Breaking Bland: The Poor Man’s Guide to Unforgettable Travels


Poor Man's Guide to Unforgettable Travels

*Note: This is a guest post by Peter Renegade from

$80,000 of student loans and insatiable wanderlust don’t exactly mix.

Unfortunately, that’s where I found myself after college graduation.

While I always envisioned myself traveling during my 20’s, reality came crashing down in the form of $600 monthly loan payments.

Like any desperate college grad, I took the first cubicle job I could find to save myself from financial collapse.

In the office, I’d spend my days dreaming of exotic destinations as if they were light years away.

Days, months, and years passed by as my travel dreams slowly subsided.

Then one day, I took a hard look in the mirror only to find a shell of my past self.

I was older, but I didn’t feel wiser.

Instead, I felt less creative, less confident and less courageous than ever before.

The rinse-repeat 9-5 lifestyle had broken something in me.

I knew it was time to break the pattern – it might be now or never.

I decided to find a way to travel no matter what it takes.

The odds were not in my favor. At this point, I had:

  • $45,000 of student loan debt remaining
  • Only 10 days of vacation to use for the entire year
  • A measly $41,500 salary (before taxes)
  • An overpriced apartment in an overpriced city
  • Zero travel experience

Despite these conditions, I was able to pull off a 5 day Rocky Mountain retreat in Colorado for under $500.

For regular travelers, this might seem insignificant.

But for me, a boy who’d never been west of Iowa, this was a life changing experience.

I came back with clarity, focus and renewed vigor.

More importantly, I learned how to overcome the barriers to travel so I could repeat the experience.

Since then, I’ve been on three more amazing adventures and I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.

You don’t need to be a millionaire to enjoy travel.

You can embark on your own incredible journey without breaking the bank.

Simply follow the steps of my proven method below:

1. List your desired travel destinations

Start a running list of all the places you want to go, from the local spots to the far and exotic. Writing them down makes them real and solidified.

If you’re having trouble coming up with destinations, now is the time to do some research.

2. Leverage your network

Chances are, you have friends and family living in different parts of the country or the world.

Next to your list of destinations, list all your friends and family and where they live. If you can manage to lodge with someone for free, you can save some serious cash.

3. Set a budget

How much can you afford to spend on this trip? Your budget will be a big factor in where you go and how long you spend there.

For my Colorado trip, my budget was $500. I came up with this number by simply asking myself this: If I lost all this money tomorrow, could I still get by comfortably? I whittled the number down until the answer was a solid yes.

4. Choose time, place, and people

Using the information from the previous three steps, start deciding the where, when and who. It can help to travel with more people if you split costs, but it can also be more difficult to plan. Traveling alone is always an option, too.

Remember, your first trip doesn’t have to be huge – especially if you’re a novice traveler on a budget.

When you’re ready, write down the top 3 potential destinations with exact dates and names of any fellow travelers.

5. Estimate costs

Now it’s time to see if your destination fits in your budget. Here are some costs to consider:

  • Airfare
    • Use Southwest if possible and be sure to sign up for their rewards program
  • Gas (if you’re driving)
  • Rental Car
  • Lodging
    • Use your network
    • Use Airbnb – an amazing service where you can rent homes and apartments around the world which I used it to get a 6 person house in Michigan where we spent $25/night/person
    • Book in advance to get better rates
  • Food and drinks
    • Buy groceries to save money
    • Drink before you go out in major cities
  • Paid attractions
  • Souvenirs
  • Home-sitting/pet-sitting
  • Emergency costs (unforeseen medical or travel costs)

Note that travel rates vary, so consider seasons and holidays. Always estimate on the high side and leave a 15% buffer to absorb incorrect estimates.

If your top destination fits in the budget, great! If not, you have two options. You can either 1) shorten your trip until it fits the budget, or 2) jump down to the next destination on your list.

6. Set aside money

I buy as much as I can for the trip ahead of time. That way, I don’t get stuck at the last minute trying to come up with money.

For any remaining expenses, such as lodging and food, I take out physical cash and set it aside until the trip so I’m not tempted to spend it.

When you cover expenses ahead of time, you can stop worrying about money and start getting excited for the trip.

7. Make an itinerary

I like a good mix of planned activities and spontaneous wandering when I travel. I don’t have time to do either if I’m figuring out what to do the whole time – that’s where an itinerary helps.

List the attractions you want to hit and the activities you want to do. Plan a schedule for each day, but allow for some spontaneity too.

8. Enjoy the adventure!

When the long-awaited date finally arrives, these tips will help you get the most out of your adventure:

  • Unplug – leave the laptop at home and the phone in airplane mode. You can’t enjoy the scenery if you’re staring at a screen all day.
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff – you’ll probably forget something or get lost. Don’t freak out, it’s all part of the adventure.
  • Leave expectations behind – if you set high expectations before you even leave, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. Instead, go in with an open mind and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

For all who are curious, here is a cost breakdown of my Colorado trip:

  • Travel
    • Southwest Airlines airfare (roundtrip): $296.00
    • Gas for my friend driving me: $40.00
    • Total: $336.00
  • Lodging
    • Stayed at friend’s apartment: $0
  • Food
    • Groceries: $27.22
    • Eating out/drinks: $87.07
    • Total: $114.29
  • Misc.
    • Souvenirs: $23.89
    • Vinyl Records: $22.56
    • Hiking at 6 different State and National Parks, Boulder SpringFest, people watching: $0
    • Total: $46.45
  • Total Trip Expense: $496.74

The trip of a lifetime might be closer than you think. Happy trails!

This is a guest post by Peter Renegade from

photo credit: Ishrona

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  1. Glad you mentioned unplugging. Once I turn on my computer during vacation it’s like entering a black hole. I find myself checking Facebook, answering emails, and before you know it, 3 hours have gone by. Now I don’t even bring it!

  2. I had an experience similar to Jill’s. On my first foreign trip, I posted an email to my friends that I’d just seen the Eiffel Tower. One of my friends wrote back immediately and told me to shut down the computer and go experience Paris. I’ve taken her advice on all my adventures. I save the updates to when I’m at the end of my day, and I give myself a 1 hour limit. Since I’m normally paying by the hour at an internet cafe and I’m thrifty, that is pretty easy to stick to.

  3. Great tips!

    For me the flight cost is the highest expenditure.
    And traveling to neighboring countries is not really an option here.
    But I can at least travel to countries where the living is cheap.

    Thanks for the unplug tip. It’s hard to do it but when you do it’s a totally different experience. And you’re right, we need to focus on our adventure and don’t set specific rules or expectations.


  4. That’s amazing, Steve. Just proves that with a little effort to do your homework, so to speak, we can find ways to do great things.

    • Although I know Steve has had similar (and crazier) experiences, that’s actually a guest post from me! Thanks for your kind words Lisa – glad you found value in the article.

  5. Peter,
    You’re right the office isn’t a place to dwell if you can avoid it (I’m avoiding it at the moment) and getting great travel for less is doable.
    Some of my best trips are often the cheapest! There’s some patterns I’m starting to pick out like going at the very lowest point of the off season (fantastic for peace and calm), avoiding excessively popular places (ruinously expensive) and not travelling to the ends of the world (I hate flying and heat anyway). Living in England there’s plenty of opportunity for travel that’s just loading the car and heading for the sea or hills (Devon in December, snowy Peaks in February).
    $500 would be a fair budget for some of our weeks – including beer allowance 😉 I hoping to use free air travel from credit card points for trips to Europe this year.

    • It sounds like the UK is a great hub for travel, adventure. I plan on moving to the Rocky Mountains sometime within the next year or so because there’s so much to do (for an outdoors type) right in your backyard. Not to mention it’s cheaper in some places out there.

      Unless you’re a die hard urban dweller, I highly recommend a smaller city (near an airport) where your dollar will stretch farther. Big cities are cool, but not somewhere I need to live every single day.

      And yes, a beer fund is key 😀

  6. As others have stated, it’s amazing what happens when you unplug. My wife and I recently took a trip and stayed at a place that didn’t have TV or internet. As first I didn’t like it, but as the days went on, I really enjoyed not being connected and just living life.

  7. Great post Peter! Planning and budgeting can allow anyone to overtime save enough to travel anyplace. I’ll be remembering some of your tips.

  8. Great post! Love your tips on getting the most out of your adventure.

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