How To Take A Holiday When You’re Strapped For Cash

For many of us, travel isn’t a matter of want; it’s a matter of need. If the budget won’t stretch enough for you to take that well-earned holiday, don’t give up – get creative.

We know that travel is good for us: research has shown it affects our overall mental state by making us feel happier for the experiences it affords us, but it even strengthens our immune systems, lowers stress levels and helps develop our brains to be more creative and open-minded.

Don’t let money be the reason you don’t take advantage of the awesome benefits of a break.

#1 House sit, house swap or an exchange

Accommodation is one of the biggest travel expenses, so why do it? I travelled for four years on a very low budget and the biggest money saving secret I had up my sleeve was housesitting. There are many reputable housesitting websites (like this one) that allow you to sign up for a low yearly cost and apply for housesits all around the world. Even if you’d only planned to pay $50 per night for two weeks, a housesit means you’ve just saved $700.

I stayed in some pretty amazing places and lived like a local: a NY-style loft terrace in London’s Shoreditch; a beautiful villa in the French countryside; a cute A-frame cottage on California’s Mount Shasta; and a spectacular home right on Sydney Harbour.

Many housesits involve pet sitting, but you’d be surprised by what you find out there. Seriously, have a look – I’ve seen posts after summer caretakers for a French hotel that looked like a castle, as well as for a jungle property by the beach on Mexico’s Caribbean Sea. I also remember being very salty about having to pass up looking after a villa in Ibiza for a month in spring because of prior commitments.

If pets or caretaking aren’t your thing, sites like HelpX offer a range of exchange options from farm stays and B&Bs through to sail boats if you’re happy to ‘work’ a little for accommodation (and even meals – talk about cutting costs).

Then there’s always the whole couchsurfing thing, but you can also go old fashioned and swap homes/rooms with friends overseas or interstate. And if you want to go on holiday with a group – forget hotels and stay in AirBnBs or apartments. They’re usually cheaper, you’re splitting costs, but it also means you’ll have access to a kitchen (more on that later).

No matter which method you choose, the outcome is the same: you get to change things up without the hefty price tag.

#2 Make accommodation the experience

Accommodation doesn’t have to be separate to your travel experience – it can be one and the same. Campervans and camping are great ways to get out of your city (and comfort zone) while exploring areas that many people who stay in hotels or apartments will totally miss, plus there’s a certain rustic charm to eating Doritos by a fire and drinking red wine from an enamel cup.

There are always amazing deals on campervans and you can even borrow camping gear from a friend (or their parents, let’s be real). Take an epic crew and go get weird in the bush. I mean, take in Australia’s natural beauty.

#3 Research: be flexible and hunt for the best deals

Researching will become your best friend when trying to save. And this doesn’t just apply to saving money on accommodation. You can save money on experiences and meals in the area you’re visiting by following relevant social media accounts for deals, and subscribing to deals websites in the region. You should also sign up to airline newsletters to get first access to great sales. Tap into the machine and get in the holiday game.

Researching takes time, but when you’re low on money you usually have to be flexible with time. This also applies to when you travel. A lot of great deals happen in low season – it’s when flight prices are slashed and hotels are looking to fill rooms.

But it’s also worth checking prices in off weeks too, like the week after New Year’s Day when tourists have left the major hubs and the city is hungry for more business. If you’re travelling during one of these periods, don’t hesitate to email or call a property to negotiate a deal.

#4 Foreign supermarkets + street markets are awesome

The best part of a holiday is the food (in my opinion), and there are ways to enjoy yourself without emptying your wallet. Head to local street markets to experience authentic local fare for a fraction of the cost of restaurants, and buy some local fresh produce.

If you have a kitchen where you’re staying, making your own breakfast is a super easy way to cut daily costs (plus, foreign supermarkets are the best).

If you’re staying with a few people, make it part of the fun to do a big dinner at your apartment a couple of nights before heading out. This also means you can pre-game and spend less on drinks when out.

Hot tip: If you like being fancy in fancy restaurants, consider booking at lunch instead of dinner – you’ll enjoy the same calibre of food for less.

#5 Learn how to budget!

If you want travel to be a regular thing and you’d like to get to a point where you can just stay in a hotel or eat whatever and wherever you’d like, then get a budget already. Sure, use it in the lead up to going away – but if you make budgeting part of your regular life, you won’t need to scrimp and save for months in order to take off. You’ve already planned that travel into your life.

I’ve written about a great method called zero-sum budgeting that turns regular budget thinking on its head. It will get you ahead of the game whether you’re a freelancer or earning a pittance – you’ll have money to live and enjoy your extracurriculars while paying off any debt and building up a honey pot.

These tips will make sure you can go on holiday as soon as you’d like, while a budget will have you in good stead for the future. Don’t let anyone tell you travel shouldn’t be a priority. Remember; it’s important for your health.

Sonia was the Founding Editor of The Cusp. You can find her on Instagram @sonnietothetee