How to travel and save money as a young person

While traveling has always been a goal for many, the pandemic has only made the desire to see the world stronger, especially for young people. Spending three years inside has created a huge trend of spending summers abroad, as people want to make up for lost time. The most popular continents to visit right now are Europe and North America, particularly the United States. But, traveling as a young person comes with its challenges, as young people have not spent years building an income they can use to travel. There are still ways for young people to see the world, and while they might not be as luxurious as the typical trip abroad, they let a new generation of people live the life they want to live without breaking the bank. 

Table of contents

Traveling to Europe as a young person

Europe is one of the top destinations for travel because of how many countries there are. Americans are drawn to Europe because they come from a country that is huge. It can take hours to even leave their state. When they go to Europe, they can experience many different cultures in a short amount of time because of how small and close together European countries are. But, it is also much more expensive to travel in than continents like Africa or Asia. 

The good thing about there being so many countries is that it allows travelers to pick and choose which ones are more suitable for them and their price range. Countries in eastern Europe tend to be a lot cheaper than the ones in western Europe. Hungary and Montenegro are cheaper destinations that are still popular among tourists. Greece and Croatia are extremely popular eastern European destinations and can be slightly more expensive than the previous countries, but can still be navigated frugally. Eastern Europe also has countries like Albania, Romania, and Bulgaria, which are less popular among tourists, but offer lots of hidden gems. It can be harder to travel in western Europe, as countries like France, England, Sweden, and Germany are much more expensive than eastern European countries. Things like hostels, groceries, restaurants, retail, transportation, etc. are all pricey and it can add up. There are countries throughout Europe that are more in the middle such as Italy, Spain, Portugal, Czech Republic, and more. It is still possible to travel through these countries for cheap depending on how big your budget is, and many of them are extremely popular destinations. 

Italian coast, travel, in Europe

Travel accommodations in Europe

Despite how expensive Europe is compared to other continents, it has a lot of options for inexpensive accommodations. Hostels are a great way to save money while traveling, as you can rent a bunk in a shared room. This allows you to meet other people who are traveling and might also be on a budget. One night in a hostel costs about 20 euros (Worldpackers) if you stay in a shared room. Work exchanges and couchsurfing are other ways to save money on accommodations and are free. Work exchanges are good for when you want to stay in a city for an extended period of time, as you can get free accommodations in exchange for working. The jobs that are offered can vary, as some of them can be typical service jobs, like working at a winery or a hostel, and some of them can involve hobbies that you enjoy at home, like becoming an art or yoga instructor. They typically involve working 20 hours a week, but many of the jobs can be very engaging and can offer an authentic experience of the destination. However, work exchange isn’t ideal for people who are staying in their destinations for very short periods of time and trying to do as much as possible. Another way to get free accommodations is couchsurfing, which is when people open up their homes to strangers through online platforms. Couchsurfing can be a great way to meet new people while getting free housing, but can feel a little unsafe for people who aren’t used to being around strangers in such close quarters.

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Saving on food in Europe

Another factor that can make trips more expensive is eating out all the time. This is something that can be easily cut out during budget travel. Buying your own groceries in Europe can save so much money, especially since they are so much cheaper than they are in North America. It’s easy to buy fresh produce for cheap and make sandwiches and salads that will only cost a few euros. Local food markets are also a great way to save money on food and get an authentic experience, as they normally serve the region’s traditional dishes and have places to sit and enjoy your meal. You can even make an event out of your meal by taking it to a scenic location and having a picnic. But, treating yourself to a restaurant every once in a while isn’t unattainable, as most lunch meals cost around 20 euros and dinner can cost about 30-40 euros, depending on drinks. If you spend most of your money for food at the store or local markets, a restaurant every once in a while won’t put you too far back.

Young people shopping at a market in Europe

Finding transportation to travel within Europe

Transportation can be a tricky thing when it comes to traveling, as not having a car and not being used to public transportation can make things tricky. But, public transportation in Europe is definitely the cheapest option and is relatively easy to figure out. One trip can cost only one euro (Worldpackers). Getting from country to country is a little more expensive, but planning trips ahead of time can cut costs. If you book trains in advance, you can get them for under 30 euros (MindTheTravel). Even though public transport is extremely cheap, most people will want to explore European cities by walking. Europe is much more walkable than the United States, which allows for a more immersive experience, and an extra way to save money. 

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Travel in the U.S. as a young person

While Europe is one of the most popular travel destinations for people from the United States, there are also a lot of Europeans who want to see the U.S. But, the United States is one of the most expensive countries to travel to as a young person, and doing it cheaply is not easy. Since the U.S. is not very walkable and the general cost of living is a lot higher, it is not the most ideal place to travel on a budget. But, there are still ways to cut costs that are definitely worth looking into. 

The first place to start when researching travel in the U.S. is to find what region you want to see. Maybe you want to see the big cities, the national parks, or the beaches. Since the U.S. is so big, going from New York to LA will require another long and expensive flight, so it’s easier to take it one region at a time. The United States is only slightly smaller than Europe, so it’s almost impossible to see the whole thing in one trip. Planning your trip ahead will help you calculate an estimate for the entire trip, and can help you narrow down prices. Cities like Washington DC, Charleston, and New Orleans are great cities to visit with amazing scenery and nightlife, but are on the cheaper side and can help you save money (Worldpackers). Cities like New York, LA, and San Francisco have really high costs of living (Investopedia), so accommodations and food can be more pricey there.

New York skyline, travel, United States

Travel within the U.S.

One benefit of some larger cities in the U.S. is that they have public transportation. It is hard to find public transportation outside the cities in the U.S., as it’s almost nonexistent. There is no high speed rail system, and if you want to travel far distances without a car, you would need to find a bus you could pay to take or you could possibly take the Amtrak. Depending on where you’re going, the Amtrak could cost hundreds of dollars. Buses are cheaper, but not ideal, as they take longer and aren’t always going as far. Renting a car is probably the best option for traveling through the country, but it can cost hundreds of dollars for less than a week, and some states don’t let people under the age of 25 rent a car at all. It’s important to keep transportation in mind when planning your trip, so you don’t end up spending a lot of money on Ubers because you ran out of options. Try to either stick to cities with public transportation, or know that you’re going to be renting a car and create a plan for it. 

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Accommodations in the U.S.

Most of the United States isn’t cheap, and accommodations are no different. Hostels aren’t as common there, as most people use hotels or Airbnbs. However, there are some hostels in larger cities. Looking through, most hostels cost somewhere between $50 and $200 a night, which is much more expensive than in Europe. Airbnbs are the next cheapest option, but they vary in price depending on where you’re staying. The average price of Airbnbs in major U.S. cities is between $117 and $416 a night (AllTheRooms). Hotels aren’t much better, as the average price of a hotel in the U.S. is $149 (Statista). Prices tend to be on the cheaper side if you choose to stay in a rural area, so that could be something to think about if you are interested in visiting the national parks. But, most people want to see the larger cities, so it’s important to have room in your budget for accommodations.

Is it possible to travel while young and on a budget?

Despite all of these limitations, it is still possible to travel in the U.S. as a young person, your budget just needs to be a little higher than if you were going to Europe or Asia. The cost of traveling varies from country to country, so the amount of money that “cheap travel” is is also different depending on where you’re going. But, no matter where you’re going, planning ahead can save you money on flights, accommodations, and transportation.


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