How To Travel Like A Grown-Ass Woman (Without Breaking The Bank)

Photo: Getty Images.
When I was a college student, I spent a semester studying in England. I had a negative bank balance and no job, so when my aunt sent over a check for $250 as an early graduation present, I knew I had to spend it wisely. It was my first time in Europe, so I decided to use the money on a trip to Paris, traveling as cheaply as possible.

This involved taking a night bus to Paris. It was long, uncomfortable, and not at all conducive to a good night's sleep, but it was cheap and saved me the cost of a room. Upon arrival in Paris, I made my way to a hostel where I had booked a bed in a multibunk room (read: dirt cheap) for one night. I splurged on tickets to the Louvre and Eiffel Tower, but focused on free activities, like walking along the Seine, touring the Père Lachaise Cemetery in search of Oscar Wilde's tomb, and reading a book in the Jardin du Luxembourg. I ate crêpes and frites, spent one night in the hostel, and, on Day Two, traveled back to London via yet another night bus. I was delirious without sleep, but I'd seen Paris and had stuck to my shoestring budget.

That was traveling like a student. Now, I travel like a grown-ass woman. I take the Eurostar and splurge on Champagne. I've upgraded from hostels to hotels and Airbnbs. I carry little maps on which I've marked local restaurants with the best reviews. I've treated myself to cooking classes in Madrid and safaris in Botswana. I have frequent-flyer miles. And I do all this without spending exorbitant sums of money on every trip.

Achieving ruby status and getting priority seating may not be as thrilling as, say, slinging back beers with the Portuguese dreamboat you've befriended at the hostel, but there's a lot to be said for crisscrossing the globe on your own terms and with an extra dash of comfort. Here are some tips on upgrading your adventures without blowing your budget.
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Illustrated by Norah Stone.
Get the insurance.
We can understand not wanting to shell out for cancellation insurance, but it's definitely in your best interest to add on health-related travel insurance if you're going abroad. Paying an extra $20 or so for medical coverage is a drop in the bucket compared to the thousands it could cost you for medical treatment and an emergency flight should an illness or accident happen.
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Illustrated by Norah Stone.
Look for destinations off the beaten path.
Tired of getting ripped off in tourist traps that are swarming with selfie sticks? Swap Cancun for Cuba, or seek out far-flung locations that aren't quite so obvious and crowded. Is there a spot that, beyond simply being a party capital, speaks to your hobbies or interests? Consider your alternatives before committing to the same old destinations.
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Illustrated by Norah Stone.
Rack up those miles.
Loyalty programs, especially multi-airline programs like the oneworld alliance, are free to join and can nudge you toward priority seating, a free ticket, or even a bump up to first class. In the long run, it may be more beneficial to stick to one or two preferred airlines as opposed to just booking what's cheapest, especially if the difference in price is minor. If hotels and rental cars are your go-to, join those loyalty programs, too.
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Illustrated by Norah Stone.
Upgrade from hostels.
Noisy guests, the risk of bedbugs, lousy mattresses…it's not worth it. Look to sites like Airbnb and HomeAway as affordable alternatives, and rely on these tips to help cut down on costs:

1) Find a central location so you don't have to shell out on cabs.

2) BYO wine, coffee, bottled water, snacks, etc. to keep you going between meals.

3) Ask hosts for suggestions on local restaurants so you can avoid pricey tourist traps.

4) Check out cheap local food markets. They've usually got a great atmosphere, and you can source local ingredients that cost a fortune back home.
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Illustrated by Norah Stone.
Fly nonstop when possible.
It's not just about convenience — travelers with connections are charged for each airport they visit, and that's not including your gift shop spending sprees or mid-layover neck massages. Plus, flying directly to your destination helps you not waste time (or vacation days), and is smoother on your sleep schedule. You know those people sleeping in the airport at 5 a.m.? Don't be them.

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Illustrated by Norah Stone.
Sort out your currency.
When traveling abroad, do some research to see who offers the best rate (Hint: It's probably not the money exchange counter at the airport or your hotel). Notify your bank of your travel plans to avoid a pre-emptive fraud alert, and consider getting a currency credit card to use on your travels. To avoid disappointment, check to see how banking is handled where you're traveling. ATMs in remote locations may be rare, resulting in long lines or a shortage of cash in the machines. In Portugal, for instance, ATMs have a six-digit PIN, causing many-a-tourist to panic. Some businesses in countries with a history of economic instability (Greece, for example) may demand that payments be made in cash. Be prepared.
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Illustrated by Norah Stone.
Scrap the itinerary.
Aren't adults supposed to wake up at the crack of dawn and pack their day with one activity after another? Only if you want to. Heading to a café to enjoy a gelato and a new novel in a sun-dappled square is just as worthwhile as waiting for hours outside a museum. Avoid burnout and focus on the things that you REALLY want to see. You shouldn't need a vacation after your vacation. If you want a nap, take a nap.
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Illustrated by Norah Stone.
Just do it.
Work, other people's weddings, money… There are plenty of factors that could discourage you from using your vacation time for yourself, or even using it at all. Do it anyway. Don't sacrifice your holidays for other people. If you find yourself playing bridesmaid in Puerto Vallarta, make the most of it and tack a side trip onto the end. Lastly, don't be afraid to travel solo. Getting away on one's own can be incredibly meditative (and yes, so adult).