Did you know the average family vacation costs $4,580?
WTF guys. Seriously.
If I waited until I had that much disposable income lying around I’d probably be a pile of dust.
You don’t need to spend that much on a vacation if you don’t want to. Instead, do it smartly. Take some time to do some research. If you spend maybe 20 hours of your life doing a bit of research on how to shave $4,000 off your next vacation (and believe me, it is possible), then that’s like making $200 per hour. Sign me up!
These tips I’m about to share with you have literally changed my life. Before I wasn’t able to afford travel; now I am. It’s that simple.
Related: How To Travel The World On $50 A Day: Travel Cheaper, Longer, Smarter (affiliate link)
Alright, are you ready?
Here they are:
- 0.1 Learn How To Travel Hack
- 0.2 Extend Your Stopover
- 0.3 Keep Up With Discount Flight Websites
- 0.4 Check As Many Websites As Possible When Booking
- 0.5 Book Your Flight At The Best Time
- 0.6 Fly Budget Airlines
- 0.7 Go Backpacking
- 0.8 Plan How You’ll Pay For Things Ahead Of Time
- 0.9 Couch Surf: Like Being A Bum, But Cooler
- 0.10 Use AirBnB
- 0.11 Visit A Cheap Country
- 0.12 House Sit Or Home Swap
- 0.13 Cook Your Own Meals
- 0.14 Plan Your Trip Budget Ahead Of Time
- 0.15 Go In The Off-Season
- 0.16 Scope Out Your Memberships And Credit Card Perks
- 0.17 Volunteer Abroad
- 0.18 Hitchhike
- 0.19 WWOOF
- 0.20 Scope Out Your Travel Options
- 1 Be Flexible, Save Money, Travel Cheaply, Travel More
Learn How To Travel Hack
“Travel hacker” sounds like some diabolical villain. You know what’s diabolical? Tricking people into a lifetime of debt with shiny credit card rewards.
Instead, you can actually turn the game around so you beat the house. How? It’s pretty simple. Here’s how it works:
- Sign up for a travel rewards credit card with a lucrative bonus
- Funnel all of your spending on it until you reach the bonus
- PAY OFF YOUR BALANCE EACH MONTH (I do it once daily because I’m anal about it)
- Close the card before the annual fee is due (most cards waive it the first year)
- Rinse and repeat
Credit card hacking isn’t for everyone. But, if you have a great credit score (700 or above) and you’ve got good systems set up to pay off your credit cards regularly, there is no reason why you need to pay for flights or hotels almost ever.
Since learning how to travel hack with Brad and Alexi’s free TravelMiles101 email course, I’ve gotten the following trips for almost nothing or even free:
- FinCon 2016
- FinCon 2017
- Estes Park Anniversary Celebration
- Seattle Geek Bowl
- Texas wildlife trip to wrap up a research publication
- Family reunion in North Carolina this summer
- Backpacking in Peru this fall
Extend Your Stopover
You know how you usually fly through several cities on your way to your final destination?
Did you know you can actually extend your stopover into a vacation of its own? For example, if you fly to Europe you can actually extend a stopover in Iceland for a full week—for free!
This epic post tells you everything you need to know about engineering your stopovers for a second free vacation. It even tells you how to reroute your itinerary to go to the places you want to check out.
Keep Up With Discount Flight Websites
Pricing airline tickets seems like a crazier business than making Lady Gaga’s wardrobe. Sometimes, things slip through the cracks and you can get a smokin’ hot deal if you’re flexible on where you go.
Websites like Holiday Pirates, The Flight Deal, and Airfarewatchdog allow you to sign up for updates so that when a flight does hit a crazy-low price, you can get notified immediately before it expires. You can also search for destinations based on how much you can afford with Kayak’s Explore tool. Here’s another great post about how to find airfare mistakes in your favor.
Check As Many Websites As Possible When Booking
I’m gonna let you in on a little secret: not all travel websites were created equal. If you just go to a single site to book your travel, you could be missing out big time.
A good place to start is with Momondo, because it searches many websites by itself (even non-English ones). Kayak, Google Flights, and ITA Matrix are also good places to check once you have your itinerary down. Nomadic Matt even has this search system down to a science.
Sure, you might not save hundreds of dollars by booking a cheaper flight. If you’d take the time to clip coupons, though, why not take a few extra minutes to do this and save a few bucks?
Book Your Flight At The Best Time
You probably knew ticket prices change over time, right?
It turns out that the optimal booking window is 6-8 weeks out if you’re traveling in the off-season, or 12 weeks out if you’ll be traveling during peak season.
Fly Budget Airlines
Budget air carriers like Ryanair and EasyJet have been a big thing in Europe for a while now. Alas; we’ve been held hostage by high-price carriers here in the States. Luckily, budget airlines like Allegiant Air and Frontier Airlines are starting to make headway here. So, whether you’re traveling here or abroad, it’s worth checking these companies out.
The reason these airlines are so cheap is because they offer a frill-less experience. You’ll generally be charged for food, bringing bags aboard, and they even pack the seats in closer than normal airlines. As long as you’re aware of each airline’s restrictions (and here’s a great guide), you can save a ton of money by flying budget airlines.
Some people love to travel to beaches and laze about, take naps, and rest.
I am not one of those people. I like adventure. I’ll leave the nap-taking to my cat at home (for free).
One of the best ways to have an adventure is to blend in with the locals and do your own DIY vacation rather than an all-inclusive package. It’s way cheaper, too!
It looks like I’ll be spending around $15 per night for accommodations in a hostel for me Peru trip this fall. There’s even a three-day trekking trip through Colca Canyon (the second-deepest in the entire world, full of flying Andean condors) for just $50! I eat dinners that are more expensive than that here in the States.
Plan How You’ll Pay For Things Ahead Of Time
The rest of the world doesn’t always run on credit cards. Shocking, I know.
So, plan out your money situation ahead of time. Will you need to take out cash? What’s the best way to do it? Go to a bank vs. a local moneychanger? Can you withdraw cash from an ATM when you’re abroad? If so, are there network ATMs in the country you’re traveling to where you can withdraw cash without a fee?
If you will be using your card abroad, do they actually have an established presence in the country you’ll be going to? Discover is popular in America but isn’t too widespread in Europe, for example.
It’s also a good idea to check if your credit card charges a foreign transaction fee before you go. Most credit cards charge a 3% foreign transaction fee. If you use one with no foreign transaction fee (here’s a good list), that’s like getting your vacation for 3% cheaper. Or, think of how much chocolate you can buy with that extra 3% savings! Come on now, people! Think of the chocolate!
Couch Surf: Like Being A Bum, But Cooler
Have you ever heard of couchsurfing? If you don’t mind hanging out in close quarters with strangers, this can be a great option.
You simply find locals at your destination through the Couchsurfing website who have a free couch (or even an entire room) to share.
It’s like asking people for free room and board. Unlike bums and hobos with cigarette-stained coats and greasy hair, though, you instead grace them with your fine (clean-washed) presence. It’s a sort of cultural exchange. And lest you think it’s truly free, it’s also considered good manners to take them out for dinner or get them a small gift.
AirBnB can be way cheaper and more authentic than staying in a hotel. Rather than supporting a multi-national conglomerate, why not try supporting actual locals (and yes, I know, AirBnB does pocket some of the cash, but most of it goes to the hosts).
You can rent anything from a separate room in someone’s house to an entire home or apartment. And, if you cook most of your food yourself in the kitchen you’ll save twice.
Plus it can be way cooler—check out these awesome AirBnB rentals! You know you want to go. 🙂
I’ve even got a special link for you to save $40 on your first trip of $75 or more.
Visit A Cheap Country
Not all countries were created equal in terms of exchange rates.
Maybe your dream is to visit Iceland. That’s cool; I’d love to visit Iceland too. But in the meantime, you can also visit Thailand for next to nothing, especially if you get your flights there for free through travel hacking.
Keep your options open. Don’t let it be One Country Or Bust. Otherwise, you might be missing out on a lot of great experiences in the meantime.
That’s what happened with my trip to Peru this fall. My dream is to visit Europe, but when the opportunity to visit much cheaper Peru came up without compromising my long-term goals, I had to snag it.
You can check out average prices for a backpacker’s budget for 46 major countries in my post The Ultimate Guide To The Cost Of Traveling The World.
House Sit Or Home Swap
How would you like an entire vacation home to yourself—for free?
If you’re a responsible person (and not prone to almost burning down kitchens…so I am excluded) you can actually apply to watch people’s homes while they’re on vacation themselves through certain websites. Here’s a cool run-down on how to do it.
In return, the homeowners get the peace of mind knowing that their home is being watched while they’re away. You might also have some light chores, such as petsitting or keeping up with a garden too.
Most people recommend you sign up for multiple sites to boost your odds of success. Each site has a membership fee so it’s not totally free, but for what you get, it’s darn tootin’ close. Here are some of the more common housesitting sites:
Cook Your Own Meals
After airfare and accommodations, food is the #3 expense on most people’s travel budgets. But, if you follow my tips above then you’ll likely have a kitchen available, and so you can cook your own food!
I used to think people who traveled all the way to another country to eat PB&J sandwiches were lame. But then I realized—they at least got to travel to another country, where I was sitting on my fat butt at home eating takeout every night!
Of course, if you are going somewhere new you need to try the local cuisine. It’s a part of the travel experience. I’ve never eaten ceviche in my life, so what better place to try it than in Peru where it’s a major food group?
But, do you need to get your toast and eggs every morning from a high falutin’ restaurant? Methinks not!
Plan Your Trip Budget Ahead Of Time
Don’t just show up willy-nilly like a bat out of hell with a bad gambling habit when you’re traveling. Restrain your purse-strings, dudes!
If you don’t, you might have to cut your trip short from lack of funds. You might go into debt. Maybe you’ll even have to write a scammy-sounding letter to your friends and family asking them for money because you’re stuck in a foreign country. No one wants that. So plan ahead.
Go In The Off-Season
Things are way cheaper in the off-season.
Me and Zach got married in January. Each winter we go to our favorite B&B in the cute mountain town of Estes Park, Colorado. It’s basically a giant log mansion and we have the whole place to ourselves because winter. They give us too much wine. It’s great.
More importantly, we save about $60 each trip since we’re booking in the off-season.
Scope Out Your Memberships And Credit Card Perks
Most people sign up for memberships and then forget what the hell the perks were. I did this too; last year I signed up for a garden membership with my local botanical gardens. If I’d traveled away to another horticultural garden, I could have gotten in for free.
Credit card perks work the same way. You sign up for these dang things and forget all the fine print because who wants to go blind reading them all day? But, did you know that many credit cards offer free travel insurance, rental car insurance, and even phone-in concierge services?
It sounds funny that it costs money to volunteer, but stick with me guys. Many coordinating agencies (such as the ones linked to here) offer more than your typical tourism experience. And rest assured, these programs are also usually cash-strapped and your donation goes a long way to supporting them.
You pay about what you would to do a DIY backpacking trip (or even much cheaper, in some cases). In return, you get a community of folks dedicated to a similar mission as you. They’ll provide you with room, board, and friendship while you work. It’s a real cultural experience.
It’s also a great way to get your bearings in a country. You can even ask the volunteer folks for recommendations on where to go and what to do next before setting off on your own.
There. I said it.
This one scares the bejeesus out of me. Maybe it’s because I saw too many horror movies as a kid (all five of them), but something about this just rubs me the wrong way.
But, I know a lot of people do it and have a fantastic experience, so I had to throw it on the list as well. Just please don’t crawl in the backseat with a creeper, guys. Most people seem like creepers to me.
I love gardening. I’d love to garden in another country. I’d love to garden with locals from another country who host me in return for help with their gardens.
That’s the idea behind WWOOF (WorldWide Opportunities on Organic Farms). You stay with a local family in a real homestay adventure, complete with working on the farm and all. Typically you’d work for a half day and then be off to go explore on your own.
These opportunities are—well—available all around the world, including Norway! Check this one out—seriously, guys, this looks like a ton of fun! Lindsey (not me) did a WWOOF in Portugal and agrees. She wrote all about it here.
You can find WWOOF opportunities on these sites:
Scope Out Your Travel Options
I recently just learned what a tuk-tuk is when I had to operate one to take the trash out at my last job. People would tell me to “take the tuk-tuk.” I was like, “I’m supposed to took-took the trash out?”
But tuk-tuks and other options can be way cheaper if you’re in another country with more adventurous infrastructure than our own. Most people just assume you should take taxis and plane flights to get around. Not true! Fake news!
If you scope out all your options—hotel shuttles, busses, trains, etc… you can usually find much cheaper deals.
Be Flexible, Save Money, Travel Cheaply, Travel More
Hopefully I’ve given you a few ideas on how you can travel for way cheaper, or even almost free.
Related post: How To Save For Travel Regardless Of How Much You Make
Just because you might be limited by a low income (or high expenses) doesn’t mean that you can’t afford travel. Sure, you might have to sacrifice a bit. But at the end of the day, do you really want to sit on your butt watching cable TV when you could be out exploring somewhere new?
I didn’t think so. 🙂
Where would you go if you could go anywhere and do anything? What are your frugal travel hacks? Leave a comment below!