International travel has always been seen as a luxury, an expense that only those with money can afford and something that everyone else has to spend several years saving for. But that’s no longer the case. It is now cheaper than ever to get flights into and out of the United States, and there are also many other ways that you can bring those travel costs down and see the world for less.
1. Book Accommodation Direct
Hotel comparison sites are one of several things that have helped to bring the cost of international travel down. They do this directly, by creating an accessible and highly competitive marketplace, but they also do it indirectly by frustrating a lot of smaller businesses who don’t have the time to keep those sites updated and don’t want to lose money giving them a cut.
To take advantage of this, you need to contact the hotel or bed and breakfast directly—the later the better. If they have a room available that no one is booking, they may be able to offer you a cheaper price over the phone, whereas the comparison website will continue listing the same price it always lists.
This is also a tip you can use even when it’s not the last minute. If you go direct they may be more willing to offer you a discounted rate knowing that they won’t have to process you through the comparison website and lose commission.
2. Book at the Right Time
Typically, flights should be booked as soon as possible and hotels should be booked as late as possible, while cruises should either be booked very early or very late. Early bookings help to fill seats and give the company some assurances that they’re not going to be flying an empty plane or sailing an empty ship, while late ones are used to fill those remaining seats that would remain empty otherwise.
In theory, it should be easy to get cheap plane tickets by booking late, but this is rarely the case. Anyone who has found themselves needing to book a last-minute flight or transfer can attest to that—the prices they charge are so extortionate you’ll wonder why they’re not wearing a mask and pointing a gun at you.
The worst time to book is usually anywhere up to 6 months before, as this tends to be the peak time when everyone books and when the prices are at their highest.
3. Think About How You’ll Get Around
There is one basic rule you need to follow when plotting a trip abroad: if you’re visiting a major city, take public transport; if you’re visiting a rural area, rent a car. Underground and overground trains can get you where you need to go in most major cities, with trams and buses picking up the slack. If you’re out in the middle of nowhere, or even if you’re in a major town that doesn’t have a metro, a rental car will get you from A to B.
You should always try to avoid taxi fares. They are either ridiculously expensive, as is the case with many major European cities, or dangerous, as is the case with some popular Asian travel spots. At worst you’ll be led right into a major scam, at best you’ll be broke.
4. Prepare for Self-Catering
Some cities will bleed you dry if you eat out two or three times a day. It’s the done thing on a city break—breakfast in a cafe, some street food in the afternoon, a big meal on an evening—but in some cities a week of living like that will cost more than the flights.
Take Paris as an example, breakfast or brunch in a central location can cost you upwards of $70 for 2 people. You’ll pay $10 to $15 just for a soda, and if you’re really hungry then you better be prepared to fork out over $100. If you’re going to an expensive city such as Paris, London, or many other major European locations, put a supermarket visit on your itinerary and buy food for a few days.
The price of eating out in most major European cities will blow you away when compared to what you pay back home. Some cities are cheaper, with Berlin being one of the best examples, but if you’re on a budget self-catering is always the best option.
5. Opt for Cheap Accommodation
If you don’t want to pay upwards of $100 for a comfortable hotel and you’re happy to make sacrifices in the name of affordability, then there are a few cheaper alternatives:
- Hostels: They are not everyone’s cup of tea, but if you’re traveling through Europe there are a number of very cheap hostels that can put you up for an extended period of time and charge very little for the pleasure. You will likely have to sleep in the same room as several other travelers, but if you’re traveling alone this can be a great way to meet people.
- Couchsurfing: Couchsurfing, AirBnB—these are all good options if you want maximum comfort and hospitality without blowing your budget. It’s also a great way to meet locals and even to have these locals show you around the local area.
6. Look for Free Activities
By the time you pay for flights, accommodation and food, you may not have much left to cover attractions. But if you plan smartly then you won’t need to spend much on attractions and activities and could even fill your itinerary for free.
Museums rarely charge an admission fee, most cities and major towns have music or food festivals to attend at least once a year, and there are also plenty of landmarks to see and walks to take, from rivers and lakes, to mountains, parks and botanical gardens. All major tourist destinations have a wealth of things to do that don’t cost anything, so make sure you plan in advance and root these freebies out before you fly.
There are also ways to save big on the things that are not free. In the UK, for instance, you can get a pass with the National Trust which will save you a small fortune when visiting gardens, castles and other historic sites; in the centre of Berlin there is a pass that will get you to all of their biggest museums; and elsewhere there are coupons and free days that you can exploit.
7. Leave the Cities Alone
The best way to see the world is to leave the big cities alone. you may miss out on the big attractions, but you’ll also save yourself a lot of money and experience some things that tourists don’t typically get to experience. Just outside of Paris you’ll find many quaint French towns where you can experience a wealth of history and great food; outside of London there are market towns, castles, and centuries of history. You’ll pay less for accommodation, food and pretty much everything else, and all it takes is a short train ride from the international airport.