Four years ago, I thought that taking a trip to the Bahamas was exotic.
I was a typical Long Island girl: my best airport attire consisted of a sweatsuit, Uggs and a messy bun; Le Sport Sac duffel in toe.
Fast forward to today: I value my passport more than my license. Those pieces of paper have seen more of the world than your average 60-year old American.
Nineteen countries to be exact.
So, before I hit the two-year mark of being a Real Live Adult — aka still paying back student loans — I have become addicted to traveling the world. And, while I don’t say I’m an expert in much (anything really), traveling without having any money is definitely my forte.
For those of you who think that you need to be a millionaire to snorkel in Belize, or skydive over the Great Barrier Reef, or even swim in Icelandic glacial water— you don’t.
I’m not. And, I’ve crossed all of those activities off my bucket-list before turning a quarter century old.
Because, with a little bit of savvy, and an inbox full of travel alerts — You can travel the world while broke, too.
Before your Trip:
1. Start making some sacrifices
Daily $5 lattes and online shopping binges at Nasty Gal need to stop.
If you want to become a world traveler, it’s important to realize that you can’t have everything.
As I started to write this, I realized that I feel way more comfortable spending money on a flight rather than handing over my credit card at Zara. I have found more value in seeing the world than watching my closet fill up with $40 crop tops.
Either way, it’s your choice. But, as a Brand New Adult sans the saving accounts of a hedge fund manager, you need to make choices.
So, if you aspire to get a Thai massage in Thailand or ride camels in Morocco, think twice about that cab home from the club.
2. Research the shit out of your trip
Make Google Flights your homepage.
Seriously. I spend months (although it may not seem like it) mulling over and researching and learning about a location before I actually book a trip.
For example, when I quit my job last November, I had about a week off in between running the NYC Marathon and starting at my new job (yes, that was a casual period of time for me).
Of course, I had to travel somewhere.
Months beforehand, I had spent some time in Costa Rica and overheard whispers about the allure of Belize — a place with magical, azure waters.
Caye Caulker, Belize
When I got home, naturally, I had inspiration for my next set of travels. Over a period of months, I started collecting my knowledge about Belize. I found that there was this beautiful set of islands off the coast — one that was specifically a Haven for backpackers. The island, Caye Caulker, was only a short ferry ride away from the mainland.
During that time, I started to monitor travel with my trusty pal Google Flights (seriously, Kayak sucks), so that when the right opportunity came, I was ready.
So, when I got this magical 7 days off, I had done all of my research. I was ready to press Go.
After looking at my favorite blogs like Nomadic Matt, or Fathom or Hostel World for the best hostels, transportation to and from the airport, and places to hang out — I felt like a wealth of knowledge. All about this random 6-mile long island off the coast of Belize.
But hey, all that research allowed me to spend a whopping $400 in total (flights, accommodations, food, fun). Yes, that’s right. $400 in 6 days.
I can’t even spend that little while just living in New York.
3. Don’t be afraid — Just book it
Don’t think about it too much.
Booking travel can be scary — especially when you’re paying money to leave your comfort zone.
But, you can’t let yourself wonder about the scary shit.
That’s why you have your research phase. You read and noodle and ask for opinions way before you even decide to leave. But, once you make that decision — once you have the opportunity to travel — Just Do It.
During your Trip:
1. Find the backpackers
Backpackers always know whats up.
Before I started Traveling, I always thought that hostels were gross and dirty and filled with diseases or something.
I mean, when I was studying abroad in Europe circa 2012, there were a few questionable ones — I must admit. But, for the most part hostels are the perfect spot to meet other like-minded people who are (1) broke, (2) adventurous and (3) have already made lots of other friends.
When I backpacked through Australia and New Zealand alone for four months after I graduated from college, I stayed in hostels (exclusively). This was where I made friends, found out the cool places to go, and saved a shit ton of money.
Not to mention that the hostels themselves are cheaper than some campgrounds in the U.S., but backpackers are all about sharing. Someone may be a world-renown chef (in their own regard), and will make you dinner in exchange for booze.
In my situation, that worked out pretty well.
Seriously though — backpackers are savvy. Most of them are traveling for 8, 12, 24 months on end. So, they have to know how to stretch their money.
2. Continue making (some) sacrifices
Traveling on a budget is not going to be all rainbows and butterflies.
But, you still are traveling. Figure out where to skimp and where to splurge.
In my case, even though I love food, this tends to be my area of skimping when I’m traveling. I’ve mastered the art of surviving on a bag of rice and a can of beans while in New Zealand, finding $1 tacos in Belize, or creating the cheapest McDonalds order you’ve ever seen in Prague.
I am constantly doing calculations in my head — dinner or skydiving?
And, the cool thing about traveling while broke? Everyone else is too. Don’t feel awkward skipping out on activities that others are doing because they don’t appeal to you.
You have to figure out what’s most fun to you. Maybe it’s taking a cooking class in the hills of Tuscany. Or becoming scuba-dive certified in Bali.
And of course, while you can’t do it all — The Traveling Part is what you’re supposed to enjoy. So, enjoy it.
3. Stay in touch with your new Best Friends
The people that you meet while traveling will be from all over the world.
I found that these people not have held a college degree, but had touched coral in the Great Barrier Reef. They had tattoos and dreadlocks and lived out of a backpack. My friends who accompanied me in crowded hostel rooms and jumping out of planes were lighter in nearly every possible way — from their bags to their spirit.
And, you just shared the most intense and life-altering and beautiful moments with these new Best Friends.
Stay in touch with them.
Because, next time you’re in their city or town or country — you’ll have somewhere awesome (and free) to stay.