1. Hostels & Airbnb. Whenever I get asked about staying at hostels most people bring up the series of horror films sharing the same name where a group of backpackers are kidnapped while staying at their hostel abroad, tortured, and suffer some gruesome fates.
That’s not been the case in my experience at all. In fact, quite the opposite for the most part. I’ve gone on hostel pub crawls that were the nights of my life, made friends from around the world who I keep in touch with to this day, and I’ve been able to come out of my comfort zone time and again as a result of being in shared dorms.
Hostelworld.com is the go to website for finding hostels where you can see reviews from past tenants, look at images and details about the hostel itself, and, of course, make reservations where you can also see the prices, how many beds each room has, and their cancellation fee if there is one in case something comes up or you just have a change of heart.
The general rule of thumb is the cheaper the hostel the less bang you’ll get for your buck like any other accommodation. For example, it might be farther from the city center, might be a cash only hostel which can be an extra hassle abroad, or it might not have some perks like free breakfast or Wi-Fi which is a pretty common want abroad.
The basics rules of staying in a hostel is to make sure you have a proper lock for your valuables, bring ear plugs or headphones for those loud snorers, and, most importantly, GO WITH YOUR GUT! If you feel something is off, a roommate is making you uncomfortable, the area is sketching you out. BAIL! You don’t owe anyone anything and vice-versa. Remember, abroad you’re basically on your own, especially if you’re solo traveling, and when push comes to shove, locals often generally won’t go against their own for a foreigner who they don’t know and more than likely can’t speak their language.
It is important to keep in mind that you have stereotypes of hostel guests. Some examples being the grumpy old guy who you can’t figure out why on earth he is staying at a hostel at his age. There’s the couple who didn’t get a private room but don’t want to socialize with anyone and act like you’re bothering them when you try to interact with them. Or, they’re publicly fighting the whole time over trivial things when they should be enjoying their holiday. Then, there’s the midlife crisis woman who is going through an Eat, Pray, Love time and is traveling, trying to figure herself out after a heartbreak because her relationship was her life and being her boyfriend’s girlfriend was her identity.
2. Public transportation and Uber/Lyft/Grab. One of the most expensive costs that people seldom think about is getting to and from the airport to your accommodations. It normally ends up being one of my most expensive costs but I’ve managed to skim it down by doing one simple thing – I NEVER take taxis or luxury rides ever!
Every country generally has their own transportation app like Uber or Lyft which all work the same although you’ll sometimes have to overcome a language barrier. A lot of airports in recent times ban these non-taxi drivers from pulling directly into airports because it’s become a hostile issue with taxi and luxury drivers. The easiest loophole is to simply walk out of the airport to possibly a shop or a diner and have your Uber pick you up there.
The other option I weigh out based off of the convenience and my schedule is taking public transportation like airport shuttles, subways, and public buses. Most services will offer you deals say if you want to buy a 3-day or week pass where you’ll get unlimited service from public transportation for the duration of your pass.
I’ve ridden in the NY subway, the Paris metro, the London Tube, and chicken buses in Guatemala and I’ve never had an issue. The most important aspect is to stay alert. I like to sit in a corner so I can see everyone around me. I also sit on the outside of my booth so that my backpack or other luggage are deeper into the seat where it would be harder and more noticeable if others try to reach for it. I also turn on my full resting bitch face which subtly tells everyone that the juice isn’t worth the squeeze with me.
3. Reserve your flight 2-3 months ahead of your actual travel dates. The thing about me is I NEVER have specific dates or airlines I want to fly with. I don’t even use any of those scanner apps that are supposed to find you crazy cheap flights because they normally make you pay for a membership and they give you ridiculous flights with dreadful layovers and horrible flight times that even I have a hard time tolerating. No one wants to have a flight with 3 stopovers where each has an overnight layover where you don’t have enough time to go explore, but it’s too long to hang out at the airport so you have to go into your budget to stay at an airport or nearby hotel.
Instead, I use Google flights because I can look at month-to-month price graphs and data grids as well as link all my saved information as well as tracked flights to my Gmail.
Generally, I never pay more than $100-$200 for round-trip domestic or neighboring country flights and never more than $400 for long haul flights. I tend to find the best prices for flights around seventy days before my departure day for whatever reason.
4. I live with my parents. Yeah, that concept used to bother me a lot when I was younger because people frown on it in American culture despite way more cultures in the world preferring their children to live at home until they’re married. But nowadays, I’d much rather sleep in my own bed and have home-cooked meals rather than suffer three roommates who I don’t care for or who bring their drama into my life. Additionally, I have two senior family dogs at home, one of whom I rescued when she was a year old, both of my parents are in their sixties, my dad also being someone I haven’t seen in over two years, and, I’ve been living abroad and on my own off and on since I was 20 (I’m now 28). So, I could really care less what people think. Oh, you live with your parents? Yeah – and I save upwards of $600 a month doing so and am way happier because they won’t be around forever.
5. I don’t go out and cut as many bills as possible. I’ve spent the majority of this past year working out, covering shifts at my bar job, and studying my ass off in grad school. I’ve taken nines classes in the past three semesters which is full-time for a grad student while sometimes working five or more days a week.
When I do go out, I almost always regret it the majority of times because I feel disconnected with everyone who hasn’t traveled and often don’t see them as true friends who actually care about me but I’m more so just someone to drink with. There’s no worse feeling than being around someone who makes you feel alone or makes you feel like you’re just being used for one thing or another.
Lastly, I can’t stomach eating out or even going out on a date anymore due to the costs. I can take a girl out for a steak dinner and drop $100+ easily for what might be a complete waste of time when all is said and done. Or, I can go to Publix, buy a juicy ribeye on sale for $10 and marinate and season it just the way I like it. Do the math. Most people pay around $500 for rent a month while a few nights out a week and a few typical dates will cost you the same if not more.
6. I fly budget airlines. I really don’t have a care for what airline I use. I’ve had two flights get canceled on me out of dozens and both times the airports rescheduled me for later or the next day and gave me a lovely stipend for my inconvenience. Allegiant gave me a $150 travel voucher while United gave me an $800 gift card.
To this day, I’ll never understand people who pay hundreds of thousands more for first or business class or all the add-on amenities. For example, half of the time there is no point paying to skip the queue because you still have to wait regardless for everyone to board to take off, airport food is almost always going to be garbage, and if the flight isn’t long haul I don’t really care about a few inches more of extra leg room for $20+ each way.
Some other simple things I do to save money is I never reserve a seat, probably 8/10 times I’ll get a window or aisle seat or the flight will not be full so I can just get up and move after we take off. Additionally, I almost always bring my own food and a refillable water bottle so I don’t drop another $15-20 for a cheap beer and a bland chicken sandwich. Lastly, I believe in true backpacking where if I’m not actually moving somewhere I just bring a backpack with a few outfits, toiletries, and some electronics. As a result, I seldom pay for a carry-on or checked bag.
7. Eat LOCAL: I will never get people who travel to a foreign country to eat a meal they can get in their hometown. Spending your ass on a luxury hotel, eating stupid, pretentious, overpriced, unoriginal dishes, and never wandering the city to see how locals live or to stumble upon hidden gems – you’re doing it all wrong!
The best thing you’ll ever do in traveling is go to the local markets and ask your server what they eat, not what they recommend but literally what dish would you eat right now if you were on break. Then, tell them you want it exactly the way they have it and offer them a drink or give them a tip. I’ve done this in every country I’ve visited, Google translated the conversation if I’ve had to. No one will ever get offended by a polite foreigner wanting to eat their country’s local dishes.
In fact, if someone flew to America right now, I wouldn’t tell them to get a burger and fries because you can get that crap literally anywhere in the world. I’d tell them to go to a mom and pop shop and get an NY pizza with the grease dripping down that you have to fold like a taco to eat, a Philly cheesesteak with all the fixings from a random stand after a night out of drinking, or a Cajun crawfish boil where the spiciness makes you want to cry tears of joy because that’s what the hell kind of food I will eat as my last meal on earth and that’s the kind of food that represents my home country.
8. I make fast & easy cash working for the service industry again: I’ve worked in the service industry off and on since 2015 and I’ve gotten to the point where I want nothing to do with it anymore. Dealing with drunk jerks and drugged out bums on a daily basis isn’t fun. Service industry jobs are high stress jobs and the golden rule is to never forget that the people you work with are not your friends, they are your coworkers and kindness is taken for weakness in the industry. In other words, if you give anyone an inch, they’ll take a mile.
So why do I do it still if I don’t enjoy it? Freedom and fast cash. I make more money working behind a bar than I would working most 9-5 jobs that require a college degree in the States. Additionally, I currently always have three days off in a row to travel, study, or just relax unless I accept to cover a shift. That’s a very good upside in anyone’s book.
What are the downsides besides the aforementioned? The one that sticks out for me and a lot of service industry folk is the long-term benefits or lack thereof. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a service industry job that offers stocks, quality health insurance, or a retirement plan of any kind. I have in other countries, but in the States it’s a bit of taboo.
Personally, I’m just not cut out for it either. I’ve body-guarded celebrities, I’ve done private security for mental patients who are hearing demons telling them to kill themselves, and I’ve taught classrooms filled with thirty preteen students who know every four-letter word there is and have zero respect for authority. I’d happily do those jobs because I had job security, I had benefits, and I felt accomplished at the end of the day. I don’t feel fulfilled serving John Doe a whiskey coke that I keep getting asked to “hook up” or Karen a vodka tonic with extra limes that she wants for free because it’s her birthday. It’s someone’s birthday every night woman!