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  • Writer's pictureKirk

How I Travel for Free (or nearly free)

Updated: Oct 3, 2023

When I travel I do it on both ends of the spectrum. When I fly overseas or domestically in the USA, I fly in the front of the plane. Either in first class, or business class on the bigger planes. If I'm flying to a remote area of a foreign country I may fly in an economy class middle seat if that's all that's available.

When I stay in hotels, I usually get upgraded into suites when staying at the major chains like Hyatt (my favorite), Marriott, Hilton, or the International Hotel Groug (IHG). I'm upgraded because I travel so much I earn elite status with these groups and they provide benefits for top tier elites like free breakfast, late 4 pm checkout, welcome gifts, and free upgrades to suites when available.

Luxury ocean view suite where I've stayed. (Private ocean view pool and separate room for bathing)

But if I'm in a remote area where these chains don't exist, I'll sleep on a cot or even a hammock in some cases. I've slept with the cockroaches on several occasions in the less developed areas. I've stayed in many one star hotels that charge less than $20 per night..

Most of this travel is done for free or deeply discounted. In fact, when I travel overseas I usually stay 3 - 4 weeks at a time. My budget for a month for all travel, including airfare, hotels, local transportation, attractions, souvenirs, and meals is about $1,500. That's about the same amount of money I'd spend on those items if I'd stayed home for a month! How can I do this so cheaply? Well besides being cheap, there are methods. I'll try to break down each group of expenses as best I can over my posts these next few days and explain how I keep them so low.

A typical vacation for most people for 4 weeks in an low cost Asian country would look something like this for one person:

Category. Cost. Month Total

Meals: $20/day. $600

Transportation $20/day. $600

Souvenirs. $300 ?

Attractions $20/day. $600

Hotel suite(5 star).$360/day. $10,890

Airfare (business class round trip). $7,500

Total $20,490

Now this can be greatly variable and some will say I can do it for less than that. True, it can be done for less, but it can also be done for much more. I'm trying to come up with an average cost for this one person trip flying business class and staying in 5 star suites. You can cut this in about 1/2 if you fly economy and stay in non-suite 4 star hotels. But the comparison here is how I travel.

For the hotel I used the suite price for the Bangkok Grand Hyatt in October. That is during the off-season and certainly not the most expensive 5 star in Bangkok So I think it is conservative.

Meals are really variable but $20/day is very low and does not include fine dining. It would be easy to triple that amount but difficult to trim much from it for most people.

For airfare I searched google flights for a business class ticket round trip from Portland, Maine to Bangkok. I chose a flight near the bottom of the range for October, again, off season, so a conservative price.

Transportation would be a mixture of rental cars, local taxis, buses, and tuk tuks (motorized buggies). This is again a very conservative number if you're going out to see something each day.

So how do I manage to get a $20,000 vacation for $1,500 or less? Well, it's a mixture of things that I will try to break down for you in the following posts. The methods I use are USA centric for the biggest expenses, meaning the methods are not available to foreigners (or at least not to the scale I do it).

Some may say I'm not traveling for free if I'm spending about $1,500 for my expenses while traveling. Even if it's deeply discounted it's not a free trip. But I'd argue it is free since I would spend about the same amount of money on these items if I stayed home that month. Sounds free to me.

Now for me I'm not talking about doing these "once in a lifetime" vacations. I do several "once in a lifetimes" each year plus domestic travel. That's approaching $100,000 per year of travel for my multiple international and domestic trips.

When I returned from my last trip to Jordan, my dentist asked what I'd been doing. I told him about my Jordan experience to which he exclaimed, "Oh, a once in a lifetime adventure"! I didn't bother to correct him because the ensuing discussion would be too much with his hands in my mouth.

I try to do 3 - 4 international trips per year, although I've slowed this year. Additionally I take about 6 - 8 domestic trips, many to visit family in Maine. All done on a shoestring budget.

Now, before I break down how I do it, I'll tell you these methods are not for everyone. You need to gain some experience and skill at the game and you cannot be timid. When I verbally tell people what I do they get excited about the prospect. Until I give them some details, then it either sounds too complicated or not for them. But the methods are all, of course, perfectly legal.

In coming posts I'll begin to go through each category with explanations of how I do it. There is a rather large group of us using these methods throughout the country. There are also much better blogs than mine to teach you the methods but it's taught in a piecemeal approach. I'll try to give a comprehensive view over the coming days (or weeks)..

You can follow this ongoing story

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