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Tactics to Get Free or Cheap Flights and Accommodations That Work.

 

This is a continuation to the first article on how much it actually costs to travel around the world for one year and how to save money for it. If you have come to this article directly, do take a few minutes to read the first article. There are some really effective tips on saving money. 

So, how to get free or cheap flights and accommodations?

  1. Using credit card points 
  2. Adding extra days in layover destinations
  3. Couchsurfing 
  4. Housesitting
  5. Home Exchange
  6. Work-stay
  7. Monastery Stays
  8. Camping

In this article we will dig deeper into possible ways to save or even earn money while traveling, so read on. 

Flights

Here are some of the step by step strategies to keep the flight cost under control:

If you are going on a long travel such a year long trip or 6-months trip, I recommend the following steps to keep flight cost under control. 

  • Pick the countries to explore within the same continent. Examples, All countries in South America. Or 12 countries in Asia. Or East Africa, etc.,
  • It tends to be cheaper to fly within the continent. Or you can always do a land crossing if thats an option. 
  • Within the continent research the country that has the cheapest flight from your starting point. 

One of the ways I manage cut cost to travel one year is by being super smart with how I booked flights ✈✈✈

Flight Recipe #1:

This amazing hack has always worked for me, and I am sure some of you might already know about it but I just wanted to share it with those of you who don’t 😉

Being Flexible is the key

Step 1:

Go to: My Favorite Flight Search : Skyscanner 

Step 2:

  • In the search bar type in you starting Airport and make sure to select “ADD NEARBY AIRPORTS” and then your destination COUNTRY not airport.
  • Or if you don’t care where you go search your start COUNTRY and then type in EVERYWHERE as the destination.
  • In the dates, do not enter a date. Select WHOLE MONTH. Or even better Select “FIND CHEAPEST MONTH”
  • When you hit search you will then be presented with the cheapest destinations to fly from your home airport.
  • Then you will see the cheapest months, destinations and dates to fly. Tuesdays and Wednesdays are generally the cheapest days to fly. 

Step 3: 

Book your flight to the cheapest neighboring country where you can start your travel from. And see if you can find a flight from this neighboring country to your final destination. 

Basically, you are breaking down your journey into 2 separate itineraries.

Example of how this Recipe helped me find the cheapest ticket:

I searched for flights from SFO to Lisbon for our Portugal trip.

Clearly direct flights were really expensive. Using the Recipe #1, I found a cheap flight to Barcelona and from there I took a local airline to Lisbon. We save over $300 per person.

Flight Recipe #2:

Here is another hack that I love and almost always use to see if I can pack in more bang for the buck is www.airwander.com

Take the flight info from the first recipe and plugin the dates, destination at Airwander.

Click on the RED + sign to add stopovers. Increase or decrease the number days to see if you get a better deal. 

Imagine this: You just found a cheapest possible flight to Frankfurt and you want go to Airwander and plugin your dates only to realize you can add a 3 day trip to Rome and reduce your cost even more. And you get to cover another country in the process. Whoa…I don’t think it gets any better than that. 

Airwander.com

Flight Recipe #3:

Put the credit card to work. If you have not been collecting points on your credit cards that translate into travel points, you are missing out on a huge scale. 

To prove my point, in 2018, we, a family of three, travelled to Guatemala(from San Francisco) and Maldives(from India) 100% on the credit card points for the flights. 

If you are in the US, credit cards like Chase Sapphire offer sign in bonus of 50,000 points. Check out the latest credit card comparison at https://thepointsguy.com/cards/

I use my Chase Sapphire for all possible purchases, so for every dollar I spend, I am accumulating towards an exotic destination soon.

Bring your own food on board:

Don’t pay for that expensive in-flight meal. Plan ahead and get your meal from home if possible. Or from the airport. 

Pro Tip:

When booking flights, browse all websites in Private Browsing mode (also known as Incognito Mode for Google Chrome, or InPrivate for Microsoft’s browsers).

The Catch:

When you are picking the flights, make sure the price includes your luggage. Sometimes, the “Basic Economy” fair doesn’t include the check-in luggage that can quickly add up.

If you are traveling for a year, you would want to keep your luggage to minimum. Check out my packing list and recommendations for one year travel around the world. 

This will tell the browser not to save your history, cookies, or login information so that the websites you visit don’t see you looking at a flight and encourage you to book faster by increasing the price of the flight it notices you’re looking at.

Costa Rica Flight

Flight Cancellations / Delays / Lost Luggages:

If you are traveling for a year, there will inevitably be scenarios where the flight gets cancelled, or delayed. Or even you lose your luggages. How do you handle them ?

Here are the ways I have dealt with them.

Your flight is cancelled or delayed:

This usually has a cascading effect. What happens to the connecting flight ? What about the accommodation you have booked ? etc.,

Take a deep breath. 

Here is my Madeira Island story:

Flight from Funchal airport to Barcelona got cancelled. Next flight they offered was 24 hours later. That means we will lose our flight back to California from Barcelona. 

So, here is what I did. I took their meal voucher, hotel room due to cancelation. I asked for a refund for the ticket instead of re-booking. 

I booked a flight to Barcelona on my own and got to Barcelona 8-hours later but still in time for the next flight.

After I reached home, I filed for reimbursement with Easyjet for the following:

  • Hotel room that didn’t refund us in Barcelona. 
  • Price difference between their flight and the new flight I booked
  • All meals within Funchal airport

And after a few back and forth I actually got the money back.

So, do follow up and write to the airlines to get the money for these scenarios.

You luggage is lost:

Usually Airline, credit cards and travel insurances will cover these too. See which one of them is easy to handle and get your money refunded. One of them should work. Be persistent and follow up.

Passport DC

Horseback riding with hostel buddies

Horseback riding with hostel buddies

Accommodation

Accommodation is another huge expense when it comes to long terms travels. This is where you have to get really creative to see how to travel within the budget. And believe it or not there are at least a dozen different ways to do this. 

Hostels:

  • Are you a solo traveler ?
  • Do you want to make friends quickly ?
  • Do you want to share the tuk-tuk cost to that cool waterfall with other folks ?

Then hostels are for you. Check out that $10 stay in Cambodia at Booking.com

Pros:

  • Cheap at most countries. A dorm room can be as little as $5 a night. 
  • Kitchen access to cook your own food.
  • Lot of hostels also provide breakfast.
  • Easy to make friends.
  • Easy to share cost with other travelers.
  • Go with no plan and you are guaranteed to meet someone with an awesome plan you can follow. 
  • You can get private rooms at hostels.
  • Hostels organize tours, activities, pub crawls and walking tours at a very backpacker friendly cost. 
  • Most of the hostels provide safe to keep your valuables.
  • You can work at the hostel in exchange for a free stay.

Cons:

  • If you are at a dorm, there is no guarantee that others in the room are clean & quiet.
  • Hostels can be very noisy. Especially the ones that organize night parties. Not all of them do though. So, don’t just discard hostels for this reason. Check the reviews.
  • There has always been some theft stories. So, if you are carrying expensive cameras, go for a private room.
  • Uncomfortable beds at times.

Irrespective of the cons, I have had amazing times at hostels throughout the world. Both during the solo travel times and as a couple, Hostels were the go-to most of the times. 

Hotels:

In some countries hotels might be the only option. And you might actually want to stay at popular hotels to be safe. This is especially the case in some West African countries. Depending on the current situation, hotels can arrange body-guard for you in these West African countries. Alright, now that’s an extreme example. But, you get the point.

But, hotels might be a very viable option for families with small children. Check out hotels at Booking.com

Rent an apartment:

According to one of our featured traveler Dianna, slow travel saves a great deal of money. She traveled in Sweden for as little as ~$800. She managed this budget purely by staying longer at a place. If you are staying for a month in one big city from where you can do day trips to near by places, renting an apartment for a month or two is a great option.

There are some websites such as HousingAnywhere that facilitate monthly apartment rentals in other countries. 

I am sure there are other such services in each country like Craigslist

Ping that cousin or your neighbors nephew:

  • Do you have a cousin who lives in Australia that you haven’t spoken to in couple of years?
  • How about your neighbors nephew who lives in Belgium?
  • May be your friend’s friend who lives in Ecuador ?

I have personally pinged and gotten a few days of stay out all of those connections. On a budget travel, every penny counts. And if you can stay with someone you get connected to, even if it was just for one night, it’s totally worth it. 

Besides saving money, you have made another friend who you can host when he/she visits your home country. 

AirBnb:

Who doesn’t use Airbnb these days ? If you already don’t have an account, use this link to get $40 off your first booking. 

Airbnb can be a great option for any type of traveler, solo-travelers, families or group of people traveling together.

If you already don’t know, Airbnb rooms come in flavors:

  • Private room in a house where the family lives.
  • Basement for rent
  • Entire apartment / Private house for rent
  • Share room 
  • Or even hotels and hostels 

When we traveled in Maldives with our infant, kitchen access was extremely important to us. When I reached out to few hotels, none of them had kitchen. 

Airbnb came to rescue here. Most of the options in Maldives are actually hotels or guest houses, but they were listed in Airbnb and it was extremely easy to communicate with the host to make sure we had kitchen access. 

When we went to San Miguel de Allande with family, our Airbnb house was kind enough to send a local guide on what to see and where to go. 

I attribute the success of our first day at Lisbon, Portugal trip with our 5-month old at that time, to the Airbnb host. 

If you end up renting a private house for yourself, Airbnb can be bit lonely. 

  • May be you can mix it up. A few hostels and a few time for yourself at a private Airbnb.
  • Airbnb also tends to get cheaper if you stay longer at one place. Checkout offers by hosts who encourage longer stay with a reduced cost. 
  • Try to stay a bit away from the city center to keep the cost down a bit.
Couchsurfing host in Montreal

Couchsurfing host in Montreal

Couchsurfing:

Have your heard of the term “gift economy” or “paying it forward” ? That’s what couchsurfing is all about. This is a highly sought after way to get free accommodation on travels. 

  • You create a free profile at www.couchsurfing.com
  • Upload pictures, clearly describe yourself.
  • Decide whether you will be reciprocating by hosting others at your place.
  • Search for people who are accepting guests at your destination city.
  • Send them request and get accepted.
  • Take a small gift if you can afford it. Or take the host out for a coffee or dinner.
  • Stay for free.
  • And host for free.
  • Ask the host to review you and you also give honest review for the host.

As simple as that. And it works. Of course, you should do your due diligence of reading reviews before going to a strangers house. 

Personal experience has been nothing but phenomenal for me. I was in Toronto for 10-days and never paid a penny for stay. One host was so generous to leave the key outside the house when he was actually out of town for the week. So, I had the entire house to myself without paying anything. 

And I have hosted quite a few travelers myself at my studio apartment in Washington D.C. So, you don’t need a large place to host. A living room or as the name suggests, a couch is just fine.

Kitchen access to the guest is pretty normal. If you want to feed the guest or not are all purely up to the individuals and those can be clearly discussed before the guest arrives.

Here are some of the things I have done for guests/hosts at Couchsurfing:

  • Picking them up from the airport.
  • Keeping coffee / toast available for breakfast.
  • Dropping them in downtown DC and picking them up after work in the evening. 
  • Taking them out to restaurants where we pay our own food.
  • Taking my host to a comedy show in Toronto.
  • Taking my host to an Indian restaurant in Paris.
  • Getting a bottle of wine for the meal my host cooked for me.

When I was active on couchsurfing, I was single. As a female, single person, I have hosted and stayed as a guest at different countries with single men, families and women. And so far, I have never had any mishaps. 

Majority of the times, couchsurfing is safe. But again, you have to take responsibility for your own safety. Report to couchsurfing service desk and local law enforcement immediately if you run into any issues. Also, keep some money aside, in case you have a bad experience and you want to leave the place for the nearest hotel or hostel. 

Couchsurfing community prides itself on the importance of safety and modesty to the guests / hosts. 

Global Freeloaders & Hospitality Club are some of the other websites that work in the same space as Couchsurfing. I don’t have any personal experience using these sites. 

And if you are a biker, Warmshowers is an extraordinary community that will support you through your journey. 

Guesthouses And B&B:

Local boutique guesthouses and Bed & Breakfast are great options to support the local economy. When we traveled in Nepal, guesthouses (also known as teahouses) are pretty much the only options as you hike higher up in altitude. And what better way to contribute to the local economy than by staying at teahouses. 

And they cook and take care of all your meals at a cost. 

Checkout Guesthouses and Bed & Breakfast options here at Booking.com

Work-stays and Form-stays:

Another free accommodation strategy, Have you ever wondered it what it takes to run an organic form ? How about a month long or longer stay at form to learn a new skill ?

Websites like Helpx facilitate a stay at someone’s place in exchange for work they need help with. This is one of the popular way to travel in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Europe.

Also checkout Workaway that is very popular for finding work while traveling. 

Housesitting:

Believe it or not, you can actually make money by housesitting. Imagine this scenario. You have a house with a garden, couple of pets and you have to go out of town on a vacation or for work. You would really like someone to stay in the house and take care of the garden, clean the kitchen, and take care of the pets. You put your house up for housesitting and you are ready to pay a few bucks to the housesitter.

Now, the other you wants to go to Vancouver Island and it’s so expensive to stay there for your budget. You don’t mind spending a few hours running errands and finishing up the chores requested by the house owner in exchange for a few bucks and a free stay.

It’s a win-win. And it actually works. 

According to housesitter.com 

Here’s a selection of some major North American cities and their average rates:

CityAverage House Sitter Cost (per day)
New York, NY$37.46
Los Angeles, California$45.70
Chicago, Illinois$37.68
Houston, Texas$37.34
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania$66.67
Phoenix, Arizona$29.50
Jacksonville, Florida$43.96
Indianapolis, Indiana$44.20
Columbus, Ohio$34.44
Charlotte, North Carolina$38.96

Now, that is really cool. Check it folks. 

Camping with tents:

Countries like Iceland are known for tent stays. All National Parks in the US have camping options. When we did a month long road trip to US National Parks as a part of the longer travel, we stayed at campsites for the 90% of the trip.

  • Most campsites will have flush toilets and coin showers.
  • If there is no shower, find the near by lake, waterfall or river and take a dip.

Hammock stays:

South American countries such as Brazil and French Guiana are popular for sleeping in Hammocks. Carry a sturdy hammock with you or just rent the hammock at the hotel or Airbnb backyard space for a few bucks for the night. 

I have not done this personally, but would love to give it a try when I make my way to French Guiana. Apparently in French Guiana, almost every hotel has the hammock option. 

House Exchange:

As the name suggests, you exchange your home with another family in a different location. Simple! 

They are trusting you with their home and you trust them in return. Lot of safety checks and verification goes into the sign up process. Like minded people exchanging their homes for a certain time period sounds like a great deal if you have an established living space. 

Check out Home Exchange website for details.

Live in a Monastery: 

This is unique, isn’t it ? You can actually get a budget accommodation or a dorm room at a monastery. Some charge upfront and some ask for donation. 

A safe way to stay on a budget travel and get a unique perspective on culture and religion in the process.

CNN article on Monastery stay

Matador Network article on Monastery stay.

Indian Himalayas are another popular destination for Monastery stays. 

Besides what I have discussed above, there are other options like RV rental etc., I am excluding them here since the article is about budget traveling where the cost to travel one year is kept within a certain limit. 

Stay tune for part 3 and final article of this series. I will be covering how to find free things to do in each place you visit. 

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Save on flights and stays

What mode of accommodation saved you money in your past trips ?

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