Air Force: Travel and Expand Your Horizons-Instead of Your Debt

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”  Mark Twain shared these sentiments years ago, and they still resonate loudly today.  Travel has a special ability to engage and unite us.  It can be energizing, inspiring or relaxing.  But many people still associate traveling with having excess amounts of money—a luxury only afforded by few.  But that’s not the case.  With some flexibility in your approach, the world can be yours for a fraction of the cost that you might expect.

The following techniques can help you travel the world on a student-esque budget, regardless of your finances.  With the money that you save, you can indulge in a top meal, an adventurous tour or a cultural excursion.  Or just turn around and reinvest it into your next trip! 

  • For European destinations, split your trip in two.  First, fly into the cheapest entry point abroad.  Then do a low cost air carrier to your final destination. 

Last spring I went to Rome.  But spring is peak travel time in Italy, and I wanted to save my money for some lavish meals and day trips once I arrived. When I did a roundtrip airfare search from my home destination, it was $1700 in coach.  I wasn’t going for it.  Instead, I purchased a roundtrip ticket to Dublin, then a separate roundtrip ticket between Dublin and Rome on a budget European airline, and saved $1000.  A huge savings for an additional two hours of transit time.  Ask yourself-would you like to be paid $500/hour for a simple two hour job?  Because essentially you are paying yourself that rate.  Your investment in time nets you dollars.  Travelling on a budget requires above all, thinking about your trip in new ways.   Easyjet and Vueling are two budget airlines that cover many European routes.

  • Crunched for time or vacation days but have a wanderlust that won’t quit?  Opt for the longest layover in your stop-over city, then take the day or days to explore.  You’ll be getting two European vacations for the price of one.  Many websites will let you filter results by the number of stop overs.  Take a look at stop over cities and choose one you’d want to explore while en route to your final destination.
  • You might be based in the States, but your travel search doesn’t have to be. Go outside of the popular US sites, and scan international sites as well.  For example, www.cheap flights.co.uk is a great option.  It will compare sites from around the world for you, then offer you choices that you may not see on American websites.  From the home page, you choose your preferred currency and the price results will display as you like.
  • Use a lesser known travel website, to reduce the competition and prices.  A good site to try is www.hoteloogle.com.  This will pull up cheap hotel suggestions from hotels that don’t advertise on mainstream sites.  This can translate to major savings and scoring a room when other hotels are full.
  • Think like a local and search locally. 

I once went to a wedding in Greece and saved big by comparison to the other guests.  Instead of using a major site like hotels.com, I searched online for local Greece based rental agencies and contacted them directly.  With that small effort, I found a studio apartment on the beach for 50 Euros a night.  While the other wedding guests were paying 300 Euros a night at a luxury hotel up the beach, I was enjoying beachfront access only a few yards away, and rose in the morning to the sounds of goats wearing bells and nibbling on olive trees in the backyard.  I enjoyed an authentic experience and huge bargain while supporting a small local home owner.

  • Whether you’re going for a week or more, renting a furnished apartment tends to pan out cheaper than your average hotel.  Airbnb.com will allow you to search for private apartments, not just rooms for rent.  Or contact a local letting agent in your destination city and look at their inventory online.  Whereas some people spend several hundred a night for a traditional hotel, you could be spending that for a week.  And factor in further savings when you consider the costs you cut by cooking your own meals.
  • Go to Groupon.com.  It’s not just for spa deals and workout gear.  You can get sizable discounts on everything from escorted tours to cruises. 
  • Make use of apps that act like your own personal assistant, checking rates for you and alerting you with the best time to buy.  Hopper is a great free app that you can download and it is easy to navigate.  Simply type in a search for your destination and a color coded calendar shows you price ranges by date.  You may see that the first week in March could net you several hundred dollars in savings, as opposed to booking the last week of March.  If you’re undecided, you can set alerts so that you get notified with the best time to book for optimal savings.
  • A long term travel investment that can yield so many rewards is hosting a foreign exchange student.  You gain a personalized insight into a culture and can build a lasting relationship with someone that will in turn host you—not just once, but likely for many years to come.