London, October 2015
I truly believe that travel is one of life’s greatest joys (and privileges.) I’m lucky enough that I was raised in a family that valued travel, so I’ve been going on trips and vacations (I wholeheartedly believe they’re different) since before I can remember. As I’ve grown up and become a “real adult” with a real income, I’ve prioritized traveling on my own — and on my own dime. And along the way, I’ve been able to pick up a few tips and tactics on how to travel as much as you can on a budget.
I think a lot of people shut down the idea of traveling in your early 20s because they believe it’s too expensive and unobtainable. Though it is definitely an investment and something you need to plan and save for, it can be done — on the cheap, too! In fact, I think your 20s are one of the best times to travel. Most likely, you don’t have kids keeping you home, and you’ve got the stamina and (lack of) standards to rough it a bit. You just need to be a little creative. Here are a few ways how.
Go where your friends are.
This is my biggest tip, for obvious reasons. When you visit a friend, you’ll most often be able to stay with said friend for free. Removing the cost of a hotel or AirBnB is HUGE for savings, and sometimes, you can remove transportation fees, too, if the person you’re staying with has a car. And of course, the bonus of this method is that you get to spend time with a friend you don’t see quite as often, and you get to have a local as a tour guide!
Though most of my friends from college live in NYC, which doesn’t lend itself to visits, I’ve tried to take advantage of visiting people where I can. Last fall, I went to Arizona, where my aunt and uncle live, for Thanksgiving. And two of my best friends from high school live in Boston, so I’ve been there three times in the past two years, too.
Sometimes, it’s worth waiting to visit a destination, too. People move around and you never know when one of your good friends will arrive in a place you’ve been wanting to visit. For example, I’ve wanted to visit Los Angeles for the past few years. But it just seemed so pricey: Hotel, renting a car, etc. But when my step-sister moved out there last fall, I knew it was the perfect opportunity to finally get out to LA and get to spend time with her, which only made the trip more fun.
Take opportunities when they arise.
Similar to the above point, I think it’s important to sort of let your destinations be dictated by circumstance. An example: Last fall, Barcelona wasn’t super high up on my list of places to visit. I had already been, but just for two days when I was in high school, so while I knew I wanted to go back one day, it wasn’t my number one destination. But when my friends invited me to join them on a trip, I didn’t hesitate. We ended up having an amazing time, and I truly felt like I experienced Barcelona.
One thing to note is I am single, and while I have a ton of great friends, I don’t have that go-to travel partner in the way something in a relationship does. (Of course, there are friends — like my roommate and Natalie — who I travel with more often, but you know what I mean) So when a friend says “Hey, want to go to X?” I’m likely to say yes. It’s a great way to spend time with people and sometimes, be introduced to new destinations. Like when my roommate and friend Katie invited me to go to Iceland with them, I said yes because I wanted to go on another big trip that year and had no plans to do so. I had never really considered Iceland as a destination. I ended up absolutely loving it, and now am dying to go back and see more of the country.
It’s also worth mentioning that family vacations are a great way to go on subsidized trips. Nowadays I just go on a few, usually one big one every other year. Of course, this totally depends on your family situation and I recognize that I’m very lucky to still get invitations from my mom and step-dad to join them on some of their adventures!
Stay in an AirBnB.
Y’all, I cannot express how much I love hotels. I love them. The beds, the lobbies, the plush robes and fluffy towels. But nine times out of ten, AirBnB is the more affordable option, so that’s what I go with. It also gives you more options when it comes to staying with a larger group, or if there are couples in the mix, etc. You also usually have a kitchen, so you can elect to cook some meals at home rather than constantly paying restaurant prices.
Hostels are also an inexpensive option, and one I did take full advantage of during my study abroad days. I honestly am at the point in life now where, most often, I will splurge for the AirBnB or cheap hotel room. However, if you’re traveling alone and looking to make friends, I’d recommend staying in a hostel because it’s a great way to meet fellow young travelers.
Points and miles.
I’m just starting to get into the points game, but I have to say, I love it! Since I grew up in Chicago — a United hub — I’ve been accumulating United miles for years. I try to fly United when I can so I can stock up on the miles. It can take some time to really build these up on your respective airline, but when you can it’s a great way to save on flights.
I also recently got the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, which I highly recommend. I’m planning a more in-depth post about my credit cards later, but this one has incredible travel perks and allowed me to book a free trip to Europe this fall — with lots of leftover points to spare! It also has no foreign transaction fees, which is a HUGE plus when you’re abroad.
If you want to travel regularly, you need a credit card with travel points. It’s such an easy to way to slash your travel costs, just by going about your normal life and spending as you usually would.
You likely already know this, but if you’re going on a weekend trip and you want to leave on Friday and come back on Sunday, you’ll pay a premium for those flights. If you’re able to take a daytime Friday flight, or Thursday evening, or come back on Monday, you can save a lot of cash. Hotels are often cheaper on weeknights, too.
Don’t be a snob.
One day, I truly hope that I’ll be able to occasionally splurge on a truly gorgeous hotel room, or business class on a flight to Europe or Asia. But that is just not the place I’m at in life, and that’s fine! I’m 25. I always say you can go up, but it’s tough to go back down. So this is the time in life to stay in the teeny AirBnb, fly the budget airline, and sit in the last row of coach. In the end, you can handle any situation that’s mildly uncomfortable — like a long layover in Lisbon, as I did on my way to Barcelona — as long as you’re safe, healthy and have the end in sight. I always tell myself that a long flight only lasts so long. It’ll be over eventually, and then you’ll be at your amazing new destination.
In order to give a more tangible portrait of how I’ve been able to travel as I often as I do, I’m including a list of how I’ve paid for a few of my most recent trips.
Montreal and Quebec City
I received a gift card to Air Canada as a gift, and convinced my roommate to come with me. We’d both been wanting to visit Montreal for a while. We stayed at an AirBnB that cost $75 a night, so divided between the two of us, it was very affordable.
I booked my flight 100% with miles, so it cost me about $13 in fees. My friends and I — a group of five of us — stayed in an AirBnB, an economical option for the long weekend when divided by five!
We booked our flights and AirBnB in February, four months before the June weekend we were going to be visiting. As such, we were able to get flights for less than $200 to a notoriously pricey destination.
I take the MegaBus and sleep on my friend’s couch. $60 total, without the costs of food and such.
I used United miles to book my outgoing flight and paid for the other. By flying out on a Wednesday and returning on a Tuesday, the prices were cheaper. The one-way I paid for was a little more than $100. I stayed with my step-sister while I was out there, so I didn’t have to pay for a hotel, either. Adding even more to the savings, she let me borrow her car while she was at work, so I didn’t have to rent a car to get around L.A. (which is essential!)
We stayed at a wallet-friendly AirBnB and we flew the budget XL Airways France to get a good deal. ($700 round trip, compared to $1500 on other airlines.)
Again, we stayed at an AirBnB, and managed to nab some seriously cheap flights — about $460. This did involve some less-than-optimal flights: A three hour layover in Portugal on the way there, and a seven hour layover in London (during which we ventured into the city, because I couldn’t be in London that long and not!) Both travel days were exhausting, but well worth it for that price tag.
This trip has yet to occur, but it’s set to be a very affordable one! I booked my flight with credit card points, so it was 100% free. In two of the locations I’m going — Paris and London — I have friends living there, so I’ll be staying with them. I planned my trip so I’ll be spending the most nights possible in the free locations. And when I’m not, I’ll be staying at a cheap hotel or an AirBnB. To get around, I’m taking trains, and they aren’t very pricey!
Do you have any tips on how to travel on a budget? Share in the comments! And if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.