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Many a young nomad dreams of a backpacking journey around the U.S.A., Asia, Europe, or even around the world. However, many a young (or not so young) nomad lacks the zeros and commas in their bank account to do it in style. Fortunately, there are many ways to see the world without dipping into your college fund (or cashing in your 401k). We put together 6 backpacking travel tips for the budget traveler so no matter the size of your bank account, you can go forth and explore.
The less luggage you carry, the less cash you’ll have to shell out for checked baggage fees or even large carry-ons. Some airlines charge as much as $35 for anything bigger than a daypack in the cabin. Nearly all of them charge for a checked bag. If you can fit everything you need for your 2-, 6- or 12-month jaunt in one large backpack, great! If you can fit it in one small daypack and an oversized jacket full of pockets, even better!
Consider Alternative Accommodation
Hotels are expensive. Skip them if you’re comfortable doing so. CouchSurfing.com is a free option that you may want to consider. If you’re not familiar with the concept, you send requests to locals who live in the destination to which you are headed and request to sleep on their couch (or if you’re lucky, a spare room) in exchange for conversation. It’s a great way to experience the local culture with someone who is familiar with the area.
Hostels are also much cheaper than hotels and you can choose from dorms for as little as $10 or less per person per night. They usually have private rooms available, too, if that makes you feel more comfortable. Hostels offer a good opportunity to connect with other budget travelers or find companions with whom you can explore.
Another option that is more expensive than hostels but a little less fancy than hotels is Airbnb. These homeshare-type accommodations are popping up all over the world and cover a wide range of accommodation options. They’re not always the cheapest, but if you’re not picky, you can usually score a pretty good deal. If you’re lucky, you might still get to enjoy the company and suggestions of a local instead of a hotel concierge.
Book Free Travel With Credit Card Rewards
Everybody loves the idea of free travel. With all the spectacular travel rewards credit cards available, free travel is totally within reach. Most credit cards, like the popular Chase Sapphire Preferred or Capital One Venture card, even offer bonuses that could equate to a free flight right off the bat.
With the Chase Sapphire Preferred, if you spend $4,000 in the first three months of account opening, you’ll get 50,000 bonus points plus up to 2x points per dollar on all your spending. That’s worth $500 — enough for a ticket to many international destinations. The Capital One Venture offers the same for spending $3,000 in three months. It offers 1.5x points per dollar and easy redemption options.
Eat For Cheap
Sampling a region’s cuisine is a great way to get a feel for a place and experience their culture. But that doesn’t mean the only way to do so is to dine at expensive restaurants every night. The locals don’t. Go where they go for sustenance: the local market or grocery store. You’ll likely find all kinds of interesting ingredients and snacks. Plus you can stock up and make your own meals, saving money in the process.
Research Transportation Options
If you are in a place with varied and established transportation options, do a little digging to see if there’s a cheaper (or more interesting) way to get from Point A to Point B. It might be an overnight train, a bus, or even a rideshare. It may even be a taxi that gets you to the next town!
BlaBla Car is a popular rideshare resource in Europe and the U.K. and the Rome2Rio app shows you travel times and prices for nearly all the transportation options available all over the world. In some countries like Australia and New Zealand, campervan relocation is also popular, allowing you to score a cheap or free ride if you’re going the same direction.
Avoid Currency Exchange Fees
Do what you can to avoid as many foreign transaction fees as possible. They can add up quickly when you spend time abroad. Paying for things with credit cards is largely considered the best way to get a quality exchange rate.
Withdrawing cash from foreign ATMs comes in second, followed by getting cash from the bank before you leave. Exchanging money at kiosks in airports and tourist hotspots should be the last option if you want to save the most money. The key is to find a bank or credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees or non-network ATM fees so you can swipe as often as you need.
If you’re going to regions where tech is limited, only take as much cash as you need out of the ATM if there’s one in the hotel or airport in your destination.
Johnny Jet has traveled over 100,000 miles a year since starting his newsletter in 1995 and has visited close to 100 countries. On his website, he writes about how to maximize your credit card points, how to find travel deals, cheap flights, and how to benefit from insightful travel tips. He has hosted a television special on The Travel Channel and was recently named one of Forbes’ Top 10 Travel Influencers for 2017. He travels the world with his wife Natalie DiScala, who writes the travel + style blog Oh! Travelissima and their son Jack. Be sure to sign up for his free newsletter(s)