Travel Cheaply

You don't need much to travel...although you might want to keep your wits and stay off the road

It is no secret by now that I travel a lot. In fact last year, in 2010,  I visited 16 countries. All this while having a full time job, an insane amount of school loans that I pay each month, and while saving money for retirement, emergencies (such as not having a job) and the inevitable death of my laptop. I like to eat every once in a while as well.

Recently someone challenged my lifestyle and said it must be made up for the internet, or I must be rich and have a trust fund.I know, I know you are either thinking “How could anyone be so mean to Todd?”; or you fall into the other (and probably larger section of my readers) and are yelling: “It’s about F**#(&g time. I’m surprised Todd doesn’t get more hate mail!”

Sorry to disappoint this naysayer, but the truth is that I’m just a normal guy, working my way around the world. I am in the enviable position of having my work pay for a lot of my travel. But whether I’m traveling with work, (writing or international development) or using my own hard earned cash, I LOVE to save money. It helps me travel longer, to more places, and it somehow makes me appreciate what I buy even more knowing that I got a great deal.

Secret to Traveling Cheap? It’s Just Takes Time and Research

The secrets of traveling for cheap, or at least not paying the most, are very simple and easy to put into practice by anyone. Over the past 11 years I have survived on $20, $30, $40 and when I want to splurge $50 a day. Of course it depends on where you are traveling to, yes, some places are more expensive than others, but for me it all comes down to INFORMATION. Do your planning early, get the right information, and you’ll be able to find the best deals for the money you have.

How to Find “Cheap” Flights

I don’t really know if there is such a thing as cheap flights anymore. But I am thrilled when I can find a 22 hour flight that costs less than $1,000. I fly a lot, and the first step is finding out when seats are least expensive. This means digging into the internet and using flight comparison search engines. I usually start with Kayak, as it aggregates the most flight search aggregators and typically I can find cheaper deals on it than on the homepages of the airlines themselves.

My Three Step Process includes. 1) Searching on Kayak 2) Checking the airline’s home page just to be sure I have the cheapest price 3) Search for all discount airlines (like EasyJet, or AirAisia) that fly out of my destination to see if I can find anything cheaper.

How to Find “Cheap” Hotels

After flights, accommodation can be the most expensive part of your journey. Personally, I have moved beyond staying in hostels and now enjoy medium priced hotels. But no matter what your budget is it pays to know prices BEFORE you land at your destination. Typically I will not book more than one night accommodation before I arrive as I know that I can usually find better deals in country than on the internet. But I do like the peace of mind of having a safe, clean and easy place to sleep the first night I arrive. I reviewed Hotel Calculator earlier and I have started using it as one of my information gathering methods.

After I have a list of the cheapest places, then I typically book one night and after I arrive I spend the next day or so looking around for cheaper options. There is usually always something around. Kayak also as a pretty decent hotel search function.

Use Miles to Get Free Tickets or Nights in Hotels

Earn Free FlightsIf you travel as often as I do you can rack up a lot of frequent flyer miles that help pay for more free travel. But even if you aren’t able to get up in the air as much as I am you still have an option. One of my blogging and travel heroes, Chirs Guillebeau, has just launched a new travel club called Travel Hacking Cartel.

Travel Hacking involves, among other things, finding “back-door” ways to earn reward points (usually Frequent Flyer Miles) for free or extremely cheap. You then redeem these points for ridiculously cheap airfare to pretty much wherever you want to go. Chris’s Travel Hacking Cartel aims to “democratize low-cost travel” by sending out alerts whenever there is an extraordinary opportunity for travel hacking. He is running a special until February first where you can test out the system for just $1 for a 14 day trial. I signed up and am finding it useful.

A World Guide to Traveling on Just $50 per Day

Travel The World on 50 Dollars a DayIf you are looking for even greater detail on how you can travel the world for cheap, then I recommend Nomadic Matt’s newly released guide: How to Travel the World for 50 USD. The book details how Matt has saved money over his past 4 years of travel for everything from food, to accommodation, to flights, to group tours. It’s a nice starters guide to saving money on the road, making the most of your cash, and even gives $700 worth of travel discounts to help get you started.

I like Matt and his budget travel site is widely popular for a reason, this book is just one of them.

There you go, a few of my Not So Secret Strategies for saving money while I travel. They seem pretty normal right? Its because they are. There is no magic wand or silver bullet to traveling on the cheap. Everyone you need is right at your fingertips. You just have to be willing to put in a bit of time and energy to make sure you don’t get ripped off, or spend to much.

What are your money saving tips for travel? Let us know in the comments section.

(Note: Some of the links on this page are affiliate links, meaning that I get a few bucks if you use them or buy through them.  With that in mind, I only recommend products on this blog that I have used myself and fully stand behind.)

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37 Responses to “How I Save Money and Travel Cheaply-Not So Secret Strategies”

  1. thanks for sharing these tips Todd. So often we’re asked how we’ve been able to spend so much of our lives traveling. As you point out, its not so difficult to travel cheaply. It just takes, time, effort and a commitment. If you want to do it you can, its just a matter of priorities

  2. Wow, 16 countries in 2010. That’s pretty awesome man.
    Good tips on traveling.
    retirebyforty´s recent [type] ..Yakezie Blog Swap 2 – Best Day To Day Saving Tips

  3. KristaNo Gravatar says:

    Excellent post, Todd. :-) Having lived much of what you’ve described and employed the tips you just gave, I can vouch for your tactics as being very practical and doable. Thanks for laying it all out so clearly. :-)

  4. ArtiNo Gravatar says:

    Oh! These are great… Love to travel cheap..
    Loved the accommodation tip the best :)
    Loved it Todd.
    Arti´s recent [type] ..Photographs from Here- There and Everywhere in Nashik-Shirdi

  5. ArtiNo Gravatar says:

    Oh! These are great… Love to travel cheap..
    Loved the accommodation tip the best :)

  6. Great resources in the post and the comments. I did not see FlyerTalk.com mentioned. It is not a booking website. It is a huge community board of mega frequent travelers. I usually find deals mentioned here before anywhere else (plus tons of sneaky tricks).
    Charles McCool´s recent [type] ..Lifetime Travel Deals

  7. jasonNo Gravatar says:

    Todd,
    You’ve got some great tips here. I’ve never heard of the Travel Hacking Cartel so I’m going to check it out. Nice post, as always.
    Jason
    jason´s recent [type] ..Quilting Bee In The Andes

  8. Great information, travel is a lot easier than we think many times.

  9. JadeNo Gravatar says:

    Another great resource if you are flexible is TravelZoo.com. You just put it where you would be traveling out of/ hometown/ and then it sends you deals every week. The lastest one I saw was for next week to fly from LAX to New Zealand for $395 USD. It’s pretty amazing. Oh, and that’s RoundTrip!

  10. JeremyNo Gravatar says:

    People say the same exact to me. They think I must be crazy or something, or maybe be a trust fund baby. But I did it 100% on my own (ok, well, 99.99% on my own). My favorite technique for money saving, which I wrote about in more detail, is using kayak and flying by hub cities and cheap carriers. That combo has saved me hundreds over the years and I will continue doing it for sure
    Jeremy´s recent [type] ..Cruising Forecast for 2011

  11. JimNo Gravatar says:

    good post, an over 20 hour flight for 1000 is a pretty good deal in my eyes. I think people just want everything to fall into their laps, and i know this happens sometimes, but it is good to know that planning and hard work can still make a big difference.

  12. Todd, I’d be out of a job if everyone took heed of your advice. LOL!!!
    John in France´s recent [type] ..Of Words and Sounds

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Ha, that’s funny John. but don’t worry I suspect that the majority to travelers, while they love deals, don’t want to go through the effort of researching themselves. They assume that the travel agents have already done this for them. I’d love to hear how your business is going in general now that flights have been opened up to the masses. has there been a noticeable decline, or have you found other things to offer to compensate?

  13. DarrinNo Gravatar says:

    Thanks for letting us in on you not-so-secret travel strategies. Finding the way to travel is easier than many of us assume. The first step… make it a priority. I am glad to see you are promoting two wonderful resources created by (1) great guys and (2) fellow travel writers. These are two excellent resources. Thanks!

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Darrin, glad you liked it. It’s true that a lot of people thing there is some secret to finding good deals. The truth is that you just have to look and do some research. I always forget that what seems second nature to me might be completely new for someone else who has not traveled a lot.

  14. KellyNo Gravatar says:

    Nice one Todd! I sometimes also use Bing to see if flight cost is projected to increase, or to go down. I don’t know how much I trust them completely, but it’s a nice way to know the right (ish) time to buy!
    Kelly´s recent [type] ..Can I Get Birth Control in Buenos Aires

  15. LengNo Gravatar says:

    Couchsurfing is indeed a great way to save money but most importantly you can make great friends around the world. As a couchsurfer, I would certainly recommend it. As for flying budget airlines, I would certainly check the transport cost of going to the airport as sometimes budget airlines tend to fly from remote airports.
    Leng´s recent [type] ..Week 21 – Budapest Nyugati pályaudvar

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Good point Leng, sometimes the cost of heading to a remote airport is too much (time or cash). I once took a flight from Tokyo back to the US despite the fact that I was living in near Kyoto! I had three huge bags and used local trains all the way to Tokyo (9 hours) just to save money. In the end I saved 600 dollars. but I had to battle Tokyo rush our with all my possessions. At this point in my life I would not do it again :)

  16. sarah wuNo Gravatar says:

    Wow those people who say that to you are just jealous or being plain mean. It’s your life and if they don’t like it they don’t need to read your blog or event comment about it. But yea I believe that work can sometime cover a lot travel cost. I went on to couple business trip before and most meal are expense out. Anyways, those are good tips you just share and is matter of researching and finding the right deal and sometime you just see a deal to grab. : ) Cheers

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Yeah, serious Sarah! How could anyone send me hate mail :) Unfortunately it happens from time to time and is the price we pay for putting our lives online. I have been very fortunate over the years in that my jobs help to support my wanderings (of course it is all by design). I love getting paid to travel, it makes it really really hard to start shelling out your own money ;)

  17. AdamNo Gravatar says:

    Very good tips, Todd. I have the EXACT same process for booking flights as you do. The one thing I’d like to add in that respect is that it is almost always considerably cheaper to fly on Tuesdays or Wednesdays if at all possible, sometimes half the price. I also check out a series of one-ways to get to my destination. We did that for NYC around the holidays and ended up getting flight for two to NYC and back from St. Louis for $397, total, for both of us. Most r/t searches were coming up $350-400 for ONE person. Sure, we did have to fly out of an airport 25 miles outside the city, but it was a small price to pay for a $400 savings.
    Adam´s recent [type] ..Review of Career Break Secrets Travel Guide Series

    • ToddNo Gravatar says:

      Great price! and Great tips Adam, thanks for sharing. I have had a very hard time timing flights. Fridays and Saturdays are always more expensive, but in general I don’t see much difference in prices when i travel internationally. I’d love to hear what experiences others have with this.
      Todd´s recent [type] ..Petra Jordan Photo Essay- A Walk Through History

  18. LaurelNo Gravatar says:

    Great tips! I was surprised to hear what you do for accommodation. I always book it all online as I thought it would be a lot more expensive if I just did a “walk in”, at least that’s been my experience. I’ve also become a bit paranoid about having a place to sleep after ending up in a place in Bangkok with bed bugs so that’s another reason I book it in advance.
    Laurel´s recent [type] ..Best Way to Learn a Language – Besides Speaking It

    • ToddNo Gravatar says:

      True, it can be risky booking when you are there, but if you have a good understanding of how much things cost then you are fine. you can always book online even from inside the country. but in most cases the cheaper places just night not be picked up online yet.
      Todd´s recent [type] ..When to Bribe- How to Bribe- Do you Bribe

  19. PaulineNo Gravatar says:

    Hi Todd,

    I’m new to this blog, but can I ask how much vacation time you get each year? How much of your travel is due to work, and how much is because of vacation?

    Thanks for the tips! (and everyone’s follow-ups)
    Pauline´s recent [type] ..Visiting a prison in Quito- Ecuador

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Pauline, good questions :) Last year, I spent half the year as a freelance consultant, and the other half as full time development worker. While a consultant I travel a lot for work, and had free time as well as I didn’t have to check into an office everyday (i worked from home, which happened to be Kosovo).

      The second half of the year, I got roughly 10 days of vacation time plus another 5 days off every 2 months. I was also sent on mission once (to Jordan) during this time). In general I have a very flexible life, and jobs that either send me to new countries to work, or allow me to be based in new areas where i can explore the region (as I’m doing in Kosovo and the Balkans at the moment).

      It is difficult to predict what will happen this year. But I will at least take a trip to Japan and the US in the first half of the year. I will also be in Kosovo until at least July. After that I’m not sure :) And of course there will trips inbetween. I’m looking at Albania, Nepal, Hungary…not sure where else.

  20. Anyone had luck with couchsurfing? I’ve met several people who rave about it at gatherings, but have had no luck actually using it effectively. (And I have put some effort into my profile, requests, etc.) I think a key problem is timing — if you are already traveling, and don’t have a set schedule, it’s too difficult to find the wifi and time to craft the requests, far enough in advance, and with a firm enough date attached? Would be an ideal money saver though. You get to stay with locals, for free!
    Chasing Trade Winds´s recent [type] ..Here it is- the famous hybrid Indian toilet Squat or sitAnd

  21. monetteNo Gravatar says:

    great post todd! i am an asian traveler and i keep a corporate job to pay for what everybody thinks is a capricious lifestyle. as i earn pesos, i am more careful in planning my trip. i hope to save enough to travel the places you’ve been to. cheers!

  22. robinNo Gravatar says:

    Great tips – particularly the one about leaving you accommodation options open after the first night or two.
    robin´s recent [type] ..Confundido

  23. Interesting points Todd, traveling is indeed much cheeper than most people expect. That’s probably because a lot of people only look at the prices in the brochures of travel agencies.
    When I return from a trip, I like to compare what I’ve spent with the prices listed in brochures, for a three week trip this can easily be more than a thousand euros.

    KAYAK is interesting, but I prefer Skyscanner (http://www.skyscanner.net) as it also contains schedules of a lot of low cost airlines (e.g. Ryanair and Easyjet).
    I did a quick test with a flight from Brussels to Belgrade on may 14th, 2011:
    Cheapest price on Skyscanner: 59,48€
    Cheapest price on KAYAK: 270€
    So there is a remarkable difference…
    The Hungarian low cost company Wizzair seems not to be checked by Skyscanner, so this one needs to be consultant separately. And it’s worth it, it’s one of the cheapest airlines I know…
    Nicolas De Corte´s recent [type] ..New travel article- Lanzarote for Independent Travelers

  24. DeniseNo Gravatar says:

    I have been very lucky in that, somehow, I have very good friends around the world and I’ve been able to get free accommodation in Istanbul, Amsterdam and London, among other places…and there are many more friends I still have to visit!

    • ToddNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Denise, actually I rarely have to pay for accommodation as I have friends all over the work, either travel friends, grad school friends, or international development friends. But I also know that most people don’t have the network I have so I wanted to give some advice for when I don’t have a place to stay.
      Todd´s recent [type] ..When to Bribe- How to Bribe- Do you Bribe

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