You’re maybe in your 20s. Maybe you’re taking a gap year or working a gruelling, low-paying job or studying. Whatever you might be doing, someone somewhere has likely told you to “go crazy, quit your job, move to Hawaii, or backpack through Europe”. “You’re in your 20s! Have fun! Go find yourself! Now’s your time”. You’re following travel bloggers on Instragram, taking out-of-this-world pictures in Rome or Dubai or some faraway paradise island, telling you that they’re living “the dream” and that it’s actually “super easy” for you to do the same.
But let’s be honest – that job at the café or bookshop down the street isn’t exactly pulling in the big bucks. Even a week in Paris seems a little excessive. Or maybe you’ve just moved into your first apartment, that you actually really like in a city that feels like home. Maybe you’re studying or have other responsibilities.
No matter what your situation is, you should never feel embarrassed or guilty about not wanting to or being able to spontaneously leave behind your life and become a free-spirited digital nomad. Don’t be afraid to “waste your youth”, but do what feels right to you.
That being said, your situation shouldn’t stop you from having amazing experiences, traveling and getting out of your comfort zone. In many ways, you do have a lot of opportunities in your 20s to take advantage of. Maybe you still haven’t moved out or started studying, meaning that you have few financial responsibilities and room to save up. Maybe you don’t have a significant other or a family of your own yet, meaning that you have few emotional and familial responsibilities. Whether you just want to fill up one of those boring weekends or your feet are itching to get away for as long as possible, here’s some realistic ways to travel that won’t break the bank.
My number one advice for anyone wanting to travel, whether broke or not, is to do it through Workaway. During my own travels, my time at Workaways have by far been the most authentic, memorable and impactful experiences every single time. Workaway.info is a website connecting travellers with families, organisations, or individuals needing help and extra hands for a wide variety of projects and daily living. Although it does cost a little to sign up, I can promise you it’s well worth it. Whatever you’re interested in doing – that being working with animals, babysitting, working on an organic farm or building a house – someone will be in need of your help. If you have any particular skills, those’ll come in handy, but mostly, you’ll learn by doing. In return for your time and help (typically 4-5 hours a day, with 1 or 2 days off), the host will usually provide you with food and shelter.
Not only is this one of the cheapest ways to travel – you’ll only really need to pay for transportation there – it’s also an incredibly immersive experience. The food and shelter is likely the least you’ll gain from the work. You’re doing something meaningful, often helping out someone in need or working on incredible projects. Usually you’ll be living with locals, completely immersed in their culture and way of living, giving you a truly unique glance into a culture, you’d likely only scratch the very surface of as a tourist.
I’ve gained deep friendships for life during workaways, meeting other workawayers from all over the world, and learning about their cultures as well. And my time spent with people living a lifestyle widely different from my own, has forced me to challenge my own prejudices and believes, while also learning a variety of new skills. You’ll have lots of time to go on adventures and sightseeing on your days off and during your free time, but I can promise you that those experiences will fade in comparison to your time spent at the Workaway.
Some people end up staying at a Workaway for months or even years, while others stay for a week or two before continuing their travels, maybe to another workaway and new experience. If you’re nervous about traveling alone, this is the perfect experience for you as well, since you you’ll either become a part of a local family or meet new friends from all across the world. If you’re precautious or sceptical, just look for the certified Workaways with lots of reviews, those’ll be safe.
Is a bit more tempory than Workaway, but’ll allow you to travel in the more ‘typical’ manner, while simply getting accommodation for free. You’ll likely have an amazing experience living with locals as well, and maybe the host’ll even give you a personal tour of whatever city you’ve travelled to. Just be cautious when looking for a host: look at reviews, and for women feeling vulnerable, maybe choose mostly women or families.
3. Travel slowly
A lot of people I’ve met have asked me how I had the budget to travel for months on end, while they could only travel for a month or two. Well, usually they wanted to cram in as much as possible, so they flew between countries, only staying for some days in each place, before leaving again. If you stay for longer in one place or country and travel almost exclusively by bus, you’ll save a serious amount of money. You’ll discover the cheap local spots to eat, or be able to buy groceries and cook yourself. Maybe you’ll meet people that you can live with or share meals with, or get a discount on some of your nights at the hostel. And budget a side, slow travel will likely give you a much more deep understanding of the place you’re visiting. You’ll likely gradually discover little things about the place or culture to fall even more in love with, and pick up on how the locals save money.
4. Travel locally
You don’t need to go far away to experience amazing new places. Go camping somewhere close to you. Camping is an incredibly cheap and satisfying way to travel, and you’ll discover your home country in a completely new light. Find shelters, borrow your parents’ car or pack a tent and go by foot, bike, bus, or car. However and wherever you end up going, camping is a chance to get away from technology, daily stresses, and your comfortable routine.
Even just going for a day or two will be sure to relax your mind and rejuvenate you, and being in nature has so many benefits. Even if you’re not a nature lover or don’t find the idea of walking 20 km with a heavy bag attractive, putting a mattress in the back of a borrowed car and going on a road trip is sure to be just as memorable. Because of a recent knee surgery, I couldn’t go on my usual camping trip this summer, so I ended up exploring my home-island with a friend, borrowing my parents’ car for a weekend and sleeping in two different shelters, seeing places I’d never seen before and de-stressing completely.
5. The little things
Even if you’re told to be spontaneous, research can go a long way. Find out what free activities are available, either close to your home or in whatever country you’re planning to visit. Maybe natural sites are open to the public. Maybe you’ll be able to find free museums, activities, or tourist sites. Lots of cities, including Amsterdam, have free walking tours available. Maybe your parents know someone you can live with. Maybe you can even find a job abroad, as an Au Pair for example. Find the cheap local eateries and choose hostels over hotels. Keep an eye out for deals and price drops on flights, accommodations or experiences. Look for hostels with breakfast included. If you’re a student or under 25, you’ll likely be able to get discounts on lots of museums and experiences. Choose cheaper destinations. There’s many small ways to lower the cost of your travels.
And even if you can’t travel at the moment, you could try winter bathing. Go trekking somewhere new. Visit a museum. Go for a day trip and save money on accommodations. Start volunteering once a week or in the weekends. There’s endless things to try out if you’re feeling stuck. Or maybe a weekend in bed re-watching Friends is exactly what you need. But don’t let your financial situation, lack of time or fear of traveling alone stop you from amazing experiences. A little bit of research and planning will get you far.