florence italy duomo
Florence, Italy from on top of the Duomo

How To Plan A Cheap Trip Abroad

 Yes, even you can afford a trip abroad

A common misconception nowadays is that you have to have a lot of money to travel the world. If I had a quarter for every time I have heard someone say “I’d love to travel, I just don’t have the money for it”, I would have enough money for…at least a margarita 😉 . It’s certainly true that you need a lot of money if you want to travel a certain way, but not simply to travel. If I have managed to take 3 international trips for under $1000 each, anyone can! The way I see it is when we want something we make time and money for it and $1000 is possible to save with a little determination. You can certainly take an international trip for under $1000, provided you go somewhere close (or from your location it’s a cheap flight) and preferably somewhere with a way weaker currency than your home country. However, I did not limit this article to only trips I’ve taken under $1000.

Planning your trip

Planning a trip takes research, creativity and patience. Your trip planning and cost will be largely determined by how flexible you are. Is your situation:

  • A. Go anywhere new as long as it’s in your budget with flexible dates? (often more affordable because of flexibility)
  • B. Know exactly where you want to go, when and want to find the most affordable way to do it?(often more expensive since you’re restricted to options of the place you want to go)
sunrise trip san blast islands panama
Sunrise in San Blas Islands, Panama (unedited)

My personal process for planning a trip usually goes like this:

  1. Dream for months about an unexplored land and lose sleep from researching destinations
  2. Contemplate what my savings account would look like if I didn’t love to travel
  3. Make a list of 3-5 places I would like to go
  4. Search flights for all of them within a loose date range that I know I can go on vacation during
  5. Choose destination based on the most affordable flight within my dates combined with the cost of the location and book it! (Ex. many major European cities that use the Euro are very expensive while less touristy locations that do not use the Euro are dirt cheap. Think Amsterdam vs. Budapest)
  6. Research and plan out itinerary & daily budget! (at least main cities and attractions)
  7. Book accommodations based on travel route planned around what I found in number 6^
  8. Try and convince a friend or 2 to join me (Don’t let this stop you! Traveling alone is a life changing experience and as long as you do your research you can be safe and have a blast!)
  9. Pack mindfully by using what I learned from my research of the activities and climate
  10. Go!

How to find a cheap flight

My favorite sites to shop for affordable flights and packages are listed below. However, I usually check the usual suspects like American Air, Delta, Korean Air, etc. in addition to these. The more flexible you are with dates and cities you can fly into, the cheaper the ticket. To give you a ballpark of what I personally think is a good deal on flights just to get from North America to any city (with the cheapest flight) on another continent:

  • US>EU Under $700
  • US>Asia Under $1000
  • US>Latin/South America Under $500

Where to search for flights

Broad Search Tools:
US>Europe
US>Latin/South America
Travel within country or continent

Travel Packages (including flight)

  • Gate1Travel
  • Travel Zoo
    • Package including: Roundtrip from New York>Milan, rental car for 6 days, accommodations including breakfast for 6 days in Nov. 2015 for $899/person requiring a minimum of 2 people (we paid a fee to extend our return flight date and figured out all accommodations etc. independently for 2 more weeks)

How to find cheap accommodations

Great sites to search and book accommodations through are:

  • Airbnb.com
  • Hostelworld.com
  • CouchSurfer.com
  • Google or Pinterest search “Best places to stay in [destination]”

If you are taking a shorter trip of about 5-10 days, I recommend booking accommodations in advance, especially if you are traveling over a holiday in the region. Otherwise, book  places for key stops in your trip that you will definitely hit on a certain date, and find the rest as you go. It can be really fun to find accommodations along the way. You often meet really cool people and end up staying somewhere you wouldn’t have found online! Searching for accommodations on the “map” view is the most efficient way in my experience. Once you familiarize yourself with the map of each city you’ll be in, you can make sure to book a room right where you want to be.

“But what if I’ve never stayed in a hostel? What’s that like?”

If you have never stayed in a hostel, you are in for quite a pleasant surprise! Hostels are basically just hotels with more community atmosphere. Most have options for dorm rooms or private & shared or private bathrooms. I have stayed in all female dorms and mixed dorms and never had a problem. I’ve met some of the coolest people in hostels, many of whom I still keep in touch with today! If you are traveling alone and staying in hostels, you have the option to never actually be alone (which is one of my favorite parts of solo travel, so many new friends!). It’s so easy to find easy going travelers that all want to hit the bars or sights with new people! If in any event you feel uncomfortable in a hostel, you can always speak with staff or tag along with a big group. There are almost always other people around so as long as you project confidence and stay aware, you will minimize the likelihood of anything going awry. Plus, hostels are often much cheaper than hotels.

trip ha long bay boats vietnam
Ha Long Bay, Vietnam view from outside the big cave

When picking accommodations I always look for:

  • Lockers/safe in the room you are staying in
  • Aircon/Heat
  • Popular common-space (if it’s a hostel)
  • Bar (not necessary just a huge perq and easy way to meet people)
  • Sheets included
  • Reviews specifically on: cleanliness, location, security, & neighborhood

How to include the best attractions

When picking attractions and sights to see, it will vary greatly on your taste. It’s important to agree on what you will spend your time doing ahead of time with travel buddies so you do not argue during the trip and all parties get to see what they want. When doing your research, it’s helpful to make a list with each attraction’s cost so you can financially prepare as much as possible pre-takeoff 😉

I mainly use Google and Pinterest to figure out everything I want to do.  I literally search “top 10 in Budapest”, “must see in Antigua” or “underrated travel in Colombia” etc. to find all the best attractions and activities off the beaten path. You could search “Amsterdam on a budget activities” or something similar to find the cheaper and free options. A little research can go a long way in saving you money; many attractions have student discounts, specials on certain days, or are donation only. By using Pinterest I often come across amazing travel blogs with a particular focus, like thehungrypartier.com, for example. After finding a few of these I can often find info on all my destinations for the best bars, clubs, hostels, attractions, walking tours etc.

trip leaning tower of pisa italy
Leaning Tower of Pisa, pictured from below…sorry it doesn’t look like it’s leaning. I promise it leans.

Packing

Packing stresses a lot of people out, but it really doesn’t need to. I have slowly been perfecting my packing lists over the years and here are my helpful tips:

  • Less is more

The less you can pack the better. If you are moving from destination to destination you are NOT going to want to lug around a ton of luggage. I personally like bringing a backpack so my arms are free, but bringing a small suitcase does the trick just fine! Plus, you are most likely going to want room for anything you buy abroad so cutting out that extra 3 shirts and scarves will pay off.

  • Only bring what you need

Try to only pack what you need. Do your research on the weather, activities & style and pack what you will use. Most places you go have the necessary shops in case you forget something crucial or realize you do need a pair of warmer socks, etc. I wrote a post on items I think are useful on every trip here, if you want to take a look!

  • If you are on the fence about bringing something then don’t

All I can say is every time I pack an item that I have gone back and forth on because I’m not positive I’ll wear it, I never end up wearing it. I end up lugging it around the whole trip and unpack it clean when I get home. Don’t be like me.

  • Only bring clothes you know you can and will wear 2-3 times

If you are really committed to packing as little as possible, you have to get strategic. By carefully planning your wardrobe, you can get 2-3 wears out of every item while making a new outfit every time you mix and match. This easily cuts your packing in half.


I realize that my way of planning a trip may not be the most conventional, but I hope the tips are helpful and it makes your adventure planning a little less stressful. If you have any questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to reach out 🙂

Love,

Tara

 

 

 

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