How to Travel on the Cheap
Many of you have asked me how I get to do what I do. No, I am not a trust fund baby. Not even close. The answer is: get creative. To travel full-time is a wonderful gift, but it doesn’t come without a little ingenuity and a lot of hard work. If you want to incorporate more travel into your life but are worried about the funds, here are my tips on seeing the world on a Bud Light budget.
1. Press Trips
I realize this is not an option available to many of you, especially if you’re not a member of the press. But if I’m being honest this is one of the most lucrative ways for me to see the world. I am often invited by hotels and destinations to come experience their products first-hand so that I can better write about them. When I get an invitation, usually everything from airfare, accommodations, activities, and food is covered. So, yeah, that’s numero uno.
2. Use Miles
I’ve accrued some miles in my decade of doing this. (Although, not as many as you might think since I’m constantly flying different, and often obscure, airlines.) But every now and then I get just enough to make a trip worth my while. Case in point: I got myself to Los Angeles on Delta miles, and will be getting myself from San Francisco to Alaska on miles, as well. You can also consider getting a credit card that rewards you with travel miles. I use the Delta Gold American Express card, but I have other friends who highly recommend the Chase Sapphire card or the Platinum AmEx card. Got other suggestions? Let me know!
3. Surf Couches
Hi, my name is Meagan. I’m 31 years old and I'm a professional guest. There’s nothing wrong with asking your friends to stay with them. (There's also nothing wrong if they say no, too.) Hotels can be expensive, and even Airbnbs aren’t super cheap these days if you’re traveling alone (although that depends on the country). And America’s hostels aren’t really something to write about. Plan your trips to places where you know you have friends or family you can crash with. But be considerate and don’t ask to stay more than 3 nights in one place, and always do something kind for them like take them to dinner, buy a round of drinks, or offer to do their dishes. And always remember to strip the sheets off couch or pullout bed and tidy up after yourself as best you can. Don’t become a nuisance. And remember that there will be a time when they ask to come stay with you, as well.
4. Do Free (or close to free) Things
You don’t have to have reservations at the best restaurant, a table at a club, or tickets to the opera in order to see a destination. If you can afford that and enjoy those things then please have at it! But if your finances are a little bit more modest there is so much to see and do that doesn’t have to cost a thing. Personally I love hiking, the beach, the mountains - anything in nature. And nature is always free. I also scope out Happy Hour specials for cheap food & drink. Cooking with friends is also a wonderful way to save money. A trip to the market for cheese and meat made an excellent platter to enjoy on the rooftop of my friend’s apartment building. Nothing like sunset views with a side of meat and cheese.
5. Embrace public transportation
We all like to Uber. And flying is definitely the faster option in many scenarios. But if you really want to experience a destination like a local, and have a mini adventure in the process, embrace public transportation. Ride the bus through a city, or take a Greyhound. Some of my most favorite travel memories were traversing southern Mexico aboard an ADO bus. I saw so much of the country that way, and had a lot of time to think about my journey. You learn a lot about the people, and about yourself, when you’ve got nothing but time and hundreds of miles ahead of you.
6. Sign up for free gym trials
Confession: I’m not all about backpacker bohemian life. I LOVE the gym, and Meagan does not run outdoors. I am admittedly a low-key gym rat and when I travel I really, really like to stay in shape. So if I’m not staying at a hotel I research the gyms near me and sign up for free trials, which they often offer to new residents in the area. Often you’ll need proof of residence, but I’ll leave you to get creative with how you skirt around that. I’ve also signed up for trial memberships (and canceled within the grace window). Sometimes you get lucky with a local gym that will charge something like $5 a day for a day pass, in which case, I’m pretty sure you can afford that. And, if you’re not as princessy as I am, there’s always running outside.
7. Pick cheap destinations
You don’t see me posting pictures from London or Paris (unless, of course, it’s a press trip). I’m lacing up my sneakers and hitting the pavement in Mexico, South America, and Southeast Asia. I pick these destinations 1. Because I’m interested in them; 2. Because they are WARM (I hate the cold); and 3. Because they are CHEAP. There’s a method to the madness.
8. Travel slowly
Camp out for a while in one destination. Moving around costs money. If you leave time to linger, you save time for things like cooking, scoping out the best deals, and taking things one day at a time.
In case you thought I’m on a perma-vacation, let me remind you that that is definitely not the case. I work every single day - even when I’m traveling. It’s 7:30am on a Sunday morning and I’m awake writing this. Afterwards I’ll move on to another article and then hit the gym. Then I’ll go sightseeing. The luxury of living a life on the road comes with its price, and that price is constantly having to work to fund my adventures and my life back in New York.
10. Don’t forget to treat yourself
Traveling on the cheap does not mean denying yourself. It does not mean having to live like a bum. With the money you’re saving using all of these hacks, don’t forget to splurge a little on something you really want to do. This is your time, after all, and you definitely cannot take it with you, so might as well use it on something special. Or another plane ticket.