Thursday, August 15, 2013

How to save and budget for your next big adventure

It is completely possible to save for your dream trip - I did a three-month trip through Asia once with only $5,500 -- and that would have been so much cheaper if I had been traveling for longer!  The longer you are gone, and the fewer flights you take, the cheaper your trip becomes (I don't always have the patience or stamina for long bus rides, for instance, so I was hopping flights more than was really necessary).

I am also no stranger to money.  I have a degree in economics, and have traveled extensively as a budget traveler and backpacker.  I was able to save that $5,500 in about eight months, and I was only making $8/hour (I mean, it wasn't a FUN eight months...).  The important thing is to do (a lot of) research and comparison-shopping, so you can go into any purchase or price negotiation with up-to-date knowledge of your options.

Things can get expensive if you plan too far ahead, though - a lesson I learned in India.  (I tried to book a train in advance only to miss the train, and then when I realized I was at the Taj Mahal on a Friday -- hello, Julia, it's a Muslim site - I ended up just skipping it to catch the next leg of my journey.  You can throw rocks at me now.)  You'll also find that there are cheap deals once you arrive somewhere, that you wouldn't know about because there may be no web site, or information available in your language.

A lot of the resources below are links to external sites (see my disclaimer here), and some are links to previous posts I have written on trip financing.  This page is meant to be a jumping off point for all sorts of travel research, and I am constantly adding to it, so if you have a resource that you recommend, I would love to know about it - please oh please, let's be in touch!

Creating a budget and saving for your trip

Basic budgeting tips and resources -- an important place to start if the idea of saving for a trip is truly overwhelming!

The Travel Dudes have this pithy but comprehensive list of ways to travel for free or very little.

Estimating your personal budget for a trip.

A website for helping you estimate your cost of living in various locations all over the world.

And another site to help you determine your budget before you leave.

financial site with a great travel and budget section.

Some of the little extras that can add up, even when traveling on a budget.

This guy swears he's not a financial genus but did save $10,000 in 8 months.  On a $37,000 salary.

Travel hacking - aka becoming extremely adept at piling on frequent flyer miles and saving serious dollaz.

Seth Kugel, the New York Times's Frugal Traveler, wrote an article comparing online sites to human travel agents (specifically specialized agents who manage in particular destinations, like very small immigrant-oriented agencies with great local know-how).  Travel agents beat the online search engines every time, or at least tied them, and it was a much easier process.  Kayak actually did among the worst for fares (yikes, I use it all the time!).  These low rates include the agent's fees, because travel agents are consolidators, getting really cut rates, often beating the airline’s own website.  Cool facts!

Money-saving tips while you are on the road

Avoiding banking fees while you travel, by one of the most practical travel bloggers out there, Nomadic Matt. (Personally, I use Chase Sapphire Preferred and AmEx (Delta Airlines rewards) as my credit cards, and a Schwab high-yield brokerage account for my checking. Low or no fees, and rewards points for food, gas, and travel - these are some of the major things I consider when deciding on a new banking institution.)

World Taxi Meter (not super precise, but can help you decide what to spend)

Breezenet is a "rent-a-wreck" style small car rental agency.  Not always great cars, but they can be cheaper because renters don't renew their fleets every year (unlike some of the bigger car-rental agencies).

On the topic of car rental, Autoslash searches the web for car rental coupons, and lets you rebook with whoever will give you the cheapest rate.  So you make your booking first, and then Autoslash continues to search and lets you know if a better deal pops up later!

You can always try to earn money while you are abroad, or at least get a free place to stay in exchange for some of your time:
Work Away
Vaughan Systems (this is specifically a program to teach English to Spaniards, but volunteers get lodging, wine and meals!)
For the outdoorsy types, the American Hiking Association takes volunteers to do trail cleanups in exchange for lodging, and you get to meet other hikers!

Always check local websites and circulars for events where you're traveling - the information here will be current, and will almost certainly take you to local spots that your guidebook might not know about. And those local spots? Almost always cheaper.

Check the website for the government tourism board where you are going -- governments are giving away a lot to get tourists in this economy.  Inspired by Iceland has given away sushi with the Reykjavik mayor, Panama is giving away free travel health insurance, (you can sign up at the airport).  Puerto Rico has found it difficult to compete with islands with all-inclusive resorts (Our lovely neighbor Puerto Rico doesn’t want resorts, because it damages the local economy – fun fact, Pope John Paul II came out against them as well), so they’ve created a dine-around program where you can go to participating restaurants for $20 and get a 3 course meal.  The Meet the People Program helps travelers meet a Jamaican who can take you around and show you aspects of local life.

And with the wealth of information out there on the internet, I am finding it less and less necessary to buy a hardcopy guide book (I often do, because I love seeing it on my bookshelf later as a reminder of an awesome adventure...). The information gets outdated quickly, and many publishers send writers who either are not experts on the location, or who accept free meals/rooms in return for a write-up.

Not always the case, but with the volume of free and up-to-the-minute travel information and cultural history and perspectives available online, you'd do just as well to print your own "guide." (Don't forget maps!) I also prefer discreetly pulling a few pieces of paper out of my bag than a full-sized guidebook - especially in dodgy areas, it makes me feel like far less like I have a flashing "TOURIST!" sign above my head.

Budget-Friendly Destinations

Best travel deals and locations of 2012, published by Japan Today.

And the cheapest destinations for 2013, from the folks at Budget Travel.

Under $500 destinations (of course, it depends on where you start from!)

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