Diasporic Realness is a Guest Writer’s Month dedicated to US telling our stories!
By: Bianca of Itsallbee
I always seem to get asked how I afford to travel so much. There are plenty of people who have this notion that you need to be rich or have lots of money to be able to travel. You dont! I am living proof of this, trust me. Contrary to what people may believe, I am sorry to disappoint you, I do not have a couple of Irish leprechauns churning up gold coins in my imaginary spare room – well not any more anyway. I love it when people say to me “Bee, I can’t afford to travel as much as you do”.
‘First things first, if you go to Starbucks, Cafe Nero, Costa, or any other cafes that you grab food at, a couple of times a week, then you can definitely afford to travel!
I am sure you are asking yourself, Bee, how the he** do those things relate? Hold on, I will explain.
Okay, so lets take Starbucks for example, a latte costs £2.95 a cup, and if you were to add a panini and/or one of their sweet cakes or snacks, you are well into about £7-8. If you go to Starbucks at least 2-3 times a week, that’s about £96 a month! Guess how much a weekend in Copenhagen cost me?! I paid £20 a RETURN, for a return ticket! Which obviously meant Bee was super excited that she bought another £20 return ticket for the boyfriend to come along for the experience. So out of that £96 we have spent £40 on plane tickets with £56 left in change. I also booked a lovely little studio in for the weekend which only came down to £45, which still leaves you another £11. You can put that towards your food or any other tourist stuff you want to do – most of which are FREE! You can check out some of my posts on Copenhagen as well as my guide on things to do in Copenhagen. Now, I am not saying that visiting Copenhagen will only cost you £96, I am merely using it as an example to illustrate just how inexpensive travel can be with a little change in lifestyle. On the other hand, if you become a danger to society without your caffeine fix then by all means keep that Cafe Nero or Starbucks routine (I would hate to see you on the six o’clock news). Instead save £20 from your wages a month or whatever you can afford, or walk to work instead of buying that daily bus/train pass. If you are thinking in terms of the USA, these examples still very much apply as I have seen similar and better deals from the US into Europe than I see going from Europe to USA or other countries. Below are my top ten tips to help you save money and help you to travel more.
1. BE LOYAL, BECAUSE LOYALTY PAYS
I travel quite a bit for work. My longest project was in Peterborough for about a year and about 6 months of that I basically lived at the Marriott Hotel. So I signed up for their rewards scheme. In a period of a few months I had racked up 250,000 points! Guess what that got me.
That got me 10 beautiful days in Hong Kong!
My colleague who was on the project longer than me had racked up enough points to go to Maldives with his then girlfriend (now wife), that’s flights and hotel for a week for two people. ALL FREE! Also getting to Peterborough was by train on London to Peterborough via East Coast Trains at Kings Crosss, now run by Virgin trains. I signed up for their rewards as well. I earned enough points to go to travel to Edinburgh via first class too. Not mention I still had plenty more points to spare.
Also when a train is late/delayed/cancelled I don’t even get upset anymore, because if its late/delayed for 30 minutes, you get half your money and 1 hour or more delays you get your full money back in vouchers. To use whenever you please. So sign up for those loyalty schemes if you want to travel. These will allow you to either use for travel or other things like spa days, flights, hotel stays or voucher to use in retail stores.
2. A LITTLE HELP GOES A LONG WAY – CHARITY BEGINS AT HOME
If your parents, your sister, brother or cousin are travelling, help them book their flights or accommodation. If they are not on a loyalty scheme then you get to add their points to your account. My boyfriends’s recent trip to Cuba was booked by yours truly. Same thing when it came to his flight to India via Emirates airlines. All his points went to my account because he doesn’t have a rewards account with them. I was also with him for the first 5 days of his trip to India, in addition to his 20+ days stay in India at Marriott. Guess what? Between points earned while staying in India for a month and those I earned while on a project in Liverpool at the beginning of the year, I now have enough Marriott points to cover at least 4-5 days FREE stays in China, Panama, Qatar, South Africa, Turkey, Russia, El Salvador, Malaysia or even Malaysia depending on which one of their hotels I choose. Leaving me with just hunting for a cheap flight to get to my chosen destination.
3. BOOKING HOTELS EARLY – EARLY BIRD CATCHES THE WORM
This doesn’t really apply here, in a way. Of course, book early so that you get a better choice in where you stay. My favourite hotel booking site is Booking.com. This is because of their hustle-free booking and free cancellation. For my recent trip to Greece I needed a place for myself, my sister and her friend. We were travelling to Santorini and Athens so I needed hotels for both cities. I booked several options. Each time I saw a place I liked I booked it! As the trip date got closer and closer I narrowed it down by cancelling a few that weren’t close to what we were going to be doing. The trick here is to keep a close eye on the deals for the same hotels you have already booked. My stay in Athens, I had booked at the Radisson Blue and as the weeks passed there were more deals being added for the same room I booked. About 2-3 weeks before we were due to leave they had more deals for the same hotel and room that we had already booked for about £60 lower than the price of my booking. I booked that new deal and cancelled the previous booking. That was a good chunk shaved off our total. That’s also a little trick I use all the time.
Book a whole bunch and watch them bring the prices down.
So book on the cheaper price first before you cancel the origninal booking. You can also compare your deals with other sites but make sure they offer the same flexibility when it comes to free cancellations.
4. THERE IS STRENGTH IN NUMBERS – MAKE GROUP BOOKINGS – HOSTELS AND HOUSE RENTALS
I am not a big fan of hostels but I am starting to turn over a new leaf as hostels have stepped up their game in the last few years. I have also been challenged by YHA Hostels to go on a weekend staycation for under £100 for two people! So watch how that an folders in the next 2 weeks. If you are budget conscious then don’t over look them as there are some really good ones out there. Yes, even for those like me that don’t like sharing rooms, bathrooms and such, with strangers. There are hostels out there that have single/double occupancy rooms. You still get to have the “community” feel of travel where you meet other travellers in many of the events or pub crawls that most hostels host and still have your own space. Another way to save money is renting a place. I have found this to be a great way to save money if you are going as a group. My friends and I rented a villa in Malta for a friends birthday trip. For a total of seven days we paid about £110 each. Can you imagine how much seven days would cost if we all had to have our own hotels rooms(even if we shared). It would definitely cost a lot more. Above, I also told you about the studio rental in Copenhagen. So you can also rent out a place and still save money. Sites like Airbnb, HomeStay, HostelWorld, TripAdvisor rentals as well as Booking.com, HotelsCombined all have some crazy deals too. So compare those and get the one that suits budget and needs. You can also rent out your place on Airbnb while you are away so you have money when you are back from your travels.
5. SEEK OUT OPPORTUNITIES TO TRAVEL FOR WORK
If your work involves a little travel then make the most of that and explore the places that it takes you to. I had been sent for Sitecore training (IT stuff for those not in the know) in Kronberg, Germany which was starting on a Monday and ending on Wednesday. The tickets were already paid for so it didn’t matter that I got there on the weekend as Saturday expenses would be my own while Sunday night was paid for as I had to arrive by Sunday in order to start at 9am on Monday.
So what did I do? I flew in on a Friday night! I visited Dusseldorf on Saturday, Sunday I was in Cologne, and Monday morning I was in Krongberg! It always helped that I have a friend living in Dusseldorf so exploring with his car made it all that much easier(see point 6). While I was in Kronberg, in the evenings I explored the town. Straight after the course I was back at the airport and back in London in about 2 hours! Also note that if you travel for work try and keep to one hotel group and add your stays to your loyalty scheme accounts.
6. BE AN OPPORTUNIST
Take advantage of the fact that you may have friends and family oversees. Go and visit them and hopefully they are kind enough to let you lounge in the spare room or couch.
You will only be spending money on your ticket and maybe food.
I was in the USA a while back and spent most of my time at my sister’s in Columbus, Ohio, before going to lounge at my brother’s so I could explore Michigan. The only hotels I paid for was when I went solo to Chicago and Seattle. I forgot to mention that Seattle was paid for with my Marriott points. Plus I had views of Mount Rainier from my room – Score! My exploration of Croatia’s Zegreb were also while visiting a friend who offered me a spare room. Her mum also managed to cook for us one afternoon and hey presto, less money to spend on food. My trip to Dusseldorf and Cologne I mentioned above, were made easy because my friend drives so I had my very own personal guide in the city. My next opportunity is by way of Alissa who is going to be my personal guide and host when I visit Australia end of the year. So again unless we leave her home city of Melbourne the accommodation bill will be much lower then say, if I would be staying at a hotel. Now I am not saying you should now just start being a fake friend just for the sake of travel, but make sure nurture your distant friendships around the world as you may need them just like your friends may need you when they are coming towards your city.
7. TRAVEL AND EARN MONEY WHILE YOU TRAVEL
This one doesn’t really apply to me as I have a full-time job at the moment, in addition to the demands of my blog, but think of otherways to earn money while you travel. Below are a few ideas to help you earn money if you do extend your travels.
In saying that, if your job isn’t time demanding then these can also help you earn money in addition to your current job where ever you are. The money can be used towards home and away travels.
- If you are good with your camera then consider photography. You can take event photos for small/local companies in the city you are visiting.
- Manage a social media account for a local company.
- Teach kids or even adults computer skill (we take things for granted in developed world sometimes). Teach someone to use your laptop’s basic functions like, sending an email to their family, job searching, these skills may sound basic to you but will mean a world of good to someone who can then move on to using a computer at their nearest library.
- Do you dance, do yoga, or are you into health? Then, how about you teach it the next time you are in a new place?
- We all have transferable skills, most of which we can earn some money from. Teaching any other skill not mentioned above giving marketing or business advice to local business in your new town. This can help you pay for your next destination. Failing that you can find a local farm and see if they need any picking and packing.
Don’t take your job hunting skills for granted! How about teaching people how to write the CV and cover letter or even helping people find jobs abroad. Or any interview and job hunting skills you already know.
8. WATCH WHERE YOUR MONEY GOES – BUY EXPERIENCES, NOT THINGS
Do you really Need That? For those that shop for the sake of “oh my gosh, it was on sale and I just couldn’t resist”, then this one is for you. If you are a lover of ridiculously expensive things then weigh things up. Is that *insert brand name here* going to give you the same experience as witnessing the sunrise on South Africa’s Table Mountain or watching leopards elegantly walk across your path in Botswana’s Okavango Delta or watch the sun go down on Big Buddha in Hong Kong’s Lantau Island? Then put that expensive purse, sneaker, clothing item down and head for the next airline ticket desk instead. If you cannot stop, then buy elegant, quality and timeless pieces. Those things do not go out of fashion and if they are good quality they will see you through many destinations looking as fierce as Naomi Campbell strutting the catwalk.
9. HAVE GREAT FLIGHT SEARCH SKILLS
By far the most expensive part about travel is usually the flight, but most of the time its not as expensive as you think it is. Want to travel to Kenya or Tanzania’s serengeti for a safari but think it’s expensive? Do you want to visit Brazil but think its expensive? It’s not. I love markets because I love of the thrill of the haggle, its the same when it comes to flights, in that I love me a BARGAIN. Check out Google Flights as that will show your flight prices for various destinations leaving from your city or your chosen starting point. You can even choose a destination based on how cheap it is to fly there. Another site that has AMAZING deals is Secretflying.com. I watch this site like a hawk. I have come across flight deals to Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, Panama, China for well under £300 for a return! They have deals from the USA. Someone from the travel group I am a part of on Facbook traveled to Kenya from the USA for under $500 including flight and accommodation. One deal that still haunts me, for not taking it last year was a flight to Brazil for £182 return!!! Yes, I still cry every night for missing out on that deal. Other sites include Flyonous.com in addition to your Expedia, Flight Scanner, and Momondo.
If you can’t wait for deals then bear in mind which days you travel, as some days cost more than others. Wednesday and Sundays, are apparently the cheap days to fly on.
Also take advantage of flights with stopovers. If your flight has a stop over this is an opportunity to get a taster of a new city without investing too much time or money in it. If you like it you can come back for longer. Also consider going directly to airlines like Norwegian airlines, Icelandic airline as they do flights between Europe and USA for under $100. That’s a steal if you are in the Euro/Pound zone. Also search the low budget airlines where you are. I cannot stand RyanAir, and each time I say to myself, “Never again Bee”. They are like a drug with those deals making me ache just for one last hit. Did I also mention that the same flight to Copenhagen I booked for £10 each way, I found a week later for £2! Yep so how can one travel addict resist?! I think I need rehab, seriously. The more you save on flights and accommodation the more you get to splurge on maybe a little shopping combined with your exploring or spending on culinary experiences, theatre experience or whatever your vice is.
10. SEE THINGS FOR YOUR SELF – IT’S BETTER TO SEE SOMETHING ONCE THAN TO HEAR ABOUT IT A THOUSAND TIMES
There is no harm in hearing about something a thousand times, but one must go and experience it for themselves. I love reading about people’s experiences of a destination, their tips on saving money, to the best and easiest ways to get to particular place. Hence, this post on how I afford to travel for next to nothing, which not only gives you an insight into how I Travel but how you too, can save money on travel. We are only in the middle of the year and I have already been to Germany, Denmark, India and Greece all with the above tips I have mentioned. That’s 4 countries and 7 cities in that last 6 months alone.
Some of the sites for my source of wanderlust inspiration as well as learning from their experience or mistakes; OneikaTheTraveller who has been to 66 countries so far, Adventurous Kate for her solo travels as well as featuring other travellers for more travel inspired tales, join Facebook groups with liked minded travellers who come with a wealth of travel tips and information from every corner of the globe.
Groups like Nomadness Tribe with thousands who have been to each country on the planet, imagine the travel knowledge at your disposal. Bloggers like ThePointsGuy, TheFrugalTravelGuy will take you about rewards schemes and travel deals that will have you travelling for without going broke, as well as many other bloggers out there who can give you personal accounts for destinations that you have in mind. That way you will have information on the cheap form of transport. The best routes, places you should visit that you wouldn’t have otherwise considered.
Bianca works full-time as an IT consultant but still finds her time to indulge her wanderlust and travel a few times a year. Her travel tales can be found on her personal blog as well has travel features on TravelNoire, Easy Jet, Nomadness Tribe and Late rooms. Check out her blog Itsallbee and follow her @itsallbee.