Sometimes it’s hard to imagine how some people can afford to travel every year not just once, but two or three times. Where do they find the money and how do they find the time to research all of the options? Answering questions like "Is it safe?" and “Will I be able to find vegan food options?” Travel seems dauntingly expensive and time consuming to plan.
Fortunately, making travel more affordable and much less complicated is absolutely achievable with just a little time and by being smart about where, when and how you travel.
Check out these five strategies for planning an affordable holiday. You might find that you’re a lot closer to your dream holiday than you thought!
1. Pick cheap countries
Some regions are known for their budget appeal. The first spots that come to mind are South East Asia and Latin America. Here you can survive on much less than $40 a day (or $60 a day for a couple). You could stay in a place like Bali and enjoy your own private villa with plunge pool and butler service for $100 a night or an all-inclusive eco-lodge in Panama where the monkeys swing by your room on the way to breakfast for the same.
If you chose to live a bit more frugally (give up the butler service, I mean) then you can still find great places to stay for much less than you would in a country like Australia or Canada.
If safety concerns are plaguing you, consider that based on the Global Peace Index rankings Chile (#27) Malaysia (#30), Costa Rica (#33) and Uruguay (#35) are considered safer than both the UK (#47) and the US (#103).
2. Know your shoulder seasons
If you are set on visiting a certain country then consider being there in their shoulder season. A shoulder season is the short time between peak and off-peak seasons. This is usually between two and six weeks when the weather is still reasonably good and the prices haven’t yet increased for the high season visitors.
Overall, May is a great time to travel. It’s just before North Americans get their summer vacation, high season hasn’t yet started for European summer and winter has not yet set in for most of the Southern Hemisphere. November is also a great shoulder season. It’s just after the hurricane season has left places like Mexico but before the end-of-year vacationers descend for their annual escape from the cold of the north.
The main benefits of travelling during the shoulder season is lower prices and also much less people around. If you can manage to schedule your holiday during a shoulder season you will get to see your favourite destinations in a new light. You might get to interact with more locals rather than only other tourists and the more popular attractions will have smaller lines. Sounds like a great vacation already!
3. Stay in hostels
Hostels have been the secret to many a backpacker’s budget travel adventure. To everyone else they can seem like a strange place. Dorm rooms? Bunk beds? Shared bathrooms!
It’s important to know that hostels come in many different shapes and sizes, just like hotels. Private rooms have always been a common option, including ensuite bathrooms but there are even some hostels that are designed for the new breed of backpacker - The Flashpacker. These are savvy travelers who want to take advantage of all the benefits of a hostel but still want the comfort of a luxe room at the end of the day.
You can opt to stay in a dorm where there might be bunk beds but there are also likely to be separate beds in a shared room. Female only dorms are also common for that extra level of privacy.
In most cities you will be able to find a hostel to suit any budget and if you look hard enough you can find hostels with an infinity pool, in-room hot tub, personal wifi connection, buffet breakfast, yoga deck, movie theatre and the list goes on!
For travellers on a budget the best part about hostels is you’ll end up paying half as much or less than you would in a hotel with benefits like free breakfast and access to a shared kitchen so you can cut costs even more by making your own meals instead of eating out every day.
4. Choose your activities carefully
You don’t have to do everything and definitely shouldn’t try. Make a list of your must-do activities and consider cheaper alternatives.
When you visit a new country there is always a “must-do” list of attractions like going to the Louvre in Paris or the MET in New York City. You might like art and you might not but would you go to an art gallery in your own city? Then you shouldn’t pressure yourself to pay €15 to see some paintings that might mildly impress you while shuffling amongst the hundreds who are also visiting the Louvre on the same day.
If there are things you actually want to see and experience then make sure to do some research first. With a little bit of online research you will quickly find out that admission is free to the Louvre on the first Sunday of each month from October to March. You will also learn that the MET has only a suggested donation and you can get in by donating just $1!
Also consider a tourist pass, like the Paris Museum Pass. These can be great value and include several attractions in one.
Allow yourself the luxury of picking only things that interest you and don’t stress about the rest. You can always come back and remember this is your vacation, not anyone else’s.
5. Get a better flight deal
If you’re flexible about your dates and where you want to go you can book an amazing deal. By using websites like Secret Flying, you can be updated when there are extra special flight deals. You can choose to follow their Facebook page or subscribe to email notifications on their website.
Another option is to use a website like Skyscanner or Momondo for booking flights. These are powerful flight search engines that can allow you to select your starting city and choose variables like “Cheapest month” or “Any date in July” if you know where you want to go or you can even choose from your city to “Everywhere” and it will show you the best options for your date range.
If you’re picky about airlines or number of stops there is an option to filter these as well making it super easy to customise your perfect flight experience.
The next time you find yourself stuck while budgeting for your holiday, don’t lose heart, just try to find creative ways to cut costs. There are people out there who go to extreme measures to facilitate their travel goals, including couch surfing, hitchhiking and volunteering their time. Hopefully if you use the strategies above you can still have a comfortable vacation just with a much smaller price tag.