A common misconception nowadays is that you have to have a lot of money to travel the world. After this post, you’ll know it’s not true because I’m going to teach you the simplest way to plan a cheap trip out of the country.
Believe it or not, you can take an international trip for as little as $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. Let’s dive into how to save big on flights, accommodations and everything else for your cheap trip out of the country!
How to Plan Your Cheap Trip Out of the Country
Planning a trip takes research, creativity and patience.
My personal process for planning a trip goes like this:
- Make a list of 3-5 places I would like to go.
- Search Skyscanner for flights for all of them within a loose date range and write down the flights with the best prices.
- Choose the most affordable destination by combining flight prices with the cost of the location and book the flights! (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.)
- Research and plan out my itinerary and daily budget by choosing which cities and main attractions I’ll do.
- Book accommodations based on the travel route I planned.
- Pack just a carry-on bag while keeping in mind the climate and type of activities I’ll be doing.
- Take the trip of a lifetime!
Make a List of 2-5 Destinations
Make a list of 2-5 potential destinations you’d like to travel to and do basic research on each. You don’t need to be super detailed at this stage. The goal is to get a feel for each place so you can determine which is the best and most affordable spot!
Make basic notes or bullets of the following details for each destination:
- How expensive it is (check out average cost per day for travelers)
- Best time of year to visit (weather, crowds, seasonal activities)
- How easy it is to get around (rental car, trains, planes, uber, taxis)
- Top things to do there
- Surrounding cities or countries you want to visit (and how to get to them)
- How many days you’ll need to do what you want there
How to Find a Cheap Flight
Once you’ve narrowed it down to 1-3 destinations, search for flights on Google Flights for each destination within a loose date range that you know you can go on vacation during. The more flexible you are with dates and cities you can fly into/out of, the cheaper the ticket.
Here’s what I personally think is a good deal on round-trip flights from North America to any city on another continent:
- US→Europe Under $700
- US→Asia Under $900
- US→Central American & Caribbean Under $400
- US→South America Under $500
- US→Africa Under $900
Start Your Search on Google Flights
Google Flights is a great place to start your flight search because it’s really easy to use and it aggregates flights from many different airlines (but not all). If there are airlines that you know fly to your destination but they aren’t coming up on Google Flights, go directly to the airline’s website and search.
Sign Up for Going.com (Formerly Scott’s Cheap Flights)
Going (formerly Scott’s Cheap Flights) (Going.com is a MUST for finding great flight deals, but it’s not a search engine. Instead, they send insane flight deals right to your inbox. But be careful, you’ll get so many deals in your inbox you’ll have serious FOMO. You’ve been warned!)
Check the Best Cheap Travel Package Websites
I also recommend finding cheap flights with travel packages that include flights. My top places to search for travel packages are Gate1Travel and Travel Zoo. In 2015, my family took a trip to Italy for $899/person with a Gate1Travel package including: Roundtrip from New York>Milan, rental car for six days, accommodations including breakfast for six days in Nov. 2015 (we paid a fee to extend our return flight date and figured out all accommodations etc. independently for 2 more weeks),
Play Around With Different Dates to Get the Cheapest Flights
If you have flexibility, scan through the different months on the Google Flights calendar to see the best prices throughout the year.
Pro Tip: Set up Google Flight Alerts for flights to your desired destination and you’ll get an email every time there’s a price change. You can also set up alerts on Skyscanner and Momondo.
Play Around With Different Airports to Get the Cheapest Flights
You also want to play around with different airports to find the cheapest and/or most convenient flights. You do this by searching for flights to your destination out of all the major airports near you, or airports you can easily get to.
For example: I live in Florida, closest to Tampa International Airport, but I look up flights out of Tampa, Orlando, Miami and Fort Lauderdale. If there’s a substantially cheaper or better flight out of, say, Miami, I’ll drive the three hours to Miami as long as it makes financial sense after factoring in gas and parking or rental car costs.
If I’m going really far and the Florida airports aren’t cutting it, I’ll look up flights out of every major airport I can easily get to from Tampa. So I’d search for flights out of Atlanta, D.C. and New York, because I know I can find cheap direct flights to those airports most of the time. Make sense?
Similarly, you can look up flying into different airports in your destination if there’s more than one.
When to Book Your Flights
Choose the destination based on the most affordable flight within your dates, combined with the cost of the location and get ready to book your flights!
Once I find a great deal, I usually hit a few different flight search engines just to see if it’s even cheaper somewhere else.
My favorite site to shop for affordable flights is Skyscanner, but I usually also check the usual suspects like American Air, Delta, United, Korean Air, etc.
If you find an insanely good deal on flights, it’s worth booking immediately because flight prices change by the day. You just want to make sure you can get the exact dates off and you have the funds to take the trip.
Plus, many airlines allow you to cancel for a full refund within 24 hours of purchasing, so if it’s a deal you can’t stand to miss, you could always book it and get approval for the vacation days within 24 hours. Just make sure that’s the policy for the flight you booked.
Cheap Flights Out of the Country I’ve Scored Using This Process
- $640 Round trip from Orlando to Amsterdam in December 2016 (on United via Momondo)
- $130 One way from Fort Lauderdale to Paris (CDG) in December 2017 (on Norwegian Air which no longer does these flights)
- $512 Round trip from Miami to Dublin in September 2018 (on Aer Lingus)
- $231 Round trip from Fort Lauderdale to Panama in May 2019 (on Spirit Air)
- $198 Round trip from Fort Lauderdale to Cancun in July 2020 (on JetBlue)
- $388 One Way from Istanbul to Tampa with two connections in October 2021 (on Turkish Air and United)
- $611 Round trip from D.C. to Nairobi, Kenya in October 2022 (on Air France)
How to Find Accommodations for Your Cheap Trip Out of the Country
Finding great, affordable accommodations in a convenient location all comes down to research and reading reviews.
You want to research the best neighborhoods or parts of town to stay in and only choose places with great overall reviews. When picking where to stay in your travel destination, search for terms like “best neighborhoods in XXX” or “where to stay in XXX”.
Great sites to search and book accommodations through are:
- Google or Pinterest search “Best places to stay in [destination]” then book the hotels mentioned directly or through something like Booking.com
Once you’re on a search site, it’s most efficient to search for accommodations on the “map” view. Once you familiarize yourself with the map and best areas of each city, you can make sure to book a room right where you want to be.
Book in Advance or As I Go?
If you’re taking a shorter trip of about 5-10 days, I recommend booking accommodations in advance, especially if you’re traveling over a holiday in the region. If you’re traveling for a longer amount of time (3+ weeks), book places for key stops in your trip that you’ll 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!
What’s It Like Staying in a Hostel?
When it comes to planning a cheap trip out of the country, hostels are going to be the cheapest accommodations. Plus, in hostels it’s so easy to meet people and there will be a ton of fun stuff to do—like tours, pub crawls, a swimming pool, drinking games and more. Plus, hostels are often much cheaper than hotels.
If you’ve never stayed in a hostel or you aren’t familiar with them, you’re in for quite a pleasant surprise! Hostels are basically just hotels with more of a community atmosphere. Most have options for dorm rooms or private rooms, and shared or private bathrooms.
Understanding Hostel Terms
Dorm rooms are large rooms with multiple beds (usually bunk beds) and they range from being really simple rooms with metal bunk beds to bunks beds that are more like little rooms—with a curtain, mirror, shelf and charging outlet inside each.
Private rooms are exactly that—a private room, like a hotel room, that may or may not have an en suite bathroom.
Some hostels have en suite bathrooms, meaning there’s a bathroom in each dorm or private room. Others have more locker room style bathrooms, with multiple shower stalls, toilet stalls and sinks, outside of the rooms.
I’ve stayed in all-female dorms, mixed dorms and private rooms, and never had a problem. I’ve also met some of the coolest people from all over the world in hostels—many of whom I still keep in touch with today!
Hostels are especially great for when you’re traveling solo because you have the option to never actually be alone. It’s so easy to find easygoing travelers that all want to hit the bars or sights with new people. Wooh friends!
When picking hostel accommodations I always look for:
- Lockers/safe in the room you’re staying in
- Popular common space
- Bar/Restaurant (not necessary, just a huge perk and an easy way to meet people)
- Sheets included
- Reviews specifically on: cleanliness, location, security and neighborhood
On sites like Hostelworld.com, each hostel clearly lists all the information above.
How to Include the Best Attractions on Your Cheap Trip Out of the Country
When picking attractions and sights to see, it will vary greatly on your taste. And if you’re not a solo female traveler, it’s important to agree with travel buddies on how you’ll spend your time, ahead of time, so you don’t 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.
You can likely book all activities once you’re in your destination, unless you’re somewhere during high season or it’s an activity that isn’t widely offered and needs to be booked in advance.
My favorite tools for booking activities are:
- GetYourGuide.com – I used GetYourGuide for the first time in Dubrovnik, Croatia in 2021 to do an amazing Sunset Tour of the City Walls and City Walls by Kayak Tour.
- Airbnb Experiences
- Directly via provider website or store
You can use Google and Pinterest to figure out everything you want to do. 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. Plus, many attractions have student discounts, specials on certain days, or are donation only.
Carry-On-Only Packing for a Cheap Trip Out of the Country
Packing stresses a lot of people out, but it really doesn’t need to. I’ve 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’re 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 and 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 Hesitant About Bringing Something, 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 Will Wear Three Times or More
If you’re 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 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!