My Travel Hacks
One of the questions I get asked about often is my financial situation: how am I traveling for as long as I am? Although I prefer answering questions related to photography and the places I visit, this question eventually comes up. I thought I would provide a short list of how I am saving money while traveling solo around the world. However, I am no expert. In fact, I feel like I could be more efficient with my spending, especially at this stage of my travels. Here are some easy ways you can save money for your next trip.
My monthly expenses is only $20 a month between my Photoshop and website subscription (I know, don’t hate me). I eliminated my phone bill before I left and switched over to Google Voice, Facebook Messenger, and WhatsApp as my primary method of communication. Fortunately, I never really had many expenses back home, because I enjoy the challenge of simplify my life as much as possible. I only have to pay for the basic necessities (food, accommodation, transportation).
Accommodation is the by far the biggest expense of traveling. With Couchsurfing, I not only avoid paying for a hostel, but I also meet interesting people from all over the world. As I am writing this short article, I am staying with my host Filip in Zagreb, Croatia. He offered me the keys to his apartment, laundry service, food, and beer in exchange for my company. It is not free accommodation, and if I feel anti-social, I choose to stay in a hostel to refresh. Couchsurfing is wonderful because my host takes the role of tour guide, adding authenticity to the places I visit. I get a glimpse of their everyday life and my host is able to “travel” without ever leaving their home. In some of the most expensive cities in Europe, I was able to save quite a bit in exchange for my photography, taking photographs of everything from apartment listings to family portraits. It is a wonderful way for me to improve my photography skill and offer something in return. I conclude my stay by giving my host a small 4” x 6” postcard that I took with a handwritten note of appreciation on the back. It takes up little space in my backpack but has tremendous sentimental value. Since I began my travels 4 months ago, over half of that time was spent Couchsurfing. Here is a shout out to my wonderful hosts (and new friends) during my travels:
Jose Felix Toscano , Jonathan Hurtado, Samantha Chipres, Diogo Magalhães, Melisa Silva, David Julien, Emilie Coron, Ansel Lesan, Victor Segura Azanon, Xavi Temporal, Paul Kaufmann, Filip Maslac, Carlos Carreras Lunar
Workaway & HelpX
Similar to Couchsurfing, Workaway is a way to save money on accommodation in exchange for volunteering a few hours of your day. This month, I had the opportunity to volunteer for CARE - Collective of Animal Rescuers in Essaouira in Morocco. The organization needed day-to-day assistance of the animals in their care. I offered my photography to promote adoption, increase donations, and document the people that make up the organization. It was one of the most rewarding experiences during my travels so far, because I was able to learn new skills while also demonstrating what I already know.
I always carry two student ID cards: one from UW-Stevens Point (5 years old) and one ISIC card that expired 2 years ago. Most places do not bother to read the expiration date and in the case of my UWSP ID, it does not even have one. I flash these cards at museums, and more often than not, I save half the price of admission. It looks official having two forms of identifications that prove that I am a student, even if it is inaccurate . It makes seeing attractions more affordable. Although I cannot see all the attractions I want due to my budget restrictions, sometimes it’s nice to actually see the inside of a place rather than only from the exterior.
Capital One Card
When I applied for this credit card, Capital One offered a 50,000 point sign-up bonus if I spent $3,000 over 3 months. I let friends and family use my card (and pay me back in cash) because I obviously do not spend that much over 3 months. Once I reached that minimum, it is essentially $500 at my disposal. I accrue 2 points for every dollar I spend, which adds up fast! The card requires a $95 fee every year, but the first year is waved. When my card is about to renew, I will ask to downgrade or to wave the fee for an additional year. By simply mentioning that you are considering a switch to another credit card company, they will go above and beyond to keep you as a client. This often plays in your favor (so I have heard). I have yet to figure out how to transfer points to certain airlines, but for now, I have time because my points will never expire. I can use the points to “erase” purchases related to travel, which is literally anything from airline tickets to museums to even restaurants. This category is so broad and applies to everything I purchase - all without any travel fees.
I learned this trick from my friend Maru from Argentina. She introduced me to Booking.com and their referral program. When I know that I will be staying longer than 2 or 3 days in a certain place, I look for codes posted on a Facebook group called “Booking.com Referral Codes”. You must reach a minimum spending (>$40), but after using someone’s code, I get $15, $20, or $25 back depending on the code. I do not know how much longer this program will be available since I have noticed that the minimum has been increasing lately (>$100). This trick might be obsolete, but for now, it has been fantastic. It is basically a free night every time I book. I have saved over $150 just by posting my code in this group for others to use.
Pssst, use mine my code (shameless plug): https://www.booking.com/s/44_6/caseyf84
Charles Schwab Card
I have been using my Charles Schwab debit card for over 5 years now. I signed up for an investor checking account, but the company does not require you to actually invest with them. I strictly use the card for withdrawals because I get reimbursed ATM fees at the end of the month regardless of what ATM I use. This has saved me hundreds of dollars. So many travelers must find certain ATMs with low commission fees, while I can literally go to any without being charged. This also allows me to predict how much I need during those final days in a specific country, withdrawing a low amount of local currency to last me until my departure.
This seems like a strange travel hack, but by purchasing a drain stopper, a dry bar of detergent, and bungee cords, you can save a lot of money by hand washing your clothes. When laundry services cost over $5 per load in most hostels, I simply wash my clothes in the sink and hang the damp clothes over my hostel bed. I know, I am that guy. By the time I check out, they are dry for the next destination.
Thank you to the following patrons for your support:
Alice Schlotte, Ang Schaefer, Anistie Held, Cailie Kafura, Casey Benish, Cindy Luttenberger, Dena Rose, Evelyn McLean-Cowan, Joe Truesdale, John Currier, Joris Hermans, Julie Balson, Nicki Halopka, Sara Beggs, Tonya Geldbach.