Let's talk cheap travel. Everybody wants to know how to travel for the low because social media says you can (insert eye roll). Well as the old adage goes NOTHING in life is free. You are either going to sacrifice some comforts to get cheaper flights and accommodations or you are going to spend a lot of money on premium credit cards to accumulate rewards points.
Before I go into detail let me just say that budget travel is a relative term because “budget” means different things to different people. Budget travel to someone who makes $100,000+ a year may mean a $250 a night hotel is a good deal. Where somebody who makes $50,000 a year may see a $150 a night hotel as a good deal. This creates a huge expectation problem because there is a big difference in quality between $250 vs $150. Someone who is ok staying in an 8 bed hostel room for $18 a night has a very different expectation from someone who can’t live without their pillow top mattress and premium bedding.
Personal Example: When I was in Bangkok Thailand I made a post about a nice budget hotel I found for $60 a night. I had a huge seating area and large bathroom. Someone who preferred staying at hostels to save money commented on my post and said that is not budget. Well maybe that wasn’t their budget, but $60 a night in comfortable non-shared accommodations was very much budget for me.
Flight Sales happen throughout the year. Over the last couple of years that I have been traveling I notice that the Black Friday prices are usually the cheapest. For example I got my Singapore Airlines round trip Houston to Singapore ticket November 2018 for $620. I watched that ticket from November 2018 until I traveled in April 2019 and the cheapest I saw it after Black Friday was $670. It’s not a big difference, but a $50 savings is good.
Mistake fares and fuel dump fares come around occasionally and you may be able to get to Africa for $400 from New York or LA. Keep in mind if you're not in New York or LA you have to pay the cost of getting round trip to these places for that cheap flight so if you wind up spending $300 on a round trip flight to New York or LA the cost of the cheap flight is not so good considering you could wait for a good sale from your area and book the round trip ticket for the same price without the extra hassle.
Timing: You have to be able to book cheap flights when you see those deals because they usually don't last long. They will either sell out or they will be snatched off the internet (mistake), so there's no time to debate the details. Your best bet is to book the ticket and use to 24 hours that you have to cancel (in the US) to figure out the details.
Baggage fees play a major role in cheap flights. If you are going on a quick short trip and you can stick everything that you are going to use in a backpack so you don’t have to pay carry on or checked luggage fees you can save a lot of money. Spirit Airlines becomes a really good option for short flights if you don’t have baggage.
Once you get outside of the US you will find that travel is really trip around other countries. You can get tickets as low as $20 each way if you keep your luggage in check.
Hostels: As I mentioned in the example above you can make travel very affordable by choosing to stay in hostels if those types of accommodations are comfortable for you. Hostels are shared accommodations set up like a dorm room with multiple beds usually in a bunk bed style. There are hostels that have private or double rooms but the cost increase in the nicer more private spaces so you are right back at the cost of a budget hotel.
Couch Surfing: If you don’t mind staying with strangers and adjusting to other people’s living standards you can couch surf for free accommodation.
House/Pet Sitting: If you like pets you can do house and pet sitting for people who want you to take care of their pets or plants while they are away. Again this puts you at the mercy of someone else’s living standards.
Volunteerism: You can volunteer at places in exchange for free accommodation.
You may get lucky and get really good accommodation in some of these exchanges. My personal preference is to avoid the risk of ruining my trip with an unknown accommodation that I may not have any corrective actions on if it’s not suitable.
The sharing economy has played a big role in making travel more affordable. Services like Airbnb, HomeAway, Uber, International ride sharing and Eat With allows you save money on various travel expenses by avoiding traditional travel options.