I often hear people talk about how expensive international travel is. But it doesn’t have to be! I’ve just planned a 9-day trip for Chelsea and me to Brussels, Belgium, for just $1,357.55!
I’m here to share 5 simple tips to plan your next international adventure while keeping to a budget.
1. Plan the trip yourself
It’s really not difficult. You don’t need the help of a travel agent to tell you where you should go or what to see.
Travel packages don't save you money
You don’t need to buy travel packages that pre-arrange every aspect of your trip. Transportation, accommodations, what and where you’ll eat, what you’ll see… You have very little say about what goes on and you may even pay for activities that don’t interest you. If you’re looking to save money, this is not a good option!
When I was planning our trip to Brussels, airline and hotel packages were on average $250 more than if I purchased them separately. Packages also provided me with less flexibility and options.
Do some research
For our trip, I found a flight with my preferred airline (Delta), which had only one 1-hour layover each way (vs the average 3-6-hour hour layover with the package deals) and I found our accommodations smack dab in the center of the city in a prime location. No airline/hotel package deal could even come close while remaining in my price range.
When searching for airline tickets, I defaulted to Google Flights. Though you can’t book a flight through Google Flights, it’s an extremely useful tool in finding the best fare, and directs you to the site with the flight deal. Kayak and Momondo are two of my other favorite websites for finding and booking flights.
2. Alternative accommodations
Hotels tend to be located in strategic locations i.e Airports and tourist destinations. What this means is that it limits the options available to you. An Airbnb could potentially be located, anywhere! Maybe you want to stay in a cabin in the woods, or on a boathouse docked to a wharf, or in a nice condo right in the middle of the city! Decide where you want to stay and there is a good chance an Airbnb will be set up there.
Range of options
Because Airbnb’s are most often set up as a home, you can often find them with everything you might have in your own home – washer/dryer, full kitchen, living room. When I stay at an Airbnb, I look for an apartment or studio at a cost of $50-$60/night. There are always plenty available in this price range and many provide discounts if you stay a week or more!
If you’re looking for those options at a hotel, you better be ready to pay top dollar for a suite.
If you only need a room, these can be easily found for $30-$50/night. Some hosts will still allow access to parts of the house, such as the kitchen if you need it.
The cheaper option:
Couch Surfing – I haven’t tried this option myself, but I know many people who have and they’ve had great success with it. It’s cheap and you can often find an open couch in any city you wish to visit.
Just keep in mind
Airbnb, hotel or hostel – it’s just a place to rest your head at night. You want it to be comfortable but you probably don’t need it to be luxurious. Those luxuries will just end up costing you.
3. Eat at "home"
No matter if it’s domestic or international travel, aside from your airplane tickets and accommodations, food is the next largest expense for most people when traveling.
When you’re home, do you eat out every single meal? No? So why would you when you travel??
Find yourself an Airbnb with a kitchen. Even a simple, small one will do. After arriving at your destination, head to the grocery store and pick up some essentials: fruit, breakfast cereal or oatmeal, coffee or tea, healthy snacks, and maybe some ingredients to cook a meal or two.
Not only will you save lots of money by making some meals at your ‘home away from home’, but I promise your body and gut will thank you.
4. Slow travel
Simple rule: The more locations and activities you try and cram into your trip, the more it will cost.
No marathon trips
Know someone who’s done a marathon trip? They visited 6 cities in 7 days or went with a tour group that visited 3 countries in the span of 1-week?
Not only will you be exhausted by the end, but every time you pack up and move, it will cost you time, money, and energy. If you’re lucky, you might see a couple of tourist sites before it’s time to move on to the next destination. I’m exhausted just thinking about it.
Take it easy
With slow travel, you go to a destination for a week, maybe more, and immerse yourself in the culture. Get to really know the city, town, and neighborhood where you’re staying. Allow yourself time to relax and live like a local.
Why rush? You can always go back!
5. The off-season
One of the best ways to save money on international travel is to go when everyone else is staying at home. This is what is referred to as the off-season.
For the smart, budget-minded traveler, this is the on-season!
You’ll find the best deals on airplane tickets and accommodations during this time. You’ll have more options available to you because you won’t be fighting with thousands of other travelers trying to get to the same destination.
While those other people are staying at home or jetting off to warmer climates, you could be out skiing in gorgeous Switzerland or enjoying any number of Germany’s magical Christmas Markets with a hot cup of Glühwein and a delicious Brätwurst (yum!!).
This is hands-down my favorite time to travel.
Planning a big trip takes time and money.
Allow yourself time to budget and save while you figure out where you want to go and what you wish to see. Then make the reservations and start experiencing some of the wonders this world has to offer.
And next time you hear someone complaining about how expensive international travel is, you’ll know better and won’t be deterred.
Funny enough, those naysayers are the same people who drop $1,000 on a single weekend at Disneyland without batting an eye!