If you are new to travel or most of your travel experiences come down to organized trips with agencies or with family and friends, the idea of traveling solo, especially if you think you don’t have enough money, can seem scary. I can totally relate to this since I felt the same way before my first time traveling solo.
On a daily basis, the media is filling us up with all the terrible things that are happening around the world, stirring up fear and creating an image of the world as a horribly dangerous place filled with crime, hate and terrorists. But you know what? The world is, in fact, a much better place than what is being portrayed. The thing is, the positive news about good people simply doesn’t sell. And that’s it. Once you start traveling, you will encounter many, many random acts of kindness from people you’ve just met and from complete strangers who will, one by one, restore your faith in humanity. This is something that happens more often when you are traveling solo because you are more likely to spend time with other people.
Being a stranger in a foreign country, you are forced to get out of your comfort zone, and that’s the place where the magic starts to happen. Not knowing how your day will look and being completely free to shape it as YOU want, is one of the most liberating feelings ever. Traveling solo gives you the freedom to do whatever you want, while not being dependent on anyone else. You are free to change your plans or not to have a plan at all.
The other most common reason that holds people back from traveling is money. There is still a strong presumption that traveling is reserved only for the privileged rich people, but this can’t be further from the truth. While traveling, I’ve met people from all walks of life who are the living proof that the only thing you need to travel is good health and strong will to do it. I am not saying that you don’t need cash, but I am saying you don’t need to spend much more than you would back home. Your spendings depend solely on you and how resourceful and adaptable can you be.
When I first started traveling, I made a lot of mistakes. I would spend way too much money mostly because I wouldn’t do any research or explore all the possibilities I had access to. I would mostly stay in hotels, eat only in places recommended by Trip Advisor and do expensive organized tours, thinking that’s the only way to see and do things. Traveling like that was not only expensive but, for me, was also quite unfulfilling and often boring. I would not meet any locals, nor would I get a feel for what the life was like in that country. I would come back home only with pictures and a few facts I learned from our tour guide, and I soon realized I could have gotten all that while sitting on my sofa and googling the destination—plus I would have saved a lot of money!
Things changed when I changed the way I traveled. As soon as I did that, I fell in love with traveling. Here are some things I learned over the years that will allow you to travel while not breaking your bank account.
Airline tickets will probably eat up a big chunk of your budget. To minimize this, there are several things you can do. First, do your research. Don’t just call the agency and ask them to find you a ticket for a specific date. The agency will, of course, charge you a fee for their services that will make the ticket a few percents more expensive right from the start. Instead, check out Skyscanner or Google flights to get an idea of which company has the lowest fares.
The second rule. Try to be as flexible with the dates as you can. Some dates will just be cheaper than others because of the flight’s availability. Usually, weekdays are cheaper.
The third rule. There are great websites on the internet that search for the best flight deals and error fares and publish those deals. Check those sites regularly and act fast because they disappear soon. For example, at the moment of writing this, I found a deal on return tickets from Italy to South Africa for $100, and my friends flew from Czechia (formerly known as the Czech Republic) to Australia for less than $300! Some of those sites include Holiday Pirates or Fly Free.
When you buy a ticket, you’ve done half of the work already, and the trip is no longer just an idea in your head but has become a reality!
If you are on a tight budget, the best thing to do is simply to travel to destinations that are cheaper than your home country. Southeast Asia is the perfect destination for travelers on a budget—you can live for less than $20 per day! You can find good hostels that are less than $5 and have a proper meal for no more than $2. Plus, Southeast Asia is stunning. It has tropical weather, the most delicious food, and some of the nicest people you will ever meet.
There are also some amazing countries that allow for cheap travel in Europe, such as Czechia, Portugal, Hungary, Greece or Poland.
If you don’t want to spend much money on accommodation: choose hostels, and if you don’t want to spend anything at all: start couchsurfing. Hostels are great places for solo travelers on a budget because they are social places where you get to meet other travelers and are super affordable. In Europe, depending on the country, you will be able to find hostels from $10 while in Southeast Asia you can spend as little as $2 for a bed.
Perhaps you’ve heard about couchsurfing? It’s a community of travelers that host and stay in each other homes for free. But couchsurfing is much more than free accommodation, and it shouldn’t be used just for the sake of crashing on a free bed. Couchsurfing is all about meeting new people, exchanging your stories and learning about other cultures. It is the best possible way to meet the country and the city through local people. Maybe the idea of sleeping in a stranger’s place doesn’t appeal to you, but there is nothing to be afraid of. Most of the people in the couchsurfing community are super nice and friendly, and you can always check their reviews and find out more about them from other travelers.
Alternatively, another idea would be to try a home exchange (also known as a house swap). This is where you basically stay in someone’s house for free, and that person stays in yours. The exchange can be done at the same time or not—it all depends on how you arrange things with your home-swappers.
4. Volunteering and Student Programs
If you are a student or simply have enough holidays (or free time), there are plenty of volunteering programs available to be found. Not only will you have, in most cases, free accommodation and food, but you will also get to know the local community and be able to contribute to it. There are sites like Workaway or WWOOF where you can find plenty of opportunities around the world, from teaching English, to working on organic farms or to help out in hostels.
Erasmus+ is the best youth program in the European Union and, in my opinion, probably one of the best programs the EU has come up with in general. Whether you want to study abroad, start an internship, or just join a short-term voluntary program, Erasmus+ offers you all of that that while covering most of your expenses. I have personally been on Erasmus+ 2 times, once as a study year in Poland and once as an intern in Czechia. Both were the most amazing student experiences I could have hoped for, and my living costs were cheaper than what they would have been at home!
5. Other Tips
After flights and accommodation have been sorted out, you still have plenty of ways to save up on other stuff. Rather than eating all the time in restaurants, cook your own meals or ask your host to teach you their traditional meal (most of them will gladly do it). Use public transportation and go on free walking tours. In short, try to live as similarly as you do when back home. In this way, you will not only save money, but you will experience a new destination from the local’s perspective.
And finally, my last piece of advice: don’t wait for others to join you, and don’t wait for a more convenient time to travel—they both may never come. Get out there and see the world!
Suggested next reading: 5 Expert Tips To Make Traveling Alone 1000x Better