Traveling, whether you’re hitting up that domestic hot spot or that bucket list dream locale, is expensive. But it doesn’t have to be prohibitively costly. If your excuse for not getting out there is financial, you’ll be happy to know there are options and strategies widely available to all. Sure, if you’re hitting the road or taking off on a plane, you’re going to want to have some cash, but there are a lot of opportunities and ways to not only stretch your dollars but make some money along the way.
To get all the travel budgeting tips you’ll need to make 2023 a big year for adventure we hit up one of the best experts in the game — Gabby Beckford of Packs Light fame. Beckford is a true travel pro, she’s a multi-award-winning creator, author, and full-time travel influencer who has been profiled by everyone from Good Morning America to National Geographic and Forbes. 276 days ago (and counting), Beckford quit her job as a quality engineer in order to travel the world full time, providing travel tips, destination suggestions, and other resources to make your travels easier via her website Packs Light, where she has built a network of like-minded Gen-Z travelers interested in maximizing their travel budgets in an effort to see more of the world.
We linked up with Beckford after she returned from a recent trip to the British Virgin Islands to talk travel budgeting tips and the Packs Light ethos as we enter 2023.
“This year is really about connection,” Beckford tells me over Zoom, “the travel industry is still bouncing back from the pandemic. I think last year was about testing the waters and people seeing how comfortable they ought to travel, or maybe even saving up their money. This year is really about getting back in person and making meaningful connections.”
This year Beckford plans on going to Southern Idaho, Spain, Jordan, London, and wherever else the wind takes her as she continues her life on the road. Here is her best financial advice for travelers in 2023.
For the beginner traveler or anyone who wants to travel more in 2023, what are good strategies for saving up for that first journey?
My advice is really to pay off your debt. Minimize your costs, and that’s how you’re going to end up saving money. So maybe you make a certain amount of money, but you don’t have that much at the end of the month to put away in that savings account. What you can do is pay off your high-interest debt first, making sure you’re not accruing more debt, and then try to lower your costs.
Whether that is on transportation, that might be like car sharing. That might be picking up a side hustle, as simple as walking the dog. That’s what I did in college to make money. Tons of side hustles. I did market research studies, I did dog walking, I did tons of tutoring, and tons of stuff to just save up a little bit of money every month. And that ends up adding up at the end of the year.
Do small things to save money, make a little bit of extra money, and put it away so you can’t see it. Not getting tempted to spend it is how you’re going to end up with that amount of money to set to travel with.
How much of a fine-tooth comb should people be running through their bank accounts to minimize their costs? What small purchases do you think people most overlook?
There are actually a few great apps. Apps that go through your expenses. Some apps will show you all your subscriptions. Maybe you have Spotify and Amazon Prime and Netflix and Hulu and Disney Plus, and you’re like, “Okay. I don’t use three of those.” You could cut those out and save instantly $100 a month. So that’s the first thing I recommend.
Other things that people might not notice that they’re spending a little bit too much on might be eating out and food. I always make sure I grocery shop for things that I can have on me. I’m a snack carrier through and through. So if you meet me, I will have a snack on me just to curb those cravings. Other things people spend on are entertainment or food or alcohol.
Honestly, this is the new year and I’m having a dry January and maybe that’s where you save your money because you go out and you end up eating and you end up snacking and buying more than one drink. That’s a quick way to save money.
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How important is it to have a game plan on how to stay funded before you embark on a trip? What steps should you take, and what should you do if things don’t really work out the way that you plan?
I think it’s extremely important to have a game plan. Have a nest egg of money. I always say that I won’t travel without enough money to get me back home. That’s like the minimum amount of money that you need to have at all times or else you’re going to be stuck there. Or if something bad does happen, you won’t have the funds to make sure you can cover it.
That this is where the game plan comes in, having a plan B. Say for example, I plan a trip and I plan on staying in a one-bedroom in the private hostel room and I plan to fly and I plan to do these activities. If I end up with a little bit less money than I might think, the first thing I’m going to cut back on is the higher expenses, which might be the transportation and accommodation. So instead of that private room, I could downshift to staying in a multi-person room. Instead of that flight, maybe I can explore options like buses or trains, or public transportation to cut costs. So that’s where that research element comes in.
It’s really essential to know what your options are. If you’re on an island, you can’t take the bus to the next destination, so you wouldn’t be able to cut that cost and you would have to go more for accommodation.
If you can’t cut costs, I would say try to think of ways that you might be able to make a little bit of money abroad. It might depend on how long you’re traveling for. If you’re there for a week, there’s not much you can do. But if you have an extended road trip or international trip planned for maybe months on end, thinking of ways that you might be able to freelance and make some money, whether that’s editing documents online or freelance graphic design or freelance video editing, those are ways that you can do one-off projects just to get a couple $100 in your pocket to make it to that next destination.
I want to ask about freelance opportunities in a second, but you mentioned having that nest egg of enough funds to make sure that you’re able to return home if the worst comes to worst. And of course, this question is going to differ based on where you’re visiting, but if you could assign a number to it, how much should a person travel with minimum?
If I had to put a number on it, and I know this may not be feasible for every person and it depends on domestic versus international travel, it depends on where you’re going, etc. Honestly, if you can stay with family and friends worst case, that might save you a bunch of money. But I would say that for the average young person traveling, having at least maybe $800 extra. If you’re traveling long enough to need that emergency money to get back home, you should probably have at least $800 to cover a flight. And I mean hopefully, that person is also investing in travel insurance that would end up covering a bunch of that. That’s the biggest savings. If something bad happens unexpectedly, comes when you pay $40 a month for travel insurance. That $40 is going to stretch and save you hundreds of dollars if something bad happens.
What are some of the most impactful ways of making money abroad? What resources should people be using to find that side hustle freelance work?
So the first step is knowing your own skills. If I suggest 10 freelance jobs that I might have, that doesn’t mean that you have the same skills. So firstly, the person should assess their own skills and say, “yeah, I have a lot of marketing skills that are useful, or maybe I have a lot of technical skills or language skills” or things like that. The first place I would look would be freelancing websites like Upwork, Fiverr, and even maybe LinkedIn to find freelance job opportunities or contract job opportunities.
You can just research and see what people need most often out there. Some of the more basic freelance opportunities I listed were freelance writing, ghostwriting, editing, tutoring, online, video editing, and graphic design. Those are all things that I hire for. So I know that people can freelance for those things, but there are tons. I mean you could probably be a freelance personal trainer or a nutritional guidance coach. Tons of things outside in different niches that you could advise for. Anything that you can do between the span of a few days to a week or two, that’s a contract job that might just get quick money in your pocket.
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So you should explore your own interests, your own skills and look for opportunities in those spaces?
Absolutely. I would say maybe look at your past job experience or your past volunteer experience and maybe re-look at your resume if you haven’t looked at it in a while, and say, “Okay, if I had to make a $100 in one week, what are some small things I could do with the skills that I have to do that?”
Do you have any strategies for finding cheap flights or flying on the cheap?
I like to use Google Flights and I know a lot of people use that service too, but I don’t think everyone knows about all the features that it offers. For example, they have notifications and cheap flight alerts that you can turn on. So if I know if I’m in, let’s say France and I want to go to Germany next, and I’m not so specific about the dates, I can set a few flights or a few time periods that I want to travel and it will notify me via email when the price drops on certain flights. So if I notice I want a $400 flight, I’m like, “That’s expensive. Maybe I’ll leave next week.” It’ll email me the next day and say, “Hey, this flight dropped to $200,” that’s when I’ll buy it. So I think the key to flying cheap is being flexible in your plans and not so strict on dates. I’m going to pay that amount no matter what. The flexibility is what saves you money.
What are some of your favorite travel apps? What do you find most useful for travel, whether explicity for travel or not? For example, I know you use TikTok a lot.
I definitely love social media. So TikTok and Instagram are great travel inspiration and even itinerary and tip resources for me. I definitely use Expedia. I’ll get on Expedia and just look at the activities that is in the destination I’m going to or look at the accommodations, like VRBO and be like, “Okay. Maybe I won’t stay there, but maybe I’ll do a little quick trip just to get a photo or explore that area because it looks nice.”
I definitely always have a money conversion app. I think the app I use is called Conversion, I’ve definitely accidentally spent too much money because I didn’t know the right conversion rate. I’m giving a $20 tip and I’m like, “Wait, was that $2?”
There are apps like Hotel Tonight that will give you discounted rates on hotels if you book within that 24-hour period. I love to use that. Let me open my phone actually and see. I always have TripAdvisor because I always look at reviews. I never do anything without reviews, especially as a solo traveler, it’s like a safety thing, but also a quality experience thing.
I have Mobile Passport, it’s an app that works like global entry but it’s free and that helps you when you fly back to the US to get through border patrol really fast. I feel like not enough people use it because every time I fly back to the US, I’m the only person in that line and during a three-hour line I’m whispering to people as I walk through the aisle, “Download the app, you can do it right now. Save yourself.” I always have that.
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I want to talk a little bit briefly about strategies for creating content if someone wants to do what you do. How do you create content that grows readership and attracts clients, and what are useful tips for teaching yourself more about this if it’s something you’re interested in?
So I think the first step is figuring out your “why.” Again, that’s something that everyone says and you’re like, “I want to make money or I want to go viral.” maybe those are the why’s. But I think figuring out your why specifically for you will help you in your content creation. And also figure out who you’re trying to attract, because creating content just to reach everybody is not a good strategy and it just won’t work.
For me, I had to first start out by asking, “who do I want to talk to?” I knew I wanted to talk to people like me, young travelers who wanted to take their first trip but didn’t know how or couldn’t afford it or just were overwhelmed by the process. So once I figured that out, I could figure out the type of content that that person would like.
So to create content that attracts the people that you want to attract, I would say start out with a little bit of research, get on the platforms that you want to be known for, whether that’s Instagram and TikTok or whatever. Start looking at content that other people are creating but do that for a limited time and then stop doing it. Stop consuming content and just create. Content that you think is authentically funny, authentically helpful.
Think, “If I saw this, I would like this. This was a good video. I’m funny.” You have to actually feel like you, your own content. And that takes trial and error, having things that flop and do badly, and just keeping creating through that. That’s the best foundation that you could make.
Some basic content creation tips: make sure your video is clear, please wipe off your cameras. I can see the Cheeto dust, no one wants to see that. Make sure your audio is clear, that’s so important now on social media, especially with TikTok being so audio first, put your face up to your camera and really speak clearly into the microphone. If it’s windy, making sure that you can be heard. Make sure your fingers are off the lens and keep the camera steady. Those are the basics that make people not just get annoyed at watching a video. At least they’ll watch all the way through.
You mentioned being multifaceted, especially in terms of making money abroad. Obviously, you write, do photography, and do graphic design. I think your website mentions accounting and marketing. What are good ways to teach yourself these things for the beginner who has no knowledge? Is this something that you need higher education for, or is this something you can do on your own? Should it be something that you’re actively doing in your free time when you’re not traveling?
That’s a really good question, and I’ll say that number one, you don’t need a traditional education. You don’t need certificates or anything, especially in the freelance market. I think a lot of people get caught up in being an expert. They want to be a technically perfect person when in reality, especially because I hire a lot of freelancers, I’m looking for a person who responds on time and listens to directions and does what I need. So honestly, I would build those initial skills.
YouTube University is absolutely free. You can watch 20 YouTube videos and get the basics of graphic design pretty quickly. But then to really become a high-value freelancer, get those soft skills in place. If you see someone hiring for this position, reach out to them and say, “Hey, I’m a starter at this.” Just being transparent, having these communication skills being on time — those are the things that actually make me hire a person. Because honestly, usually you get trained on the job or just through trial and error, you build up your technical skills.
But yeah, those soft skills are really important. I feel like not enough freelancers, even the expert freelancers, don’t focus on that and that makes them unhireable.
What scholarships and grants should people be aware of that exist that would help fund travel opportunities? And where do you search those things out?
Oh my God, this is my favorite question. There are an infinite amount of paid travel opportunities for people of all ages, but especially for the person under 30, you don’t have to be a student. I’ll just talk about my experiences.
So when I was 24, I won a cultural exchange scholarship. It paid for my flights, accommodations, food experiences, and everything and I was in South Korea for one week. So I was working my full-time job, then I just took a week of PTO and went on that. Last year I went to Fiji. It was just a travel contest I found online. I literally Googled, I think “travel contest” and went to the 33rd page and it showed up and I was like, “This has to be a scam. This is so weird.” But I applied to it and it took five minutes and I won it.
Last year I was in Fiji for 10 days and I was in the mountains of Fiji, like an unexplored part, which is really beautiful. Those are just two examples, whether you’re a student or not, these things just exist. You just have to know about them and really look for them. Scholarships, cultural exchanges, grants, internships, even maybe a remote job or a contract job remote will get you abroad in a way that someone else pays for it.
So where to look for them? You don’t have to because I look for them all the time because I’m actually insane and I love them and I just put them on my website, packslight.com/pto. I aggregate all those different types of opportunities and you can filter them and sort them. And when people ask me like, “Okay. How do I do it for me though?” I have a course that walks through my process, but the real answer is that I’m mentally ill and I love it. So I look for them all the time.
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Do you have any tips for solo travelers, also does solo travel have to be expensive?
Oh my gosh. Solo travel, maybe in contrast to group travel, can be a little bit more expensive just because you’re not splitting those costs with everybody. But I think if you know what to do and you do it intentionally, it does not have to be more expensive. And for me, I am able to travel more cheaply because again, you’re not splitting the cost with everybody, but you also don’t have to consider what everybody wants. So I can do whatever I want, stay where I want, change my plans at the last minute, and that saves me a lot of money in the long run because of that flexibility.
I would say for the beginner, maybe you do want to stick to the bigger cities or the war well-known destinations, just to get your feet wet and give yourself the grace and experience to try going on that subway for the first time by yourself, or making friends, approaching somebody and asking to get lunch tomorrow by yourself. Those are those beginner experiences that are really overwhelming. And then once you do them a few times, you’re totally unfazed going to that new metro in South Korea versus South Africa.
So start with those beginner experiences. I think what really helps people is making a community as they travel, making friends will give you that confidence and the resources to navigate when you’re abroad. I always start with Facebook groups. I have a Facebook group, the Young Travelers Network, especially for people our age, you want to make sure you meet people that you can relate to.
I’ll just post there and say, “Hey, I’m going to Vietnam. I have no idea what to do.” People will comment. People will say, “Hey, I live there. Do you want to meet up? My mom lives there.” I’ve stayed with people’s moms, whatever. Yeah. Just to have that one connection, that tie that makes you feel confident and you’re like, “Okay. If something did happen, if I broke my leg, I could call somebody who’s here to help me.” So I would say, yeah, find that one tie.
There are tons of resources on my website for safety tips, and you definitely want to make sure you’re vigilant and you stay safe. But overall, I would say that it may surprise you how helpful and kind and just normal people can be that you’ll meet when you’re traveling, and the world is not scary enough to get you at all times. Actually, I feel a lot safer abroad than I do at home. So if you just trust yourself and keep your wits about you and just don’t do anything really crazy, you’re probably going to be absolutely fine.