Travel Abroad on a Budget by Thinking Like a Local

It’s a slow day in the office—you scroll through social media feed and see photos of beautiful scenery and delicious-looking cuisines from far-off countries. You read posts about your friends’ once-in-a-lifetime experiences of travel abroad. You wonder: Why am I here and not there?

Your desire to travel overseas is part of an increased interest in visiting other countries by people in the U.S. A study conducted by Visa comparing the travel patterns of their cardholders and the travel industry’s forecasts found that about “282 million households (globally) will plan at least one international trip per year by 2025, up nearly 35 percent from 2015.” It estimated U.S. spending on international travel will be up 33 percent in the same time period.

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As we realize the importance of cultivating a healthy work-life balance it is becoming increasingly popular to travel internationally. We’re hustling hard, so our escapes are getting more ambitious.

Although traveling broadens our horizons, alters our perspectives and gives us a greater appreciation for the world, our dreams of going abroad are often diminished by the price tag associated with it.

The Visa study found that the families most likely to travel internationally will spend an average of $5,305 per household per year on those trips. For many, spending that much per year on vacation isn’t an option.

Scratch your travel itch on the cheap

It’s true—you can spend a LOT on vacation. But there are also strategies for keeping things cheap so you can take the trip you’ve always wanted to.

Matt Kepnes, best known for his budget travel blog Nomadic Matt, explains in his New York Times best-selling book “How to Travel the World on $50 a Day” that traveling can be accessible to everyone if you think like a local rather than a tourist.

1. Look for bargains

“Your trip will go a lot smoother if you budget and organize your money before you leave,” Kepnes wrote in his book.

Instead of thoughtlessly buying, spend time researching the best deals.

Kepnes suggests:

– You’ll get more bang for your buck traveling in a country with a lower cost of living. But if more expensive countries are on your must-do list, visit in the off-season.

– Plane ticket prices vary depending on the day, time, season, and upcoming holidays. Typically, prices are lowest on Tuesday nights.

– For frequent fliers, he recommends getting a credit card that rewards in free miles.

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2. Rethink your travel expenses

“You don’t need to splurge every day in order to ‘experience the culture,’” Kepnes wrote. “In fact, if you want to truly experience life in a particular region, you do the exact opposite—live frugally, just like the locals.”

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If experiencing culture is the most important aspect of the trip to you, there is no need to spend tons on a resort. Instead, as Kepnes explained, be one of the thousands who “couchsurf”–the term for living cost-free with a host family. Look into low-cost, no-frills hostels. Or consider getting a VISA to work during their stay.

If luxury is the aim, research affordable yet beautiful destinations like Southeast Asia and South America. Find locations outfitted with all the high-end stuff you’re looking for, but for much less. Go off the beaten path and recalibrate your expectations to save money.

3. Follow in the footsteps of travel experts

“You won’t be the first person to leave home and explore the jungles of Asia,” Kepnes wrote. “There is a well-worn travel trail around the world where you’ll be able to find support and comfort from other travelers.”

Traveling is inviting. Everywhere we go; there will be others alongside us. Learn from their experiences—from their mishaps, obstacles and successes.

Kepnes is just one of many travel bloggers out there. Find one who resonates with you and start from there. PBS favorite Rick Steves offers tons of advice in this vein—his whole thing is traveling Europe with only a carry-on-sized bag and living cheaply.

The possibilities are endless—even on a budget—but it all begins with research and an adventurous spirit.

Susan Thao

Susan works in production at Twin Cities PBS. Aside from that, she is best known as an adventure-seeker, Steelers and LeBron James fanatic and a full-time graduate student majoring in technical communications.