1. Volunteer abroad for free. Find volunteer programs that do not have a program fee or any hidden costs. Try Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF), a program that assigns you to an organic farm that will host you in exchange for work on their farm. You can apply at any time for any part of the year. If you are a college student looking to teach English for a summer somewhere exotic but would rather skip the $5000 program fee (which is, you know, understandable), try Learning Enterprises, which has no program fee. The deadline for summer 2014 is February 16th.
2. Make regional trips once you are already abroad. It is infinitely cheaper to buy a round-trip ticket from Bangkok to Ho Chi Minh City ($100) than it is to decide to visit Vietnam when you are already back in Boston. I promise.
3. When you can take a boat or a bus to another country, do it. If you’re in, say, Ho Chi Minh City, don’t buy a flight to Cambodia. Just get on a ferry. It may cost you some time but it will save you at least $100.
4. Never, ever buy a long-haul one-way ticket. It costs virtually the same to buy a roundtrip ticket from the US to Kathmandu as it does to buy a one-way ticket. Note: this rule does not apply to regional airfare. Often it makes the most sense to start in say, Istanbul, and buy a $70 one-way ticket to Muscat and then another $50 one-way ticket to Amman and then a $60 one-way ticket to Beirut.
5. Never, ever pay to check a bag. If your bag is bigger than a carry-on, try again.
6. Never, ever exchange money in airports. They rip you off. Just don’t. On the same note, when taking money out of an ATM take it out in large chunks so that you don’t have to pay that pesky $6 international fee any more than you have to. To avoid that further, know your bank’s partners. For example, if you have Bank of America, use Barclays while abroad. They won’t charge you an ATM fee.
7. Never, ever buy food in airports. They rip you off. Buy snacks and bring them.
8. Eat at local restaurants. Ask the guy at the newspaper stand his favorite place to eat and go there. It’ll be cheaper and more authentic.
9. Do not eat all of your meals at restaurants. Grab breakfast or lunch from a local market. And while you’re at the market, barter. Always.
10. Take advantage of student discounts. Make the $25 investment and get an International Student Identification Card. This is particularly useful if you’re going to be in city that is expensive to begin with (London comes to mind). This card can also get you great discounts on flights. I saved $300 on an international flight on a student travel website just last week.
11. The little things count. Bring a water bottle and fill it up instead of buying drinks. Bring a laundry detergent bar and do your own laundry rather than paying for it to be done. Bring your own sunscreen as it tends to be crazy-expensive outside of the US.
12. This is money management 101, but set yourself a budget. Using these tricks, I tend to spend $100-$125 per week while backpacking.
13. Couchsurf, stay in a hostel or, if you’re not into that, use Priceline’s Name-Your-Price on the day of. Yes, it’s scary not to have your accommodation planned out three years in advance, but sometimes you just need to live life on the edge.
Cheers to you, your adventures, and keeping your bank account in the black.