It was the mid-2000s and I was traipsing across northern Thailand with some friends. We had rented motorcycles on a fairly tight budget, and were bouncing from tourist attraction to historical site to scenic location. For those of you who aren’t aware, northern Thailand is not the beach-laden south, rather it’s full of gorgeous, mountainous jungle with everything from major cities to some rural towns, and everything in between.
One of our bikes had broken down, and though we would later get a refund from the rental agency, we had to make it back there first. The entire trip had already been one financial surprise (or disaster) after another, and this was looking to be the straw that would break the camel’s back — there was a good chance we would not be sleeping in a hotel that night… which begged the question where we would sleep.
But we made it work. We ate mama noodles (basically ramen) from a gas station, paid for the bike repairs, and found a hostel that cost around $15 a night for a room, which even had air conditioning.
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There’s a reason why a lot of people in the U.S. don’t travel. Many are lazy, many think they’re a whole lot busier than they actually are, and even more simply don’t understand that you don’t need to upend your entire life to pop over into another country.
Of course a huge reason is that the lifestyle we have built doesn’t always lend itself to traveling so freely. If you have a 9-5 job that only gives you periodic breaks, you have kids without much of a support system beyond a few helpful friends, and you aren’t exactly making six figures — well then a trip to Scotland may seem out of your reach, and rightfully so. There are many life situations in America that do not allow for easy travel.
However, like I said before, some peoples’ ideas of travel are a bit skewed. They imagine they need $2,000 for a full trip with resort access and a fully developed scheme of maneuver throughout the entire country. They imagine you’d have to allot money for hotels every night, as well as drinks and eating out for an entire two weeks, not to mention each and every attraction that costs money to go and see, and all the tangential expenses for trinkets and gift store items.
This doesn’t have to be the case.
In 2016 I traveled to Nicaragua, stayed there for just over a week, traveled around the whole country — all for approximately $500, including the airfare.
Here are some things I did to make my trip super cheap:
- I found a country with cheap flights from where I lived (which was Florida at the time). On top of that, I flew with a budget airline.
- I stayed in hostels, which were around $10 a night. That meant bunk beds and often no air conditioning. It’s not the most comfortable, but you get to meet all sorts of interesting backpacker-types from all walks of life.
- The attractions we visited were either cheap or entirely free. You don’t have to pay to hike a mountain, visit a world-class beach, or go see historical sites that are a part of everyday life for the locals.
- Eat street food or dine at small local joints. Yes, you might get sick — it’s a risk you’re going to take if you’re traveling “rough.” But man, does it taste good. Not to mention the fact that it costs a fraction of what a meal at a nice restaurant is going to cost.
- Get around the country using cheaper modes of transportation. That might be a bus, shuttle, or even a train.
No rental cars, no tourist packages, no pricey restaurants, no fancy wines or first class tickets — cutting these costs can save your wallet a whole lot of pain and suffering. I realize that a week and $500 is not something many people can swing, but there are a lot of people who could do that, and yet still convince themselves traveling is not an option “right now.”
If you live in the south, there are flights to central America for a few hundred dollars — the rest will be spent on a few hostels, some shuttles, and alcohol. South America isn’t a whole lot more expensive.
If you live out east, you can find flights out to places like Ireland, Scotland, France, England, Spain, or the Netherlands for a few hundred dollars — there’s a round trip flight to Iceland for $200 as I’m writing this article.
If you’re out west it can be a bit pricier to cross the Atlantic, but you’re going to still be well under $1,000 if you’re traveling cheap, especially around China. Central and South America are great options from here too.
And of course there’s the central and northern states. Well, even out of Kansas you can make it all the way to Central and South America for a few hundred dollars — if you’re “roughing it,” then you’re most likely not going to spend more than $600 or $700 for a week-long trip.
Don’t forget that Canada is a great country worthy of thorough exploration as well! The Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico are also incredibly cheap to travel to.
Adventures are out there waiting for you. You can wait until you’re retired, have enough saved for a full package, an easy and comfortable ride on a tourist bus through Italy… or you can grab your bags, shoot out to Iceland, and give yourself life-changing experiences over the course of even just four or five days.
Images courtesy of the author; final image courtesy of Pixabay.