I’ve lived in four countries and traveled to dozens more. Much of the time, this was as a travel writer and I was commissioned by the biggies (like Yahoo! travel) or smaller travel agencies in countries like Costa Rica or England. My job was to travel like I was a real tourist, just like you. The hotels, activity companies and everyone else I encountered didn’t know that I was being paid for going on vacation.

Much of the time, my job was to figure out just how much things really cost. This led me to be somewhat of an expert of traveling on a budget. It’s no secret that the impact of the recession is still being felt. While that’s true, it doesn’t mean you can’t travel and enjoy the good life while you’re on a budget.

 

It’s Where You Stay

After airfare, which can be scored for a steal, the most expensive part of a vacation is often the hotel. The easiest way to lower this cost is to travel during the off-season. Most tropical locations have an off-season, but don’t get put off by the thought of rainstorms. While it might be a little cooler or rainier, oftentimes bad-weather spells last only a brief while.

If you really want to save money, consider a volunteer vacation. There are countless opportunities to work on farms, volunteer at beach locations or stay with a host family for free. Most importantly, you’ll learn what the region you’re traveling in is really like and probably make some friends along the way. That’s something a Four Seasons can’t give you.

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Forget Overpriced Airfare

If you’re at all flexible, traveling standby is the way to go. Of course, this means it’s a little more difficult to travel during the holidays, though I did get to Costa Rica that way during Christmas week. The plus side that many people don’t realize is that there’s no checked baggage fee for standby. You may not get there the day you think, but you’re nearly guaranteed to get there within the same week.

How much can you save with this route? A roundtrip ticket to a tropical location easily costs around $300, taxes included. There’s no cheaper way to score a great deal, but it does require patience and humor on your end.

 

Barter for Savings

If you have a skill, talent or even time to offer a privately-owned resort, see if bartering is possible. Maybe you’re an expert at running pool systems and can offer maintenance and check-ups on the hotel’s pool for free. Maybe they’re looking for someone to trade English immersion classes with their staff. It never hurts to ask.

The most important advice I can give you is to think outside the box, be flexible and avoid those daily “deals.” Travel isn’t something that can be neatly packaged; at least not for a truly low price. Go off the grid and explore bartering, volunteerism and flexible airfare. With that mindset, you’ll be quickly on your way to visiting international travel hot spots.