How to Travel Cheaply and Have the Time of Your Life
I traveled for about a month. Straight. No job, no home. I lived in hostels and traveling from place to place. When I returned home, many of my friends and family were baffled at how I did it and how I could afford it.
To Americans, travel is perceived as this expensive thing planned years in advance. They need to plan for the dog, the car, the house, and the kids. But if you’re renting, you have no kids or pets, think about how much you spend each month just living in the same spot? It can add up. This is exactly what I was thinking when I got the itch to go on this trip.
For me, my opportunity came when my lease was coming to an end. I had moved to London a year prior. Almost all I owned could fit in suitcases. I had acquired a few things over the year, but I sold them to pack my life neatly back into suitcases. I shipped those suitcases back home and kept only the necessities.
Here’s how I managed to travel for a month straight without income on a budget. In addition to that, I had the best time of my life. This was also the time that I traveled solo and found myself.
I did very minimal planning for this trip. The only criteria I had was that my flights and accommodations had to be no more expensive than my rent. I was paying $1000 a month in rent at the time, which gave me a pretty big budget for flights and hostels. Here’s roughly how much I spent:
Flight London to Munich - $40
Hostel in Munich - $35 for 3 days
Flight Munich to Venice - $40
Hostel in Venice - $60 for 3 days
Train Venice to Florence - $56 (missed my original train which was $8)
Hostel in Florence - $90 for 5 days
Train Florence to Naples - $10
Hostel in Naples/Amalfi - $58 for 5 days
Train Naples to Rome - $6
Hostel in Rome - $50 for 3 days
Flight Rome to Dubrovnik - $40
Hostel in Dubrovnik - $50 for 3 days
Flight Dubrovnik to London - $80
This came out to just under $900, so I was under budget. Remember that this budget was just for transportation and accommodations. I’ll get around to the food and fun stuff in a second. I was spending $1000 a month on just rent, not even transportation. That means this travel itinerary was actually cheaper than my living expenses in London at the time.
The only other criteria was: I had to end back in England on a certain date. My flight back to the U.S. (not included in this budget, although I found a great one-way for $400 baggage included through Norwegian) was from London.
I’ve lived paycheck to paycheck for most of my life. Budgeting is something I’ve had to get really good at, particularly if I want to still have fun in life. In London, I paid about $120 a month on groceries, $40 a month on a gym membership, $50 a month on general transportation, and about $100 a month on restaurants and bars. And, of course, there were always other expenses. All in, I budgeted that I spent roughly $500 a month between food and activities.
While $500 is not a lot of money for food and activities for a month, I knew there had to be free things to do in each city. I did some research to make my trip really worth my while. Here’s a list of all the free activities I did:
Munich: The English Gardens, the atmosphere at beer gardens, an afternoon by the river.
Venice: Walking the city (it’s really the best part), the Cemetery of Isolation, the island of Murano glass blowing exhibition.
Florence: Walking the Ponte Vecchio, Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral, Pitti Palace and surrounding gardens.
Naples/Amalfi Region: There’s not a lot that’s free in this area, so I budgeted to spend some money on the boat ride out to Capri and a tour of Pompei.
Rome: the Roman Forum, Palentine Hill, Circus Maximus, Watching the Pope at Saint Peter’s Cathedral.
Dubrovnik: Cliff diving, looking for ruins.
The only way I could pull off $500 of food and entertainment for nearly a month (think about it, that’s about $16 a day) was to maximize the free things to do in each city. Luckily a lot of museums will offer free days, and in the summer, most major cities are located on nice rivers to cool off in.
So here are the takeaways: don’t plan places, plan time and budget. You’ll never be able to fit every place into your time frame or budget allotted. So make a plan like spending $800 on a 2 week trip, then plan your trip around that. You’ll be much happier with the experience over spending every last penny trying to make it to Singapore for 2 days.