Working and volunteering overseas are great ways to explore new countries and cultures. But for many people with jobs overseas, travel must be planned about work schedules and budget constraints. Luckily, there are myriad websites and online resources that can make your travel dreams come true, and at a reasonable price.
There are a few things that you can do before you even start to look for cheap ways to travel abroad. First, you have to figure out (with the help of your employer and supervisor) what the policies are for time off to travel. A full time job abroad, especially one that is a long-term (one year or more) commitment, also carry the usual benefits like a week off for vacation and three day weekends for national holidays. Find out what these benefits are as soon as possible so that you can take advantage of as much time as possible for travel. English teaching jobs overseas give you the added bonus of having school holidays off, which often equal extended vacations throughout the year while the students are not in school.
Many volunteer abroad opportunities are short-term, and volunteers can plan to use time after their project ends to travel for extended periods of time. Many people might use the end of a project period to travel extensively before returning to the volunteer site to continue working. This is fairly typical, and most volunteer supervisors will be accommodating to these kinds of requests.
Volunteer and job supervisors can also be a valuable resources when you are thinking of ways to travel on weekends. Locals will know the best spots to take an overnight trip that are easily accessible by local transportation, but still off the beaten path. They can give you advice about where to stay and what to see that you might not find in guidebooks. Volunteer placement organizations also plan weekend trips for local volunteers, which can take some of the guesswork out of weekend travel.
But for more intensive cultural travel, it is best to plan ahead. Most young travelers take advantage of the Lonely Planet series of guidebooks. Seen as the bible of budget travel books, Lonely Planet produces regional travel guides that list cheap accommodations and restaurants, as well as the best places to visit to get a taste of the local country. While you can buy these books in advance before you leave for your trip (after all, it may be difficult to find the right book in English for a reasonable price in your host country), you might also want to check local hostels and coffee shops that often keep libraries of used books that cater to young travelers, many of which come from people who have traveled before you. The Lonely Planet website has current information about popular destinations, also geared toward the budget traveler. Tim Leffel’s Cheapest Destination’s Blog is a great alternative to Lonely Planet that focuses on destinations where the American dollar goes furthest. Rick Steves (who you might know from the Travel Channel) is considered one of the budget travel experts, and his website is a must for traveling on the cheap in Europe.
Another great tool for young travelers (under 25) is the ISIC (International Student Identity Card) and International Youth Travel Cards, issued by ISIC Association. You can apply for these cards online, or through a local STA Travel agency. In addition to providing you with an additional form of identification (in most places, these cards are accepted in enough local places that you can leave your passport in the hotel or hostel), ISIC and International Youth Travel Card holders receive discounts on airfare, rail tickets, hostels and restaurants. When you are issued your ID card, you should receive a listing of the discounts available to you, and you can plan you trips according to the best deals you can get.
Airfare is generally a significant expense when traveling abroad. Many travelers opt to find cheaper ways to travel – by rail or bus, or even ride shares – but in man circumstances, air travel is the most efficient way to make use of the short time you have. Again, STA Travel is a great resource, with offices around the world (especially in popular work and study abroad destinations), and you can simply walk in and work with an agent to find the best fare. If you’d prefer to do it yourself, its important to look beyond the mainstream airfare sites to the local airlines. Taca (for example) serves many destinations in Central and South America with relatively cheap fares. You can use WikiTravel to find similar regional airlines near you. Sometimes this might involve a layover or two, but as fuel prices continue to rise, it can be worth it take a little more time to get to your destination if it means having more spending money when you get there. Packing light can also be an important skill for a frequent traveler, saving you money on baggage check fees, and making it easier to hop on the local bus from the airport rather than springing for taxi service.
The best advice for traveling abroad is to plan, but not to over-plan. You should gather as much information as possible about your destination – exchange rates, cultural norms about tipping, special safety concerns – before you leave. But you should also keep an open mind. A large part of the fun of traveling abroad is having the freedom to take a side trip you weren’t planning, or to spend more time in one place than you thought you might.