15 Cheaper Ways to Travel Around the World

By Carrie Kirby on 3 March 2015 0 comments

I circled the globe in 300 days once. It wasn't 10 months of constant travel; after getting married in Wisconsin, my husband and I flew to Bangkok for our honeymoon, continued on to our home in Beijing, and then six months later, traveled overland to Paris. Finally, we flew back to Chicago to complete the circle. (See also: 15 Ways to Make Money While You Travel)

Whether your turn to circumnavigate the earth comes in one fell swoop or dozens of smaller trips over years, chances are you'll want to minimize the impact of the long journey on your wallet. Here are some ideas.

1. Up Your Frequent Flyer Game

Collecting frequent flyer miles is not a new tactic, but tapping into online help can increase your mile-hoarding prowess. My cousin joined paid site Travel Hacking Cartel and used advice she found there to accumulate 200,000 miles for herself and her husband in just four months by taking advantage of credit card offers. Advice is still free on the FlyerTalk forums, where milehounds discuss "mileage runs" (long flights taken strictly to accumulate miles) and other tactics.

2. Buy a Round-the-World Flight Pass

Often referred to as RTW tickets, these offers give you access to one airline and its international partners for multiple flights over a set period (usually one year). For instance, if you want to travel on United and its partners, you can buy a Star Alliance Round the World Fare. You pay a set price and receive up to 16 coupons for the various legs of your journey.

Are RTW tickets a bargain? That depends.

Nomadic Matt advises that you can sometimes save up to 30% over buying individual flights, but warns that these packages work best for people who can stick to their original schedule without changing flights. Be wary of fees tacked onto the purchase price of your RTW ticket. Also, check to see if it's cheaper to separately book flights in your round-the-world trip.

I entered an 11-city, globe-circling itinerary (economy class) into the Star Alliance site and received an estimated price of $6,335. You can also buy these tickets with miles.

3. Get a Job That Requires Travel

This can be a long-term stint overseas as an au pair or English teacher, a work abroad program, or a job that pays you to move around a lot, such as a financial auditor or hotel inspector. Or apply at San Francisco's Expensify, where the company takes all-staff monthlong working vacations to beachy destinations.

4. Get a Job That Is Travel

Flight attendants, pilots, train engineers, and cruise ship staff all may report for work in one country, and get off duty in another. But the list doesn't stop there. You can take a job as crew on a private yacht. Being an air courier used to be a good chance to get paid to travel; in the age of FedEx and the Internet there are just a few opportunities there.

5. Get on the Bus, Gus

It's 79% cheaper to take a bus from city to city than to fly. Overseas, bus travel can range from cushy to treacherous, but you're almost guaranteed to have more adventures traveling this way.

6. Get a Rail Pass

When I was a student in Paris 20 years ago, the youth Eurail pass was the obvious way to get around Europe on the cheap. But for those over 25 — and with the advent of budget airlines and other changes to budget travel — you need to do your homework before deciding to invest in a Eurail pass.

7. Travel Off-Season

Last year, my husband and I toured Southwestern France in October. We were lucky enough to have warm, sunny weather — in fact some days we wished that hotel swimming pools had not been shut down for the season! Crowds at attractions such as the citadel of Carcassonne were nothing compared to the hoards that descend upon them in peak travel season.

8. Go Freight

I'm not advocating hopping freight trains; rather, I'm thinking of a little-known way to cruise. Since I live near the Port of Oakland, I often find myself fantasizing about crossing the ocean on one of the massive freighters that I see laden with shipping containers. Freighters do take on passengers, usually for half the price of a traditional cruise ship or less.

However, if you want to take a cruise, going freight is not a no-brainer. You get a lot more on a cruise ship for the extra money: rock climbing, water slides, entertainment, etc. Also, discounts can be found for traditional cruises that could shrink the price difference. Then, there is the fact that freight cruises can last for months, charge by the day, can skip ports without much warning, and provide a rougher ride than a cruise ship. All in all, I'd love to try a freight cruise as an adventure one day, but not just because of the price.

9. Try Trading Places

As a member of HomeExchange.com, I've gotten vacation swap requests from families in Paris, the Swiss Alps, London, Spain, and coastal Italy. We're currently discussing a free two-week house exchange with an English family, who is also willing to care for our cats while we're gone. This works best if you live near popular vacation destinations.

10. Couch Surf

Couchsurfing is the most famous of the "hospitality exchange" sites, where you stay free in locals' spare rooms (or living rooms) and in turn host travelers at your own home.

11. Volunteer or Work for Lodging

Full-time traveler and Wise Bread writer, Nora Dunn recommends The Caretaker Gazette and other resources that help people find jobs that come with free housing. Then there are Peace Corps-style volunteer programs that pay all your expenses — but expect pretty serious work in exchange.

12. Cook Your Own Meals

Whenever possible, get accommodations with a kitchen and try these travel-friendly recipes. Even if you have no kitchen, you can save a lot by hitting grocery stores and picnicking. On our trip to France, my husband and I ate at least one meal a day of simple fresh vegetables, bread with cheese, and deli case goodies.

13. Make Technology Work Harder for You

Hardcore travelers swear by ITA Matrix or Skyscanner for sleuthing out cheap fares. When using other travel sites, use these cheap fare-finding tricks to find the deals.

14. Get Money Back After Booking

A number of price drop alert sites, such as Yapta, will let you know if you could get a better deal, sometimes even after you've booked. For car rentals, use AutoSlash to find better deals after reserving.

15. Get a Free Local Guide

In a comprehensive list of tips from pro frugal travelers, Nora Dunn included this gem: Use the Global Greeter Network to find a local who can serve as a free local guide.

What other tricks or techniques have you used to travel the world cheaply?

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