I recently asked subscribers of my newsletter about the number one thing that holds them back from traveling. The near universal answer?
This is something I hear from everyone I talk to.
“Matt, I simply don’t have enough money to travel.”
This problem and how to overcome it probably my most asked question. Since this question comes up so often, I like to constantly remind people of this fact:
You do not need to be rich to travel.
Let’s repeat that.
You do not need to be rich to travel.
I sure wasn’t. I had an administrative job making $30,000 a year before I left for my first trip. That’s a pretty below average entry wage for Boston. (This guy even saved $14k in six months on a minimum wage job!)
Yet I managed to save enough to travel the world. How? I made it a priority. If travel is not a priority for you, you will always find some other things to spend money on and you’ll never have “enough” money to travel. I stopped spending money and saved everything for my trip. I was still paying college debt and yet still managed to save over $20,000 dollars for my initial trip around the world.
“But Matt, I work a minimum wage job/am a student/live on social security/am homeless/insert other excuse here and no matter what I can do, I’ll never be able to do it. I can’t even pay back my student loans. What do I do?”
What do you do when you are in that boat? What do you do when prioritizing your expenses doesn’t work? What if you just can’t get ahead?
Many, many things.
If you feel that no matter what you do you will never get ahead by saving money, follow this guide to ultimate travel frugality and see the world on the ultra cheap:
1. Work Overseas – Not making enough money at your job? Why not get a job overseas? There are plenty of opportunities in the world as long as you aren’t picky — and after all, this isn’t a career you are starting, it’s just a way to earn money for travel. Here are some jobs you can get to pay the bills and fund your travels:
- Au pair
- Hostel worker
- Farm worker (Very popular in Australia and New Zealand)
- Dive instructor (Some certification required)
- Tour guide
- Cruise ship worker
- Casino worker
- Seasonal worker at ski resorts
Working overseas often gets discounted as an option because it seems hard to do. It’s not. Just be open. These jobs don’t require advanced degrees or a lot of work experience either. Are you going to get some high-paying office job? No. Will you get a shitty, low-wage job that will pay all your travel bills? Yes! I’ve met people from all walks of life, both from Western and non-Western countries, funding their travels this way.
Here are three websites that can help you find work overseas:
2. Teach English Overseas – One of the best ways to make money for travel is to teach English overseas. You can make a lot of money teaching – I replenished my travel funds while working in Thailand, and I have had friends leave South Korea with tens of thousands of dollars in the bank. All you need is the ability to speak English fluently and maybe a TEFL degree, depending on the country you work in. The world is yearning for teachers and this is a job in high demand – many companies in Asia will even pay for your flight over.
Teaching overseas is probably the easiest and most lucrative job to get. Contracts can be as short as 6 months and you’ll get to spend time living in and experiencing another culture. Teaching overseas was one of the best things I ever did.
Here is a more advanced in-depth guide for those ready to take the plunge.
3. Get Free Flights – There are so many ways to earn free flights I hate when people tell me they can’t afford to fly. Sign up for a few travel credit cards, collect miles, and then fly for free. Most cards offer sign-up bonuses of 30,000 points — and if you sign up for both an airline card (think United airlines card) and a general rewards card like the Chase Sapphire or American Express card, you can combine the two point balances and get a cheap flight faster.
Credit card sign ups are the best way to collect miles. I’ve used these sign up bonuses to collect hundreds of thousands of miles.
Can’t sign up for credit cards? There are many ways to increase your mileage balance without credit cards. Three impact ways are:
- Watch out for deals – I sign up for all the airline mailing lists. I always watch out for special 2 for 1 miles deal. Or when they have special card offers to get extra miles. United Airlines just gave me 1,000 miles for watching a demo on their new shopping toolbar. I once got triple miles by buying some clothes from Gap just by seeing it in their mailing list. That doesn’t even utilize all the special bonus offers airlines have on cars, restaurants, and hotels.
- Shop at their member stores – All airlines have special offers with all the big stores- Amazon, Apple, Best Buy, Target, etc. Shopping at those preferred stores will earn you 2 to 4 miles per dollar spent- sometimes even more. If you spend 1,000 dollars a month, you can earn up to 3,000 miles just by going through their websites. The products don’t cost extra. I do all my shopping through the airline malls simply for the extra miles.
- Put everything on the card – I pay nothing in cash. I put everything on my card- from Starbucks to phone bills. My total monthly spending is about $2,500 per month. That’s more miles for me. Everything I do is to benefit my mileage account.
4. Couchsurf – This service connects travelers with locals who are willing to let them stay with them for FREE. Using this site you will never have to pay for accommodation. Years ago I read about a guy who has been traveling for years while only Couchsurfing and I’ve used this service about 10 times and always meet amazing people. Sometimes you get a room, sometimes a couch, sometimes an air mattress, but it’s always free. There are also local Couchsurfing group meet-ups that can help you make friends in your new city. Similar sites include Servas and Hospitality Club but I like Couchsurfing the best. It’s a more active community.
5. Hitchhike – A free way to get around destinations that is relatively safe and quite common in many parts of the world including Central America, Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, Australia and New Zealand. I’ve hitchhiked in a few places around the world and know many people who have done the same.
6. Free Walking Tours – Want to learn about the city, get your bearings, and see the major sights? Take a free walking tour. You can find them in 90% of the major cities in Europe, and there are also a few in large Asian cities, New York, Australia, and New Zealand.
Some good free tour companies include:
- Australia Free Walking Tours
- Big Apple Greeters (NYC)
- New Europe Walking Tours (All over Europe)
Local tourism information offices will also have a list of free walking tours in that city.
7. Housesit – Can’t afford your vacation? Watch someone’s house while they go on theirs. You can sign up for one of the sites below and watch people’s homes for free, allowing you to stay in one destination for a while and get to know it well without having to pay for accommodation. Added bonus: you get a kitchen to cook your food!
8. Cook Your Meals – The best way to save money on the road is to cook all your own meals. I recently spent $60 USD for a week’s worth of groceries in Stockholm instead of an average of $15 USD per meal eating out! That’s a saving of $150 USD! If you are Couchsurfing, your host will probably have a kitchen and many hostels, campsites, and guesthouses also have kitchens. No kitchen? Pack your own container and silverware and make some sandwiches and salads on the go. Not every meal requires a stove right?
Just because you are traveling, it doesn’t mean you need to eat out every meal. You won’t ruin your trip to Paris if you decide not to eat out one day! There’s simply no reason to be spending lots of money on food on your trip!
Here are some more tips how to lower your food expenses when you travel.
9. WWOOFing – Working on a farm will get you free room and board, while allowing you to commune with the great outdoors. You have to pay to get to the farm but once you are there, everything else is covered! You can find farms all over the world and you don’t need prior farm experience to get a job.
And four ways to save money that cost a little but are still very cheap:
10. Get rail passes – Booking ahead of time can usually save you about 50% of the cost of a train ticket, but if you don’t want to be tied into a fixed schedule, rail passes can save you a lot of money. I’ve saved hundreds in Europe and, in Australia, a train pass saves a whopping 70%. If you plan to ride the rails a lot, don’t over look a rail pass.
11. Sleep in large dorms – Large hostel dorm rooms are the cheapest paid accommodation out there. If Couchsurfing isn’t your thing, this is your next best way to save money on a place to sleep. Hostelworld.com and Hostelbookers.com are two good sites for finding hostels.
12. Use student and other discount cards – Are you a student, teacher, or under 26? Welcome to the world of 50% off attractions and a plethora of discounts. Get a student/teacher/youth card and save big! You can get these cards at STA Travel.
13. Get city tourist cards – If you plan on seeing a lot of sights in a city, you should get a city tourism card which offers you discounted and free access to the major attractions and museums, as well as free public transportation. I saved over $100 dollars with the London pass, $80 with Paris Museum card, $50 with a Helsinki card, and tons more with other city tourism card. They are an amazing way to save money on attractions that not enough people use. You can purchase these cards online or at the local tourist information city when you get to your destination.
Between all of these tips, you’ll be able to travel for relatively little money. After all, I recently spent 5 days in Stockholm on $100 and once spent 10 days in London on $700. If I can do it, you can do it too.
The key is to get out of the mindset that you must travel using the flight/hotel combination. By using out-of-the-box, non-traditional ways to travel, you can save big and find ways to travel. Stop looking on Expedia or reading Travel+Leisure.
Think outside the box, save big, and turn your dream into a reality.