Traveling and seeing what the world has to offer is one of the most amazing things to do. It is incredible to have the liberty to pack up, and go anywhere your heart desires. Although this is a great aspiration, traveling can be stressful, complicated, and very expensive. Just like anything, you have to decide where to put your time and money, and if you want to put it into worldly exploration, there are cheap and simple ways to do it.
There are many factors that come into planning a trip; destination, transportation, gear, accommodation, food, company, and money. Obviously, a big concern I have amongst this desire to travel and see the world is that I still need to have enough money to pay for college tuition. Yes, school should be a priority, but for me, and many others like me, school hasn’t become a barrier between obligation and desire. I currently attend a community college close to home, and this enables me to not only pay for college out of pocket without the aid of student loans, it enables me to spend a little bit of money on my hobbies, and travel.
Last year, I had decided to spend a year abroad to study in Belgium. Once I started spending money in Europe, I had to be very careful as I was unable to continue to work while studying. On top of regular every day purchases, the cost of gas, car repairs, and insurance, I was still able to travel around quite a bit. I decided to spend less money on food and clothes, and save it for those experiences I wanted to have. Even as a full time student, with no source of income except the savings I had, I was still able to travel. I saw parts of Germany, Luxembourg, Switzerland, France, England, and a big part of Southern Italy. My trip to Italy was the most expensive of all of my destinations, and it was still under $500 for a week of travel. This included my plane ride to Bari, the rental car, gas costs, food, accommodations (mix of camping and hostels), and activities.
Just recently, craving a change of scenery, I decided to travel out to California. I had always wanted to go there, and I really wanted too lay on the beach and enjoy some sun. So I planned this amazing trip with my closest friend, and we set out, across 5 states, to our final destination of Southern California. Along the way, to and from our destination, we stopped and saw the beautiful landscapes of Capitol Reef National Park, walked the strip of Las Vegas, and camped amongst the beautiful red rocks of Moab. In California, we camped at Point Mugu State Park in a beautiful campsite alongside the Pacific Coast Highway with easy beach access. We stayed in Los Angeles for a few days and visited a collection of beautiful art museums, ate wonderful food, and visited the diverse beaches. All included, one week of travel, this trip was only slightly more expensive than the one in Southern Italy.
One of the great advantages of living in the United States is that this country is so big and diverse. Look no further if you want to travel to somewhere completely different from where you are, the american landscape has almost everything you can imagine. Want to lay and relax on shimmery beaches with sunshine? Go to California. Want an adventure backpacking through the wilderness? Travel into the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Okay, there aren’t exotic tropical forests, but visit the things you haven’t seen before in the United States before really traveling abroad. You would be surprised, through a little research and interest, how many treasure destinations are within the borders of your own country.
Europe is also a great destination to be if this is where you are at the moment. Getting there may be expensive for those out of the country, but getting from place to place once in Europe is so simple, and cheap. There are many public transportation options such as RyanAir for air travel, and numerous bus and train routes. With these services, you can get from France to Italy at super reasonable prices.
I knew I wanted to travel, and I was going to do it, so I started to brainstorm destinations. At first I imagined hopping on a plane and going all the way down to Latin America to discover the rich culture and lush landscapes, but quickly came back to reality and told myself that it wasn’t realistic to spend that much money while trying to pay my way through college. So I then decided to open my horizons of interest, and travel in the neighboring states of Colorado. California was my destination. I wanted sunshine, beach, and distance from where I was. Along the way, I also got to discover the phenomenal views of Utah, Arizona, and Nevada.
To restate, if you have decided to travel inside Europe, there are numerous transportation options. One of the most popular for students is RyanAir which is an airline company that provides flights at ridiculously cheap prices. At the right place, in the right time, you can even snatch a flight for under $20. You may also prefer to travel by train. Two popular destinations in Europe are Belgium and France, and from there, you can take a train almost anywhere in Europe. If you are interested in traveling this way, check out the SNCB (Belgium) and the SNCF (France) to see where these routes can take you.
The last option you have is to travel by car, and may be the best option for transportation in the United States. Road tripping is my favorite because it gives you absolute freedom to stop whenever you want to see things as you travel to your destination. My most recent spring break vacation was a travel by car adventure. I also traveled by car when I visited southern Italy a couple of years ago once I had landed in Italy from Belgium.
Road tripping is my #1 tip for traveling cheap and simply. Become satisfied with visiting things around where you live and you can save a lot of money, but discover new people and surprisingly breathtaking places.
Just as eating at restaurants in normal routine life can get very expensive, going out to eat in restaurants while traveling also really begins to add up. One of my biggest recommendations while traveling is to grocery shop, and make your own food.
On my most recent trip, we camped quite a bit, and a big cost reducer for us was to have brought a bunch of food with us so we didn’t have to go out to eat every day. Take the time to plan and pack food, and maybe even batch cook and keep it in a cooler throughout your trip. If you are traveling and staying in hostels, more times than not, they provide food with your stay, or at least provide a kitchen. Make use of it. Go to the grocery store and buy some pasta and a sauce, or even canned soup and heat it up yourself. Save the special occasion of going out to eat for the last night when you have everything packed and you are tired and ready to go. If you are traveling in an area really known for their cuisine, maybe try to keep restaurant visits to the minimum as well so that you can afford the best.
Another great benefit of bringing your own food on your trip, or making it on the road, is that you know what goes into your meal. I prefer to eat vegan, gluten free, and when I go to restaurants, its not always sure that everything I get is what they advertise it to be, and it’s not always sure that I will find something to accommodate my eating choices. This may also be a good technique for those of you who have food allergies, because this way, it takes the stress out of not knowing if the pizza you are eating is really free of gluten, or the sauce you are eating is 100% dairy free.
One of the most memorable meals that I had while traveling throughout Southern Italy was a quinoa mix with mushrooms, tomatoes, pesto, and bacon (before I became meat-free) that we made ourselves at our campsite. We bought all of the fresh ingredients at a grocery store on the way into our day’s final destination, and pitched the tent while cooking up a nice meal. We were 4, and this dish lasted us for two meals, but costed us each only about a couple of bucks. We would also have everything we needed (fresh fruit, bread, nutella) to eat breakfast on the beach!
On the other hand, if you are traveling for the sole purpose of eating the local cuisine, by all means do it, but you may need to reduce costs in other areas.
My #2 tip for traveling cheap is to prepare your own food made from ingredients bought at local markets and grocery stores on the road. Simple food is the most wholesome, nutritious, and memorable.
It may seem great to do the solo soul searching trip. While this can be rewarding and more simple in many ways, traveling with other people drastically reduces costs, and sharing memories with another person is always very fulfilling. You may also feel more safe traveling away from home with another person, especially if it is your first trip. Actually, I would not recommend road tripping by yourself for the first time. The long hours in the car can be very intimidating, and there is so much that can go wrong. Don’t travel by yourself unless you are experienced.
I decided to travel with my closest friend over spring break and it just so happens that she is not a minimalist like I am, and that is completely okay. There are some tips I would like to bring forward for those of you skeptical about traveling with someone else who doesn’t share the exact same values, because minimalism should never become a barrier between you and other people.
- Stay organized. Set a designated section of the car for your stuff, and their stuff. The key thing for me to stay calm amidst all of the things floating around in the car was to keep my section organized. It was important for me to know where all of my things where, and that the next day I wouldn’t have to dig for hours to find something. I also didn’t have to worry about my things being ruined by the disorder. Everything you can do to reduce your mind wandering on questions surrounding your material possessions is optimal.
- Rise early, take time for yourself, and follow your regular routines. I wish that throughout the trip I would have done a better job sticking to my daily routines, so I highly recommend this as a way to keep yourself in check while traveling with a non-minimalist. Keeping a little structure throughout your vacation will enable you to have a more relaxing time throughout the day.
- Be patient. Also another thing I struggled to do while traveling with my friend. Another highly recommended tip for ensuring a peaceful time for you and your friend.
My #3 tip for traveling on a budget is to travel with others. Splitting gas costs between 4 people is always cheaper than with 2.
Pack light. Don’t bring the what if’s. Okay if you are going to some backpacking trip through the thick and harsh tropical forests of Latin America, you may need to plan to bring just-in-case items. Contrarily, if you are traveling in a first world country, you can buy what you need on the road if you really need it. Be smart about it, but also be strict. From my experience, I always pack too much and never use it all. The best way to travel is to travel simply. If you don’t have to worry too much about what to bring or what you brought, you can truly focus on the experience of the trip. This being said, there are five essential things I brought with me on this trip, and a few things I really wish I did include in my packing…
Top 5 essential things I brought on my trip:
- Small black backpack: Super convenient for me as I often walked around all day with a camera and a tripod. This became heavy to carry on one shoulder so it was easier to carry it all in a pack everywhere I went. I was able to fit everything in there that I needed for the days, usually being my camera and equipment, beach towel, food, swimsuit, keys, and wallet.
- Loose, high quality black pants: I can not stress this enough, when you have something that is of high quality that you love to wear, it makes your life so much easier. Mornings came around and I didn’t often think about what to wear because I knew that these pants were always a good choice. I wore them with a tank top when it was warm, and with a wool sweater when it was cold at night. Click here to see what I was wearing.
- Organic cotton grocery bag: Another really great thing to have as it was useful when going to the camp showers and I needed to bring a change of clothes and my toiletries, or when we went shopping for a few food items and I didn’t want to buy a plastic bag, or even just consume a plastic bag. Great for everyday life activities, even better for travel activities. Head over to Simple Ecology to find reasonably priced, organic cotton reusable bags.
- A bar of soap: This product is absolutely amazing. I have been using solid soap for several years as a shampoo, shaving cream, and face wash, and having it while camping was a pleasure. Talk about traveling light, one small product to do everything that I needed it too. And it’s good for the environment too! Two of my favorite bars are Nubian Heritage African Black Soap, and Booda Butter!
- Chacos: These sandals are my most recent purchase, and I love them. I highly recommend them for travel, they were super comfortable and supportive for long walks around towns, perfect shower shoes, beach shoes, night out shoes…they are everything shoes. Versatility in your clothing items is the best way to make traveling simple and care-free.
5 things I wish I had:
- Lock: A big must for traveling and you are planning to stay in youth hostels. Some European hostels provide you with a lock and a locker, but the one we stayed at in Las Vegas did not.
- Eye cover and ear plugs: Also a big must for staying in hostels. Most of the time the people you room with are not super aware that there are others trying to sleep while they come and go. I had a very hard time sleeping without these things and ended up using my headphones and using a sweater over my eyes.
- Sponge and towel: Mainly for camping, forgetting these little things can have a big impact on the whole experience. Think of the little things you need before leaving.
- Flannel and scarf: While packing, I had one thing in mind, warm sunny weather of California. I forgot that the other states I was to visit had different conditions. I really wish I would have had an extra layer and a warm scarf. Especially while planning a camping trip, always bring clothes for the cold at night. Check the weather app to see what the weather is going to be like during your stay.
- Camera Cube: I often took my camera out of its bag in order to throw it into the backpack I was using for the day, and I really wish I had a camera cube to protect it from potential water, sand, and the other things in my bag. A camera cube is essentially the inside of a camera bag that is compact enough to fit into various other packs. Here is the one I plan on bringing on my next trip.
Money and spending habits:
No one likes to follow a budget when on vacation, they just want to be free to spend what they want. So do that, within reason. I know, minimalism is often perceived as excessive frugality and budgeting. Since money is often a big stressor for people in their daily lives, while on vacation, it would be nice to forget about it for a little while.
Save more than you need. Always remember that your vacation is a one time thing, you can always work a few more hours to make up what you spent. You should always try to spend less money, but don’t restrict your fun. There are very easy ways to save money while still having a good time. Have water in restaurants with your meals, bring your student ID to get into museums and activities. Choose free activities like beach, walking and exploring. Don’t spend on clothes and jewelry, spend on food and activities. Priorities.
My #4 tip for traveling cheap is to find easy alternatives for expensive items. Water at restaurants instead of an expensive cocktail, and taking advantage of nature as a free activity are both examples of cost reducing habits.
I hope that you no longer see traveling as an unachievable activity. It is a beautiful thing to see what the world has to offer and I highly recommend it as a character enriching experience for everyone. Safe travels!