Raise your hand if you like to travel. Now, raise your hand if you like spending a small fortune to travel. Is anyone’s hands up? I didn’t think so. Traveling may seem like such an expensive hobby, but in all honesty, it doesn’t have to be. You can travel on next to nothing, all it takes is planning and some creativity.
How to Travel on Next to Nothing
*This post was written by Kimberly Studdard, a regular guest writer here at Life And My Finances. She absolutely knows what she’s taking about in this category, so read carefully, take notes, and live out her advice!
To me, this is one of the more fun parts in traveling. I LOVE planning, so being able to plan a trip and including little details is a blast for me. If you want to travel on next to nothing:
- decide on where you want to go,
- how you are going to get there, and
- what you want to do while you are there.
Once you have those three tasks completed you can really start to map out your trip and configure costs.
Tip #2: Volunteer or Work While You’re Traveling
This tip isn’t for everyone. However, if you are single, or if you love to help others, this is going to be a fantastic tip for you. There are so many countries that have programs in need of volunteers or missionary work (which in some cases you could receive a paycheck). Also, teaching English is getting higher in demand, and if you meet the qualifications, you can get paid to teach students for a year. Talk about travel on next to nothing – you’re actually getting paid to travel in these instances!!
Now, keep in mind this isn’t for someone who is trying to go on vacation, as most of these trips are for at least a month, and longer. This is for someone who wants to travel and experience different cultures, and make a long term commitment to travel.
Tip #3: Look For Discount Travel Methods
While planning on how to travel on next to nothing, you need to decide whether you will drive, take a train, or take a plane to your destination. My rule of thumb is anything that takes 8 hours or less can be driven to, but that is just a personal preference. If you are going to drive, make sure to weigh your options on using your personal car or a rental, and how much gas prices are.
Gas prices are the lowest they’ve been in at least three years, and if your car is in good shape, an 8 hour drive would cost considerably less than a flight.
Also, if you have a credit card, and you are responsible with it, you can look into their points system to see if you can get discounts or free stuff while traveling.
If you travel on next to nothing, this will most likely be your biggest expense. Flying isn’t cheap, and it doesn’t look like it will be going down anytime soon. So what do you do if you have to fly? Look for deals! Seriously. Look for the deals.
My favorite airline by far is Southwest. Not only do I get free checked luggage (as long as it’s under 50 lbs.) but Southwest also runs a numerous amount of deals throughout the year. Also, by becoming a member, which is free, you get mileage “points” that can then be put towards flights in the future.
Other good airlines are Delta and JetBlue. If you don’t fly frequently or don’t want to sign up for rewards, other quick ways to save money would be to check through negotiation sites like Expedia or Priceline, and use apps like Hopper (available for Apple and Android phones) that track when prices drop.
Tip #5: Decide Where to Stay
Choosing where to stay when you travel on next to nothing can also be a bit of a challenge. You don’t want to sacrifice comfort just to save a few dollars. When looking for accommodations, it’s best to list the items and comforts that are must haves, and those that are not.
For example, I like saving money on food, so a place with free breakfast is always at the top of my list. Normally, those hotels don’t cost much more, but they can save you at least $5 a person every day that you stay. If you don’t mind crashing on someone’s couch you could always check out websites that offer couch surfing. As always, do your research before staying with someone you don’t know, but it could be an option for someone looking to save some serious moolah.
I love the option of renting a home, and a good website for that is Airbnb. If you are traveling with more than five people (or with multiple families) renting out someone’s house or condo can help you save money and get more legroom too. ‘Most of these places come with appliances, washers and dryers, and more. Also, a lot of them can be under $150 a night depending on where you look. If you add up the savings from making your own food, washing clothes without paying in quarters, and having free Wi-Fi, you actually might save money in the long run if you go through a website like Airbnb.
Speaking of food, how much do you want to spend on it? I am a self-proclaimed food critic, and I love tasting new cuisines and I will try anything once. With travel, a meal for four is going to cost you at least $40. Can you imagine spending $120 every day? Yeah, me either. But there are plenty of ways to cut costs. Can you buy some food to stash in your hotel room? If you want to travel on next to nothing, you’ll want to save all you can in the food category.
Food like granola bars, fruit, and pretzels do well and they don’t have to be refrigerated. If you do have a fridge, you could go grocery shopping and consider making your own breakfast and dinners. Notice how I didn’t say lunch? Another tip I’ve learned is to go to a restaurant during their lunch hours. You can normally get the same meal for a smaller price.
If you are a foodie like me, this could be a great option, because you can visit all the places on your list, but not spend as much as you normally would. And don’t pay for convenience. It’s better to stop by a grocery store for snacks than a gas station. That $6 jerky you had your eye on is going to cost considerably less if you stop by a grocery store.
Tip #7: Save Money on the Little Things
When traveling to a new place, I always check out websites like Yelp and Tripadvisor. For me, I can get a feel of the city and what it has to offer, as well as research for activities that are free or cheap. Zoos, aquariums, and parks are normally free or cheap, and can offer a few hours of entertainment.
Another few of my favorite activities are tours and of course, places like the beach. Honestly, I could spend hours on a beach, and if it’s free, all the more reason to spend the day there. When you decide on the place you want to visit, at least check out their city website. Most places will have one, and they can offer lots of activities and fun things to do, and I’ve even seen some that offer coupons and deals too.
Tip #8: Don’t Forget To Enjoy Yourself
Okay, so you’ve saved all of your money and you can now travel on next to nothing. Do you feel happy about your choices? Good. Now throw in some splurges. Life isn’t just about saving a ton of money. Sure, using these tips and tricks will definitely help you save some serious dough. But, I also think life is all about balance.
If you are doing a lot of free activities, throw in something like an amusement park, or maybe snowboarding lessons. Instead of going straight back to the hotel after lunch, go out for some homemade ice cream or your dessert of choice. It doesn’t have to be anything extravagant, but just something to really knock your socks off. You can still travel cheaply and not be cheap.
As a way to show you how easy it can be to travel on next to nothing, I am going to show you the cost of a trip that I am taking this weekend for my birthday. Keep in mind that it will be my fiancé, my daughter, and myself on this trip.
My Trip Example: Kansas City, MO to Dallas, TX (Friday-Monday)
1) How we are getting there: Driving! Dallas is only 7 hours away, and even if you throw in frequent pit stops for diaper changes and small meltdowns, we should get there later than 5pm if we leave at 7 am.
2) Rental Car: $15 day (weekend special) $60 + tax- we skipped insurance because our insurance covers rentals. Also, this car is an economy car and gets 42 mpg.
3) Gas: We will be using Gas Buddy and have asked friends and family how much gas prices in Texas are. We budgeted $125, but we may use less. I am packing our snacks and meals the night before, so the only thing we will be stopping for is gas.
4) Accommodations: We shopped around on Priceline and found a hotel right outside of Dallas that was only charging $40 a night. We will be staying 3 nights. $120 + tax
5) Food & Activities: We will be going down to the arts district to explore for the day. It boasts at least three different free museums, and also a park. We will also be checking out the Latino Culture Center, as my fiancé and I want our daughter to start learning about her heritage.
And last but not least we are going to the Dallas Zoo. It’s a little steep at $15 per adult, but we will be getting a $2 discount on each ticket since we both have military ID’s. Plus, it’s an all-day activity, so we think it’s well worth it. We will also pack our lunches to enjoy in the park to save extra cash.
6) Food: The first place we will stop is the grocery store that is right across the street from the hotel we will be staying at. Most of our meals will come there, but I also have a few cafe’s I want to try, and I’ve looked at their online menus. Most of them have items for under $15, and since I can never finish all of my food, our daughter will just share with me.
For my birthday, we have some family members driving from Houston to celebrate. As a birthday gift they will be covering Eddie’s and my dinner, and my aunt will watch our daughter while we go sightseeing. We have budgeted around $100 for food and activities.
In total, we will spend about $450 + tax. Not bad for a four day getaway with lots of activities and good food.
It is easy to travel on next to nothing, and I’ve even given you an example trip to get inspired from. All it takes is persistence, creativity, and a little luck. The best vacations are spent with loved ones, and you shouldn’t have to worry about money in order to have a good time in a new place.
Do you travel on next to nothing? How do you do it?
AUTHOR Derek Sall
Derek has a Bachelor's degree in Finance and a Master's in Business. As a finance manager in the corporate world, he regularly identified and solved problems at the C-suite level. Today, Derek isn't interested in helping big companies. Instead, he's helping individuals win financially--one email, one article, one person at a time.