My #1 Tip for How to Travel the World Cheaply
In just the past nine months, I’ve traveled to almost 40 countries across six continents. I do it all affordably AND comfortably. And today I want to share with you my number one tip on how I travel the world cheaply. Just following this single tip can save you 30-60% on your international travels – I promise!
But first, a digression — because this tip is actually the source of the name of this blog, “Travel Lemming.” Lemmings are small rodents from Scandinavian that are rumored to engaged in mindless group behavior, so much so that lemmings allegedly will follow each other off cliffs just because the lemmings in front of them are doing it. As it happens, this is just a myth created to sell a Disney documentary — lemmings don’t actually do this. But the term phrase “don’t be a lemming” is still used to tell someone “don’t do something just because everyone else is doing it.”
So what is my top trick to save money on international travel?
It’s actual pretty simple:
Focus your international travel on emerging and off-the-radar destinations — places where the other travel lemmings don’t go.
Think for a minute about the world’s most iconic tourist destinations: Paris, London, Australia’s east coast, Rio de Janiero, New York City, Las Vegas, Japan — what do they all have in common?
They are EXPENSIVE to visit.
Sure, these are all wonderful destinations. And I would never tell someone to skip a visit to these places — by all means go if that is your dream.
But the truth is that there are a lot of amazing travel destinations in this world, many that cost a fraction of the big tourist spots, and you probably have never even heard of some of them!
Examples of this Tip in Action
Let’s say you want to experience a historic Old Town with delicious food and culture. What’s the first place that comes to mind? Maybe Prague? Or Vienna? Both those places are great, but they are getting pricey fast. You can get a similar travel experience for less than half the price by instead checking out charming Tbilisi, Georgia — one of my favorite cities on the planet.
Or let’s say you want to go zip lining in the jungle and learn a little surfing on a tropical vacation. Costa Rica would probably top the list for many here, but did you know that you can find the same stunning jungle landscapes and pristine beaches just a couple hours north in Nicaragua? And just by crossing that border, your travel fund will suddenly grow significantly in purchasing power.
Fancy a hiking trip through the Alps? Try hiking Kyrgyztan instead. You’ll spend less in a week there than you would in two days in Switzerland.
Want to get a taste of Asian culture? Japan is wonderful (I used to live there), but give it a pass and head to cheaper Cambodia or Myanmar.
Or maybe you are a city slicker who prefers a little fine dining and nightlife on your trip? Consider Almaty, Belgrade, or Kiev instead of Amsterdam or Barcelona.
Or instead of a trip to Stockholm, consider Sofia, Bulgaria — where you can travel THREE TIMES as long on the same budget. Don’t believe me? Check out this really cool infographic over at TripAdvisor for more examples and stats.
It doesn’t matter what your travel goals are — there is almost always an affordable and quality alternative to the popular destinations.
And it doesn’t matter your travel style – budget, mid-range, or luxury – everyone can save money this way (or use the savings to upgrade your travel!).
This doesn’t mean you have to forgo the big destinations entirely, but by focusing the bulk of your travel on places off the “travel lemming path,” you can significantly stretch your budget.
Other Benefits of Getting off the Travel Lemming Path
And there are other reasons to visit emerging destinations besides the money-saving aspects. In places where there isn’t a firmly established tourism culture, it is much easier to have genuine discussions with the locals, many of whom will be truly excited to talk to a foreign visitor to their country. Seriously — when visiting these places I even frequently get asked to pose for photos as if I am some sort of celebrity!
You’re also much more likely to have an authentic travel experience — the restaurants you’ll be eating at aren’t purpose-built for tourists, and there won’t be touts and vendors in your face everywhere you go. Though everyone has their own preference, I personally find this style of travel much more enjoyable and meaningful.
And let’s dispel with some of the most common concerns about off-the-radar destinations:
First, just because there isn’t a Starbucks on every corner doesn’t mean it’s not safe. Often times I feel MORE safe in emerging destinations, since there aren’t yet enough tourists to attract petty thieves or pickpockets.
Second, though it may require a little more patience on your part (especially when it comes to things like speaking English), it is perfectly possible to travel comfortably in emerging destinations. In fact, because you are saving so much money, you’ll probably feel more free to splash out on perks like nicer rooms, guides and drivers, etc.
How Do You Find Out About Cheap Alternative Destinations?
Now that I’ve sold on this tip for how to travel the world cheaply, the next natural question is: but, Nate, how will I know how to find great affordable alternative destinations?
Well, it requires a bit of research, to be sure, but the savings and the authentic experiences are well worth it.
Second, sign up for our email newsletter — I’ll send you information on some of the best emerging travel spots around the world.
Third, I also recommend picking up Lonely Planet’s “The World” guidebook, which has nice little summaries of the highlights of every country in the world. I use it for inspiration myself.
Fourth, to figure out the relative prices for places, I suggest checking out the Price of Travel Backpacker Index.
Lastly, if all of that sounds like too much work, feel free to just ask! Drop me a line in the comments, on Facebook, or in response to any of my email newsletters! I’m happy to provide suggestions or to brainstorm interesting and affordable destinations.