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A Beginner’s Guide to Monetizing a Hobby

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

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Making extra money from a side hustle can be extremely gratifying, especially if it’s something you love doing.

And it seems like it’s never been easier to pick up side gigs or monetize your hobbies. There are 57.3 million freelancers in the U.S., according to a 2017 survey commissioned by the Freelancers Union and Upwork, up from 53 million a couple of years ago. In 2017, they collectively earned $1.4 trillion.

Make no mistake: Hobby-based businesses can become big undertakings. Juggernauts such as Facebook, Chanel and Microsoft all have roots in personal hobbies.

The Panel Study of Entrepreneurial Dynamics II, a multiyear survey of nascent entrepreneurs, found that nearly 26% of budding U.S. entrepreneurs started their businesses from a hobby.

But turning your hobby into a business can get complicated, to the extent that it could kill your passion for it. It is, in the end, a commitment that requires hard work. With proper planning, you may be able to strike the right balance of success and satisfaction from monetizing your hobby.

Learn the essentials

We asked career experts and hobbyists-turned-business owners to share their advice and the lessons they learned about starting hobby-based businesses, to help you start off your endeavor right.

Do research, assess your goals

Benjamin Warnick, a professor of entrepreneurship and strategic management at Washington State University, told MagnifyMoney that once you add money into the equation, a hobby isn’t just about personal enjoyment anymore; it morphs into a business that needs to create value for customers.

“People aren’t going to pay you just to do something you enjoy,” Warnick said. “If you can find a way to identify what people value — [Ask yourself] ‘How can I make life better for them in some way and how can I tie my hobby to that?’ — then you are on to something.”

Anna Juhl, a former nurse manager, quit her job at age 52 to pursue her passion for cheese and travel, but she did so carefully. Juhl now runs a business called Cheese Journeys, offering cheese enthusiasts tours in European and American destinations. She didn’t act on impulse; she had a plan.

Anna Juhl in England on a scouting trip in preparation for her first cheese tour. (Courtesy of Anna Juhl)

Juhl, who ran an artisan cheese shop and restaurant in Salt Lake City back in 2000 after working her full-time job as a nurse manager, did her homework before piloting a cheese-themed tour to Europe in 2013. She knew that food travels were on the rise. And she was confident that and her expertise in artisan cheese and love for food and travel would give her an edge in the market.

When her husband’s job led them to New York in 2007, it was a good opportunity for her to leave behind her previous career, and Juhl started brainstorming a cheese-travel business. During the first six months, she found herself spending hours reading up on food, travel and everything she needed to know about running the business. With help from industry experts in Europe, who coached her through the basic tour process, she launched a pilot England tour in 2013, 15 months after quitting her job.

Juhl said she was lucky that she was able to pilot the business with her own savings instead of taking out loans. She had to cover a considerable amount of money upfront, and she lost money in the first couple of tours. The fact that her husband has a good-paying finance job also helps, although Juhl admits that the switch to full-time entrepreneur was not without stress: She didn’t take a paycheck for a few years and any money she made was invested back into the business.

Then again, Juhl’s initial goal was not to make profit, she said; rather, her new business was a transition into retirement. She was prepared not to make a profit the first few years as she worked toward building a business that would allow her and her husband to travel while having a steady stream of income at retirement.

Looking back, Juhl said self-assessment really helped her focus in this midlife career shift.

“Know what you want from it, how much do you want to work and set your own goal so you build a business that meets your goals and not the expectation of somebody else’s.”

Indeed, entrepreneurship demands a big-time commitment. The word “passion” has its roots in Latin, meaning suffering, Warnick pointed out, so hobbyists need to ponder how much they are willing to sacrifice before launching their leisure-based business.

Start small, test it out

Nancy Collamer, career coach and author of Second-Act Careers, told MagnifyMoney that it’s wise for hobbyists to start testing out businesses as a side gig in their free time.

“Let’s say you are great at baking,” said Collamer. “What you may want to do is just on a very small scale, offer your brownies for sale during the holidays to some friends.”

A side hustle allows you to gauge the market interest and to test out pricing, she said. Once you have a taste of it, put a little more time into the work than you would on a hobby basis. If it doesn’t feel right, stop right there before you waste too much money or time on it.

“Keeping one foot in stable employment can really help ease the transition,” Warnick said. “So if you have alternative sources of income, especially in the early stage of the business, you can explore and then gradually scale up the business, instead of putting tons of money into it and then realizing it’s not going to work.”

Expect challenges

You may be excellent at what you love to do, but a business is a business. When you try to commercialize your expertise, there is a lot more work that goes into the process than you would probably have expected.

“That’s everything from marketing your services to keeping your books to producing your products, to finding the cheapest materials, to keeping your office clean every day,” Collamer said. “You are doing it all.”

The business side of the hobby entrepreneurship — bookkeeping, accounting, digital marketing — can be really daunting.

“Curating, researching and building the tour, that was easy,” Juhl admitted, “Executing the tour, super fun. Doing all the other related business things can be challenging.”

Gianna Leo Falcon, a New York-based freelance photographer, told MagnifyMoney the learning curve was very steep for her, a person who’s not quite business-oriented.

Gianna Leo Falcon, a New York-based freelance photographer. (Courtesy of Gianna Leo Falcon)

Prior to becoming a professional photographer in 2015, Falcon did occasional freelance portraits and headshots. She recalls constant frustrations with clients who booked shoots but ended up not showing up. To protect herself, Falcon later learned to ask for down payments.

“I’m really an artist. I just want to show up and shoot,” she told MagnifyMoney. “Invoices and how to get paid online are really confusing. I’m navigating and learning that stuff as I go along.”

Outsource labor if needed

Experts say being your own boss not only requires possessing a variety of skills and knowledge of the business but also knowing your own strengths and when to outsource some of the labors you have no interest in or talent for.

“You don’t have to be able to do everything,” Warnick said. “So if you got the expertise in the domain of your hobby, maybe you could bring on someone who’s a little bit more of the business side who can help you commercialize the hobby.”

As Juhl’s business has grown, she hired a bookkeeper, a website developer and a publicist so she can focus on the centerpiece of the business — booking and executing the trips.

“It’s a personal relationship that I have with people who travel with me,” she said. “So I have to make sure that I’m available to do what my role is, really what I’m best at.”

Find your clients

For any business to succeed, you need to find people to buy your services. But where do you start? Here are a few ideas.

Find complementary service providers

A good place to start is networking with complimentary service providers, Collamer said.

For example, if you want to be a wedding photographer, find other people who offer wedding services, Collamer suggested.

“They are going to be thrilled to meet you,” she said. “Because if it’s someone who has a wedding venue and they meet with couples, you might become one of their preferred service providers and that becomes a steady stream of clients for you.”

Get involved in trade groups and associations

There are established associations and trade publications within almost every hobby, be it specialty foods or heavy machinery. Get involved with those communities because they might have information and resources you need to grow your business. Better yet, they may be able to refer you to potential clients.

“Don’t think you need to reinvent the wheel,” Collamer said. “There are lots of people who are already probably [having] successful businesses that are related to what you want to do that you can learn from.”

Prioritize marketing

Juhl said she had a hard time finding customers when she started her cheese-travel business until the marketing and media support came in much later.

A year into the business, she realized that relying solely on word of mouth was not enough to attract customers; marketing should be a crucial piece of a business plan. Juhl eventually joined American Society of Travel Agents and other travel organizations so she could network and gain credibility. Through the association, she worked with agents who took on the responsibility of booking the international cheese tours. She sells the tours at an average $6,000 per person, and the travel agent charges a 5 to 10% commission. Soon after she started working with an agent, a group of semi-retired food and travel enthusiasts booked her trip.

In addition, she has hired people to help with website development, marketing and media relations.

Each year, she also budgets for a renting booth at large industry conferences where her potential guests attend. Those efforts come with thousands of dollars of additional travel expenses, booth rental fees, hotel, food and registration costs, which have become necessary overhead, and she has to include them into the monthly budget. But she said they are absolutely worth it.

In Falcon’s case, she is a full-time contractor for a wedding service that operates in several locations around the country and specializes in digital marketing. Falcon works as the company’s New York liaison and photographer. The firm brings her a steady stream of clients, which frees her up from the marketing piece of the puzzle. By booking clients for her, Falcon said the company takes a substantial cut from each project payment. Falcon said she could potentially earn more if she worked for herself, but she admits that booking is hard work, and she is grateful that someone else is doing it for her.

If you are looking to seriously grow your freelance gig and want your name out there, you may want to educate yourself about social media and digital marketing. That said, don’t get hung up if you are uninterested in this sort of things or simply don’t have time for them. It may be worthwhile to hire a marketing professional who specializes in your industry.

Find a place to sell your hobbies

Whatever service you offer, it’s critical to find an avenue where you can commercialize your hobby. Booming e-commerce makes it easier than ever to do so. Third-party platforms can relieve you of the hard work of finding buyers, but the trade-off is that they take a commission of what you earn.

For artists and crafters, if the idea of creating a website and learning digital strategies freezes you, marketplaces such as Etsy, Amazon and eBay may be a good fit.

The downside is that those places take a cut from your listings and transactions. For instance, Etsy charges a $0.2 listing fee for each item and a 3.5% transaction fee on sales.

Although the marketing task is off your hands when you sell your items through a marketplace, you also face competition from thousands of other sellers. Compared with the full control you would have over design, marketing and SEO with your own website, you have less freedom on those fronts with a third-party platform. You will be subject to those companies’ policies and rules.

If you have in-demand services to offer — anything from writing and web design to bookkeeping and accounting — third-party platforms like Upwork, Freelancer, TaskRabbit will be of help. Again, you have to somehow offset the time and effort saved from finding clients. The three services charge a 3 to 30% service/project fee.

And don’t forget the oldie but goodie Craigslist, where Falcon snagged her current contractor job.

Figure out your rates

It may be a bit strange to tie money into the things that you love to do, but knowing your market value is extremely important if you hope to profit off your passion.

The hobby community you are in is a great resource for you to find out the average fees. If you don’t feel comfortable asking about rates, there are tools available online to help you figure out the value of your time.

A screenshot of website http://sparetime.arkivert.no/en

BeeWits, a project management software company, has released a freelance rates calculator. Similarly, this website by FINN.no, a Norwegian online marketplace for classified ads, helps users figure out how much their spare time is worth.

Writers and journalists may want to check out The Freelancer’s rates database, where freelancers can add what they’ve earned for certain projects for a variety of publishers.

Watch out for these common missteps

Assuming other people will enjoy your hobby as much as you do

“It’s easy to think, ‘Oh, I love yoga. Why wouldn’t everybody love yoga?” Warnick said.

Guess what? Others may not care for it. This is why you need to do your market research and figure out if there is demand for your passion.

Trying to do everything

Collamer said often when people try to do everything themselves, they end up spending too much time daunting over overwhelming tasks that they are uninterested in. But really, they should outsource labor when they are able to.

“The key of building any business is to know when you reached a level where you need to call in help to ensure that you don’t burn out and that you can manage all the aspects of what you do well,” Juhl said.>

Not thinking like an entrepreneur

Your hobby might be something that you really enjoy today, but once you decide to commercialize it, be prepared to tackle the not-so-exciting work.

You need to educate yourself about everything from the zoning regulations in your particular town, business registration, marketing, taxes and everything else that comes with running a business, Collamer said. “It’s not all going to happen automatically.”

Going all in at the beginning

Before establishing yourself as an entrepreneur, it may not be wise to you quit your job and jump into your business all at once because it may not be a good fit for you.

Running a business is a big commitment, both in terms of your time and finances. Juhl and Falcon both had other streams of income or savings to support themselves while they built their hobby-based businesses. Juhl’s cheese tours weren’t profitable for the first couple of years. Falcon said it took her a good five years to solidify herself as a photographer while working other jobs.

Don’t forget about taxes

Running your hobby business may come with lots of uncertainties, but taxes are certain.

Mark Luscombe, principal analyst at Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting, told MagnifyMoney that people who made money off hobbies used to be able to deduct related expenses within certain limits, yet under the new tax law, expenses related to a hobby won’t be deductible at all. Luscombe said this makes it logical for taxpayers to treat a hobby as a business.

Luscombe urges freelancers or contractors to keep separate records of all the income and expenses related to the business. If part of your home is dedicated for business purposes, for instance, a home office or a kitchen exclusive for producing items for sale, you need to allocate the square footage used. That is, dividing the space used for the business by the total square footage of the house, and that would be the percentage of expenses, such as insurance and utilities, that you can allocate and deduct from your taxes.

Under the new law, pass-through business owners can deduct up to 20 percent of their qualified business income from a partnership, S corporation or sole proprietorship.

Individuals earning less than $157,500 ($315,000 for married couples) are eligible for the fullest deduction. So if you’re going to make money off your hobby, Luscombe said this new benefit is another reason to try treat it as a business.

If you are running a business on your own, you’re most likely seen as a sole proprietorship owner for tax purposes. You will have to report business-related income and losses on a Schedule C (Form 1040) each year, Luscombe said.

If you made more than $600 from any particular client, you should expect to receive a Form 1099-MISC. Likewise, if you paid anyone at least $600, you will have to issue the same form. For more information on how the new tax law affects small-business owners, check out our guide on the topic.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

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Shen Lu |

Shen Lu is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Shen Lu at shenlu@magnifymoney.com

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6 Budget-Friendly Places to Put On Your 2019 Travel List – Domestic Edition

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

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If one of your resolutions for 2019 is to travel more, but you fear that finances will hold you back, have a little hope: there are plenty of destinations across the country that are still very affordable to visit. As fun as major tourist destinations like San Francisco and New York City are, let’s be honest — accommodation alone can cost a fortune.

When you’re on a tight budget, it’s easier to make travel a reality when you choose lesser-known locations where the cost of activities and lodging are still reasonable. If you’re willing to make a budget in advance to ensure you’re regularly setting aside money for travel, you’ll be able to hit the road even sooner.

Another way to make vacations more affordable is to get a travel credit card, said Deidre Mathis, a budget travel expert and writer, and owner of Wanderstay Hostel in Houston. If you get a travel rewards card and use it for your everyday purchases, such as gas, your car payment or groceries, and pay it off right away, you’ll quickly earn points without accruing any debt. Depending on the card you choose, you could earn free hotel stays, free car rentals or free flights.

Now you just need to figure out where to go. We spoke to several budget travel experts to find out the best places in the U.S. you can cheaply travel to in 2019. Here are their six top destinations that are still somewhat off-the-beaten-path and won’t break the bank. (All hotel prices are from Kayak.com and accurate at the time of publication.)

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Albuquerque, New Mexico  

Cost of accommodations: Throughout the year, you can get a three-star hotel room for about $85 to $100. If you’re willing to stay at a one- or two-star motel, you can nab a room for around $40 to $50 per night.

Why go: Albuquerque is one of the top spots Mathis said she’s eyeing for 2019, in large part because it’s such a friendly spot for budget travelers. It’s also known for its distinct Southwestern feel and sunny weather. If you love the outdoors, Albuquerque is brimming with scenic hiking and bike trails that range in cost from free to only about $20 to use, making it an affordable way to explore the beautiful terrain.

There are also several museums in Albuquerque, and plenty of shopping if you’re on the hunt for Southwestern-style art, jewelry or souvenirs. Just west of the city, you’ll find the Petroglyph National Monument, where you can view ancient lava flows, petrified wood and rock drawings by Native Americans and Spanish settlers, dating back as far as 700 years ago. It’s free to enter, and parking is only $1 on weekdays and $2 on weekends.

It’s also typically affordable to fly into and stay in Albuquerque — according to Mathis, “they have tons of small hotels that will be a better price than the big chain hotels, and they give you a more local feel,” Southwest offers nonstop flights from many cities to Albuquerque, she added; for example, she recently saw nonstop flights in February from Houston to Albuquerque for $250, which she says is a great deal.

“To me, a budget trip is anywhere I can go for less than $500 with flight and hotel included for the weekend,” Mathis said, “and with Albuquerque, you can definitely do that.”

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Bloomington, Indiana

Cost of accommodations: A three-star hotel room is available for as low as about $80 per night, while some two-star motels offer rooms as cheap as about $50 per night.

Why go: “I have a passion for college towns — I find they often are more progressive and innovative than their larger neighbors — and Bloomington is one that makes me swoon,” said Kristin Luna, a budget-minded travel journalist and founder of the travel blog CamelsandChocolate.com. Not to be confused with Bloomington, Ill., this town is about an hour’s drive from Indianapolis, which is typically the cheapest airport to fly into, according to Luna.

“It’s also located in proximity to so many great outdoor attractions such as Monroe Lake, Amy Weingartner Branigin Peninsula Preserve and Hoosier National Forest,” Luna explained.  “Another free and unique offering is the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center, which was started in Bloomington in 1979 by an exile named Thubten Jigme Norbu, to protect the heritage of Buddhism,” she added.

Luna also noted that since it’s a college town, Bloomington has plenty of seasonal activities, such as Indiana University football in the fall or the city’s long-standing Little 500 bike race in the spring. She added that Bloomington has an ever-expanding greenway called “the B-line” that cuts through town and is extremely bike-friendly, though the town is also easy to navigate with the newly-popular electric scooters.

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Fargo, North Dakota

Cost of accommodations: It’s possible to grab a two-star motel room in Fargo for less than $50 per night. The average nightly rate for a three-star hotel here is around $90.

Why go: Fargo may be famous for the Coen Brothers’ cult classic film, but it’s also a great up-and-coming destination for budget travelers seeking something off the beaten path. Mathis said North Dakota is on Mathis’ radar for next year, and it’s especially an ideal destination for travelers who love nature. North Dakota has ample opportunities for hiking, biking, boating, camping, fishing, horseback riding and just about any other outdoor activity you can think of.

Fargo and many other towns in North Dakota are also known for charming small-town bars, where you can get a true feel for the city, noted Mathis. There are also a few small breweries in Fargo, in addition to great shopping.

The town also has cultural institutions, including art museums, an air museum and a historic theater. A few minutes away, just across the river and the Minnesota border, you can visit the Hjemkomst Center for only $10, where you can see a replica of a viking ship and a “Stave Church,” a replica of a Norwegian church from the 1100s. And of course, you can see the infamous wood chipper from “Fargo” the movie; it’s free to see the original movie prop, located in the city’s visitor center.

Fargo is growing, but it’s still not a well-known tourist destination, Mathis noted, so it’s affordable, uncrowded, and still feels very authentic.

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Knoxville, Tennessee

Cost of accommodations: Budget travelers can find two-star motels in Knoxville for as low as around $50 per night, and three-star hotel rooms for around $80 per night.

Why go: “I grew up just south of Nashville, but if we’re being honest, I would live in Knoxville if I had the choice,” Luna said. “Like many mid-sized cities across the United States, it has a booming brew scene, a dedication to the arts and a sprawling town square that has been completely revitalized from when I was a student there 15 years ago and almost all the storefronts were boarded up.”

As Luna noted, The Old City, Fourth & Gill and Market Square neighborhoods have all undergone major makeovers, which has brought life and investment into these areas. But despite its growth, Knoxville is still a very affordable place to visit.

“Free attractions such as Ijams Nature Center and its quarries, and many hiking and mountain-biking trails connecting to the nearby Smokies, make Knoxville a popular destination among budget travelers who like adventure,” Luna explained. She added that whiskey lovers will enjoy that two Tennessee Whiskey Trail stops are located in downtown Knoxville (Knox Whiskey Works and Post Modern Spirits), and there are several others only a half-hour drive away.

Knoxville also has plenty of museums, memorials and parks that cost nothing to visit. There are also many walking and driving tours that are also totally free — you can take a walking tour to learn about country music, a driving tour to learn about the civil war and much more.

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Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Cost of accommodations: You can get a motel room for as little as $30 to $45 per night in Oklahoma City. If you’re looking for a step up, three-star hotels average just under $100 per night, but can be as little as about $45.

Why go: As a centrally-located city, flights from hubs like Dallas or Denver to Oklahoma City are cheap, according to Luna. Plus, she added, as a mid-sized metropolis, Luna has found there’s virtually no traffic, and boutique hotels and parking that won’t break the bank.

“The food and drink scene is positively booming — Bon Appetit even picked America’s best new restaurant of the year from OKC,” Luna said. “In fact, one of the nation’s first brewery hotels is set to debut in 2020.” She added that a new streetcar launched in the city in December, which makes it really convenient for tourists to get around town. The city has also spearheaded other improvement projects, noted Luna, such as “the Boathouse District, an amazing attraction for visitors that includes an urban whitewater rafting course, canoeing and kayaking on the river, ziplining and a whole lot more.” On top of that, she has noticed that the locals there are some of the friendliest, most hospitable folks she’s ever met.

Another popular area in Oklahoma City is Bricktown, a fun entertainment district where old warehouses have been turned into restaurants, shops, piano lounges and wine bars. There’s even a water taxi that can take you on a tour along the Bricktown Canal.

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Oxford, Mississippi

Cost of accommodations: You can land a three-star hotel for around $90 per night, or one- and two-star hotel and motel options for only $45 to $75.

Why go: “While many people have a negative connotation about Mississippi — and yes, it’s a little complicated politically — I think it’s one of the most underrated and underappreciated states,” said Matt Kepnes, who writes the popular budget travel blog Nomadic Matt and authored the book “How to Travel the World on $50 a Day.”.

According to Kepnes, the state is rife with rich history, the people are friendly and the Southern food is fantastic. Oxford is home to the campus of the University of Mississippi (known as “Ole Miss”), described by Kepnes as a beautiful (and free) place to explore. Right across from campus is Rowan Oak, former home of famed writer William Faulkner, which costs only $5 to visit.

If you want to take a road trip across the state, there’s plenty to see, according to Kepnes — and it’s all easy on a budget. A trip through the Mississippi Delta delivers a journey through incredible blues music, and he noted that it’s also worth a stop in the beautiful city of Natchez. Kepnes also loves the coastal town of Biloxi, which has great seafood, a beautiful beach and many casinos with very affordable hotel rooms. The Natchez Trace Parkway, a historic national park trail that goes up through Mississippi, is also worth a visit. It’s 444 miles long — it also passes through Alabama and into Tennessee, ending close to Nashville — and takes you along gorgeous drives.

“I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed Mississippi,” Kepnes said. “I know some other travel writers who didn’t want to go, but once they did, they were surprised by how much they liked it.”

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Emily Starbuck Gerson
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Emily Starbuck Gerson is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Emily here

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6 Budget-Friendly Places to Put On Your 2019 Travel List – International Edition

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

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Do you have dreams of collecting passport stamps but fear international travel is beyond your budget? You might be surprised what you can afford with some smart strategies.

If you’re willing to spend time budgeting and saving, stay in hostels and visit destinations that are off the beaten path — and therefore less expensive — it’s easy to travel internationally on a shoestring.

Another way to lesson the cost of travel is to regularly use travel credit cards. Deidre Mathis, a budget travel expert and writer, and owner of Wanderstay Hostel in Houston, said she uses her Delta credit card for everyday essentials, then pays it off right away. “I was able accumulate enough points to book a flight to go to Spain next year for free. This was just from using my credit card to pay for things I would have bought anyway,” Mathis said.

“Of course, if there’s an annual fee, you have to look into it and see if it makes sense,” Mathis explained. “For this card, it does make sense, because a normal flight to Spain from Houston can range from $900 to $1400, so an annual fee of $200 is totally worth it because I got the free flight.” If a long-haul flight is your main budgetary concern, racking up points on a travel credit card could be your ticket to ride. Plus, many travel credit cards offer huge sign-up bonuses that start you off with a large balance of reward points.

Now, where to go with all those points? We interviewed several budget travel experts to find out which countries are best for budget travelers. If you’re resolved to travel more in 2019, here are six of the most interesting and affordable spots around the globe. (All hostel prices come from Hostelworld.com, are presented in U.S. dollars and are accurate at time of publication.)

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Argentina

Cost of accommodations: The average price for a night at a hostel in Buenos Aires is an affordable $17.47. The average price of hostels in most other cities are only $10 to $20 per night, though there are some outliers, like Cordoba at $9.67 or El Calafate at $51.09.

Why go: “There’s never been a better time to visit Argentina,” said Johnny Ward, an entrepreneur who runs the hugely successful travel blog OneStep4Ward. Originally from Ireland, Ward currently lives in Thailand, and through savvy budget traveling, has visited every country on earth (seriously, he’s been to all 197). “Unfortunately, their economy is struggling a touch, but that means it’s a very cheap time to visit and explore,” Ward said.

He adds that long-distance buses in the country are like business class flights, with glasses of Malbec starting around $1 a pop. With a great bus system, it’s easy to explore the country, which has vibrant cities like Buenos Aires, in addition to areas of natural wonder, such as Patagonia.

To experience the best of Argentina on a budget, Ward suggests flying in and out of Buenos Aires. “Then, bus up to Iguazu Falls and back to Buenos Aires,” he said, “before getting those hiking boots dusted off and exploring majestic Patagonia, with Bariloche and El Calafate particular highlights.”

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Bulgaria

Cost of accommodations: Of the most popular cities, hostels are cheapest in Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital, with an average price per night of $6.99. Bansko is the most expensive, at an average of $18.82 per night.

Why go: “Bulgaria is not often picked on top travel lists, but it’s a great country for budget travelers because it’s inexpensive and it’s not on the euro,” said Matt Kepnes, blogger behind the popular budget travel blog Nomadic Matt and author of the book “How to Travel the World on $50 a Day.”

According to Kepnes, Bulgaria has plenty of rich history, the beautiful Black Sea, delicious Mediterranean-style cuisine, friendly people and plenty of mountains ideal for hiking. “Plus, it’s sort of off the beaten path, so you won’t find the huge crowds of Prague when you’re going to Sofia,” he added. “And it’s affordable; as a backpacker, you can get by on around $35 a day. If you’re traveling on a slightly larger budget, you can get by pretty comfortably for $50-$60 day doing anything you wanted, eating anything you wanted and staying in an Airbnb or cheap hotel.”

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Iceland

Cost of accommodations: Hostels in Reykjavik are around $84 per night on average, but in most other cities, the average prices are closer to $30 to $50 per night.

Why go: While travel to Iceland has surged in popularity in recent years, it can still be an affordable place to visit if you know how to do it right, Mathis said. Known for its otherworldly landscapes and jaw-dropping geysers, waterfalls and lagoons, it’s the perfect place for outdoors-lovers (and adventurous eaters — fermented shark, anyone?).

Flights are often the greatest expense of an international trip, but not in this case: Mathis recommended looking at WOW Air, a budget airline that offers flights to Iceland from major U.S. cities for as little as $100 to $200 round-trip, on which Mathis was able to score a $200 flight. “Though Iceland isn’t super cheap once you get there, getting there is incredibly cheap, so it gives you more flexibility to use that money for something else,” she explained.

In addition to hostels, Mathis noted that the country has many Airbnbs that help you save money, as compared to a hotel. The other trick to budget travel in Iceland is to avoid public transportation, which is very expensive — “just rent a car and drive that for the time there, and you’ll save a lot of money on transportation,” she recommended.

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Macedonia

Cost of accommodations: In six of the most popular cities in Macedonia, hostels range from an average of only $7 to $17 per night.

Why go: “France, Italy and Germany are all a little played out — head east, save a fortune and explore Macedonia,” Ward recommended, noting that you can easily get meals for $7 in the country.

He said the country’s capital, Skopje, is idyllic, with Old European architecture and boutique hotels for a fraction of the price of Western Europe. Skopje is home to the Old Bazaar, a great place to shop and find cheap eats. The city is also home to the Memorial House of Mother Theresa, who was born there — the house is on the site of the former church where she was baptized.

“Then head to Lake Ohrid for a truly relaxing time,” Ward added. “The water is clearer than you imagine, and there won’t be hordes of tourists, I can promise you that!”

The Lake Ohrid region has been named a world heritage site by UNESCO, and the charming town of Ohrid is the location of one of Europe’s oldest human settlements. The area has the oldest Slav monastery, built starting in the 7th century, and hundreds of Byzantine-style icons from the 11th to 14th centuries.

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The Philippines

Cost of accommodations: You can score a hostel bed in Manila for an average price of $9.08. Hostels in other cities range from a mere $6 to $14 per night.

Why go: “South East Asia draws in so many tourists, but most don’t make it beyond Thailand or Vietnam,” said Ward. “For an additional hour or so you can explore the Philippines — all 7,000 islands of it!” Domestic flights within the Philippines can be as cheap as $40, he added, “so you can island-hop until your heart’s content.”

Ward thinks Manila, the capital, isn’t much to write home about, but from there, you can take a short, cheap flight to the “World’s Most Beautiful Island” of Palawan. From there, he recommended, “head north to El Nido and Coron for the kind of blue seas and limestone cliffs you’ve used as a screensaver for years.” According to Ward, you can nab some delicious street food and a cold beer for about $2, and if you get a cheap hotel on the beach, you can get away with only having to spend $30 to $50 per day.

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South Korea

Cost of accommodations: In Seoul, the average price of a night at a hostel is only $15.68. In other popular cities, the average prices range from a mere $14 to $21 per night.

Why go: According to Kepnes, so many travelers get excited about Japan, but they often overlook South Korea: “South Korea is an underrated place,” he  explained. “Not a lot of people go there, but it’s fascinating.”

He pointed to the incredible Korean food, rich history, excellent museums, beautiful palaces, K-pop music and the booming tech scene. Plus, if you’re a history and politics buff, you can take a guided half-day tour of the The Demilitarized Zone — the infamous border between South and North Korea — for as little as $40.

Kepnes is especially a fan of Seoul, which he described as an affordable city that many people miss out on.

“It’s like a cheap Tokyo,” he explained. “You could go out there and go eat Korean BBQ and drink to your heart’s content, and then pay only $10.”

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Emily Starbuck Gerson
Emily Starbuck Gerson |

Emily Starbuck Gerson is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Emily here

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