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Basic Reminders for Inexpensive Traveling

Keeping it real


People often ask how we can travel so much. I tell them, “Travel is a matter of priorities: priorities when you’re traveling and priorities at home”. If you want to travel, make the adjustments and do it. For example, obviously, a 5-star hotel is more expensive than a 3-star – so why spend extra money when you only need a safe place to sleep and clean-up? (Unless luxury is your priority...then adjust elsewhere). Similarly, at home: do you really need the $50,000 new car, or would the $10,000 solid used car satisfy your requirements? If you chose the latter – even with a loan payment – the difference would allow for some great travel experiences!

Priorities. If travel is your priority, then make the adjustment.

While the same things might cost more than they did back in the late twentieth century when I started exploring the world, inexpensive travel is doable. My favorite advice for inexpensive travel is going where airfare is cheapest. Think of it like this: if you can find airfare to a foreign locale for several hundred dollars (often doable if you’re flexible), walk a lot, stay at budget-friendly places with breakfast included (and pack some of the breakfast items for a lunch), share dinners, and be judicious about site seeing (perhaps using discounts when possible), you can travel to most places for a lot less than you think. Especially if you travel with another person or two or three. You could also travel to places that have low costs/good exchange rates with your home country.


Another idea for frugal travel is to visit where it’s cheap to get to, AND already inexpensive on the ground. For example, while living in Amman, Jordan, we found US$200 round trip airfare to Bucharest, which included a 10-hour layover in Athens (bonus!) Since we knew Romania remains a very cost-friendly country, we bought the tickets. Our rental car was US$100 for the week and petrol was cheap (we drove more than 1000km). We stayed at a couple Ibis hotels as well as local, non-branded hotels, even scoring a mountain spa balcony room (breakfast included) for US$15/nt in the countryside. Our dinners were very hearty/filling meat & potato dishes, and rarely over US$4/pp for a three-course meal. We also spent a lovely morning and afternoon in Athens, exploring the sites and having a local lunch at a small café.

If you keep the travel triumvirate of adaptability, flexibility, and patience in mind, your experience will be rewarding. Add the dialectic of gratitude and humbleness to the mix, and wherever you go, you’ll have a wonderful experience. So many of the greatest travel experiences I’ve had occurred spontaneously...because we decided to wander down that side street instead of following the throngs of people, or took that small road instead of the highway. If travel is a priority, then make it one. Keep it in the front of your mind, plan, and follow through with it.


Some things to keep in mind:

  • Generally, the longer you stay in a place, the less expensive it is per day, but the overall cost increases.

  • Inexpensive travel can take a lot of time to research and find a bargain or good value. If you dislike hard work (and an occasional hardship), traveling (especially inexpensively) can be difficult. But the rewards can be more than worth all the hassles and time it takes to accomplish!
  • Traveling off season is usually cheaper all around, although some major sites may be closed, weather might be more unpredictable, and you might have fewer daylight hours to explore. Still, to visit a place without tourists is something special!

  • You can often save money by flying “Open Jaw”. The ticket might be a bit more expensive, but if you want to see a lot of a country or region, the time saved by not having to return back to your starting point usually makes up for the cost.

  • If traveling with more than one person, you can save money by sharing a rental car (sometimes leasing for longer trips) and sharing a bed, room, or apartment.

  • Be flexible. Getting lost is not necessarily a bad thing and can lead to some interesting sites and experiences. Just use caution and be smart.

  • Purchasing souvenirs can add-up quickly. Look for small, indiscrete, original items if you want a remembrance of the experience. If you do buy something large – say a Turkish rug – consider mailing it home from the place where you purchase it.

Additionally, while not always doable, utilizing points/miles can offer a great way to travel the world. So don’t overlook co-branded travel credit card benefits. Learn to leverage them for points and miles. Don’t overdo it, of course. Be smart, pay off the balance in full each month, and keep a good credit history. Using points and miles can take brainpower (and time), but the rewards can be significant. As an example...


My wife and I recently spent about eight weeks abroad. Total cost out of pocket: just over $3000 for transportation (airline redemption fees, train travel, car rentals, and a few taxis) and a little more than $2000 for food – for both of us. In all, we spent two weeks in Jordan (one of which was for work), three weeks in Japan (Hokkaido-Honshu-Kyushu), several days in Helsinki, a week in London, and then several days in Iceland before returning home. We took advantage of Jordan's unique positioning for reward flight redemption. Even the occasional traveler can do something like that if they are willing to learn the game and take the time.


In short, follow the cheap airfare, don’t be extravagant in country, and be selective on the not-free experiences you choose. Sharing with one or two or three other travelers also reduces costs, as can miles and points redemptions. And be highly selective about souvenirs and adult (aka alcoholic) beverages, as these can be VERY expensive in some foreign countries and also lead to trouble...

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