UND grad becomes European adventurer, shares tips for cheap travel
If anyone knows how to travel cheaply, it’s UND graduate student Christine Glieden.
Last summer, Glieden traveled to 14 countries throughout Europe over the span of nine weeks. Her trip — including transportation, lodging, food and attractions — cost only $6,000. That’s $95 a day, which is less than some people spend just on a hotel.
“People can’t figure out how I did it, but I did,” Glieden said.
It took a lot of planning, but Glieden isn’t a rookie when it comes to travel. She was bitten by the travel bug when she went to Costa Rica in ninth grade.
“Ever since then, I just haven’t been able to stop,” she said.
She has also studied abroad in France and traveled to Norway, Italy and Germany.
When she’s not exploring the world by foot, she’s exploring through her computer screen as she endlessly searches foreign countries, cultures and attractions. And, while most people aren’t going on a nine-week European excursion, Glieden’s travel expertise and insight can be applied to all types of travel: long-term and short-term, domestic and international.
Book ahead, seek assistance
Planning her solo trip to Europe began two to three months before Glieden boarded a plane for Norway, which she said is often necessary when booking flights. Buying in advance saved her a lot of money — her ticket was just $400.
In comparison, she didn’t purchase her return ticket to the United States until just three weeks before the flight, and that cost her more than twice as much at $950.
For those planning spring vacations, Matthew Stengl, owner of Stengl Johnson Cruise & Travel in Grand Forks, said flights should have been booked in December or January, especially if one is planning to fly out of Grand Forks or Fargo.
“We only have so many flights out of here, so you have to think of not only spring breakers but the adults and parents who want to take their vacations as well,” he said.
Fortunately for procrastinators, Stengl said there’s always availability out of Minneapolis.
With spring break just a few weeks away, travelers probably won’t be able to save by booking in advance. But, Glieden said flying in the middle of the week, specifically on Tuesday, can save travelers some cash. She said they also should be flexible with their departure date.
“I’d never be really firm about when I had to leave,” she said. “I would always use plus or minus because you’ll find out that maybe there’s no flight on this day, or maybe it’s $300 cheaper this day for some reason.”
Glieden recommends using Kayak.com, which allows travelers to add plus or minus three days to their search results, and StudentUniverse.com, which offers good discounts for students 25 years and younger.
For inexperienced travelers and those looking for an all-inclusive travel package, Stengl recommends using a travel agency. He said travel agents may come up with the same price points found on Kayak.com and CheapTickets.com, but they offer more assistance than a website can provide.
“There’s little things that you just won’t know,” he said. “We’re going to have first-hand knowledge, potentially be able to save you money, but also if you need to break up payments, there’s ways that we can do that.”
Stengl added that travel agents don’t charge for their services because they are paid by their vendors. But, a typical all-inclusive spring break trip to Cancun or Cabo booked through an agency still runs about $1,000.
Alternative transportation methods
For those looking to spend less than that, there are many other vacation destinations and travel options including alternative transportation to and from the destination.
During Glieden’s 14-country European trip, she took advantage of trains, planes and buses.
She used a discount bus similar to MegaBus for traveling between several European countries. For those traveling within the United States, the closest MegaBus stop is in Minneapolis. From there, travelers can go to Madison, Wis., Milwaukee or Chicago for as low as $1. With transfers, travelers can reach nearly every major city in the United States.
Trains are another option with stations located in both Grand Forks and Fargo. Depending on the destination, train tickets can cost half as much as a plane ticket, but they also require more flexibility and patience. Only two trains depart from Grand Forks each day. The east-bound train departs at 12:57 a.m. and the west-bound train departs at 4:52 a.m.
“It might take longer on a train, but then if you take an airplane you have to worry about going through customs and all of that,” Glieden said.
When it comes to lodging, hotels might be the obvious choice. But, unconventional travel lodging can provide major cost-cutting.
Glieden stayed with friends and family, crashed on strangers’ couches and took advantage of open hostel beds.
“The cheapest (hostel) I stayed at was $7 a night, and the most expensive was in France, and I probably spent $40,” she said.
Hostels provide budget-friendly accommodation for travelers with a bed, shared bathroom and sometimes a kitchen. They typically run for $10 to $20 a night. Beds can be booked at various websites such as hostels.com and hostelworld.com.
Glieden said hostels often have lockers where guests can keep their belongings while they explore the city, so she never worried about her things being stolen. But, she did recommend bringing ear plugs as other travelers may have different sleep schedules.
She also utilized couchsurfing.org, which connects travelers with hosts in cities around the world. Hosts provide a free couch or spare bed for their travelers, as well as some insight into their city.
“You find out a lot more about the culture through couch surfing, and you actually get to know them a lot better because you’re kind of forced to because you’re staying with them,” she said.
Glieden said it was a little scary at first, but she was able to read each of the host’s reviews from other surfers, which helped alleviate any nerves.
Along with couch surfing, AirBNB.com is another option. Local hosts offer up their couches, guest rooms, lofts and cabins for a daily fee. Prices vary greatly depending on the size, quality and destination, but users can easily search by their price range.
Splurge and save
During the trip, Glieden said travelers can save additional money by choosing just a few things to splurge on.
“I would do like one expensive restaurant per city, and that was kind of like my cap,” she said.
Glieden said she would ask hostel employees where she could get a meal for $10, $20 and $30. She also bought groceries and made meals at the hostels, which allowed her to save and connect with fellow travelers.
“I remember I made French toast a few times, and it’s a really American thing, so you end up sharing it with a bunch of new people,” she said.
When it came to souvenirs and other purchases, Glieden learned a valuable lesson: Never purchase items on the first day. She said travelers should get a feel for the city and cost of various items before spending their money.
To keep track of her spending, she used a journal and made note of the different exchange rates and the costs of each city. She limited herself to $60 a day for food, outings, souvenirs and other miscellaneous items and always tried to stay under that amount.
Glieden final piece of advice: “Always have more money in your account than you know you’ll need.”
How to: Travel for cheap.
- Create a budget. Determine how much money can be spent on travel and daily expenses.
- Book early. Book flights two to three months in advance for lowest prices.
- Fly midweek. Tuesdays and Wednesdays are often the cheapest days to fly.
- Be flexible. Use the plus or minus feature to search for the best flights within several days.
- Utilize discount sites. Kayak.com, StudentUniverse.com and CheapTickets.com offer discounted flights, but be aware of refund and cancellation policies.
- Check layovers. Direct flights may be easier, but layovers can cut costs.
- Use alternative transportation. Consider taking a bus or train if destination allows.
- Consider unconventional lodging. Use hostels.com to find and book hostels or find local hosts on couchsurfing.org or airbnb.com.
- Use Student ID. Many attractions and tourist destinations will offer discounts to students with student ID.
- Track spending. Use a journal to track spending and stay on budget.
- Avoid impulse spending. Don’t buy souvenirs on the first day until you have an understanding of the prices in the particular area.
How to: Pack for travel
Careless packing can lead to a lot of unnecessary frustration, but with these quick tips, travelers can pack the essentials and avoid the hassle:
- Choose versatile clothing. Pack solid colors and plain pieces that can be worn several ways.
- Avoid brand names. If traveling internationally, avoid packing brands such as Hollister, Abercrombie and Fitch and Aeropostale. Brand names will make you stand out as a tourist and possibly make you a target for theft.
- Roll clothes. Rolling clothes will save space and provide easy access to clothing.
- Skip items you’ll buy. If you plan to buy scarves at your destination, don’t pack them.
- Use travel-sizes. Buy a collapsible tooth brush and hair brush to save space. Also use travel-size toiletries to avoid hang-ups during bag checks.
- Cover valuables. Place underwear over valuable items in backpack or travel bag to deter thieves.
- Don’t bring favorites. Luggage is sometimes lost or stolen, so leave your favorite items at home.
- Lock luggage. Use padlocks to secure the zippers of your luggage and use a bike lock to secure luggage to solid post if necessary.
- Bring backup bag. Pack a small bag with a change of clothes, necessary toiletries and any medications for a carry-on in case luggage is lost or left behind.