Solo Travel on a Tight Budget

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There are very few things more important to me than traveling is. Because of that, I have little to no problem skipping classes and spending my last dime on a half-planned trip to an unfamiliar city. Making it such a priority and being completely comfortable hopping on a $5 bus and staying in a hostel with strangers isn't a sentiment most people share so I do 95% of my traveling on my own. This is honestly just what I prefer anyway as it's much more difficult to coordinate schedules, things tend to go wrong when I have to rely on other people and one of my favorite things about traveling is the freedom. I'm a pretty fearless traveler so take everything I say with a grain of salt and decide what YOU personally are comfortable with. These tips will also be skewed to my own personal conditions: I don't have a car and am not old enough to rent one, I live in a big city with a lot of transportation options and I have approximately $3 to my name at any given time. This is also much more geared towards people with time and date restraints who can't just pick up and go wherever whenever it's cheapest (i.e. traveling for concerts, leaving after class/work to take a weekend trip etc.). 

 

PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION

Tip #1: Never ASSUME anything. The biggest hurdle almost everyone I talk to about traveling has is assuming that they can't do it before ever actually looking into it. There are things that straight up just won't be doable so probably forget about flying to Hawaii and staying in a resort over spring break but explore your options. There are loads of very legitimate and affordable options for travel, especially if you're like me and live in a city with decent public transportation. Just a few of the options available for getting outside of Philly are Megabus, Greyhound, at least 15 other bus companies, Amtrak, regional rail and the airport. I can get to Boston, NYC, DC and Baltimore for an average of $25 round trip on MegaBus. After around 40 bus trips, I've only had two issues with busses being late and zero issues with cleanliness, other passengers or anything else. I'm really not sure where this idea that it's dirty and sketchy came from but I've literally never had an issue with that. 

Also make sure you have options for getting around once you're actually in these cities. I try to stay in places that are as central as possible and are close to public transportation if available. Have Uber and Lyft downloaded to your phone but don't use them unless you need to. Taking an Uber in Midtown Manhattan is almost always totally unnecessary and you'll end up paying $20 for a trip that would have cost you $2.50 on the subway, not to mention traffic and have you SEEN NYC drivers???? Transit can be overwhelming at first but taking a minute to understand it will save you a ton. Google will tell you exactly what to do if you search for directions and switch to the public transportation option. Don't be afraid to ask attendants and bus drivers for help and trust me- you will not die from taking the subway. It's fine. 

FLYING

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Flying in the US leaves you with less options, especially if you have set dates you need to stick within, but there are still ways to make sure you're getting the best deal. I typically book flights about 50 days before my trip as both booking them too early and waiting until the last minute will cost you substantially more. The app Hopper is helpful for this as it estimates when the flight will be cheapest and when you should buy tickets. Don't actually book your flight through this app though as they charge service fees, just use it to find flights. I usually start by searching on Google Flights to see which airlines are cheapest and get a good idea of my options. Google Flights will allow you to open a calendar where it shows the cheapest flight available on each day which is really useful if you do have a bit of flexibility. I believe some airlines such as Southwest don't show up on Google Flights though so I also check a couple of other sites like Kayak and Skyscanner. Student Universe also offers discounts to students and often sells open seats at discounted prices. Keep an eye on airlines like Frontier and Spirit which have limited routes and restricted baggage options but are often dirt cheap. 

This is another example where keeping your options open can be really beneficial. If plausible, also look into flying from/into a nearby airport. I'm going to Vancouver in February and rather than flying Philly to Vancouver, I'm doing Baltimore to Seattle. Adding in a 2 hour train from Philly to Baltimore and a 3 hour train from Seattle to Vancouver saved me about $200 (almost 50% the total cost of my trip). I also get to see Seattle now? No losses here. 

LODGING

If you're on a really tight budget you have to be willing to settle for things that just "get the job done" but aren't necessarily luxurious. Look into staying in hostels- both here and in Europe they typically run me about $30 a night. I've never had a single issue with them and actually often prefer them to hotels as most of the other people using them are exactly like us- chill, young foreigners with a lot of wanderlust. Bring your own lock so you can keep your things in their lockers and I wouldn't recommend using them for stays longer than a couple days but they're a fantastic option.

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I also use AirBnb religiously. At first I was a bit sketched out by the idea of being a young woman and staying in other people's homes by myself but now it's basically all I use and usually costs less than a fourth of what hotels in the same area would. Read through host's reviews and their house rules to make sure they line up with what you're looking for. I exclusively used AirBnb for a month long trip to Europe and at one point had an entire apartment in Paris, 10 min walk from the Sacre Coeur, for $50 a night. I also had an entire apartment in Malaga, Spain on the 1st line off the beach for $45 a night. The hosts were actually a big help and comfort as I was completely unfamiliar and on my own in 5 out of 7 cities so they showed me around, gave me tips, drove me to the airport/train station etc. I think of it more like staying with a host family. They also often left food that I could eat and having a kitchen even just to make your own breakfast can save you a lot of money as eating out for every meal adds up REALLY quickly. 

TRAVELING ABROAD

Going overseas is no longer just for wealthy people and if you take the time to plan a trip and consider your options it'll be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. This summer, I had the option to study abroad but chose to plan my own trip to Europe and it cost me literally $15,000 less than studying abroad would have. I saved FIFTEEN THOUSAND dollars by just planning my own trip and doing something no one else was. Was it a shit ton of work? Yes. Was it also the best month of my life? Yes again. There are thousands of round trip flights to Europe for around $300 and once you're there traveling between countries is crazy cheap, like $40 flights and trains wherever you need to go. Here I only have experience with trips to Europe but going off the beaten path will cost you even less. 

I won't get too far into traveling overseas as planning it on my own was a really long and complicated process but basically this entire post can be summed up with 3 words: DO YOUR RESEARCH. Go over every option and put time into making sure you're choosing the best ones. Consider just exploring beautiful cities and wandering around instead of spending a lot of money on tourist attractions. Sometimes it's ok to skip a class, call out from work and drop everything to do something impulsive. I've never regretted a decision to travel, even when it left me on a literal Ramen or lettuce every night for the next 2 weeks type of budget. Skip going out to eat and put the money you would have used into a travel fund. Consider your priorities but the simple act of making less excuses and being ok with being a little uncomfortable and nervous will open up a whole new world.