Travelling on a budget: a breakdown of do’s and dont’s

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There is a bit of a misconception about just how much it costs to travel. If you’re willing to do your research and step outside your comfort zone, however, you can travel on almost any budget. I recently traveled to Thailand and Malaysia with $350 and a prayer and managed to make it out alive.

To set you up for success, let’s break down your budget into five categories: Plane tickets, lodging, food, attractions and other miscellaneous things.

Plane Tickets

A quick search online will show roundtrip ticket prices to Thailand that estimate to $1,200. Ouch. But with the right tools and timing, we can bring this number way down.

The best time to buy your ticket is 40-60 days in advance, according to the website of online travel magazine AFAR. Two mobile apps that compare hundreds of different flights and deals to bring you the lowest fare possible are Skyscanner and Momondo, but I prefer Skyscanner because it lets you search for the cheapest month to travel at any destination.

Using the 40-60-day rule, I found a roundtrip ticket for $650. If you can, get two one-way trips and put each on a separate credit card. This eliminates the up-front cost and leaves you with manageable payments after you return to work.

Lodging

Now you need someplace to sleep. Depending on what kind of trip you want, your accommodation costs can be anywhere from 50 dollars a day to a free stay.

If you are travelling with a group and want more of a boutique stay, Airbnb is an absolute must. Here, you will find cottages, beach houses and other hidden eclectic gems.

For the frugal travelers, I’d recommend staying in hostels. Don’t expect hotel accommodations, as most hostels are mostly dorm rooms with bunk beds. . Most hostels will run anywhere from 3-20 dollars a night, so without a doubt best it’s the bang for your buck. I’d recommend using Booking.com to find these amazing deals. After a certain amount of stays, you are awarded the “genius” membership where you can save an average of 18 percent on your bookings.

If you want to spend less and don’t mind putting in a little work, volunteer some of your time at a hostel and in return, they will  give you a free room and meals. In exchange for a few hours a week of running the hostel rooftop bar, I was given a bunk-bed and two meals a day.  All it takes is a quick email or phone call to the hostel to check need of volunteers.

Food

Stay away from anything that you can easily buy at home. Anything Americanized also has the price tag to match. Ask around and go where the locals go. Some of the best food I found was in a small shack under a bridge where the owner’s grandmother slept in a cardboard box five feet away from our table.

Attractions

This is where you want to spend most of your money. Most “must see” attractions are just tourist traps with a hefty admission fee. Haggle with the local travel agencies to get the best deals on events and tours. Don’t forget to bring your student ID because a lot of companies still hand out discounts because of your status as a student.

Miscellaneous

Miscellaneous is code for gifts. Before you spend $20 on that mug for mom and dad, anything you find can be found on wish.com for pennies on the dollar. Save your money and invest in the trip itself. A great story always beats the souvenir mug.

International travel can be possible on any budget. Your travels should never shock your wallet, just your senses.

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