When it comes to planning a trip or vacation, it can be exciting — yet sometimes it feels weirdly daunting and stressful. Travel is pricey, and the financial burden is often a big reason people forgo their PTO days or stick to local weekend adventures instead. But the world is big, full of life and culture, and begging us to explore it. If you won the lottery and had financial freedom, what would you do? I’m going to guess you’d be taking a vacation…or ten.
If we’re being realistic though, the odds of either of us winning the lotto is slim to none. So how does one travel to another country without breaking the bank? You’ll have to prepare to spend some cash, but there are plenty of ways to save, too.
- Set yourself a travel budget and DO NOT go over it
I know, this is easier said than done — but if you give yourself a certain amount to spend, and use Mint’s tools to stay within your range, you will be financially happy and way more conscious about what to prioritize while on vacation. On mint.com, go to “Goals” at the top > “Add a New Goal” > “Take a Trip” and follow the prompts to start saving. You can choose your bank account to save from, set a timeline of when your vacation is and what you want your budget to be per spending category, and then Mint will give you a recommended monthly contribution to set aside for your future travels. Stick to that and you’ll be a lot less stressed about cash once it’s time to jet set to another country.
- Be flexible about a destination and plan a trip based on cheap airfare
I never thought about travel in this kind of way until recently, and being open to different countries and cities has allowed me to meet amazing people and see incredible places. Sign up for subscription flight deals like Fly Glitch and Scott’s Cheap Flights — you pay an annual fee (~$30/year) and you receive email alerts when there are cheap airfares departing from your local airport. I once scored a roundtrip flight from NYC to Hawaii for $370, and it was the best solo trip of my life. Next month I am heading to Bali from NYC for less than $600 roundtrip (which usually costs around $1,200), and the conversion rate is so cheap for US residents that I won’t be spending a lot while I’m in Indonesia. Fun fact: Most airlines give you 24 hours to cancel your flight without penalties and you can receive a full refund. So if there’s a deal you can’t say no to, you can book and give yourself a day to process and evaluate if you should keep the ticket. (Definitely, check with the airline’s guidelines before purchasing any tickets though.)
- Forget hotels and find a trendy hostel for less than half the price
Not everyone will be comfortable with the idea of staying in a dorm with strangers, and that’s ok! But if you’re tight on funds and don’t imagine spending much time in your room, then maybe a hostel is the way to go (don’t worry, most have lockers to prevent theft). The great thing too is that lots of places have single room options available, and even though it costs more, it’s STILL less than a hotel. You may not be living luxuriously will on vacation, but you can use those savings to pay for an excursion or unique and memorable experience. Sites like Hostel World provide ratings, prices, and reviews — so that can give you some peace of mind if the hostel is legit or not.
- Before arriving at your destination, look up prices and information about public transportation
Did you know that an Uber or cab from Manhattan to JFK costs around $70 with tip? Did you know a subway ride only costs about $9 (and no tip)? That’s a massive cost difference, and while it takes some time to use public transport, it’s a heck of a lot cheaper! So many major cities offer public transport and that’s a great way to get around and explore without waiting in traffic and racking up costs in a car. I recommend looking up routes in advance so you don’t get confused or lost when leaving the airport (especially if there’s a language barrier in the country you’re traveling to). Another cool thing is that you can create a custom map on Google Maps, pinning all the locations you want to visit — and then you can open that map on your phone and download the offline map. This way, you can view your places without needing internet.
- If you’re traveling for at least two weeks and don’t want to worry about phone data costs, consider buying a SIM card
If your phone is unlocked, you can buy a SIM card from any country (which is usually relatively cheap) and use that phone number while exploring. So your phone number will be different while using the SIM card, but you’ll have data and calls available in case you need your phone to find your way around and make travel easier. As long as you have WhatsApp and Venmo downloaded in the US before you leave, you’ll be fine. Your normal number will still work with WhatsApp and that will be the easiest method to communicate with people back home.
- Ask locals what their favorite cheap eats are and avoid tourist traps
Sometimes humans want comfort, and a chain restaurant from back home can be tempting. But don’t fall for it! There is so much local food to try in every country, and if you ask residents for their recommendations, you can likely find some amazing eats for way cheaper. I recently went to Portugal and a tour guide took us to a 24-hour bodega-type place that only locals dined at. We ate fried cuttlefish (like a white squid) sandwiches with lemon juice and mayo, and I swear it was so fresh and my favorite meal. And it only cost $3 USD! Get that inside scoop, y’all.
- Before signing up for an expensive excursion or tour, check to see if it’s doable on your own
Sometimes a tour is completely worth it, and sometimes it prevents you from exploring in your own style and making the best of your trip. If there are safety risks by going alone or off the beaten path, then definitely do a tour! But if you’re roaming around someplace like a castle, it might be cheaper to take the train on a day trip, split an Uber, and use an audio guide app. Just take the time to do your research, read reviews, and make informed decisions.
I hope these tips help when planning your next international vacation! Now, go explore the world and enjoy what mother nature has to offer.