I know, I know – how dare I use such a clickbait-y title. Aren’t I just the worst?
I’m pretty excited about this post because it’s not about how to save money TO travel – it’s about how to subsidize travel, travel cheaply, and save money while on the road.
You don’t have to live off Ramen noodles and cut out your daily latte in order to afford to travel like so many other articles will tell you. I routinely spend nearly $100/month on my coffee habit (I mean, passion) and look at me – I TRAVEL. So that’s obviously horseshit.
I lived nomadically for the entirety of 2016, traveled to 7 countries, and wrangled about $10,000 worth of free travel activities and accommodation – all while freelancing and living frugally enough to save up actual money (which I’ve probably spent all of already, moving into and furnishing a brand new apartment in Sydney… but nevermind).
YOU GUYS. It’s not about putting off your travel dreams until you build up a cushion of savings to support you. It’s about trusting that the universe will support you – and most importantly, that YOU will support yourself. Believe that whatever happens, you can handle it. Think outside the box, make shit happen, and for gosh sake keep drinking those coffees if they make you as happy as they make me.
I saved over US$10,000 when I did that last year, and here’s how:
House Sitting – $8000+
The bulk of my savings came in the form of free accomodation, most of which I earned via 6.5 months of house sitting in Sydney and Melbourne.
For some reason I haven’t yet written about house sitting, which is pretty befuddling considering I spent more than half of last year doing it. I’ll definitely be covering the topic at some point in the coming months now that I’ve transitioned to living in one place and traveling less (for now!).
In a nutshell: I joined Aussie Housesitters in 2015, took a few sits in the far outer suburbs to rack up some rave reviews, and then from then on it’s been super easy for me to secure desirable house sits (at least in Sydney). The key is to set up email alerts for when new sits are posted and then apply for them IMMEDIATELY. I’m not kidding when I say that I would drop literally everything I was doing when I got one of these emails and saw a sit I wanted. I’ve paused conversations, arrived late to appointments, and composed messages on my iPhone while in transit – all in the name of being one of the first sitters to express interest in a newly-advertised house sit.
That discipline and drive paid off because I was able to spend 200 nights last year house sitting and not paying for accommodation. I thought $40/night would be an appropriate average cost for what I might spend on accommodation in Australia, but Airbnbs in Bondi typically cost more than that and also, the actual value of my house sitting accommodation was MUCH higher since I’d have an entire house to myself. So let’s say I saved AT LEAST $8000 by house sitting last year. Probably more.
Note: You can house sit even if you’re not in Australia! Try other house sitting websites like Trusted Housesitters.
A kitty at my Airbnb in Melbourne, Australia.
Airbnb Referral Credits – $442
In case you haven’t picked up on this already, I absolutely LOVE staying in Airbnbs when I travel. It’s the happy medium between a hostel dorm room and a hotel room, cost-wise. And as a major added bonus, you get the experience of living like a local wherever you are because you’re living in someone else’s home, often *with* them, while having your own bedroom to retreat to.
Personally, I also love Airbnbs that have a washing machine (free and easy laundry!), a cat, ample space for me to work, and a blender so I can make smoothies. I often sought out Airbnbs with all (or most) of these criteria when I needed a place to stay between house sits, and thanks to you guys clicking on my Airbnb referral link, I earned nearly $500 last year in credits which I put towards booking accommodation in Sydney. Thank you SO MUCH for that! And by the way, you earn credit too for clicking that link and signing up for Airbnb, which you can put toward your first stay. The amount changes constantly, but at the moment it’s $23.
Airbnb referral links aren’t just limited to bloggers, by the way. Anyone can share their referral link with their friends and networks – it’s just that bloggers usually have a much larger and more widespread platform for doing so. And you can get creative, too – maybe try posting it in Facebook groups or forums (just don’t be spammy!).
Winning Contests – ~$400
I was never a believer in contests until my old roommate won a shopping spree and a free trip to Miami just by entering her name and email into an online drawing. Since then, I’ve made a point to enter contests I come across if they require minimal effort, or if they require a skill I have and I feel like I have a decent shot at winning.
On the latter front, I managed to win TWO Instagram contests last year thanks my photography skillz. This blog post is decidedly not about making money though, so I won’t include the contest I won that awarded me with AU$5000 cash.
With the other Instagram contest, I won a trip to Phillip Island (near Melbourne) from the Phillip Island tourism board. I scored 2 nights glamping on the beach, an eco boat tour, admission to Antarctic Journeys, tickets to see the Penguin Parade, and a fancy lunch for two. What’s particularly awesome is that I’d already had a trip to Phillip Island planned, so winning this contest allowed me to upgrade it.
But honestly, so many contests take next to no effort to enter, so if you hear about them you might as well go for it! All I had to do for the Phillip Island Instagram contest was add the contest hashtag and tag the tourism board in a photo that I was going to post anyway. It’s worth paying extra attention to brands you like on social media, because that’s often where contest announcements are made.
Sponsored Travel – ~$1600
Lastly, a decent chunk of my travel savings came from sponsored travel. In the travel blogging world, this means that travel bloggers can get free or subsidized travel in exchange for blog and/or social media coverage of the destination (hotel, company, etc). Many of the “big” bloggers regularly get invited on press trips where ALL travel expenses are covered (and sometimes they’re even paid on top of it), but this will likely never be me for two dealbreaking reasons:
- I HATE social media and refuse to spend beyond the bare minimum amount of time on it, which means my social media following will never be large enough for brands and destinations to compensate me for mentioning them on my social handles. (But I kinda like Instagram and hang out there a bit, so you should follow me!)
- Group travel just isn’t my thing. Having to constantly be around a large group of people doing the exact same things as you, traveling quickly with little freedom to alter your itinerary sounds like hell on earth, to be honest. Though I guess when you get invited on all-expenses paid trips to dreamy locales it might be worth it?
I got to tag along on some wine tours for free because I offered to blog about them.
I may not be a big blogger with massive numbers of social media followers, but I can still wrangle some free travel thanks to my blog. Instead of waiting for a press trip invite to determine my next destination, I book my own trip and then do some research to see what sorts of activities I want to do there. Then I reach out to a few vendors and pitch myself and my blog, offering a blog post and perhaps some photos or social media coverage in exchange for either a free or discounted activity (if I notice that the company doesn’t have much of an online presence, is new, or has worked with other travel bloggers before, I’ll gun for a free activity; else, if they seem to be pretty well off in the online world and not in desperate need of exposure, I’ll just ask for a “media rate”). This is ideal for me because I retain full control over my travels, and I save money doing things that I would normally pay full price on and blog about anyway.
The key is to pitch companies that are a good fit for your blog, where a partnership makes sense. I blog extensively about outdoor travel adventures, and this is what I naturally seek out when I travel anyway, so me reaching out to companies who offer something that my blog readers are bound to pay attention to results in a win on all ends. This is also why I rarely pitch for free accommodation. I don’t write many hotel reviews on this blog because they are boring AF and, let’s be real, you probably don’t want to read about some fancy hotel that you’re probably never going to stay at anyway. I’m very open to working with more *unique* accommodations, but it would be a harder pitch to sell because I haven’t written about many thusfar and it’s not a huge focus of my blog.
The time I pitched for free activities and also got a free stay in a boutique hotel in Siargao, in the Philippines.
I find pitching myself to be extremely exhausting, but all the free travel perks do add up so it’s worth it to me. Here are the partnerships I worked on last year that resulted in about $1600 in travel savings:
- Bike The Wineries self-guided cycling tour in New Zealand ($65 – free)
- Milford Sound Fly-Cruise-Fly trip in New Zealand ($337 – free; I flew standby and they let me know the night before whether I’d be able to join the scenic flight the following morning)
- Tasting Australia Festival & Words To Go blogging workshop (~$250 – this was a blogger event I’d applied to, so I’m not sure what the exact value is but we are a lot of fancy food)
- Barossa Valley & McLaren Vale wine tours ($93 and $42 – free)
- Open Water Diving Course in Thailand ($230 – free)
- Advanced Open Water Diving Course & Accommodation in the Philippines ($255 – I got a generous discount on a diving + accommodation package, which basically equated to a free diving course)
- Surfing, Activities, & Accommodation package in the Philippines ($377 – free; this ended up being an all-inclusive 4 night package across two resorts)
Now, I know you might be thinking, well this is all great but I’m not a travel blogger like you! Fair point. If you don’t have a travel blog that’s been around for awhile, it would be a pretty hard sell to pitch for blog coverage in exchange for free travel.
Got to fly standby from Queenstown to Milford Sound in exchange for a blog post.
But you can pitch other sorts of work exchange arrangements instead. Not a blogger? That’s cool. What other skills DO you have that you can leverage? Offer to take photos for the company to use on their website or marketing materials. Offer to redo the company’s lackluster website. Offer to set up their social media accounts. Think about what they might need and offer it to them if it’s something you can do well.
One reason I love working with activity vendors is that they tend to be very small companies. Often the person you email with your pitch is the same person calling the shots in the business and they don’t have to vet the request through anyone else in the company hierarchy. I feel like this gives you more creative license with your pitch and could result in a more unconventional work exchange than you’d typically see working for a brand or larger travel company that has established guidelines for working with the media.