We asked "Professional Hobo" Nora Dunn to share her favorite tips for saving money on travel. Here's what she told us.
Nora Dunn, aka The Professional Hobo, traveled full-time for 12 years. During that time she discovered how to travel on a budget without sacrificing style or comfort. Today she's sharing her top advice with us.
As a former financial planner, I was accustomed to a certain level of comfort when I traded it all in for full-time travel. But without the accompanying income, I had to be creative about how to travel in style. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to get the most value for the least money! Here are some ideas.
Let Hopper Tell You When to Book Flights
I recently discovered Hopper, and it's the first app I check when planning a trip. It helps you select the best dates to fly, then tracks the flight and alerts you when it's at the lowest predictable price. In one case, I noticed that booking my flight directly through the app also saved me money in comparison to booking directly with the airline.
Fly in Business Class for Less Than Economy
While I use Hopper for domestic flights, I strategize more for long-haul flights, which are consistently in business class for less than the price of an equivalent economy ticket. This is through the strategic use of frequent flyer miles and credit cards. It's not rocket science, but there's definitely a learning curve. You can start here.
Become a Mystery Shopper
Fancy a train trip across Canada for 50% off? How about a free night or two at a hotel? Or half price flights, restaurant discounts, and spa packages? Mystery shopping for travel isn't a scam, and it's a great way to save a ton of money. Be prepared to work for it by filling out a (very) detailed report, but for higher-priced items like flights and hotels, it can be worthwhile.
Get Free Accommodation
I saved over $100,000 on accommodation expenses in my 12 years abroad. One year, I spent $173 in accommodation – for the entire year abroad (and that was for two nights at the Hilton in Stockholm)! All this was thanks to free accommodation opportunities like house-sitting, volunteering, hospitality exchanges, and helping out on boats. You can also do home-exchanges (if you have a home to exchange, which I didn't).
One of my favorite volunteer gigs involved spending a week in Spain speaking conversational English with locals. In exchange for a free hotel and meals, I chatted informally with dozens of interesting locals I'd never otherwise have met. Between the locals and fellow volunteers, I had new friends – and places to stay throughout Europe for the next three months.
Book Local Experiences
By booking tours with locals, you not only get a more authentic experience, but your money goes directly into local hands. It's a win-win for everybody! Two websites to search for local experiences are WithLocals.com and GrassrootsVolunteering.org - which in addition to featuring global volunteer opportunities, also has the world's largest social enterprise database, featuring tour operators, homestays, coffee shops, restaurants, and more.
Get the Inside Scoop
If you want to dive into even more local experiences, then meet locals on their turf! Global organizations like Rotary and Toastmasters have local chapters and warmly greet members from other countries. Not a Rotarian or a Toastmaster? Check out Meetup to find a special interest group that matches your lifestyle. Couchsurfing also isn't just for free accommodation; they have meetups around the world. Lastly, check out GlobalGreeters to get together with a local who can show you a piece of their hometown in the name of cultural exchange.
Take a Free Walking Tour
If attending a local meetup or doing a one-on-one with a stranger isn't your style, try a free walking tour. It's a fabulous way to get an overview and local perspective of your destination. You can find free walking tours by searching for “[your destination] + free walking tour”, or checking out walking tour aggregate sites like Guruwalk. Remember however, that free walking tours aren't entirely free; it's often customary to tip your guide.
With the best of intentions, while sitting at home and trip planning, we can be dazzled by the amazing activities and overbook. This becomes problematic in three ways; first off, returning home from a vacation exhausted and overwhelmed is no fun. Secondly, the more you do, the more you spend. Lastly, you may discover some better (and cheaper!) activities while you're there; if you've scheduled everything already, you won't have a chance to take advantage of them.
With these 8 unconventional travel strategies, may your next trip fulfill your dreams without emptying your wallet!