Even though I’ve been out of school a while now, it’s hard to not think of summer the way I did as a kid — as this magical time, brimming with endless possibilities. I imagine days filled with nothing but laying by the pool and bike rides to the park. And I think of traveling. Going all the places that you couldn’t possibly fit into the regular year. It’s the time for your big trip to Europe, for road trips to Yellowstone, and long weekends at the beach. It’s called summer “vacation” for a reason. Because it just doesn’t feel like summer without an epic vacation and adventure on the books.
Unlike when I was kid, I have to think of money. Finances can really put a wrench into your dreams of long, uninhibited wandering. So a few days ago, I reached out to Matthew Kepnes about traveling without either draining your savings (hahaha. That was a joke. I don’t have any savings, guys) or having to save up a ton of money ahead of time. Kepnes runs “Nomadic Matt,” and on the site he spends a lot of time not only detailing his amazing travels, but breaking down the ways you can travel around the world without being born rich and/or marrying and then murdering a series of increasingly wealthy widows. (I’m not knocking widow murdering, just saying it’s really a lot of trouble if you can avoid it.)
Matt had an office job and was working on an MBA when he took his first big trip to Costa Rica in 2004. The trip showed him a life that seemed exactly the opposite of the path he was on. People were relaxing and enjoying life instead of commuting to a desk every day. But it wasn’t until the following year on a trip to Thailand that he met a couple of backpackers and really started to picture full time travel as a path his life could take.
“I was really inspired by them because here they were living my dream,” he says. “And somehow they managed to do it on a budget. After getting a glimpse into the world of backpacking, I saved some money, quit my shitty job, and have been on the road ever since”.
To date, Matt says he’s been to about 90 countries. Though he doesn’t even really keep track anymore. He’s become a travel writer, book author, and successful blogger all while living the lifestyle he used to envy when he felt trapped by a corporate life. Helping people make their travel dreams come true has become a passion of his. So Matt shared some of his tips for affordable summer travel with us. Because according to Matt, with a few little changes that dream trip can definitely become a reality.
Instead of hitting U.S. destinations, try Europe or the Caribbean. You’ll actually get a better deal.
“There are a lot of good deals right now to Europe because of the increased competition between the airlines,” Matt say. “Budget carriers out there like Norwegian and WOW are doing a good job of lowering prices across the board.”
If that’s still a little high for you, trips to the Caribbean are even cheaper. Because it’s hot out, people often discount the Caribbean as being a winter destination. But in the summertime you can get that beach vacation for a fraction of the price. And with a cold pool and endless frozen daiquiris and margaritas, it can be the perfect summer trip. Resorts and airlines make it especially affordable in these off months.
Surprisingly, Matt says that international travel is a better deal than hitting U.S. destinations this year. Flights domestically have stayed high so he recommends going out of the country if you want to get away.
Look for pricing trends and book early.
Many people think that they have to have a super flexible schedule and be able to book last minute to get insane travel deals, but Matt says that’s totally not true. He recommends watching sites that use computer models to track sales. They do all the hard work for you. He especially likes the sites, lowflightdeal.com, holidaypirates.com, secretflying.com and scottscheapflights.
“You can subscribe to their email list,” he says. “Like a couple weeks ago, they had flights to Japan for $600.00. It’s not like, ‘Oh, shit, I have to get up and go right now.’ The deals are far in advance. There are still last minute deals that happen, but a deal, it can happen anytime for a flight.”
People think he has some sort of magic connection when booking travel, but, he says, he just signs up for email lists like everyone else. If you have an email account, you can find the same cheap flights he does (and if you don’t have an email account, I want to talk to you about your life right now).
Audit your expenses, you’re probably wasting money you could be traveling with.
People tell Matt all the time that they don’t have the money to travel, a statement that he’s pretty skeptical of. “I always tell someone to audit their expenses,” he says. “Write down everything you spend during a two week period and see where your money is going.” Most of the time you’re spending a couple dollars a day on bottled water, or your Uber costs are adding up to be way more than you thought they were. In that case, just drinking tap water or taking the subway can make a huge difference.
He also reminds people to think of every purchase in terms of what it would get them on their dream trip. “You can go buy those nifty sunglasses,” he says. “Or you can spend three extra days in Paris. Which one do you want more in the long run?” Just reframing your mindset and thinking about expenses in terms of travel can go a long way to getting over your mental barriers about saving.
Set up automatic deposits into your savings.
“Once you know where your money is going,” Matt says, “you can figure out what you can cut and start saving into a travel fund.” He likes to set up his deposits from his regular bank account into a separate account. Lots of people get caught up in the big number of a trip, but if you know you’re cutting ten dollars a day of spending, you can just transfer that amount weekly. It will add up quickly.
“Just auto-save that money into an account,” Matt says. “And before you know it, oh look you have three thousand dollars saved.”
Pretend you live in your vacation destination.
When we go on vacation, we may say we want to experience local culture, but we’re still spending like we’re on vacation. That’s a huge money waster, Matt says. “If you don’t go and spend this kind of money in your day-to-day life. There’s no reason for you to spend it on vacation.” Spend like a local, he suggests. Parisians aren’t going to fancy dinners every night. They’re eating at cheap cafes and riding the metro. “Do the same thing,” he says. “If you’re traveling to see a city to understand it, hotels and taxis and five star restaurants are not going to give you any sense of it whatsoever.”
Matt recommends staying at Airbnbs, taking public transportation, going to outdoor parks, and making time on your trip to hit up supermarkets and outdoor farmer’s markets for food. “You’ll find you’ll get a good sense of the day-to-day life in a city while still seeing everything you want to see. If the city you’re in is beautiful, spend lots of time walking, and drink your wine from the grocery store while chilling in the park. You’ll still explore the city, without spending every cent you have.”