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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

How to Travel the U.S. for Free or Cheap (and Safe)

Traveling can definitely be expensive, but if you plan and do your research, you have a much better chance of saving big money. I have traveled my whole life, but I never was a college student who had the opportunity to get and see the world, because I went to school and I worked to pay for my schooling and the few bills I had. I lived at home, but because books were so expensive for my classes, I really didn’t have any leftover cash to put toward travel. It was also a time when I didn’t know all my options for jetsetting for nearly no money.

Now, there are so many ways to save for students wanting to get out and travel the globe, it’s crazy that there aren’t more packing their bags. Though many want to backpack through Europe, there are just as many things to see in the U.S. and just as easy to save your pennies to do it. Here are some tips to travel for cheap or free, while still staying safe, because that’s even more important that saving a few bucks.

A lot of people like to suggest couchsurfing as a way to save money and spending nothing on your accommodations. Sure, you could do that, but if you’re like me, you don’t enjoy staying in a complete stranger’s house. When I travel, I need space and alone time and privacy. I also don’t really trust people that much. Instead of doing this, look for housesitting opportunities where you can stay at someone’s house while they’re on vacation. You have full run of it, might actually make some money, and all you may have to do is take in their mail, water their plants and feed their pets. Sounds pretty good, right? It’s like being at home where you travel.

Walk or Bike It
You could totally take a cab or rent a car, but those are going to cost you a ton of money in the long run. Uber will save you a bit, but it’ll still end up taking a big chunk of your travel budget. Instead, rely on your feet whenever possible or get on your bike. It’s easy to travel with your own bike now, but a lot of big cities have rental bikes that won’t break the bank. Use these modes of transportation before you break down and use public transit. If you need the bus or subway, try to get a full-day or multi-day/trip pass when you can, because these can save you over individual trips.

Hit Up Happy Hour
You gotta eat and you aren’t going to want to make all your own meals when you’re traveling, because it’s not always fun, plus there’s so much good food out there. Treat yourself to some great restaurants by visiting during Happy Hour. This way you can get a few plates for the price of a full entrée, which is perfect if you aren’t traveling alone.

Go to the Farmers’ Market
First of all, this is a great way to interact with the locals. Second, it’s an equally great way to see regional foods. Third of all, you can pick up affordable snacks and a quick meal from vendors there.

Take a Free Tour
There are quite a few groups that run free tours in different cities, you just have to Google to find them. Usually they are run by local volunteers who know a lot of awesome stories and facts about your destination. You should just contribute a few bucks as a tip when the tour is over. You might even make a new friend!

Stop In for a Home-Cooked Meal
Everyone likes a home-cooked meal and if you’re into meeting some new people, check out MealSharing and hook up with a local person/family who wants to share their home with you for the evening. You make some friends and get a free meal and they get to feel awesome about helping you out and meeting you. Maybe pick up something as a hostess gift, like a cheap bottle of wine or bring a little something fun from your hometown.

Go Out with Others
If you would rather go out to eat and meet people, hook up with locals and travelers alike by logging on to InviteForABite and find others who also want to get together and eat with “friends”, because it’s not always exciting to eat alone, even with your smartphone on hand.

Check Out Free Attractions
This is one of my favorite ways to stretch a buck. All cities have free things to do, including museums, landmarks and more. Just get online and search “free things to do in (insert city here)” and you might be surprised by how many things you find. The great thing is, many tourists don’t take the time to seek these things out, so you’re going to see a totally different view of the city than most other people who visit. You can also ask locals what their favorite hidden gems. I’ve learned a lot about places to go and things to see by doing this as well.

There are a lot of fun ways to save money when you travel if you’re resourceful and plan ahead. Know where to go, what to do and where to eat before you leave home and your trip will be more fun, more fulfilling and much more affordable. 

You can find more tips like this in A Student's Guide to Traveling Without Spending Money, a free ebook that can teach you how you can enroll into various programs, scholarships, internships, and trainings that allow you to travel without actually spending money.

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