Tips For Travelling Abroad On A Budget By Photographer Nicole Fallek

By the age of 24, my buddy Nicole Fallek has done a lot of travelling with her camera. She decided that she wanted to see more of the world, but realized she didn't have a big budget to do so. Nicole put together this extensive blog post for you guys using her vast travel knowledge to help ensure your world travels will go more smoothly and affordably. Check out all of tips & some of her travel photos/design below.

Traveling can be an inspiring experience for anyone, but photographers seem to have a particular fondness for it. Maybe it’s the new subject matter, or maybe it’s just a new way of seeing things and change of pace but, bottom line, traveling is a valuable and unforgettable experience that we should all get to take advantage of, regardless of how well our bank account is stacking up.

alicante_spain_650 Spain

Never go anywhere without a camera

This should be fairly obvious to us photogs, but still worth mentioning. No matter what it is--iPhone, disposable or professional camera, just have something. Nothing makes you want to shoot yourself in the foot more than missing the perfect moment, and when you’re on the road, those moments usually come with little notice, so it’s best to be prepared for whatever comes your way.


Don't blow your money on the plane ticket.

There is a common misconception that international plane tickets will take a huge hit on your wallet (and travel budget), but this doesn't have to be the case. There are lots of ways to get around high price tags on airline travel.

  • The cheapest flights are usually on Tuesday-Thursday, but always check the "flexible dates" option when searching for tickets.
  • There are a multitude of cheap travel sites like Kayak, Orbitz, Priceline etc, but I have found CheapOAir & Skyscanner to have the best deals out there. Once I peep which airline is the cheapest, I always make sure that the ticket isn't going for a cheaper rate on the airlines own website, since you can deduct a lot of those pesky third party booking fees.
  • Subscribe to any relevant airline and travel sites email lists: Travelzoo, United Airways, British Airlines and so on... they always have fantastic weekly deals that pop up, and if you've had a trip in mind, make sure to keep an eye out for deals in the area you're trying to travel.
  • One way tickets aren't worth your time or money. Even if you plan on going out of the country for a few months/years, the difference between a round trip ticket and a one way can be as much as $1000, so even if you have no intention of using it, always book round trip.
  • The more stops you add to your journey, the less the ticket will be. When I was looking for tickets (12 days before I was scheduled to leave for a job in Kenya) the ticket to go to Dubai, then Kenya, and lastly London was $2000 cheaper than it was to get a flight straight to Nairobi. In my opinion, the more destinations the better, AND it just so happens to be quite a bit cheaper.
  • If you're traveling to a more remote country, take note of the cities/airports where you will be catching your connecting flight, 99% of the time if you stop over for a few days it will dock a couple hundred dollars off of your ticket.

chicago_grid_650px Chicago

Avoid getting sick at all costs

There is nothing worse than getting sick while on the road, especially if you're crashing with other people, and I say this from experience. There are a few things you can do to ward off sickness whilst traveling, even if the guy on the plane next to you is coughing and foaming at the mouth.

  • Get a box of Emergen-C before you embark on your adventures and make sure to use it before and after your flight. Airplanes are the breeding ground of illness, and a strong immune system is the best way to keep the germs at bay.
  • Wash your hands a lot and carry hand sanitizer, especially if you're in a major city and are using public transportation regularly. I know it sounds obvious, but being OCD about having clean hands just means that the likelihood of getting sick is that much less.
  • If you feel like you're getting sick, resist the urge to go out and down 3 shots of tequila, 2 Jack and cokes and 5 Guinness’ because the hangover/sick combo is not a good feeling. Trust me, I know.
  • In the unfortunate situation where you do get sick, take it easy. When I got to London in late November I almost immediately got sick, and stayed sick for over 3 weeks. During that time I missed out on a big contract and got almost nothing accomplished, probably due in part to my workaholic tendencies kicking in as soon as I felt a little better.

kenya_zebra_650px Kenya


Traveling as a photographer, and a rather small woman, this was a bit of a challenge for me since, by default, I am toting: a Pelican case with a camera and four lenses, my light kit with strobes, stands, a battery pack PLUS a backpack with my laptop, iPad, toiletries and a change of clothes. I ended up having to make room in my light kit for a few changes of clothes during my three-week trip covered three continents. As a girl who likes her clothing options, it was a bit of a struggle. Packing only what I needed, it still ended up equaling very close to my body weight and lugging all it around the world on various modes of public transportation proved to be quite exhausting.

  • As a rule of thumb, I would say that it's very important (especially if you are traveling short term) to bring only what you, yourself, can carry.
  • Pick up a solid backpack. I purchased the Oakley Mechanism Pack and I would highly recommend it. It fits my laptop, iPad, change of clothes and whatever else I would need for 2-3 days.
  • Anything with wheels is a lifesaver, but anything with wheels that is poorly constructed is just a headache (try hot gluing my light kit back together).
  • Bring a power strip. Obviously, the rest of the world does not use the same outlet format that we do, so instead of having to buy a converter for all of your electronics, bring a power strip so you only have to buy one.

nairobi_kenya_650px Kenya

Use social media to your advantage

  • Connect with other photographers and creatives during your travels. Do some research about local photographers, magazines and other interesting creatives before arriving at your destination. Send off a few emails and or tweets to try to set up meeting and rendezvous before you get there. Some of the most fun and rewarding experiences I've had while traveling have come from meetups I’ve had with other people in the industry.
  • Twitter is a great tool to use if you’re nervous about sending emails or conscious about looking like you’re overeager or coming off as a “Let’s be friends!” type. Twitter is perfect for getting a conversation started and judging someone’s interest before following up via email.
  • Let your peers know that you plan on traveling and ask them to connect you with anyone they may know who is living abroad at your destination. Even though you may not see any familiar faces while traveling, friends of friends are the next best thing.


Save money in any way possible

Even if you’re conscious of how much money you’re trying to spend (or not spend), money can go extremely quickly if you’re not conscious about cutting out the unnecessary expenses.

You don't have to spend a cent on a place to stay. When I went on my trip to Dubai, Nairobi and London, I never paid for a place to stay thanks to a website called Couchsurfing. It’s not only 100% free, but also a great way to get an accurate feel for a place and live as the locals do. If you are Couchsurfing there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Fill out your profile completely and honestly. A big part of your success in finding a like-minded host is how compatible your likes and dislikes are.
  • Start looking a few weeks to a month in advance.
  • Be aware that certain destinations (like Amsterdam) are incredibly hard to find couches to due to their popularity, especially around peak seasons like New Years Eve. Be prepared to put a significant amount of work into finding a place to stay for free. That being said, I have never had trouble finding a place to stay, nor have I had to put a significant amount of effort into doing so. I normally post a travel notice, and I mention that I’m a photographer and that I would prefer to stay with another photographer or creative of some sort. This doesn’t always pan out, but it’s worth it to throw it out there. I generally get about 20-40 responses per post.
  • Having just finished a 16-day stint of surfing in London, myself, I can tell you that it does start to get exhausting after awhile. Do yourself a favor if you’re planning to surf for an extended period and book a hotel for a night or two. I recommend Hotel Tonight (an iPhone app) and Hotwire. I have gotten 4 or 5 star hotels every time for under $100 a is so worth the peace of mind and opportunity to recharge your batteries.
  • Always leave reviews about your host and ask for a review in return, this will increase your chances on finding a place to surf in the future as it adds to your legitimacy.
  • Give back in some way. Even if you can’t accommodate any surfers in your own home, at least offer to meet up with travelers and show them around for an hour or two while they’re in your city. While staying at someone else’s place, I always cook them dinner as a way to say thank you.
  • Be aware of the exchange rates. Depending on where you are, this can be a good or bad thing. Being that £1=$1.60, not only do I want to find whoever is responsible and teach them a lesson, but I’m sure as hell not going to spend £13.50 on a cocktail.
  • Don’t exchange your money at the airport, they are there to make a profit and are going to charge you the highest rate they can, on top of the fee for doing so. Instead, pull money out of an ATM and a lot yourself a certain amount of spending money per day. Using cash makes you much more aware of how much money you have and how quickly you’re spending it. If you don’t trust yourself to stick to your allotted budget then leave your debit card and extra cash whenever you head out. If you want really want those extra drinks you’ll just have to be creative once you run out of money for the night. ;)
  • Eating out isn’t cool if you spend the first week eating at expensive restaurants and the last month eating ramen. I’m not saying you have to cook, but hitting up the grocery store (even for premade food) saves you a ton of money in the long run.
  • Pregame, pregame, pregame. One of the fastest ways to blow your money in a foreign country is by going out. The best way to avoid the remorse you'll feel after realizing you spent way more money than you intended to on a night out (which is easy to do in a city like London), is by having a few drinks with your friends before going out. A perk of being in a city like London, is that all of the Off License (liquor) stores sell beer by the can/bottle AND it's perfectly legal to sip on a beer while walking to whichever watering hole you've designated for your nights festivities.
  • Pack for the climates you will be in. If you’re going to be traveling to destinations with a few different climates on the same trip, this can be tricky. Just keep in mind how much time you will be spending in each place and try to pack accordingly. Purchasing clothes abroad is usually pretty expensive, but in the case that it’s unavoidable, go for the second hand markets.

Dubai Dubai

Safety should be your #1 priority

  • If you don't have insurance on your gear already, get it before you leave the country. Even if you're the most careful person in the world unintended accidents and theft do occur. Knowing you have your ass covered in the case that things go awry really helps to put your mind at ease while traveling.
  • Part if being safe is knowing what NOT to do. If you’re traveling to non- Westernized countries I suggest reading the Travel Advisories and International Travel Information on the US Department of State website. That being said, sometimes the advisories paint somewhat of a “doomsday” picture, take what they say as a precaution, but don’t let them scare you off...common sense and a healthy amount of caution are enough to guarantee your safety 99% of the time. .
  • Go with your gut. Sometimes the thrill of traveling can make us less confident in our instincts or conscious of suspicious situations. It’s very important to remove yourself from any situation where you are getting a bad feeling, even if you can’t quite figure out why. This is even more important for women traveling alone.
  • Make sure someone knows where you are and whom you plan on being with. Leave your general whereabouts and an emergency contact number with someone back in the states in case you go missing. Embassy contact information doesn’t hurt either.

Dubai Dubai

Take advantage of technology

  • Unlock your iPhone if you have one - if you don’t, please note that it is 2013 and you’re running out of reasons not to have one. Before I left the US in November, AT&T told me that it would be over $300 to unlock my iPhone, which didn't really work into my budget at the time. I was stuck with a borrowed Samsung Galaxy (which I hated) for a few weeks until I discovered that it was only £30 to get my iPhone unlocked and then £15 for a month of unlimited data, 3000 texts and 500 minutes using a Three SIM card. Not bad considering that in the US I was paying $115 per month for my iPhone. The unlimited data also included tethering, which I use for my iPad and Macbook Pro. Once your iPhone is unlocked, you can get a new SIM card at the airport in any of your destinations
  • Blog about your adventures, just make sure you set it up before you leave the states or it’s never going to happen. If you’re looking for something quick I highly recommend Wordpress, you can get a free or inexpensive template and maintain it yourself, tech savvy or not.
  • Put your portfolio on your phone: It’s just as frustrating to not be able to show someone your work as it is to miss a moment by not having a camera. Luckily, both of these things can be remedied by having a smart phone. Throw some of your favorite work into an album on your phone so you can show it to someone if the topic comes up. You never know who may know someone that needs a photographer.

London_650px London

Stock up on travel apps like these:

  • Localphone
  • Citymapper /Hopstop o Time Out
  • Packing Pro
  • TripLingo
  • WhatsApp
  • Yelp
  • Hotel Tonight
  • Instagram
  • 1 Second Every Day o Skyscanner
  • Trevi
  • Dcovery
  • Travelog
  • Ask A Nomad (iPad)
Douglas Sonders's picture

Commercial Photographer (mainly Phase One medium format digital) and filmmaker based out of NYC. Started a site called to spread stories about well-behaved and positive pitbulls. Love cars, 80s movies, dogs, and adventure. Free time is spent traveling, sleeping, adventuring, or working on my baby, a 1969 Mustang Mach 1.

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Awesome read!

This info will absolutely come in handy!

Very nice read! Thanks for all of the useful tips!

Traveling doesn't have to cost you anything.... except for the actual traveling part. But thats ok, someone else paid for my travel expenses. 0_o

Still nice read. Thanks for the other info.

It also helps to be a 20 something hot female too. That part is always left out of these stories

How do you figure?

haha. I've heard many of Nicole's stories and her appearance would have had little impact on what she accomplished because many people agreed to help or work with her sight unseen. she used that other thing: her brraaaaiiinnn

Apple should pay you next trip, I think :)

I wish!

Just a Note, she mentions that in london you can drink in the street, please be careful as there are places where consuming alcohol in public is illegal.

Great tips! I'm about to go on an RTW trip pretty soon and I'm absorbing as much information as a can :)

Thanks for taking the time to write this post Nicole. As an avid traveler photographer I can say you have provided some great take away tips here and a few ill now be using myself!

Why thank you! 

"the difference between a round trip ticket and a one way can be as much as $1000, so even if you have no intention of using it, always book round trip."

I'm not following the logic here. Spend as much as $1k even if you are staying for an undetermined period or have no plans of going back?

I meant that you can SAVE up to $1000 by booking a round trip ticket, even if you have no intention of returning. In my experience, one-way tickets are significantly more expensive than round trip. Airlines suck. It makes no sense, I know.

Just reading this now but you've GOT to be commended for how thorough you were and how relevant the information you provided is. Regardless of how near or far one travels, anybody can learn from what you've provided. xoxo You ROCK!

Thanks so much! I'm glad you found it helpful! :)

Great article. Just one question; if you have a bag with a camera and 4 lenses, and another bag with a laptop etc., and you can only take one bag on the plane with you, does that mean you check one of these bags?