About a month ago, two of my amigas, preparing as they were for a jaunt around Central America, started ramping up the hard sell.
“Come aloooooong,” they said. “There’s everything you love – surfing, cocktails, jungle, beach, salsa dancing…”
On and on they went, their bright eyes and increasingly persuasive text messages making me feel quite discombobulated.
When it comes to travel, I have a firm modus operandi – always say “yes” and, if possible, book the airline ticket on the spot.
However this time, there was a little hitch: I didn’t really have any money to spare.
But the temptation was simply too much, and this Sunday I’m flying off for almost five weeks’ holiday in Costa Rica and the US.
I’ll be meeting my fun-loving amigas in San Jose, and personally, I can’t wait until we – Melissa, Elissa and Larissa – try and introduce ourselves to new friends in Spanish.
Whether it’s a big or small trip saving is integral. After all, why would you work, when you could be on holiday? Here are seven tips for travelling on a budget.
1. Take advantage of cheap fares
I stay clear of travel agents. Why would you pay someone else to book a fare when you have two hands to type with and an internet connection? Although I’m sure they have their place for more complicated scenarios.
If possible, avoid school holiday periods and major events, and always check websites such as Skyscanner, Webjet or Expedia. Make sure you’re happy with your dates before booking, as cheaper flights usually have tighter restrictions. Not ideal if you always want to stay longer, like me.
Read more: How to land a cheap flight
If you’re not made of money, there are plenty of different options outside the usual hotels.
Hostel dorms of course (or a private room if you’d like some sleep), plus other options such as housesitting, camping (free or very cheap in many national parks around the world), hiring a motorhome or buying a secondhand caravan.
When I arrive in Costa Rica, I’ll have the first night on my own while I await for my friends to arrive. Rather than book a cheap hotel, I have changed to a private room in an Airbnb listing, which is part of a yoga and dance studio. It costs a little less, and sounds a lot more interesting.
3. Find cheaper travel insurance
Travel insurance can be pricey. I tend to book online through 1cover, but there are plenty of other options online. This time around I’ve signed up to a new credit card which involves a $250 annual fee, but comes with free travel insurance and 40,000 frequent flyer points, which will be a good start for the next holiday.
I’m pretty fanatical about paying off credit cards … so far, so good. I’ll also probably ditch that card once the year is up, partly because the bank keeps trying to sell me other stuff. Note: don’t forget higher credit card limits affect your borrowing power when it comes to buying a house.
4. Stock up on good reads
I do like to visit the local library (or op shop) for some reading material before heading off. This time I’ve borrowed a Costa Rica Lonely Planet, and a book on blogging to read as I go. When it comes to novels, I prefer buying one second-hand, so you can toss it away or swap at a book exchange on the road.
This can be one of the most expensive things about going on holiday. Last year I travelled for five months, so stuck to housesitting in-between holidays to save and avoid paying double accommodation. This year I’m renting, and have a friend staying while I’m away, who will pay part of the rent. But if you own your own place, why not rent it out on airbnb or a similar site while you’re away? There are a growing number of people who can manage your property, and give you advice on insurance and other factors.
6. Don’t pay a fortune for volunteering
‘Voluntourism’ is thriving, but I don’t see why you should have to pay someone else thousands of dollars when you’re lending your time and expertise – especially before you’ve thoroughly checked out a place.
I’ve volunteered a couple of times at a school in Cambodia, which charges its volunteers $US450 to help keep the school running.
I haven’t paid either time, instead running fundraising events for the school. In this way you have the option to donate later if you think it’s worthwhile, as I did.
7. Do something work-related
Is there an interesting conference you could attend during your trip, or an important contact you could meet? If you can claim part of your trip as a tax deduction, that’s a big win.
I usually try and write at least one story while I’m away, on a topic that makes me feel like I’m not really working. While it can be a tiny bit painful at the time, it’s always a great souvenir down the track.
This article by Larissa Ham was first published on Hey, Little Spender!