When I started traveling in 2006, there were no large travel blogs as we know them, sharing economy websites, or apps, and there were few online booking sites for obscure destinations. I remember finding only one website about backpacking in Europe and a couple of forums where I could ask questions. Information was there, but it wasn’t as easily found or as abundant as it is today.
If you didn’t talk to the right travel agent, backpacker, or hostel owner, or couldn’t find a tip in your guidebook, it was easy to miss vital information that would save you money. For example, I didn’t know about city destination cards when I first started traveling. They weren’t mentioned in guidebooks, and few travelers talked about them. But getting these cards saves you money: you gain access to an entire city’s attractions and museums for one price (plus, some offer free public transportation!). I ended up paying for all the museums in Paris individually when I could have just gotten the Paris Museum Pass for about 80% less.
In the last few years, apps, blogs, deal websites, and sharing economy services have exploded. The pace in which new sites, services, and information becomes available keeps quickening. That’s good news for budget travelers. Travel has never been cheaper or easier. Information is power. The more informed a traveler you are, the more you will be able to know what makes a deal and where to find them.
Yet it may not feel that way when airfare still seems astronomical for even the shortest flights. For example, flights to Europe from the US are regularly close to $1,000 during the summertime. Travelers from South Africa or Australia pay even more than that to travel just about anywhere outside their immediate regions. It’s simple to look on websites like Expedia or Priceline and think, “I don’t think we can afford that family vacation this year.”
But now you can bypass the traditional hotel/big bus tour/major air carrier model of travel and cut your expenses sustainably. And the rise of new websites and the sharing economy, with the substantial growth in blogs over the last few years, has made that happen. Here are four reasons why 2015 is the year of the budget traveler:
The rise of the sharing economy
Using the sharing economy, you can find cheaper accommodation, quirky tour guides, rideshare options, and home-cooked meals with local chefs. You can bypass the traditional travel industry with sharing economy websites and gain access to locals using their own assets and skills to become small tourism companies with cheaper prices. (For example, my Airbnb stay in St. Croix was $50 per night while the cheapest hotel I could find was $150.) Moreover, locals know where to find deals. They know which supermarket is cheapest, which stores offer the best sales, and where to find the hole-in-the-wall restaurants and bars with the tastiest food at the lowest prices. Talking directly to them gives you access to that knowledge.
These websites have changed the travel game and made travel more accessible for everyone. The sharing economy has been around for years (Couchsurfing was founded in 2003 and Airbnb in 2008), but became mainstream last year and will only continue to grow. Here are some of my favorite websites:
Everything is online!
The growth of websites like mine has made it possible to discover a quirky little B&B, local restaurant, or off-the-beaten-path tourist destination. Instead of magazines and guidebooks as the information gatekeepers, you now have travelers posting content for every destination in the world — all accessible with a simple Google search. A search for “Uzbekistan travel blog” yields over five million results. Information about every country, restaurant, and activity is available online now — even the most obscure. This gives you much better access to planning tips, advice, and things to do. Three of my favorite blogs for offbeat destinations are Uncornered Market, Roads and Kingdoms, and Wandering Earl, all of which feature destination guides and stories for more remote places in the world.
Better flight search options
The growth of multinational flight search engines has made it much easier to find cheap flights and hidden deals that were simply impossible to find before. Not all search engines are equal. They all have their own blind spots, but some of the more robust ones include both smaller regional carriers and budget airlines. Moreover, there are sites that search for mistake fares and flight sales so you can always be alerted to a deal. My must-use deal sites include:
The rise of budget airlines
Years ago, if you wanted to fly between continents, you were mostly stuck with traditional expensive airlines. That’s no longer true. Budget airlines now service many long-haul routes, making it possible to bounce around the world for little money. Norwegian Airlines allows you to fly to Europe and from Bangkok for about $250 each way. WOW air is introducing cheap fares to Iceland and London from the United States. AirAsia X offers crazy cheap deals around Asia and Australia for as little as $100 each way. Indian and Middle Eastern airlines offer cheap flights throughout the subcontinent and Africa.
Technological advances have created easier access to information and connected people from all around the world. This is a boon for travelers. Now, intimate local knowledge is no longer out of your reach. It’s becoming simpler to plan and research your trip, find travel companions, and take advantage of various deals. The traditional gatekeepers are gone, and that has changed the travel game.
The march of technology will only continue to advance, and in doing so make travel cheaper as you become more informed. And the more informed you are, the easier it will be for you to know how to save money.