By Tammy C. Freeman
For me and travelers like me, travel is life. The thrill of landing in a new country with great anticipation of what is in store is exhilarating. I am a Black, female, queer, solo traveler. I’ve been to most of the continents (sans two) and for the most part I’ve had a fabulous time.
Last year alone, I traveled to six countries on three continents and spent about 30 days outside of the U.S. Yes, I have a full-time job, a business, and I’m a parent. The biggest question people have about traveling has to do with affording to travel. If you have some disposable income, you most likely can afford international travel. But from my experience, it’s quite easy to travel without selling a body part to pay for your adventures. Most people think traveling is more expensive than it needs to be. Here are three tips for travels that won’t break the bank.
Tip #1: Follow The Deals, Not The Destination
Want to know how I flew roundtrip from NYC to Cairo, Egypt for $74 (before taxes and fees), scored a free return ticket from L.A. to Vancouver (sans taxes and fees) and got a $125 ticket to and from Guatemala and back? I scored these flights just by looking for deals and airfare glitches. I use sites like secretflying.com and theflightdeal.com to find airfare deals and glitches. They have newsletters you can sign up for to be among the first to know when an air deal or glitch comes up.
When your dates and locations are flexible, you’ll spend much less on airfare. If you’re dead-set on visiting Paris in June and only flying a specific airline, then you’re at the mercy of the pricing that is set for that location on those dates. The best thing to do is to make a list of places that you want to visit, and grab the deals as they arise. Eventually, you’ll get to all the places on your list and you’ll pay a lot less by being flexible. If you’re set on Paris, you may find a great deal to Amsterdam or another European city for a fraction of what you’d spend on airfare directly to Paris. And if you do find such a deal, and you are adamant about going to Paris, take advantage of tip #2…
Tip #2: Get Closer
So you’ve found a great deal to Amsterdam for $150 roundtrip, but you really want to go to Paris. No problem. Once you get near the country you want to visit, there are a plethora of cheap commuter planes that can get you around cheaply and quickly. They may not be super fancy, but they get you from point A to point B safely. You can easily grab a flight from Amsterdam to Paris for $80 roundtrip or less one-way. And that’s a regular rate; you’ll pay even less if you catch a fare sale.
So now you’ve visited two cities, for a fraction of the price. You can do this for practically anywhere. If you want to go to Bali but find a great deal to Bangkok. Look at the prices from Bangkok to Bali. You’ll find it cheaper to get the deal to Bangkok and fly from there to Bali. The idea is to get in the general area and use commuter planes to get to your desired destination. Also, use commuter planes to hop around countries in close proximity to visit several countries instead of spending all your time in one. Keep mind that some countries have visa requirements, so be sure to secure any visas you may need in advance.
Also consider other means of local transportation such as trains, buses, and ships. If you’ve always wanted to visit Cape Town you’ll find that flights are much cheaper to Johannesburg. Simply book to Johannesburg and hop a local flight to Cape Town or if you have time, take the scenic route by driving or taking the train. Again, these are just ideas for traveling without breaking the bank, but your travel style will dictate how much you pay. Meaning, if you can’t stand the thought of taking a train and plane is the only way to go, then be prepared to pay more. Or, if you want the quickest route just keep in mind that shorter duration routes tend to be higher priced. If you’re a five-star luxury traveler, you won’t find much on a backpackers budget that will suit your needs.
Tip #3: Do As The Locals Do
A good way to save money when at your destination is doing as the locals do. I’ve taken public transportation in Istanbul, Rio de Janeiro, and Southern Italy. In doing so, I saved a lot of money versus taking a cab or a tourist bus. Also, I got to mingle with the locals and see a side of places that tourists don’t normally see. I visited the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul for the price of a train ticket (around $3), nearly $60 less than the tour company wanted to charge me. In Italy, I hopped from Sorrento to Postiano to Amalfi for less than $30 total by taking the ferry. To add to that, I went from Amalfi to Naples by bus and train for just a $9 ticket, a tourist company charges $100 for that same trip.
I’m not saying not to use tourism companies; there is certainly value there. In certain locations, it’s probably best to just go with a tourism company to save time, money, and hassle. For example, I used a tour company to visit a cocoa farm in Brazil. It was difficult to access on my own and I needed an English-speaking guide. The tour company had access through pre-arranged tours and English-speaking guides, so paying for their services was the best option. On the other hand, there were plenty of times while traveling where I just made my way to places on my own.
In Istanbul, I went off the beaten path and dined with the locals for a fraction of what I would have paid at my hotel. A good indication that you’re in a local establishment is when the signs and menus are in the local language and not in English. The owners of the restaurants I dined at often translated the menu for me. And when there is no one to translate, Google Translate works well. I’m saying this to say, you pay what locals pay at local establishments and you’ll pay a premium in touristy areas or at establishments geared towards tourists. Eating where the locals eat is a great way to save money, get a taste of local cuisine, and support local businesses.
Flexibility is key. Most flight deals aren’t direct flights. You may have a stop or even an overnight layover. The current landscape of the travel industry is great for consumers because there are so many deals to be had, and we have so much information available to us. Where there is a will, there is a way to not empty your wallet.
Tammy, 35, is a serial entrepreneur, wine aficionado and world traveler. A burgeoning social economist, Tammy travels the world to locate women entrepreneurs in order to share their stories. She loves visiting beautiful places and creating beautiful spaces. She blogs about travel, great wine and home design on her blog tammyonthego.com.