Sometimes it can feel like everyone is off on some luxurious vacation, prancing around Europe for weeks and filling your Instagram feed with photos of puff pastries in Paris and pasta in Sicily.
We all know social media isn’t exactly a reflection of reality, but that fact rarely stops the feeling of wanderlust from taking hold.
Lexie Alford knows that feeling better than anyone and she chased her zest for travel until she broke a world record, becoming the youngest person to travel to every country.
Having visited 197 countries by the time she was 21 years old, Alford knows the ins and outs of getting her passport stamped.
Narcity sat down for a chat with Alford, to pick her well-travelled brain on anything and everything globe-trotting.
Her words of wisdom will help all those eager travellers out there turn their Pinterest travel boards into reality, for as cheap as possible.
Luckily, Alford is no stranger to cheap travel, and even had some hopeful words of wisdom for all those swapping the five-star hotels for hostels: “You definitely get some of the craziest stories from budget travel!”
Need proof? Take one look at her YouTube channel to see some of the wild adventures she’s been on. From unmapped road trips around Europe to travelling across Thailand with just $100— she proves that not all adventures come with a hefty price tag.
Use the right websites
Alford surfs the web before jumping on a plane, checking out different sites to find the most affordable options possible. She said that there are a lot of cool platforms out there these days “that are connecting travellers to really affordable places to stay.”
Peruse these websites instead of just going with the first hotel that pops up on Google, and you might be able to save some cash.
Consider couch surfing
Alford said that she has a lot of friends who have done couch surfing, and have “made amazing friendships through those experiences.”
While she hasn’t tried out couch surfing for herself yet, it’s definitely a good option for travellers out there wanting an extra cheap stay.
Before jumping right into an adventurous experience though, Alford recommends taking “baby steps.”
“If you’ve never travelled before, if you’ve never gone on a solo trip before, start testing the waters maybe a bit more locally first, so you start gaining that independence.”
Do your research
If you don’t know how much things should cost, you might end up spending more money than you have to on your travels. For example, Alford explained, “You can get taken advantage of by taxi drivers if you really genuinely don’t know where you’re going or don’t know how much is supposed to cost.”
The key to avoiding situations like this is research. “Have a plan, know where you’re going, know what things like taxis should cost in advance,” she added.
It might not be the spontaneity you’re craving, but it can save you big time.
While Alford said that one way to travel (which is fun, no doubt) is to just book a flight and show up somewhere, she admits she couldn’t afford to make expensive mistakes when she was on a tight budget.
If you go the spontaneous route you could be showing up to a city only to find all of the hotels booked up, and have to cough up a few hundred dollars a night to stay somewhere.
“You can avoid getting yourself into those types of situations by doing at least the bare minimum of research in advance,” she said.
Get off the beaten path
“Where you follow the crowds you also follow the prices,” Alford said.
If you want to save money, you might have to skip hotspots like Paris or the Amalfi Coast and go for something a bit more low-key.
Alford was reminded of this on a recent trip to Santorini, a place known for its breathing views, and its iconic appearance in the 2005 movie Sisterhood Of The Travelling Pants.
Its popularity doesn’t come without consequences though.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen more tourists in my entire life,” Alford said. On top of taking away from the experience itself, Alford added that this also “really upped the prices.”
If your heart’s set on getting that iconic photo with the white houses and blue roofs, you’re going to have to buck up and pay the price. However, if your travel goal is to have an authentic experience in Greece, you can definitely do that elsewhere for less money.
Alford also went to Kefalonia, a place that many tourists bypass, and still got to enjoy the crystal clear blue water, great people, and amazing food — without the steep costs.
The takeaway is to look at your priorities for travelling and consider some alternative destination options. “If you go even just a few layers deeper than the average person….you can often lose the crowds really quickly,” she added.
This doesn’t just go for places to visit either. Alford said to keep this in mind on a smaller scale too, like eating out.
If you go for dinner by a popular tourist destination, like the Colosseum, you’re going to be paying top dollar for your food. Walk just a few blocks away though and you might cut your bill in half.
You’ve got to be willing to make some sacrifices if you want to save money travelling. It’s an undeniably uncomfortable activity anyways — from cramped plane seats to painfully long layovers — so you might as well embrace it, especially if you want to cut costs.
“I think that people don’t realize until they’re doing it just how affordably you can travel,” Alford said.
As Canadians have seen with the likes of Lynx Air and Flair Airlines, budget travel is becoming more of a reality — so take advantage!
Alford also said that the long way is normally the cheapest way, so take that cheap flight with the extra layover, or choose the super long train ride that costs half the price.
“It really comes down to asking yourself, ‘How potentially uncomfortable are you willing to get?’ Because you can stay at hotels that cost $200-$300 a night and have this big empty room to yourself, or you can spend something more like $10-$15 a night and be sharing a dorm room with a bunch of other travellers.”
It might not be as comfy, but it’s not all bad. Alford pointed out that often these are the best places to meet like-minded travellers and new people.
The same goes for food options, too. Alford said she travelled around Thailand on a serious budget and was able to enjoy tasty $3 meals thanks to the many street food options. So opt for that instead of the highly-rated restaurants you might find on tourism sites.
At the end of the day, if your options are not travelling at all or doing it on a shoestring budget, the choice is obvious.
So, hop on that 12-hour train ride, bunk up in a local hostel, and track down some tasty street food, because at the very least, you’ll probably get a good story to tell out of it!
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.