Travel is one of my greatest passions. I’ve had wanderlust since I was a little girl, and it hasn’t abated at all as I’ve aged.
To date, I’ve visited many of the major cities in Canada and the USA, spent a month in France, and just arrived home from a 3-week trip through the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, and Switzerland.
Despite it being a well-known budget killer, I found that doing the following helped me travel Europe and elsewhere abroad for cheap.
ALWAYS SEEK OUT DISCOUNTS
There are perks to traveling as a student, namely student discounts. You can use your student ID card to get discounted rail passes, attraction entrance fees, and even flights. If you’re not a student, your age might be enough. Often there are “youth” rates for anyone under the age of 24 or 25. Wherever you go, whatever you book, always ask if there’s a discount.
If you’re going to be in one place for a long time, look for local transportation options that will let you see the sights for less. Many cities offer weekly or monthly transit passes that will cut your local transportation costs by as much as two-thirds. Eurail offers regional or multi-country passes that let you choose your own travel dates as you go. Don’t be intimidated by public transit in a foreign city. If anything, it’s part of the experience.
BOOK ALTERNATIVE LODGING
I’ve never bothered with luxury hotels when traveling (unless my employer is footing the bill for a work trip). I prefer hostels for both the experience and the cost. While dorm rooms in hostels will provide the best deal, I’ve always been partial to private rooms for their hotel-like experience at a fraction of the cost.
Many hostels organize group activities for their travelers. Often these are to local attractions, but the hostels I stayed at in the south of France offered yoga classes twice daily—so it’s possible to get something unique. Usually these events are budget friendly and you get to go with a group, which provides the opportunity to meet other enthusiastic travelers.
Another great option is renting a room from a local. Sites like AirBnB will let you book a room or an entire flat in a foreign city, even just for a few nights. While a little lonelier than a boisterous hostel, it’s certainly more comfortable. You can go completely free and try CouchSurfers.com, but proceed with caution: More often than not, you get what you pay for.
EAT LIKE A LOCAL
If you want to eat local, choose a food truck. From where I’ve traveled in North American and Europe (I’ll get to the rest of the world soon!), it’s clear that street vendors offer some of the best local cuisine. Crepes in France, schnitzel and bratwurst in Germany, waffles in Belgium—all the best is available from a food stand in a local park for only a few dollars (or Euros).
Grocery stores are also an excellent option while abroad, especially if your accommodations offer some sort of kitchen space where you can store food and prepare your own meals. In any case, don’t go to a restaurant for every meal when you have access to cheaper and equally satisfying options right outside your hostel door.
Few things will cost you more than a mishap abroad. Please, please, please travel safely and ALWAYS with travel insurance. No one wants to think about all the terrible things that could happen on vacation, but unfortunately, flights can be missed, important items can be stolen, and anything else can go wrong.
There are few things more miserable than being sick or injured on vacation, but one of them is being sick or injured and not wanting to seek medical attention because of the potential cost. When I became ill in Paris last year, I didn’t even worry about the doctor’s 100 EU price tag because of my travel insurance.
When abroad, guard your possessions and your health carefully—it doesn’t take much to lose either. Travel insurance is often only a few dollars a day and can cover everything from medical attention to lost baggage and missed flights. It’s a small investment with huge return of peace of mind.