Several years ago, you followed along as I recorded my savings leading up to a trip to The British Isles followed by a cruise to The Bahamas. Now, it’s been two years since I’ve been outside of North America. I just got confirmation that I’ll be heading to a new country very soon, so it’s time to start another savings challenge!
But first, let me tell you a little bit about the trip I’m going to take. It’s not the kind of trip I normally go on. In fact, it’s different from any other trip I’ve ever been on or will ever take in my lifetime! In February, I applied to Passages, a leadership program that takes college students to Israel. I had heard about Passages years ago, but did not fulfill the requirement of being a college student at the time. This year, I’m back in college and just barely squeaked by with the upper age limit, so it truly is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me.
One of the greatest parts about Passages is that the trip is heavily subsidized. Israel is an expensive country, and while I’ve always wanted to go there, I didn’t know how I could do it on my backpacker budget. However, there are still associated fees, but the cost of my trip should come in under $2000. (I normally wouldn’t pay this much for a 9-day trip, but the retail value would be over $5000!)
I got my acceptance letter on Friday, March 25th, with the stipulation that I had to send in my program and administrative fees by April 1st. That only gave me one week to earn and save that money! So instead of giving you monthly updates, I will be giving you weekly updates on how my savings challenge is going. Even after the April 1st deadline, I will still be saving money for my pre-trip expenses and Israel lunch money.
Here are a few ways I plan to enact my savings challenge:
Because a lot of my 2021 salary was socked into retirement funds, the majority of my trip expenses can be paid with my tax return.
I set up a Facebook fundraiser so those who want to support this mission financially can do so.
I switched to a high-yield savings account (HYSA) where I get a weekly payout. Even though that’s usually under $2, every dollar counts!
I’ll likely do some no-spend challenges, where I set a length of time where I can only spend on necessary bills and travel expenses. Instead, I’ll walk around, eat out of my pantry, and find ways to entertain myself that don’t cost a dime.
When I do have to spend, I’ll look for ways to save, such as promo codes, coupons, and price comparisons. (Example: I need to get a filling before the trip, but I’m going to drive the 30 miles to the Mexican border to get it done there instead of paying extra for a dentist in California.)
I’m not doing any freelancing right now due to work, school, and now the added responsibility of the pre-trip educational course, but if a doable opportunity comes up, that money can go toward the trip.
There’s sure to be more… but you’ll have to read my weekly updates to find out what they are?
What’s your best tip for how to pay for a big trip on short notice?
What do you do when you want to travel, but can’t? A staycation, of course! But without a theme or a plan, a “staycation” can devolve into little more than a Netflix binge. With the government shutdown and no tourist places open right now, I had to take travel matters into my own hands. I ended up having a pretty fun camping trip in my yard. You can try these ideas while you’re quarantined, or come back to this post anytime for staycation ideas that won’t break the bank.
Pitch a Tent
What’s camping without a tent? Okay, you may choose to use an RV or camper instead, but choose something that will get you in a different element, at least for the night.
If you don’t have any camping equipment, you can post online and perhaps one of your local friends will let you borrow theirs. If not, get creative! If it’s warm enough, you could sleep in a hammock or on an air mattress on the lawn. If the back seat of your car folds down or you have a truck bed, that can make a great sleeping area- make it cozy by filling it with pillows and blankets. Even a living room camp out can be a fun experience for families.I remember years ago, some coworkers and I got really creative and saved a bunch of cardboard boxes that were destined for the recycling bin. We turned that into a makeshift outdoor village, and a couple of us were brave enough to spend the night in it! (You can read that whole story in my first book, Uncommon Adventures.)
If you have a large yard or property area, then you probably have several choices for a flat surface area that would make a decent tent space. Pick an area that will give you a scenic view. But if you live in an apartment, don’t despair. You can still pitch a tent on your porch or balcony if you have one of those, or perhaps a shared communal yard. Going back to camping in your living room, you could do that with just sleeping bags on the floor, but popping up a tent inside can add some extra fun.
Build a Fire
I’m lucky enough to be staying at a place with an outdoor fire pit and pre-chopped wood. But even if you don’t think you can build a fire where you are, you may be surprised! You can collect kindling from moss, leaves, pine needles, twigs, and other things that fall off trees. You can even order firewood online to be shipped right to you. While you’re ordering firewood, consider adding an outdoor fire pit to your basket. That makes for a safe and easy place to start a fire. Check your local burn laws if you’d prefer to build a fire ring, or make use of the charcoal barbecue you already have.
Indoors, you can use a fireplace, or make an imaginary fire. Back in first grade, my class had an end-of-year “camping party” where we decorated the classroom ourselves, and then sat around a “campfire” that one kid made out of paper to tell stories. If you’re lacking kids or creativity, just look up “yule log” on YouTube or a streaming service.
There are several ways you can build a fire. My two preferred ways are tepee and log cabin, both of which are built to look exactly as the name implies. If you build a tepee, put kindling in the center of the area that you plan to set up your logs around. If you build a log cabin, you can put kindling in the center after you’ve built the walls. (Note on kindling: this is a good opportunity to make use of that junk mail and other paper waste.) Once you light the fire, keep an eye on it. Feel free to tell stories and sing songs around the campfire!
Cooking outside can be as easy as roasting sausages and s’mores over a campfire, or you can turn it into a complicated craft. But before we get into food, let’s start with what to cook on.
If you can start a fire as aforementioned, that can be both a fun and challenging way to cook. Of course, if you have some sort of barbecue, that makes for an easier way to cook out. Also consider building a solar oven, which could be constructed using materials found around the house. (I made my last solar oven out of a shoe box, black paint, a thick piece of clear plastic, and some reflective shipping insulation.) Most camp recipes that you make outdoors can be modified for a standard kitchen, but if you’re camping indoors, it’s a fun novelty to roast a mini marshmallow on a toothpick over an unscented candle or a lighter.
My family has been celebrating with a “Fire Friday” every week of quarantining together. Since I don’t eat hot dogs, when they roast those, I’ve put chicken sausage on a roasting stick. We’ve also made “hobo meals” by putting meat, veggies, and seasonings into a foil packet and sticking that on top of the coals. If you get really creative, you can make almost anything. I remember some of my camp coworkers once stuck leftover personal-size pizzas on their roasting stick and cooked them over a campfire. I’m looking forward to a pizza cooked in cast iron. And don’t forget dessert! Last week I made an easy dump cake in a dutch oven over the campfire coals.
Get Immersed in Nature
A camping staycation may be just for one night, but you can include camping activities during the daytime too. Go for a hike, or at least a walk around the neighborhood. Look for wildlife around your home. (I’ve been seeing lots of lizards lately.) Just one look on Pinterest can give you lots of camp-themed ideas, such as:
Play board games (Doing this with my family recently led to a very interesting story that I’ll share someday!)
Read books or magazines
Create and compete in a scavenger hunt
Send out postcards (bonus if you make them yourself)
Play with glow sticks
Tie-dye shirts, pillowcases, or bandannas (especially fun if you use squirt guns)
Play yard games
Plant potted seeds or bulbs
Race in an obstacle course
Journal or write
Just take a look around your house and see what supplies you can creatively use for a fun and memorable camping experience. The other day, I got a delivery that was kept cool with dry ice. I decided to use the blocks of dry ice to make smoke, to make metal scream, and to flash-freeze a variety of foods. The point of a camping staycation is to have fun and take a break from the normal.
What is your favorite camp-themed activity? Share in the comments below!
Want more camping and staycation ideas? I’ve written a couple books on the subject that I think you’ll find useful:
For various reasons, many people are in need of extra money at this time. Workplaces have long-term closures. People are getting sick and need care. Essential items have become scarce, making prices of what’s available skyrocket. I personally had to spend a lot of extra money to come home from Europe early, and then spend two weeks without pay in quarantine.
This is a budget travel blog, but since “travel” is a concept that isn’t really available in the world right now, I’d like to take some time to focus on the money-saving aspects that can be applied to other areas of our lives.
Many governments are taking measures to help prevent this economic crisis from becoming worse than it needs to be. As an American, I will be getting a $1200 check. But don’t spend that entire check on toilet paper! Let’s go over some ways to use money wisely, grow money, and prevent further financial burdens.
Use Money Wisely
Have you made any cancellations recently? Make sure you’re getting a refund. Even with non-refundable deposits, many companies are being more lenient and offering a full refund or at least vouchers for a future date.
If you don’t have one yet, open a savings account. Unless you are secure in the fact that you currently have enough money to live on for an extended time, you probably won’t want to take advantage of long-term savings such as IRAs and CDs at this time. But a savings account will at least provide you with a little monthly interest, plus prevent you from spending your cash at hand.
If you do have money tied up in long-term savings, don’t try to cash out now unless you’re absolutely desperate. You’ll have to pay an early withdrawal fee, and you will likely get better earnings off of it once the economy starts to improve.
Determine what is essential. Look at your last billing statement or write down each item or service you buy. What can you stop buying, at least temporarily? Can you make cheaper substitutions for your essentials? With so many stores closed, many people are finding it easier to spend less on the non-essentials.
Enjoy life with a few freebies and super-discounts. I’m frequently running specials on my books during this time, and many other authors on Amazon are doing the same. When you do have to go to the grocery store, check the clearance shelf for some great deals on great items. Keep an eye out when you browse the web, as there are a lot of freebies out there, like in my G4C newsletter.
I say this a lot, but it seems even more important now: do some money-making activities on Swagbucks. Since it can be done from the safety of my own home, I’ve been doing my online shopping through the Swagbucks portal so I can get cash back on each purchase. Some of the shopping in the “Discover” section actually pays more than it costs, meaning you get free merchandise PLUS cash! Of course, if you are putting a total freeze on shopping right now, that’s great. You can still earn on Swagbucks through taking surveys, watching videos, and more.
Many people are using this time when they’re unable to work to invest in growing their own business. You can’t expect a lot of return at the moment, but it will likely provide a few extra dollars to help make ends meet. Plus, this could set up the framework for even more success in the future. Personally, I am using this time to work on publishing books.
How many times a day have you been unlocking your phone? Might as well make some money when you do so! When you download the free S’more app, it will install a new lock screen on your phone that occasionally shows ads. You’ll earn points every day that can easily be redeemed to places like Amazon, Target, Starbucks, and more! Use code GWG1XE for 25 bonus sign-up points.
Keep yourself and others healthy. The most important thing you can do right now is to stay home as much as possible. While at home, eat healthy foods, get your vitamins, drink plenty of water, and exercise.
Take inventory of what you have. Are you making use of all your belongings and resources? Some people have canned and packaged food in the back of the pantry that they forgot about, but it’s still good to eat. In case shutdowns or economic crises last longer than expected, also consider items that you only purchase occasionally, such as clothing or transportation equipment.
Learn a few skills that will help you save money. Learn to mend. Learn to cook (bonus points if you learn to cook without electricity). Learn home maintenance. YouTube and Wikihow are great for learning a variety of subjects.
Physical health is critical at this time, but mental health is at risk, too. Staying inside, being away from people you care about, and not knowing what the future will bring can take a toll on our emotions and well-being. Practice some breathing exercises, open the windows (or go outside if possible), read some helpful books, or do whatever it is that you know will be beneficial to you. Avoid turning to quick fixes like drugs, alcohol, or even junk food, as these can cause further health problems as well as create more of a financial burden. Be sure to check in on others regarding mental health, too.
Even before the stock market crashed, I was watching financial videos on YouTube from people who had a proven track record of knowing what they’re doing when it comes to money. If you watch these videos and read financial articles you find on Pinterest, you’ll gain a lot of insight for what to do in your own situation. If you can make it through during these tough times, you’ll be set to have a fantastic financial future.
I use travel prep as an opportunity to do some minor upgrades in my life. I just ordered a new phone. (My current one cracked on my first day in Dublin and I haven’t replaced it for the past eight months.) And I typically get a new credit card too. Prepaying for transit and accommodation for my trip allows me to easily reach the minimum spend to get sign-up bonuses.
I signed up for my first Capital One card on my trip to the British Isles. That was a Savor card, and I really enjoyed the sign-up bonus, free currency conversion, and cashback, among other benefits. But that one was Mastercard, which isn’t quite as widely accepted as Visa. It also had an annual fee.
That’s why I was excited that Capital One Quicksilver (which is a Visa card) had no annual fee and 1.5% cash back for every purchase, plus a signup bonus after you spend $500. It also has the benefits you can find in every Capital One card, like not freezing your card just because you’re in a different country. My experience has been that Capital One is very traveler-friendly.
I’m not as deep into the rabbit hole as many credit card-hacking travelers, but I do take advantage of the perks when I can. Unlike others, I typically prefer cards that have cashback bonuses instead of airline miles or hotel points. With cashback, you know exactly what you’re getting. With “miles” or “points”, the values of these pseudo-currencies can change on a whim. Plus, with cashback, I can use my reward to pay for whatever I want. I can use cashback for bus trips, meals, gear, or even paying my bills when I’m back at home. This allows greater freedom than being tied to a certain airline or hotel chain.
I try to get more than 1% cash back on every purchase I make. That’s why I like how Quicksilver gives 1.5% cash back across the board. While making purchases for this trip, I’ve been using the Swagbucks shopping portal for their partners at online stores like Tracfone and Hotels.com. Then I get a percentage of cash back from Swagbucks in addition to the cashback offered by the credit card company. It’s like getting a 3-10% discount without having to clip coupons or scour sales!
Nowadays, it’s so easy to sign up for new credit cards. I remember when I had to go to my bank every time I was interested in changing my spending medium. Just go to the website and sign up! This is a big advantage when you want to use a bank that doesn’t have a physical location near you. I’ve done all my Capital One banking exclusively online, which makes it simple to keep tabs on how much I’m spending. And by monitoring my spending and saving, I can redirect funds to things that are more important to me (like trips).
It only took me a couple minutes to apply for Capital One Quicksilver online. The hardest part was deciding which credit card I wanted to get next, but I guess I already did that legwork for you!
Making Your Credit Card Work for You (and not the other way around)
As our society becomes more and more cashless, I’m assuming most people reading this already have at least one credit card. And it’s obvious that I’m encouraging you to sign up for another one. (You should always travel with at least two credit cards in case one gets lost, stolen, or frozen.) I think credit cards have a lot of benefits that paper money doesn’t, like theft protection, spending reports, and, of course, cashback and bonuses.
However, I don’t think EVERYONE should get a credit card. If you’re in debt or struggle to pay on time or in full, then, by all means, get rid of your credit cards! Cashback and bonuses are only useful if you’re not paying late fees and interest. If you’re not in a place where you can be smart with a credit card, go all Dave Ramsey and focus on managing your money in more physical ways.
If you have a track record of being responsible with money and paying bills on time but don’t yet have a credit card, this might be a good time to consider building your way to an excellent credit score. Apply for a credit card and you can literally fund your next trip or any big monetary goals you have!
Do you use a credit card to help you travel? What do you think are the biggest advantages/disadvantages?
Disclosure: This is not a paid ad. I do get a signup bonus for the first five people to use this link and qualify for Quicksilver card, but no other compensation has been or will be made. I just get excited about credit card benefits that travelers can take advantage of!
Do you want to save money this year? Of course you do!
While this blog focuses on budget travel, I realize that not everyone is working on a travel goal right now. But I bet pretty much everyone has a money goal, whether that’s to get out of debt, stop living paycheck-to-paycheck, or save for retirement. Here are 20 things I’m doing this year to save money. I hope you get inspired and figure out a few ways that you can improve your savings, too.
Changing Up My Retirement Savings I try to max out my Roth IRA each year. In 2019, I was allowed to deposit $6000. So I set up an automatic transfer of $500 to this retirement account each month. But when I realized that $6000 would make more in a CD Time Account than in the Roth account, I decided to put a lump sum $6000 into a CD. It was a much bigger upfront investment, but when it matures towards the end of the year, I can put that $6000 into my IRA just as I had before. I’ll still be earning interest with what’s already in my IRA, plus I’ll get interest from the CD that I can use for whatever I want- no need to wait for retirement!
Downsizing My Belongings True, this is mostly spurred by the fact that I’m moving and don’t want to deal too much with storage while I travel. It’s also true that used items won’t sell for as much as the cost to buy new. But when I do need to buy furniture and appliances again, you can bet I’ll be buying them used. Here’s an example of how buying and selling used items can save you big: nearly two years ago, I bought my washing machine off of Facebook Marketplace for $150. Now I’m selling it for $150. That’s basically like renting a washing machine for free all this time!
Taking Care of What I Have This will be even easier to do once I’ve downsized everything. If clothing gets a tear, it’s better to sew it up than to completely replace it. Even though my car will just sit in a driveway when I’m in Europe, I’m taking it in for an oil change and tune-up before I leave so that I can drive it in top condition when I return. Just using things gently can make a big difference in how long they last.
Doing Everything Digitally I think I still have the same book of stamps that I bought five years ago! Living in the digital age can save you on postage as well as the gasoline that it could cost to do some tasks in person. Most things can be done online. I correspond, pay bills, sell stuff, buy stuff, fill out applications, and sign contracts online. You don’t even need that much equipment anymore. If your phone or computer has a camera, that eliminates the need for a scanner in most cases. As a bonus for buying online, it’s easy to compare prices. Most stores post their prices online, so if going to a brick-and-mortar store really is a better deal, you can find out before making that trip.
Loving the Library My local library did away with late fees, so it truly is a free resource. But it’s more than books. I love borrowing TV shows on DVD instead of having a streaming subscription. My library also loans out ukuleles, sewing machines, e-readers, and more- find out what’s available at your branch. I also go to some of the free community events at the library.
Being a Free Trial Queen While ordering Christmas presents on Amazon, I got an offer for a free month of Amazon Prime. I accepted the offer and got free shipping on my Christmas gifts. I haven’t bought anything from Amazon since, so I decided to cancel my membership when my free trial ended. But until then, I enjoyed a month of free movie and show streaming and free exclusive coupons. A lot of services offer free trials to new members or former members. I’ll probably take advantage of a few more free trials over the next year. (Tip: Only do one trial at a time. It’s easier to keep track that way, and you’ll be able to take better advantage of what the service offers when you’re only focused on one.)
Getting Rewarded Recently, I signed up for a new credit card. I just got my $150 bonus, in addition to the 1.5% cashback I get with every purchase. Is it time for you to get a new credit card? You can get even more rewards, with or without a credit card, when you shop through certain portals. Right now, as I’m making reservations for my time in Europe, I booked many of my hostel stays through Hotels.com. Users of this site get a free night for every 10 nights booked, plus a percentage back through Swagbucks. Yes, I still use Swagbucks since they partner with so many companies for extra cashback opportunities!
Buying in Bulk Creatively Despite living alone, I love my Costco membership. No, I don’t buy the 10-pound bags of produce since over half of it is guaranteed to go bad. But I still have half the toilet paper that I bought there two years ago. Buy nonperishables in bulk, or create a coop with a couple other people so you can share the savings of a bulk purchase. You can even group things together to try to create bulk savings of your own! I had to make reservations for 11 different bus trips, and each reservation required a $2 fee on top of the bus fare. Instead of paying for each trip separately, I lumped all 11 reservations together at once and saved $20!
Saving “Last Chance” Food I’ve never been dumpster diving. I’ve found a (legal!) way to get fresher food inside the store for half price or less. A lot of grocery stores will discount their food within a couple days of its expiration date. It could also be discounted if the packaging is damaged, or if they just have too much of an item that isn’t selling as well as anticipated. I usually see these foods with a brightly-colored 50%-off sticker, but sometimes they’re discounted to just pennies per item. It’s a great chance to stock up and maybe try some foods you’ve never tasted before. (Bonus tip: A lot of non-food items go on clearance too. Some stores leave items on their original shelves to make a scavenger hunt of finding them, but a lot of stores have a clearance shelf- find the ones at all the stores near you and check them with each shopping trip!)
Caring for the Environment My home state of Oregon implemented a bag ban this year. Many are groaning at having to pay for shopping bags, but I celebrated it. I’ve been bringing my own bags for a while, and now it’s benefitting more than just the environment. A few of the other examples and tips I’ve mentioned, such as taking the bus instead of a plane, going digital, borrowing from the library, and buying/selling used items, are environmental as well as economical.
Taking Finance and Business Courses I’ve been out of school for quite a few years now, but that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped learning. In fact, since there are a lot of free adult education courses out there, this is a great way to learn how to save money without spending any money at all. I’ve been to some courses I’ve found through the chamber of commerce in the past. This week I attended a webinar about breaking bad money habits. I’m even listening to a financial YouTube video as I type this! Keep educated so you can learn to grow your money.
Questioning the “Necessities” You need a roof over your head, right? Probably, but I decided to get rid of my apartment anyway. Since I’ll be traveling for a significant amount of time this year, it didn’t make sense to pay monthly rent for an empty apartment, plus pay for accommodations where I am. In fact, my hostel costs will be about the same as my current monthly rent when I’m in Europe! Of course, this exact option isn’t available to everyone. I’m grateful that I can store some of my belongings in my parents’ barn until I find a new place to rent. But think about what “necessities” you don’t actually need in your situation. Do you need to buy lunch if your workplace offers free meals? Do you need a car if you live in an area with excellent public transportation? Find out what works for you, no matter how unconventional it may be.
Not Doing it for the ‘Gram I’m not opposed to Instagram, and I’ll definitely be using it to document my adventures this coming year. But so far this year, I haven’t posted anything. I considered posting about a camping trip, a family trip to the coast, or even just a post to greet the new year with what I want to do, but ultimately decided not to. When we “do it for the ‘gram” or otherwise do things mainly to impress other people, it can get expensive! Furthermore, you may not like paying for those things as much as you thought when it doesn’t garner attention. My time off of Instagram has allowed me to define my own goals without the influence of an audience.
Reducing Sugar Intake This is the third January in a row that I’ve kicked off the year with 21 days of no sugar. Sugar is addicting and I love it. But this fast allows me to reset after a holiday season filled with cookies and cakes and all kinds of deliciousness. I didn’t start this to save money, but it turns out that it saves in multiple ways. Long-term, it saves on health costs since I’m eating more nutritious foods. And short term, I’m not buying junk!
DIYing I got a bottle of clay mask facial for Christmas. Since I didn’t buy it, I’m not sure how much it cost, but I bet you it cost more than my activated charcoal powder and bentonite clay. Plus, I like making my own facial so I can fine-tune it to the needs of my skin at the time. After comparing the two, my homemade mask really does work better, plus the ingredients are multipurpose.
Comparing and Price Matching I briefly mentioned in #3 that you can compare prices online, but I want to emphasize how important this is both online and in-store. Oftentimes, two nearly-identical items have a several-dollar price difference. Or, the same item in different sizes can have a significant difference in value. (Check the price-per-unit label that many stores now display.) A lot of stores and websites have a price match policy, so take advantage of that if you find a better deal elsewhere. The only thing I’ve really been shopping for lately is hostels, which I’ve been doing mainly on Hotels.com. I still check other websites (especially Hostelz.com and the hostel’s own website) because they sometimes offer rooms not available through Hotels.com. But Hotels.com is often the best deal, and in the few cases I’ve found that it isn’t, it’s easy to price match. I even found a lower rate for a hostel in Fuessen, Germany on Hotels.com a couple weeks after I booked it, and upon my request, the website offered to refund the difference.
Buying Discount Gift Cards Hopefully you’re making use of any gift cards you got for Christmas. But lots of people out there got gift cards that they don’t want or need, and they’re selling them at a loss! Take advantage of this by buying gift cards from places like GiftCardGranny or GiftCardSpread. (Make sure you’re only buying gift cards for places you know you’ll shop anyway, such as grocery stores and gas stations.) I know I’ve already mentioned a few ways I’m saving by using Hotels.com, but I’m saving even more since I bought a discounted Hotels.com gift card!
Driving Less Obviously, I’m not taking my car to Europe. I’ll be walking within cities and taking busses between destinations, so I don’t have a reason to rent one there. Even at home, I’m not going out as much by combining trips and having no-drive days. For the times I do drive, check out how I get super-discounted gas.
Enjoying Money-Saving and Money-Making Hobbies Right now, my main downtime activity is planning my trip to Europe, and how I can save money on it while still doing the things that I’m interested in. This includes researching hostels, looking up discount codes, and scheduling admissions and other activities. And you probably know that I am a writer who started publishing books last year. I’m continuing to write so that I can sell even more books very soon. If you can find a hobby that can make you some extra money (especially if it could eventually turn into a career), great! For other hobbies, try to find ways to cut costs or do them for free.
Giving Generously It may seem counterintuitive, but I wanted to save the best tip for last. Instead of wasting too much time trying to sell insignificant items or looking for online moneymakers, it’s often more valuable to give those times and possessions. I’m giving away a lot of my items, and have given some of my money as well. It allows you to refocus your mindset and appreciate what you already have.
How are you saving money this year? Share with everyone in the comments!
Hostels are known as a great way to save money on accommodation while still getting amenities such as breakfast, information services, a central location, and free WiFi. But what if I told you that you could stay at an already-affordable hostel for even cheaper? In fact, what if I told you that your next hostel stay could be FREE?
Here are four ways that you can get a free night (or more) at a hostel. Every single one is legit: no stealing or sneaky work is involved at all. I’ve done all of them myself, so I guarantee they can work!
1. Win a Contest
I’m getting two free nights in a hostel on my next trip to Europe! I just found out that I won a contest on St Christopher’s Inns’ Facebook page. Of course, I’m excited. (Although they have a lot of hostels in a lot of European cities to choose from, I think I’ll check out their new Berlin hostel.) But it has been a numbers game.
I started entering their weekly contests when I first found out about them, hoping to get some free nights for my trip to London. Instead, I paid for my stay there (but I did save some money by booking all my hostels directly). I stopped entering the contests for a while after that trip, but then when I decided to go back to Europe in 2020, I started entering the contests again. Last week, only about a dozen people entered versus the usual 50-90, so I had greater odds when they picked my comment as the winner!
Other individual hostels and hostel chains may occasionally offer contests. Booking sites like HostelWorld do this every now and then as well. The best way to make sure you’re notified about any upcoming contests is to follow social media pages and sign up for newsletters. This may not be a guaranteed way to get a free hostel stay, but it’s worth trying!
2. Check Out Promotions
I got a free night in Dublin on May 10th. Why? It’s my birthday, and I found out Isaac’s Hostel offers a free night’s stay to celebrate! Originally, I wasn’t planning on arriving in Ireland until a day or two after my birthday, but when I discovered this promotion, I booked my flight accordingly. (Upon my arrival, the hostel staff even gave me a few freebies, like a rental locker that normally had a 5-euro deposit and a free evening event.)
A more common promotion is if you pay to stay a certain number of nights, you’ll get one night free. (Most of the offers I’ve seen are either three nights for the price of two or book a week and your seventh night is free.) To find the most up-to-date offers with specific hostels, check out the hostel’s direct website or social media pages.
3. Do a Work Exchange
If you’re planning on staying somewhere for a month or longer, it makes sense to try to get a job at the hostel. A lot of hostels don’t actually pay most of their employees, but they do provide free housing. Usually, the work exchange is part-time so you still have time to get a paying job, attend classes, travel, or do whatever else you were planning to do in the area.
If you don’t want to stay long-term, available work exchanges are rarer, but still sometimes possible. I’ve done a few short-term hostel work exchanges by doing some promotional work. Some social hostels will give a free night to musicians who are willing to do a performance in their commons. If you have a special skill that a hostel business will find useful or marketable, start asking around.
4. Be Loyal
Why are people still booking on HostelWorld? There are better hostel booking sites out there that actually reward you for using them. I got two free nights in a private room in Venice (just steps away from St. Mark’s Square), because I made several of my bookings for my Mediterranean Trek using HostelsClub. This site is great at rewarding loyal customers, as reviewing the hostels you’ve stayed at can get you a discount off of your next booking!
Hotels.com also has hostel listings in addition to the hotels they’re known for, and many of them are affiliated with Hotels.com Rewards that allows you to stay a free night for every 10 nights you book through this site. I’ve only made one hostel reservation for my trip to Germany so far, but because I booked through Hotels.com, I got the best price AND I’m already close to getting a free night!
The downside to loyalty rewards is that you’ll have to pay for some nights upfront. Because of this, I suggest that you compare the rewards booking site you’re using to the website of the actual hostel. Sometimes it’s significantly cheaper to book directly with the hostel, making the booking site’s offer worthless. But some booking sites, like Hotels.com, offer a price match guarantee, so it’s still more economical to book through them. You may not get a completely free hostel stay, but saving money will add up over time.
Big news! I when I say big, this time it literally means BIG! You can now order all my books in bulk!
Yes, you are still more than welcome to order single copies of my books from places like Amazon. But if you want to save money and at the same time get a lot of books, then you’ll want this personal author service from yours truly!
To request a bulk order for any of my books, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll get back to you promptly with the exact details about your order.
Below are some FAQs about this bulk order opportunity. If you have any additional questions, ask them in the comment section down below.
Any of my books published in the future will likely also qualify for bulk discounts. I will keep this page updated if that changes.
Do I have to manage a store or business to qualify for bulk copies?
No way! Of course, if you DO have a store interested in selling these books, you’re welcome. But bulk copies are also great for people like:
Camp leaders who want to equip their counselors or other staff with relevant reading material.
Book club and Bible study participants who’d like to save money for their entire group.
People who want to get great Christmas gifts for their relatives, coworkers, neighbors, and friends.
Teachers who would like each student to have their own copy of a book, or to provide each classroom in the school with the same book.
Book collectors who have always dreamed of having an entire shelf filled with the exact same books.
YOU! Just by coming to this page out of all the places you could be on the internet, I can tell that you’re a great candidate for this deal.
What kind of discount are we talking about?
The discount depends on two factors: which book you want to order, and how many copies you’d like. For example, Uncommon Adventures sells for $6.98 on Amazon. But with bulk ordering, you can get it as low as $3! And Girls Who Change the World, retailing at $9.99, could be bulk ordered for anywhere between $3.50 and $6.
Is this available outside the US?
Certain countries may be able to receive books in bulk, but note that shipping will be higher than in the US. Contact me with your specific request and we’ll see what we can work out.
What’s the minimum order?
A minimum of only three copies is needed for bulk orders. If you just want one or two books, considering asking a friend to chip in for a third. However, keep in mind that the more you order, the bigger your discount will be. Ordering three copies might save you a total of a few dollars, but ordering twenty copies could save you a few dollars on each and every book.
Please note that the three-book minimum applies to each title. You can’t order one copy of Uncommon Adventures, one copy of Girls Who Change the World, and one copy of The Ultimate Survival Guide to Working at Camp and expect to get a discount. While we’re at it, I should mention that there’s also a maximum. Please keep your order under 1000 copies; that would be way too heavy of a box!
Am I getting a lower quality by ordering these bulk copies?
Nope! You’re getting the exact same paperbacks that everyone else is getting. You just get them for less money because you’re a smart shopper and I appreciate you ordering extras to share.
But there’s gotta be a downside, right?
Okay, the shipping time may take longer than if you order it on Amazon. So if you need it rushed, go here.
How do I make a bulk order?
I am handling all bulk orders directly, so you can get the personal service of the author herself! To get an estimate, email me at email@example.com with the subject “Bulk Order”. In your email, please include order details like which title(s) you want, how many copies, and the shipping address. I will respond with the total cost and instructions to finalize the order. Then you should be seeing your books arrive at your doorstep soon!
Now that it’s November, we are in the month that I’ll get to take my first trip to The Bahamas! I’m counting down the days both for this cruise and my 2020 backpacking trip around Central Europe.
If you’re new to this blog or haven’t been following this series, you can click here to find out how I got this incredible deal on a cruise to The Bahamas. I write up a recap as each month passes, so that you can see my travel savings progress and get some tips for how you can save, too!
Travel Agents Aren’t Helpful
Although I booked the cruise months ago, not all the pieces for this trip happened all at once. Later, we booked plane tickets. My mom and I decided to catch a flight that arrived in Florida the day before the cruise departs, so we knew we’d eventually need to book a night at a hotel.
Then, the airline we were taking there decided to cancel our flight.
Of course, since we’d already paid, they automatically booked us on another flight. The problem was, it would be a day later, so we wouldn’t get to Florida in time to board the ship. My mom called and had them change it to the day BEFORE the original flight. So that’s how we ended up making plans to spend Thanksgiving in Florida! (Do they serve flamingo there instead of turkey?)
The benefit to that was we each got $100 travel credit with the airline. So I guess I’ll soon have another trip to plan!
Now that we had to book two nights at a hotel instead of just one, my mom suggested that we visit a travel agent at AAA. I don’t know if I’ve shared this here before, but the one other time I met with a travel agent at this company, I ended up spending more on a Niagara Falls Pass than if I’d just bought one at a tourist info center when I got there. So I didn’t have a good feeling about seeing another travel agent.
I should’ve trusted my gut.
We gave the travel agent our requirements for a hotel, and everything he showed us was NOT what we asked for. All of them were too far away from the area we wanted to stay in, or too expensive. I thought maybe that’s just what the going rate was, but I was still skeptical and wanted to do my own research at home.
Does this mean I should become a travel agent? Maybe. But the sad thing is, even when you do pay upfront for a service like you do with AAA, travel agents are still looking for the biggest commission possible. Do your own research to find out what the best deal will be for you instead of them.
What to Do in Florida
Having a beach-side hotel pretty much takes care of our entertainment needs while we’re in Fort Lauderdale. So the only other expenses to consider are food and travel (from the airport and then to the cruise port). I’m covering all that for free with Swagbucks.
On Swagbucks, I got free gift cards to a few restaurants in walking distance from the hotel. I also got a free Uber gift card. I’d recommend this site as a way to earn some extra money and cover some costs of any kind of trip you’re planning. They have free gift cards for airlines, cruises, restaurants, gas stations, and more!
Speaking of camp, I started back up helping at weekend retreats. That’s been a fun way to spend my weekends and reduce my expenses. (Free travel!)
I worked a few extra shifts, which will help fund my European adventure. And there’s some more exciting things in the works for my work. I can’t share them with you yet, but I should be able to by next month’s update!
My biggest goal is to make sure I have a great time at the end of the month as I leave for my trip! The cruise goes into December, so I will not be giving a December update. I am choosing to not use WiFi on this trip, partly to cut costs and partly so I can be in full break mode. And I won’t have as much savings updates to tell you because I’m not going to be miserly on this trip! But don’t worry, this website has lots of other travel content for you to read, and I’ll probably make a few more posts until then.
I’m working on a launch for my next book. It’s more a niche audience, just people who work at or are interested in working at camps. But I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from beta readers in the professional camp industry, so that’s encouraging.
As far as Europe goes, I still have a lot of planning to do for that. I have a rough itinerary, but a large part of that depends on if I’m accepted into the Diverbo program. I have yet to hear from them, but I loved my time with them in Spain and hope to continue this voluntourism in Germany. If/when I’m accepted, I’ll start booking hostels. Here’s hoping!
Oh, and Christmas is coming up, isn’t it! I guess I have some shopping and preparations to do!
I’m excited to feature my travel book, Uncommon Adventures, in this post. However, while my paperback only costs $6.98 (and the ebook is just $2.99), books often are pretty pricey. Travel books are definitely no exception!
Despite the price, travel books will contribute to having a better time traveling. Famous travel writer Rick Steves often says “Guide books are a $20 investment for a $2000 trip.” But I know firsthand that when it comes to saving for a big trip, every penny counts. Especially if you’re visiting several destinations, a guide book for each location could add up to be hundreds of dollars!
It does seem counterintuitive for me as a travel writer to recommend ways to save on travel books, especially since some of these tips may cause less of a profit for me. But I think it’s important to share tips to save that will allow you to have richer travel experiences. If you like what I have to say and use any of these tips to save money while reading my book, I’ll still appreciate it.
Whether you want to read my book or a book by another author, here are some ways to save money when it comes to travel books.
Use the Library
This sounds like an obvious way to save money on books. Obviously, most libraries have a travel section where you can borrow books for free. But let’s dig deeper.
Be warned that using the library for travel books can sometimes end up costing MORE money! No, I’m not talking about late fees, though you should try to avoid that. A few weeks ago, I went to the library and decided to check out the travel section to see if they had any of my favorite travel books like Europe Through the Back Door or How to Travel the World on $50 a Day. Instead, a Rick Steves book about Belgium caught my eye. Since I’m planning a trip to Germany, which borders Belgium, I decided to thumb through it. Not only did I end up checking out the Belgium book, but it convinced me to take a side trip from Germany to Belgium! And since the bus from Hamburg to Brussels has a layover in Amsterdam, I decided to make a stop there too! So in the future when you see my Instagram pictures of Mannekin Pis or Anne Frank’s House, know it was the library’s fault that I went there!
Oftentimes, instead of browsing for books shelf by shelf, I go to the library website and search for books I want. Then I can reserve them, which is especially helpful if a book is currently checked out by someone else or is shelved at another branch. The library will ship it to my nearest library, which right now is within walking distance of my apartment. Yay for no gas or parking fees!
I know library books can be a bit of a debate in the writing community. Isn’t it better for the author if you buy a book? Check out the next tip for how you can use the library AND support an author at the same time.
Do you want a specific book that your library doesn’t have? Most libraries accept recommendations for the next books they should order. You can ask your librarian for the exact details on how to make this request, but often it’s as easy as filling out a short form on their website.
I’ve made many requests for book orders at my library, and most of them have been approved. I’ve requested travel guides and novels that take place in interesting locations. And I’ll admit, I requested that my library purchase both Uncommon Adventures and Girls Who Change the World, both books authored by this girl named Jessica Lippe.
If you can’t personally afford to buy a book, ask your library to make the purchase for you. It’s a great way to support an author. Better yet, if you’ve bought a book you really like, also ask the library to buy so others can share your book treasure. Naturally, I’d recommend going to your library’s website and requesting they order Uncommon Adventures right now!
As an added bonus to making library book order requests, you often get to be the very first person to check out a book, even before it’s been shelved!
(Note: You can still use this tip even if you don’t have this library service! Instead, make requests for specific books as Christmas or birthday presents. Friends and family probably want to give you a gift that will help you with your trip but would prefer to gift you something you can unwrap instead of cash or an experience gift. Travel books are the perfect solution.)
Use Your Resources
I’m not the biggest fan of AAA guide books. They’re very advertising-heavy and don’t seem to paint the full picture for their destinations. But I always get a copy of their book for my next destination. Why? Easy: I can get it for free.
If you or someone you know has a membership with AAA, getting their guide books is a great way to make up the cost of membership. (I’d also recommend membership for their emergency auto services, which I’ve used recently!) But there are probably lots of other resources available to you. We’ve already mentioned the library, and next, I’ll be talking about digital resources you may have. But you can also check out book exchanges such as Little Free Library, or online sources like blogs and Pinterest. Or find a traveler you know in person and ask if they have any literature they can pass on to you.
I’d highly recommend getting at least one hard copy of a travel book that you can keep in your possession. The rest of your travel books can be ebooks or from the library, but on your own hard copy, you can use the margins to take notes from your library books or other resources you can’t take on the trip with you. Then, tear out the pages of this book that are relevant to your specific trip.
I got the tip to tear out pages from your travel guide from Rick Steves. Of course, he recommends this because it will cause people to buy more of his books! However, it truly is a good tip since it allows you to pack lighter and keep more organized. Since I tear up my free AAA guidebook that’s filled with notes from Rick Steves and other sources, I don’t have to spend any money replacing torn books.
You can buy Uncommon Adventures for $6.98, plus shipping. Or, if you have Kindle Unlimited, you can get the ebook for free! In this digital age, you can get the same exact content as a book’s print copy in digital form, but you’ll save several dollars by going the ebook route.
There are more ways than just eBooks to get good travel book content. Referencing Rick Steves again, in addition to reading his guidebooks, I often watch his PBS show. I have many of the episodes on DVD, but you can stream his shows and his lectures for free online. On his show, he often quotes sections of his books verbatim. He also has his Rick Steves Audio Europe app that contains audio tours, interviews, and excerpts of his books in audio form.
Whether you’re reading an eBook, streaming an educational program, or listening to an audiobook, there’s one extra advantage for travelers to use digital versions of books: they reduce the weight of your luggage! Instead of bringing a guide book for each of your destinations plus some recreational books, just download them all onto your phone or another device.
Uncommon Adventures is Compact!
While I often travel with just a Bible app on my phone nowadays, on my first trip to Europe, I struggled with how to pack a Bible when I wanted to pack light. Shortly before my trip, I attended a local street fair, and someone from a Christian booth offered me a free Bible. It was just the New Testament plus Psalms and Proverbs, but it was smaller than my hand. The small print and thin pages made it perfect for packing, and it was worth having a print Bible so I could take this cool picture in Athens on the exact spot where Acts 17 took place! (I share more about this amazing accidental experience in Uncommon Adventures.)
While Uncommon Adventures is a full-length book, the adjusted page margins and print size allow it to be only 84 pages. That’s thin enough to slip into your carry-on bag! And because it costs less to print fewer pages, that savings is passed on to you as the reader.
I know I like to have some books and daily reading guides in print form instead of digital, especially if I’m going someplace where I won’t always be able to charge my devices. In that case, avoid large print editions! (Even if you have a hard time seeing small print, a pair of reading glasses will probably take up less weight and space than bigger books.)
Another way that Uncommon Adventures is a great compact book is that it is multipurpose. Instead of a devotional and travel guide, you just have to bring this one slim book on your trip!
A lot happened in September. I paid off the remaining fees for my upcoming cruise to The Bahamas. I worked on another book (which releases today). And I bought a ticket to Europe! Unbelievably, these were just a few of the many things that happened this month, and I’m excited to share how they happened and how I saved money for travel.
As I try to build up my writing career, I released my second book today! This is actually a collaboration with two other writers and is the first book from my publishing company, Girlz 4 Christ Publications. While it’s not a travel book, it’s full of interviews from inspirational people (including an entire chapter dedicated to girls living in different countries around the world), and I hope it will be a nice addition to my traveler/writer lifestyle.
A fun thing I got to do in September for this book was a feature on the morning news for theDove TV.
Now that this book is out, I’ll be doing some promotion for it, but now I can work on my next book release. The Ultimate Survival Guide for Camp Staffreleases in late November. I also started a new writing project the other day. Most of it’s under wraps for now (I’m not even entirely sure what will become of it), but it does involve a lot of travel!
Couponing to The Bahamas
Admittedly, I am a bit disappointed in how little I couponed this September. My couponing total since July for this trip is $368.08, which means I added barely over $30 this month. But I do have a pending rebate where I’ll end up earning more than that in just one transaction.
With the cruise and flights paid for, all that’s left to cover is the expenses for the two nights in Fort Lauderdale before the cruise. So I do still have some couponing to do, but with an unexpected offer this month, I’ll be switching the focus of my savings goals!
I’m keeping track of my earnings from things like book sales (Girls Around the World as well as Uncommon Adventures), selling things (when I pack everything into a carryon, who cares about the stuff back home!), and other moneymakers like Swagbucks and working extra hourly shifts. So far, that’s netted me $111.12.
Saving money isn’t the only way to prep for travel. I’ve been watching a lot of Rick Steves Best of Europe travel shows and checking out travel books from the library. I have a general route planned out that I want to backpack, and am trying to plan out how many days I should spend in each place and what activities I want to do there.
Many of the countries I want to visit are German-speaking. While I think I’ll survive in English, I do want to be able to speak a little German out of respect and be able to read signs, menus, etc. So I’ve been learning with Duolingo and FreeRice.
This is my last full month to get ready for The Bahamas cruise. I’ll have fun getting ready for that!
I’m trying to dedicate Tuesdays to my business. Working multiple jobs outside the home while building a business at home isn’t easy, but with a dedicated day (plus a few additional hours spread throughout the week), I hope to increase book and article sales.
But I am totally excited about Europe. That’s not just an October thing; I’ll be dreaming of and working toward that until I leave in February!
What are you currently saving up for? Let me know in the comments!