and money in for selfless reasons, which, although wonderful, is out of reach for many. It doesn’t hurt to try the lower-cost options above.
On the other hand, many people simply walk right into an orphanage, ask if they can help, and are quite warmly received.
Find Free Accommodation
Live rent-free to travel cheaply
Many of the above listings imply free accommodation, particularly the work exchange programs, but here we’re just talking about living for free, no effort required.
Couchsurfing and Hospitality Club are two of the biggest free-accommodation sites around. Simply email people in the city you want to visit, and see if they have a couch for you to enjoy while you’re there.
Standard basic decency rules apply, and remember to leave the place a little cleaner than you found it. You can also meet up with people without staying at their place, which can be a great way of seeing the city from a local perspective you might not otherwise get to see.
Ways to Save Money while Traveling
Budget travel tips for cheap adventures
If the above options aren’t for you (since they’re not exactly “traveling”), and you’re just here for some quick and easy cost-saving travel tips, that’s fine too. Many people overspend on travel, and although each country might have its own rules, there are a few tried-and-true techniques to help you save money while traveling the world.
It’s perfectly reasonable (in 2012 or so) to get by in some of the less-developed countries on $30 to $40 a day, and in modern countries on double or triple that.
Find local meals. Backpackers often go to the same places over and over; the foreign-owned Irish Pub down the block from the hostel, where the owner serves Western meals at near-Western prices. Go a few blocks out of the tourist traps, and you’ll find local restaurants serving food at prices locals can afford. Often these places are happy to receive foreign visitors, since they so rarely come to places like these, even in busy tourist cities. Local markets are also a great idea, especially if you plan on cooking your own meals.
Find free admission days. Many museums and other sites offer free or discounted admission on certain days; if you can time it right, go for it. And if you simply can’t afford to visit museums all the time, just go to church. They have plenty of artwork all over the place, and it’s usually free, especially on Sundays.
Forget the Eurail Pass. Well, maybe don’t forget it altogether, but definitely check to see if it’s worth the cost. Many people just automatically buy one without thinking about it. Although a Eurail can be cost-effective in certain situations (longer trips), it can be terrible in other situations (going from one town to the next, within the same country). Always check transportation costs in the country you’re visiting, and what kind of deals you might be able to find, which vary by country. Also, European discount airlines are often much cheaper than long-distance train rides; check RyanAir and EasyJet. I once got a flight for a penny. Yes, one penny, from one end of Europe to the other.
Take the Bus. It’s bizarre how many travelers never even bother to find local transportation, and run to the first taxi they see, especially the ones sitting on the main square, where wealthy tourists are in a constant state of taxi seeking. Walking isn’t so bad either, especially if you’re going for ultralight travel.
Take overnight bus and train trips. Not always the most comfortable way to go, but a 12 hour overnight train ride will get you the sleep you need, and you’ll save a night’s worth of accommodation costs, plus a day’s worth of travel time.
Those are the major costs associated with international travel, and although plenty of these recommendations will only be relevant on a city-by-city or country-by-country basis, a little common sense goes a long way. Avoiding the touristy areas is by far the easiest way to accomplish this, and often quite rewarding, too.
Check out some tips for packing light to make the journey easier.
Cheap World Travel is for You!
Time to go!
By far the biggest obstacle to international travel is the will to do so. Replace “maybe someday” with “September, this year.” Spend time in the travel section in the local bookstore, and let it get under your skin. Once the bug hits you, there’ll be no going back, and you’ll find plenty of cheap ways to travel the world, whether it’s cost-saving measures while traveling, or inexpensive living or working opportunities in your country of choice. It’s really just about setting your mind to it. Stop dreaming, and start planning. You’ll be glad you did.