I’ve only been out of the country once, but I am currently planning my next trip. I’m not rich by any means, my salary is “average” at best. But since traveling to Europe last year, people always ask me, how can I afford to travel internationally on my budget?
As someone who is an international travel novice, I’m not claiming to be an expert. However, I do my research, have accommodation standards and obsessively stick to a budget.
So here is my take on traveling “on your level” if you’re the “Average Joe”. I promise, you can have an experience of a lifetime without it costing you a fortune.
1. Getting There
When traveling internationally it can be daunting deciding what airline to take. As Americans, we automatically gravitate toward familiar airlines, Delta, American and United. While comfortably accommodating, they are extremely expensive.
Instead of traveling on US airlines, find a US hub with major international travel and use the airline of the country you’re traveling to. Book a cheap Southwest Airline flight to Boston or New York and then a hop across the pond on TAP Portugal, Lufthansa, Brussels or Norwegian Airlines. They are just as good, and sometimes better than US airlines…… and a lot more affordable.
You will have stopovers most likely, and may have to change planes, but you will probably only spend $200 for a one way flight. That’s half the cost of flying across the US on almost any airline.
2. Public transportation
When traveling internationally, fight the urge to rent a car or call a cab. They are extremely expensive and you will miss the opportunity to experience the city like a local. Download the “Visit a city” app and get a map do the city you will be visiting. It works offline and will still track your location, give directions and allow you to mark places you want to visit as well as daily itineraries.
Take public transportation. You can buy a metro card in most major European cities for a dozen transits at the same cost of one cab ride. About 1.50€ per ride. Many countries have a bundle ride package. It’s not as hard to navigate as you think. Just be aware of your surroundings and enjoy the ride.
As a self proclaimed “hotel snob” I am very particular about where I stay. I have basic standards… clean, centrally located in a safe area, close to transportation and affordable.
My first go-to is VRBO. You can find authentic spacious apartments for equal to or less than hotels in most cities. You can feel like a local when you stay in a quaint neighborhood instead of a bustling tourist trap location.
Look at reviews, contact the owner and as important questions… How far is the metro? What are your cancellation policies? Do you offer airport transportation? Is there a deposit? I never stay anywhere on VRBO that isn’t a premier partner or has less than 30 reviews. Sorry… that’s just me.
If you’re looking for a lively hotspot of activity, book near a city center. If you’re more like me and just want to be near the attractions without all the noise… look about a mile out from the city center. Still with metro access… nothing more than 10 minutes away. You can get the “local” feel, but not feel so much like a tourist.
If you’re really looking for a deal, you can stay at a hostel for about 20€ a night. Just be prepared to share a bathroom or a bedroom with other travelers. Many offer free dinners or breakfast and the opportunity to meet others traveling the area just like you. I can’t comment on that from experience, but the options for hostels are endless in most cities. And super cheap!
Luckily, many attractions in other countries are free or moderately affordable. Use TripAdvisor and find out what you’re most interested in seeing before you leave.
Book high attraction tours ahead of time. Avoids the que lines if possible because they can be long and grueling. Research “city passes” that include free entrance to several attractions for one price instead of booking individually. Many include metro passes. This is the most affordable option if you’re planning on going several places in a few days.
Take a walk and do what’s free. For many US travelers, just seeing another city’s architecture, parks and churches are an experience in itself. Visit a plaza, stroll throw a public park, wander historic streets and marvel at their “free” beauty.
We all have to eat. Traveling to another country is an opportunity to really experience culture and flavors that you can’t find even in the most authentic US restaurants.
Sure, going to a high end restaurant overseas is the perfect addition to a trip… maybe once or twice. But most authentic cuisine is experienced in small mom and pop restaurants found on side streets and markets. And they are cheap. For just a few Euro, you can get snack and dinners on the cheap by asking locals where they go.
Stay away from restaurants near main attractions. They are often overpriced and lacking authentic flavor. Ask your VRBO host or local market employee where to eat. They live there, they know. And when all else fails…. just wander around until you see a place full of locals dining and stop there. Stay way from places full of tourists. Bless them, they don’t know any better.
And when you can, book a food tour of a city with a local expert. Preferably in your first few days. Get acquainted with their cuisine and some of the best local restaurants. You can always go back.
Don’t waste your money on tourist attraction momentos. An overpriced T-shirt, commemorative mug or book about a city bought near an attraction. You can order that stuff on amazon.
Instead, opt for things like cheap fridge magnets, awesome panoramic pictures that you can develop at home, a scarf or handmade jewelry that you can wear over and over that will remind you of your travels.
And if you’re weird like me, I collect rocks. Pick up a piece of a country and bring it home with you. A chip of a block from the Colosseum, a pebble from outside the Eiffel Tower, a stone from Santorini island…. something you can mount in a box with a photo from that place.
Be smart, plan, compare prices, compromise on high class quality if you have to. You can travel within your budget. Just go…. the experience is priceless.