Contrary to popular belief, travel is not all that expensive. It’s also not an opportunity to lounge around and do nothing. It’s a chance to learn and experience something new and If you’re the type of person that’s into an all inclusive resort or cruise STOP READING THIS NOW!
This is for the backpackers, the adventurers, the ones who want to hike, climb, jump, and dance through the cities of the world. The travelers who get their hands dirty and want to experience authenticity, not some condensed soup version for hawaiian shirts and cameras. I choose weekend trips in new cities over music festivals, designer bags, and Blackhawks tickets (hey that shit adds up). Last year I traveled 190 out of 365 days; that’s over a third of 2015! Traveling can give you a new perspective on life and the world around you. I am a strong advocate for buying a cheap plane ticket and exploring uncharted territory. Here are some tips/reminders/anecdotes I threw together from my own experiences for amateur travel junkies looking to add some stamps to their passports.
When you’re about to book a flight, go incognito. Incognito windows allow you to browse in private. Ever wonder why something you searched on Google appears on Facebook advertised? That’s because it’s recorded and then pulled into your line of vision. Airlines work the same way. If you research a certain flight one day, it will pop up the next day, but jump up in price. Of course, flight prices change everyday, but this small change to your search process will protect you from unnecessary changes within a day or two.
If you’re not travelling too far of a distance, airlines like Frontier and Spirit in the U.S. or Vueling and Ryanair in EU, will get you to where you’re going for significantly cheaper. Flying is flying, and last time I checked, airplanes all look ridiculously similar; seats, wings, little metal carts, and attendants. Budget airlines do have harsher baggage restrictions, but look at that as a bonus/challenge. It’s a bonus, because that means you don’t have to haphazardly roll your luggage through a crowded airport or wait at baggage claim- you can hop off the plane and immediately start your voyage. It’s a challenge, but a good one, because you should always pack smart. You don’t need six sweaters for three days, that’s excessive.
Book During Off Times
Utilize sites like Skyscanner or Google Flights to research “cheapest month” for a destination. Many cities have ebbs and flows of tourism, do your research and figure out when it’s low. This will make it easier for you to have an authentic experience, skip long lines, and feel like a local. I am traveling to Austin and looked for flights in March. ABSURD. I did some research and found South by Southwest Festival has a huge impact on the city. It’s awesome, don’t get me wrong, but it’s significantly more expensive and crowded. I’m booking in May instead.
Hostels Are Your Best Friend
Hotels/resorts can cost hundreds of dollars. A true traveler will not be spending much time in a bed anyways so book a place through Airbnb or Hostelworld. Hostels are bare bones, either co-ed, male, or female, lines of bunk beds, and a locker with a lock. They usually supply a bath towel and sheets for the bed, but if you have room in your bag I suggest bringing them on your own. My drug of choice is Airbnb. Airbnbs are rented out by locals and they do a great job of giving you tips and even transportation (if available) during your stay. You can book way in advance, either a private room or a whole apartment/house. I spent many nights in Europe hanging out with Airbnb hosts. They actually care about showing you a great time in the city they live in and love.
Free Is Fun (For You and Your Wallet)
Think about your city. What is your favorite place? Favorite thing to do? I live in Chicago and the Garfield Park Conservatory and Lake Shore Drive Pathway are some of my favorite places and costs nothing, but footsteps. Beauty and intrigue don’t have to cost a dime. Many cities’ best parts are free or cost the price of a drink. They also have free walking tours, like Lisbon, Portugal. Museums have student discounts so ALWAYS bring your ID. I made this mistake in Athens, a place where you have to pay to get into several ancient monuments lining the Acropolis. My friends had ID’s and paid half price, I didn’t bring mine and had to pay full price. Luckily Athens was breathtaking and worth every euro.
Get off Your Phone and Ask the Locals
Instead of trusting other tourists via Tripadvisor or Yelp, trust the people that actually live in the city you’re curious about. If you’re looking for a good, authentic, cheap option for dinner, ask a barista or even someone on the street. It’s a simple way to start a conversation, but also get the best, locally catered advice. When I was in Greece, my friends and I were hiking to a winery and we stopped a car to ask if we were on the right path. We ended up talking and the mother/daughter duo assured us, but said we would have missed the world renowned Santorini sunset if we walked. The mother said “Get in!” in broken English and gave us a ride up the hill. We made it just in time for the sunset, and without a simple “hey” we wouldn’t have made that connection.
Use Public Transportation
Taxis, and Ubers, and Lyfts, OH MY! Part of experiencing a new city is learning their transit system. Often times you can get a three-day pass for the weekend and skip on spending. Transit systems are spread throughout cities and can get you to all the key points and attractions of a city. It’s also a great way to become acclimated with maps. When there’s no wifi, there’s no Google Maps. Become a good map reader and you’ll save yourself, and your friends, on getting lost when technology can’t save you. When I was in London, I didn’t have a European data plan set up. My friend and I walked fourteen miles through the city with just a paper map, a modern day Lewis and Clark duo, or Dora Explorer if you will. It was satisfying to conquer a map and we saw a whole lot more than we would have by taxi.
Plan B is always better than Plan A. If something goes wrong; you take a wrong train or miss a connection, remember it’s part of the experience. You have the power to react to situations so don’t look at it as a setback, look at it as an opportunity.