Free” Trips: How to Travel for Next to Nothing
Getting to know the locals and seeking out alternatives to traditional hotels are just two ways to get by on a budget – and have more fun on your trip, too!
Most of us think of travel in a traditional way. The common images of planes, trains and automobiles come to mind, or maybe a cruise ship. Then we imagine the accommodations, which generally look like a hotel room with a bed and bathroom attached. These money-laden images have the potential to squish our travel dreams. Before we even begin thinking about the details of our trip, we’re already hitting the pause button: how will we afford all that?! Well, in many cases you don’t need all that. You just need a little to go a long way.
The Basics: Think, Seek, & Communicate
You can always think about your current situation and change your plans at any time. Having tickets or reservations does not mean you have no choices; you always have choices – the tough part is uncovering all your options at any given time. For example, you discover you’re running out of money during a trip. Look for your choices: grocery stores exist almost everywhere, and most of them have a deli or at least a cheap microwavable meal (gas stations often have microwaves but their grocery items are more expensive). If you volunteer to serve a meal at a homeless shelter or the Salvation Army, you’re giving back and getting fed too. You can also find temporary work. Consider signing up to be part of a team that works for a few days unloading stage equipment for a show. That could buy your ticket to see that show and you’ll get to see backstage and possibly meet the performers! But how do you find those opportunities?
Traveling is like treasure hunting; you need to seek what you’re looking for. The internet is a fabulous resource for obvious reasons, but even lesser-known destinations not found online can be managed in this way. You can seek out information by looking it up ahead of time, closely observing your surroundings (did you see that coupon book sitting on the counter?) and communicating with the locals.
Communicate with people around you. Remember that the locals are your best resource. They know how to get around and contain valuable information. Even if you don’t speak the same language, learning is free if you know where to look. Language-learning resources are free online and common phrases can be printed off. You can find phrases in over 36 languages as well as language video games, puzzles and audio downloads at BBC Website.
The Details: Alternative Transportation & Lodging
Walking is free, but make sure to wear supportive shoes. Try renting bicycles or scooters, or bringing along your skateboard or blades to make it a little faster. If the distance is too great, train and bus services are cheaper than flights and give you the opportunity to see and interact more. To get from city to city, an inexpensive bus service can be found at MegaBus. Don’t forget city buses, trolleys and subways. Day passes can save you money, but avoid the touristy routes because they can be more expensive. Believe it or not, some buses are free! In Fayetteville, Arkansas, the city buses are free to the public. Carpools exist to save you money and can now be arranged online between strangers. Hitchhiking still exists in the United States, if you’re traveling with someone. If you have to drive, remember to pack light, avoid packing onto the roof of the vehicle, and take everything you don’t need out of the trunk – this saves you gas money by reducing drag and weight.
Camping is one of the cheapest lodging options available to you. Imagine only spending $5 – $10 a night on lodging! As a bonus, you’ll get to see some amazing views. Look for National or State Parks. Beware of RV sites which may charge you more without the amazing nature experience, and tourist camp grounds that cost almost as much as a motel.
Hostels are not just an international phenomenon; they exist in the United States as well. It’s easiest to find hostels online and call them directly for updated information. Once there, you get something far better than a hotel – the chance to meet other students from around the world! There is usually a community kitchen and game room, and options for a private room or a bunk in a dorm. How often can you play Twister with students from Indonesia, Japan and France, then check out the night life with someone from New Zealand, in the same day?
Staying with friends or family could be an option for you. Network with people you know. If you’re brave, network with people you don’t know! I was able to meet some amazing folks at a conference in Atlanta, Georgia, and they put me up for a week at their place in Asheville, North Carolina. Your mouth can save you money.
Now to unravel our last illusion: that traveling cheap is less desirable or less fun. Actually, it’s awesome! Especially as you gain travel experience, traveling cheap will begin to seem like the only way to do things. After years of traveling this way, the thought of a first-class plane ride to a 5-star hotel sounds awfully boring to me. It doesn’t leave open the possibilities of adventure and life-changing experiences that are signatures of cheap travel. So the next time you start dreaming about travel, dream in alternatives. You’ll have a much better story to share with friends afterwards!
By Amanda Bancroft