How To Travel Overseas With $500
Travel is expensive – especially if you’re looking to go overseas. But, in my opinion, travel is always worth the money. It is about seeing new places, experiencing new cultures, eating new foods, and expanding your horizons. It’s about creating lifelong memories – and you can’t put a price tag on that, right?
If you dream of seeing the world but you have limited funds, don’t worry. There are ways to do it. With the right combination of useful travel credit cards and your ability to be flexible, you can start packing your bags for your dream trip.
How to travel to your destination for $500
Buying a plane ticket to an overseas destination is usually one of the most expensive parts of the trip. But, if you’re able to utilize a travel credit card (or two) and implement some of these tips, then there’s a good chance that you can travel to your destination of choice for $500 … or maybe even less!
Avoid traveling during peak season
Unfortunately, due to work schedules, school schedules, and people generally wanting to celebrate the same holidays at the same time, peak seasons (like Christmas and spring break) can be very expensive times to travel. So, if you have any flexibility in your schedule, try to avoid flying when everyone else is traveling.
Travel to less popular destinations
Pretty much everyone has the Eiffel tower, the Egyptian pyramids, and Niagara Falls on their bucket lists. As a result, the cost to travel to these destinations reflects their popularity.
If you’re open to taking the road (or flight) less traveled and going to a less popular destination, then you can save big.
Sign up for loyalty programs
You can sign up for hotel or airline loyalty programs that are separate from travel credit cards (such as Marriott Bonvoy™ Benefits or Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan™), where you earn points each time you stay at the Marriott or fly with Alaska Airlines.
Or, you can also sign up for credit cards that are specific to a certain hotel or airline, like the Hilton Honors Card. When it comes to earning miles, it’s usually faster to wrack up points using a credit card versus just a loyalty card.
If you don’t want to sign up for a credit card that is specific to a certain airline, you can opt for a more generalized travel credit card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. It offers 2x points on travel and dining, so it should be easy to rack up your points.
It also totes a sign-up bonus of 60,000 points if you spend $4,000 in the first three months you have your account. That’s worth $750 towards travel if you redeem through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal.
Additionally, spending $4,000 on your Sapphire Preferred nets you 4,000 points, which is worth $50 in travel. If you spend all of that money on only travel and dining, for which you earn 2x points, then you’ll end up with the 8,000 points worth $100 in travel. You can easily turn your $750 bonus into $850 this way!
If you’re flying from the United States, you can find round-trip flights to Europe or South America for that price. For instance, if you fly from New York to London and back in July, you’ll only spend around $530. You could also fly from Miami to Spain round-trip for $722 during that same time period and have some additional travel spending as well.
If you aren’t tied down to specific departure and arrival dates, particular airports, or even exact destinations, then you are in a great position to find a good deal on flights. The more flexible you can be, the more you can save.
When you start searching for flights, be sure to compare prices for different days of the week, airlines, and departure airports.
Find a travel credit card that is right for you
Finding a travel credit card (like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card mentioned above) that is right for you, and then using it properly can help you save major bucks when it comes to air travel.
Not all travel rewards credit cards are created equal, so it’s a good idea to spend some time determining which one is right for you. You can start by thinking about the following questions:
- What are my travel goals? Where do you want to go, when do you want to go, and how much do you want to spend? The answers to these questions will help to determine how many points you need to have saved and how long you need to give yourself to save them.
- What airline do I like to fly? Do you have a preference? If the answer is yes, then you probably want to go with a travel credit card that is specific to your favorite carrier. If you don’t have a preference or you see yourself flying with multiple carriers, then a more generalized travel rewards credit card might be a better option.
- Where do I want to stay? Again, the answer to this question will determine whether or not you should have a more specialized vs. general card.
Look for cards with no cap on points/miles
When you’re trying to max out your points or miles for an overseas trip, you want to ensure that the credit card you choose doesn’t have a cap.
Use your credit card for everything
If you want to earn points or miles quickly, then use your credit card for everything. Your groceries, utility bills, morning coffee – use it to make every purchase possible. The more you use it, the more points you earn and can apply to travel!
Of course, it goes without saying that you should only be using your credit card to pay for everything if you can afford to pay it off in full each month.
Find travel protection
When it comes to travel, you’ll want to seek out a card that offers security and protection, like the Indigo® Platinum Mastercard®.
This card gives you MasterRental Coverage, where you can turn down a rental car company’s coverage and still have collision damage and theft coverage for eligible vehicles.
There’s also Master RoadAssist Service, which is like AAA in that you can receive assistance when your tire blows, you run out of fuel, or you need to be towed. Travel assistance services like pre-trip planning information and medical and legal referral help are available, too.
Utilize travel benefits
Be sure to read the fine print on your travel rewards credit card. You want to learn about all of the perks and benefits that your card has to offer.
If you plan on traveling a lot and using your card often, then you may want to consider upgrading to a card with an annual fee, since it will come with many more perks.
For instance, even though the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card has a hefty $250 annual fee, you’ll garner 40,000 bonus miles after spending only $2,000 in the first three months. When traveling, you can easily spend two grand on flights alone.
Plus, your first checked bag will be free, you’ll get priority boarding, and you can hang out in the Delta Sky Club with two friends while waiting for your Delta flight; it’s only $39 per person. All these upsides make that annual fee worth it.
Have multiple credit cards – but be reasonable
If you want to maximize the use of points or miles then it can be helpful to have more than one credit card. This comes with a caveat — you should only have more than one travel rewards credit card (or any credit card) if you can pay it in full each month. There is no point in trying to travel hack if you put yourself into debt. This will end with you paying more in interest than the points/miles were worth in the first place.
While two or three travel rewards credit cards might be better than one, you want to make sure that you don’t go overboard. If you sign up for too many credit cards at once, you risk not being able to meet the minimum spend requirements — and then bye-bye bonus points.
Give yourself some time
Don’t try to sign up for travel rewards credit cards only weeks before you plan to travel. You need time to build up your points and take advantage of certain reward bonuses – like the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card I highlighted above.
Come up with a plan to space out your sign-ups in a way that lets you maximize points and also ensures that you can meet spending requirements. If you know you have to make a few large purchases throughout the year, this can be a good way to decide when to time your sign-ups.
While this isn’t related to credit cards, if you want to save money, pack light. Keep it simple and avoid having to check multiple bags or pay overweight fees, as these costs can add up quickly.
How to spend just $500 once you’ve made it to your destination
Okay, so you’ve made it to your destination for $500 or less. Yay, you! But now you need to be frugal while you’re there. Here are a few things you can do to keep your budget close to $500 once you’ve made it to your destination.
Make the most of your dollar
If you’re on a budget, then travel somewhere with a good exchange rate. Your dollar will go a lot further if you travel to Vietnam or Nicaragua versus Italy or Iceland.
Cook your own food or eat like the locals
By going out to eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner you can easily blow through your budget. Instead, limit eating out and cook for yourself. If your accommodations offer amenities like a full kitchen or even a small beer fridge, you can buy some essentials and eat on the cheap. There’s nothing wrong with cereal for breakfast, lunch, and dinner … right?
If you are staying in a hotel with no amenities and you’re forced to eat out, then eat like the locals. Try some delicious street food and forgo the expensive restaurants. Experience all the authentic tastes that your destination has to offer while you can.
Find accommodations that offer free breakfast and other perks
A lot of accommodations offer perks like a free hot breakfast to encourage guests to stay with them. Do some research before you commit to a place to stay and look for the added perks. Even Airbnb hosts will often throw in some breakfast items, free wine, or even the complimentary use of bikes or beach equipment. This all helps with your bottom line.
Opt for an Airbnb rental instead of a hotel
Airbnb won’t always be cheaper than a hotel, and it’s not always the right option (for instance, if you can use points to cover your hotel stay). However, an Airbnb rental often offers more space, more amenities, and more selection than a regular hotel.
Stay in a hostel
If you really want to reduce the cost of your accommodations, then consider a hostel. Your decision to do so will likely depend on your age, whether or not you’re traveling with a family, and how much privacy you require.
I stayed in my share of hostels when I was in my early 20s, and it was totally worth it in terms of savings. Now that I’m a little older and a little more comfortable, I don’t know if I’d be willing to deal with the communal bathroom situation.
Stay with friends or consider Couchsurfing
If you have friends or family that live somewhere really cool, reach out and see if you can come for a visit. There’s nothing better than staying somewhere for FREE and catching up with great people.
Another option is to try out Couchsurfing. Couchsurfing is a social site that connects travelers and hosts all over the world. As a host, you can list your space, and travelers can reach out to you. Or, travelers can list their itineraries, and hosts can reach out to them. It’s all about forming connections and a sense of community. This obviously is not going to work for everyone, but if you’re looking for free accommodations, it’s worth checking out.
Use points to cover your hotel stay
Remember earlier when I talked about signing up for hotel loyalty programs like Marriott Bonvoy™ Benefits? Well, now’s your time to cash in those points if you have them. Some loyalty cards also offer perks like access to free wifi or late checkout, so make sure you’re aware of all of the benefits.
Use your student status and other memberships
If you’re currently a student, then make sure you use your student status whenever possible. Look into getting an International Student Identity Card (ISIC) – you can do this easily online. According to their site, this is the only card that is internationally accepted as real proof that you are a student. With this card in hand, you can save on everything from food to entry into festivals and public transportation.
For those non-students, you can use your AAA or AARP memberships to save on car rentals, all-inclusive packages, and hotels.
Travel with friends and split the cost
Traveling with a group of friends is a great way to save. You can split the cost of accommodations, food, and car rentals. Plus, there’s nothing better than sharing an amazing travel adventure with some of your best buds.
Stick to one or two locations
If you’re planning a trip to Europe and hoping to squeeze in five different countries in two weeks, my advice is don’t. Not only will you spend most of your time packing, unpacking, and traveling instead of really getting to see each destination, but it will also cost you a lot.
Whether it’s by plane, train, bus, or boat, getting from point A to point B requires a ticket, and a ticket costs money. So, opt for a more relaxed adventure. Plan to see one or two new places and give yourself the time to get to enjoy them.
Walk or use public transportation
Find accommodation in an area that allows you to walk to restaurants, tourist destinations, the beach, or night markets. If something is too far away, or if you’re pooped from too much walking, then look at taking public transportation.
Depending on how long you will be visiting your destination, or how often you plan to take the bus or train, it might be worth it to look into a pass as opposed to paying for each individual trip. You’ll need to figure out the best method based on your individual situation.
Use a credit card that offers no foreign transaction fees
Be sure to sign up for a travel credit card that offers no foreign transaction fees. A foreign transaction fee is a fee that is incurred when you use your U.S. credit card to purchase a product or service in a foreign country.
Example trip for $500
Here’s how a sample trip for $500 would shake out.
Let’s say you fly from New York City to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic in July for a three-night stay. The Dominican Republic is one of the cheapest islands in the Caribbean, so your American dollars will go a long way there.
Here’s how your itinerary could look:
- One round-trip ticket: $190.
- Three nights in a hotel: $100.
- Food costs: $90.
- Public transport: $10 ($.35 per short bus ride).
- Attractions/discretionary spending: $110.
Attractions are cheap or free there. Admission to Museo de las Casas Reales, which is an important cultural monument in the country, only costs $1.84.
You can also see free concerts in the Colonial City, walk around the produce markets, or visit the Malecón de Santo Domingo, the seafront boulevard.
How to find free flights and accommodations
It is possible to lower the costs of your trip even further with free flights and accommodations. You just need some travel hacks and creative thinking.
If you have a travel rewards credit card, you can earn free flights and accommodations after reaching the spending threshold of $4,000 in the first three months.
Other cards provide similar offers, so always look for hefty sign-up bonuses that you can put toward free flights and stays.
Get free flights
You should make sure you use your credit card in combination with frequent flier programs for airlines to really maximize your earning potential. To get the most out of this, fly the same airline every time to really rake in the rewards.
If you don’t want to fly the same airline, at least use airlines that are in the same alliance; that way, you’ll get the credit anyway. For instance, the Star Alliance brands include Air Canada, Scandinavian Airlines, United Airlines, Thai Airways, and Lufthansa.
Snag free accommodations
Just like with airlines, you should sign up for hotels’ programs and use your credit card in combination with these programs to increase your rewards. Then, your hotel will reward you for your loyalty. For instance, if you’ve achieved Silver, Gold, or Diamond Elite status with Hilton Honors, then you can earn a fifth night free.
You can also lookup specific deals on hotel booking websites. Hotels.com will give you one free night’s stay after you book 10 nights. The nights don’t have to be in a row or even at the same hotel chain; all you need to do is create a login and make sure that whatever you book qualifies for the reward. Sometimes, if you wait to pay at the hotel instead of online, you may not receive the reward.
Airbnb will give you a referral credit of $20 per friend who stays in an Airbnb and $10 per friend who goes on a qualifying experience. If you invite a few friends, you’ll have enough for a stay in a decent apartment or home.
Get creative with free travel
There are ways you can get creative with free hotel stays if you think outside of the box. For instance, if you have a travel blog or you write travel reviews, you can ask hotels if they’d be willing to let you blog about your stay in exchange for a free night or two. This will be especially effective if you’re staying at new boutique hotels instead of large chains.
Additionally, some airlines – like Ethiopian Airlines, Air Canada, and Air China – are known for offering customers free hotel stays for layovers, giving you a chance to explore a city and get more from your airline ticket.
In terms of free flights, if your airline ever offers you the chance to get bumped, take it if it’s not too inconvenient. They may give you at least a free flight to make up for it, but potentially you could receive hundreds of dollars in flight credits depending on how desperate they are to free up seats.
Traveling has been one of the best things I’ve ever done. Stepping off of an airplane and feeling the dense heat of the tropics, or seeing the breathtaking architecture in Europe or the awe-inspiring skyscrapers of Hong Kong are truly awesome experiences. And, as a self-proclaimed “frugal” person, travel is the one thing I have NEVER regretted spending money on.
So, what are you waiting for? Pick your destination, apply these tips, and see how far you can go!