Let’s talk about money. Money is one of the biggest reasons that hold people back from going on the vacation of their dreams. I get DMs on my Instagram all the time asking “But Viola, how are you affording all these trips?” The idea that traveling is very expensive seems to be a tough reality to overcome in the minds of most. I want to help and show you that there are many ways to travel for cheap, or even free! All you need is an open mind and the willingness to do a little extra work.
Don’t forget to grab my free resources and budget planner printable set at the end of the post!
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1. Get a travel credit card
I have saved so much money by using the points that I’ve racked up on my TD Platinum Visa card. On my most recent trip to Reykjavik, I got $150 off on my flight, which cut my cost down by half. Explore what options your bank offer in terms of credit cards with travel rewards. Often, you can combine the credit card with airline reward programs, earn extra miles and get to your free flight faster. Some credit cards, like mine, also come with many benefits such as flight/trip delay insurance, lost baggage insurance, emergency travel assistance, etc. How awesome is that?
2. Sign up with loyalty programs
In addition to credit cards, you can score free flights by joining loyalty programs for airlines and hotels. Which brands do you use the most often? The chances are they offer ways to earn points and redeem for discounts, upgrades and free tickets. There are also coalition loyalty programs like Aeroplan and Airmiles. I am with both of these Canadian companies, and I like that you can earn points not only with travel purchases but everyday shopping like on Amazon or Costco. Top tip: I often offer to buy things on my mom’s behalf so I can earn points and let her pay me back in cash later. 😛
3. Travel in the offseasons
I always say you have to be flexible with your travel dates if you want to score good deals. Visiting a destination during their offseasons means cheaper flights and accommodations. But more than that, it usually means fewer people. Who doesn’t want to enjoy the beach all to themselves? I recently went to Cancun Mexico in November, right before the December peak season kicked in. The weather there was just as beautiful and everything was cheap, cheap, cheap!
4. Learn the art of booking flights
Never look at only one website before booking your flight! I always check multiple search engines. My favorite one is by far Skyscanner. It has a feature that allows you to choose “Everywhere” as the destination and “Cheapest month” as travel dates. If you don’t care where you go, you may find a really cool place to travel to that you didn’t consider before. What an awesome way to gather inspirations right? Other tools that I use include Momondo, Kayak, Google Flights, and the airline website itself. In general, however, I tend to find the best deals on Skyscanner.
Also, I open up these sites in “cognito” because I have an evil theory that the engines track my actions and jack up the prices once they know I am thinking of buying. I have no physical proof for this except the 100 times where the ticket amount “coincidentally” went up when I checked the second time. Yes search engines, I am on to you…
5. Stay updated with deals and sales
Sign up for your favorite airline’s newsletters. Get on Facebook groups about flight deals from your city like this one. A couple of other handy websites that I subscribe to are Secret Flying, Scott’s Cheap Flights, and Airfarewatchdog. It may clutter up your inbox once in a while, but when that flash sale shows up, it’s all worth it!
6. Befriend budget airlines
If you don’t mind sacrificing a little comfort, going with budget airlines will save you so much money. I just flew from Toronto to Europe with WOW Air in December. Sure, they only allowed me one personal item on the plane (Even a carry-on was a huge extra charge, so I took on the challenge of traveling extra lite), and they did not offer me any water during the flight (Ooh yes I did bring my own water bottle WOW, thank you for asking…not). But, my wallet stayed fat and happy so that was all I cared about.
Check out this list of the best budget airlines in the world.
7. Extend your layovers
What if, just what if, you can get an extra trip out of the one you book? Then instead of one destination, you can visit two?! Extending a layover is an amazing underrated way to travel more for less. Coming soon, I have a layover in Hong Kong from India to Turkey, and a layover in Oman from Turkey to London. I can’t wait to explore these places! There are a couple ways to get in on this awesomeness. You can either find trips with long layovers on Skyscanner, or use this site called Airwander specifically designed for discovering layovers.
8. Stay in hostels
Moving on to accommodation costs. You probably already know that hostels are cheaper than hotels, but what you may not know is that many hostels these days are much better than their reputation for dirty, messy, drunken backpackers. I recently stayed in this boutique hostel in Reykjavik, Iceland and it was beau-ti-ful! A couple people responded to my Instagram stories asking “is this really a hostel”?? My favorite platform for finding accommodation is Booking.com. I love their free cancelation option and the Genius loyalty program (you get 10% on properties worldwide once you become a Genius member).
9. Utilize Airbnb
If you STILL have not tried Airbnb, you are missing out big time. I adore the sharing economy we live in these days for this kind of platform to be possible. On Airbnb, you can find apartments and homes of locals to rent for short term. The options are endless. Sometimes I like to just browse the property listings of a destination to see what unique homes are on offer. It’s a much more intimate experience than living in a hostel, and of course, cheaper. You can also EARN money with Airbnb’s referral program by introducing friends to sign up. Like this:
Hey guys, if you sign up with Airbnb with my link here, you can get $33 off your first trip! After you book a trip, I will also get a credit reward from Airbnb. Win-win right? 😉
Before you raise an eyebrow and declare couch surfing must be sketchy AF, why would a someone want a rando in their home, they must be a rapist serial killer, blah blah…hear me out. I tried couch surfing in Singapore and had a wonderful time with my host. Couchsurfing.com is a safe space where you can find locals willing to welcome travelers. Hosts have their profiles with information such as their home, their hobbies, why they are on Couchsurfing, etc. Most of the time, people are just looking to make friends from around the world and give back to the community. You can also read through reviews left by past hostees to gauge whether a particular host and you will get along. All in all, Couchsurfing has restored my faith in humanity and shown me that even strangers can be kind to each other.
11. Try home exchanges
You know that rom-com “The Holiday” with Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet, a story about two ladies who swapped houses and went on their own getaway adventures? It’s a real thing you can do! Check out Home Exchange. There might just be a cute quaint chalet somewhere waiting for you (Probably doesn’t come with a hot guy like Jude Law in the movie, but you know…good enough). This is especially an amazing way to save huge for families, as we know how much accommodation can cost when you travel in groups.
12. House sit
Do you like puppies? Did you know that you can travel for free by playing with people’s dogs all day? All travelers who have pets know the dilemma of leaving their beloved furry friends behind when they go off to a different country. Who is going to feed Peanut? Who is going to give Little Sir his daily belly rub? That is where you come in. Trusted House Sitter link you up with hosts looking for caretaker for their pets. In exchange, you can stay in their home while they are away. If that is not the sweetest deal ever, I don’t know what is.
This may be a bit extreme for some, but I know friends who have done it. A guy I met in a hostel told me the tales of how he camped all over Europe. He would pitch his own tent everywhere he went, on the beach, in the forest…Even in the big cities, he would scope out quiet corners in the park. One time in Spain, he even got permission to camp out on someone’s lawn. It’s a pretty hardcore travel style and likely not for everyone. But nevertheless, an option for thought.
After being on the road all these years, I realized that I prefer slow travel rather than going through a city like a whirlwind, barely learning about the culture and local people. When you give yourself more time, you can travel more immersively, meaningfully, and cheaply. Volunteering is a great way to do that. Workaway is a wonderful platform that allows you to find hosts around the world looking for helpers. There are NGOs, school building projects, environmental projects, and more. I stayed in Mexico for three weeks, helping out at a hostel in Cancun. My accommodation and breakfast every day were free. On top of that, I became great new friends with several other volunteers. It was such an awesome experience and I can’t wait to do it again in a different country. WWOF is another reputable program that allows you to volunteer on organic farms all over the world. Exchange cultures, promote sustainability, save money…What can be better?
15. Visit cheap countries
One of the biggest reasons why I got to travel so much in 2018 was because I lived in Japan. While Japan itself is not the cheapest, the countries around it are. I pranced all around Asia from the Philippines, to China, to Korea. Go where you can stretch your dollars as far as you can.
16. Use public transportation
Big cities often offer tourists passes that you can take advantage of. New York, for example, has a 7-Day Unlimited Pass that cost: $32.00. The fare for a subway or local bus ride is $2.75, so you can do the Math. if you plan to do a lot of sightseeing during your stay, you will save a lot by getting one of these passes.
An old African Proverb says “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Have I impressed you with my wiseness? The point is, once again, harness the power of teamwork. BlaBlacar is a cool website where you can find carpool buddies for long distance travel and split the cost. Meet some new friends. Have a road trip!
I’ve been still a bit chicken/shy to try this, but Kristin from Be My Travel Muse is an absolute veteran at this. Reading her hitchhiking adventures affirms my trust in human kindness and that the world is often a safer place than we think. Check out this cool website Hitchwiki that has a lot of good tips on hitchhiking safety.
19. Find discounted/free activities
Every destination has things to do for free. I have done free walking tours in a number of cities around the world. They are usually excellent. (Note though that while it’s technically “free”, a tip for your guide is expected at the end. So it is more pay-as-you-can.) You can find these tours on Freetours.com. For other activities, I like to hunt for deals on Get Your Guide or Klook. They have experiences for thousands of destinations at discounted rates. From a day at Tokyo Disneyland to sightseeing in Taiwan.
20. Discover where the locals eat
Who travels for food? *raises my hand. Unfortunately, for most travelers, it’s always tough to know where are the most authentic places to eat. When you are in an unfamiliar city, it’s easy to get ripped off in the tourist part of town. My best trick is to befriend/ask locals. Your hostel front desk girl, the taxi driver, a random person on the street, etc. While in Vietnam, I was taken to some real holes in the wall eateries by new Vietnamese friends I made. I was shocked at how much cheaper the food was there compared to the restaurants I ate at days before around my hotel.
21. Cook your own food
Another benefit of staying hostels or Airbnbs is that there is usually a kitchen, which means you can cook your own food. Stock up on groceries from a nearby supermarket. Or better yet, visit a fresh local market. You will save so much money if you are willing to roll up your sleeves and turn on the stove yourself.
22. Organize a group trip
When you travel with a group, there are a number of opportunities to save money. You can split expenses like renting a whole property on Airbnb, eating out, and potentially get group rates for activities. If you are a confident planner, put your organization skills to work and gather a squad together. Warning: usually the bigger the group, the more the drama. But if you can pull it off, it can be a really fun and rewarding experience.
23. Make friends on the road
Not to sound like mom on the first day of school, but put yourself out there! You’d be surprised at the blessings that come your way when you connect with another human. During the time I was on a university exchange in Australia, I met a bunch of girls who were also on exchange. After we all parted ways, we’ve visited each other in our own countries. I’ve stayed with one of the girls in her home in the south of France, another girl in her apartment in New York City, and another girl in Italy. I feel so happy to know that I have friends all over the world who will welcome me to their city with a warm hug. Staying with them help me eliminate accommodation costs and gain the best experience with a local.
24. Do your research
The real golden advice to simply plan ahead. The internet is so useful these days. A quick google “cheap things to do in X” will yield you many results. Follow blogs like the one you are currently reading. 😛 Yours truly has written many budget destinations guides to places such as Japan, Singapore, and Mexico. Take notes, and download the cheatsheets!
25. Work abroad
For those open to long-term travel, working abroad is nothing short of life changing. I taught English in Japan for two years on a program called JET. Not only did they pay for my flight tickets to and return from Japan, but they also gave me an income to live in one of the most fascinating countries in the world. I am forever grateful for this program and the unforgettable memories it allowed me to create. There are also many other jobs that you can do abroad, such as working on a cruise ship, remote work online, etc.
26. Enter travel giveaways
Alright, so the chances for this one are slim I admit, but it is not impossible to score big with a giveaway! There are tons of sweepstakes on the internet all the time. Trips to Peru for two, all-inclusive cruise to the Bahamas, and so on. These contests are very easy to enter so why not give it a shot? (Don’t hold your breath though 😛 )
27. Start a travel blog!
Lastly, if you are interested in writing and storytelling, consider starting a blog! It does take a lot of time and hard work to get to the point of getting sponsorships, but it is not as hard as you may think when you are passionate about it. I was able to land my first press trip to Long Island this past September, after about one year of taking blogging seriously. Everything from my flight, to the hotels, to the activities were covered by the tourism board. We even got VIP Access to several events as press. It felt like the ultimate dream come true. Since then, I’ve also worked with tour companies in New York and Iceland. As my blog grows, I hope to partner with more brands and tourism boards. My goal is to eventually make a full-time income, which I know is entirely within my reach. There are many bloggers making 6-figures a year in this industry. In a world where giant metal birds can fly in the sky, and people can see each other from different sides of the globe with the click of a button on a screen, nothing is too crazy. I dare to dream. And so should you.
Ways to Travel for Cheap or Free Cheat Sheet
I hope that you have found this list of ways to travel for cheap (or free) helpful. My objective is to inspire you to live your biggest, wildest, most colorful life. To help you further, I’ve created a list of all the best resources mentioned in this blog post (and some additional ones we didn’t have time to address), as well as a travel budget planner. Enter your email below to get the download link of this 2 page set in your inbox. By signing up, you will also receive the TBB newsletter where I share monthly travel tips, new itineraries, and exclusive goodies like free printables.
Remember, at the end of the day, travel is never a matter of money but of courage. Besides, there are many ways to save up, some that you may never have thought of like thrifting.
Travel while you are healthy and able. You will never regret it. 🙂 Bon voyage!
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