The Subtle Art of Traveling on a Budget

Our guest blogger and fellow Northeastern grad, Chris Todd, traveled the world for 9 months on less than $10K, here he shares how.

International travel can seem daunting…especially on your wallet. When you’re European, incredible train systems, quality budget airlines, and even comfortable busses (complete with Wifi, reclining seats, and even a snack cart) make international travel a breeze.

Americans face a different battle. We’re isolated from most of the world, separated by an ocean on either side. There’s no bus route or train system from the US to Europe, Asia, or Central and South America. No reliable budget airlines transport eager travelers between states, let alone countries.

So how can you take a long-term trip on a budget?

I spent 9 months in 2017 traveling between 30 countries across 5 continents with a budget of less than US$ 10K…and I made it home with a few hundred to spare. Here are the 5 most important tips I can give to prospective travelers to stretch their budget while seeing it all:

  1. Plan Ahead

The backpacker culture is full of spontaneity, and where impulsive moves lead to unexpected adventure and exciting opportunity, they also take a chunk out of your savings. Buying a plane ticket a few weeks or months in advance can save you literally thousands of dollars, depending on your flight path.

Before I left Newark Liberty International Airport for Tokyo, I had the first 8 countries I’d be visiting planned in terms of flights and timeframe within each destination. While this limited my spontaneity to an extent, it also ensured that I was saving as much as possible on by far the most expensive part of my trip: air travel.

  1. …But Stay Flexible

This may seem to contradict tip #1, but the reality is, it complements it perfectly. Even though my entry into and exit from a country were planned to a T, my time within each country was left largely unplanned. I’d book a night at a hostel, then see who I met there and what their plans were during their time in the country.

In Vietnam, this resulted in my buying a motorcycle and spending a few weeks riding up the coast, hopping between cities and rural settings in a way I had never expected. I experienced more of the country, interacted with more locals and travelers alike, than I could have planned for. Plus, I sold the bike to another backpacker before leaving and made most of my money back!

It boils down to this: there’s no shame in making a few plans, but don’t sweat the small stuff – things are bound to go wrong, but you’ll have the adventure of a lifetime without breaking the bank.


  1. Make Friends

Even if you’re traveling ‘alone’ like I was, you’ll find very quickly that you’re never truly on your own. This will definitely become a benefit for your social life, your perspective on the world, and, yes, even your wallet.

Coming back from my travels, I’d made friends from all over the world (it’s not hard… when you’re a foreigner, you bond with other foreigners – even if you otherwise might not have much in common). While I didn’t plan this, friends ended up saving me a ton of money toward the end of my travels when I finally reached Europe. I spent almost 3 months on the continent and only stayed in one hostel – I couch surfed the rest of the time, staying with people I had met for anywhere between 4 hours and 2 weeks in Australia, Asia, and the Middle East.

One note: don’t use people. Travelers tend to be incredibly welcoming, so while when someone invites you into their homes, it certainly saves you money, it shouldn’t be your motivation for engaging with other backpackers. Also, don’t be afraid to return the favor later on down the road – I certainly hope to host some of the great friends I stayed with in the future.

  1. Kiss Your Privacy Goodbye

Hostels are life. If you’re traveling on a budget, HostelWorld will become your gospel, and bunk beds will be your home. Trust me when I say this is a huge benefit: you’ll meet more people, you’ll never be bored, and you’ll always learn about new places to explore that you’ve never heard of.

Hostels have a bad reputation with many people in the US – but the reality is, most are clean, safe, and will probably become one of the highlights of your travels. Just be sure to check reviews before you book!

  1. Embrace Minimalism

This one might be the hardest for some people – it was for me, but becoming a minimalist for a few months has changed my life. I never check luggage anymore, even when I bring more than the 2 pants, a pair of shorts, boxers, a few t-shirts, and jacket I packed for my trip around the world.

Never checking luggage or paying oversized baggage fees, avoiding worry about losing clothes or my belongings when I made it to my next destination…this was a tremendous help during the sometimes anxiety-inducing aspects of travel. Ultimately, it saves you unnecessary stress and money to keep your bag small and your belongings limited. I promise you won’t regret leaving the excess at home.

Taking the time to travel doesn’t have to cost you, and it will undeniably change your life in ways you can never plan for or expect. So, set aside some of your savings and dedicate it to exploring a new corner of the world – you’ll be better for it.


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About Zoe Pilla

Zoe comes from a background in non-profits and education. She's passionate about all things social-minded, travel and outdoors. Up next on her travel list, South America: Machu Picchu and Patagonia.
  • San Francisco, CA