Are you getting ready to study abroad for a semester, teach English overseas, or take that 6-week international backpacking trip that you’ve always dreamed of? Afton, the low-tech, low-budget traveler and adventurer behind the blog Fish Out of Water, discusses her top five tips for traveling abroad on the cheap as a 20-something.  

1) Plan as early as possible and do your research.

Last-minute trips can be a lot of fun, but to make the most out of a longer trip or a limited amount of travel time, plan ahead! Set goals for your trip: what kind of a trip are you hoping for? Are you okay visiting mostly touristy places, or do you only want to hang out in locals’ favorite spots? Research the main sites you want to see or experiences you want to have. Can you cram most of the things on your list into a three-day weekend, or do you need an entire week? 

Research using travel sites and forums (Rick Steves’ EuropeFodor’sLonely Planet, etc.), the city’s tourism website, big- and small-time travel blogs, and ask advice from friends who may have visited or lived there before. Learn as much as you can about any safety concerns in the area and the main cultural customs or expectations (to tip or not to tip? Negotiate, or pay the listed price?). The more background information you have, the more prepared and more likely you are to have a great trip. 

2) Set a budget – and stick to it!

If you’re like most other 20-somethings, you don’t have a lot of money. That’s okay! Planning early and doing research will help you set a budget that’s realistic for you. Then, do what it takes to work and save the money you need, and stick to your budget during your trip. Determine what the most important parts of the travel experience are for you. Do you love trying the best food and drink that each city has to offer? You’ll need a much higher budget than if you love street food, local specialties, and eating on the go. Are you okay with staying in a hostel? That will save you a significant amount of money versus staying in hotels.  

Bonus tip – plan on a buffer of $200-300 per month for unexpected expenses or for that random, must-have souvenir, clothing, or décor item that you spot in a local shop. The goal is not to use it, but you’ll be happy to have the extra cash if you need it! 

3) Learn to pack ultra-light.

You do not need to bring as much stuff with you as you might think. A perk of modern travel is that if you forget a basic item, you can buy it wherever you’re going. Certainly, take hard-to-get or specialty items with you (medications or preferred personal products), but otherwise, pack super light. You can absolutely pack for a week-long trip in a 25-30 liter backpack – including toiletries, a DSLR camera, an extra pair of shoes, and make-up! Packing light allows you to be more mobile in places like Paris where stairs are everywhere (no one wants to lug a giant suitcase up the stairs in the Métro!). It can also save you money, as most airlines nowadays will charge you even for an overhead bag. Strive to pack only a bag that will fit under your airplane seat (I recommend REI’s Trail 25 pack for men and women).  

4) Opt for inexpensive lodging and transportation options.

Hostels, AirBnBCouch SurfingWWOOF-ing, EasyJetHOP!Pegasus AirlinesEurowings; need I say more?! Make use of the myriad low-cost airline and lodging options on offer the world over. Again, doing research well in advance can lead you to the cheapest and most reliable options in the region in which you’ll be traveling. Utilizing these budget providers (and avoiding extra fees by bringing your own travel snacks and packing ultra-light) will save you some serious money. 

In Europe in particular, most countries also offer special discounts on train fares and reduced price or free entry passes to the museum and other attractions for those who are twenty-five and younger. Take advantage! 

5) The more the merrier: travel with friends to save money!

Traveling solo is awesome, and it’s a great life experience to explore by yourself. That being said, when you’re young, traveling with friends is how you get the best memories! Not only are you safer while traveling as a group (even if it’s just two of you!), but you can also split the costs of lodging, meaning that you will likely be able to afford a nicer room than if you traveled alone. If you’re traveling solo, connect with student-focused programs like Andy Steves’ Weekend Student Adventures that offer cheap guided group excursions in some of Europe’s major cities. If you have a group ready to go, then plan together and split up duties (one person handles lodging, one person scouts food, one figures out places to see) to make it a fun trip for everyone. 

No matter how you decide to plan and execute your trip, always remember to keep an open mind and enjoy the adventure at every turn. Wishing you all safe and happy travels! 

Afton, then 23, ready for adventure at 5:30am on the day of her flight to Europe in 2012. She packed everything she needed for 10 months in France in only 100 liters worth of backpack space!

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