You ask a seasoned traveller how do they get all the money to travel frequently and they will reply, “you don’t need stack loads of cash to fulfil your travel dreams”. And indeed, it is true. All you need is a passion to travel with a heart to adjust and experiment.
‘Niharika, please tell us. HOW DO YOU TRAVEL CHEAP?’ This is one of the frequently asked questions on my Instagram.
The answer is often long but not startling. When I tell people that’s it’s easy to travel cheap but to travel cheap what is not easy is to convince yourself to always be open to what may come and however it may come.
Read on to know what exactly I am talking about.
Best Ways to Travel Cheap
Divert Your Earnings Towards Experiences & Learn to Minimalize
This is the first and foremost step in order to travel more and pursue it without wrecking your bank balance.
List down your life priorities and responsibilities for the age group that you are in. Are you a student who just wants to travel for learning and can stay in hostels, cheap lodges or survive on street food? Or maybe, just willing to volunteer at various organisations to avail free lodging? You can also live like a minimalist with the very basics of material possessions and saving the rest to invest in budget travel. It is easier said than done though, but trust me, the returns are worth all the things that you are missing right now by just daydreaming about travelling the world someday.
Skip a cup that latte at an expensive café and instead save that 500 INR to avail a one-day stay in any hostel across the globe. ‘Earn, Prioritise, Save, Travel and Repeat!’ Dou you really need all that expensive furniture at your home only to leave your house locked-up for months while you travel? Ask yourself these questions and you will figure out a way to save some cash for at least 5 cheap holidays.
Chart a Rough Plan
You definitely don’t need a day-day precisely jotted itinerary on your trips, even I don’t do that. Though all you need is a little knowledge about the regions that you are going to cover, a rough number of days to spend at each location and the kind of accommodation you will be looking at. This way you will have a vague idea of your expenditure for which either you can start saving up or find ways to compensate your expenditures on your holiday.
How to stay for free on your travels? Cut down your Accommodation Costs
Have You Heard About Couchsurfing, A Way to Avail Free Stays?
Couchsurfing has been a blessing for the travellers since it got developed as an app where it lets you look for hosts across the globe. The hosts let you stay for free at their homes and in many cases serve you with food as well. If the generosity is, even more, they will show around their city as well. The stay doesn’t always come with a bed, you may get anything between a bed, couch or a space on a floor to sleep.
This is one of the best ways to experiment in your travel and be able to travel cheap. Be open to stay with people from various cultures and live like a local with them. Likewise, you can also become one of the hosts on the couch surfing app and let travellers crash on your couch.
Pro tip: Make sure to receive a testimonial from your host/guest so that your guest/host rating increases on the app and people can trust you more while looking for hosts on the app.
Can You Take Care of Someone’s House?
Volunteer, Learn and Stay for Free as Long as You Help
You can also volunteer at various organisations, hostels and cafes either by helping them in managing their brand or providing your skills in exchange for a free stay and free food. Skills can be anywhere between teaching a language to an instrument, there’s no end to the possibilities.
Inside Story: I kickstarted my own travel career with this. I used to exchange my photography skills with various hostel brands in exchange for a free stay. I also volunteered at a construction site in Himachal Pradesh for a month with a hostel brand.
Hostels to volunteer at in India: Zostel, The Hosteller etc
This is a great way to add varied experiences to your resume if you are just starting out in your career. You want to be a scuba diver or an underwater filmmaker later in your life? Volunteer in the Andamans and with a travel filmmaker post to that. This way you get to travel and figure out what do you want to choose as a career later.
WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) lets you volunteer at organic farms around the world.
Moreover, teaching abroad can help you earn some pocket money and it comes with perks like free logistics. Take a look at such opportunities here.
In India, you can check LHA in Dharamshala and Chirag in Kumaon region for volunteering opportunities. Volunteering with the monks of the monasteries in Spiti and Ladakh in Northern Indian region is definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Stay for Cheap in Vibrant Youth Hostels
Hostels are a great place to stay for cheap while making new traveller friends. The dorm rooms have a vibrant décor with a hostel-pet to keep you company most of the times.
Hostelworld.com is a great platform to look for the cheapest hostels across the globe.
Make Camping Your New Teacher
If you like to stay modest with your travel budget but also want to experience big then just carry a tent and a sleeping mattress along with your backpack. Experience a free billion-star stay in wide-open spaces. While many places in India don’t let travellers pitch tents freely but after seeking permission from the authorised landowners, there will be no one to stop you from doing it.
Some of the cheapest getaways that are on my travel bucket list are- Vietnam, Uruguay, Bali, Sri Lanka, Cuba, Guatemala, Maldives, Malaysia and Singapore.
Save big by altering your mode of transportation
Hitchhike Your Way to Befriend A Local
This is my favourite way to cut-short my expenses on a trip. To hop on a bike with a local or get a ride in their car and actually turning an awkward conversation into a life-long cross-border friendship.
Traditionally, travellers used to hold a placard on the road in order to score a free-ride but nowadays since this trend has picked up, you just need to show a lift-hand gesture to a vehicle coming your way. Don’t forget to put a smile on that face.
I have made numerous friends while doing so. Many people are concerned about the safety during this but if you ask any savvy traveller, they will say that they know which car to stop and which one to let go, its all about the sixth-sense – The more you do it, the more you know it.
Pro Tip: I keep a pepper spray for my safety on my journeys.
Go for Cheap Public transportation
Cheaper modes of travelling like government buses, railways and shared cabs instead of personal taxis or flights, is always the best way to go about exploring a region. Not only it saves you a lot of cash but also lets you know how the local people travel.
In India, HRTC (Himachal Pradesh Road Transport Corporation) is the undefeated king in the mountainous region of Himachal Pradesh. The railway network across Indian states is great. For Intra-state travelling, options like metro/tubes/subway and shared cabs are the cheapest and the most convenient options.
Travel rail passes also lets you save hundreds of Dollars.
I did inter-state travelling in Myanmar via overnight Volvo buses, thus saving big on a few-night stay and domestic flights. Read my Myanmar Travel guide here.
More the travel is low on carbon footprint, the more money you end up saving. Therefore, slow travel is sustainable and a better way to travel.
Share a Ride to Travel Cheap
You can even share a ride using BLABLACAR. It is a great platform to connect with people for longer rides and thus cut your travelling cost by sharing the travel expenses. And for India, you can also use Quick Ride App.
Local Food- Good for the Soul, Light for The Pocket
Don’t look for franchises or fancy cafes while on a budget holiday. It is the road-side joints and traditional restaurants that will serve you with the cheapest yet the tastiest food in town.
Pro tip: And if you end up following my tips to hitchhike, you never know a local might also invite you to their house for lunch. It’s all about keeping your head and heart open to trying things.
Also, go the places where locals eat. This way you will find the cheapest and tastiest places to eat. While on a breakfast-spree in Yangon, me and my friend found ourselves to be undecisive of where to eat. Then we noticed a restaurant where all the locals were going. The food turned out to be delicious yet cheap and thus It was undoubtedly a great find in Yangon.
Flights aren’t inexpensive when you use these tricks
Invert Your Search Process
Rather than deciding where to go, decide which flight to take. Look for the cheapest flights out there. Travel via cheap flights is a top hack to travel more and to places unconventional.
Let The ‘Anywhere’ Feature Decide for You
Momondo and Skyscanner are the best websites to look for cheapest flights. The ‘Anywhere’ feature in Momondo and Kayak lets you search for flights to literally anywhere in the world which then you can sort by lowest to highest prices and choose the cheapest option.
Travel Deals and Hidden Study at Your Rescue
For bookings in India, I generally get great discounts using happyeasygo.
The Skyscanner study data has laid some hidden tricks to book a flight. The study advices to book domestic flights on Tuesdays and international flights on Wednesdays but both around 5 am when bookings are at their lowest. January, February and August are the cheapest months to book flights as per the study.
Secretflying.com lets you be aware of the mistakes the airlines make while entering the airfares which also end up getting published on the websites. The website posts about these mistakes letting you quickly avail an unbelievably cheap flight.
Take Advantage of Airline’s Stopover Program
Have you ever heard about the airline’s stopover program? The long layovers can give you an option to utilise your connecting time in actually exploring a whole different city but at no extra cost. The only price you pay is of the flight cost between destination 1 to destination 3 and destination 2 becomes your layover stop.
Booking round trip flights can provide you with great savings.
In case your flight gets delayed, cancelled or you were denied boarding, you can avail compensation by talking to the airlines. To check how much compensation you are entitled to, check AirHelp.
Travel During Shoulder Season
Make a habit to plan your travels in offseason or shoulder season, a time period where generally booking rates and flight rates are slashed down. Absolutely avoid travelling during school holidays or summer vacations because this is the peak season in the travel industry.
If you are looking to travel specially to cover a festival, make sure you book your flights at least 3 months before the festival. Even hotels hike up their prices during a festival season, so book your stay in advance.
Other useful tips and Ways to Travel Cheap
- Clear your cookies or use incognito mode to make bookings on apps or websites to prevent apps from presenting you with increased behavioural rates.
- Check how powerful your passport is. You can travel to choose to countries which offer visa-free entry or visa-on-arrival options. There are many cheap holiday destinations like Thailand, Indonesia, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, India, Vietnam etc.
- Don’t Pay Full is a website to score some coupon codes across famous travel websites like Expedia etc.
All of these ‘tips to take cheap trips’ will help you become a more open person, someone who would become more social while travelling, less choosy and egoistic, away from the prejudices.
‘Experiment, Live and learn!’
- Try using GlampingHub to look for unique stay options near your destination. The stays range from tents to yurts and airstreams to cabins.
- Overnight travel helps in saving accommodation costs.
- Avail student and youth discounts by showing your university ID cards.
- Use your online social network to find probable hosts across various regions. You are just an Instagram story or Facebook status away from finding friendly people who will be more than happy to host you for free.
- Don’t forget to buy a local SIM card to save huge bucks while using the internet and local calling.
- Avoid restaurants near tourist hot spots to prevent yourself from spending tons of money on tiny meals.
- Experience free walking tours to explore a city. Your hotel or hostel can help you join one of these free walks or just google them location-wise while you are in a city. You can experience free food and heritage tours in Old Delhi, a Mughal heritage hotspot in India.
- Travelling with a big group of friends cuts the total cost by a substantial amount since all the major expense gets divided.
- Start by travelling to places which have a cheaper cost of living or where your currency is stronger. Nepal was my first international country and its rupee value is slightly lower than Indian rupee value. Myanmar was another country for me where my currency was stronger.
- Ditch your checklists and guides. Do as the locals do. Hike with them, camp like them, live like them and live with them. I have had some of the best experiences with local people while travelling. These are generous people from small villages. With you and your stories, they feel lucky to be knowing about the world they might never experience.
- Avoid spending money on buying mineral water bottles. Instead, invest in a reusable bottle with a water filter from brands like LifeStraw or WaterWell. This way you can refill your water bottle from rivers, waterfalls and local water supply sources.
You can buy the bottle and other travel gear using this link.
(This is the link to my Amazon India Storefront. If you buy from here, a very little percentage of the cost will be given to me with no extra charges for you. Your contribution will help me produce even more helpful content for you on this channel.)
- In India, Gurudwaras serve ‘langar’ which is free of cost for everyone. These Gurudwaras even have basic dormitories where you can stay for free of cost.
- Are you staying in a place for a while? Look for shared apartments and not conventional accommodations.
- And in case of luxury travel seems like your call, then invest in rewarding credit cards like ‘Chase Saphire Reserve’. Such cards come with benefits like the accumulation of points which can be used to get free stays or flights using the frequent flyer program. Read more on best travel credit cards here.
- For cheap family holidays, keep a lookout on budget cruise family packages through which you get to visit numerous destinations, all at once. Since cruise packages come with all-in-one deals, they are a great way to save money and time which goes into planning a family holiday.
- Given all these cheap travel tricks, don’t compromise on your travel insurance though.
You don’t need to be rich in order to be able to travel!
I graduated as an architect and after college, without a job, I started travelling. It all started with volunteering to building my skill set in order to avail free travel. From that to a blogger, who gets paid for her services, I have come a long way. But the mentioned ways to cut down your travel expenses helped me throughout my journey and they still do.
Use this ultimate guide to travel the world for cheap or even free.