I do love a good bargain and I can’t get enough of traveling, so finding cheap ways to travel is a bit of an addiction.
There are obvious benefits to saving a few bucks on your next travel experience. Here are just a few:
- Have more money to spend on future travel.
- Be able to extend your trip with the money you saved.
- Travel without dipping into your savings.
- Less flying and more overland travel is generally better for the environment (though I do acknowledge that traveling cheaply can also lead to taking more trips involving more flights).
As much as I love to be budget conscious, I’ve come to realize that there is an even greater reward for traveling cheaply, and it has nothing to do with finances.
My most memorable travel experiences do not come from stays in luxury hotels or seeing the most popular tourist spots, but from getting closer to the culture, connecting with people in a way that I feel a part of a community.
Traveling cheaply means I get closer to the people and places I visit. That is the best part, the biggest benefit, the ultimate reward.
But how does traveling cheaply get me there? My theory is that the more money you spend on a trip, the more distance you will put between yourself and the people and places you are visiting. Staying in hotels, flying or cruising from city to city, eating only at restaurants in tourist zones, booking tours through non-local agencies, staying in resorts, etc. These are all ways to bring comfort, security, and convenience to travel, but they also create barriers to really getting to know people and places.
That may be fine for most people, but my point is that you don’t have to sacrifice comfort, security, and convenience to travel cheaply. And the rewards are far greater, in my humble opinion!
Here are some recent experiences to illustrate my point.
A cat sitting gig in Boulder last August gave me a free place to stay, personal recommendations from my hosts (the owners, not the cat!), and plenty of time to get closer to the beautiful landscapes. I also bonded with Zucca, my charge.
After a week of hiking in Boulder (and caring for Zucca), I visited a friend in Denver and then left on a 15-hour journey over the Rockies to Salt Lake City on Amtrak’s California Zephyr. The scenery was spectacular. Everyone on the train was in a good mood and had stories to share. Well worth it (and it was super cheap to fly home from Provo, Utah).
Confident in my cat-sitting capabilities, I found a long-weekend job in a cozy upper-west side NYC apartment. The weather was spectacular and I walked as much in the city as I had in Boulder. Except for the coughing up of hairballs and hiding on me when I took a shower, Reggie was well-behaved and didn’t seem bothered by my long days in the city.
Another cheap travel trick: Get standing-room tickets for Broadway shows by going right to the box office an hour or two before the show starts. I saw Hamilton for $40!
A Few Favorites
Since I am frequently asked about this topic, here are some of my current favorite methods of traveling cheaply. Let me know if you try one or have something to add to the list!
|Sign up with my referral code: tim-cb633
No need to trade homes simultaneously; earn points just for signing up and use them to stay for free around the world! See these blog posts.
|This almost always involves pet sitting. Usually you get a free place to stay in exchange for taking care of the pet(s). Some will pay you by the day (anywhere from $10-$100 or more a day)! There are many sites for this; I joined one of the cheapest for just $40: House Sitters of America.
|My method for finding deals like my $80 one-way ticket to Bogotá in February, or my $39 ticket to Florida this month: Check Google Flights for options. Try using a range of dates. I also like Momondo and SkyScanner, among others. Check specific airlines which might not show up on these sites. Book directly through the airline website once you find the flight you want (even if other sites are a bit cheaper). Carry-on luggage only!
|Amtrak can be ridiculously expensive, but not if you plan ahead. Buy tickets as early as possible and always google “Amtrak coupon codes” to find a discount.
|I have written a lot about volunteering while traveling in the past. It is a great way to get close to the culture, meet locals and other travelers, and save money. See this post for some tips. I am currently exploring another highly recommended site, Worldpackers, in preparation for volunteering in South America.
|An old favorite, and it’s not as weird as you think!