It’s no mystery why our article on “15 Ways to Travel for Free (Or At Least Cheap)” continues to be the most popular item on the Verge Magazine website. After all, travel may be the “only thing you buy that makes you richer,” but working, studying and volunteering abroad often comes with a hefty price tag.
With that in mind, we decided to ask the experts—our From the Field bloggers—for their advice on how to travel for free (or at least cheap). From cities in Colombia to rural communities in Tanzania, they had no shortage of tips for how to get the most bang for your buck abroad. They had a wide range of advice but all agreed on one thing—travel, no matter the price tag, is worth the investment.
“This may be considered bad advice but if you have money, spend it on good experiences,” says Verge contributor Roop Gill, who is currently studying abroad in the United Kingdom. “Nothing is more gratifying than travelling around the world, learning about cultures firsthand and making lifelong friends.”
Read on to find out how these pro travelers stretch their dollars while living abroad.
Work Abroad Bloggers
Jessica Brook: EFL Teacher in Bogota, Colombia
Best budget travel tip: Bus journeys are deceptively long even for seemingly short distances and flying can save a lot of time and sore buttocks. For cheap flights within Colombia, vivacolombia.co is a new budget airline you won’t come across on aggregate sites like Skyscanner.
Unexpected expenses: Bogota living is not as cheap as you’d expect—supermarkets are pricey and it’s often cheaper to eat out. Simple things you take for granted at home can also break the bank – clothes and bedding for example – Ikea and H&M haven’t made it to Latin America yet.
Pro budgeting: I transfer a monthly amount out of temptation’s way into my UK account.
Bonus tip: Second only to Peru, Colombia is a world leader in fake bills. Do some research online to learn how to spot dodgy notes, get into the habit of checking them in shops and think about investing in a special fake-detecting pen. We recently got stung taking out dollars for a holiday—60 dollars worth of fake notes that (obviously) wouldn’t be taken back once we’d left the cambio. Live and learn!
Greg Snell: Wildlife Caretaker on Kangaroo Island, Australia
Money management: I keep track of my expenditures on a note in my phone daily to make sure I am on track and not being an idiot and spending more money than I actually have—which is easier than you think.
Best budget travel tip: I hate seeing people pinching every penny. Travel is meant to be fun. Make sure you have saved enough money to allow for spontaneity.
Alana Fata: IYIP Intern in Hoi An, Vietnam
Worth the cost: I splurge when I am feeling a little bit homesick, whether it is on a certain meal or item from home.
Best budget travel tip: Download a free currency converter app on your phone. I use GlobeConvert Free. It has proven to be my saving grace in a lot of travel situations. When you are skipping from once currency to the next every couple of days, it is well worth the download.
Allison Burney: ESL Teacher in Busan, South Korea
Money management: To get a rough idea of my costs, I kept a detailed list of everything I spent for one month. Then I had a general idea of what to expect for the coming months.
Worth the cost: Having a fun night out with friends is something that I don’t mind spending extra money on. It is a great way to learn more about Korean culture. In Korea, a night out typically involves dinner, a few rounds of drinks and possibly karaoke.
Natalie Segovia: Snowboard Instructor in Mayrhofen, Austria
Saving for upcoming adventures: I am a bit of a hermit back home in Vancouver. Spending $20 on a meal could potentially be three nights accommodation depending on where you’re traveling. Every dollar counts.
Best budget travel tips: Night buses save you on accommodation for the night. Take advantage of the hostel’s free breakfast and don't drink every night of the week. Your money will deteriorate quicker than you think. Also CheapOair, Kayak and Skyscanner are good for comparing flights.
Taylor St. John: Working Abroad in New Zealand
Saving for upcoming adventures: Even though you are earning an income on a working holiday, there is still a need to save before you arrive. Before my last two trips I moved back home to southern New Jersey, lived with my parents and got a local job. These weren’t always jobs I wanted to be doing or that pertained to the degree I had, but they were necessary and useful ways to save.
Best budget travel tip: I’m now a huge proponent of WWOOFing—or working for food and accommodation. It is such a great way to get a unique experience away from the typical tourist circuit, and also an extremely handy way to save pennies. Check out wwoof.co.nz or helpx.net for more info.
Study Abroad Bloggers
Melissa Gagné: Hospitality Student in Ljubljana, Slovenia
Best budget travel tips: Befriend locals and check online travel forums. People generally try to help each other out and give some pretty good advice. Also, don't forget your student card. There are some good discounts to be had. In addition, beware of tourist traps if you're eating out. It usually only takes a few extra minutes to get out of the tourist precinct. Not only will you save money, the food is usually better too.
Bonus tip: Remember to have fun! While it's useful to try and stretch your dollar as far as it can go, you don't want to miss out on the experiences that can be had wherever you may be. It's really about balance. Save your money on the non-essentials, try to cut costs on the necessities, and allow yourself to splurge a little—it's all part of the journey.
Roop Gill: Journalism Student in London, UK
Unexpected expenses: No one can really prepare you for “how expensive London really is” – and oh boy I heard that so many times before I moved here.
Best budget travel tip: Meet people and be genuinely nice to them. No nice gesture ever goes unreturned. It’s a cycle: you meet people while traveling, they become your friends, they come stay with you in London and when you go visit them you stay with them for free. While I was traveling through Australia, I only had to pay for accommodation once. More than saving money, it’s the great feeling of knowing that you can go to Hobart, Tasmania (!) and you have friends there that will host you.
Judi Zienchuk: Hospitality and Tourism Management Student in Singapore
Money management: In addition to scholarships, I was able to get a job through my university’s job bank, where most of my work could be done online remotely.
Best budget travel trip: Make sure to get a public transport card—when you’re trying to soak in everything a city has to offer in two days, you’re going to be travelling around quite a bit. Groupon Singapore http://www.groupon.sg/ is great for all kinds of deals from travel packages to dinners to day passes to Universal Studios. Just make sure to read the fine print, as some deals will tax you quite heavily.
Bonus tip: Try to avoid withdrawing money on a regular basis. Banks don’t provide the best exchange rates and my account charged me with international withdrawal fees every time I used it. Instead, I took most of my money out at the beginning of the semester and bought a key to lock it up in my room.
Volunteer Abroad Bloggers
Alyssa McDonald: Volunteer with Youth Challenge International in Tanga, Tanzania
Best budget travel tip: I try to do everything local: taking local minibuses (called dala-dalas), eating at local restaurants (avoiding expensive tourist ones) and of course, bartering to get local prices.
Worth the cost: I bought a nice phone here and it has been totally worth it. Data contracts are so cheap (only about $6 per month) so it is awesome to be able to upload my photos and share details about my travels on the go.
Anna Sawchuk: Volunteer with Operation Groundswell in Thailand and Cambodia
Unexpected expenses: In Cambodia I had to spend some money on medicine for an illness. Luckily because I had travel insurance I got reimbursed once I was home. Always bring a credit card for emergencies (you never know how much money medication or hospital bills will cost) and get travel/health insurance whenever you are travelling.
Worth the cost: After weeks of staying in hostels and guesthouses, on one of the last nights of our trip we stayed in a nice hotel in the south of Thailand. It was so rewarding and such a treat.