“Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.” – Anonymous
There’s something about travel that excites the human spirit. The open road. Freedom. Adventure. Newness. Freshness. Fun.
And yet when I talk to my newsletter subscribers about travel, and specifically why they don’t do it more, the near-universal response is, “but Andrew, I don’t have any money to travel!”
In most people, the desire certainly isn’t lacking. For most, it’s the perceived lack of opportunity – especially regarding money. What can the normal 9-5 worker who isn’t earning money from a travel blog do to make their dream of world travel real?
In the next 17,000+ words, I am going to completely dismantle the money myth and give you the tools you need to make world travel a reality – on your budget.
The first thing you’ll notice when planning a world travel adventure is the overwhelming amount of options.
Some people like the idea of a round-the-world trip lasting about 1 year, others opt for the 2-week all-inclusive in Bermuda.
Some people decide to bike from London, England to Sydney, Australia.
Others choose to visit every country on the planet, like Guinness World Record setter Graham Hughes, who traveled to 203 nations/territories – all without flying.
So naturally, the particulars of planning an itinerary, budgeting, finding work and so on will change from person to person.
That’s why I’ve made it easy to navigate to the sections that apply most directly to your needs. You can think of this as your travel-hacking table of contents. Feel free to link to a particular section or detailed sub-section to immediately jump to what you’ll find most useful.
But we don’t believe it. Not at first. We think that we need suitcases loaded with cash to make long term travel a reality.
One reason we think travel is expensive is we’re conditioned to believe it. The big players in the trillion dollar and growing travel industry have enormous advertising budgets with which to tickle our fancy.
Cheap and free options generally don’t.
Kind of like you’ll find millions of dollars being poured into convincing children (and parents) that Frosted Flakes somehow qualifies as breakfast food. You’ll never see such money backing up poor ol’ broccoli.
As a result we as a society eat far too much sugar and don’t travel nearly enough.
I think when it comes to the money question, New York Times best-selling author Chris Guillibeau put it best:
The average American household has $7,630 worth of personal debt – that’s not counting things like mortgages, student loans, and car loans. The median household income is $51,939.
It’s a matter of what we value, and what we spend our money on.
I happen to be one member of a group who invests their money in the experience of travel.
Get the picture?
It’s probably important to note that, in financial terms I am far from rich.
In fact, when I started traveling permanently in July of 2013, I was coming off 2.5 years of unemployment due to a muscular condition that made me unable to speak and use my hands. I was not in debt, but I had hardly any money even to get started. Under $2,500.
I’ve hacked Ibiza in Spain: 7 days for $75. Two weeks in Kuala Lumpur for another $75.
Along my way I’ve had the inglorious distinction of being broke on 3 different continents.
But I’ve also snorkeled in Hawaii, gone horseback riding along and in the ocean in Grand Cayman (see that pretty picture at the top), and lived for 3 months in both Malaysia and Thailand.
So to me, the money excuse doesn’t fly. Neither is the idea that we can travel well OR travel cheap.
We’re not living in the 1950’s, using travel agents to book us expensive hotels, flights, and excursions.
This is the digital era, and there are hundreds of resources we can use to get everything we need to travel for cheap or free. Transportation, lodging, food, activities, insurance, anything.
I know, because not only am I living proof, I’ve also met thousands of travelers and read hundreds of travel blogs, and you know what – almost nobody who chooses long term travel starts out rich.
In fact, a lot of the stories start with the same 9 words, “I sold all my stuff to travel the world…”
You don’t have to be this extreme to make long term travel a reality. But you do have to be willing to be a little bit brave and accept a bit of discomfort getting started.
But none of it will matter if you’re unwilling to tackle the real roadblock: Fear.
Fear, far more than money, is what prevents people from taking the proverbial leap into travel.
One of my absolute top reasons to travel is the fact that it emancipates us from the fear the 24-hour news cycle and adversarial governments impart in us (particularly, I think, for my fellow North Americans).
Before I started this trip I never would have imagined traveling to big, scary Russia, and I would have thought you mad had you suggested I live there for a year.
Now it’s one of my favorite places on earth. Even during a horrible financial crisis that’s crippeled the economy and cur the value of the Ruble in half.
Here’s the thing – almost all our fears about travel are unjustified. No, you probably shouldn’t try smuggling yourself into Afghanistan via the Khyber Pass, but most of the world is a safe, friendly place just waiting for you to explore.
Just like you should get your yellow fever vaccination before visiting Western Africa, it’s probably high time to take the rest of your Anti-Fear Inoculations:
The rest of this guide won’t just show you how to travel the world on the money you have, but together with numerous case studies, success stories and expert opinions, to show you that it’s totally worth it to reject fear and start travelling.
As professional traveler Matt Long from LandLopers.com put it in 6 Realistic Reasons Why Travel Is Important:
So let’s have some fun, shall we?
For most people this is the critical moment of trip planning. It’s where the dreams we built while reading our favorite travel blogs, checking out photos on Pinterest or Instagram, and holding longing discussions with family and friends come to die.
Or in some cases – come true.
Here’s the thing: Anyone can change their money habits.
Right now you may be broke, in debt, unemployed – it’s all changeable. When I left home to travel the world all I had was a 1-way plane ticket and about $2,000 in the bank.
And you know what? Most people who decide to travel the world are exactly like me in this regard.
People who have a ton of money tend to be too concerned about their money to do something like this. It’s normal people with normal jobs and lives who are looking for something new and exciting who take the steps to make it happen.
As Nomadic Matt Kepnes has said, “What is your savings priority? Is it travel? If it is travel, what is keeping you from saving money? What are you spending it on?”
So if we want to travel, it’s our responsibility to make travel a priority.
It’s really that simple. If our priority is to go out on weekends and drop $200 on alcohol and chicken wings, that’s what we’ll do. Or we could take that same $200 and rent a one room house near the beach in Thailand for 6 weeks like Katia and I did.
Nobody is forcing you to do one or the other. But the choice is yours. I can tell you from experience, that the money I’ve spent on travel is the best investing I’ve done in my life.
In order to successfully budget for a trip, we need to know the following things:
If we’re not going to find overseas work or freelance work online, then all of our budgeting has to be done in advance. If, on the other hand, you’re going to pick up and leave like I did, you can get away with no budget if you’re confident about your ability to support yourself along the way.
Now, by the time you finish this guide, I fully expect the amount of money you’ll need to budget for your trip will be half of what it was before, but we still need some tools for estimating.
Nomadic Matt wrote an Amazon Bestseller about how to travel the world on $50 a day, and this daily budget seems to be normal for a lot of “round the world” sort of trips.
$1,500 per month per person is a very reasonable estimate, Though this will vary according to your travel style. I do it on much less, but I take fewer flights than most and stay in 1 spot for longer.
For another example BootsNAll compared the cost of 11 RTW trips, where the average cost-per-day, per-person ranged from $34 to $116.
For those of us that don’t really know where to start in terms of cost estimation, Christine from Almost Fearless has a nice hack for estimating her daily budget. She searches for hostels in her destination cities on Hostel Bookers and multiplies this by 3 to cover her expenses for food, entertainment, and activities.
Ultimately, you have to be a bit of an artist with this. Eating out 3 times and staying at a hostel day obviously will be more expensive than buying fresh produce at a market and cooking at your CouchSurfing host’s place.
I can’t tell you what’s best for you – but I will give you as many options as you need in order to invest your travel budget consciously.
In any case, it’s always better to overestimate how much you’ll spend than underestimate it and find yourself with 3 days left in a vacation – but no money left.
That probably seems like a lot of work, right? Well it is. But the payoff is well worth it.
Just consider this real life example of Shannon O’Donnell, a former actress from Florida, who traveled to 15 countries during 11 months of travel back in 2008 and hasn’t stopped since.
Since then she’s been a prolific writer, speaker, and has even started a charity.
Shannon, who writes at ALittleAdrift.com meticulously tracked every dollar spent over her 328 days (11 months) of travel, which came to a total of $18,558.39.
A total of $56.58 per day.
The great thing about Shannon’s work is that she’s broken down her expenses by country too, so we can see the difference between her budget of almost $55/day in Australia vs about half of that in Laos. Amsterdam shows the power of finding free accommodation, where her budget comes in at under $20 a day. In Europe!
How she did it? By saving up a perfectly-reasonable $7k and earning another $12k on the road.
And there’s plenty of room for further savings if that’s your goal. For example, using land transport instead of flying, using free accommodation such as CouchSurfing, or choosing cheaper outings and excursions to take part in (such as free walking tours).
For you the breakdown might be different, but it doesn’t matter. Some people save up 100% of their budget before leaving, others make 100% on the road.
I asked Shannon what additional advice she could share with my readers, and had this to say:
This section could fill an entire bookshelf with advice. Saving, sadly, is something most North Americans are failing miserably at, with the average household spending more than it earns.
But no savings means no way of meeting our budget goals, so what can we do?
One way is to follow the example of Matthew Karsten – pro traveller at TheExpertVagabond – who sold his car, canceled his car insurance, gym membership, and Netflix subscription. He bought a bike and a bus pass. Sold most of his valuable possessions, went out less, cooked at home more. He saved about $7k in 1 year doing this.
He’s been traveling nonstop for the last 4 years. All because he made the decision to do what it takes and not look back.
This is a great strategy if you have no plans on coming back. I also sold most of my stuff and took off. It can work.
But maybe you don’t want to go all-out like Mathew and myself. Maybe you just want “more” travel in your life. What can you do to save up while keeping your lifestyle more-or-less the same?
I’ll tell you what most people do, try to cut down on small expenses – like a daily latte at Starbucks, like this article from MarketWatch suggests. The expected return for doing this: $3,000 per year.
This approach is doomed to failure.
Why? Because it’s relying on our limited cache of willpower. Not only do we have to make the daily decision not to spend our $3.67 (or whatever), we have to put that money aside and not spend it on something else.
Let me repeat. If our travel dreams hinge on our ability to cut back on things every day for the next 6-12 months, we are Doomed. To. Failure.
If you want to really create a sustainable savings plan, what we need is automation and big wins that we only need to have one time – such as renegotiating our mortgage, bank fees, insurance, and other large, reoccurring expenses.
For instance, a 1-time refinancing of your mortgage could save you hundreds of bucks over the course of a year. Compare that to the number of small things you’d have to painfully give up to save that same amount.
Let the man when it comes to money, Ramit Sethi, spell it out:
For further strategies about sound saving, I also recommend his excellent article: How to Save Money.
The great thing is that sound financial principles work whether we’re a minimum wage worker, pulling a 6-figure salary, or anywhere in between.
Here are 4 more examples – 3 solo travelers and 1 couple, who used sound financial principles to make their dreams of travel come true.
For travelers (and soon-to-be travelers), banking is about more than having a place to hold your hard-earned funds. It’s also about keeping those funds safe. Unfortunately, ATM fraud is sufficiently popular that it behooves us to take preventative measures against it.
I’ve heard some travelers sing the virtues of creating a separate bank account for travel funds. But Matthew Karsten’s 3-bank system is much more robust:
#1: Personal Checking Account: This account is for personal reasons unrelated to travel – such as mortgage payments. It can also replenish one’s Travel Checking Account in an emergency. Matthew keeps the bank card for this account in his hotel at all time – that is, not on his person where it could be stolen.
#2: Travel Checking Account: An account for travel expenses, including cash withdrawals. Matthew recommends a $1,000 limit in this account, as it will be the most active one and the most likely to be compromised by scammers or thieves.
#3: Travel Savings Account: This account has NO bank cards in Matthew’s case. He uses it to transfer funds electronically to his Travel Checking Account when funds get low. Otherwise it sits there accumulating interest.
I use a similar system myself, though I also have a business bank account and a PayPal account that add some complexity to things.
Ultimately, we only want a few things in a bank: security, easy access to our funds from different points around the globe, and no/low ATM fees. Also – the ability to freely transfer money between different banks and bank accounts is really handy.
For US citizens, a Charles Schwab Investor Checking Account will eliminate all ATM fees worldwide. All the more reason for me to get dual citizenship.
For non US citizens, the most popular choice seems to be an HSBC Checking Account because they’re an international player with ATMs all around the globe. However, ATM fees still apply.
Travelers are prime targets for pickpockets, and protecting your cash is almost as important as protecting your bank info. Here are some top techniques for making sure your funds stay safe in most situations.
A decoy wallet: For some lucky reason, when I started travelling I had channeled my inner hoarder – a rare thing for me – and kept my old driver’s license, credit card, and other IDs as a young adult. This became perfect material for a “decoy wallet” that I used to throw off would-be pickpockets.
Fortunately, I never needed this, but it’s a solid tactic to keep your real ID/cards/cash hidden and a decoy in a more tempting pocket.
Money belt/hidden pocket: I’ll admit 2 things. One: I use a money belt some of the time. Two: I hate money belts! I find them horribly uncomfortable. An internal pocket is a much friendlier choice in my opinion.
If we want it, we make it a priority, and we follow solid financial principles along the way, there is no reason we can’t save enough money to travel.
A hidden spot in your bag: A hidden spot in your bag, such as in your dirty laundry, won’t do much good if your bag gets stolen or it’s left unattended for a long time, but it will make a “hit and run” much less lucrative for a thief.
At the end of the day, the number 1 money safety tool is your brain. Don’t assume your money is safe because you have a lock, a hidden pocket, or anything else. In Malaysia a fellow backpacker showed me numerous ways to break into supposedly “secure” bags within a matter of seconds, and any thief that knows their stuff could do the same.
That doesn’t mean travel afraid. I’ve never had any problems in the “notorious” subways in Russia, in SE Asia, or Europe for that matter. Take precautions, set up systems like you’ve seen in this section, use common sense, and then go enjoy yourself.
Money: The Final Word
Later, we’ll also look at ways to make extra money on the road, but for now, you can breathe easy knowing that you have all the tools necessary to make your travel dreams come true.
Now it’s just a matter of execution. Use the resources in this section if you ever need a reminder of what steps you need to be taking.
And now – on to the fun stuff!
The most exciting part of the planning process – deciding where to go! The world is such a big place and there’s so much to discover, that one of the most difficult challenges is narrowing down all those opportunities into an itinerary.
When it comes to itinerary planning, I have a rather short list of questions I want answered and information I want to know about a location:
Is it safe, how’s the weather, is it polluted, what to do, and how to get a visa.
Let’s dive into each question for a closer look.
Is it safe? Wars, crime, civil unrest, hazardous weather patterns this time of year, rampant diseases etc. We “Westerners” often take the political stability and relative safety of our home nations, but unfortunately this isn’t the case everywhere.
That being said, the world is far, far safer and friendlier than the news would have us believe. While I wouldn’t automatically cross Afghanistan, Somalia, or Iraq off my list, I would educate myself about the actual situations on the ground before deciding to go.
It’s important to remember that even if a country has a “travel advisory,” there’s a big difference between the anti-government rallies in Egypt during the “Arab Spring” and the specific targeting of tourists in Yemen in recent years.
Climate & Weather – what will I need to wear, will I be comfortable? This affects both what we pack and what we can expect to do in our destination. The Philippines is a beautiful country, but you don’t want to get caught in a tropical storm there!
This is easy – just pop over to Wikipedia, type in your city of interest, and look for the Geography & Climate section. Here’s an example for Dakar, Senegal:
Pollution – I never thought of this in great detail before looking at Ulaanbaatar, the Mongolian capital city, which has incredibly toxic smog during the winter months. No joke, it is a veritable health hazard!
You can pop over to AQICN.org to check their worldwide air pollution tracking.
What to do/see/eat: This part I rarely plan intensively because I’m a laid-back, go with the flow sort of guy who likes to let things unfold. However, I will do research beforehand to get to know a bit about the culture and history of my destination.
For destination researching I tend to lean on the following sources:
WikiTravel: Like Wikipedia for travel. Has detailed information about every country and most major cities, as well as its fair share of smaller gems as well. You can find visa info, tips for staying safe, what to see & do, and much more.
TripAdvisor: Has a huge library of user reviews for hotels, sightseeing opportunities, restaurants, and more.
LonelyPlanet: The world’s leading travel website for good reason. You can find almost anything on LP, plus the Thorn Tree forum is the haunting ground for many veteran and newbie travelers alike, exchanging ideas, experiences, and wisdom.
Expat-Blog: Contains a nice forum where expats (or travellers) can discuss their destinations, exchange tips, plan meetups. Also contains articles relating to expat lifestyle.
One of the wonderful things about travel is the opportunity for spontaneity.
As much as we may want to be in control of every aspect of our travel, part of the freedom is in letting go of this need for control.
Things like taking care of our health are nonnegotiable, but as far as I’m concerned, the rest is up for grabs.
Take, for example, when Katia and I were hitchhiking across the entirety of Thailand in 2014.
We were in a difficult stretch off the main highways when we got an unexpected ride from a military man – who spoke no English. Instead of taking us to the main road, he took us to his place, even more off the beaten path, where he and his wonderful wife insisted we eat with them and stay the night.
We ended up staying several, going to the market and relaxing after some rough days on the road. They were so welcoming we could probably still be there. Katia and I sent them a New Years card and we still keep in touch via Facebook (courtesy of Google translate).
All made possible by an open mind and the spirit of adventure.
The fastest way to find out visa information is through Wikipedia, which for each nationality, has an article about the visa requirements for travel, as well as a handy map for visualizing potential routes (or visa runs). Just Google “Wikipedia visa requirements for [your nationality] citizens”
For example, the Canadian result:
Of course, you’ll want to double check with the embassies themselves to ensure that the information you find is accurate and up to date. But Wiki usually helps here too, sourcing their information from the embassy websites, linked to in the resources section at the bottom.
Another good alternative is VisaMapper, but it’s less clear where the data is sourced from.
One of the operative questions about world travel: What type of insurance should I get – if any?
For electronics purchases, insurance is a financially poor decision, as statistically, for every problem that occurs outside warranty, we’ll save far more by replacing this item than we would buying an extended warranty for every gadget.
Health is different. Screw that up, and there’s no 2nd chance.
In the confusing world of travel insurance there’s one standout company I use and wholeheartedly endorse: WorldNomads.
They’re also the only travel insurance recommended by Lonely Planet. Now there’s high praise.
Why is WorldNomads the best? First and foremost – they’re one of the only providers I’ve found who let you extend your insurance (or purchase some for the first time) while outside your country of residence.
This was ideal for me. I had 6 months of coverage courtesy of my provincial government, but when that was expiring I was in Asia.
Most of the insurance providers I found would have required me to fly home in order to get new insurance. Bollocks.
This is not an issue for most conventional, short term travelers, or for people who might go and stay in a single country for a predetermined amount of time. If that’s you, you can likely find a decent option locally (though I’d still check it against WN to be sure).
Which brings me to the second point. World Nomads is by far the most accessible insurance provider I’ve found – you can get insured even if you’re NOT a citizen of the United States or Great Britain (meaning your favorite Canuck is using it!).
And you’re covered for basically the entire globe – minus conflict zones.
Cost & Coverage
World Nomads is amongst the cheapest private insurance providers you’ll find. If your government doesn’t cover for you, I’d check out WN.
When it comes to bureaucratic stuff like visas and insurance, I’m a complete moron. So I was glad to find that they’re system is so easy to use that anyone capable of reading and writing can do it. No searching through 100s of bloated policies and analyzing minutiae!
For example: As a Pakistani citizen traveling across 4 continents over 5 months, the premium comes to $532, or $3.54 per day.
Health insurance for under $4 a day? I’d call that a win.
Generally, the longer you purchase the insurance for, the lower the cost.
It’s easy to do. And for something as boring and annoying as insurance, this is wonderful.
Pop on over to their site and bookmark it for when you need it. Here’s the link. This is one resource you won’t want to risk forgetting.
Travel as a lifestyle is much different than a weekend in Vegas or spring break in Cancun.
On a short vacation, it’s no problem bringing along two mammoth suitcases bursting with all the comforts of home: clothing, toiletries, a hairdryer, books, snorkels, and whatever else “might” come in handy.
But when the road is your home, weight and space are at a premium, and we have to eliminate everything that’s unnecessary – or pay the physical price of holding onto comforting but ultimately unnecessary stuff.
This, for a lot of people, can be a big roadblock. “How could I possibly live with only 6 shirts?” “Travel without my winter coat? But what if there’s a freak blizzard in Ecuador?” “I never go anywhere without my lucky bricks. Nope, can’t do it.”
I reached out to Rolf Potts, arguably the world’s biggest name in minimalist travel, and one of my personal sources of travel inspiration, to get his thoughts on efficient packing. Here’s what he had to say:
Let’s see what this looks like in practice.
In general, we are going to fill the amount of space we have, especially if this is our first trip – it’s just human nature.
We want to plan for every situation and make sure we’re covered – I get it. But lugging around a ton of weight is going to stop feeling like a fantasy adventure and start feeling like army training real quick.
I’d recommend a 30L bag, as with this size you never have to check luggage. At least I haven’t, and I’ve flown the low-cost airlines like RyanAir which are sticklers for bag size.
As for which one – your best bet is to try out several in a shop, get them adjusted properly for your body, and choose something that’s going to be comfortable to have as a companion for the following months or years.
Yes. You could save a couple bucks ordering a bag online.
But you are going to have this thing on your back, likely for hours at a time, for weeks, months, or years. This is a situation where it makes perfect sense to invest time and money into getting quality, properly-sized gear.
I’ve had my bag since 2010, and I love it, but it’s not the perfect fit and this bothers me more with each successive excursion. Even 10lbs becomes a lot when it’s habitual, and I’m going to have to swap it at some point. Don’t make the same mistake.
What Type of Bag?
There’s a whole lot of choice when it comes to bags, and while I think you should go check one out in person, there are a couple bags I think you should keep an eye out for.
One of the big considerations I think you should make is whether or not to go for the “handle + wheels” variety of bag. Not classic backpacker, but a very comfortable option
On the classic side, veteran traveler Derek Baron, better known as “Wandering Earl” (WanderingEarl.com) used his Kelty Redwing bag for 12 years before it finally had to be replaced, and he stuck with the reliable brand.
For a more complete look, Nora Dunn from “TheProfessionalHobo” weighs the pros and cons of each style of bag in detail.
All this just goes to show that even for pros, it’s a matter of taste. But for each of them it comes down to the same thing: comfort on the road!
After choosing a bag, it’s the matter of what to put in it.
I reached out to Colin Wright of ExileLifestyle to get the fundamentals of “the pack” right. Here’s what he had to say:
Here’s what to take, and what not to.
When it comes down to it, most of us can get by with clothes and some toiletries.
Optional: Belt, light jacket.
For colder climates, you might consider borrowing (or buying) a jacket and other winter wear at your destination, saving you bag-space and weight while on the move.
Toiletries can, if we let them, double (or triple) the weight we’re carrying. Do I need nail clippers? Shampoo and conditioner? I realize that it’s a more difficult task for women in this area, as they generally have more to “give up” – but I would encourage you to leave the make up kit at home and take just the essentials.
Which by the way, include TP, one item forgotten on most lists. It’s light, and if it only ever comes in handy once, it’ll be well worth the miniscule extra effort.
Things like razors, nail-clippers, toothpaste, shampoo, bath salts, eucalyptus oil, and anything extravagant can usually be found or borrowed on-site.
**These items are optional, but it’s unrealistic to expect people to give these up. I sure don’t, and I feel the trade off in weight and space is considered “worth it.” (Though I’d recommend going on a 1-3 month mission without gadgets for the experience.)
The plane ticket is generally the biggest kid on the travel-budget block. A single flight has the ability to rip through hundreds, if not thousands of dollars that could be put towards some good, local fun in the form of food, excursions – or even just saving the money and traveling longer.
Naturally, flying as little as possible is ideal, and crossing over the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans as infrequently as possible is a wise move.
However, when our plans dictate that we should fly, we can do a lot to reduce our costs.
The cheapest airfare will often have lousy connections, inconvenient flight times, and connect obscure, out-of-the-way airports that may be costly to get to/from. Many low cost airlines such as RyanAir operate out of airports that will cost more to get to by taxi or bus than the flight will.
The best connections might save you a nightmare 16 hour layover, but cost more than other routes, including over-land options.
The best routing is – naturally – convenient, but this will often be the most pricey (and we’ve still got to consider connections and layover time).
The days of last minute, bargain-basement deals on flights are pretty much gone. Due to the nature of modern air travel, it’s much more lucrative for airlines to keep their tickets at their regular price right until the plane leaves, profiting from last minute desperation more than they would from a couple of folks looking for a freebie.
While it’s still possible, it’s not a reliable strategy. And if we’re trying to travel cheap, we want reliable results.
So when should we buy tickets?
According to the analysis of a CheapAir database of over 1.3 billion fares, 54 days in advance came out as being the best time to buy.
Independently, economist Makoto Watanabe developed a formula for predicting flight prices that returned a similar response of 8 weeks in advance (56 days).
What Day Should I Purchase Tickets?
In general, mid-week has long been considered as a general rule for better rates. Hopper.com provided analysis showing that Tuesday afternoons are often the best time to book tickets.
There are a lot of good ways to look for flights. The pros don’t necessarily do anything special other than be thorough. They check tickets on multiple flight-aggregation websites, and then always check out promising-looking tickets on the website of the specific carrier.
Here’s what the process generally looks like:
Not too hard, right? Here’s how I do things in practice:
I like to start with Skyscanner.com – Not only can we search for flights across a whole week, month, or year, to our destination of choice, but we can search for flights going “everywhere.”
For example, if we’re flying from Paris, we can see that Italy, Lithuania, Portugal and Poland provide the 4 cheapest destinations. If we want to cross Europe on the cheap, a $33 flight to Poland or $31 to Lithuania is going to be way cheaper than taking the train.
I rarely use Skyscanner to actually purchase a flight, but it’s a perfect starting point for building a mental map of possibilities.
Kayak Explore provides a nice world map interface and let’s us see prices to any destination around the globe, similar to Skyscanner. The difference? The map view can be useful for finding hidden gem destinations.
For example, flying from Moscow to Europe, most flights are between $120 and $250. But here we find a hidden gem in the middle of it all, Vienna, for $89. Nice!
After using these two sits for large scale research, I start searching for specific dates for promising destinations, as well as which airlines fly a particular route. Now, we should search using a combination of flight-aggregation engines.
Here are 4 of the best:
Surely you’re familiar with this sort of setup, here courtesy of Hipmunk.com:
I would recommend checking out each website and doing a couple searches, then picking the ones you like most. We each have to build our own “repertoire” so to speak, and your preferences may differ from mine.
Final Step: Individual Carriers
The last step is to use the flight search engines of specific companies. Sometimes, a flight found on one of the aggregate sites will differ from that same flight when searched from the actual carrier’s site.
While this is not always the case, it certainly pays to check!
For example, here’s the homepage of Lufthansa, Germany’s biggest airline. The search function on the right isn’t much different from what we’ve already seen, except it obviously is only searching for flights on Lufthansa:
That’s it. At this point you can either buy your ticket wherever you found the lowest price, or mark in your calendar when it’s ~8 weeks from takeoff to book your flight then.
A word of caution though. Flights rarely decrease that much in price, so if the price you’ve already found is good enough, it usually makes sense to buy it now and avoid the risk of a 20% price increase than it is to try to save a few bucks.
When I told Nora from TheProfessionalHobo that I was doing this article and asked if she had any extra cheap-flight tips to pass on, she revealed a technique I’d never heard of: Flying as a Mystery Shopper, which saved her 50% on a flight from Toronto, Canada to Lima, Peru. Not bad.
Since I’d never heard of this before, I did a little more digging also found this report on ABC news about the company Sensors Quality Management, the same company mentioned in Nora’s report, which is responsible for this little-known opportunity.
Maybe you’ll only ever take 1 flight in such a manner, but 50% off a flight is no laughing matter for most of us – especially for long-haul routes.
Now, a word of caution, since the whole concept of mystery shopping is predicated on its secretive nature, it’s a common hunting ground for scammers. If you’re going to look for these opportunities, be sure to protect yourself against the unscrupulous.
Round the world tickets are not the cheapest way to see the world, but they are a good way to cover a ton of ground. Specifically, getting you around the entire world. Surprise!
I’ll be honest, this is completely not my style of travel, as I like to spend longer periods of time in each destination – particularly to learn the language, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a good option for you.
For starters, Nomadic Matt put together this great guide explaining how RTW tickets work and who should use one.
Who should consider a RTW ticket:
A RTW ticket is kind of like a planet-earth buffet, where we get to sample a bunch of different countries across the globe but won’t get a lot of time in any particular region.
Personally, I find part of the inherent challenge with an RTW ticket is that it’s hard to predict how much we’ll like a certain destination, and that by creating such a large itinerary up front, we’re begging for something unexpected to mess with our plans.
But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as Stephanie from Twenty-Something Travel relates in How I Was Totally Wrong About RTW Travel.
Let’s take a closer peek at the mechanics, to help you decide whether a RTW ticket is right for you.
In my opinion, the best way to understand a RTW itinerary is to see one in action.
Here’s an example using StarAlliance’s RTW trip planner, starting and finishing in Madrid:
Here’s the exact itinerary:
The particular conditions for each company differ. For the above trip with StarAlliance, we’re paying for the number of “segments” – flights taken including stopovers, “stopovers” – destinations with 24h spent in-country, and mileage.
The cost of this 31,310 mile (50,389 km) flight package?
An estimated 4,663 EUR, or about $5,276 US.
The final cost will depend on the actual flights chosen, but this estimate is reasonably accurate.
If a RTW ticket interests you, be sure to check out OneWorld as well, as they have a completely different set of conditions, and you may prefer their style.
And as a 3rd option, AirTreks helps you put together a RTW flight without any of the restrictions of OneWorld or StarAlliance by buying each flight independently, not based on the air alliance partnerships of the 2 other companies.
Of course, the cost of flights is only the first expense we have to consider. Earlier, we looked at the example of Shannon O’Donnel’s RTW trip that ran her to almost $19,000 in a year.
As you can see, the cost of these trips tend not to be on the cheap end – but this is largely a function of the flight costs. It’s perfectly reasonable to have the post-transportation costs be in the $1,000 range (possibly lower, depending what lodging and food finding strategies you employ).
In the next section, you’ll find out how to get big time discounts on flights – sometimes even free. Perfect for slashing an RTW budget requirement. Or just flying on the cheap. Keep reading.
If we want to get serious and look at free flights, than short of becoming a pilot or flight attendant, we need to look at using travel points through credit cards and frequent flyer cards for specific airlines.
Lots of cards offer a truckload of miles for signing up, and often, simply by putting your normal living expenses on the card you can rack up enough miles for free flights without much sweat.
Let me make this abundantly clear: This doesn’t require spending any money you wouldn’t normally spend. It’s just a matter of choosing a card that gives you the right rewards.
Let’s look at an example to see the power of this strategy.
In the viral blog post that helped put Steve Kamb of NerdFitness on the fitness world’s radar, Steve explains how he put together this ridiculous itinerary of flights for $418:
And while Steve spent more money on the ground ($2,000 a month by his account), 11 months of travel for under of $500 in international transportation costs is outrageous!
How did he do it?
In one case, to earn 100,000 British Airways points, he had to spend $2,000 on that card over a 6 month period. He simply put all his living expenses – food, gas, gym membership – on that card for a couple months.
Getting points for doing nothing is an easy enough concept, but in practice, it’s an overwhelming concept for beginners.
Fortunately, there are a couple of killer resources available to would be fare-hackers.
Brian Kelly – known as “The Points Guy” – has an awesome Beginner’s Guide that walks through the steps of signing up for Frequent Flyer programs, choosing credit cards, keeping an eye for deals, and managing everything.
I reached out to Rick, “The Frugal Travel Guy” – one of the best in the business when it comes to getting big-league travel miles for some perspective, as I’m not a frequent flyer myself. Here’s what he had to say:
He recommends the same 2 cards that Steve did for his round-the-world uber-trip:
The Starwood Preferred Guest®Credit Card from American Express -$5,000 worth of purchases within 6 months of signing up net you a nice 25,000 miles.
The Chase Sapphire Prefered Card – 40,000 bonus miles (~$500 value) after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months after opening an account.
After you’ve chosen a card, you’ll also want to keep an eye out for deals that will help you earn more points, faster – such as 2x point bonuses.
You can also check out the following forums for more discussion about point collecting, as well as more deals/opportunities to earn points:
And there’s the premium option, a membership in Chris Guillibeau’s Travel Hacking Cartel (not an affiliate link).
For $15 a month you’ll be provided with alerts for new bonus point opportunities.
His guarantee is 4 flights (domestic) a year – or 100,000 points – for your trouble.
I checked out the members area to be able to report back to you, and I can honestly say that, while it wasn’t for me (I’m really far away from the average consumer, what with being permanently on the road), if you’re living in an English speaking country and looking to do more traveling during your time off, the $15 a month will likely be worth it.
Regardless of your points-accumulation strategy, you’re going to want to find an effective way to keep track of them.
Enter Awardwallet.com. AwardWallet is a free service that allows you to enter your frequent flyer accounts, and they’ll track everything from one convenient dashboard. PLUS they’ll send you alerts if any of your points are in danger of expiring – a super handy tool if you’re not a frequent flyer.
There are a ton of ways other than flying to get around this big shiny globe of ours – by car, bus, train, bicycle, boat, on foot, and for the truly adventurous: hot air balloons, camels, and dog sleds.
As a general rule (but not always) cheaper options than flying.
If you’re interested in slow travel, more as a way of life than a constant hopping from one destination to the next, then we ought to follow Tim Ferriss’s recommendation from the Four Hour Work Week: Stay in 1 place for at least 3 months, get to know the culture (and out of “tourist mode” – the need to see and later be photographed with every famous monument), and learn a new skill.
This has the added benefit of lightening the monetary strain on our transportation budget – as no transportation is the cheapest transportation.
In order to find routes for busses, trains, and other non-air travel options, I always start with Rome2Rio.com, a search engine that will find routes based on all available transportation options (including flying).
For example, this route from St. Petersburg, Russia, to Stockholm Sweden combines a train, bus, and ferry:
In addition to the creative routing options (usually ~5 alternatives are provided), both price and time estimates are given, so you can balance both your budget and time.
One of my favorite features is that, when you discover an interesting route, you can discover all the service providers who cover that route, and link directly to their website to book a ticket.
Why is this cool? Because in a new and unfamiliar region, we’re not going to know all the local companies who provide bus, train and ferry services – and unlike a Google search, which will tend to turn up the high priced tour services who are savvy marketers, Rome2Rio has often discovered the carriers that locals use too.
The original concept of ride sharing was to help commuters share vehicles. The driver would make a bit of money, the riders would save money on gas (and possibly the expenses of car ownership altogether). Plus it’s an eco-friendly option for the environmentally conscious.
It has since expanded into a way for travelers to get across countries for less than a typical flight/bus/train ride, as well as offer extremely creative routing options that conventional travel companies may not service.
For example, once I had to get from a farm in northern France (where, amongst other things, I had helped raise over 300,000 snails) down to Lyon where I was meeting a friend.
650+ km, last minute. This was NOT going to be cheap.
The options in Northern France basically revolve around train service, and last minute tickets were both expensive, the routes were convoluted, and I really wanted to find a better option that was still fast.
Enter BlaBlaCar, a French ride sharing company, where I found someone who was driving the exact route I was looking for.
(Technically, they were going farther than I was, but one of the nice things about this system is that you can join for just part of the journey. Here, my final destination is at point “D”)
Awesome. Made new friends, got to practice my French for a couple hours, saved some money, and got the trip done in an afternoon. The 42 Euro price tag was heavier than I normally like, but to see a friend from Canada after being away from home for over 500 days – worth every penny.
These services are still relatively new, and thus currently only exist in Canada, USA, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and Western Europe.
Ride Sharing Resources:
Cycling is far more than a cheap mode of transportation. It is, in it’s own right, one of the most incredible ways to travel the world.
For a taste of what’s possible with the power of human ingenuity (the bike) and desire, check out the route taken by Alastair Humphries on this 4-year, 46,000 mile epic tour:
Tom Allen of TomsBikeTrip has this awesome advice to give would be cyclists uncertain about how to get started: Sell everything. Quit your job. Get a bike. Ride.
And for those of us who require a bit more preparation, he’s written over 400,000 words of biking related material covering any cycling-related issue you could imagine and several you probably can’t.
I’ve biked a bit in Southern France, and the experience was one of the most memorable I’ve had traveling – and there’s stiff competition. There’s something incredibly liberating and empowering about this particular mode of transportation.
We make fast enough progress to experience many things and many places, without going so fast as too miss the world’s beauty; we have flexibility in terms of route, timelines, speed, breaks; We rely on our own strength – inner and outer, and improve our abilities by using them.
More cycling resources:
Hitchhiking is more than a transport option for the moneyless adventurer or those who thumb their nose at risk. It’s a one of a kind experience that you have to have to really understand.
I’ve hitched through the nausea-inducing mountain roads in Northern Thailand in the back of a pickup with 5 comrades from around the globe. This was during the Songkran festival – where people basically spend a whole day throwing/spraying water at each other in order to purify themselves.
And soak foolish hitchhikers.
Of course, it’s not all fun and games, but hitchhiking is something I would still recommend trying once even if you don’t need to save money.
In terms of technique, Jamie from GreatBigScaryWorld, who has a 14,000km hitchhiking adventure to his name (as well as others), created this stand-out guide: How to Hitchhike.
Still not convinced you should give hitching a shot? Then check out Justin Carmack’s article on TrueNomads: 4 Reasons You Should Hitchhike.
The basics of hitching are, to me, quite simple: Be the type of person you would consider picking up. Wear clean clothes and shower. Be sober. Smile.
Your thumb is all the sign you’ll ever need in most places, though in SE Asia the accepted convention was to wave your hand – palm down – as if tapping the beat to a song (this is also the sign to wave over taxis and busses).
In terms of location, it’s often (but not always) illegal to hitchhike on the motorway itself. Furthermore, it can be dangerous. You also want to stand somewhere that cars can reasonably stop.
On-ramps are often nice because cars will have yet to accelerate. Gas stations are even better because you can ask people directly.
When you do get a car, the most important thing (other than safety) is your drop zone. In Thailand drivers always wanted to take Katia & me to a bus or railway station instead of leaving us on the road. Once this cost us hours in the middle of the night in an unfamiliar town, where the train station was several km from the main road – and we didn’t know in which direction!
Hitchhiking as a bit of a notorious reputation as being unsafe, especially for women.
I don’t think it’s entirely fair to say hitchhiking is unsafe. Most people around the world are enormously friendly and helpful, even to strangers who don’t speak their language.
It’s more a matter of proper planning, research, and good decision making than anything else.
I look at it this way – a ballpoint pen can also put someone’s eye out if used improperly. But most of the time it doesn’t.
There are tons of successful, solo-female hitchhikers out there – many of whom I’ve met while in SE Asia.
And others have recounted their stories online, like the 4.5 year hitchhiking adventure by the then 20-year old Rajam.
Here are some basic safety guidelines:
I can’t tell you if hitchhiking is right for you. That’s ultimately your call.
What is important, is not forming an opinion out of hysteria or fear the way the media would entice us. I’d recommend reading the discussion over on TheHitchhikersHandbook for more insight, and deciding whether hitchhiking is a calculated risk worth taking.
A hospitality exchange is where you are the guest in somebody’s home free of charge. Typically, these arrangements last a couple days, though if host and guest get along this might stretch to a week or more.
You may wonder “who in the world would want to invite a complete stranger into their home?” but as someone who has been a host as well as a guest on may occasions, I can say that both experiences can be extremely rewarding.
It’s like saying, “who would look at travel photography or read travel blogs when you could just travel?” Simple – we can gain a lot of the experiences of others.
Long story short, there are thriving communities of people that would like nothing more than for you to sleep at their place and quite possibly show you around their hometown.
Unsurprisingly, the type of people you’ll find to be hosts are those who are interested in travelling (and travelers) themselves.
Here are 6 of the top services I’d recommend:
If only it were as easy as signing up and asking strangers around the world to crash at their pad. Not quite. But as a veteran CouchSurfer I can also tell you that it’s not all that difficult either.
On whatever site you opt to use, you can answer almost all your questions yourself by asking “what would I want to see if I were a host?” This goes for filling out your profile, choosing a picture, and sending requests.
To get a bit deeper, here’s a crash course of best practices:
Additional Resource: Christian Eliers of dauntlessjaunter.com put together this thorough guide to using CouchSurfing – a great tool for the beginner to quickly get acquainted with the ins and outs of CS.
Hospitality exchanges are a great way to get cheap accommodation, but by far the best way to use a site like CS to improve the quality of your travel is by becoming a host.
If you’re going to be traveling, the best thing in the world you can possibly have is a large group of friends from all over the world you can reach out to. Doubly so if you’re writing a travel blog.
You’ll find opportunities that no search engine, no travel blog, no guidebook will ever be able to share with you, because that’s the power of friendship.
For example, in Grand Cayman I met a Canadian lawyer living in New York who was on his first vacation in something like 4 years. He was an avid diver and we shot the shit for a couple hours at
a restaurant several restaurants.
Months later, I ended up in New York City. This new friend of mine I had made totally by chance bought Broadway tickets for me and a friend and took us out to dinner at one of his favorite local dives beforehand.
Not because I’m cool. Not because I asked. Because I simply took an interest in another human being and tried my damndest to be a cool friend when the tables were slightly turned.
Even if you don’t need a place to stay, there are often groups for big cities that have weekly meetups. This can be a great opportunity to mingle with a combination of locals and travelers and get a feel for the city you’re visiting, and if you plan on an extended stay – create friendships, discover job opportunities, do language-exchanges, and basically make the city more alive.
For example, in my current city – St. Petersburg in Russia, there’s a weekly CS meetup on Thursdays:
To a lot of people, the idea of working for a good cause in exchange for the opportunity to live in another country sounds wonderful.
The challenge is finding legitimate volunteering opportunities to match one’s interests. Now that a lot of charities have started looking for a profit, often to the detriment of the ultimate community benefits, the marketplace has been infused with doubt and cynicism regarding international volunteering.
The Big Question: Are You Making A Difference?
Shawn Stafford contributed a guest post to GoBackpacking that outlines some of the pitfalls of trying to do good for others.
It’s one thing to have good intentions – but what the people we intend to serve really need are results. What we don’t want to do is create dependencies on aid in a community.
For example, after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, many families were displaced. Aid communities were formed where these people would receive food, water, and other life necessities.
All good and important things.
However, these were cramped, dirty places that were and are difficult to live in.
The unforeseen consequence was that when these people were finally able to return home and resume normal life, they often wouldn’t – because they wanted to keep receiving the handouts. From their point of view, this was a better life – even if they were now effectively stuck in a cycle of dependence.
It’s the old “give a man a fish — teach a man to fish” argument.
For any volunteering opportunity it’s important to look at the long term impact of our efforts.
Megan from Mapping Megan has a great text interview with Stephen Knight – the manager of Volunteer Latin America – about this problem finding ethical volunteering opportunities.
Is It Right For You?
Once we’ve vetted our prospective organization, we also need to answer some personal questions:
Knowing our answers will help us find the perfect opportunity that fits with our time commitments, budget, skills, and interests.
Here are some legit volunteering opportunities you can dig your teeth info if you fancy:
Room & board is provided in exchange for a day’s work on a farm. Stays may range from weeks to years, as befits you and your would-be hosts.
A total of 53 countries participate in WOOFing. In general, you have to register for a particular group in order to see possible placements. This usually involves a small fee, as groups are independently managed in each country.
A world of caution: while WOOFing can be a great way to live abroad, there have been abuses of the system where hosts basically get a ton of cheap labor and don’t respect their end of the bargain – so do your research and be sure to talk to potential hosts.
Also, if you’ve never worked on a farm – be warned: it is not easy. You will be pushed physically. I had the opportunity t work on a farm of some distant relatives in Northern France, and even in moderation it’s tough work.
In many cases, and definitely in mine, this is an excellent opportunity to learn new skills and have an authentic living abroad experience.
2. Turtle Teams, Worldwide
“Turtle Teams” is the catch-all name for the 1000s of small groups which help sea turtles. These groups tend to be located at a nesting beach – generally in an environmentally-exploited region.
One of my ride sharing “hosts” in France spent 2-3 weeks in Thailand and absolutely loved it.
3. Other Eco-Volunteering Opportunities
For the green-spirited volunteer, here are some of the best places to search for opportunities:
4. Other Volunteering Opportunities
Prefer working with people? Teaching? Building? Or using some other skill set of yours? Then consider the following opportunities:
If I told you that you could live like a millionaire looking after a golden retriever, you would call me a liar. But as it turns out, there are people all over the world that want to have their homes and pets looked after by complete strangers while they go on vacations of their own.
I first discovered this opportunity through a fellow traveler who stayed with wealthy families in exchange for giving language lessons to their kids, and have since discovered there’s a whole community of house sitters who use these sorts of opportunities as a way to travel.
The big benefit of house sitting: After you’ve arrived at your destination, lodging is almost always the #1 expense.
By reducing that to zero you’ve just saved a ton of resources to invest in your travel experience or to save up for future travels.
What’s better, is by house sitting, you’ve likely just outdone even the mid-range hotels at your destination in terms of comfort/luxury/appeal.
Of course, the competition is fierce for the best spots, and it can be hard to break in to the field as a beginner with no experience.
But it’s well worth the effort.
Dani from GlobeTrotterGirls routinely nabs assignments on beachfront properties in paradise.
Maybe you’re next? Here’s how to get started:
Unlike hospitality exchange websites like CouchSurfing, house sitting sites charge a fee, typically per year.
At first this sounds scary, but it’s actually good news.
Just consider, the number of people in need of a house or pet sitter is much smaller than the people who would jump at the opportunity to get free accommodation in beautiful and exotic locations around the world.
So the barrier to entry eliminates a ton of potential competition.
As for which site is best, ultimately it’s your call, but I’ve ordered the following list based on the recommendations of veteran house sitters:
Need more options? Check out this list of 20+ house sitting options, including sites specifically for hte US, UK, Australia, and NZ.
A good profile would seem like common sense, but so many people get things wrong. Remember, your profile has to make an excellent first impression, or else you’re sunk.
Dalene and Pete Heck of Hecktic Travells are old pros and have a handy 101 guide to get started.
Profile Picture: Take a face shot with a big smile. A shot with you and a dog where your face is still close up and visible gets bonus points.
Headline: One sentence to give the homeowner a reason to care. Give them benefits. “Retired schoolteacher” conveys no benefit, “traveling the world” conveys no benefit. “Reliable, animal loving adult to care for your home or pet(s)” conveys massive benefits.
Experience: Share as much of your experience as possible. If you’ve never housesat, talk about similar experiences you’ve had and why you think they translate well.
References: Having references is a big plus and increases your chances of landing a gig. So be sure to get a reference from anyone you house sit with.
Because references are something the beginner house sitter is unlikely to have, I reached out to veteran house sitter Dale from AngloItalianFollowUs for some advice. Here’s the juicy insider scoop he shared:
Extra Tip: Set up a blog showcasing your services. It’s just one more way to build your trust with potential homeowners. See Angela & John Laws at HouseSittingPerfected.com.
Here’s where the rubber hits the road. You’re application is going to be competing with as many as several 100 others, so you’ve got to stand out and make an impact fast!
Note that your goal isn’t to make the owner choose you now, it’s to get the conversation to the next level: Via Skype, phone, or (worst case) personal email.
Extra tips: Charli Moore from Wanderlusters on Creating a Successful House Sitting Application
The final, critical step is to get in personal contact with your potential host.
Even though you’re interested in the possibility of house sitting with them, it’s important to make sure that your own concerns are being addressed to. In talking to a homeowner, you’re interviewing them just as much as the other way around.
This way, everybody will be clear about expectations and everybody wins.
I reached out to pro traveler Dariece from Goats On The Road about this critical exchange, and she had a lot of advice to share:
Dalene and Pete Heck of Hecktic Travels saved over $30,000 on accommodation by house sitting.
On their website, they break down their 2 months in British Columbia, Canada and 6 months in Honduras.
2 Months In British Columbina
Looking after a home nestled away in the mountains, the Hectic Travelers were responsible for basic property maintenance, looking after a cat, retrieving mail from town, and providing their own food and transportation.
In return they had utilities and internet paid for, had use of a kayak, and got to spend 2 months in one of the most picturesque regions of Canada.
6 Months In Honduras
Their next gig they discovered while in B.C. – since they speak some Spanish, the Hectic Travelers were contacted directly by their next host, who lived in Roatán, Honduras.
This gig was slightly different. Included in their duties were preparing the home for realtor showings, as it was for sale, as well as managing a part-time gardener (which they didn’t have to pay for).
Perks? Beyond living in Honduras for 6 months, their host covered visa extensions, provided a vehicle, and paid all utilities.
The Final Word:
House sitting is an awesome way to drastically reduce expenses while staying in North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. It’s also a great opportunity to live comfortably in many other spots around the globe.
Here are some other useful house sitting resources to dive into:
We’ve seen that there are a smorgasbord of options for finding free accommodation, but I would be remiss not to include some of the best budget “paid” options.
Top of the bunch: Hostels.
Many modern hostels have overcome the reputation of their predecessors for being dirty, run down joints infested with vermin. Those still exist of course, but it’s easy to find hostels that are quite acceptable for even “mid range” budget travellers.
I’ve used hostels in Paris, Prague, Kuala Lumpur, and Bangkok to name a few – and I’ve found good options whether I’m paying in Euros or Thai Baht.
Hostel doesn’t automatically mean “crowded dorm room” either, private rooms are often priced quite reasonably.
There are only 3 sites I recommend for hostels, which will probably serve over 98% of your accommodation needs without a hitch. I for one have never booked a hostel with another site, though I occasionally test new sites to keep on top of the market.
For instance, I think Booking.com is a total waste of time for any budget travellers, with prices coming in at 5-10x what I’d normally pay.
Hostel World: My favorite hostel booking website has listings for over 27,000 hostels around the globe. I’ve used them since my first solo trip in 2011. For the absolute best deals, this is where I look first.
Hostel Bookers: The main competition of HostelWorld will sometimes have better prices. I think at this point they’ve actually surpassed HostelWorld in quality, but it’s easy enough to search both.
Agoda: My 3rd choice more out of habit than anything, Agoda lists the bargain basement deals along with the rest, has an easy to navigate interface, and has an enormous selection – over 575,000 locations worldwide
A cool alternative to hostels is Airbnb, where people can list their home, apartment, or spare room.
Hostels are sometimes listed as well, but this isn’t the reason I use Airbnb.
Airbnb is cool because you get to stay in a real home. On a personal note, I think it’s wonderful to travel and support a real individual by renting their room rather than the faceless, multi-million dollar conglomerates behind luxury options.
Additionally, you’ll have a wider selection of locations than with hostels, which normally cluster around tourist hotspots.
These sorts of booking are often a bit more expensive than a hostel, but there’s the benefit of often having private space, as you’ll have the place to yourself or be sharing the space with the owner.
There is some tradeoff here. Where hostels shine in the realm of socialization, sites like Airbnb can give us some much needed personal space. This is especially useful if you’re traveling in a group and need extra space.
The search function on Airbnb isn’t a lot different from hostel/hotel booking sites. You can choose your destination & date, number of guests, filter by price, and even extra options like inclusive Wifi, TV, and kitchen.
For example, for this search in Istanbul, Turkey I trimmed the price back to a max of $20 per night for 2 people and came up with 92 results. What’s great is you can also see their locations on the inset map:
Of course, you can play with the settings to get the comfort/luxury combination you desire.
James and Susan from The Savy Backpacker go deep-dive into Airbnb in this post: advantages/disadvantages, best practices, and personal experience.
Safety and Security
One of the most important things as a prospective client is to thoroughly vet your host. Airbnb does what it can to verify hosts, but ultimately the community is powered by trust.
To that note, know that on Airbnb your money is held in escrow, so if your host’s place isn’t as advertised and you choose to leave, you’ll get your money back.
Nomadic Matt – as he is wont to do – comes through with this handy guide to getting the most out of Airbnb and its likenesses.
Don’t limit yourself to Airbnb, check out these similar sites to find the room right for you.
The best bang for our buck is often renting out an apartment the way locals do. That is, not doing a Google search and turning up all the luxury options that huge companies with million dollar marketing budgets put in front of our faces.
On the island of Koh Samui, Katia and I rented a private cottage (part of a larger complex, but the building we had to ourselves) for ~3500 Thai Baht per month, which at the time was around $110.
Mark Weins of Migrationology has spent a ton of time living in Bangkok and knows how to get apartments in the 2,000 – 4,000 THB ($64 -$128) range as a part of his sub $300/mo budget.
This type of thing is not necessarily difficult to do, but it requires the right mindset. We’re used to booking a place to stay long before we get there. But in order to find a great location at a great price, we’ve gotta do the legwork: Explore the territory, talk to locals, and enquire at different places about vacancies.
Sam from Indefinite Adventure also talks about the importance of this in his guide to renting apartments in South America (that are applicable anywhere).
That being said, there is prep work we should do before we go:
This is by far the most comfortable and enjoyable way to live in a new region and explore the culture for several months.
Food is like a microcosm of the entire traveling process. It’s a process of discovery. Adventure. If you’re willing to do something new, you can never know where you’re going to end up – but it’s almost always worth it.
As a long-term budget traveler, food is the one topic that I’m the most divided on. It’s the frugal travel crossroads.
In principle I like to keep things thrifty, since less financial strain means more time doing things I love, such as learning languages, writing, and exploring new places.
In my own experience, it’s easy enough to be frugal about accommodation and transportation without losing much. And the freedom gained makes the tradeoff well worth it.
Food is different.
Sacrificing food is like a crime against both body and mind. Sure we could probably get by on rice and beans, but why would we want to?
Food is a cornerstone of the human experience (much more than the Sheridan Inn is). It’s history, culture, and art rolled up into one.
And having spent so much time on the road, at this point I’m convinced that if you really want to experience a new culture, you have to eat the food.
My solution: eat simply most of the time, and plan for food-related adventures the rest of the time.
And really, if you follow the rest of the money-saving advice in this guide, you should have plenty of budget room to eat well.
This may look different whether we’re in France or Thailand or Argentina, but most of the following guidelines hold true anywhere in the world.
Eating Well On The Cheap
For example, when I was living in Malaysia one of my friends referred me to a Hindu temple that had multiple daily ceremonies that included a community meal.
And they were thrilled to share their customs with a couple of foreigners.
Katia and I would show our respects by bringing some fruit offerings for the ceremony, and could take part in the meal at the end if we wanted, sitting on the floor with the faithful.
I made many new acquaintances on that temple floor. People were intensely curious to know what I thought of their food.
As an added bonus, next door was a restaurant which ended up becoming my favorite place to eat in all Kuala Lumpur.
All thanks to the fact I kept my ears open and stayed curious.
Food is a deeply personal subject, and your style will no doubt be different from mine. So I’ve added some resources that will help you discover your own preferred style of eating on the road, inspired by those who have “been there,
done ate that.”
5 Top Travel Food Blogs to Whet Your Appetite:
Bacon Is Magic – A couple fellow Canucks share their love for food and travel.
Behind the Food Carts – Showcases the stories of the people who make the mobile food industry happen
Legal Nomads by Jodi Ettenberg – Focuses on long form stories and photo essays, mixing enthusiasm with words and attention to detail in pictures to write about how food brings people together around the world.
Eat Your World – helping fellow travelers find these truly authentic eats
Our Tasty Travels – a couple that’s eaten their way through 65 countries, from street food to Michelin-star fine dining.
For the vast majority of long term travelers, it’s our ability to make money on the road that will keep us on the road.
This is the area where the majority of people experience the most difficulties.
It’s possible to save up enough for a 1, maybe even 2 year trip. But much more than that and we either have to wait for retirement and our pension, or to find ways to make money on the road.
This requires a mind shift for most would-be travellers, as we are mostly accustomed to short vacations where we are 100% in relax mode.
Long term travel is different. It’s more like “real life” – just lived somewhere else.
Naturally, I see no reason to wait for retirement to get started. So making bank is the way we’ll go.
There are only 2 variants we need to consider:
The central story in Tim Ferriss’s 4 Hour Work Week is about how we can transform our office job to home – gaining us location independence while keeping our salary.
Of course, this is only an option for certain types of jobs. Teachers, plumbers, and other service providers don’t have a remote option (though they have plenty of self-employment ones).
Even though I have used this option myself by turning an office marketing gig into a remote gig, it’s not my favorite option since there are so many things that can go wrong and prevent us from having success.
The condensed version of Tim Ferriss’s formula looks like this:
For example, I did something very similar to this, arranging a couple days off and then finally complete remote work. I ended up taking a bit of a pay cut, but by avoiding all the nonsense meetings and commute, my hourly wage more than doubled – plus I was free to work from wherever.
However, there are a ton of weaknesses with this system:
I will be the first to admit my success with this strategy was more due to circumstances and luck than anything else. I don’t think I could easily pull it off again.
If you have a great job which you love and/or that pays really well, then arranging to do some remote work is a great option.
Otherwise, in my mind, the odds of success + time investment makes the 2nd option more appealing to me.
Personally, I’ve found that travel and entrepreneurship go hand-in-hand.
Both require us to take complete responsibility for our results. We can’t sit and wait for other people to make our goals and dreams come true.
When I suggest to my subscribers to make money on the road, I’m usually met with some initial resistance. “There’s nothing I can do to make money while traveling” seems to be the prevailing doubt.
This is nonsense. It’s just that we are so used to operating in the traditional job market that the abundance of other alternatives get lost on us.
And entreprising individual can put their skills to use in almost any situation.
The big challenge here is to see all the hidden value in our own skill set. Many of the things we take for granted at home can have incredible value to someone in another country.
Here’s a list of 50+ offline and online ideas to show you just how many opportunities there are available to us to make money on the road.
Offline Job Ideas
Online Job Ideas:
Resources for Finding Online Work
This is far from a complete list of job opportunities. The point here isn’t to think up every variant, but to change our thinking from, “there’s no way I could earn money traveling” to “how can I earn money traveling?”
I’ve taught English, taught guitar, participated in street performances, done online marketing, translating, copywriting, freelance writing and blogging in order to stay on the road. All my skills get used in whatever capacity I can find for them.
Your options will look different from mine. The most important thing is finding a need and filling it. Take the pressure off yourself. Instead of thinking “what can I do” try asking “what unmet needs do I see around me?”
I think that any type of work on the road that we do voluntarily is good work. When we work towards something we love and care about, that work is far more meaningful than work in order to just pay the bills.
Just one more way that travel encourages us to change the way we see the world.
Now it’s time to look at my favorite first option: English lessons – but it’s not for the reason you may think. Read on to find out more.
I’m going to be brutally honest: I don’t particularly like teaching English.
That being said, I firmly believe that if you want to travel long term and you don’t have any experience as an entrepreneur, English lessons are the place you must start.
I’m so glad I took the time to do English lessons early in my traveling career.
Not for the money, the easy visas, or the extremely flexible schedules it can afford you.
No, the real reason you should really consider doing some English teaching is that having quick, initial success trying to earn on the road will give you confidence.
You won’t wonder anymore, “Can I really do this?” You’ll know. You can.
English is a language in such high demand that you don’t have to be a marketing genius. The product sells itself.
And at the same time you’ll gain experience.
It will teach you how to be a self-sufficient entrepreneur: to market and sell your services, and then to fulfill those service requests in an environment where you’re already primed for success.
At this point in my traveling career, I’m moving away as from standard English teaching as a source of income. It’s a great way to establish oneself in a new region, and to develop the aforementioned entrepreneurial skills.
However it is worth noting is that the world of English entrepreneurship ideas go beyond doing lessons. In addition to private lessons, teaching in schools, conversation classes, and Skype lessons, you could also do editing/correcting of signs, menus, advertisements, and websites, and translations if you know any additional languages.
English Teaching Resources:
Congratulations, you’ve made it to the end of this tiny, 17-thousand word guide on how to travel the world. While far from being comprehensive, it is more than enough to get you started.
And getting started is the most important part.
All the techniques in this guide are easy. None of them require special training or education. All it takes is commitment and desire.
You will feel doubts. That’s normal.
You’ll think “I can’t do this.” Do it anyway.
Do it – because nobody else gives a damn whether you make 6-figures in some high-flying corporate job or sleep with alpacas under the Bolivian stars. But you care.
Traveling the world has been the best decision I’ve ever made. I have seen, learned, shared, loved, laughed, cried, created, and experienced more in the last 2 years than at any other point in my life.
It has not always been easy or romantic, but it has always, always been worth it.
The Final Word
I didn’t write 17,000+ words so you could watch from the sidelines. I want you to take action. If you dream of travel, it’s time to start making that dream a reality.
So in order to do that, I reached out to Chris Guillibeau – one of the few people who has been to every country on Earth, to get some parting advice for the would-be-traveler who’s yet to take the leap.
The final thought I’d like to leave you with, and the final piece of advice I’d like you to consider – is his:
Share your own travel plans or dreams in the comments below. I’ll respond to any questions with actionable advice that’ll help you get started!