The most common question we are asked about our travels is: “How do you afford to travel so much?”. Our usual response is that we don’t travel nearly as much as we’d like to… More seriously, here are some tips on how you too can travel cheaply for long periods of time.
Sleep For Free or Cheap
Most people think Hawaii is expensive, but our two week trip to the Big Island was one of our cheapest yet. We spent a total of $20 on our accommodations. How so? Well, we spent most of the nights camping for free at county campgrounds or on deserted beaches, and a few nights with hosts from Couchsurfing and Warm Showers.
Accommodation can be expensive, or it can be cheap or even free, and you have a lot of control over this. Ask your friends, perhaps they know someone who could host you. If this doesn’t work, consider Couchsurfing: every year, millions of
Couchsurfers all over the world stay at another person’s home, most often a stranger, exchanging no money whatsoever. House sitting is another way of way of sleeping for free while travelling, and some people have even made it into a way of life, as well as house swapping, which doesn’t even have to be simultaneous (especially useful if you happen to have another home). If you are cycling, check out Warm Showers, a network of individuals who host travelling cyclists.
Camping for free is possible almost anywhere, outside of urban areas – if you are near a town or houses, just ask a local to camp on their land, they will seldom say no. Otherwise just stay low (“guerilla camping”). In some countries, camping on public land is allowed and free (including National Forests in the US) or even all land (in Scandinavia). Finally, be creative and try to engage people and make friendships. You might just be invited into someone’s home and have the most memorable experience of your trip.
Eat Like the Locals
I love eating at “local institutions”, the kinds of places that people return to again and again and will even travel to especially. In Israel, many hummus places have attained this status, such as Abu Hasan in Jaffa, the arab quarter of Tel Aviv, serving steaming plates of Masabaha (a type of hummus) to an almost always present line-up.
Instead of eating at touristy restaurants, look around you and observe where the non-rich locals are eating. If you choose a busy restaurant, it is more likely to be a good, authentic and clean place to eat. Eating on the street is a time honoured tradition in much of the world, and it is often tasty, fresh, clean and cheap.
I’ve tried following guidebooks to find good restaurants, but this usually fails miserably – invariably, the restaurant has moved, is touristy or just has bad food. A better way is to ask a few locals, being careful about how you pose the question so that they don’t send you to the local tourist trap or to a junk food joint.
Slow Down – Stay Longer in Each Place
A colleague returned from a trip to Europe. I asked her how it was, and she said she’s tired, and could really use a “vacation after the vacation”. You know how some people “do Europe” in 10 days travelling to a new country every day? It’s tiring, expensive, and you get to spend much of your time on trains, airplanes or buses.
Being in a hurry leads to higher costs for transportation, accommodation, attractions and food, since staying in one spot for longer, you learn to find the best cheap eats, and don’t have to visit all the attractions in one day. Staying in one place for longer periods of time will allow you to get a more in-depth view of the place and its people. After a few days in one place, you might start developing habits, such as visiting the bakery or outdoor
market daily, and the streets will become familiar, lending a place a sense of home.
Flights are often the most expensive part of a trip. By travelling longer, this expense is spread out over a longer time period. Going long also allows you to get into the groove of the trip, focusing just on the trip itself and living in the present, as opposed to the things you will have to do immediately after the trip. Travelling for a longer period of time also forces us to think about our expenses in a different way – you are less likely to splurge daily if you travel for a few months than if you travel for a week or two, simply because you know it would be difficult to afford it.
Travel Off the Beaten Track
When reading a travel guidebook such as the Lonely Planet, I often look for the sections that are the shortest, or for words such as “remote”, “little visited” and “out of the way”.
Travelling to less popular areas, towns or countries has many benefits – they tend to be less affected by tourism, and can be much cheaper. More importantly, they allow the traveller to feel “special”, as if they are discovering a new place. This sense of discovery can be hard to find when you are surrounded by fellow travellers.
Consider choosing your destination or vacation period based on which locations are less touristy or cheaper to fly to. Look for a deal on flights, try to travel during the low season in your destination, and try to avoid travelling during holidays. You might end up going somewhere that you hadn’t thought of going, but that’s part of the adventure.
Do Less Sightseeing
Sightseeing can be expensive, but it’s not necessarily the best way to experience a place or have a good time – there are plenty of free or cheap things you could do instead. Strolling through a town, sitting on a bench and people-watching are great free ways to get to know your surroundings. In many parts of the world, markets are a happening place, and they are almost always free to enter.
Take a Hike
The mountains drew us to Nepal. After a bit of research, we bought a guidebook and decided to hike for four weeks in the Khumbu region, near Everest. For those four weeks, we were immersed in the mountains, spending almost the whole day every day outside, and spending very little money.
If you want to focus on seeing the outdoors, hiking is a great and cheap way to do so. You won’t be spending much money, since there won’t be anything to spend it on! Then again, try to ditch the guide and porter, if you can, to have a more independent and adventurous trip, or if you need a guide, porter or pack animal, take extra care to choose a cheap location.
Get Your Own Set of Wheels
In the past few years, we have been travelling almost only by bicycle. It’s a great way to see the world at a slower pace, spending most of our time in between the tourist hotspots, while spending our days outside and getting plenty of exercise.
Interactions with people are just a quick pump of the brakes away. It can also be extraordinarily cheap, especially if you are camping or can find free or cheap lodging. It (almost) eliminates any transportation costs too. Even if you can’t or don’t want to cycle, consider an e-Bike or a motorbike – having your own set of wheels is the key to your independence, as well as your wallet.
Travel to Poorer Countries
If you travel to an expensive country, it might be harder to live on the cheap. The good but unfortunate news is that if you are reading this, probably most
of the countries in the world qualify as “poorer countries” for you, where your next meal might cost less than a $1, and your hotel room might cost $5-10. Yes, this comes at the price of spending time in a place where poverty might be more exposed than in “developed countries” where it is hidden under the rugs, the streets might be dirty and the best hotel room in town might be far below a one star hotel and charge by the hour. But, what you get in return, is the real deal – a quick view into the life in most of the world.
Take the Kids Along
Don’t stop travelling, just because you have kids! You don’t even need to change your style of travelling all that much. We took our son Neil on his first overseas cycle tour when he was seven months old, to South Korea and Japan. Amazingly, South Korea has a bike trail right across the country. We did a lot of camping during the trip, stayed in cheap hotels, and were sometimes hosted through Couchsurfing and Warm Showers.
And guess what? bringing a baby along can even lower the costs of your trip. In Japan, a relatively expensive country, we got invited over and over again to stay in people’s homes. Having our baby with us only connected us more with the locals and made the experience richer for all of us. In addition, if you live in a country with decent social benefits, like Canada, take advantage of the parental leave and travel while getting paid as well as being there with your kid, 24/7.