By Theresa Christine
For this special Travel That, I wanted to give you wonderful readers some advice on how to make your travel dreams a reality. Money greatly affects the type of travel I do, as well as how often and where I go. So you might be wondering, “Theresa, how do I travel on a budget, since I don’t have a buttload of cash?” Here’s how!
* Look at every way to get from Point A to Point B.
Pull out your pen and paper, folks, and take some notes! To save some cizzash on transportation, make sure you consider all your options:
For air travel, go to sites like Airfarewatchdog, Momondo, or Kayak that will check numerous places at once and compare for you. I pair this with checking a site like Expedia, and a few select airline’s websites, and that gets me the best deal. Consider a bus, like Greyhound or Megabus. They take longer, but you can save some serious moolah if you have the patience (we’re talking 14 hours to get from NYC to South Carolina–woof).
Amtrak occasionally has some good promotions, and if you book a train for overnight, you’ll save money on lodging. Also, it’s a train! How quaint.
Rideshares, like Zimride, are fun and totally safe. Craigslist’s rideshare page simply requires some street smarts. My CL experience was with a lovely gal making her way back to San Francisco. Simply insist on speaking with the person on the phone beforehand, and if they seem weird, then NO. Also, if you ever feel unsafe during the ride, politely ask to be dropped off at the next gas station. I’m going to risk sounding like a total mom right now and say it: safety first!
* Consider lodging alternatives.
I’ve stayed in one 5-star hotel in my life, and it was because I randomly won a trip to the Country Music Awards in high school. Long story. Anyway, a pricey hotel is your only option when on the road. Here are a few other ways to catch up on your zzz’s:
Hostels are affordable, sometimes offer a community kitchen, and make meeting people a breeze. When I was in high school, I stayed at one in New York City for $40 a night. I hung out with cool people, saved money, and since I was busy sight-seeing most days, I was barely there anyway!
Vacation/Rental sites like AirBNB and VRBO are, in my opinion, far nicer than hotels and usually the same price or even cheaper. You’re staying in someone’s actual house, so it’s way cozier than a Holiday Inn.
If you’re able to bring a bit of gear with you, camping is a great way to go. Just be aware of when the sun goes down, since pitching a tent in the dark is no fun. But you know what is fun? S’mores!
Make use of your connections before you head to your destination and see if you know anyone you can crash with. I have good friends and family in Philadelphia, New York City, St. Thomas, and Leipzig, to name a few, all of whom would host me in a heartbeat. Also, what’s better than getting a local’s perspective in a new place? In the same vein, check out Couchsurfing. I’ve hosted and surfed, and all of them were great experiences. Look for folks with a lot of information on their page as well as references from previous surfers. Also, for CS success, be sure to fill out your profile in full and include photos!
* Cook your own meals.
Even cutting one meal and eating it at your humble abode you can save $10-$15 per day, and that adds up. Stop by a grocery store and grab some fruit and pop tarts or oatmeal that comes in microwavable cups, and breakfast is set! Also consider cooking a few dinners in, and then you’ll feel better about taking advantage of lunch specials during the day
If your travel dates are flexible, you can possibly save cash. I tend to fly on Thursdays instead of Fridays for obvious reasons. If that’s not possible, taking the crazy early flights can save money, too. Those 6am flights are brutal, but if you can suck it up, your wallet will thank you.
* Set a daily max, and use cash.
When I went on Girl Scout trips, I remember being handed an envelope of money to use per day. It was good for food, souvenirs, and anything I wanted to spend it on. Once it was gone, though, it was G-O-N-E. Sure, you’re traveling and you should treat yo’self, but you’re not made of money. Figure out a daily budget and stick to it. This seems a little silly, but it really does work!
* Look into frequent flyer/traveller programs.
Even if you don’t travel regularly, it’s nice to get rewarded for the trips you do take. I recently signed up for the Southwest rapid rewards program, which is free, and I’ve already earned a enough points for free airfare, all because I’m a loyal customer.
* Take public transit.
Being in a new place is overwhelming, and it’s so easy to call a cab that will whisk you away to any spot you desire. Resist! If public transit is a safe and viable option, you’ll find your money can be better spent elsewhere. In LA I took a bus to get into Hollywood, and it took a little more of my time, but it was practically nothing to ride and I met some nice people along the way.
* Strike up conversation with anyone and everyone.
Before you go, tell everyone you know. While you’re on your way, welcome random conversation. When I traveled to Santa Cruz with my roommates, the hotel manager gave us a free room upgrade, simply because we were friendly and talked with him a bit when we arrived. Even if nothing comes of it, you’ll at least make some friendly conversation!
So there you have it! It is possible to travel on a budget, so go ahead and start dreaming up your next trip. I hope to see you on the road.