I have friends who like to book fancy expensive hotels, book expensive tours, go to expensive restaurants they read about in magazines. Sure, it's easy to spend a lot traveling but it's also easy to NOT spend a lot.
I think because people are so used to dropping a few thousand dollars on a 2 week vacation, they don't understand how I could possibly travel to Africa for 5 weeks for $2800 (over $1500 of that was airfare and visa), or 3 weeks in El Salvador for less than $850 (great airfare out of Tijuana!).
Let me tell you this. I have worked hard all my life (less so now LOL) and have done well for myself by my own standards, maybe not by others'. I grew up pretty poor and have always made what most people consider a mid to low income.
Flexible Work / IncomeTwo weeks vacation a year? Pshaw! I work as an independent contractor and my main client knows that I will be taking off a month every year, plus a couple of other shorter trips. Work flexibility is very important for me to be able to travel when I want to and for more than just a few days or a week. It's so much easier to spend less abroad when you have more time to travel.
I'm a full fledged adult now (as much as I hate to admit it) so I'm not living paycheck to paycheck which makes it easier to travel. Even though I have to take time off of work and lose that income, I try to save all the time when I'm at home so the budget takes less of a hit during those weeks I take off.
Always SavingIt's all about priorities. Travel is my priority. Some people spend money on an expensive car, concerts, daily lattes, or designer clothes. I spend my money on travel. If I get a tax refund or win money in the slot machines, woohoo, into the bank it goes!
Sure I like to "waste" money on ridiculous stuff too but when I'm tempted to buy something I always think to myself, hmmm, that $55 would afford me 2 entire days in Thailand! Sometimes I decide it's worth it, sometimes not.
But even if you don't want to modify your lifestyle at home, if you modify the way you travel, you can afford to do and experience so much more!
Cheapest AirfareOf course I look for the cheapest flights. Sometimes it means inconvenient flight times so I do balance cost vs. convenience. If it only costs $20 more to fly at an hour that will allow me to use public transport to get to my hotel, then that's a done deal.
Sometimes a long layover sucks but sometimes it's a blessing. I recently flew from LAX to Bali for only $485 round trip. It included a 16 hour layover in China on the way home. The airline provided a free hotel and I got to walk around the city and experience at least one afternoon in China.
I have gotten used to spending a lot of time in airports. It's just part of the trip. You wander around, maybe have a nap, shop, read a book, spend time on the internet.
Budget HotelsAs I'm getting older, I splurge a bit more on hotels. Ideally I am sharing with a travel buddy and spend around $10/night ($20 total for the room) or less. But on solo trips, anything under $20 for a private room is acceptable. I don't mind a shared bathroom but I do prefer a private room these days.
On my latest trip where I decided to try out two separate month stays, I was a little more particular with my lodging. Instead of a simple hotel, I searched out a house rental with kitchen. Score. I found 3 different places in Costa Rica for under $20/night where I have the entire house / studio!
Local / Steet FoodI just don't gravitate toward tourist-centric or pricey restaurants. Like anything, I might splurge once or twice during long-term travel to enjoy something like real pasta with real cheese. But for the most part, street food and local cafes are where it's at. You get a good taste for the local food and it's way cheaper. The budget traveler mentality gets ingrained and you start finding the pricier options a waste.
Public TransportationA co-worker of mine traveled to Morocco and told me he spent $1,000 for a car and driver for the week. That's more than my total budget would be for the trip!! In poorer countries, they rely on public transportation so it's usually extensive and cheap. It can also be super interesting! Sometimes it falls under convenience vs. money but usually the budget wins.
DIY SightseeingSometimes you have no choice but to take a tour, but not always. Do-it-yourself independent travel can be really satisfying! It can also be a pain in the ass since you are doing everything yourself. But budget traveling you usually have more time than money so instead of taking a tour to the ruins, you might take public transportation to the neighboring town the night before, then walk to the ruins in the morning before the tour groups get there.
You get the satisfaction of spending a fraction of what the tour-goers shelled out, and you usually have a better experience.
Keeping to the Travel BudgetI don't usually have a set amount of money I'm going to spend on a trip. I really just do what I want to do and avoid anything super expensive. On rare occasion there is an exception and I really never feel like I'm denying myself anything. I just live in the budget travel style and it all works out. I keep track of my daily spending and total up the daily average after I'm home. (see Average Costs)
Thankfully, longer term travel makes it easier it is to do it on a budget. Being tied to a strict schedule limits your options and forces you to spend money on more convenient (aka expensive) transportation, tours, and such.
Total SpendingI like to stick to around $30/day total for any trip, not counting airfare. I know it can be done for about half that but that seems to fit my comfort level. And that's around 3 times cheaper than living at home! Of course I'm still paying for rent and utilities when I'm away but my ultimate goal is to pack up my house and just travel full time.
Traveling full time, that amount will have to include airfare and everything else, too (equipment, clothing, medical costs, etc.).
Traveling Full TimeI know my age is young to retire, especially because I've been self-employed most of my life and I don't have any sort of pension . But saving saving saving has done me well. It was the year 2000 when I really traveled for the first time (for a year!) and I started saving for my travel retirement from then on. What I plan on retiring on, most people would laugh at. But I know if I live as I travel, I'll have no problem. I just keep tweaking the ole' Retirement Calculator until it tells me I'm ready now. LOL
So how can I afford to travel so much? I save, I do "without" at home, and I travel cheap. :)