First of all, let's get something out of the way: this post is not sponsored. I'm saying this because I'm getting ready to recommend a few services/products/things-to-make-traveling-better and I want you to know that they are things I love through my own research, not because anyone asked me to like them. Now for the fun bit: how to travel cheaply.
I'm a single girl with a part-time job who has no debt and pays her own way through life. That means I'm pretty free to travel. It also means I don't have a huge budget. When I go places I'm not throwing it all on a credit card. And though I work a lot of hours in a week, it's still not officially full-time. Some people ask me then,
“How can you afford to travel?”
Guys, it's all about priorities, cutting corners where you can, and splurging on the good stuff. I don't buy designer handbags, color my hair, get manicures, or keep up with the newest iPhones. I go places.
Have a travel budget – if you've set aside money for your madness you won't feel a bit bad about paying for it when it comes. Nothing like pesky spending-guilt to ruin your trip. Saving even ten dollars a month goes a long way toward those spontaneous road trips which seem to annually pop up.
Travel with companions – there is something to be said for traveling by oneself but when it comes down to traveling on a budget, the more companions the merrier. Gas-budget, lodgings, and other expenses will be cheaper and cheaper the more people you're splitting the tab with. Plus, who ever prefers traveling entirely alone? It's fun to go solo now and then – even to split up in the city where you're staying. But at night it's nice to have people to crash with.
Share a meal – my favorite way to get to experience more food in a short weekend is to share meals/treats/drinks with my friends. Not only is this cheaper, but it allows for a wider array of foods you can try. Order several appetizers and share around, or split a more rare and expensive entree.
Skip a meal – alternatively, you can cut your food expenditure a little by warping your time schedule. Wait to eat breakfast later and dinner earlier. This way you can cut out lunch without feeling too uncomfortably hungry. A decent breakfast replacement to hold you over till lunch is a whole milk latte from a good coffee-shop. Explore the coffee scene, skip breakfast.
Book rooms on Airbnb – Charleston was my first time using this service but I have to say that my experience was 100% pleasant. Rooms/flats/homes rented on this site are often far cheaper than booking a hotel room, plus you have more of an option to experience your destination as a local. Our 2-night stay in a beautiful room-over-garage flat cost each of my traveling companions and myself just $45. To stay in an upper middle-class golf course neighborhood with all the ease and comfort of staying in a “friend's home” felt amazing.
Walk more than you ride – save on public transportation, Uber rides, gas, and parking fees (or tickets, if you are like me and are the world's worst parallel parker) by walking your chosen city. This happens to be my go-to mode of transportation, but it also happens to be cheap. I like to find a long-term parking spot in a residential area or a fairly cost-effective parking garage and explore the city on foot. If your dinner reservation is half a mile away on cobblestone streets, just carry your heels and wear flats which you can later pack away in your purse. I love the freedom and spontaneity of traveling on foot. When walking, I can veer into any shop/home/museum I want without worrying about the availability of a place for my car.
Research how the locals do it – spend a little time beforehand researching the places you want to go. Are there more cost-effective ways to achieve the same end? For instance, in NYC if you want to see a perfectly decent view of the Statue of Liberty, you can take the free Staten Island Ferry. But no one tells you that and if you walk up to the ferry building you'll have to run a gauntlet of pleasure-boat advertisers telling you just how awful the (excellent, clean, timely, and free) ferry will be. Know where you want to go and how to get there and you won't be easily duped by tourist traps.
Ask for recommendations – I like to tell store clerks that it is my first time in a given city, or ask a stranger for dinner recommendations. Most times you'll receive a broad range of insider-information, suggestions at various price-points, and a few other pieces of intelligence which will probably come in handy. If a local suggests a thing in strong enough terms, chances are you can't go wrong trying it. If you're still unsure, cross-check their intel on a review site like Yelp. Your local is probably right in the opinion they offered. Inversely, if a local suggests you avoid a certain part of town, restaurant, intersection, or attraction, for the love of all that's reasonable just obey them.
Skip tourist attractions – when it comes to the things everyone assumes tourists like to do, either choose wisely or skip them altogether. Some of them will be worth it, like Top of the Rock in NYC. Others, like paying for a carriage ride in Central Park or standing in line to see that thing you didn't really care about anyway are disposable. Make a list of the must-sees and find a different way to accomplish the other things. I promise that most times, there is a way to explore a city without paying someone to dance attendance. You have a map? You have feet? There's your walking tour.
I hope that all of these tips will help build your love of traveling. I know they aren't revolutionary ideas but I hope they help someone out. Travel doesn't have to be as expensive as everyone says. Grab a pod of friends, pick a destination, and start planning your next awesome trip.