How to Travel When You're Broke or You Don't Have Extra Income

08/21/2017 10:45 am ET

When most people hear the word ‘traveling’ or ‘vacation’ they think dollar signs. Either that person has the extra income to do it or they don’t.  And that’s a myth. You don’t need to be rich to travel. You don’t need thousands of dollars to spend on a vacation. There are plenty of ways you can travel with an average middle-income job.

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Set a Budget

Being fiscally responsible is the number one step to achieving any goals that will cost some money. It doesn’t need to be thousands, but you will encounter taxes and fees on your travels, the cost of food and activities. Let’s say you set a budget of $500 for a trip to Europe. That is saving $42 per month over the course of one year. That seems reasonable. You’re probably thinking, “It’s going to cost way more than $500 for a European vacation. The ticket alone will cost $1,500!”  But it doesn’t need to.

Apply for a Travel Rewards Credit Card (or Two)

Travel rewards credit cards come with big sign-up bonuses. You will need a good credit score to be approved for the bigger bonus travel reward cards. It’s very important to hit the card’s minimum spend without taking on debt.

Use the card for purchases you are planning to make anyway. The Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card comes with 50,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 in 3 months. That is enough for $625 toward travel credit when redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards. 

If you continue to use the credit card, after 6 months, you should have over 60,000 bonus points. That is enough to cover a round-trip ticket in economy between the US and Europe. You will incur some taxes and fees on your award ticket. It is important to plan ahead for these costs. Get 2x points per dollar on travel and dining worldwide and 1x point per dollar on all other purchases. There are no foreign transaction fees.

Use rewards points for expensive flights to Europe.
United
Use rewards points for expensive flights to Europe.

If you’re planning your travel a year out, after 6 months of using the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card, consider applying for the Barclay Arrival Plus Mastercard. You can earn 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months. That is enough to redeem for $500 of travel statement credit. Search a travel booking site like booking.com for a hotel in the city you are visiting for $100 per night and that is 5 nights of lodging that won’t cost you anything.

Barclay Arrival Plus also offers 2x miles per dollar on all purchases and you get 5% of the miles back when you redeem for travel statement credit. There are no foreign transaction fees. There is an $89 fee waived the first year.

Read this post if you have questions on if the Sapphire Preferred or Arrival Plus is a better fit your travel goals.

Find Award Space

Finding airline award space can be as easy as a click of a button or require tremendous flexibility depending on your destination. Where you’re departing from, the time of year you’re looking to travel and the airline’s release of award space will determine how easy finding the award space is. Being flexible on your travel dates will give you a better chance of finding award space. This will help keep the cost of your ticket down.

Arrange your Lodging

While staying at the Grand Palace may sound nice, it will be full of tourists with travel budgets much bigger than yours. Consider staying at an Airbnb. Hotels outside city centers will cost less than the hotels in prime locations. Look for hotels or Airbnb’s that include breakfast in your rate.

Eat Cheap

If you’re visiting Paris, consider picking up sandwiches or bread at the Boulangerie, stop into markets for fresh fruit and vegetables and make a picnic along the river. Look for street stands of falafels or crepes. You can ask your hotel or Airbnb host for recommendations on good local inexpensive restaurants.

Plan Activities

Plan activities in advance. Search for coupons online for Hop On – Hop Off bus tours. With your rewards credit card, look at the activities and tours on their website. You may have a few extra points to use on a walking tour around the city. Check out Tripadvisor for suggestions.

Bottom Line on Booking Travel on a Budget

By starting with a budget and putting aside a small amount each month, travel doesn’t need to cost a fortune.  There are many ways to get around the expenses of travel if you know where to look. Maximize your point balances to offset the cost of expensive plane tickets and lodging. Eat cheap and plan activities in advance of your trip. You can travel to Europe for $500, but it will take some planning.

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