Ask A Boston Expert: Tips For Traveling Internationally On A Budget

June 14, 2014 6:00 AM

Many dream of a vacation of a lifetime to a far-off destination, but the price of the dream trip often discourages making any further plans. Local travel blogger and teacher Lillie Marshal has some tips to traveling internationally on a budget that will have you packing your bags for your once-in-a-lifetime trip quicker than you thought possible.
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Taj Majal with Lillie Marshal (Courtesy of Lillie Marshal)

Lillie Marshal

Lillie Marshal is a travel extraordinaire. At six feet tall, she’s a mother, a Boston-based teacher and a travel blogger with a list of destinations spanning from Cambodia to Dubai with stops in Peru and Ghana in between. She documents her travels on two blogs, Around the World L and Teaching Traveling, and offers travel advice and advice on teaching English abroad. If anyone knows how to travel on a budget, it would be Lillie. She’s agreed to share her tips about traveling internationally and staying happy while doing it.

Actually Go

Don’t be that person who hems and haws so long about whether or not to take a trip that you never go. You won’t regret traveling, but you will regret sitting at home over thinking everything.

“Is it worth it to go to India for just a week?” people asked us in 2012 when we told them we were planning to go. “Why don’t you just put it off for a better time?” Thank goodness we ended up taking the trip despite these naysayers, because India was phenomenal, and two months later I was pregnant, meaning if we had waited for the “perfect time,” we would have missed our best opportunity.

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Traveling Abroad (Courtesy of Lillie Marshall)

Determine Your Goals Beforehand

Talk with everyone traveling together (or to yourself, if you’re going alone) to clearly set your physical and emotional goals for your trip. For example, if you’re going to Belize, will you be devastated if you don’t see some Mayan ruins and also have at least one day to completely veg out and read a romance novel? Make sure everyone is clear about those goals so that your travel adventure is fulfilling and complete. Trust me, not being clear on objectives beforehand causes arguments and disappointment (as I found out the hard way during travel in China with two friends), and the conversation takes about five minutes.

Save Money With Creative Accommodations

Think beyond the standard hotel. Use sites like to stay for free in the houses of locals. This is far more comfortable and safe than it sounds, as I experienced while Couchsurfing in West Africa. Usually you have your own room — not just a ratty couch — and there are numerous safety measures in place. Another option is to rent someone’s home through sites like and Often these accommodations are cheaper, more spacious and more homey than hotels.

An another option, consider hostels; they’re not just for 20-somethings anymore. Many hostels are now classy and comfortable for all ages, while still being deliciously affordable. A lot of hostels now have private rooms, too, instead of mixed bunks. Alternately, consider exchanges where you can work (on a farm, in a kitchen, teaching English) in return for free housing. Finally, post on Facebook that you’re heading to a certain destination. Sometimes people will reach out and offer you free housing with their dear aunt or friend who lives in that country. It happened to me in Japan, and saved me hundreds of dollars on hotels.

Meet Locals Creatively

Your experience abroad will be richer if you spend at least a few hours really connecting with locals. Here are some options that few people think about. First, check out websites like and (it’s not just for housing) which post thousands of free or very cheap meetups around the world each day. Second, try taking a short class abroad (like a language, dance or cooking course). Third, track down a volunteer opportunity. There are endless options out there, from one hour to years in duration. The time I spent volunteering in Ghana was the best part of my year-long trip around the world, and the locals I met by working side by side with them are now lifelong friends.

Crowdsource Travel Tips Online

Before leaving on your trip, post on your social media networks where you’re going, and ask for tips. If I hadn’t done that, I never would have found this amazing alpaca farm on Martha’s Vineyard. Further, if an internet search turns up useful articles about a destination on a travel blog, but you need more details, contact the blogger directly via Twitter, email, Facebook or in the comment section of their article. We fancy travel bloggers are friendlier and more accessible than most people think!

Embrace Hedonism

Don’t feel like trying out a hostel or meeting locals? No problem! Your travels are your own, and if you ache to just stretch out on the porch of a luxury hotel for a week straight, do it.

Related: All Things Travel: Making Holiday Travel A Bit Easier

Shelly Barclay is a professional freelance writer and amateur author. She writes on a variety of topics from food to mysteries. She loves to share the culture and rich history of her birthplace and home, Boston, with the rest of the world. Her work can be found at