How about a little cheap travel guide for those who want to get started, but don’t know what to look for?
Airline tickets I’ve seen the best deals on travel-one.com, kayak.com, itasoftware.com and for international flights vayama.com. You can also use airfarewatchdog.com to set up alerts on routes you want to fly and if those routes are to known destinations like Beijing or Rio de Janeiro look into us based consolidator, such as uschinatrip.com. I usually try to buy the ticket directly at the airlines website whenever possible and always join the loyalty program to get miles and rewards. In Europe and Southeast Asia, I hear its best to fly low cost carriers, but i have no experience with that. Check in online and never check bags if you can help it. Be patient, don’t sweat it too much if it costs more than you would like.
Lodging is where you can really save if you try. The cheapest option is to stay with friends, or friends of friends, of course. Since this isn’t always possible, the next cheapest is couchsurfing.org, the international network of two million people willing (in theory) to give you their couches, or spare space to sleep on, and I hear its pretty safe. Almost as cheap is wwoof, but you must be willing to plan your vacation around farm work. Next up are services like airbnb.com, roomarama.com, and Wimdu.com, which let you rent rooms, apartments and whole houses around the world, like a user-friendly version of Craigslist. If you don’t trust these services then you’ve got hostels (hostels.com and hostelworld.com) motels, bed and breakfasts, inns, and real hotels. Again, join loyalty programs. Don’t take tripadvisor too seriously and never wire anyone money (ever).
Food is easy, people always love writing about it on chowhound.com, tripadvisor or for recommendations, and google your destinations plus “food blog”. Buy ingredients at farmers markets small grocery stores and super markets and try cooking for yourself. Really nice restaurants often have a cheaper menu at lunch or at least at the bar. Eat a bigger lunch and a smaller dinner. Skip breakfast, unless its included in your room. Eat street food, fast food, bad food.
Other ways to be a cheap traveler are to, use Skype or VoIP types over wifi for calls, or unlock your cell phone and buy local SIM cards. Find friends of friends through Facebook. Buy citywide museum passes or skip museums and go to art galleries. Make sure that your credit and ATM cards don’t charge foreign transaction fees. Take public transit. Hitchhike, if it feels safe. Ride a bike. Walk.
Easy enough, right? Just remember to have fun and do stuff while you are there. Sacrifice of being there because of money is silliness.