Yesterday I went on and on about achieving your dreams and living life no matter what. For me that meant figuring out how to travel on the cheap.
I find that a lot of people wish they could see experience more places, if only they could afford to do it. They’re often surprised to hear how little I’ve actually spent on my own trips. Should you be someone who would like to travel but needs to do so on a shoestring budget, I’ve put together some tips that might help.
1. Make It A 3 Day Weekend
Getting a week off work is a ginormous pain in the ass. But asking for a Friday here or there is much easier and can give you just enough time to squeeze in a mini trip. It’s also cheaper to go for 3 days than for 7 or 10. Sure, you’ll be completely worthless to your family and your employer on Monday. And Tuesday. And possibly even Wednesday. But you should be just fine by the time the next weekend rolls around!
Of course you won’t get to do everything in 3 days that you could pack into a week, but if you prioritize and plan ahead you can jam a hell of a lot of sights and sounds into 72 hours. Believe me.
2. Getting There Is Half The Battle
I’m fortunate enough to live near a major airport. That means I can fly to just about any city up and down the east coast for less than $200 if I time my trip right and scope out independent airline sites like Southwest and Allegiant. But not everyone has the luxury of hopping on a plane for less than an arm and a leg and your best working kidney.
When we drove the 1400 miles from Iowa to Florida, I was awed by how many places we went through during the first 8 hours of our trip that I had never visited before. I kept thinking about all the missed opportunities, vacation destinations that had been just a car ride away from me for the past 26 years that I’d completely ignored, and I vowed not to make that mistake again. I immediately started a mental list of all the cities I’d never been to that would be within driving distance of my new Orlando base (Miami… Savannah… Charleston… ).
And don’t tell me there isn’t any place cool by you. Get out your map and one of those mathematical circle drawing thingies and I bet discover places right next door that you never think about.
3. Cheap Hotels and Not At All Hotels
The best place to stay is a free place. Call up friends, family and that guy you play Scrabble with on Facebook and ask if you can occupy a spare bedroom or couch for the weekend. Make it clear that you don’t expect them to foot your food or entertainment bill though, or you’ll find it difficult to make repeat visits.
If you don’t know someone in the area, then it’s time to make sweet, sweet love to the divinity that is Priceline.com. Shop around on other travel sites first to get a sense of what hotel rates are. Then hit the “Name Your Own Price” section of Priceline’s site and offer to pay about half the going rate. Seriously. I do it all the time and am beyond thrilled about 99.9% of the time.
The other 0.1% of the time? I end up in a small, out of date room in a great location. Meh. At least it was cheap. (My other favorite part about Priceline is that you pay for the room ahead of time. It helps me to break up the expenses into manageable chunks.)
Save even more by getting yourself some travel buddies and cramming way too many people into far too small of a place.
4. Cut Your Food Budget
New York City can be one of the most expensive places to eat – or one of the cheapest. When I visited I lived on street meat, hot pretzels, bagel breakfasts and pizza slices. And it was fabulous.
Most major cities will have plenty of reasonably priced dining options if you’re willing to forgo the reservation lines – and possibly the food pyramid- for your visit. Even theme parks offer all you can eat meal passes for the day now if you can stand to stay out of the Themed And Therefore We Will Require A Second Mortgage Restaurants.
Sure, five start dining is nice. But so is cheap food in a brand new city.
5. Instead of Tourist, Play “Local”
Locals always know the fun stuff to do. And they aren’t blowing their retirement accounts (or grocery budgets) to keep themselves amused every weekend.
Scour the Internet for free things to do, coupon codes, and local advice on what’s interesting to see and experience. If you have a little bit more money, prioritize and choose one bust the bank experience (or don’t, and brag to everyone you know that you came home with money in your pocket). The nice thing about going for a 3 day weekend is that you have to be greedy with your time, so it’s easier to cut Tourist Trap That Costs More Than My Dental Work off the list.
Need some examples because you think I’m full of shit? Walk in Central Park in NYC. Go to a beach or *shudder* lake. Troll the antique shops. Attend a street fair or free concert in a park. Visit the national parks, landmarks and monuments. Hang out outside known celebrity hot spots.
I realize some of this stuff might sound stupid if you’re used to do everything by the travel guide. And yes, the Ritz has better sheets than the Super 8 or cousin Mel’s pull out couch. And if you can afford to tool around the world in the lap of luxury, then by all means… enjoy.
But if the only way you’re going to get your ass out of the house and into the world is by making $500 go a very, very long way – then I think you’ll find these small sacrifices worth the overall experience. And I hope this helps.
Maybe tomorrow we’ll talk about where you can find that $500. I mean, you know, without taking your clothes off. Again.
Share your travel tips in the comments! Yay!