We’re 14 weeks into 2015, and I’ve already gone to 2 countries (3 if you count a layover) for a total of $745, and have made plans to see at least 3 more countries before the year is up, only for an extra $680. So how have I managed to travel so much and for so cheap while living in NYC on a broke graduate student’s budget?
1. Prioritize travel over other luxury expenses
As a young, childless, unmarried woman, I don’t have too many necessary expenses. There’s rent, utilities, transportation, tithes and offerings, and food. I’m blessed to be in school for free and have no student loans, so the extra money I had used to be used for clothes and shoes, regular nail salon visits, and Amazon orders of random kitchen gadgets or storage solutions. Last summer, I reflected on my name’s meaning – Safe Journey – and decided I’d see the world. I’ve now placed travel over clothes, mani/pedis, and even studio decor to become my number 1 luxury spending priority.
2. Have your finances together
If you want to travel without abandon, you have to get your money right. I don’t book travel – heck I don’t do anything – unless I have the cash for it on hand. I’ve only ever had an American Express charge card which is paid in full each month, so I’m not accustomed to buying things with the hope of paying for them later. Travel IS a luxury, so don’t use money you don’t have to go somewhere you don’t need to be. It completely defeats the purpose of vacation if you’re worrying the whole time about how your rent or car payment is going to come together the following month.
3. Know where to look
Let me tell you a secret – all of my international travels for 2015 were booked based on findings by TheFlightDeal.com. I tell someone about this site every week, and still people forget to write it down and save it in their phones until I update them about another trip! So go, do it now. Subscribe to their RSS feed, get their Twitter notifications, have a trusty friend on speed dial, whatever you gotta do to make sure you get updates. My mom subscribes via email and I will say, I often know about deals before her so I don’t know if I’d recommend that route.
4. Be slightly impulsive
Now that you know where to look, you have to be ready to act quickly on a deal that you see. Super cheap deals – like the $250+ flight to Abu Dhabi everybody took and the $400 flight to South Africa I got – do not last long because they’re usually accidents. The second I saw that deal, I got on my computer to book – which delayed our family Christmas breakfast – because I had experienced the heartbreak of missing a great deal once before. One night in November I was up at 3am for no reason and saw a $250 flight to India. I spent so much time googling what to do and where to stay that 45 minutes later when I selected a flight and added it to my cart, the price went up to $890! I learned my lesson then and now book as soon as I know the destination is safe, accommodation is reasonable (more on this later) and I know who I’m traveling with.
5. Be open minded about your destination
Traveling to Curaçao by myself was the best way I could’ve started off my last semester of classes in my PhD program. However, I had never heard of Curaçao before I saw the deal. I booked it before knowing the island was known for its scuba-diving spots, but who cares? It was a beautiful island with rich history that I never would’ve experienced if I had been caught up on the fact that it wasn’t Barbados. Wanna go to Morocco but you see a $500 flight deal to Spain? Get your butt on that plane and hop over to Morocco while you’re there! I don’t particularly have a list of places I’m dying to go, but as long as the price is right and it’s safe, I’m down to be there.
6. Save on accommodation
Even if you’re saving money by scoring a cheaper flight to a cool destination, you’re still spending money so you have to think of other ways you can cut down. The first way is to travel in groups – large groups if possible. Accommodation is nearly always priced by room rather than by person, so group getaways can help keep those costs down. Secondly, utilize hostels, Air BnB, or budget hotels while you’re traveling. AirBnB is the second site I visit once I see a travel deal, so I can have an idea of how much cost of living is in that country, to know if the trip is a good value overall. And when thinking about what you really need in accommodation, don’t be so fussy. You can be slightly outside the city center, or in a place without AC. Or, split your time between mid-priced hotels and budget sleeping situations to cut down your costs at least part of the way.