It is no secret that travel can be as cheap or expensive as your personal preferences require. Just know, that if you’re on a tight budget and can’t suppress your wanderlust, travel is still obtainable. This article includes the 10 cost-saving travel hacks I used to travel the world for FREE or on a tight budget!
The short story is that if you’re flexible and creative, prioritize travel over other luxuries, and try these cost-saving travel hacks, then travel can be affordable for almost anyone!
Here are 10 cost-saving travel hacks that I have used to travel for free or on a tight budget:
1. Stay in hostels
While traveling abroad, staying in hostel dorm rooms is a great way to make your money last longer and to make new friends!
I use Hostelworld to book my hostels before I arrive in a country, but sometimes I even book a hostel dorm room last minute on a bus with wifi through the Hostelworld app on my phone.
Hostelworld allows you to look at a map and see location pins of the hostels nearby. It’s also great because it allows you to read reviews, see pictures, and a full list of facilities and services that each hostel provides.
Once you become a member for free, booking hostels all over the world is as easy as ordering your Uber. You can save your card information and contact details for quick and easy future bookings.
If you book your accommodation through one of my Hostelworld links, it doesn’t cost you anything extra, but I get a small commission which helps me afford to keep posting these travel tips for free! 🙂
2. Eat like a local
When you are on a budget, eating out can break your wallet, whether you’re in your home country or abroad. However, if you’re traveling in the developing world, eating “locally” is a great way to relieve your bank account.
I save a lot of money on food while I’m traveling by eating street food, at local restaurants or buying groceries and cooking cheap and simple meals in hostel kitchens.
By avoiding touristy restaurants, you may risk food-borne illness, but you will save A LOT of money! Not only are the meals cheaper, but you’re typically not expected to tip.
I’m not going to lie, I’ve had food poisoning a few times while traveling, but I’ll never let that stop me from enjoying the authentic local cuisine of the regions of the world I’m in.
Eating like a local has allowed me to travel to more places with all the savings I earn on skipping fine dining.
3. Use public transportation
It’s not always safe to take public transit (especially as a solo female traveler), so use your best judgment on this one. Potential safety risks aside, there is no doubt that public transportation is way cheaper than racking up private taxi bills and unnecessary flights.
I typically take whatever the cheapest means of transportation is when I’m traveling. That means I take trains, public buses, motorcycle taxis, tuk-tuks, and ferries during the daytime in a city if I’m alone, and If I’m with other people, I’ll even use public transit at night.
I also often take buses and trains for long distances and international travel instead of flying whenever possible. This has saved me thousands of dollars in South America, Africa, Europe, New Zealand, and South East Asia.
4. Collect Airline Frequent Flyer Miles
Most airlines offer frequent flier reward programs for free. This basically means you sign up for an airline rewards program, and every time you use your member number to book a flight, you gain miles. Eventually, you can get free flights, hotels, and other cool things with these miles!
I sign up for these free programs on every single airline I’ve ever flown on. However, it is more efficient to choose one or two airlines to consistently use and rack up your miles on those. Plus many airlines are a part of a larger airline alliance and allow you to transfer your frequent flier rewards to one another (e.g. Star Alliance which consists of over 26 airlines like United Airlines, Air Canada, Air China and many more). By signing up for frequent flier rewards programs and sticking to airlines in one alliance, you will get the most bang for your buck.
5. Get a Travel Credit Card
You can save thousands of dollars by booking flights with airline miles that you earn just by using a travel credit card.
After years of traveling and racking up miles on various airlines (many that expired), I took it a step further and got a travel credit card where my miles never expire.
I initially chose the Gold Delta American Express Credit Card. I used my 30,000-mile sign up bonus plus a 10,000-mile friend referral bonus, to book roundtrip flights to China and Japan.
I since switched to the Chase Sapphire Card, mostly because you can transfer your miles to different airlines, you get more miles for your dollar and Visa is more globally accepted.
I love travel cards because they reward you for traveling, by allowing you to travel more, and they come with some cool perks, like travel insurance and $0 foreign transaction fees!
The bottom line: if you already have a credit card that isn’t gaining you miles or worthwhile perks, then why not switch to one that does? If you don’t have a credit card and are looking to gain credit, this is a perfect way! **As long as you pay your minimum payments every month (full payments are even better to avoid interest fees), then you will improve your credit score, and gain something extra every time you spend.**
6. Crowdfund for a trip
I’ve used this method twice, and those two combined crowdfunding efforts helped me raise over $5,000 to cover travel expenses!
The first time was in 2013 when I used the free online fundraising platform YouCaring (now GoFundMe) to raise money for a volunteer trip I did to Uganda during my Master’s in International Development.
I wrote a short description on the fundraiser page about how I wanted to volunteer as an English teacher with a local community development nonprofit in rural Uganda, but didn’t have enough money for the plane ticket. I posted this link to my social media accounts and asked friends and family to donate whatever they could to help me cover the costs of the trip. I started this process about 2 months before my trip, and was able to cover the costs of flights and accommodation with the money I raised. Once I was there, I kept my gracious supporters updated with blog posts.
The second time, I used Patreon, to fundraise for both travel expenses and camera equipment to film an eco-tourism & voluntourism documentary series in Central America. That time, I offered my gracious supporters access to vlogs of my trip, postcards from my destinations, as well as free early access to the project once it is complete.
Volunteering on a farm is a great way to save money while traveling and learn a new skill! WWOOF is an international network that connects volunteers with organic farms, vineyards, and gardens around the world.
Membership costs vary by region. An annual WWOOF USA membership is $40, which gives you access to a database of farms and hosts that will provide room and board for the duration of your stay. I have WWOOFed in Montana, Oregon, and Belize (on four different farms) and each experience was unique and incredibly rewarding.
The work and accommodations vary, but it typically consists of 20 hours of work per week in exchange for meals and a roof over your head. To learn more about what WWOOFing is like, read my post about my experience volunteering on a farm in Oregon.
8. Study Abroad
If you’re currently a college or university student, look into your school’s study abroad programs. Most schools offer various programs around the world, with different financing options. It is a great way to learn through first-hand experiences rather than a classroom setting and to travel cheaply if not for free.
I managed to squeeze three different study abroad programs in during my college career, and two of them I funded through university-sponsored scholarships. So even if you are overwhelmed by student debt, check to see if there are any scholarships or grants available for your desired program.
9. Teach English as a Foreign Language
TEFL is a great way to obtain travel opportunities, new friends, and valuable international work experience.
I received my TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language Certificate) in Cusco, Peru through a company called Maximo Nivel. Upon completing my 150-hour in-person training course, I became certified internationally to teach English as a second language.
I then got hired through Maximo Nivel as an English Teacher, where I made from $500- $700 USD a month between private lessons and my basic class workload. This may not seem like a lot, but it all depends on the cost of living where you are teaching. I paid on average $200/month on rent and food and was able to spend the rest of my money on traveling. I took trips to Bolivia, Chile and Argentina using my modest savings.
Traveling internationally is more affordable once you are on the ground in another continent, and with your time off and built-in travel companions (co-workers) traveling becomes easier/cheaper than ever.
The English teacher salary increases drastically if you teach in places like China or Dubai ($40K-75K USD).
Read more about teaching English in my article: 5 Reasons to Teach English Abroad.
10. Find a job at an International Organization
Whether you’re looking for a U.S. based job with an international travel component or a job abroad- Idealist is a platform that connects idealistic people with thousands of jobs, internships, and volunteer opportunities around the globe.
I have had two jobs that have allowed me to travel, both of which I found through Idealist. I worked as an Executive Assistant to two different CEOs of international nonprofits, and both jobs paid for my plane tickets to different countries in East Africa.
While at my first job in Tanzania, I was able to vacation in Kenya, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Egypt. These international trips were much cheaper because I was already living and working in Africa. My second job was based out of New York, and paid to fly me to Kenya and Switzerland.
Whether you’re in the nonprofit sector or not, an international job is a great way to cut travel costs, both because they pay for your travel, and because once you’re abroad, local travel becomes more accessible and affordable.
These 10 things may not all apply to your lifestyle, but I guarantee that if you combine some of these methods and prioritize travel over other luxuries, you can travel much further on a shoestring budget!