If you’re not too fussy about legroom or the luxury of checked baggage, budget airlines are for you. While there are literally hundreds of options, here are our picks. In Europe, Ryanair, Vueling and easyJet offer flights between countries for as low as €10 (UK£9). In Asia, Air Asia, IndiGo or SpiceJet top the chart for most affordable, while JetBlue and world-renowned airline, Southwest, dominate American soil. But be weary, the reason these airlines can operate so cheaply is they often up charge like maniacs for any added services or are based in airports far outside big cities.
Before you set out to search each of those budget airlines’ sites individually, check out Skyscanner, Kiwi and Kayak. These websites compare prices across airlines and can find you the best deals, especially if you don’t have a particular destination in mind. Finally, if you’re the kind to lay with the beast, hop on those loyalty programs. The blog One Mile at a Time consistently updates readers on the best flight deals and decodes the complicated language of miles, points and loyalty.
Whether it’s becoming an au pair or crewing a cruise ship, there are hundreds of ways to get paid while you travel. While these programs don’t offer the most glamorous of traveling circumstances, they do often come with free housing and/or subsidized food. If you’re an American with a bachelor’s degree, you’re eligible to serve abroad with the Peace Corps in fields such as medicine, education or environmental protection. For those non-Americans, teaching abroad in countries like Spain, France, Korea or Japan can be a great alternative.
If you’re willing to get your hands dirty, join WWOOF, an organization linking volunteers with sustainable farms across the globe. Housing and meals are covered, and all you have to do is donate a few hours a day lending a hand. Looking for adventures at sea? Become a crew member on a ship. Companies like Royal Caribbean and Carnival offer healthy benefits for crew members and even some time off at port cities. Luxury private or charter yachts offer similar perks but with generous tips and a side of posh thrown in.
For the frugal backpackers, check out Hostelworld and Agoda to search and compare hostels and guesthouses, or tap into the local community by scouring the variety of accommodation listings on Airbnb. If you’re willing to work a bit, get free housing by signing up to house-sit. From mansions to brownstone walkups, websites like House Carers, MindMyHouse and TrustedHousesitters connect vacation-bound homeowners with vetted house-sitters across the globe. Want to relive those college years? Universities, primarily across Europe, rent vacant dorm rooms to travelers at discounted prices. Couchsurfing is another great option. Not only is your accommodation free, but staying with locals allows you to see a place through their eyes—all without bursting your budget.
While hopping on a regional jet may get you to your destination in style, flying can quickly rack up those zeros. Instead, opt for buses or cars. Budget bus companies like Megabus can offer routes around Europe and America for as little as €1 or $1 a trip, while carpooling services like Bla Bla Car and Ridesharing.com safely connect travellers with drivers headed in the same direction. For more control over travel plans, get an international license issued in your home country before departing and rent budget cars while abroad.
United Nations-approved cultural exchange group, Servas, links local hosts with open-minded travelers eager to learn about their culture and life. While the process to become a vetted member is quite rigorous, yearly membership fees are low and the opportunities to foster peace between cultures stretches across the globe. For the more digitally savvy, online communities such as Global Freeloader and Hospitality Club connect travellers with locals willing to spare a bedroom, a meal or even a few hours for a city tour.
While most of us don’t have the luxury of traveling whenever we please, for travel to be at its most affordable, some flexibility is a must. If you can manage, travel in the off-season, be flexible about your departure airport and keep an open mind about destinations when you start your search. Being willing to stray from plans, or throw them out all together will open up the door for travel at rock-bottom prices.