With little money in the bank and a passion for international travel, I’ve been fortunate enough to gain six passport stamps in the past three years: I ventured to Peru with a travel agency, backpacked in Europe with my best friend and took a road trip around Iceland. Each trip has brought both great challenges and triumphs. Here’s some advice on saving money while getting the most out of your international adventure.
Research your travel agency. Going through an agency is the most expensive way to travel, yet it has the least stress. You will pay a good amount for services, so make sure they match your travel style and that their guides are knowledgeable. We read reviews and viewed social media accounts that tagged the agency in their posts. We found like-minded people in their 20s and 30s, ready to find adventure, and it became a match.
Book your own flights. We booked our flights through the travel agency to make sure we could meet our group; in hindsight, airports are not that difficult to navigate. We could have saved bundles by searching for a cheap flight.
Split the bill. With a tour group, you cannot avoid eating out. They know the best restaurants and its part of the experience! If you travel with a buddy, split all your meals and watch out for happy hours!
Get the gear. Try BackCountry.com or Sierratradingpost.com for good deals and split up purchases month-by-month before the trip, so you don’t have one big expense before you leave. For big hikes, research the area and the weather to be certain you have the proper gear: 60 degrees and sunny at the bottom of the mountain does not mean it’s 60 degrees and sunny at the top of the mountain.
Be your own tour guide. Read blogs or download free audio tours of the site you are going to. Most sightseeing locations will give you all the information you need at the visitor center. If you are sneaky enough, you can always follow a tour group close by to eavesdrop.
Embrace being a tourist. Attractions are popular for a reason. Do not skip an important location or attraction because some blogger said it isn’t cool enough. If it’s worth the money to get there, it’s worth the money to see.
Hostels are the way to go. Download the app Hostelworld and search for a hostel at least 24 hours before you need a place to stay. That gives you time to use public transport or get lost before you need to check in. Be sure to read the reviews; if a place has a low rating, try somewhere else. Beware of extra expenses like blankets, towels or breakfast, and remember it’s always valuable to stay on the safe side of town in unfamiliar territory.
Transportation will never be on time. When in the highlands of Scotland or on a beach in Italy, the buses do not stick to the schedule that you Googled before the trip. Give yourself plenty of time to wait at your stop or find a local with an updated schedule. Bus rides will take longer than a train or a plane, but consider a night bus to save money on transportation and hostels. You could also try making friends with locals, who may offer to be your personal tour guides!
Road Trips Abroad
Rental cars. Do not book your rental car through third-party support. Instead book through Hertz, Enterprise, etc. Be thorough when reading what the insurance covers and only stick to roads your car can handle. It’s important to understand that while this will be your biggest expense, you’ll also be getting your money’s worth.
Grocery Shop. Map out where grocery stores on your route are located and buy food for the week. We ate spaghetti every night and set aside our money for beer at the pub during happy hour. You will save hundreds with a little planning.
Make your own excursion. Always respect warning signs but, if you can, put the car in park and go explore! You can always get closer to the waterfall than you think. Sometimes getting lost will be your greatest adventure since everything will not go as planned anyway. Embrace the detours and unexpectedness of the trip, for those moments can become your favorite memories.
The advice I stress most to international travelers on a budget is this: prioritize. If you are a foody, splurge on food and skimp on lodging. If you’d rather enjoy a cold one, grocery shop and find a happy hour! If you are anything like myself, the best part of your trip – Mother Nature, free and beautiful every time.
Erika Hodges is a MSU graduate, M3 Group photographer and videographer. She has two furbabies, Kudos the cat and Higgins the dog. She loves traveling, hiking, and spending time with family.