Chasing waves around the world has been the dream of the average surfer ever since Bruce Brown gave us all a terminal case of wanderlust with his opus Endless Summer. And the fact that we spend hours each day looking at magazine and online articles, video edits, and social media feeds from exotic locations with epic waves only serves to further our desire to travel.
But travelling requires two important assets—time and money—and many of those who have a lot of time on their hands subsequently don’t tend to have a lot of money. Fortunately, dirtbagging is just as much a surfing tradition as chasing swells is, so as it turns out, you don’t have to have a fat wallet to score waves. Here are a few tips to help you travel on a budget.
Use the Credit Card System Rather Than Letting It Use You
There are dozens of credit cards out there that reward you with mileage points, or points that can be traded in for mileage points. Many of these credit cards even give you large bonuses of miles (between 30,000 and 80,000) just for signing up and using your card.
If you can control your spending so that you don’t actually abuse your credit cards (which is what the credit card companies are hoping you will do), you can work the system to your advantage. Use your credit cards like debit cards (that is, only spend what you have), and pay them off each week so you never go into debt. Only use each new credit card until you receive your bonus allotment of points, then sign up for a new one and cancel the previous card (after transferring your miles into your airline account).
Debt is the number one obstacle between you and the ability to travel
Choose the best four or five cards for your preferred airline mileage program, and rotate between them every two years (most cards allow you to qualify for the signing bonus once ever 24 months). Make sure you always cancel the cards before your one-year anniversary so that you avoid paying the annual fee again. And only sign up for cards when you know you qualify to earn miles. Most of all, don’t abuse your credit cards, and don’t spend money that you don’t have! Debt is the number one obstacle between you and the ability to travel.
Master the Mileage System
Decide which airline mileage system is best for you, and master it. Many people get confused by the intricacies of mileage systems, but if you study them and learn how they work, they are the number one way to travel on the cheap. Study your airline’s route map, and compare it to swell charts and spots that you want to surf. Then learn how to use the rewards search tool, and how to link itineraries together. And most of all, don’t get too caught up on one plan. Flexibility=cheap travel.
Whether you are booking flights, chasing last-minute forecasts, or accepting invitations to go on unexpected adventures, flexibility the key to traveling for cheap. If you have to be somewhere at a specific time, then you are likely going to pay a lot to do so.
If you can be anywhere at any time, then you are free to accept last-minute rides from new friends or grab tickets that are on sale—even if the destination isn’t somewhere you ever intended to visit. Many airlines, hotels, and even cruise companies offer last-minute deals to try to fill empty seats. Who knows—maybe those deals are for destinations that have epic waves! If you aren’t flexible enough to take a chance, then you will never know.
Get a Lounge Membership
Airport lounge memberships used to be reserved for wealthy, high-brow, first-class travellers, but these days many credit cards offer membership as part of their perks. If you are going to be traveling full time, you are going to spend a lot of time in airports, which means spending a lot of money on overpriced food. With a free lounge membership, you can get free meals in just about every airport in the world. Many of the credit cards that offer mileage bonuses also offer lounge perks, so do your research.
Minimise and Travel Simple
You don’t need a lot of stuff to have an amazing adventure. In fact, sometimes the simpler you travel, the more open you are to new experiences. Leave all but the essentials at home. As an added perk, you will have less bags to drag around with you while you travel, which means less transport fees.
You don’t need a lot of stuff to have an amazing adventure
This applies to surfboards, too. If you are chasing slabs, then by all means take half a dozen boards (since you will probably break most of them anyway). But if you are surfing user-friendly waves, then you probably only need two boards or so—something for when it’s tiny, and something for when the waves are good. Take a shortboard and either a fish or a longboard, and avoid paying overweight fees on stingy airlines.
Be Creative With Accommodations
While boat trips and five-star surf camps have their place, not every surf trip has to be fully catered. There are dozens of ways to stay for cheap, including Couchsurfing.com, Airbnb, hostels, local hotels, and even camping. As an added bonus, you are more likely to score empty waves and have bonafide adventures when you are mixing it up with the locals than if you are camped out in a £400/night suite with 30 other surf campers.
Find a Way to Work on the Road
No matter how cheap you are able to travel, you will eventually run out of money if you don’t find a way to earn a bit of cash. Typical surf traveler jobs include working at surf camps and surf schools, bartending, waiting tables, fixing dings, lifeguarding, and offering other essential services to tourists and tour operators. But with the Internet changing the work landscape, it is also possible to be a digital nomad and do professional work while traveling.
Whether you are working as a freelancer or simply carrying out your work duties remotely, all you need these days to fund your travel indefinitely is a laptop and a paying gig.
Cover shot of D-Bah by Juan Medina.