*I update this whenever I learn something new (to me) so check back often!
Last update May 9.2023
If you really want to travel, you probably can. That’s right. It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money but you DO have to be flexible, have to be willing to put in some time to do the work and you may have to make some concessions regarding “luxuries”.
Hi! My name is Jodi and I’ve been travelling extensively for about 12 years and visited 68 countries at this point. Along the way I’ve learned a LOT. Several people have asked me how I do it (no, I’m not rich!!) so I thought I’d put it in a post. If you’re interested in travelling for more than a week or two at a time, getting off the beaten path a bit and getting away from “resort life”, this post is for you. I’m a budget traveller. I’d rather not spend money on things not important to me so I can spend more on others. I don’t really care what my room looks like as long as it’s clean, as I spend very little time there. What’s important to ME is seeing and experiencing as much as I can. I’m willing to give up a bit of comfort in the short term so I can utilise the resources I have more efficiently. Here’s what I have learned. If you have more tips, feel free to post them in the comments. There’s always more to learn!!
- FARE DROP!
Sign up for domestic (FREE!) or international flights and they will notify you every time there’s a significant price drop on flights. It’s impossible to keep track of this yourself and this service is WELL worth it
- Travel during shoulder seasons. Not only will you find better deals but there will be fewer crowds too. Often the weather is better. Europe in the summer is high season but it’s often way too hot to do some of the things you want. I love to hike and that’s not nearly as much fun when you’re sweating like crazy. For instance, I visited Plitvice National park in mid May. The weather was gorgeous! I know I lucked out and was prepared for rain. I’d even budgeted an extra day there, just in case. A 2 day ticket to the Plitvice park was 300kn. During high season that’s the fee for ONE day.
- Make your trip as long as possible. For one thing it makes the most of a flight, reducing your carbon footprint.
The biggest expense is your flights. Be flexible with dates and keep track of various sites. For ideas of what your flight might cost, check out Google Matrix. You can select a calendar of fares, + or – up to 3 days and try multi city trips. Be willing to do stopovers. Sometimes you can stay long enough to actually visit. I did that in London and in Amsterdam. It also breaks up a long flight.
After that go to Google flights. You can book flights from there or “track your flight” if you want. They send you emails when the price changes. You can also try their explore option. It’s great fun! It comes up with a map. Choose your departure city and quickly check prices of various destinations. Pick one that appeals to you and GO!
- Depending on where you’re flying you might want to check out skyscanner or Kayak as well.
I also follow a few “deal” sites that occasionally find mistake fares or just some really good deals. You do have to be quick though as those seats go quick! I’ve never had to use it but generally you have 24 hours to change your mind. So you can book something first and figure out how you’re going to manage it later.
Here are a few you can follow: If you’re flying out of Toronto, this one is excellent. I follow this and the one for Montreal on Facebook as well. https://www.yyzdeals.com/
This one has provided some great deals too: https://nextdeparture.ca/
Then there’s secret flying. https://www.secretflying.com/
- Be Flexible! Try not to pick your dates until AFTER you choose your flight! There are no hard and fast rules on days of the week to travel but often midweek is cheaper. Try alternate airports. Sometimes for me it’s cheaper to fly out of Montreal (rather than Toronto). The train trip there is more expensive so I have to balance that. Recently I travelled South America. I wanted to fly into Lima and out of Buenos Aires. With some research and juggling dates, etc I learned that it was about $200 cheaper to fly home from Montevideo, Uruguay. Getting there from BA wasn’t difficult and I got to spend some time in Colonia and Montevideo. Bonus.
Doing this for trips to Europe is even easier. It’s cheaper to fly into major airports like Paris, Brussels, Lisbon….etc. Check out the price of trains or buses to where you want to go. Is it worth the price difference? Can you afford the extra time? I enjoy it for the opportunity to visit another destination.
My favourite site is Booking.com. With all the bookings on one site, it keeps track for me of where I’m going and when. It’s got great directions too and even in the local language. If you have to ask someone for directions, that’s handy. I try to find something as close to the sites as possible so I can walk everywhere. It saves on the cost of transportation. From there I choose by price, lowest first, and I check the reviews. Generally I look for something with a 7.5 or higher. READ the reviews. Some of them are silly but they can be very helpful. I have learned that a higher price does not mean a place is nicer, more comfortable and definitely doesn’t mean it’s cleaner. Smaller, family operated accommodations are often friendlier and more helpful than that big chains. The bonus is you often get a more culturally authentic experience.
There are other sites that are helpful for finding budget accommodations. Expedia is good when combining a flight. Agoda and hostel bookers are other sites that are decent. Fly trippers recommends hotels.com as they offer rewards of 10%
If you like fancy hotels, Hotwire often has great last minute deals.
In some places I’ve stayed in hostels. If traveling with a friend you can often get a private room in a hostel for a decent price and have access to a kitchen and common room as well. You can save money by making some meals or even just making your own coffee. A bonus to hostels is you often get to meet people too. In the Abraham Hostel in Jerusalem we got to participate in a Shabat dinner. That was really interesting!
Hostels often have a travel desk and can help you find less expensive ways to see sights including free walking tours. Those are my favourite. In most cities it’s one of the first things I do. Free walking tours are tip based. Most of them are excellent because they don’t get paid unless you’re happy. It’s a great way to acclimatize yourself to a new place and they often have great recommendations for things to see and where to eat. Sandeman’s tours are world wide. Here is their Europe site: https://www.neweuropetours.eu/free-tours/
For tours world wide: https://www.freetour.com/
Don’t be afraid to use public transit!! Even if you don’t speak the language, there are often English signs. Just take your time and enjoy. Don’t worry about getting lost. You’ll get found again and you might see something interesting along the way. Google maps is your friend for transit and for walking, use an app called Maps.me You download the map and it works without data. It’s easier than google to walk with.
That’s a big one. In these days of smart phones, it’s your best friend when traveling. Take pictures of all your documents. You can store plane tickets, boarding passes, train tickets, tour tickets….everything goes on your phone. For that reason you MUST guard it carefully. Pick pockets are your biggest threat in cities, especially at train and bus stations and any crowded place. I have mine on a tether strap. When walking with it I often wrap it around my wrist when it’s not around my neck. This one is great:
To stay connected you’ll need a sim card. Sure, you can pay for international roaming but that’s expensive.
Usually I buy a sim card at the airport. It’s not the cheapest place to get one but I often need it to navigate my way to the accommodation. On my last trip I discovered E-sims. That worked GREAT!
You install it at home at your leisure and activate it upon arrival. On my recent trip to Greece it got as much service as any other and sometimes better when others had no service. The one I used is called Airalo.
Get US$3 off your first eSIM data pack from Airalo. Use code JODEA3430 when you sign up or apply it at checkout. https://ref.airalo.com/7fq9 @airalocom
For my trip to Greece it cost me $16 CAD for a month with 5 gig of data. The beauty of this is you don’t have to take out your sim card and fear losing that tiny thing. It stays in your phone and you just reactivate it on the plane on the way home.
If a tech challenged person like me can install it, so can you.
What about LUGGAGE?
This one is a toughie. Of course it depends on your destination but regardless, I don’t usually check a bag. There are many reasons for this. It saves time at airports waiting at the carousel to pick up your bag and ensures your luggage won’t get lost. Most airlines now charge extra for checked baggage. The BIGGEST reason is I don’t want to carry a lot of stuff with me. It’s so much easier to climb 3 flights of stairs with a back pack than a heavy suitcase. Navigating trains and buses is much easier with less stuff as well. So. What kind of bag do I like? Well, I’ve tried a LOT of them.
Travelers love Osprey. I don’t get it. I used a fairview 40 for a trip to Japan for a month. The best thing about it was that it was comfortable to carry. However, the compression straps are on the outside and make it impossible to access any of the pockets without taking it all apart. The water bottle pockets are useless. Since it’s so highly rated, it was easy to sell when I got back.
My favourite bag is the ebags motherlode weekender. This link takes you to the junior. I had the larger one and loved it. Were I to replace it, I’d get the junior. That’s big enough. It’s a tough bag and is expandable which is handy when you’re not as careful packing on the road.
The blue one above is a Hynes bag I got from Amazon. It was a really good deal so I thought I’d try it. It’s a great bag, much like the Ebags but I don’t think it’s going to last. It’s not the same quality. I’ve also had some Eagle Creek bags but most of them are too heavy. Many airlines have weight limits. The Eagle Creek cargo hauler (40 litre) is nice and light but it’s floppy and doesn’t have enough pockets.
Why not a wheelie bag? For one, wheels add weight, making the bag at least 6 or 7 pounds. You have to be able to lift that bag over your head into the compartment.
Wheels are useless going up stairs and not every hotel has an elevator.
My soft sided bag always fits in the overhead bin and I’ve never had it measured or been asked to check it. Since the pandemic I’ve seen airlines cracking down and if your bag is slightly oversized, they make you check it. Sometimes when the flight is full, they’ll insist you check wheelie bags even if they’re of “legal size”
WHAT TO PACK?
Now what to pack IN your bag? I use compression packing cubes. Link here. It helps keep your bag organized and allows you to put more in it. One is used for under things one for shirts and one for trousers. On the last trip I also took one for a couple of dresses. Pack enough clothing for a week and do laundry on the road. Undies can be easily washed in the sink using hand soap. Soap is soap.
Depending on the climate you’ll need:
5-6 underwear (some say 3. One to wear, one to wash and one to spare but I just can’t do it!)
3-4 pairs socks. Again, depends on climate. An extra bra. 2 swim suits if it’s a hot trip. A bikini top can double as a bra if needed.
4-5 tee shirts, 1-2 long sleeved, layers for colder trips.
1 pair of pants. 2 shorts. A dress or nicer top to wear for nice dinners.
On the plane wear layers. A tee shirt, long sleeved shirt, pants and jacket and your heavy shoes. I wear hiking shoes and bring sandals as well as a pair of flip flops If it gets colder you can bring a packable down jacket. I’d wear it on the plane. It doubles as a pillow on the flight too.
Your list might be different but you get the point. LESS is better. Make sure everything goes together. Pick a colour scheme you can mix and match. I didn’t pack much more than that for a 10 week trip to Australia and New Zealand. I picked up a couple new tee shirts along the way as I was so sick of my clothes.
Toiletries. Is there anything special you can’t buy there? Remember all your liquids must be less than 4 oz and fit in a 1 litre bag. I usually bring the minimum and buy things like body lotion on the way.
Personal Item. You can bring a small back pack or purse. When I’m going on a trip where I plan to hike a lot, I bring a light weight packable backpack pictured below. For recent Europe trips I was visiting more cities so I took a “nicer” back pack. It’s a little more pick pocket proof as the big pocket sits against my back. In that bag you must fit any electronics and necessities. That one goes under the seat in front of you on the plane.
What about MONEY?
Some say you don’t need cash but I’ve found when budget travelling, you use it a lot more. Smaller establishments prefer it. I usually bring about $200 USD for back up. This I carry in a money belt with my passport. It’s the emergency stash. I rarely use it and just keep it for the next trip but when you need it, you NEED it. Also in the money belt I keep a spare credit card and a debit card. If you’ve ever had a card compromised you’ll understand that you do NOT want that to happen when you’re far from home. If it does you want to have access to an alternative.
I have a credit card I use specifically for travel. In Canada, I’ve found only ONE that does not charge currency conversion fees. That’s the BRIM card. It has a few other perks too. Apparently there are 2 more cards now. One is hometrust and the other is an RBC card that has a fee.
Sometimes it’s worth it to pay fees for credit cards and I’m still learning the credit card hacking thing. They often have sign on bonuses. You use those to accumulate points to obtain free flights or hotel stays. It’s always been a big thing in the US and is getting better here in Canada.
This site is Canadian and has lots of info on travel hacking and using credit cards to get what you want. Check it out. https://flytrippers.com/best-credit-cards-canada/
My debit card is from Motive Financial and it took has no conversion fees. Your bank might have one too. Make sure you ask. Many add another 2.5% or more to the conversion rate in addition to ATM fees. Nobody likes paying bank fees!
Upon arrival at my destination I take the maximum amount from the ATM and split the cash up in various places. I’m lucky enough to have never been robbed but have been with several people who have.
If your debit card isn’t great, you can preload your brim credit card and use it as a debit card. As long as there is NOTHING owing on the card, you won’t pay interest on a cash withdrawal.
There are many times I prefer to take a tour rather than plan everything myself. There are lots of good operators out there. I look for small groups, less than 20 people. I don’t want to feel part of a herd. I also look for lots of free time and few meal inclusions. I don’t always want to HAVE to be with the group but it is nice to meet and spend time with people. One company I’ve used a lot is G Adventures. You can look through my posts at all the trips I’ve taken with them. They’ve all been great.
In Myanmar I used Stray Asia. That was also excellent as was Budget Africa for a safari in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia. Down Under Down under was excellent in Tasmania. When we did the Camino in Spain and Portugal we used a local travel agent as well. https://caminotravelcenter.com/
None of these are expensive. While it might be cheaper to do on your own, it often balances out as they help optimise your time. Check Tour Radar too. They often have sales.
That’s all I have for now. I’m sure I’ll think of more. The bottom line is that only YOU can set your priorities. If you want to travel (or whatever interests you) only YOU can make it happen. Good luck! Please share any tips you have in the comments!
*** I recently attended a webinar by flytrippers. They’re Canadian and have some great tips! https://flytrippers.com/travel-tips/
I love this post. When I traveled to Australia in 2018, I could have used this information. It would have reduced my stress level. As a very infrequent traveler, I’d love to see information about how airports work. It is assumed that travellers know what to do at airports. I did not because I fly so infrequently.
I don’t think it matters how often you fly. Airports are confusing. They’re all different and regulations are constantly changing. Sometimes I think it just depends on what mood they’re in!
Thanks Hilda! Make sure you read the fine print on your plane ticket. Sometimes it tells you something important. Not often, but you never know 😉
The funny thing is that NOBODY knows how airports work. If you look around you’ll see a LOT of confused people. LOL Airports are all different and change often. I flew home to Toronto in June from Dublin and then in September from Athens. Two VERY different experiences. I show up ridiculously early. I’d rather sit and read a book for an hour or so than stress about being late. Pretend you know what you’re doing, be calm, and just follow directions. I don’t take my liquids or computer out unless they ask. I have them ready so it’s quick if they do but why add extra steps if they don’t care?
Same with stopovers. Just read all the signs. Ask someone if you’re confused.
Another benefit to taking only carry on is you can skip the check in line. Check in online then go straight to your gate. You’ll have to show your documents at the gate but it eliminates a line. If you’re travelling with someone, take turns watching the bags and go for a walk. You’ll want to do some stretches and stuff before boarding anyway.
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‘ Don’t worry about getting lost… you’ll get found again’ . I love that!
Somehow I missed this 😀 I have lots of experience as I’m good at getting lost. I’m still here!! LOL