Traveling Cheaply in Your 20s (or at any age)

For a lot of people, myself included, your 20s are a freeing decade. I’ve been able to explore things on my own, learn from my mistakes (and the mistakes of others), and take advantage of opportunities I may not be able to years from now.

Often, people ask me how I’m able to travel so much. Beyond budgeting for it and putting in the work when it comes to planning, I recognize learning how to travel more can be tough.

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The first step in making more travel a reality is changing your mindset that it’s too expensive, too much work or unattainable. I prioritize travel the same way people prioritize buying clothes, decorating their homes, going out with friends, etc.

And although, I’ve treated myself to experiences, nice hotels or meals at times while traveling, the majority of my trips are done on a budget. However, traveling on a budget doesn’t have to mean eating fast food and staying in a cheap hostel.

Don’t get me wrong though- I’ve stayed in my fair share of motels, and had to eat McDonald’s to stay on a daily trip budget (especially in my early 20s ;)). Nowadays though, I budget so I can travel as much as possible, but look for more moderate options (e.g., flying a budget airline vs. taking an overnight bus).

Chances are, in your 20s (or early 30s, heyyyy), it may be the best time to travel, but you might not have as much money to spend on travel expenditures. That’s no excuse not to travel though, there are endless ways to save on adventures.

These 5 tips are my go-to’s to help keep costs down, but experiences amazing.

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5 Tips for Traveling Cheaply At Any Age

Create a Dedicated Travel Budget

The best way to commit to traveling more is to create a dedicated budget. I put aside money for trips the same way I do for my bills, rent, gym, groceries, going out, and so on. It doesn’t have to be a lot of money, even $20-40 per paycheck adds up over the course of a year. But, set an amount and stick to it.

Future trips have to be more important than eating out with friends, going for drinks on a Friday, taking Ubers, or going shopping.

And, once you’ve saved enough for a trip, give yourself a daily spending budget for the trip. If you spend less than your daily amount, roll that money over to the next day, or splurge on something (like visiting a museum) you thought you may not be able to get to.

A tip within a tip: Don’t eat every meal out while traveling. I’ll usually bring Lara bars, almond butter packets or raw nuts to have for breakfast a few days of my trip. Simply saving on that one meal means I can spend more on dinner, or treat myself to a cocktail that evening.

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Plan Things in Advance

Waiting until the last minute to book flights or lodging almost always means you’ll pay more than you need to. I have tired and true secrets for scoring the best flight deals (especially international flights), and recently started using Google Flights to check routes for places I’m interested in visiting, before setting price drop alerts via Hipmunk. This approach means I need to be some degree of flexible, but spotting great flight deals is what’s helped me travel the world on a budget.

One of the easiest ways to overspend while traveling? Lack of planning resulting in a rushed decision. Imagine: You’re hungry, but not sure what kind of places there are to eat in the neighborhood you’re staying in. You may pick the first place you see and end up spending more money than you’d planned, or end up wandering around trying to find something in budget, and wasting time in the process.

Before every trip, I do a bit of research to familiarize myself with the destination, and typically create a Google Map. On the Google Map, I earmark places to grab coffee, eat lunch/dinner or grab a drink that I want to check out. Then, when I’m traveling, I simply pull up my map and know instantly know what’s around me. Does this kind of planning require a bit of time upfront before you leave? Yes, but it’s worth it if traveling more is a priority for you.

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Be on the Lookout for Discounts

So many places in Europe and the U.S. offer student discounts. Beyond carrying your student ID, always ask before paying for things. You’d be surprised at how many easy ways there are to save this way- you can get student passes for trains and public transit throughout Europe, not to mention the fact a lot of major attractions offer either deep discounts or will let you in for free.

Plus, there are tons of free things to do in every city. Can’t afford to take a bus or bike tour? DIY your own walking version. Seeing the Eiffel Tower costs nothing. You don’t need to climb to the top for the experience to be memorable.

Before traveling, I scrounge TripAdvisor, Pinterest, travel blogs and publications for free or low cost activities. I’ve never had a hard time finding thing to entertain myself.

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Don’t Stay in Hotels

On rare occasion, I stay in hotels, but 98% of the time, I’m living that Airbnb life. I’ve stayed in Airbnb’s around the world in situations ranging from a private room in someone’s home to having the entire apartment to myself. Never once have I felt unsafe or disappointed with the apartment.

Generally, you know what you’re getting if you stay in a place with a lot of reviews. For me, I don’t need to stay in the nicest, city center location. Being in a central neighborhood with wifi and near public transit is more important to me than being a five minute walk from the town square. I’ve also found Airbnbs to be the best value in Europe and parts of Asia (in comparison to the States).

Hostels are also a good way to cut costs traveling. If you’re traveling solo, they’re a perfect situation for meeting other travellers as well. Hostelworld.com can help you find hostels all over the world, and makes it easy to check reviews.

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Study Abroad

My only regret from college? Not studying abroad. Fortunately, I’m working for a company currently sponsoring me to live in London.

If you’re still in school though and have an opportunity to study abroad, just do it. It may seem like more money at the onset to pay for the commitment, but there’s no way to put a price tag on the experiences you’ll have. And, if you happen to be studying in Europe, you’ll be surprised by how inexpensive so many things are (phone plans, train travel to other countries, pints/glasses of wine, etc.).

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There are so many ways to save money before and during a trip. When you’re young, it’s the time to collect moments, not things. 

Travel doesn’t need to be extravagant to be enjoyable.

And, the benefits to travel are endless. Travel boosts your confidence. Travel forces you to be more independent. Travel helps you be more adaptable. Travel pushes you to step outside of your comfort zone. Travel lets you discover new passions.

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If you travel often, what are your best money saving or trip planning tips?

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