I get asked by a lot of friends how I can afford to travel as much as I do. My favorite response starts by telling them the cost of my plane tickets. The friends I have that have only traveled within the US are almost always shocked by the cheap prices. It just so happens finding cheap airline tickets is one of my favorite activities. Other than finding these tickets though, there's a lot of ways to travel on a tight budget. These may not all be applicable, but here are a few of my methods:
1. Google Flights is Almighty
Google Flights (https://www.google.com/flights/) compares all airlines flights and finds the cheapest deals. I've found one-way international flights for as low as $220 (from London to LA + from LA to Barcelona). My roundtrip flight to Cuba was only $420. Check them out!
Skyscanner (https://www.skyscanner.net) is another handy site to find the cheapest flights. I haven’t used them nearly as much as Google Flights, but it’s worth taking a look at.
Downside: Often times these flights can be pretty inconvenient. I've dealt with an 18 hour layover (in Ukraine) and 18” legroom on flights. Still worth it though!
2. Flights Within Europe
Once you’re in Europe and flying around to different European countries, it’s ridiculously crazy and wonderful how cheap the flights are. A one way ticket from Barcelona to Paris can be as cheap as $16. From Paris to Milan for $11. Milan to Brussels, also $11. Insanely wonderful! So get a one way flight from Los Angeles/New York to London for around $200, and then start country hopping.
Downside: These cheap flights are normally with airlines such as RyanAir. These cheap airlines tend to charge quite a bit for checked luggage, forgetting to check in before arriving at the airport, and if you want to choose your seat. I only travel with a duffel bag and personal bag so I never have to go through these checked bag fees. Make sure to check in before you arrive. And an hour or two in an uncomfortable seat won’t be that bad.
3. Time of year
This goes along with Google Flights and more. Flying in the off season is way cheaper for both flights and accommodations. I tend to travel January through April the most.
Downside: I hate the cold. This can mean having to go in the dead of winter. Bring lots of layers!
There's lots of cheap alternatives out there. The cheapest is couch surfing (couchsurfing.org). It's free! Before your mom reads this and tries to kill me for getting their daughter or son kidnapped, couchsurfing.org is pretty safe if you put the work into doing your research on the person you're staying with. Couch surfing goes off references, so guests will leave a negative, neutral, or positive reference after staying with a host. If you want to be as safe as possible, I would recommend only staying with folks that have 20+ positive references, no negative references, a completely filled out profile, 8+ photos of themselves/ their living situation, and have verified their identification, phone number, and social media account. If you're still wary, private message past people that have stayed with them and ask privately for their thoughts on the person. Especially as a single female traveler, I recommend staying with other women. Stay away from the guys that post they'll only host women. Couchsurfing.org has a great community, but it's extremely important to be cautious and safe.
Downside: I've had my fair share of negative experiences through couch surfing. Nothing where I ever felt like my life was in danger, but uncomfortable/awkward/negative experiences I would hate for anyone to have to go through. Just do your work on making sure you're staying somewhere good. The other downside for me is that instead of paying with money, in many situations you're paying with your time. Hosts will often want to hang out and show you around during their free time. As an introvert who needs space and alone time, this can be difficult at times.
Airbnb is an alternative to hotels. You can stay with locals in their entire place, a private room, or a shared room. Just like couch surfing, this site goes off references. I'd recommend going for places with 5+ positive references, 5 stars, and in an ideal location. Prices vary, but you can find places far cheaper than you would spend in a hotel. My first time traveling out of the country, I stayed in an Airbnb private room for a month. The woman who hosted me was absolutely wonderful and has become like family to me. I make sure to visit her every time I return to Barcelona.
Downside: Not a lot of downsides here other than if you get a bad host. That should be avoided with booking only positive references though.
These are all sites that have special deals on hotel rooms that haven't sold all theirs rooms out and want to fill up, so they offer lower costs. I've used this option several times now and was once able to stay in a 4 star hotel in Barcelona for $25 a night because of Hotwire. Going back to the time of the year, these ones will all be much cheaper in the off season.
Downside: No kitchen or washer/dryer
Avoid eating out as tempting as it is. I struggle a lot with this one. Buy bags of rice, bulk items if you’re staying somewhere long enough, and of course veggies! I've lived off stir fry for quite a while before. This option works best if you're staying somewhere like an Airbnb where you have regular access to a kitchen.
Downside: This ones pretty self explanatory ;)
Not as applicable, but I figure it's an important part to mention on how I'm able to travel. When I’m not traveling, I’m often working up to 60+ hour work weeks at multiple jobs including my own photography business.
Downside: This much work will drive you crazy. It'll be worth it for the escape though!