Travel the world as a broke 20 year old
Tips to making the most out of your trip when you have little money
Why am I writing this?
I have an agenda. It includes a laundry list of places I want to go and people I want to meet. Most people my age are focused more on their love lives or social media image than what else there is to explore in this huge world of ours. And frankly, it is small minded to think that there aren’t bigger and better places than the city, or even country, you’re from. The problem is, I have no idea what I want to do with my life right now. I graduated with a degree in biology and thought I was going to pursue medicine. Even though I still am interested in healthcare because of its stability and huge salary, I am sick of it. I am sick of the rude people, the corrupt companies and policies running the show, and the lack of reward you feel day to day. I want to do something bigger but absolutely no idea where to start.
This is the epitome of my quarter life crisis.
The other baggage I carry is that I feel like my life is just ticking away and we aren’t given enough time. I constantly have this impending doom mindset that something might happen to me and I won’t be able to do everything I want to. I live my life day by day instead of planning too far into the future. This means I want to travel now and not wait until retirement. This brings me to my next problem: the funding to do it.
I work in a pharmacy right now and you would think that would be a job deserving of a reasonably normal salary. Wrong. Even with the amount of overtime I work, I only scraped together $24,000 for my ending salary in 2018. SUCKS. This doesn’t allow me extra income to be able to spend on myself after all my bills come out.
But then I remember, I am the master of being able to buy the things I want, for dirt cheap. It’s always been my thing.
Thrift stores, Ebay, online Chinese websites...
And I don’t fail when it comes to traveling and experiencing things the way I want. I am trying to narrow down exactly what my purpose is in society, all while making the most of my 20’s before they’re over.
Now the fun part…
Here are my secrets to traveling the world as a broke 20 year old.
This can be hard if you are living paycheck to paycheck like me. There are a lot of ways you can save up money to travel! I am an experience spender so I pretty much only buy festival tickets and vacations with my extra money. I don’t eat out, have little subscriptions, and don’t spend much money on alcohol (even though it’s hard because I’m 24). If you need a little extra income on the side, getting a part time job isn’t a bad option. I work as an influencer for a company called Monat. I work it in my spare time but it gives me another source of income I wouldn’t otherwise have. Another method is getting a credit card. I was scared of having one when I first was out of college, but it can be great for big purchases you plan to pay off overtime. I have a student credit card with a super low credit line so that I can’t spend a ton of money that I wouldn’t be able to pay off. Lastly, my favorite of all, I LOVE TAX RETURNS. It is like getting an extra paycheck or two! I ALWAYS use it on vacation. This year it funded my huge backpacking trip to Europe. Remember that next time you put it off until April...
Okay. So I live in the dead center of the USA in good ol’ Lawrence, KS. Our nearest airport would be in Kansas City. It’s tiny and really doesn’t offer many cheap options when it comes to flying...well… anywhere. ESPECIALLY internationally. So let me start here. If you go online and decide to find a flight from, let’s say, KC to London, the absolute wrong thing to do is to enter “KC to London flight” into your search bar. It might be good for bigger cities like NYC or LA but odds are, you are going to have a layover. The problem with this is the computer isn’t always the smartest when it comes to finding the cheapest layover options. So why not pick where your layover is.
This is what I mean:
Point A= your local airport (mine would be Kansas City)
Point B= layover and international airport departure
Point C=arrival airport for destination
My secret to finding the cheapest flight is not to type into your search flights from point A to C. First, I look for the flight from B to C, then go back and find a flight from A to B.
Now, here are the two methods I personally use when searching for these flights. (I apologize in advance if it gets confusing)
1. Don’t plan your trip with exact dates in mind.
This could be hard for a lot of working adults because of the time you are allowed off work but if you have a lot of freedom in your schedule, then this is the method for you. First things first, enter the phrase “cheap flights from USA to _(insert destination)____”. The more vague you are about your destination, the better your chances of finding something outstanding is. My favorite website to use is Kayak.com. They will list off a bunch of random flights including the port of departure, the destination, and the duration of time you would be gone. This is the quickest and easiest way to find a dirt cheap international flight. It works for literally anywhere, too. I have found flights to Asia for $300-400. Once you find the flight that leads you to your destination, then you can find a cheap domestic flight (from point A) to that departing city (point B)!
2. Find the cheapest airport from USA to destination
Let’s say you are a little more picky on the dates that you can be gone. That’s okay! This is another method for you that I stick by. This method works but it isn’t going to be quick and easy. It takes a lot of patience to be able to guess and check each individual airport in the USA that you can leave from in order to get to your vacation spot (Point C). What we’re doing is trying to find the cheapest flight by checking different city options for Point B. This is actually the method I used in April 2019 to get my round trip from KC to London with specific dates picked at $450. Pretty freaking good considering it is usually what people will pay for any casual domestic flights. Okay, so start with Kayak.com again, now put in an airport that is close to the destination you picked.
For example, I wanted to fly to London, so I put in airports such as New York, Washington DC, Miami, Nashville, Chicago, etc. Or for instance when I look for Asian flights, I put in LA or Dallas. I wouldn’t want to find flights from LA if I’m going to London, or vice versa. It’s more time traveling and way more expensive. It’s simply not convenient.
Now, this is when it gets tricky. Just start plugging in different cities (Point B) and keep track of what you see as the price for each one. It might take awhile but eventually you will find something crazy cheap. Now keep in mind you still have to find a flight from your point A to that Point B, so you will need to consider the cost of that flight, too.
Add up your total from the cheapest [Point B to Point C] flight you found with the cost of the flight to get you from [Point A to Point B] and you have your total!
In my case,
I found that Chicago to London was about $300 and for me to fly from Kansas City to Chicago was $150. So all together it was $450
For NYC to London, it was $250 but for me to fly from Kansas City to NYC it was about $250-$300. Even though it was the cheapest Point B city option, my flight from Point A made it more expensive.
You might have to do this with a couple different [Point B to Point C] options to make sure you have the best layover times, and cheapest overall round trip cost.
You will be surprised that you can find any international flights for around $500 or less. This can be even cheaper if you don’t have a specific destination you are looking for. Then you can just find the cheapest flight to Europe (or anywhere else) in general.
Transit in between international cities
So, you’ve made it to your destination. That was the hard part. Once you leave the USA, the price of transit (especially flights) drops like crazy. For example, in Europe you can buy small flights (easyJet, vayama, Wow, RyanAir, etc) for as little as $20 one way. Another cheap and easy method of transportation is train or subway systems. Investing in tickets/ passes will save you a ton of money. Especially when traveling between airports and hotels.
Rethink your luggage
The biggest pain in the a** when it comes to travelling cheap is always the luggage. Airlines will try to charge you to check any luggage so always take a carry on. Most airlines though will charge for more than one, or in some cases, for one. This is when you start to get creative. Research the airlines beforehand so you aren’t shocked when you get charged to check your bag because it doesn’t meet the requirements. European carry on sizes are a lot smaller than the USA sizes, so you need to make sure to read the measurements allowed. One way to get around this is to wear a backpack instead. I always do this because they will count it as a “personal item”. People with carry on cases will always get checked to make sure the bag meets requirements, but they never check backpacks. Moral of the story, make it as big as you want!
Where are you going to sleep?
If you’re young like me, hostels are going to be the most fun experience you will have when travelling. They aren’t scary at all! Most of the people that stay there are also young and travelling the world! You’d be surprised at how many like-minded people you will end up becoming great friends with. Also, if you’re into nightlife abroad, you’ll immediately have a group of people to go out with. Hostels are incredibly cheap to stay at. They tend to be pretty nice, too. Hostelworld.com is a good place to start when looking for somewhere to stay.
Airbnb is my second favorite option when looking for housing abroad. Staying in the city center tends to be a little more expensive, but look up where the attractions you plan to visit are, and see which Airbnbs are nearby. Some cities are full of smaller neighborhoods or districts that are just a quick walk or train ride away from the city center. Researching the city beforehand is helpful when buying.
Food and Shopping
I freaking love food. Especially when traveling abroad. But it can get super expensive. My best tip for this would be to eat on the lighter side in the mornings and early afternoon. Coffee is a huge thing, especially in Europe, so plan to save some money by getting coffee and a light breakfast. Whenever I go abroad, I tend to eat just one large meal a day. I usually plan this out around late afternoon so that it can be a late lunch/ early dinner. Trust me, it will save so much money. The other suggestion I have is to buy groceries from a local market or grocery store and cook your own dinner! You still will get the experience of foreign cuisine, while also saving a ton of money.
When it comes to shopping, it’s hard not to go crazy when buying souvenirs. My favorite way to shop abroad is to go to local markets and buy from artists. You can buy an assortment of unique things to bring home. I love jewelry for this reason. Maybe this one is weird but I stand by it...I love going to thrift shops abroad. Clothing can be super expensive if you buy it brand new, so thrift shops are the perfect way to still get the style of that country, but for dirt cheap. It’s a blast to scope out the cool stuff from all the racks and walk out with an entirely new wardrobe. The trick is just finding the thrift shops..
Now It Is Time To Make Memories that Last
Even though I am young, I feel like I don’t have enough time to see everything I want to. I always get told to “wait until you’re older to travel”. What if I don’t get that chance? What if something happens to me before I get the chance to see it all? I can’t let that happen, so I am starting now. Even though I don’t make much money, I am still traveling the world as if I did. It just takes time to plan out how to save and spend your money wisely. But it will be worth it in the end. Years down the road, you won’t think about how you didn’t have that much money on your trip, or what food, airline seat, or fancy hotel you didn’t have, you will think about all the cool experiences you had and the memories you made in that city. So go out, travel, live life to the fullest, even if you aren’t a millionaire.
If you think of anything you want me to add to this post, send me a comment and I will talk about it!