I think we can all agree that there are five main pieces we need to cover before we can truly consider our adventure a vacation. In the following mess of words, when I refer to vacation, I mean it in the loosest sense of the term. I’m talking about a temporary (or permanent, I guess) escape from the day-to-day, a small change of scenery to get us through that monotonous Canadian winter. You’ll hear me use the words adventure and vacation interchangeably, and that’s because I believe every great vacation is an adventure, and every great adventure should be a vacation. Alternative vacations for everyone!
First, if you plan on going somewhere, you’re going to need some form of transportation. For the sake of this article, we’ll consider anything beyond your feet a mode of transportation. For the most part, the sharing economy has most budgets covered. We can even get around for no cost at all.
Second, if you plan on sleeping along the way, there’s going to need to be some form of accommodation or shelter. Whether it’s a tent, a car, a bed, or a hotel; I’ll leave that part up to you. In general, this one is a lot harder to get for free, but there are some very budget-friendly solutions to take advantage of.
Food for Fuel
Third, every great adventurer needs fuel! Inspiration and enthusiasm alone won’t get you through the day (without getting #hangry). We’re considering food to be an absolute necessity for every great adventure or vacation. How much or how well you eat is up to you, and can be easily scaled to match any budget.
Adventure or Experience
Every vacation needs some form or adventure or greater (than 9-5) experience. Not sure about you, but that’s why we go on these excursions: to experience different things, even if it only involves lounging on a beach sipping a cold Pacifico garnished with a lime wedge, or a road trip to a neighboring city.
Alternative Travel Vacation Ideas
If that last pitch wasn’t hot enough to light a fire under your ass, perhaps this will help; I’ve compiled some very affordable theoretical vacations for almost every theoretical budget.
This whole vacation is an adventure. Two words: road trip.
1. The free vacation
If you have access to the internet (which I know you do, ‘cause you’re reading this), you could catch a ride somewhere using the rideshare section of Craig’s List or Kijiji to find a free seat, or just polish up your thumb, write your destination on a piece of cardboard and hit the pavement.
Alternatively, you could rent a vehicle and charge people for seats using your favourite ridesharing app, and you could completely cover your cost this way.
Don’t forget your sleeping bag, because you’re going on a Couchsurfing sleepover! It’s one of the most reliable places to find a free couch to crash on, so unless you have friends where you’re going, you’ll have to keep this one in mind.
Or, if you have a tent you can borrow, you could hit a free camping map for the best place in and around your destination.
I’ll admit this one is going to really cut it close when it comes to the free part. We all know there is no such thing as a free lunch. But, there are some nice people out there who are offering to make you lunch. There’s a community called EatWithALocal where people offer to cook meals for travelers. I haven’t used it before, but it exists.
If I was really hard-pressed to get that elusive free lunch, I would resort to Falling Fruit. This is one I am familiar with. It’s a user-curated map of hundreds of cities all over the world, featuring places to find free food. That’s right, free food of all shapes and sizes. People have kindly listed public gardens, fruit trees, berry bushes, city forage, and even bakeries and fruiteries that are free-food-friendly (they give away the day-olds). It’s a pretty cool system, and I can honestly say I’ve tried it and it works!
I believe every great vacation is an adventure, and every great adventure should be a vacation.
Luckily, this one is free almost anywhere you go. This is another category which is covered by the alternative travel community and is usually pretty valued by most locales (they want you to experience their city and all that jazz).
Recently I came across Global Greeter Network, a community of people in countries all over the world, willing to meet up and show you around for free. Of course, if you’re not into meeting new people, Google Maps is a great resource for free attractions.
2. The small budget road trip vacation
Getting around is definitely one of the most affordable and flexible parts of travel. Most modes of transport allow to sharing or splitting of cost and often allow for an extra passenger. To keep this vacation on-budget, we’ll stick to ground transport, because - in North America at least - airfare is generally not going to fit in a small budget.
If you have a destination in mind, you could check for rides using your favourite ridesharing app. If you’re just itching to go somewhere, I would check the Adventure Directory for a one-way vehicle relocation.
One-way vehicle relocation opportunities occur when a rental company needs to move inventory from one place to another. Usually within a rather short (but sometimes generous) amount of time. The price ranges anywhere from $1 per day, to $25 dollar per day, with the latter usually pertaining to RV rentals, and both often including vouchers for gas.
I had the chance to drive a beautiful campervan relocation from Melbourne to Darwin, Australia for $5 per day. It came fully equipped with a camp kit and sleeping gear, 8 days to drive a 6-day distance, and all with our gas refunded at the end. What an incredible way to let destiny choose your itinerary.
If you’re scored on one of the RV relocations I mentioned above, or you have your own vehicle, your accommodation is already set, as there are so many free places to camp in most countries, as well as some wonderful hosts willing to let you camp on their property for a very fair price.
If you’re feeling like a true road warrior, there are some pretty cool boondocking resources out there.
Eating at restaurants is a great way to blow your budget. I’ve always found that buying groceries is by far the best way to stick to your budget. If you stick to whole and easy-to-prepare foods, you’ll have no problem eating well while on the road.
This whole vacation is an adventure. Two words: road trip.
3. The savings account budget vacation
Assuming you managed to squirrel away several hundred dollars to get away this winter, your options just got a whole lot more expansive. If you’re looking to go somewhere warm, you’re definitely in luck. You could start by checking with your favourite cheap flights and error-fares provider. They post wicked-cheap flight deals daily, to exotic locations all over the world. If you stay vigilant you can get a return flight almost anywhere in the world for around, and sometimes less than, $400.
If you’ve managed to get yourself a killer flight deal to some super fun adventurous country on the other side of the world, you’ll need a place to stay. If you’ve read the other two sections above, I’ve already suggested couchsurfing and camping, so let’s expand the options a little bit. After all, nobody wants to pack a tent into their carry-on.
If you’ve traveled through a distant country before (and by traveled I mean backpacked), you’ll probably be familiar with hostels. Hostels can be a great start to any great adventure. They work well as a home-base, and to build up resources, and to even find travel partners.
If sleeping in the same room as a bunch of snoring drunks isn’t your jam, why not grab a nice AirBnB somewhere central? After all, you deserve it. You worked hard to travel comfortably.
Depending where you are, street food is often a very affordable option. In places like Mexico or Southeast Asia, you’re looking at a couple dollars for a full meal and a tasty beverage, as long as you stick to the places the locals are eating. Again, offsetting food cost by buying groceries for at least one of your meals is advisable, and will offer you much more comfort when it comes to the things you really need. Like beer. Or tacos. Or that tacky carving for your sister.
Since you’ve been so budget conscious by waiting for those error-fare tickets, you can really treat yourself now. While many tours will get you all hopped up on cola and feed you to tourist traps, the internet (here he goes again) is host to some incredible peer-to-peer tour experiences, allowing you to experience destinations like a local.
What’s your favourite way to travel on a budget?
I haven’t had to opportunity to try and test one or two of these alternative travel ideas, and many of these are hypothetical, but I can honestly say I’ve tried most of them and truly believe in all of them! What’s your favourite way to travel on a budget?