How to Travel New Zealand on a Budget

New Zealand is, without question, an expensive place – whether you’re on a tight budget or not.

But, epic nature, the kindest people you’ll ever meet, and no shortage of activities make it worth seeing in your lifetime if you have the means to save, plan and travel.

It may not be a ‘budget destination’, but you can travel the South Island on a budget.

Note: I’m sure this is possible for the North Island too, but we only ventured south with our week in New Zealand.

10 Tips for Planning a Road Trip Around New Zealand on a Budget

Why a road trip?
Because that’s the best way to see the country- some cities may have limited public transit, but to truly experience the best New Zealand has to offer, you’ll need to rent a car (or camper van).

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Tip 1: Reserve a car early for a chance at best rates

We reserved ours two months ahead of time at a cancellable rate, and then checked weekly for price drops.

At the end of winter, during peak ski season in Queenstown, we paid £15 per day from a budget provider, Scottie’s, and £60 for a week of insurance. We had an old car, but it worked perfectly.

And, parking fee wise- we didn’t encounter national park or parking fees anywhere, aside from street parking in Queenstown. Even there, you can find free, limited time parking if you’re willing to drive around for a while to avoid the expensive metered lots.

Tip 2: Decide what activities you want to do ahead of time, and budget accordingly 

A glacier flight, onsen spa night, Queenstown cable car, and fjord cruise were the four things we cared the most about, so we built our trip around them.

You can seriously ball out in New Zealand- skydiving, bungee jumping, adventure sports galore- or you can be sensible and pick a few special experiences.

Another perk to visiting in the off-season?

We noticed discounted rates for a lot of our experiences, notably the glacier flight and fjord cruise. At many providers, we saw signs advertising winter deals, only applicable until October.

Tip 3: Stay in hostels

Those familiar with backpacking won’t take issue with this, but I know people who are putting off a trip to New Zealand simply because of how expensive they believe accommodation will be.

We stayed at YHA’s in private rooms- some had en-suite bathrooms, others were shared. All were good, YHA Tekapo was especially great.

The private rooms were clean, and just like in a hotel, often, we were provided with mini shower supplies, towels, bedding, a coffee/tea maker (plus packets of coffee/tea/hot chocolate), and access to WiFi. One of our hostels, the YHA in Tekapo, even had a trendy restaurant attached to it, and gorgeous lake views.

Quality varies, of course- some are older, others are newly built or renovated. All were the perfect place to rest our heads, and a fraction of what hotels would have cost us.

And, if you’re wondering- YHA’s also have dorm rooms.

Rates we saw at the end of winter varied place to place. Queenstown, Wanaka, Tekapo and Cook were the most expensive places, with much better deals to be found in Franz Joseph and Te Anau.

Dorms started at £12-20 per night, and for private rooms, we paid between £30-65 per night. By comparison, hotels in popular areas will start at £100-175 per night and go higher in peak season.

Normally a fan of Airbnb, I was disappointed to see skyhigh rates throughout the South Island. We only ended up staying in an Airbnb once, which was a private room attached to someone’s home, located 15 minutes outside of Wanaka.

If you’re traveling in a big group, Airbnb may be a good choice. The reason why so many rentals seem expensive for two people, like us? Many listings are for entire homes. So, if you’re sharing with 6-8 people, it’s no longer as cost prohibitive.

Of course, you can do accommodation even cheaper if you rent a camper van or go straight up camping (when it’s warm enough).

Tip 4: Consider renting a camper van

If going to New Zealand again, I’d price out camper vans.
Be sure to include shower stop fees, petrol costs and camp sites in your estimate.

I truly believe this is the best way to see New Zealand, because you have loads more flexibility.

However, some campsites book out early- like Milford Sound- so, be sure to research which ones you need to reserve ahead of time, and which ones you can be more flexible with reserving.

And, looking into campsites ahead of time is also a good idea because there are free ones around the South Island.

Tip 5: Fuel up in main towns, even if you don’t need much petrol

We fuelled up often, every half tank, to avoid running out in remote places and paying a premium to refuel.

Each half tank was £15-20, pending location. Cost varies, pending where you go and how much driving you do, but we spent ~£120 for a week of petrol and drove a lot.

How much is a lot?

Our route: Queenstown – Te Anau – Milford Sound – Queenstown – Hawea – Franz Josef – Arthur’s Pass – Tekapo – Mount Cook – Wanaka – Queenstown

Tip 6: Be prepared to be offline

Data is expensive in New Zealand, around £15 for 2 GB.

When driving, you’ll drop cell signal often- we didn’t have service 90% of the time while driving. Really, we only had signal through towns, which was more than enough to check directions.

And, I know what you’re thinking- well, what about WiFi?

Most places, bar major cities like Queenstown, won’t have it readily available (including at cafes and restaurants).

Also, hostels and hotels tend to cap your ‘free’ allowance. We saw caps ranging from 500MB to 2GB per stay.

You should 100% bring a map and downloaded directions in case you find yourself without service.

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Tip 7: Go outside of cities to buy groceries

We bought groceries outside Queenstown in a shopping mall near the airport where there are two budget stores (Pack ‘n Save and FreshChoice).

Buying downtown or central in any other town, like Wanaka will cost 2-3x more (based on what we saw, browsing prices in shops).

Believe we spent ~£60 total for a week of groceries, including treats, and tons of fresh fruit vegetables.

Selecting groceries that would travel well and hold up over the course of a week without regular access to refrigeration was a bit of a challenge, but we managed- only needing to top up a few times.

Mostly, we bought-

  • Bread for sandwiches
  • Peanut butter, jelly
  • Fruit: Apple, oranges, bananes, blueberries, stone fruits
  • Vegetables: Carrots, celery, tomatoes, bell peppers, avocadoes
  • Granola bars, packets of oatmeal
  • Cheese sticks
  • A selection of New Zealand crisps to try
  • Treats (hello, lamingtons, L&P, giant chocolate chip cookies, and special New Zealand candy)
  • No need to buy water- New Zealand water is pure, the South Island has some of the best in the world

If we were worried about something not being refrigerated overnight, we just left it in the car since it was fairly cold wherever we went (especially at night).

With these groceries, we only ate out 3x. And, even then, we chose our meals out sensibly- all three times, each meal under £10 per person.

We also did 1-2x daily coffee from cute cafes, because I love experiencing cafe culture, which usually came in at £2 each. Bring a reusable cup for a discount here, we noticed it was often 10-50 cents per cup, which can add up if you’re avid coffee drinkers like us.

There are some seriously great restaurants in Queenstown and Wanaka, and I’d loved to have try them, but the experiences we did were more important. 

Tip 8: Limit drinking out- pick up beers, ciders or New Zealand wines to try from grocery stores

Neither of us were drinking much alcohol while in New Zealand, which made budgeting here pretty easy.

However, we do like to try local ciders, wines and craft beers, and with such a great scene for all three in New Zealand, we wanted to try a couple.

Our solution?

We picked up some from grocery stores, which proved much, much cheaper than drinking out. 

Throughout the week, we did have a few drinks out, twice. We noted a cider/beer/glass of wine in Franz Josef was ~£6, and beer/wine in Wanaka at the craft brewery we visited was ~£4. 

Tip 9: Visit in the off-season 

Summer is peak time to visit the South Island.

But, in winter, you’ll find better deals just about everywhere, sans ski hubs like Queenstown. Although, even in Queenstown, things are cheaper in winter than summer.

Plus, in winter, the mountains are capped in snow.
That said, we didn’t experience snow or ice storms, but you should acknowledge that risk.

Weather may usually be nicer in summer, but with storms, slips/road closures are common. So, I don’t know that there’s truly a ‘fool proof’ time to visit the South Island.

I’d go in the fringe. We went near end of winter and had a fantastic time.

Rates for most things start to go up again in October, as spring goes on.

Tip 10: Unless you’re visiting in the high season, book some things as you go

In summer, hotels/hostels/campsites may book up, but if you’re there in the fringe season or winter, you can likely roll into just about any town and find somewhere to stay. This won’t mean you’ll always find the cheapest rate, but you will have more flexibility in how long you spend places.

For the most part, we did hostel reservations that were cancellable up to 48-72 hours without penalty, so we had some degree of flexibility in moving things around if we so desired.

And, if you’re going the camper van or full-on camping route, read forums like TripAdvisor to get a sense of just how full potential campsites you’re interested in get.

Finally, flights to Queenstown were fairly cheap for us- departing from Melbourne, returning to Sydney. Each leg was under £80-100 with EasyJet.

We watched flights for weeks, and booked in advance to secure good rates.

If you’re coming from across the world, look for connecting flights into Asia’s major hubs- Singapore, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpar.

Then, if you have time, I’d fly into Oz (often, good deals to be found on returns from Asia’s hubs). And then, I’d fly to New Zealand. I know it all depends how much time you have, but my point is, there are ways to get flight price down as well- no matter where you’re coming from.

Have you ever visited New Zealand? Is a trip there on your travel wishlist?

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10 Ways to Save Money on Any Trip

There are 365 days in a year and 52 weekends. If you’re like me, you look at those days and weekends as a lot of time to travel.

A few years ago when I decided to prioritise travel, I knew I’d need to stop making excuses. I save for trips the same way I pay my other bills- I set money aside from each paycheck to use for trip planning or while on future holidays.

No matter where I go, what I’ve learned with every trip is that there are ways to keep cost down. While I don’t always follow these tips for every trip, I do abide by some combination of them every time I plan a holiday.

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10 Tips for Saving Money on Any Trip

  1. Book Early: Are there great last minute deals out there? Sure, but more often than not, I save the most by booking flights and lodging months ahead of time. Those £30 roundtrip flights in Europe? They sell out fast, so I act quickly when I spot a deal for somewhere on my to-travel list.
  2. Plan Ahead: No, you don’t need to plan every moment of each day, but by looking up activities and tours before your trip, and places to eat/drink, you’ll inevitably save money on advance purchase or time while you’re on holiday.
  3. Visit in the Off Season: Living in London, I loathe travelling around Europe in summer- much, much higher prices for everything and so many tourists. Instead, I like traveling around Europe in winter, spring and mid-late fall. And for other destinations, I look up the busiest season and then usually watch for flights/lodging on the fringe of it. You’ll likely still have great weather, but pay a fraction of the cost.
  4. Don’t Eat Every Meal Out: Whether I stay at an Airbnb or not, it’s rare I eat every meal out. At the very least, I’ll bring breakfast to have (Lara bars, almonds, almond butter) and may pick up a few things that don’t require refrigeration when I reach my destination, like fruit. Not only will you save a bit of money each day, but you can also start your day by heading straight to your first activity.
  5. Ditch the Hotel: Airbnb in Europe is the only accommodation I consider 80% of the time. There are exceptions- Amsterdam, a city where a hotel can be cheaper than Airbnb, is one of them. But, for the most part, Airbnbs are a clean and comfortable alternative to hotel and their insane room mark-ups. In Asia and the United States, I alternate between whatever is most affordable and suits my needs, which sometimes is a hotel. However, I try to glean sales where I can by reserving rooms when I first start thinking of a trip with booking.com- you can always cancel, but you’ll have a better chance of locking in great rates earlier.
  6. Set a Trip Budget: One of the most essential parts of any trip, in my opinion. Usually, I set a daily trip budget tailored to each day of the trip/activities we’ve planned. If I go over one day, then I try to adjust for the next one to ensure I still come in even.
  7. Walk Everywhere: If you’re staying in a city, try to find accommodation that’s walking distance or on a subway/bus route. Not only is walking a great way to get exercise, but you’ll also see and notice more than you would if you took Uber or drove everywhere. This is also where planning a bit comes in handy, if you know what part of town the activities you want to do are in, you can see more while you’re there and waste time going back and forth.
  8. Take Public Transit or Shuttles To/From the Airport: It’s rare I take Uber/a taxi while travelling, when I do, it’s usually a result of arriving late to a destination and not being able to take transit. Alternatively, I always look at public transit options- either a direct bus/train from an airport to the city or a shared shuttle.
  9. Join a Free Frequent Flyer Program or Hotel Rewards System: With most programs, you can earn points towards cheaper fares and upgrades if you fly often enough (same goes for hotel stays). Priority check-in and boarding, as well as airport lounge access are great perks if there are a few airlines you travel consistently.
  10. Keep Your Next Trip in Mind: Even if it’s not planned, I think of the other places I want to visit when I’m tempted to splurge on a meal, experience or shopping, and truly ask myself if it’s worth it in comparison to using the money toward a future holiday.

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10 Tips for Saving Money While Traveling in Norway

Norway, a country known for its indescribable natural beauty, and for being one of the most expensive places in the world.

Norway hovers on many travellers ‘to visit’ lists for years- much like Japan, I’ve been told people are hesitant to visit because they’ve heard it’s expensive.

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While planning my March/April bank holiday trip (the UK has Good Friday and Easter Monday off), I knew I wanted to go somewhere I’d be less reliant on restaurants/bars/museums being open (after visiting Stockholm last year), and settled on somewhere scenic. Once I decided I wanted to spend as much of the weekend in nature as possible, Norway was an obvious contender (along with the Faroe Islands and Scotland).

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Ultimately, I decided to do Norway because I’d be able to take trains/buses/boats everywhere, which meant I wouldn’t need to rent a car.

And, as for the question of whether it’s expensive?

Yep, sure is. On our first day, we bought six beers, two kinds of cheese, and crackers from the grocery store near our Airbnb and gaped when the total came to nearly £40.

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Fortunately, as with any trip, there are ways to keep cost down. For me, staying on a budget on my trip to Norway was important- Norway was the first trip in a month where I had two other city breaks (to The Netherlands and Krakow, Poland) planned. While I knew those trips would be considerably cheaper, I also was in the midst of planning summer and early fall travel, and wasn’t looking to break the bank, so to speak.

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Yes, Norway is expensive. Accept it. The fact that it’s expensive though is no reason not to visit. With a few of my tips and a bit of planning, you can enjoy a long weekend in Norway at the cost of only slightly more than if you’d spent the time in another major European city- Paris, London, Amsterdam, etc.

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10 Tips for Saving Money in Norway While Travelling

  1. Visit in the Off Season: Hear me out- I know Norway is spectacular in summer (May-August), and there’s a greater chance you’ll have good weather. We were extremely lucky with our five days of sunshine in early spring (definitely not the norm for the region), but I’m a major fan of first time visits to places in the off-season. Chances are you’ll save on just about everything and it’ll be less crowded. Also, everything we did (sans hike to Mount Ulriken) could have been done rain or shine. If you’re set on going during a certain time of the year, say peak season- book as early as possible
  2. Plan Ahead: I’ve said it again and again, but it’s truly the secret to traveling on the cheap in Europe- book things as early as possible.
    • Flights/Ferry: In early January, I booked a one way flight from Stavanger to London for £25, slated to leave early evening Easter Monday. My one way flight to Bergen cost a bit more (£120), but that’s because I waited too long to reserve it. We also booked the ferry from Bergen to Stavanger fairly early (£22 a person) because we were concerned prices would go up
    • Lodging: Because I started looking at Airbnbs in January as well, I was able to snap up great deals for awesome places during Easter weekend that were £50 or less a night
    • Activities: The only area we fell short in the planning department were our activities. We waited until arriving to plan out our days- namely because we were concerned the weather wouldn’t be in our favour and didn’t want to book outdoor tours if it was going to rain/snow all day. Turns out we had nothing to worry about- we enjoyed five days of sunshine and blue skies during our late March visit. I’m not sure how much we would have saved on the Norway in a Nutshell tour or fjord tour we did by booking in advance, but always worth looking into before you travel- every quid (dollar) counts!
    • Transportation: We didn’t rent a car in Norway- that’s the reason we chose to visit it over Scotland or the Faroe Islands, actually. We walked around the cities we stayed in, hopped on local buses only as needed, and took airport shuttle buses
  3. Ditch the Hotel: Airbnb in Europe is the only accommodation I consider 80% of the time. There are exceptions- Amsterdam, a city where a hotel can be cheaper than Airbnb, is one of them. But, for the most part, Airbnbs are a clean and comfortable alternative to hotel and their insane room mark-ups. Plus, you’ll have a fridge/kitchen at your disposal. In Bergen, I found an affordable Airbnb studio apartment near Hotel Clarion Royal that was a ~10 minute walk from the fish market- score! And, in Stavanger, we decided to stay in an Airbnb that was a ~13-15 minute walk from city centre in a private room of someone’s apartment. We totally lucked out when our host told us she’d be gone for the Easter holiday, and we’d have the entire place to ourselves
  4. Don’t Eat Every Meal Out:On our first afternoon in Bergen, we visited the grocery store and stocked up on goods for breakfasts, sandwiches, cheese boards, and picked up a supply of Norwegian ales and ciders to try. We ended up taking what we didn’t use in Bergen to Stavanger with us, which was a good move with the grocery stores closed for Easter. As for actual meals, we ate breakfast at our Airbnbs every morning. And, we made sandwiches/snack bags for some of our activities – hiking, the Norway in a Nutshell tour, our fjord cruise to limit the amount of money we’d spend on food out of necessity/availability. That said, we did enjoy a few great dinners out- especially at the fish market in Bergen. And, pro-tip: like in England, if you dine in at a restaurant that offers takeaway (such as, Fish Me in the Bergen fish market), you’ll be charged a small service fee. Twice, we got our sushi to go (saving a few pounds) and enjoyed it in our Airbnb while sipping beer/cider and relaxing/watching Netflix. Like most things in life, it’s about balance
  5. Limit Alcohol Purchases at Restaurants/Bars: Drinking in Norway is expensive- there’s a country mandated tax on all alcohol. On our first day, we discovered a Norwegian ale and pear cider we loved and stocked up on both in anticipation of stores being closed over Easter. Only three times did we visit a bar/order a drink in Bergen (once at the mountain bar atop Mount Ulriken), and we enjoyed each instance thoroughly. Same goes for Stavangar- twice, we shelled out for a beer/cider in restaurants. One was a really cute cafe that we spent the afternoon at playing games, and the other was a waterfront restaurant, where we sat in the sun for a bit and admired the view. Both times, we only ordered one drink because we knew we had more alcohol at our Airbnb and didn’t want to continue paying upwards of £9-12 per pint. But, for a few drinks, in the right places or environments, it’s worth it
  6. Refill Water Bottles: Norway has some of the best (and cleanest) tap water I’ve ever tasted. Even if you aren’t trying to save money on your trip, I’d still recommend drinking it
  7. Walk Everywhere: If you’re staying in a city, try to find accommodation that’s walking distance or on a bus route. If you’re taking local transit, buy your tickets before getting on the bus- it’s much cheaper (e.g. in Stavanger, buying beforehand at central station was ~£3 vs. ~£6 on the bus). Not only is walking a great way to get exercise, but you’ll also see and notice more than you would if you took transit everywhere. Of course if you’re in a bigger city, like Oslo, you’ll likely need to take public transit more, but we found Bergen and Stavanger to both be easily walkable
  8. Take Public Transit or Shuttles To/From the Airport: We never took a taxi in Norway, but I’ve heard it’s insane- worse than Japan, which is really saying something. We booked FlyBussen (available in most major cities in Norway) before our trip for both Bergen and Stavanger and thought it was great- easy to find outside the airport terminals, quick and clean. As with everything else, book the shuttle ahead to save a few Krones. If you’re really on a budget, there are local buses too you could take- although, they’ll likely take longer (e.g. in Stavanger, when we looked up city centre to the airport, FlyBussen was ~20 minutes and the local bus was ~60-75, and only £5 cheaper by comparison)
  9. Don’t Go Shopping: This was a tough one for me, I looooove Scandi everything. But, it’s essential- the conversion from Krones to GBP (or Euros / USD) just isn’t worth it. Unless you see something you can’t live without, try to find an alternative either where you live or on another trip
  10. Set a Trip Budget: One of the most essential parts of any trip, in my opinion. We set a daily trip budget and stuck to it, for the most part. Some days, we went slightly over, but we knew that just meant we’d have to re-budget slightly for other days to still come in even
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Favourite pear cider in Norway

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Tip: Takeaway if you can in places like the fish market to avoid a ‘dine in’ fee

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Have you ever visited Norway, did you think it was expensive in comparison to other destinations? If I missed any of your tired and true money saving tips, let me know!

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How to Score Cheap Inter-Europe Flights

Before moving to London, I’d traveled around Europe by train and plane to a few cities- London, Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Reykjavik, Berlin, Munich, Rome. I knew there were great deals to be found after scoring a $40 one-way flight from Munich to Paris, but I didn’t fully understand just how great those deals were, or how different flying between European countries was from air travel in the States.

Why are there such great flight deals to be found in Europe?

When Europe deregulated its airways in the 1990s, no-frills budget airlines became popular. Even though they’re ‘budget’, many fly the same routes as their mainstream competitors. And, the beauty of budget carriers is it’s easy and affordable to book one-way flights as part of a multi-city itinerary.

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3 Tips for Finding Cheap Inter-Europe Flights 

  • Book in advance: Just like with long-haul flights, the best deals are often found months ahead. Sometimes, you’ll get lucky with a last minute deal- but that’s not the norm
    • At the time of writing this post, it’s late January and I’ve booked all of my flights through April for great prices, a few examples:
      • London to Marrakesh roundtrip for £90
      • London to Amsterdam roundtrip for £45
      • London to Riga (Latvia) roundtrip for £40
      • Stavanger (Norway) to London one-way for £30
      • ^Most of the above routes will 2x+ in price closer to my trip dates
    • Skyscanner is my go-to for searching inter-Europe flights. It can help you identify whether booking roundtrip or single flights is the most affordable option
  • Fly ‘fringe’ dates: Even if you book in advance, you’ll be likely to find better deals if you look at leaving Saturday morning (vs. Friday night), and returning Monday am (vs. Sunday night) for a quick city break
    • Leaving on a Saturday am and returning on a Tuesday am is how I managed to snag a flight to Marrakesh for less than half the cost of the Friday – Sunday night options
  • Skip the extras: With ticket prices so low, expect to be bombarded at every step with extra fee options- booking seats, carrying on more than one bag, priority boarding, booking with a credit card (vs. debit card), carrying an infant onboard and so on
    • The cheapest way to fly budget airlines is with hand luggage only (i.e. a backpack). If your trip is on the longer side and you need to check luggage, reserve in advance- many budget carriers up the prices to check bags closer to travel dates

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4 Tips for Flying Europe’s Budget Airlines

  • Double check which airport you’re flying out of, and check train or bus timetables ahead of making your way to the airport: This is critical. Some cities have multiple airports, and if you’re flying one-way to each location, you may be flying from different locations. Trains & buses from city center to the airports are often the cheapest (and usually quickest) way to get there, but the timetables can be a bit odd- sometimes trains only leave every 20/30/40 minutes so give yourself enough time to get to the airport well ahead of your flight (I try to do 90-120 minutes to ensure I don’t miss my flight because of long security lines or any other delays)
  • Read the fine print closely:
    • Budget tickets are usually nonrefundable and nonchangable
    • Pay attention to baggage restraints (yes, there’s a good chance your carry-on or hand luggage will be weighed)
    • Most airlines require you check-in by a certain time before your flight, some are stricter than others in enforcement if you don’t do so
    • Look closely at requirements for boarding pass- some airlines (hi, Ryanair) require you to print your pass from home. If you wait until doing so at the airport, you’ll be charged upwards of £40
  • Every airport in Europe is different- at some, you’ll go through security in the beginning and then can buy food/drink as normal practice in the States before boarding. At others (Berlin, Prague, Vienna), you won’t go through security until you step on the plane, which means you can’t carry liquids (even ones you purchase in the airport) on board. In Vienna, you can at least buy a special kind of sealed water to take, and in Prague, there are vending machines between security and your gate in case you really want a beverage or snack. Whatever you do, don’t plan on purchasing food onboard- because airfare rates are so low, everything else has extremely high mark-up
  • Have your boarding pass ready when purchasing food/drink before boarding: This is one I still sometimes forget, but most stores- like drug stores or grab ‘n go shops will ask to scan your boarding pass as part of check-out. If you have it handy, just makes your life a bit easier and ensures you won’t be holding up the line

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Bottom line: Low cost airlines can be amazing, especially for one-way journeys as part of a longer trip through Europe or a quick weekend trip. I’ve flown Ryanair, Aer Lingus, EasyJet, EuroWings, IcelandAir, Norwegian, FlyBe and WizzAir and never had a significant problem with any of them.

Yes, sometimes budget carriers are delayed, but I’ve yet to experience a delay longer than 1-2 hours. And, for what it’s worth, I’ve noticed delays tend to be more likely on late afternoon/early evening flights (no surprise, like in the States, a single plane makes several trips a day), so I try to fly early am whenever I can/am concerned about getting somewhere on time.

Are there times I upgrade to mainstream carriers like Swiss or British instead of flying budget? Sure, if the mainstream flight isn’t that much more than the budget carriers, or if I’m flying somewhere to connect to a long haul flight (often makes sense for multiple reasons- delays are less likely, better baggage policies, etc.)

All in all though, budget carriers (and Airbnb!) are the reason I’m able to travel so much around Europe. Even if a flight is delayed, I know once I get to my destination I’ll have a great time.

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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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Traveling Often With a Full-Time Job

365 days in a year, 52 weekends. If you’re like me, you look at those days and weekends as a lot of time to travel.

Often, people ask me how I travel so much with a full time job. The sub-questions always lurking after someone asking that question: How can you afford that much travel?; How do you get so many days off?; How do you find the time to plan so many trips?

So many people see travel as an escape to their every day reality. I don’t. I like my job, a lot. As much as I love traveling, it’s not because it’s a break from that job so much as it is because travel energizes me, it inspires me, it educates me, it ultimately makes me better at my job.

I’m fortunate to currently work for a company with a flexible holiday policy. If your vacation days are limited, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t travel- it just means you have to be a bit more creative about how you use that time.

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3 Tips for Traveling Often, With a Full-Time Job

Budget for Travel

The best way to commit to traveling more is to create a dedicated budget for it. 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 $25 per paycheck adds up over the course of a year. But, set an amount and stick to it.

The only key to saving money for travel is make travel a priority. There’s no way around that.

The top tips that’ve helped me save for travel over the years?

  • Meal prep instead of buying lunch out (healthier too). Be smart about where you buy your groceries- I’ll buy fresh produce from a farmers market and dry staples (chickpeas, beans, eggs, spices) from the cheapest grocery store that’s an option
  • Limit eating out or meeting friends for drinks. This is tough, especially living in a city. But, I try to only eat out or grab drinks on Fridays or Saturdays. And, if I can, I try to eat at home before meeting friends for a cocktail- every spare dollar counts
  • Try having a ‘zero day’. A ‘zero day’ is when I don’t spend any money- zilch. I try scheduling a zero day once a week. Sometimes, the closest I come to spending zero money is paying £2.50 for a tube ride, but that’s still much better than the alternative. And, during an average week, Monday-Thursday when I’m meal prepping, I try to only spend money ($3 daily) on cold brew. It’s something I’ll cut if I truly need to pinch pennies, but a small extravagance that makes the other sacrifices I make seem easier
  • Being more mindful about buying things. I try not to buy things (clothes, accessories, home goods, etc.) unless it’s something I truly need. I also don’t buy anything that’s a significant expense without thinking about it for 24 hours
  • Automate saving. I automatically set aside money each month for travel, and use apps like Digit or Cleo to save pennies I never seem to notice leaving my account
  • Track your daily expenses: You’ll be shocked at how quickly things add up. This is the easiest way to identify where you’re spending too much money and can trim expenses

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Understand Your Vacation Policy

If you plan your trips around national holidays, you’ll often get more bang for your buck. The trick though is always booking early enough since so many other people travel during these dates.

Embrace weekend trips or day trips as well. It’s so much easier to fit in a few regional trips each year than bigger cross-country or international journeys. I’ve written about how stay-cations are one of my favorite ways to explore more of what’s around me. Both in the States and U.K., often, I’m inspired by simply visiting a new neighborhood or part of town. Even a few hours spent experiencing something new can be refreshing.

If you’re taking a lot of weekend trips, consider packing a ‘weekender’ bag that’s always ready to go. I’ve found 2-3 day trips are often harder to pack for than a week or two away, and I’ve been frustrated by how long it can take to prepare for these short getaways. My pre-packed ‘weekender’ bag includes:

  • Toiletries kit with airport compliant versions of shampoo/conditioner, face wash, deodorant, toothpaste/toothbrush, make-up and hair brush/ties
  • Medicine bag with anti-allergy meds, as well as flu/cold tablets and band-aids
  • Pouch for me to put small jewellery in as I’m packing
  • Bag with adapters, back-up batteries and charging plugs for my phone/Kindle

Then, the night before a trip, I’ll grab my passport, wallet and whatever clothes I need. Quick and easy.

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Plan Ahead

If you’re traveling with a full-time job and your time is limited, you can’t do everything. Focus on what’s most important to you.

Planning ahead also helps you lock down the best flight/lodging deals.

Before any trip, I invest time in planning when it comes to:

  • Flights: I use Google Flights to identify the cheapest flight routes/destinations for the dates I have open to travel, and then set a flight reminder on Hipmunk so I know as soon as prices drop. Skyscanner is also great if your travel schedule is flexible and you’re just trying to find the cheapest options. These are my top 10 tips for finding cheap flights
    • Also, keep in mind flying may not always be the quickest option. Especially in Europe, look at buses and trains may get you somewhere you want to visit a lot sooner. The Rome2Rio app is my go-to for mapping destinations in un-familiar countries
  • Lodging: Yes, you can stay somewhere central without spending a ton of money- Airbnb to the rescue. In Europe and Asia, Airbnb is a game changer, I’ve stayed city center in so many places for a fraction of what a hotel would cost
  • Researching the Destination: I don’t like to have every day planned in advance, but I do enough research to know what kind of activities I want to, as well as where I may want to grab coffee/eat lunch or dinner/have a drink. This kind of planning not only ensures I make the most of my time in a new city, but also means I’m able to stay within a trip budget if I’m thinking about what I’ll do each day in advance

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Planning for a year full of travel? Consider airline rewards programs or signing up for a points based credit card. If you’re disciplined to pay your balance in full each statement, a credit card shouldn’t cost you anything, but can help you get airport lounge access, free flights or free foreign transactions. The Points Guy is an incredible helpful resource.

Bottom Line: If you really want to travel more, you need to make travel a priority and stop making excuses.

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My Must-Haves for Any Trip

Live and learn, so goes the old adage.

It’s been through trial and error, and listening to the advice of others, I’ve learned what works best for me to pack for any trip. The items in my current travel repertoire represent a lot of mistakes, but also great finds I’m excited to share to help others enjoy every trip to the max.

These resources are what I rely on to make the most of my adventures. I know the term ‘must have’ implies a physical item, but truthfully, I wouldn’t be able to travel as much as I do without some of these tools and technologies. I consider some of them to be more important than the physical items I bring on a trip.

10 of My ‘Must Haves’ for Every Trip

1) ACCOMODATION TOOLS

It’s rare I’ll stay in a hotel while traveling. I’ve been known to make exceptions when a hotel is really the only or best option (e.g., Disney World), or there’s a great deal to be found.

Booking.com is my go-to for those times I need to book a hotel around the world, and Agoda is particularly great for SE Asia. If booking with Agoda, create an account to earn cash back.

On both sites, I track rates over the course of several weeks (manual searches in Incognito mode) to ensure I score the best deals. If I see a rate and want to lock it in, I do so as long as I can cancel for free if I find a better deal closer to my trip.

On a strict budget? Hostel World, Couchsurfing, and Trusted Housesitters (requires annual membership) are all sites I’ve used, or used via a friend to reap the savings from.

Most of the time, I book lodging through Airbnb. I only book on Airbnb if the apartment has dozens of positive reviews, is central to where I need to be, and has the amenities I require (wifi, washing machine, etc.). Bonus points if the host is a designated Superhost or it’s an Airbnb+ property.

// 5 Tips for Booking Awesome Airbnbs Around the World //

I’ve rented entire apartments, and also stayed in private rooms as part of someone else’s home. I’ve never felt unsafe, and enjoy chatting with hosts to learn more about the place I’m visiting.

2) FLIGHT TRACKERS

I’ve written about how I find and book cheap flights.

Google.com/flights and Skyscanner are my go-to’s for searching flight routes. Once I have a destination or route in mind, I use Hopper to predict future price drops, and always sign up for an email alert from Hipmunk to ensure I don’t miss out on savings.

I also search in Google’s Incognito mode– once the airlines know you’re looking, prices go up.

Tip: If you don’t live in the states, set your Hipmunk settings to USD to ensure you’re able to utilize the email alert feature.

3) SAVING FOR TRAVEL

I use tools like Digit or Revolut’s ‘vault’ feature to help auto-save for trips. Both of the aforementioned tools work by rounding up your purchases to the nearest dollar- makes saving effortless.

When travelling, it’s rare I use my debit card for purchases (to help prevent fraud). Instead, I use an online bank card to withdraw money from atms or pay for small purchases. Currently a fan of Revoult, they offer great currency conversion and worldwide three day card replacement.

// Why You Need a Digital Travel Card //

4) TRIP PROTECTION

I used insure my trips with World Nomads, but recently switched to Safety Wing. I haven’t been able to use the typical travel insurance players in the US like Allianz or Amex because their requirements for coverage are too black and white- no flexibility.

Once, I made the mistake of not insuring a weekend jaunt to Paris, which ended with me spending over eight hours in a French hospital and leaving with a hefty bill. You never know what’s going to happen- make sure you’re covered for weather, sickness and unfortunate luck.

I’ve always said, if you can’t afford travel insurance, you haven’t saved enough to travel.

5) CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT

These are 12 apps I like to have when traveling, but my true ‘can’t live withouts’ are:

  • Custom Google Maps (read more about how to make one here- these are essential, I make one for every trip)
  • XE Currency (quick currency exchanges)
  • Google Translate (type text or scan a photo to easily translate, you can also download languages ahead of time so they’re available if you don’t have wifi)
  • WhatsApp (essential for international check-ins with family and friends)
  • Foursquare/Yelp (the best for finding quick restaurant/coffee/drink recos on the go)
  • Uber or Grab / Go Jek (SE Asia) for calling cars or motorbikes on demand
  • Skype: Critical for international travel, short or extended. Skype has saved me so many times when I’ve needed to call a credit card company, my bank or anyone else back in the US or UK

// 5 Apps to Download Before Your Next Trip to Asia //

6) PHOTO APPS

I only shoot on my iPhone – currently working with an XR. I use tele and wide angle lenses from Moment to help add dimension to my photos.

I keep it simple and use VSCO to edit pics. For IG Stories, I often use Unfold to lay out my favourite pics from a trip. And, occasionally, I use the Retouch app to remove something in a shot.

// A Guide to Taking Better iPhone Photos //

7) LUGGAGE

SE Asia adventure aside, the only time I’ve paid to check luggage in the past 6 years was when I moved to London. My secrets to packing light help ensure I carry-on every time.

Suitcase: For whatever reason, I destroy luggage. Seriously- split zippers, tears in the lining, broken wheels, you name it. This American Tourister carry-on can take a beating, fits every airline’s baggage restrictions (even budget carriers), and holds a ton of stuff. I use it for weekend trips, as well as 2+ weeks away

Weekend Backpack / Duffel: If I’m only going away for a few nights, I’ll usually just take my Eagle Creek Afar backpack (no longer available, but similar ones here) or my Everlane duffel

Large Backpack: If I’m backpacking for longer than a few days, Osprey is my brand of choice. Currently working my way through Asia with a 55L Fairview and I LOVE it. It fits SO much, and I love how it has a front zip for easy access and a detachable daypack

Crossbody/Purse: Trip pending, I’ll bring a leather tote or a side bag. For longer trips, I opt for a more durable crossbody. Traveling SE Asia, my current obsession is this mini Pacsafe crossbody.

8) PACKING ESSENTIALS

On almost every trip, you’ll find these things in my bag:

  • Compression cubes: In love with the Gonex compression cubes– they squish down to hold so much, and a fan of these slim ones for organising bits and bobs
  • World adapter: Something most people don’t think about until they’re packing, but critical to remember. I usually bring two in case I lose one or need to charge multiple things at once
  • USB wall port charger: Enables you to charge everything at once, total lifesaver if you’re trying to charge phones, headphones, Fitbits and back-up chargers
  • Back-up battery: I travel with two of these, which ensures I’m never stressing about my phone/other tech dying
  • TEP wireless device: If your phone isn’t unlocked, this can be a good option for having service. But, if your phone IS unlocked, get a local sim wherever you go! So much cheaper, and in my experience, the service is usually more stable. Is having wifi essential to traveling abroad? No, but it does make so many things a lot easier
  • Comfortable shoes: I’ll never be someone who packs cute shoes and expects to walk +15-20k steps in them each day. You’ll always find functional and comfortable sneakers in my bag. Tired and true favourites:  all black Nikes, Allbirds, Birkenstocks
  • Ear plugs: I bought a bundle of plugs off Amazon a long time ago and am still working my way through that stash. Great for flights, noisy busy/train rides or hotels with street noise

// The Ultimate List of Everything You Need to Backpack for a Year // 

9) ENTERTAINMENT

If you travel solo as much as I do, then you know what it’s like to pass time on countless plane/train rides alone. If I don’t have my laptop, I’m reading on my Kindle or listening to one of my favorite podcasts.

Podcasts I’m currently digging: The Goop Podcast, Oprah’s Super Soul Conversations, Pod Save America, Be There in 5, Work in Progress, The Daily, The Slowdown, The GaryVee Audio Experience, The Rich Roll Podcast, This is Joy & Claire, This American Life, Run Selfie Repeat, No Ego, CMO Moves.

10) MISC. PERSONAL CARE ITEMS

Regardless of where I’m going and for how long, you’ll find these things in my bag: sunscreen, face wipes, hand sanitiser, a hydrating face mask, and lip balm.

Featured image credit: Link

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12 Apps Essential for Any Trip

It’s rare I fully disconnect when I travel. 

Although, I spend way less time on my phone when I’m exploring a destination, I do rely on it to help make the trip planning and actual traveling process easier.

Usually, any photos, IG Stories, or the like come after I’ve returned from the trip and had time to reflect and think about what I’d like to share.

These apps are my go-to’s for finding the best travel deals and for discovering cool things to do in each place I visit.

And, if you’re wondering how I use apps while traveling internationally, I usually pay for a limited data plan through my provider (pending local rates) or rent a TEP device. For me, the convenience of being able to connect and figure out directions on the go, or translate something on a menu is worth the cost to have a solid connection when I need it.

12 Apps I Can’t Travel Without

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Skyscanner, Hipmunk or Hopper

If you like to travel as much as I do, and try to keep costs low, these apps will be your best friends. I’ve written about my top tips for finding cheap flights, but these apps play an essential role in the booking process.

You’re able to search, compare and book flights on the go. Plus, Hipmunk and Hopper have alert systems that’ll let you know when the price of a flight drops so you can grab a great deal. Hopper also recommends whether you should buy now/wait for prices to drop, truly a game changer.

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Google Translate

Google Translate is essential in countries where I don’t speak the local language. Recent updates have made this app even more of a travel essential- you’re now able to download languages to your phone so you can access them offline. And, following the acquisition of World Lens, Google Translate now supports printed text translation in 26 languages.

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XE Currency

A go-to during the first few days in a new country. XE stores the last updated rates, so it works offline if you don’t have wifi access and need to do a conversion.

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Google Maps & My Pins

No other maps app compares in my eyes. I’m also a HUGE fan of Google Maps integrated app, My Pins, for saved maps. Before I travel anywhere, I typically create a map saved with places I want to check out (restaurants, bars, cafes, attractions, etc.). Once I’m out exploring, using My Pins via Google Maps allows me to see what’s nearby in case I want coffee after visiting a museum, or feel like checking out another bar in the area.

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Duolingo

This app is one of the best language learning apps out there. It’s interactive, fun to use and actually works. By practicing for a few minutes daily, you’ll be able to pick up conversational phrases to use on your trip.

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TripAdvisor, Foursquare & Yelp

Foursquare and Yelp are my it apps for finding the best places to eat and drink in places I visit, and TripAdvisor is a lifesaver when it comes to evaluating attractions, tour options, etc.

WhatsApp

Handy app for staying in touch with family and friends back home when I’m abroad. WhatsApp is also an awesome way to communicate with locals in a foreign country if you meet a new friend while traveling.

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Airbnb

I should be an Airbnb ambassador, I’ve used them exclusively to book travel lodging for the past year and a half (sans accommodation in Tulum because we wanted to stay beachfront). The thing I love the most about Airbnb: there’s something for everyone and every budget.

If you’re traveling internationally, Airbnb should be the first place you look- you can score some seriously great deals and awesome digs for a fraction of what you’d pay to stay at a moderate hotel.

And, in the US, I’ve found some pretty cool and quirky places that definitely have more character than any hotel. I especially love Airbnb for road trips if I want to stay outside of a national park.

If you need somewhere last minute though, HotelTonight is one of my favs.

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GateGuru

I use this app almost every time I fly, it gives you all the info you need about the airport you’ll be in. I like using it to see what healthy dining options are available at-a-glance in any part of the airport.

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LoungeBuddy

I’m new to this app, but love it after just using it once. A lot of airport lounges will provide access for a fee if you’re not a first class passenger. This app helps you locate them and assess cost. For long haul trips, where you may be traveling for over 24 hours or enduring a long layover, a little comfort can go a long way.

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Uber / Grab / Lyft

For the most part, I take public transit (buses, trains), but there are times I’ll choose the convenience of Uber. Rates are usually cheaper than taxis, and if UberPool is available, it can be an affordable way to get somewhere if you’re wary of public transit or there’s an issue (e.g., subway isn’t running because of construction, hello New York).

If you’re unfamiliar, UberPool provides a guaranteed fare to riders who share their car with others headed in the same direction. Often, I get lucky and don’t end up sharing rides, but when I do, it’s never an out-of-the-way inconvenience. In London, I took UberPool for as little as $6-7 USD for a 30 minute trip across town that would’ve taken over an hour on the Tube.

If you’re taking Uber internationally, make sure you have a strong wifi connection while waiting for your ride, and try to have it meet you in an area where you’ll be easy to see if you don’t have a calling plan (e.g., avoid super busy streets and intersections).

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Rome2rio

I haven’t used this app very much, but love the premise- it’s a global trip planner that gets you from one place to another in the most efficient way possible. Essentially, you type in a destination (address or landmark), and the app shows you travel options (bus, ferry, flight, etc.) and estimated travel times and fares. Super helpful for situations when you need to weigh time against cost for getting somewhere.

New additions:

Skype

Critical for international travel, short or extended. Skype has saved me so many times when I’ve needed to call a credit card company, my bank or anyone else back in the US or UK. Love how easy the call function is to use- just buy talk credit (so cheap to do so) and then call anywhere in the world simply by dialling.

Trail Wallet

This app is everything you need to track budget when traveling.

My only regret?
I didn’t start using it sooner.

You will have to pay to use the app (the free version cuts off access after so many entries), but it’s beyond worth it.

For every trip, you can create a new ‘wallet’, complete with various currencies (local and exchange). From there, you can also classify each expenditure if you want to see a super detailed spend breakdown by Accomodation, Food, Alcohol, Transport, and so on.

Happy Cow

When I travel, most of my restaurant and cafe recommendations come from fellow Instagrammers, bloggers, friends or online reviews.

However, I love this app for instances when I don’t have a ton of recos to go from, or find myself in a country or place where there aren’t a ton of prominent vegetarian restaurants.

Happy Cow is uber helpful for helping you eat healthy while on the go- you can use the map to search for nearby restaurants and even check out menus or reviews before you visit.


What are some of your travel app go-to’s?

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Secrets to Packing Light

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Image from here, until I pack for my next trip and shoot my own

As exciting as traveling can be, it can also be very stressful, especially when it comes to packing.

Confession: I’m a reformed over-packer. For years, I stuffed suitcases to the brim and considered carry-ons nice to have, but saw no way around checking luggage.

A few years ago though, when airlines started charging for checked baggage, I began re-evaluating what I took with me on trips.

There’s something liberating about leaving stuff behind, you realize how little you really need when traveling. Since paring down my packing essentials, I’ve found there are numerous benefits for only taking a carry-on:

  • Most airlines charge for checked luggage, some budget airlines even charge you to carry-on a bag

  • Waiting to check-luggage if the line is long, and again, waiting after the flight for it to be unloaded can waste valuable trip time. If you only carry-on, you also don’t have to worry about your luggage making it between flights if you transfer

  • Only bringing a carry-on, whether it’s a duffel bag or rolling bag, means it’s often easier to get around your destination, especially if you’re taking public transit

How to only travel with a carry-on

Get the right gear

First things first, you need to have the right gear- your plans to only travel with a carry-on will be thwarted if it’s too big to fit in the overhead bin and you’re forced to check it.

  • Suitcase: For whatever reason, I destroy luggage. This non-expandable American Tourister carry-on can take a beating, fits every airline’s baggage restrictions (even budget carriers in Europe and Asia), and fits a ton of stuff. Pending what I need to pack, I use it for weekend trips, as well as 2-3+ weeks away.  The non-expandable part is key- a lot of airlines are cracking down on letting people carry-on suitcases with four-wheels or ones that are expanded in size
  • Backpack: If I’m travelling for only a few weeks, I’ll usually opt for my Osprey 55L Fairview backpack. Love that I can unzip the front bag from the main pack – a great combo for instances where you can bring on a bag, plus personal item
    • I also own an Eagle Creek Afar backpack (which they no longer make), but is the perfect size for either quick trips
  • Duffel Bag: If I’m going on a quick overnight or weekend trip and don’t need to do a ton of walking with luggage, I’ll opt to take my Everlane weekender- usually road trips. If I’m walking through airports and navigating public transit, I prefer a backpack or something that wheels
  • Personal Item: If the flight permits me to carry on a personal item in addition to a bag, I’ll usually opt for a slim tote or cross-body – whatever I’m bringing to take around daily with me on the trip

Write down your schedule 

Writing out what you plan to do may take time, but it’ll help you visualize what you actually need to wear everyday for everything from a morning run to a night at the theatre. 

Skimp on pajamas, gym clothes and shoes

When I travel, I only take 1-2 pairs of pajamas (regardless of trip length), and no more than two gym outfits (even though I workout 5-6 times a week). Here’s the deal: You can always wash clothes when you’re traveling if you’re on a longer trip, but it’s also important to remember that you likely won’t be spending much time in them.

Shoes are another area where it’s easy to pare down to save space. I limit the number of shoes I take with me, usually only bringing a pair of sneakers that can do double duty for running or walking around a city (these black Nikes are my favorite), plus one other pair of sneakers/comfortable walking shoes or boots. Aside from those, I won’t bring other shoes unless I need a pair of dress shoes, sandals or flip-flops- based on the destination/my plans.

When packing, place your shoes at the bottom of your suitcase, it’ll prevent your luggage from being top heavy and tipping over

Pro-tip for packing shoesWrap a shower cap around your shoes to keep everything else clean. If space is an issue, stuff your shoes with rolled-up socks or other small items.

Roll your clothes (and consider using packing cubes) 

Rolling clothes saves space in your suitcase, but also leaves your clothes less wrinkled than just folding them. 

I’ve also recently started using packing cubes to stay organized- there’s a reason why long-term travelers and backpackers rave about them. 

Packing cubes help keep your items separated and make it easy to find things in your luggage. Instead of unpacking my whole bag, I can easily find what I’m looking for. Like rolling your clothes to save space, you can fill cubes up with a lot of items and then compress them even more if your suitcase is getting tight.

If you’re new to cubes, they’re life changing. I use a combination of Eagle Creek compression ones for clothes and slim ones from Amazon Basics to keep bits and bobs organised

Take less than you think you’ll need

The rule I follow when deciding whether to bring something: You have to carry around whatever you aren’t wearing.

My packing checklist (regardless of the destination) 

Essentials

  • Passport
  • Credit card, debit card, cash in local currency, $20-50 in USD (never know when you’ll need it for emergencies)
  • MacBook Air 
  • iPhone and power cable
  • Kindle Paperwhite
  • USB wall charger
    • Bringing a wall charger helps cut back on the number of outlets I need to find when I’m traveling, and makes it easier to charge multiple things at once
  • 2-3 back-up batteries
  • Power adapter (if I’m traveling internationally)
  • Headphones (preferential to airpods, but don’t forget to bring a paid of ‘old school’ headphones for long flights)
  • Apartment building / front door key

Personal Items

Buy travel-sized toiletries and other essentials to help save space. If you’re putting shampoo, conditioner or lotion into generic bottles, take the tops off and place saran wrap over the opening before putting the cap back on to prevent spills. Lately, I’ve gotten into travelling with shampoo/conditioner bars– no need to worry about them spilling and better for the environment.

  • Toothpaste, toothbrush, floss
    • Also into LUSH’s toothpaste bites- better for the environment and doesn’t contribute to your liquid quota
  • Compact hairbrush, hair ties and a stretchy headband
  • Sunscreen (remember to buy eco-friendly brands if you’re swimming/diving)
  • Make-up, lip balm and face lotions/serums
  • Hydrating face mask to use post-flight (love the ones from Dr. Jarts)
  • Razor
  • Ear plugs
  • Hand sanitiser and lotion
  • Prescription and over-the-counter medicines (only take what you think you’ll need)

Clothing / Accessories

I don’t pack the below for every trip, but only packing neutrals and sticking to this general outline helps me pack light and takes the guesswork out of planning- one less thing to think about each trip.

  • 3-4 shirts (mix of t-shirts, long-sleeve shirts, quarter sleeve shirts) 
    • Destination pending, possibly a chambray shirt or blouse
  • 1-2 pairs of pants (black jeans and dark wash jeans)
  • 1 pair of black leggings
  • 1 lightweight sweater or blazer
  • 1 lightweight or medium-heavy jacket (wear this on the plane)
  • 2-3 pairs of socks
  • 1-2 pairs of lightweight pajamas
  • 1-3 pairs of shoes (as needed)
  • Sunglasses
  • Lightweight scarf
  • Underwear / bras
  • Jewelry (a few pairs of earrings and often a necklace)
  • Small purse for daytime use
  • Swimsuit (if I’m going somewhere tropical)

Finally, a tired and true packing hack- wear your heaviest and bulkiest items on the plane to save suitcase space (e.g., running shoes). 

What are your favorite packing hacks?

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How To Travel More

There are 365 days in a year and 52 weekends. If you’re like me, you look at those days and weekends as a lot of time to travel.

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. If you wish you could spend more time traveling this year, you likely just need to make a few small changes to be on the way to more adventures.

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Prioritize Travel

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.

After reading The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up last year, I re-budgeted my expenses and realized I was spending too much money on things that weren’t bringing me true joy. Sure, I could spend $20 on a candle or $30 out with friends on a Friday night, or I could put that money toward a trip to Europe. That $50 I’d save in my above example could cover the cost of a flight from Munich to Paris.

As part of my new budgeting system, I meal prep breakfast/lunch/dinner for Monday through Friday, and am more mindful about weekend activities and added expenses that aren’t truly necessary, e.g., a watch I think is cute, but don’t actually need. In the short term, buying the watch may make me happy, but it’s not going to bring me the same kind of long-term joy I have after visiting a new country. Experiences  > Things, as they say.

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Create a Travel Budget

The best way to commit to traveling more is to create a dedicated budget for it. 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 per paycheck adds up over the course of a year. But, set an amount and stick to it.

The amount of money I budget for travel is proportional to my travel goals for the year. As of late, I’m putting more emphasis on international trips, so I’ve cut back big time in other areas of my life so I’m able to save more than I would need if I was only planning for domestic travel.

I’ve written about how I find cheap flights, but there are also ways to cut back in lodging expenses (another contributor to driving up travel cost). Usually, when I take trips, I don’t spend much time at the hotel because I know I’m going to be exploring the town/city/nature attraction I’m visiting. If I’m only going to be sleeping at the accommodation, I look at Airbnb (often great value), and use tools like Hipmunk to help me find budget friendly hotel options. I’ve also heard great things about Hostel World and Couch Surfing, but haven’t tried either yet.

  • Tip: Automate the saving process! In addition to automating money transfers from my bank to a travel-specific savings account, I use Digit to stow away little bits of cash here and there. Even though I’ve always thought I’m pretty good at sticking to my budget, I haven’t really noticed when Digit takes a dollar or two. Over the course of 5 weeks, it’s amounted to almost $75- which will be great spending money to take on trips if I feel like treating myself to an extra margarita, or if an unexpected expense pops up

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Make Time for Travel

I’m fortunate to have a job that allows me to take a few weeks off every year, but if you’re not in the same situation, that doesn’t mean travel can’t be a reality for you.

Think about your weekends, especially ones with a holiday buffer. If you book things far enough in advance, traveling on a holiday weekend won’t necessarily be more expensive than other times of the year. What’s more, vacation time around a holiday weekend can be an efficient way to take longer trips.

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Don’t Procrastinate Planning

Schedule your trips as you would weddings, baby showers, graduations, work meetings and other events you can’t miss. Once you’ve scheduled a trip, start planning.

Often, the earlier you book flights, the cheaper they are. You may also be able to find good lodging and activity deals if you book far enough out (e.g., check Groupon for a city tours or restaurant deals).

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Don’t Forget about Staycations

If you haven’t traveled much or are limited by vacation days or budget, start small. You can travel to a lot of great places on a small budget.

I do this often in New York by visiting new neighborhoods (checking out new restaurants/bars, going on a food crawl, spending the day at a museum I haven’t been to before) or places just outside of city limits. If you live in a smaller city and own a car, think about a nearby city or state you want to visit and start planning a day trip or weekend adventure. Make the most of what you’ve got close to home. Even a few hours spent experiencing something new can be refreshing.

 

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Live Somewhere that Makes Travel Easier

This won’t apply for everyone, but if you’re truly serious about traveling more, you may want to consider living somewhere where it’s easier to visit the kind of attractions you’re interested in seeing.

For example if you want to have access to a wide variety of flights, living in a major city with multiple airports makes flying more affordable than a mid-size city with only one airport. Part of the reason I live in New York has to do with access to three major airports- flights I take are often shorter and cheaper than flights my family would have access to if flying to the same destination from Pittsburgh.

Not all travel involves flying though, so if your goal is to explore a particular state or region, it may make sense to move to a city where that’s possible. E.g., San Francisco makes it easy to visit north, central and south California, as well as the Pacific Northwest.

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Consider a Loyalty Program

Planning for a year filled with travel? Look into airline and hotel loyalty programs, and consider whether using one may be a way for you to earn free perks. If you’re serious about using loyalty programs to reap the benefits, The Points Guy is an incredibly helpful resource.

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Bottom Line: If you really want to travel more, you need to make travel a priority and stop making excuses.

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