Americans traditionally consider travel a luxury, reserved for retirement-aged people who are able to afford the time and cost involved in taking a proper vacation. We often think of traveling as a getaway, where all of our needs and wants are addressed by friendly hotel staff. The destination and local culture are often lost amongst mints on pillows, relaxing spa treatments, fancy dinners and elaborate shows.
This type of travel, while serving as a break from the annoyances of your life, usually costs a small fortune. However, there is a cheaper, more fulfilling way to travel, if you make a few trade offs and rethink the idea of travel itself.
Make it About the Place
Sure, Paris and London sound lovely but these touristy, luxury-focused destinations can cost you a great deal of money. Between the Eiffel Tower and Big Ben, you’ll find yourself scrapping the bottom of the piggy bank for your flight home. In fact, most of Western Europe is so marked-up that a budget trip is hard to come by.
As an alternative, consider venturing to non-English-speaking territories, like Eastern Europe. If you’re looking for beaches and a great nightlife scene, cities like Zagreb, Croatia, have a lot to offer and for a much less. Eastern Europe is relatively new to the travel scene, and it has a lot of interesting things to see (like underground wine cities in Moldova).
Additionally, this area has yet to adopt the Euro, and in general, the dollar is stronger than the local currency. While you’ll still have to put out for the plane ticket to Europe, once there, budget airlines like Ryanair will get you around for as little as 1 Euro (plus taxes) if you book early.
Make it About the People
Befriending the waitstaff at your hotel doesn’t equate to mingling with actual locals. In fact, staying at a hotel, period, keeps you at a distance from actually experiencing the destination from the ground up. Americans were introduced to the idea of hostels through a gruesome movie that implanted thoughts of death and torture in our perception of these places. This is total bullshit.
While some hostels may be less than pristine, there are many scattered around the world that are just as clean, private and inhabitable as some mid-level hotels, and at a heavily discounted price. Rethinking your travel accommodations will cut the cost of your trip in a huge way. And really, who cares where you sleep? Since most people that stay at hostels are on the broke train and/or are seeking out non-touristy spots, you’ll be exposed to cheaper local hangouts like bars and restaurants, which gives you the chance to actually interact with the people of the place you’re visiting (and save some green along the way). If you’re traveling solo, sleeping on a bunk bed for a few nights may be a fair trade for a more memorable trip.
Make it More Meaningful
Sipping Pina Coladas on the beach in Cancun has its appeal. But, when the straw gurgles that last drop, all you’re left with is a hazy recollection of your vacation, a nasty sunburn and a hole in your wallet. Consider traveling for a cause to save some money and inject some meaning into your trip.
Get your hands dirty with WWOOFING. Nothing to do with barking, WWOOFING stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, an organization that connects willing volunteers with farms around the world. By joining the network, you have the choice of working on a farm almost anywhere in the world. Once you are placed, your labor is repaid with free accommodation and meals prepared from the food that you helped harvest. The best-known farms are in the south of France (think vineyards) and since a lot of farms are in rural parts of the world, you get to really see how the locals live and taste authentic, home-cooked, regional cuisine, for free.
Travel doesn’t have to be expensive if you stay off the five star path. Making just a few adjustments to the way you approach travel can keep some of that hard-earned cash snugly in your pocket.
Do you have a travel story to tell? Tell us about it in the comments!
YFS is owner and author of Your Finances Simplified. He was born and raised in West Philadelphia and is now a financial adviser, IT contractor, landlord, and treasurer of a non-profit. He created his blog partly due to his desire to help people with their finances.