Unconventional Ways to Save Big on Travel Costs

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This is a guest post written by Michelle Chang, who Alyssa and I met at World Domination Summit in 2014. Her and her husband, Jedd, have been traveling around the world full-time for the last few years. What I loved about their story was they aren’t rich, but have found creative ways to start a remote freelance business while traveling that helps support their lifestyle. I asked her to write a guest post for me (in part for selfish reasons) because I want to learn more of how they travel to amazing parts of the world for next to nothing! She kindly shared all of that within this blog and more. Enjoy.


After completing 2+ years of service as Peace Corps Volunteers in 2014, my husband and I decided to pass up the opportunity to return to stable jobs. Instead, we took two big road trips- one of which was a full month long. Then, we spent five weeks in Europe, three weeks in Jamaica, and took two trips to Hawaii.

It probably sounds like we’re independently wealthy, but I can assure you that we’re not. You may be surprised to learn a few things about our travels:

1. We continued to work off and on throughout all of our trips.

2. We paid for a hotel room maybe once or twice the whole year.

3.We booked both pairs of international flights on award miles we had earned within the year, and we flew to Hawaii on “companion tickets” (a discount of several hundred dollars).

This kind of travel is not exactly typical. Each of these three points is made possible by technological and societal changes that are opening doors for a new sort of traveler. Today, I want to share some of these unconventional travel resources with you.

Being Digital Nomads

For one, with the availability of internet world-wide, more and more businesses are moving their work online. This means more and more employees and entrepreneurs are no longer bound by geographic location, and a growing number of people are becoming “location independent” or “digital nomads.”

Like Heath and Alyssa, we are able to travel long-term because we’re not tied to an office. We do freelance work and are in the process of building a new business – all completely online. We can work from anywhere with internet, so we continue to earn a paycheck while we travel. We don’t pay rent or a mortgage, nor do we have home-owners insurance or need to purchase household items on a regular basis. By keeping our expenses low, we’re able to use the money we save to travel more.

Even if you’re not up for making the transition to a nomadic lifestyle, there are plenty of other tricks for saving money on travel accommodations and flights that are accessible to any traveler.

Accommodations

The second key ingredient to traveling more without over-spending is finding creative solutions for accommodations. When traveling almost full time, spending over $100 a night on hotel rooms is out of the question for us. We have a pretty wide network of family and friends across the world, so in most cases, we travel to places where we can stay with people we know.

When we do need to purchase accommodations, our favorite places tend to be through AirBnB.com (bonus: use our link to get $25 off). If you haven’t heard of AirBnB yet, it’s a large network of people renting out their unused spaces – full houses and apartments, extra bedrooms in their homes, even spare beds in their own bedrooms. AirBnB room availability around the world is larger than any hotel chain out there. And you can get a full apartment with kitchen to cook for yourself that’s often cheaper than a standard hotel room. The host vetting and traveler reviews reduces your risk of a bad experience.

Work Exchanges

One of the cheapest ways we were able to extend our trip in France was by adding a two-week stint with a Help Exchange host. Sites like Help Exchange, Work Away, and WOOF help travelers connect with hosts around the world. In exchange for a few hours of work per day, the host will typically provide free room and board (terms of the exchange vary by host). With Help Exchange, a strong emphasis is put on cross-cultural exchange and helping travelers get an authentic experience of the place they’re visiting. WOOF (World-Wide Organic Farming) exclusively lists organic farm stays, but Help Exchange and Work Away include more diverse opportunities – from construction to nannying to working at a hostel. Some even take families.

For our Europe trip this past fall, we contacted a number of Help Exchange hosts and ended up scheduling two weeks working at a chateau bed and breakfast in the Loire Valley. We did things like gardening, weeding, painting, cleaning, and event set up. In return, we were put up in a simple apartment on the chateau grounds and all our meals were provided for – including a few three- or four-course dinners in town with our host and his family friends. In our free time, we worked on our online businesses and took bike rides to the neighboring towns. It was an experience we could have never had on our own, and we didn’t spend a dime for the full 14 days we were there.

Chateau
Chateau

House-Sitting

Another way to stay longer in a place is find free accommodations through house-sitting, or even house-swapping. This works best with your own personal network but there are also online networks to help you find a good match. We use House Carers and Mind My House but the majority of our house-sitting gigs so far have been local and found through personal contacts.

Flights

Transportation is often one of the biggest expenses that eats into the budget of a trip. There are a number of tools we use for finding cheap flights, like Google’s ITA Matrix to search possible flight itineraries, The Flight Deal website for notifications about unusually low fares, or Kayak Explore when we haven’t settled on a destination yet.

But hands down, the biggest way we’ve been able to exponentially increase our travel is through the art of “travel hacking.”

Frequent Flyer Master

Travel hacking is all about accumulating reward points and frequent flyer miles to use toward travel. (I can assure, it is a legitimate endeavor completely unrelated to actual hacking!) Starting small with the Alaska Airlines award program and two credit card sign-up bonuses each, we learned the ropes with a comprehensive e-guide called Frequent Flyer Master. Created by Chris Guillebeau, a young author and entrepreneur who recently finished his quest to see every country in the world, the Frequent Flyer Master guide showed us everything we needed to know to quickly earn free flights.

Travel hacking does have a learning curve and takes some work, but a little extra effort goes a long way. If you can stay organized and are responsible with credit (i.e. pay off your credit cards in full every month), then I highly recommend this method for making your travel dreams come true. To learn more about how we got started in this “hobby,” you can see our post on travel hacking with the Alaska Airlines award program.

Those are some of the unconventional methods we’ve used to bring a lot more travel into our lives, with minimal impact on our budget. These and other resources can be found on our blog at http://intentionaltravelers.com/resources/.

We are also in the process of collecting stories and tips from other travelers who have embarked on meaningful, unconventional, or transformational trips. If this sounds like you – or someone you know – please share your story with us.