Cheap Travel Tips

Maximize your travel budget

Here's the deal, a question I get asked over and over is "How can you afford to travel so long?" My response: "I travel cheap."

I worked as a wine tour guide (tips are a wonderful part of the service industry) in Napa Valley, CA to save up for my trip.  While traveling I've worked 10 days in Mexico teaching baking, volunteered 7 weeks between farms in Mexico and Argentina & volunteered 2 weeks at a hostel in Nicaragua.  I generally don't work when traveling and just try to travel very cheaply.  My thought is the less I spend per day, the longer I can travel..and almost everything can be done cheaper than you think.

I have more respect for people traveling with little or no money because you have to be creative & resourceful.  I never quote people but think Plato said it perfectly, "Necessity is the mother of invention."

Here is a list (I will keep adding as I think of more) of what I have learned over about 21 months of travel through Central/South America, as a backpacker, in a car & on a bicycle.

1. Don't pay ATM fees - there are cards that offer no international ATM fees.  I have a Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking Account:

I pay no ATM fees worldwide, have no monthly/annual fee and have no required minimum balance.  At the end of every month Schwab credits the ATM fees back to my account.  For 2013, I had $56.28 refunded in ATM fees.  The other nice thing is that it is a Visa (Mastercards are more limited where I've been) and I have been able to get money out of almost every ATM I have come across (for some reason I have no luck with Bancolombia).

2. Earn interest on your traveling fund - I keep all but about $300 (which sits in my Schwab checking account) in an American Express Savings Account:

I earn 0.85% annual interest, which is not a lot, but better than nothing.  Having this second account holding my money also protects me if my Schwab ATM card gets stolen as they only have access to a few hundred dollars.  I setup online transfers so I can just replenish my Schwab account from my AmEx whenever I need to.

3. Camp - buy a tent and use it as much as possible.  Even a lot of hostels let you set up a tent and charge less to do so.  Now that I am traveling by bicycle, I camp almost every night and have yet to pay for camping.  Some great places to ask about free camping are fire stations, police stations, restaurants, churches, farms, beaches or anywhere with friendly people.  You don't always necessarily have a shower or bathroom, but you do have a place to sleep.

Some free camping places I've used:

La Pintada, Colombia (we asked the police and they offered this soccer field right behind their station):

A truck stop about 9km past Calarca, Colombia (my tent under the roof):

4. Register (for free) & use online hosting sites: - worldwide for everyone - worldwide but only for cyclists

You will sleep for free and hosts are generally very hospitable givng you food, laundry service & insider info about their town/city.

5. Do it/make it yourself - I'm amazed at how cheaply some people travel by being creative.

For example:

A. I had looked at camping stoves before leaving and the decent, reliable ones are quite expensive.  Then I met a cyclist using the bottoms of an aluminum can & rubbing alcohol for fuel (bought in any farmacy).  Here are 2 different types, pictured below.  I ended up making one a little different with step-by-step instructions:

Homemade Soda Can Camp Stove

If you have a bigger pot and need a wider base, you can always get 2 tin tuna cans that are wider & punch holes in them.

B. Panniers/Bags for the touring cyclist.  A lot of cyclists have the top-end waterproof Ortlieb bags & panniers that cost hundreds of dollars if you have your whole bike outfitted.  Or you can use any sort of plastic "box" or tub, like kitty litter containers or gas containers.

Check out my:

1. Homemade Kitty Litter Tub Panniers

2. Homemade Handlebar Bag

6. Volunteer - there are many, many opportunities to work in exchange for food/stay & sometimes even earn a little money:
  • - linking volunteers with organic farmers - TO GET THESE FARM LISTS FOR FREE, USE:
  • - this site charges you to contact the farm/host, but I've found you can just Google the description or some key words they give you about the place to volunteer and find the website, then contact them directly for free.
  • - similar to the others connecting hosts & volunteers
  • Ask at hostels - I have stayed at many hostels where volunteers are accepted in exchange for housing & food, with a minimum volunteer time of 1 to 2 weeks or sometimes even a month.
7. Eat fallen fruit - I know this sounds ridiculous but there are a lot of fruit trees on the side of the road (and lots of coconuts in the tropical climates).  I'm not saying to wander on to people's properties and steal fruit, just pick up the stuff that is clearly not being eaten or harvested.  Now that I'm on a bike, I pass guavas, citrus & other things everyday while cycling.  In Honduras I could have eaten free mangos till I was sick.

If you have any problems or complaints with Frontier Airlines, you can call the Director of Customer Relations, Trista Miller, at 303-596-2755 or email her at

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