Maximize Your Travel Experiences, Not Your Costs Pt. 2

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Part 2: Tips for Great Travel Without the Cost

In Maximize Your Travel Experiences, Not Your Costs Pt 1 focuses on how to save on airfare and lodging costs. Part 2 is all about maximizing your experiences. 

Forget about breaking the bank—you can maximize your travel experiences without spending a fortune! Whether it be going on a walking tour or simply exploring the city, there are plenty of ways to explore. You can see the world and make wonderful memories without needing to splurge. As Sia teaches us, you don’t need money to feel the beat of excitement when trying something new.

Don’t let your budget stop you from living life to the fullest! According to Sia, all you need is “Cheap Thrills” and a great attitude for an unforgettable experience. Traveling with limited funds has become simpler. Don’t hesitate to explore all that our world offers – regardless of your budget!

My Villain Origin Story

My first trip abroad was in February 1999. I went with my mom and her co-workers and took a trip to Spain while in 10th grade. My mom sent me on a scavenger hunt in a foreign country without a map, phone, or any clue of where I was going. We were in the town of Nerja on the coast of southern Spain. After a late lunch, the adults gave me a challenge:

If we give you a meet up point and 4 hours to get there, you think you can find it on your own?

I was 15. It was equally parted thrilling and terrifying! With no help and just one instruction, it felt like something out of an adventure movie. Much to my surprise (and amazement!) I made it to the destination safely with some amazing stories to tell from my journey. That daunting experience taught me the value of problem-solving and relying on myself for answers. Those lessons have stayed with me ever since. Another story is how I learned to drive a stick shift after watching el Clasico but not for here.

In 2005 I traveled to back Sevilla, Spain over Spring Break for my senior year of college. I went both to complete my independent study for my history degree, and party. I went completely on my own. As a college student, I had zero disposable funds. I bought my airfare months in advance, but only to Madrid to save about $300. Prep for the trip entailed little more than self-confidence and a notebook of place names from my research. With minimal Spanish skills, a Lonely Planet guidebook, and a few recommendations for restaurants, I landed in Madrid. I had to make it work. I’ve been able to speak Spanish ever since. That was life-changing great travel.

Traveling Now as an “Adult” – I love Cheap Thrills

this is showing some of the unlikely places you can find when exploring but not spending more money.

I am fortunate that my wife understands how much solo travel helps me to recharge, re-calibrate, and refocus. Somehow I wanted to convince my wife that I could make a trip abroad work economically and safely. I knew I’d have to put my money where my mouth was—literally! So, I flew off to Amsterdam for 5 days without breaking the bank. To prove my point, I spent a total of $340 for food, activities, drinks, and local transportation. I stayed with a friend who was in town for a conference. It may sound almost impossible but not only did it happen—it was one of the best trips ever! I demonstrated financial responsibility and money management while traveling which opened future trips. I also rediscovered a new appreciation for life’s little pleasures that don’t have to cost an arm and a leg.

Traveling to Grow

No matter how diverse and distant the places are, there is something universal that binds us all together—our human experience. My travels have taken me around the world. From Sevilla, Melbourne, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Belize, Accra, Dubrovnik, Bastogne, Peterborough, London, Rome, Prague, Charleston, Munich, and even Baghdad and Irbil! Everywhere I go has been an opportunity to meet wonderful people and learn about their culture. From all of these places I’ve visited, I’ve developed unique connections and a deeper appreciation for our diverse world!

No matter the place, there’s something special uniting us all: our shared human experience. I love meeting new people and learning about different cultures when I travel. It’s a reminder of our commonalities no matter how far or diverse the places may be.

On my trips, I aim for the perfect harmony between planned events and unexpected fun without sacrificing my budget. That’s why I usually prefer traveling during “shoulder periods” or winter when tourist crowds are down. Nothing beats that rush of excitement you get when venturing out to an unexplored destination with only locals to meet!

Here is how I have been able to balance paid and unpaid adventures.

Using Paid Activities to Find Your Way Around

I like to use paid activities sparingly during my trips. I usually use them to familiarize myself with the destination, use them for combined tourist activity and transit, and use them to meet groups of new people with similar interests. Some recurring types of paid activities I like to do include:

  1. Bus tours are a great way to explore a city. I love taking the hop-on/ hop-off double-decker bus tours when I’m sightseeing. They provide interesting and informative stories about the local area, and they also make it easy to get around. I’ve used them in Barcelona, London, Munich, and even home in Washington, DC on dates with my wife!
  2. Food/Brewery/Distillery/Wine tours are fantastic ways to meet people and make lifelong friends. I’m yet to go on one where I haven’t been with great company! A highly recommended tour for anyone visiting Prague is Taste of Prague, run by Jan and Suzie. Check it out: Microbreweries in Amsterdam, distilleries in San Antonio, TX, tapas in Sevilla… you cannot go wrong. And most of these are very reasonably priced.
  3. Cooking classes are a triple-win activity! You learn how to make local dishes from experienced chefs. You get to know people from all over the world. You get to enjoy a great meal with drinks.
  4. Guided museum tours offer a unique experience. Avoiding lines and knowing the best paths to see famous artwork is huge. Add in that you’re getting great context from an experienced guide makes guided tours worth it! The Louvre, Orsay, Rijksmuseum, and Museo del Prado can be overwhelming and having an experienced guide is worth the price.
  5. Sporting events: I try to go to a local sporting event on every trip now – work or personal. Minor League Baseball or Hockey games are good times. Soccer games, especially in Europe can completely change your perspective on the game. When you go to a smaller local venue with die-hard fans it will be unlike any other event. Cricket matches in Australia and Aussie Rules Football also stand out. When in Mexico City – go to Arena del Mexico on Tuesday nights.
Maximize Your Travel Experiences, Not Your Costs Pt. 2
Los Animales – GMU MPP Study Abroad

Researching to Maximize the Experiences

When I’m planning a trip, one of my favorite resources for finding exciting activities and making reservations is But it doesn’t stop there; Thrillist also provides amazing lists of events, activities, and recommendations! Research the sports teams where you’re traveling to check schedules. This way you can determine if their schedules align with your own travel plans.

Of course, there are plenty of other great resources out there to find top activities when abroad. Check out sites like Lonely Planet or Atlas Obscura. Browse through the listings on TripAdvisor. Or reach out to friends who may have already visited the destination before. These sources can give insider tips and advice on what to do during your travels!

Finding Free Experiences – Great Travel at Zero Cost

Finding free experiences is becoming far easier. Thrillist is your best bet for finding great lists of free activities. Many are tailored to different interests, at different destinations around the world! Many major cities have registered programs that offer free walking tours. Note: don’t forget to bring cash to tip your tour guide!

Cultural experiences can also be largely free or relatively inexpensive too. Amsterdam’s Het Concertgebouw theater and Royal Dutch Orchestra, for instance, host free lunchtime concerts (2.50 euro transaction fee). While in Paris or Prague, it’s worth visiting a local church where there are often musical performances. The acoustics and ambiance are stunning. Markets in major cities can also be great destinations on their own.

If you’re feeling a bit shy when traveling and don’t know where to start, fear not! It can be really beneficial to simply ask locals and people you meet on tour for recommendations. Ask them about what they like to do. Preparing this question in Google Translate beforehand is always a good idea. Showing deference to local customs works. Before long you’ll discover hidden gems off the beaten track that only locals get to experience. There is no better way to enrich your travels.

Maximize Your Travel Experiences, Not Your Costs Pt. 2

Skip the Paid Excursions and Get a Rental Car

When it comes to maximizing travel experiences without breaking the bank, paid day trips and bus tours can be tempting. However, these tend to have inflexible schedules and itineraries that can leave little opportunity for independent exploration. An alternative option is to rent a car! I recently went on a trip to Iceland and chose this option over multiple days of paid excursions—it ended up being much more cost effective and allowed us the freedom to stop wherever we wanted and pack our own food.

If you’re looking for ways to get the most out of your trip while saving money at the same time, consider renting a car—it could be just what you need to take full advantage of your adventure! And with this, you get the added bonus of being able to see places that don’t usually make it onto other people’s itineraries. Last summer in Iceland, we put nearly 1200 km on our rental in 3 days. With 24 hours of daylight and two drivers we went further than we ever expected.

Go Explore

When it comes to traveling, many of us fall into the trap of overspending on pre-packaged tours and day trips. Sure, they may be convenient to some extent, but you’re often stuck with a set itinerary that doesn’t allow for independent exploration—what’s the fun in that?

Ultimately, when it comes to maximizing travel experiences without breaking the bank, it’s worth doing a bit of research beforehand. From walking tours to rental cars, there are plenty of ways to create an unforgettable adventure at an affordable cost. I hope this helps you make the most out of your next trip. And who knows? Maybe this gives you a few exciting new destinations on your bucket list too! Let me know how you are able to experience great travel without the cost.

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