A common misconception that outsiders tend to have about me is that I have a never-ending supply of money to finance my travels and spend most of my time vacationing.
Oh how Instagram posts can be so deceiving.
So, in order to clear things up, in actuality there’s a lot of working going on behind the scenes of all the play that’s posted. For me, photo sharing is used mostly for my own art purposes as well as documentation. I see it as a gallery of my favorite shots. And although it may look like my life or someone else’s life is all play, work never leaves my side. As my own boss, my business is always at my fingertips through my phone or my computer, which are seldom apart from me. And if they are, the collecting of memories, stories, experiences, photographs and encounters are archived inspiration for my work. For me, as a writer, work and play are one. (At least most of the time).
However, nothing is more dangerous to the adventurous spirit, or just the human spirit in general, than a lethal routine, an apathetic comfort zone and never finding the time for exploration.
Here are ten tips for traveling cheap
1. Number one (and this is THE most important): Meet people. Make friends. Build connections. Collect stories and experiences. Go to Instameets. Network at coffee shops, bars, parties, etc. If you’re in college, make friends from different parts of the country or the world. Visit their homes and cities with them, don’t be shy or afraid to step out and make a friend. 90% of my travels are because I just so happened to know someone or know someone who knows someone that’s in the particular place I’m interested in going.
2. Find a volunteer or mission trip through a nonprofit or church. Want to go to Africa, Southeast Asia, South America or a city in Europe? Go serve some people you don’t know. You’ll get to use your gifts and talents, meet a ton of new people, friends and connections for your future travels (see number 1) and you’ll get to experience the place you want to go, all for free. Fundraising pays for volunteer trips. The more connections and friends you make in life, the more people you’ll have to help fund your venture. Just get the ball rolling and watch how it builds over the years. GoFundMe.com is a fantastic resource.
3. AirBnB, Couch-Surfing and Hotels.com – use these! Hotels.com gives you some great deals. Write a review and get a discount. Book with it a handful of times and you’ll get a free stay at a hotel of your choice. AirBnB and couch-surfing are the millennials tools to traveling even cheaper. They also provide you with new friends and connections, again! (See number one).
4. Megabus, CheapoAir and renting a car: Megabus is a cheap way to get to a ton of places. The buses are big, spacious, have Internet and make several pit-stops. You never know whom you might meet on the Megabus (see number one).
Cheapoair will narrow down your flights; give you alternative and flexible dates and airports to ensure the cheapest route possible. Example, if you live in Philly and want to fly to Orlando, don’t limit yourself to flying out of Philadelphia International Airport. Try Trenton to Jacksonville or Newark, JFK, La Guardia, BWI, Dulles, Regan, Wilmington or Atlantic City to Orlando, Jacksonville, and Fort Lauderdale. You might be surprised at the deal you come across.
Why put the extra miles on your own car? Renting one is super easy, and cheap for the most part. I suggest renting with Enterprise for the cheapest deal, but only if you have a major credit card because they don’t accept debit. If you already have insurance, don’t buy the rent-a-car’s insurance. They will tell you that you should but you don’t need it, you’re already covered. Ask for the most gas efficient vehicle.
5. Study maps, know your route, plan accordingly for weather and study the history of where you’re going or passing through. Don’t just sit back for the ride, learn, grow and expand your knowledge and experience. Come back a different person having learned something amazing.
6. Groupon and Yelp. Not only can you find good travel packages, you can also find awesome food deals and specials on Groupon. Use Yelp to find where you want to eat based on your preferences and or your finances. Yelp has never steered me wrong. But of course, ask the locals, they will know best and you might meet a new connection. (see number one).
7. Live in community with the people you travel with. Cover each other’s expenses in exchange for something else. Food, hotels, couches, volunteering to drive or sleep on the floor for one night is all its own form of currency.
8. Expect the unexpected. When things go wrong, don’t become disappointed. Your plan might not be the best one. There might be a better one that’s waiting to happen. You might look back in retrospect and say, “I am so glad my plan didn’t work out, otherwise I wouldn’t have met, discovered, went to, learned, etc…” (This has happened to me countless times and I’m SO thankful for it!)
9. Don’t be picky or set high standards or expectations. Learn to actually see the world. Don’t stay at the Hilton; book an AirBnB with a local or a motel that’s not a chain. Don’t you dare eat at Applebee’s or the Hard Rock Cafe, go for the local spots, the mom and pop restaurants that have been there for years, the hole-in-the-wall dive bars and venues. Find the hometown rave. Nick Miller wrote:
Travel is little beds and cramped bathrooms. It’s old television sets and slow Internet connections. Travel is extraordinary conversations with ordinary people. It’s waiters, gas station attendants, and housekeepers becoming the most interesting people in the world. It’s churches that are compelling enough to enter. It’s McDonald’s being a luxury. It’s the realization that you may have been born in the wrong country. Travel is a smile that leads to a conversation in broken English. It’s the epiphany that pretty girls smile the same way all over the world. Travel is tipping 10% and being embraced for it. Travel is the same white T-shirt again tomorrow. Travel is wishing for one more bite of whatever that just was. It’s the rediscovery of walking somewhere. It’s sharing a bottle of liquor on an overnight train with a new friend. Travel is “Maybe I don’t have to do it that way when I get back home.”
10. You can find adventure without having to go far and without spending any money. There are places right around you that you probably don’t know about. From abandoned buildings to nearby woods, parks, beaches, small towns or big cities, go explore something or somewhere new in your own backyard. Maybe that little town you pass off the expressway every day on your morning commute has a park, store, restaurant or cool building you would’ve never known about otherwise had you not decided to take a detour.
Mark Twain wrote that travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness. It’s when we’re on our adventures where we take risks, trust strangers, embrace the unfamiliar and search for better questions, not answers. We experience an unrivaled freedom and discover our true selves.
My advice: collect experiences and memories, not things.
Hopefully these ten tips will help you do exactly that. Now, go out there and let stories happen to you.
And don’t forget to write about them.