How to Travel When You Have No Money

Anyone can travel, no matter your budget! I would know, I’m a teacher in the United States, famously not a high paying gig. I took the job because all the vacation time would allow me to travel but I’ve had to get very creative in the money department to make my travel dreams a reality. I firmly believe that anyone can travel, no matter the size of your budget. It just takes the right mindset and some willpower to make your dreams come true. Here, I’ve broken down what’s worked for me and what I believe are the best ways to get you out and about as soon as you want!

anonymous person magnifying view of coins shaped in world map
Photo by Monstera Production on Pexels.com

Mindset

They say mindset is everything and I don’t disagree. They also say that a dream without a plan is just a wish. What good are dreams if you never get to live them? For the longest time, I lived in dreamland, making Pinterest boards, favoriting Instagram pages, and fantasizing about faraway lands that I knew I’d never travel to, but that was my problem! “I knew I’d never go!” My mindset was wrong, so I never went anywhere. I was convinced that I couldn’t, mainly because of money constraints. All of that though was negative thinking, a can’t do attitude. It wasn’t getting me anywhere.

Changing your mindset first involves removing major huddles that stand between you and your dream. My obstacles were my 9-5 job, money that was tight, and lack of a travel companion. Some issues can’t be completely removed but there’s almost always a workaround. For example, a big perk of being a teacher is the time off, however everyone else in the free world is off at the same time, which often makes destinations more expensive and/or crowded. This is something that I’ve had to contend with but at least I have a lot more vacation time than the average person. I also don’t get paid much at my job. I supplement by working night school, summer school, and occasionally for Uber when I need extra pocket money. I hustle when I’m not traveling so I can enjoy my trips more when I am. Finally, I really want to have a travel companion but alas, I don’t. I had to get comfortable with traveling solo, which as it turns out, is a lot more freeing that I ever imagined and is now my preferred way to travel since I’m completely on my own schedule. See, just a little compromise and voila! I’m on my way! Literally.

Change things that are in your power to change, and tweak or get comfortable with things you can’t and you’ll be in a much better place to start shifting to a more positive mindset. The prospect of travel instantly started feeling much more doable once I set my life up to allow me to travel.

Plan Ahead

If saving money is your game, strategy is everything, and with strategy comes planning. Planning was something I was already doing naturally because having some trips and itinerary ideas in your back pocket always helps when funds are tight. See the section below on Pinterest to plan your trip.

Planning as far as possible in advance keeps you from breaking the bank.

Planning ahead allows you to pay for your trip in pieces over a period of time, rather than all at once. I like to purchase my flights first then, my accommodations (don’t forget these usually aren’t charged until your stay is complete) and finally rentals and excursions I want to add in along the way are purchased last after the (arguably) most important expenses are taken care of. I break these purchases up over different paychecks to make the sticker shock less…well, shocking. Don’t forget you’re going to need to eat and you might want to shop which leads me to…

Save

If you want to do the fun stuff or just eat (I’m a foodie!) then you’d going to need to start squirreling some money away every pay check. For example, a friend and I put aside just $20 a paycheck each (all we could afford at the time) for a year before we went to Europe for 10 days and we saved $1000, which became our food money for most of the trip. It was a slow way and small amount to save but it was painless and gave us some unforgettable meals!

Planning to save also includes side hustles. Like I said, I take as many extra opportunities at work that I can to make money since they’ll usually pay me better than a part time job. This includes night school, summer school, sometimes small jobs in the administration office that have given me an extra cushion I’ve needed to get me out the door and on a plane. Yes, it’s exhausting. But as I see it, I’d rather hustle now and relax later in an amazing place. Money well spent in my eyes.

Study & Research

This is something I’ve always done because I’m constantly looking for advice on how to travel. But one thing I’ve learned is that you can really over do it. By all means, research, study travel bloggers, scroll through Instagram, TikTok, and Pinterest but don’t only spend ALL your time there. Eventually, you’re going to need to put your plan into action and actually pull the trigger on that flight before the price goes up or that Airbnb gets booked. Things are constantly changing in the travel world and time isn’t going to slow down or stop for you to get everything just right. Once you’ve gotten your general idea, start booking…like yesterday!

Pinterest

If you aren’t already, start using Pinterest. If you haven’t heard the argument already that it’s not social media, let me enlighten you. It’s a visual search engine! I couldn’t think of a more perfect tool for aspiring travelers! Start up a board on your next destination and go ahead and start pinning! I find this really helps me narrow down some great ideas for my trip and has gotten me so many compliments from those who have traveled with me about how much they enjoy “my style of travel”.

Here’s a list of things I like to search for on Pinterest:

  1. Bucket list items

  2. Ultimate Guides to your city

  3. Trip Itineraries to your city

  4. Common mistakes travelers make in your city

  5. Most Instagrammable locations

  6. Best food for foodies

  7. Best Restaurants

  8. Best bars, rooftop bars, speakeasys, dive bars

  9. Best coffee shops

  10. Best photo locations

  11. How to visit your city on a budget

  12. Where to stay in your city

  13. Things to see and do in your city

  14. A weekend in your city, 3 days, 5 days, 1 week

  15. Off the beaten path locations in your city

  16. Best day trips from your city

  17. National Parks near your city

  18. Secrets about your city

Shop Around & Think out of the Box

There are plenty of tools out there to help you book a cheaper experience! I’ve outlined an extensive list HERE where you can find a long list of apps, companies, and ideas to make trip planning easier, but here are a few ideas for keeping your trip as cheap (or free!) as possible.

Free walking tours

  • I can’t tell you how many free walking tours I’ve taken that have truly been the most valuable and informative activity of my trip. Now free walking tours are free up until the end where you are expected to tip the guide, but I usually have no problem giving them my money afterwards since I’ve rarely been disappointed. These are so cost effective because you pay what you can. Just don’t be stingy, that’s not cute.

  • My number one tip for picking your walking tour: less big box and more local. Those big chain walking tours tend to attract too many tourists and really don’t get you as intimate of a tour as the smaller companies do.

  • My second tip is to do it on the first day of your trip to help you get your footing. You can see a lot in one tour but you usually won’t go into many places. You can cover a lot of ground and really get a grasp of the city right off the bat, then decide what you want to go back and explore more later on in your trip. I did two 3 hour tours back to back in London on my first day and basically saw everything I “needed” to see that day so I was able to go back to what I wanted to explore and take photos on a different day.

  • My favorite company is FreeToursByFoot whom I’ve used in multiple cities around the globe (including the 2 in London I mentioned). They’ve never disappointed. I also went on an amazing food tour of the Lower East Side of NYC with them and was able to sample some amazing places, not to mention find a few of my new favorite spots. There are plenty of other more well known/popular companies out there but this one is hands down my favorite.

Free museums

Some cities offer free entry into their museums. This isn’t often the case in the US but in London for example, all the museums are free. So go hog wild!

Free local events

Why not check out what’s going on in town. You can ask the concierge at your hotel or even the locals at a coffee shop. My best hint is to find someone your age and vibe (I’m not asking an old couple or a twenty something where the party is tonight) and I bet you’ll get some killer recommendations. When in doubt, you can always look it up! Most cities have lists on their official websites dedicated to sharing local events put on in the area like free movie nights or seasonal events. Some even have official Instagram pages with this same information but even if they don’t there’s sure to be some accounts dedicated to the city and it’s major happenings.

Bundled city passes

If you’re not in a city with free attractions, the next best thing is to look into city passes. Many cities will bundle together multiple attractions and sometimes even transportation around the city. Check out the local tourism office or ask the hotel. When in doubt, a quick Google search could probably save you some time and money.

Take city transportation

This one seems like a no-brainer to me but some people just don’t want to take public transportation. Personally, I do it to save usually A LOT of money. Why pay $40 for an Uber from the airport when I can spend and $3 and an extra half hour on the train? That’s $40 I could be spending on a lot of other things! If you need to be thrifty, public transit is the way to go. There’s a few things to keep in mind if you’re planning on spending your entire trip traveling around a not so walkable city this way.

Tips for Taking Public Transport

  1. Make sure there’s a bus or trainline near your accommodations. You don’t want to have a long way to walk in the dark after a long day out in an unfamiliar neighborhood.

  2. Make sure you know WHEN SERVICE STOPS. At some point in most cities the trains and buses stop running so know what time they stop AND stop running in your area in particular. Not all lines stop at the same time.

  3. Have a Rideshare service app (like Uber or Lyft) on your phone just in case you don’t make the last train/bus. Also make sure that the city you’re in supports that particular Rideshare service. Not all cities have equal access.

  4. Sometimes it’s faster to take public transport than drive. I’m looking at you New York!…AND LONDON!…but sometimes it isn’t. Check Google Maps! They have a great feature that allows you to see how long, how far, and when the next train/bus will arrive just like you do with your car!

  5. NOT ALL PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION IS EQUAL. In some cities, the public transit just doesn’t work that well. I lived in Atlanta for years and hardly ever used the train because it didn’t go many places. You HAVE to have a car to get around that city. Other cities like New Orleans are completely walkable and you’ll rarely, if ever, need transportation anywhere. Plus you’ll end up paying to park or valet it the entire time (a cost I’m sure you’d rather not be paying). Moral of the story, do your research.

  6. It’s hot and HUMID down there in the subway the summer and COLD in the winter! Dress appropriately for subways. The elements are unkind, even underground. I would set my hair perfectly before an outing in July in NYC and would be completely distraught by how awful it would look after just one subway ride in the morning. Just something to consider if you’re planning on taking pictures or meeting with someone.

  7. Mix it up. Sometimes I’m just too tired and over it to wait for the train, ride it, then do the walk home. Did some one say Uber? Sometimes you just need to know when to cut and run.

Like I said, ANYONE can find a way to travel on any budget! Where there’s a will there’s a sometimes very creative way! Don’t let money stand in the way of your dreams! Get out there and start making them happen!

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