Tuesday, June 18, 2013

How Can YOU Afford to Travel?

When I talk about traveling and my plans for moving abroad in the fall everyone always asks me: "How can you afford to travel so much?"


In my case, I've been really lucky.  My boyfriend's family is so incredibly kind and have opened up their home to me the past couple of years to visit.  Thanks to their generosity, I have been able to travel to Europe without a huge chunk of living expenses most travelers have to pay.  Despite my own luck, the reality is that travel really doesn't have to cost you an arm and a leg.  In fact, it's quite possible to have your travels be affordable.  Here are some of my tips I've learned from my personal experiences on how you can make traveling affordable for you and your lifestyle, even if you're a broke college graduate.

Work Hard

Coming from a low-middle class family, with the responsibility of figuring out how to pay 90% of my college education, I always thought travel was out of the question for me.  Maybe splurging for a few trips here and there throughout my life, but traveling the world?  Never.  So I would pore over travel magazines, collections of maps, and my history books until I realized I wasn't going to be satisfied until I experience the 'real thing.'  So I worked my butt off.  I'm talking multiple jobs during college, six hour work weeks, and currently three part-time jobs.

Now I'm not saying work should take precedent over everything else in your life because not only will you be burned out and miserable, but you would be missing out on so much of your life that is passing you by.  If you want to travel but don't have a vast pool of money just lying around, then you will have to work hard, but never at the expense of your day to day happiness.

Research and Book Wisely

For the actual traveling, also research and book your trip wisely.  Researching for your trip, no matter where you're going, is always a smart thing to do.  Here is some of my advice I have found from my travels:

When searching for your for flights, always clear your search history and cookies.  You can be shown more expensive results based on what you have previously bought/searched for (also, try searching on a PC because Macs can also return more expensive results).  Search on multiple sites, but be wary of booking flights on sites like orbitz or travelocity because they can make it difficult/expensive to cancel or change plans.  In those cases, it may be best to find your flights there but book on the actual airlines' websites.  I've had great success using kayak.com and have heard good things about Student Universe.  Also, know the baggage regulations and fees for the airlines you are booking with.  Most domestic flights now charge for checked bags and have size/weight restrictions.  Here is an article I read recently about: "How to Find Affordable European Flights for the Summer;" for those not going to Europe, much of the advice is applicable to travel fares in general.
Researching where you will be staying is also very important.  Always look at the location: is it safe?, is it touristic?, is there public transportation?, is it close to what you want to see/do?  Look at many things before making a final decision.  Does it have various pictures?  Does the advertised price include taxes and fees? Most people will tell you to look at the stars of a hotel/hostel, but I think it can often be even more important to look at the reviews.  I am far more willing to trust the actual experience of a person than to believe what the establishment itself has posted.

While sometimes these things can be best decided upon spontaneously, it is nice to look into options to anticipate how much you plan on spending and how you can fit in everything you may want to see.  Check out some travel blogs and forums, search a little on the web, see what people are recommending for some good local eats and unique places to visit.  If in doubt when choosing a place to eat, I always use advice my dad once gave me: if you go to a restaurant during a normal meal time (this is culturally dependent, for example lunch time in Spain is around 2/3pm and dinner is closer to 10pm) and it's empty, then it may not have the best food.  Another indicator, is who is eating at a restaurant.  If you're in a foreign country and it's just tourists, then you may want to wander a little bit more for something more authentic.  As for entertainment, research any passes you can get if you don't qualify for discounts offered wherever you may be visiting.  In Paris I got the Museum Pass and it saved me a lot of money!
Take Advantage of Discounts
If you can manage to travel off season, see if you can.  Often flights, hotels, and sometimes entertainment will be much cheaper.  When I flew to Spain in February last year my flight was only $690 round-trip and this past January when my boyfriend flew here to visit me it was only $630 round-trip (as opposed to my flight to Spain in July last summer that was a whopping $1000, but I was there two months so it wasn't so bad considering).  And if you happen to be a student, or in the case of Europe under 26, you could qualify for some major discounts.  Wherever you travel see if you meet the requirements for any discounts whether it be with your school ID, an international student card, AAA membership, or the likes.  You can get some great deals on anything from museums to trains, and in the long run this could save you a lot of money!

Budget Accordingly

No matter how hard you might work, it's all for nothing if you don't budget accordingly.  Another part of the reason I've been able to travel so frequently, is because I budget all of the money I earn.  First things first, look at all of that research you have done: where do you want to travel, how long do you want to go for, what to you want to do/see, and how much will it all cost.  Once you have a working idea of your travel plans, create a budget of how much you can afford to spend on the trip. This great website has a free travel budget planner that can help you get started on travel budget.  With your estimated travel costs, see how you can afford to make your plans a reality.
My personal advice then would be to also have a non-travel budget that takes into account your regular payments and monthly salary.  As I discussed in my previous post Budgeting Life After College, this would help you know your biggest expenses and set your financial priorities.  That way you can start saving up for your travel fund without A) Putting yourself in debt or B) Making it impossible to pay off the debt you may already have.  The money you save for travel should not interfere with the bills or other necessary payments you need to make on time.  I use the travel budget to estimate my travel costs and then apply it to my regular budget to see how much I need to/can afford to save per month.

Live Within Your Means

Something that goes hand and hand with budgeting is living within your means.  Between all my jobs I probably barely make a measly $14,000/year, yet I have already managed to save up enough for my flight to Spain, three months of living expenses in Madrid, and two years worth of my student loan payments.  How did I do?  Because along with keeping my budget, I know how to purchase wisely and do without.
To save money this year: I have been living at home, I drive my mom's old car, and I limit my spending.  I rarely go out to eat or drink, instead my friend's often opt to stay in and cook for ourselves and enjoy some drinks.  When I do go out, still a couple times a month, I always look for drink or meal specials (this is when it really helps living only fifteen minutes away from a major University, I love all the local cheap eats).  And while I do love clothes I frequent: sales racks, thrift stores, and seasonal sales.  I have become a master at revamping my wardrobe without spending a fortune, and I think I dress pretty darn well!  The point is, that yes, you may have to sacrifice some of those fancy new 'things' all your friends seem to have (and when have material objects brought as much happiness as actual experiences anyway?), but you don't have to sacrifice enjoying your life to be able to afford to traveling.

Look at How You Can Work/Study Abroad

Another great way to do some traveling is to work, study, or even volunteer abroad.  What's great about these options is that some may offer a stipend, scholarships, or even opportunity for room and board.  The program I'm doing next year is offered through the Spanish government and I am given a monthly stipend for teaching English in a public elementary school.  You can look at studying abroad through your university, or look into language academies if you only have a couple months to spare (generally they don't give you visas to study there so your time will be limited).  Here are some options I have seen posted through my own university or via articles I have read about:
Jobs Abroad-Work Abroad
Transitions Abroad-Guide to Work, Study, Travel and Living Abroad
Aupair World

Spain Related Work:
Auxiliares Ministry Program
Au Pair in Spain

Global Volunteers
Global Aware-Adventures in Service
Earthwatch Institute
10 Volunteer Programs for Budget Travelers
10 Volunteer Opportunities for Free Travel


What tips do you have on being able to afford travel?  How have you managed to travel on your budget?


  1. I use airbnb.com when traveled to the United states to visit my boyfriend. it's less expensive and most of the time safe because you're living in someone's home.

    1. I've never used airbnb.com, but I've heard great things about it. It's definitely something I'll have to look into for my next vacation!