My love and I travel a lot. I've always loved traveling (big and small trips) and always have saved up money in order to travel. Nowadays, we travel quite easily and I notice some people have no clue how we do this. So I'd like to share with you some advice on how we do it. If you have other tips, let us know! We'd love to know!
We like our travels to be cheap if we can. Our bigger travels (USA, Japan) (and mine to Canada and Zambia) aren't supercheap no.. but still not very expensive either. Our small trips (Cambridge, Krakau, and upcoming Marrakesh and Istanbul) are actually very cheap. So cheap you might not even believe it.
So how do we do this?
1. WE TRAVEL OFF-SEASON
We are both freelancers (self-employed), which means that we are very flexible with our workdays. It has it's downsides too, because when we travel, we understandably don't earn a thing. Maybe in the future, we can create something cool that will give us income while away, but for now, no work no pay. But we calculate carefully when to travel and when not to.
Even when you are not a freelancer, you can still make these tiny trips by taking a small week and plan them around the weekend, for example, leave on Thursday, come back on Monday, or something the like. You are still visiting another country for 5 days and only have to take 3 off work!
It is true that not all places are great for off-season travel, there are places that close of when the touristic seasons is over. True. So keep this in mind. Generally, these are the places where people come for sun, sea and beaches. I always made a distinction between travel and holidays. Travel is to see a lot of the places you are going, and most of the time, involves traveling to multiple destinations. Holidays are for lying on the beach and doing a little short of nothing for a while.
Of course, both can be combined as well, but I think you catch my drift. So for holidays, you should be aware of the touristic season. For regular travels, you need to inform yourself on the destination anyway, so check if the things you really want to see are still open for the general public.
2. WE DON'T NECESSARILY PLAN FOR GOOD WEATHER
Traveling off-season means we might not always have the best weather. It might be rainy in Marrakesh for example. Or cloudy and cold in Istanbul. But that doesn't matter that much to us. Krakau was quite cold as well. It's traveling in the less popular months that makes traveling so cheap. Our plane ticket + hotel for Marrakesh for 5 days was 210 euro per person. Istanbul was priced the same! Of course, technically, we should also take the costs that we do not work into consideration, but that's a case of good planning.
3. WE KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR GOOD DEALS
We subscribed to a couple good (cheap) travel websites, like bebsy.nl, booking.com, expedia.com and ticketspy. We are always on the look out for cheap tickets and hotels. A couple years ago, last-minutes where the hype and very cheap. Nowadays you really have to look for deals in advance.
Also, do your research. Know what tickets to certain destinations cost on average, so you know if you are above or below that average. We booked our tickets to Tokyo, for example, in march, where there was an offer for 500 euro per person. If we were to book now, it would be very expensive.
4. WE DON'T NEED MUCH LUXURY
When we pick hotels, we pick cheap ones for reasonable quality if we can. For short trips, I love to book a place with breakfast, so we can debate what to do that day while waking up in the hotel. For longer trips, we could also make our own, but it's very much dependent of the country, the time we travel and the things we intend to do. When we want to wake up early and do a lot, we might catch breakfast on the run.
When we have a long trip, it's nice to book a couple hotels that are cheap, and just a couple in between that are a little bit more luxurious, so we can rest well for the next week. When in the USA, the four of us booked motels with two giant beds almost every time, which made overnight stay very cheap for us! If we were charged 70 dollars, we could divide this by 4! Every end of the week, we would have separate rooms so we could have a little privacy and extra comfort, and then we'd go back to the 4 people in one room again.
An addition, thanks to Paul, is indeed to stay a little further from very touristic spots and a little off center. This can be convenient for a long stay, for short trips where you need public transport to get to places, it might be worth the price to stay in the vicinity of public transit and/or tourist attractions, but most of the time there are always cheaper hotels or b&bs available.
There are also even cheaper options, like airbnb (thank you Jody), couchsurfing and travelbuddies. Hostels can be nice for a couple nights, depending if you travel with a group or with a couple. Again, it's your own preference what works at what time! Always do some research on where to stay good and cheap, and what to avoid. Less luxury is ok, but you don't want to end up in a trashy, unsafe neighborhood either!
5. WE PICK YOUR FOODS THOUGHTFULLY
Sometimes, the cheapest sandwich you had on the road was the best you ever had. When traveling, we rarely go out to fancy restaurants. Again, this depends on the country. In the USA we had a couple things we wanted to try, but we weren't on any culinary mission. Often, we would go to a supermarket and buy trail-mix, bagels and other stuff for on the road. We bought some pre-made rice and clam chowder as evening meal on several occasions. We also make it a priority try to find healthy food, because it is easy to go for fast food or forget to have some veggies in between.
In Japan, our upcoming trip, it's of course going to be a little different. The land of sushi, ramen and supertasty food beckons us! Still, I read that even the sushi you can buy in the supermarket, is so much better then the stuff we can get in restaurants back home! Also, there are student places where you can have good food for cheap.
For any country you visit, read the rules and signs for expensive foods, so you don't get surprised by high bills and angry waiters. For example, wanting to be seated at the bar for dinner is no problem, but in Japan, it's considered as a prime spot and they will charge you extra for this in more expensive restaurants. Knowing those kind of things can help you so much!
6. DECIDE WHAT'S WORTHWHILE TO PURSUE FOR SIGHTSEEING
Of course, you are there to sight-see, so you are free to splurge! But always check if it's worth the price. Most must-sees in other countries are very commercial. Always check what you'll have to pay in advance, even book tickets in advance if that's quicker.
My friend Geanne and I were so happy we bought tickets to the Vatican in advance because of massive queue's outside! In the USA, we dreamed about taking a helicopter flight above the Grand Canyon. But when we arrived, we already saw so many beautiful things, and the prices were so high, we decided to use that money for other cool stuff. When in Zambia, we booked a safari trip to Botswana. It costs us more, yes, because we had to purchase a new visa (we weren't expecting to leave the country!) but it was SO worth it. Also, my mum and me spend 4 expensive nights in a beautiful lodge, that was one of our best experiences in the whole trip.
Some amazing things are for free, others are very expensive. Only you can decide what you deem the worth of the experience. Of course, you cannot know until you try, but after traveling a little, it's easier to predicts whether something is really worth it.
7. PACK LIGHT
I almost forgot this one. Not per see a frugal tip, but still very worthwhile when traveling: Don't bring too much stuff with you. It's heavy, it's unnecessary and it will only give you stress. Pick a couple outfits that are easy to combine/layer for different kinds of weather and occasions. I took a couple books to China and was surprised by the extra weight. After finishing them, I left them in hotel lobbies for other foreigners to check out.
On the internet, there are tons of guides how to pack well and light. It will be easier to decide what to wear in the morning. And if you travel a lot, it might be worth the effort to invest in some strong, outdoor-like material that will keep you warm/cool and dry during travel. There's a lot of fancy stuff out there that doesn't make you look like some scruffy backpacker.
By the way, I very much prefer backpacks above suitcases or trunks. Having the weight on your back makes traveling easier and more flexible. Plus, it fits in almost every plain/truck or taxi and you don't have to be embarrassed when people try to help you with your luggage! Mine is 5 years old at the moment and doesn't show any signs of wear whatsoever. I even lend it to a friend and it came back like it never left! (Geanne took it to Costa Rica. I am officially jealous of my backpack for going somewhere I didn't!) So buy a good one, it will become a true travel mate! We have two small cabin suitcases on wheels from IKEA we only use for short trips.
In the end, you want to travel to see and explore the countries, so you should make this your priority. At least, that's my idea of traveling. If your idea of traveling is shopping until you drop.. well. Maybe you need one or two suitcases after all.
Note: Please be advised when traveling to "poorer" countries, it might not be a good idea to use a lot of luxury products. Be modest, and check what the culture sees as modest or not. What's more, if you use heavy make up, jewelry and fancy clothing, you could become a target to thief's or worse. A friend of mine was ones hit down in Spain, while she was wearing fake (!) Gucci sunglasses. Her bag and sunglasses were stolen, and she had big bruises.. so do be careful what kind of message you give to the people around you. You are still a guest in a unknown country, thus vulnerable! Blending in is the best you can do!
For females, this is a great site with packing lists for almost every country you'd like to visit!
PS: ON SOUVENIRS
Also another worthwhile mention by Paul - a tip I take for granted after traveling much! - but don't buy unnecessary souvenirs that will end up in the trash or thrift store anyway. I love to buy functional stuff. Something I can use. Like a scarf or chopsticks. Most of the things I bought when I first started traveling, were discarded after a while. In Africa, I bought three beautiful bowls that still find use in our house and remind me of a great trip!
Rick brought me incense from Japan, the smell still brings him back to the temples (and me to my Zen lessons!). So, again, buy wisely, and don't forget you have to lug your purchases along for the entire trip. If it's worth it go for it, but if not, please skip it. You don't have to buy everything that has beauty, sometimes, you can just admire it, take a picture and move on!
So, summarizing, it's planning ahead and doing homework on the countries you'd like to visit. Also, don't go wild with electronics or travel goodies. Simple is best. On small trips, I don't even take a camera, I just use my phone. Experiment with what you really need to have a good traveling experience!
Next to that, we have the fortune - through my boyfriend - that we know people in almost every major city because of the 501st legion, the international StarWars costume club he's part of (and hopefully, I'll be too soon!). Knowing locals in the places you travel makes traveling much more fun and naturally, they can give you lots of tips on traveling there, best places to eat and much else!
In Krakau, we were taken to some kind of Gamers's Cafe we would never have found on our own. Those kind of things make traveling even more worthwhile! And no worries, if you don't know a soul, having an open and enthusiastic spirit will surely leave you with new friendships with people all around the world!
If you have other advice to share with me, please do!
Nienke, 33. Schrijft over van alles. Filosofie, minimalisme, eco, diy, haakwerkjes, zero waste, de wereld en reizen. Houdt van sushi, goede cappuccino's, avontuur en haar lieve man en dochtertje.
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