Have you heard the lines: travel is too expensive” or “I can’t travel right now”. How about “I want to travel, but I can’t afford it”. These are all real reasons to prolong your travel plans. However, I have some news for you: you CAN travel and it doesn’t have to drain your bank account. I’ve travelled to 16 countries over the past 5 years and have never made more than $36,000 a year. Traveling isn’t about your wallet, it’s about your mentality and priorities. Believe it or not, thousands of people travel the world every year and they’re not rich. There are some distinct strategies and hacks that I and my fellow full-time travelers know. Want to raid our treasure trove of travel hacks? Keep reading.
Hack #1: Put Flights on Layaway with Airfordable
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked at the price of a flight and cringed. It wasn’t because I didn't want to spend the money. It was because my bank account was sending me subliminal messages saying,“Ha! Yeah right”. There simply wasn’t enough money in ALL of my bank accounts combined to afford this ticket. One day, I came across this incredible website that changed the travel game for me. It's called Airfordable and you really should know about it.
Airfordable is an website you can use to secure flights and pay for them in installments. Yep, you heard me right. You can purchase a $1,000 ticket to Thailand and pay it in installments! How does it work? Step 1: look up your desired flight. Step 2: take a screenshot of the price and travel details. Step 3: Head to Airfordable, upload your screenshot and put in the details of your flight’s price, departure, arrival, etc. Step 4: Airfordable will ask you how often you want to pay off the flight. You can choose to make a payment on your flight every 2, 3 or 4 weeks. Step 5: agree to their terms and pay your first downpayment and BOOM, you’re done. It’s really that simple. Airfordable will secure your flight and all you have to do is pay it off over time.
I used this method to buy not one but three flights to Russia. I went to Russia three times in 2018 and I couldn't have done it without Airfordable. I wouldn’t have been able to afford those roundtrip tickets without their incredible layaway system. If you haven’t read my 6 Truths and Misconceptions about Russia article, you should definitely check it out. Airfordable will really change the way you buy flights.
Hack #2: Buy Cheap Red-Eye Flights
If you can sleep on an airplane like a baby, then this travel hack is for you! Buy red-eye flights at discount prices and save tons of money on airfare. Red-eye flights are flights that take off and land at unpopular or inconvenient times. For example, your flight might take off at 11:59pm and land at your destination at 5:45am. Nobody really likes these flights. They’re inconvenient and can be uncomfortable. However, these undesirable flights are exactly the ones to buy!
They are so unpopular that airlines tend to have a hard time filling seats. This is perfect for you because the price of red-eye flights are often cheaper than flights at more convenient times. Take the opportunity to get the unpopular flight, grab your eye mask and sleep on the plane. Wake up in your next destination with a happy wallet.
Hack #3: Travel on Tuesdays or Wednesdays
Some travel bloggers have debunked this travel hack and others have reaffirmed it. I will be one of those travel bloggers that reaffirms that flights on Tuesday and Wednesdays tend to be cheaper than flights on weekends. Much like red-eye flights, nobody wants to fly on a Tuesday. Ain’t nobody got time for that! People have jobs to do and places to be during the week therefore, flights in the middle of the week tend to be inconvenient for most travelers. Lucky for you, airlines often lower the price for mid-week flights which translates to you having a lower price for your flight. If you can find the time to take off of work or stomach the mid-week flight, you can save hundreds of dollars on travel.
Hack #4: Save on Housing with Couchsurfing
I’ve mentioned Couchsurfing before in my How I Saved $5000 and Traveled Europe for 5 Months article but it’s worth mentioning again. A lot of people get weirded out about Couchsurfing. There’s a misconception that randomly message a stranger and asking to stay in their house is dangerous. Wait… I can see why people would be weirded out by that. But hear me out, Couchsurfing is an incredible option for housing and local experiences while traveling.
Couchsurfing is a website you can use to find free or affordable housing in your destination of choice. I’ve couchsurfed and hosted couchsurfers several times. Here's how it works, you look up hosts in your destination and read through the profiles of people that you may have things in common with. From there, you message them and ask if you can Couchsurf. You can vet your potential hosts by reading their reviews. People are very honest about their experiences and they can give you insight into whether or not this host is the right match for you. It’s a really cool idea to stay with a local in a city or area of interest and essentially be someone’s house guest for a few days.
I have learned SO much from couchsurfing with Igor in Merida, Mexico. He was an artist in the city that enjoyed hosting international travelers. He was born in the Yucatan Peninsula and knew so much about the area’s ancient history, monuments and artifacts. I couldn’t have imagined going to a resort and going through a traditional tourist route where everything on the journey is manufactured and manipulated. I value real experiences and traveling like a local. I find that I learn more from being with locals and discovering the underbelly of a place than by following a traditional (and expensive) tourist route.
If you like staying with locals for free, Couchsurfing is definitely the place to be. Not only will you get an authentic experience in a place, you will also save sooo much money.
Hack #5: Pack light and Save More
Keep your pack light, my friends. You’ll thank me later when you’re not paying astronomical prices for luggage. Huge bags full of stuff you probably don’t need are a burden when you’re traveling. Not only do you have to lug it around everywhere you go, you also end up paying a ton for it on airlines, buses, trains and other forms of transport.
I’ve never felt freer than when I left everything I “wanted” and only took items that I needed in my backpack. Now, on my trips, I only bring: a few dresses, shirts, bottoms, leggings, underwear, my ukulele, paint supplies, a few toiletries that I won’t be able to find in my destination and that’s it.
Always remember, less is more. You don’t need as much as you think. I have written about my experience traveling as a minimalist in this article. Ask yourself, do you really need that extra bag? How can you put everything you need for your trip in one, small, compartmentalized bag? You can do it. I believe in you. Pack light.
Hack #6: Stay in Traveler's Hostels
Gone are the days when hostels are these weird, budget, back-woods places. There are hostels like that but we call them “rustic”, hehe. But really, hostels are one of the most budget-friendly and incredible housing accommodations ever. Especially if you’re traveling alone like me, why would you want to stay in a cold, lonely hotel room for your entire stay? Why not go to a place where there are other travelers from all around the world on a similar journey as you?
Hostels aren’t not what you think. You can find some INCREDIBLE hostels out there with private rooms, dorms and even camping. My favorite hostel in the entire world is Pagalu. Located in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca in Costa Rica, this hostel’s vibe is just right. It’s clean, minimalist, and surrounded my lush green forest in the center of Puerto Viejo. Four bedroom dorms are $13 a night and private rooms with a private bathroom are $32 a night. You can’t find deals like this in any major city unless you’re staying in a hostel.
If you’re looking to travel long-term, hostels are the way to go. Not only will you be saving so much money, chances are your accommodations abroad are equal if not cheaper than your accommodations back home. While I was living in Costa Rica, I paid $280 a month for a 4 bedroom dorm with an incredible indoor-outdoor public space, a clean towel every two days, fresh sheets every week and coffee/tea in the morning. The staff were super friendly and I immediately felt like a well cared for guest.
Find a hostel that treats you like queen or king you are. Seriously, hostels are the jam.
Hack #7: Stop Eating Out
Now this is half travel hack and half life lesson. Eating out is holding you back. Eating out eats about $200 a month of my budget. If you want to travel, you could use that extra $200 to put towards your travel budget. Check out this article if you want to see how I cut things out of my life to find hundreds of dollars a month to travel the world. Once you learn to cook and cut your eating out budget, you’ll find hundreds of dollars to dedicate towards travel.
Once you’re traveling, don’t eat out either! I know this sounds counterproductive. You went on vacation to enjoy the local food of your destination. That’s true, eat out sparingly. Enjoy the street food or a local spot with a special cuisine. However, if you want to travel long-term and save money along the way, it’s best to eat at home.
If you can, find a hostel or another accommodation with a fully functional kitchen. That way you can whip up something 2 or 3 times a day and save all your dough for adventures.
Hack #8: Download the Entire Dictionary for a Foreign Language on Google Translate
This hack really helped me in Russia. The Google Translate app is an excellent tool to have if you’re traveling to a place where you’re not familiar with the language. But Google Translate only works when you have wifi. But what if you’re somewhere without wifi? You’re going to want to have some translation tool on hand to help you navigate your trip.
You can download Google Translate on your phone and then download the entire dictionary of a language you’ll need for your travels. When I was in Russia, I downloaded the entire Russian dictionary and even when wifi wasn’t available, I was still able to translate tons of things and even use the speech tool on the app so Russian speakers could hear a direct translation of what I wanted to say. So handy! And it’s free. It’s a must-have for your next trip abroad.
Hack #9: Purify Your Water with a Copper Water Bottle
Now this may sound woo-woo but hear me out. I have been traveling with a copper water bottle for years. Why? According to scientific research and Ayurvedic practices, drinking out of a copper water bottle is excellent for water purification purposes. Copper vessels can kill water-bourne bacteria in a matter of hours. Harmful bacteria like E-coli can live in different water systems around the world. You don’t want to be caught in a place where the local water is the only option and it contains bacteria that can potentially harm your body. Keep a copper water bottle around to assist in purifying your water while you travel.
Everywhere I go, I put purified water into my copper vessel and let it sit for four hours. Even though it’s purified, it’s still better to be safe than sorry. I’ve also taken local water from a place I’m not familiar with and used my copper vessel to purify the water.
I’ve travelled to 16 countries and have only gotten sick from the water once. That one moment was before I used a copper water bottle. Since I’ve been traveling with my bottle, I have never gotten sick from water anywhere in the world. I bought my copper water bottle here.
Hack #10: Always Exchange Your Money in Country, Never at the Airport
I’ve been burned by airport exchange rates before and it can be torturous. Airport exchange centers are there to make a commission, so the exchange rate is often pretty bad and you tend to lose more money than desired. I have found that exchanging money at non-airport exchange centers or at local banks is much more cost effective.
For example, when I was in Nicaragua, I exchanged US dollars to local cordobas in the airport and they ended up taking 15% of what I exchanged for profit. When I exchanged money at local exchange shop, they only took 2% as their fee. Much better!
In Costa Rica, I found that exchanging money at banks can be a great idea. Banks are usually happy to have their own money back or US dollars to keep circulating to other travelers looking to exchange. I have paid 1% or less in fees when I exchange money at banks. You can also use ATMS to withdraw money and usually only pay your normal ATM withdrawal fee of $2-4.
All of these options are great alternatives to exchanging money outside of the airport.
Hack #11: Befriend the locals
I've made some great connections while traveling. When I meet people abroad, I find that we can be helpful to eachother in a number of ways.
One way is befriending locals can help you get the best rates while traveling. When you’re negotiating prices for goods or services abroad, many merchants and service people will upcharge tourists. It’s important to befriend locals so you can get the best rate for your goods or services.
For example, when I am in Costa Rica and I take a taxi, I am always extra friendly during the right. I say, “hola, mi hombre es Topazio. Mucho gusto” translated as “hello, my name is Topaz, nice to meet you.” This phrase can break the ice and allow for a more communicable ride. Even if you don’t speak the local language, many people speak English and may want to talk to you in English.
Another reason to befriend folks while traveling is simply to have a friend to visit as you travel the world. I've made friends from Russia to Hawaii and I know that I have a friend in several countries that would be happy to have me as a guest and vise versa! By meeting new people abroad, you can set yourself up for rich cultural exchanges and potentially a local tour guide that you can visit next time you're in their country.
Hack #12: Bring Adapters for your Electronics
Depending on where you go, the country you plan to visit may have totally different electrical outlets than the ones you have back home. I found that to be true in Europe. They have sockets that have two bulbous prongs that are more circular compared to the US’s more square and thin plugs. Definitely grab an adapter for your electronics if you think you’ll need one for your next destination.
I have found cheap plastic adapters in local markets as well as ones sturdy ones I've bought online before my trip. I find that having several different kinds adapters to choose from is the best way to go. For my Macbook, I decided to purchase a box that has 5-10 different adapters for places like Japan, various countries in Europe, Southeast Asia and more. That way, I can bring the correct adapter for that particular place without having to replace my entire charger. The same can be done for cellphone chargers.
It’s best to purchase these things ahead of time if possible and buy on the ground as needed.
#13: Want more Leg Room? Ask the Flight Attendant to Move to the Emergency Row
Are you tired of having no leg room and feeling cramped on your flight? Here's a hack for you. Ask your flight attendant if there's space in the emergency row of your flight. This may seem like you're putting yourself at risk but actually you're getting some of the best seats on the plane. I have scored excellent seats on airplanes by asking the flight attendant to move to the emergency row. 99% of the time, no emergencies happen on your flight but 100% of the time, the leg room is lit. Try this hack next time you board the plane and enjoy the benefits of tons of leg room without the extra seating cost.
These travel hacks have helped me over the past five years. These hacks have enabled me to travel full-time in 2019 and I have to say, living my best life feels good. Use these hacks and travel like a pro.
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