How to Fly Around the World for Under $200
International travel is much more affordable than you think.
If you are like most Americans, you overestimate the cost of international airfare because you assume it must be more expensive than domestic flights. As counterintuitive as it may sound, however, the recent expansion of international budget airlines have made flying to Europe cheaper than flying between most U.S. cities and some flights between countries in Europe or Asia now cost less than the ride to the airport. Many of my friends are surprised to hear that when I travel abroad, I spend less on airfare than I do on ground transportation, lodging, or food. I’ll let you in on some of my secrets. First, I’ll explain my strategy for booking cheap flights. Then I’ll walk you through specific methods to planning your route that will help connect you to diverse international destinations at an affordable price.
1. Use SkyScanner.
No, I do not have a special arrangement with SkyScanner. This site simply has the best features to help you identify cheap flight opportunities. When looking up flights, choose an origin and a month, but do NOT choose a specific destination or specific dates. Cheap travel is all about being flexible.
2. Replace layovers with stopovers.
When traveling to multiple countries, avoid layovers by instead incorporating connecting cities into your trip as destinations in their own right. This allows you to visit more places for less money. Ideally, you will book separate one-way flights and return to base a different way than you came. Note, however, that this strategy can be uneconomic for Trans-Pacific routes.
3. Alternate between cheap regional hubs and less accessible places.
If Bob lives in London and wants to visit Beirut, for example, he will choose to sandwich Beirut between two destinations that offer cheap access to both London and Beirut: Istanbul and Cyprus. He will visit Istanbul for a few days before flying to Beirut. On his way back, he will visit Cyprus before flying home to London. Bob is smart for visiting three places for the price of one.
4. Book long-haul flights at least 3 months ahead and short-haul flights at least 7 weeks ahead.
If you miss these benchmarks, do try to book fast. Time is ticking! Oh, you waited until the last month? Sorry, the big bargains are gone, but don’t let that discourage you from traveling.
The Geography of Cheap Airfare
Alright, now let’s get down to business. There are two pockets of the world where international budget travel is extremely easy: Europe and Southeast Asia. You probably don’t need my advice to find cheap flights within these regions, but traveling between regions is another story. Below I explain some strategies for flying into and between different low-cost regions of the world. Please note all the prices I quote in this article were found using the search method I describe in the section above. Also, note that that low-cost airline service flying from and within Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Australia is still extremely limited (and in some cases non-existent).
Tips for Accessing Europe from North America
A couple days a month, you can fly from the Northeastern US to the British Isles for just $82(0ne-way) with Norwegian Air. Once in the British Isles, you can fly to many destinations in Continental Europe for under $20! These cheap direct flights to Ireland and Britain can be difficult to come by, however, so as an alternative, I recommend reaching Europe via Iceland. Summer months aside, it is possible to reach Iceland from the Eastern Seaboard for as little as $99 and from Europe for as little as $45 throughWowAir. This makes Iceland a perfect stopover mini-vacation on your way across the Atlantic. Lastly, you may find flights connecting North America with Oslo, Stockholm, and Copenhagen on a couple days each month for around $120–180 (one-way).
Tips for moving cheaply between Europe and Asia
While budget airlines make regional travel cheap and easy in Europe and Southeast Asia, traveling between Europe and Asia is another story. If your goal is to go straight from Europe to Southeast Asia or vice versa, a stopover in Dubai is usually a no-brainer. An optimal combination of flights through this route can run as low as $120 if you book the flights into and out of Dubai separately. However, if you’re interested in visiting destinations in the Middle East, North Africa, or the Caucus, you should consider stopping in Istanbul. Just outside the periphery of the EU budget travel zone, Istanbul can connect you to a large swath of these regions for under $50. Dubai, meanwhile, allows access to destinations in South Asia, such India and Pakistan, for as little as $60.
Tips for getting between East Asia, Southeast Asia, and South Asia
In East Asia, budget airlines have not quite taken off to the extent that they have in Southeast Asia. Still, flights connecting Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and Hong Kong can run below $60 on a good day. From Hong Kong, it is also possible to access major destinations in Southeast Asia, such as Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines, for under $40 making it an ideal stopover when moving between East Asia to Southeast Asia. However, the ultimate Trans-Asia air hub is Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, home of prolific budget airline Air Asia. From Kuala Lumpur (KL), you may access Thailand, Singapore, and Indonesia for under $2o. Additionally, Air Asia offers flights from KL to India and Sri Lanka for under $50 and even direct flights to Japan for around $80. This makes KL the cheapest stopover on a per mile basis when traveling between major regional hubs in Asia.
Flying from Southeast Asia to Australia
Both Air Asia and Jet Star offer low-cost flights connecting Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore with Australia. Darwin is usually the cheapest city to fly into, but it’s far from the continent’s major population centers and boasts few attractions of it own, so it’s more practical to fly into Perth of Melbourne. Keep in mind that domestic flights in Australia can be pricey, especially when traveling between Western Australia and the Eastern side of the country, so the potential for budget travel across the Land Down Under remains limited.
All this information taken together should enable you to find your way from North America, across Europe, and onwards to the edge of Asia all on a shoestring budget. Of all the excuses not to travel, your budget should not be one of them.