One woman’s on-the-go guide to traveling affordably and more purposefully

Alexa McDonald paragliding with a guide

We’ve had the pleasure of collaborating with Alexa McDonald, the brains behind, and found her to be a treasure trove of knowledge when it comes to smart solo travel. Her journey began with a single backpack and a desire to explore the world on her own terms, a story she vividly shares on her Instagram @alexamcdonald. Here Alexa divulges her secrets to budget-friendly globetrotting, her top travel recommendations, and how she turned her wanderlust into a sustainable lifestyle.

When did you get bit by the travel bug and what’s your journey been like?

I always say it was the first time I was in the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. I studied abroad there for a summer semester which was my first solo international trip. Sitting inside that grand church, I was shocked that places like that existed, and it brought tears to my eyes. 

Ironically, this past summer, I revisited the Sagrada Familia as part of a collaboration and it was quite the full circle moment. After completing my job for the brand I was working with, I found myself sitting on the church’s benches, teary-eyed once again. Half of those tears were a result of reflection on the incredible journey I’ve experienced over the years, traveling and living out of my backpack. March 2024 marks my fifth anniversary since I left my corporate job in NYC to live a different, more free version of life. Living out of a backpack, navigating jobs, forming relationships, and everything that comes along with this version of freedom hasn’t always been easy, but has it been worth it? 1000%. I’ve been to corners of the world I never imagined, from Patagonia and the Amazon to small African villages, 5 of the Seven Wonders of the World and even the Pyramids. As I venture into 2024, I’m set to visit my 60th country!

How do you make a living and travel at the same time?

I generate income through various avenues such as social media, including brand partnerships, affiliate marketing, and coaching. Besides that, I am a personal assistant for high-net-worth individuals. Over the years, I’ve also taken on seasonal work, house-sitting (both paid and unpaid), babysitting, dog walking, teaching tennis, and even working on farms in Hawaii – I say yes to (almost) every opportunity that comes my way! Additionally, I’ve become a self-proclaimed expert at traveling for free and sharing insights on my Instagram. I’ve figured out ways to secure free housing, flights, meals, and activities. I have not figured out how to secure a boyfriend though, lol!

What are your top tips for traveling affordably or even for free?

Start by working backward. If Italy is on the top of your list, identify airlines servicing the route and consider opening a credit card to snag a free round-trip flight – a strategy known as credit card hacking. If this concept is new to you, feel free to reach out and I can guide you. 

For complimentary accommodation, my top recommendations are Trusted HouseSitters and Worldpackers. I’ve personally house-sat and volunteered all over the world, all for free! In fact, I am currently doing one in Nicaragua as we speak! You have to see where I get to stay for free for 2 months, it’s stunning! While there’s a small sign-up fee for these, it quickly pays off with extended stays. Keep a close eye on their websites for month-long house-sitting opportunities in destinations like Australia, Spain, or LA – there are endless options. 

Opting for public transportation is another one of my go-to; it’s not only cost-effective but offers the best chance to immerse yourself in local life.

Lastly, if long-term or full-time travel is your goal, consider tracking your daily expenses. I use the TravelSpend app which records everything and is easy to use. At the end of each month, I see how much I spent. On average, my monthly costs range from $300 to $2,000. 

What does a typical day look like for you as a digital nomad?

There’s no such thing as a typical day, but that’s something I’ve grown to love. There have been periods over the last few years where I am constantly living in a new place, sometimes every few days. During the day I explore and then at night I create content, respond to my community and emails, and work on projects. 

I also have rest months where I stay put for at least two weeks, focusing on projects, batching content, and giving my body a break. 

As a digital nomad, I have a lot of flexibility with my schedule which I am very thankful for. For context, in 2023, I explored 24 countries, with a month-long rest break in between my journeys from Mexico to Chile and my European & Middle East trip. My 2024 schedule will take a different turn as I concentrate more on business, rest, community-building, and hosting group trips. While I’ll still tick off some bucket list destinations, the goal is to establish a home base for a few months at a time. 

What are your must-haves for traveling?

For physical items, I swear by:

  • packing cubes 
  • trusty Teva sandals (bought them a solid four times now, and still no regrets)
  • my go-to Baggu fanny pack 

In the intangible realm, I’d say: 

  • a willingness to keep an open mind
  • adaptability 
  • a curious mindset 
  • a handy list of resources just in case something happens
  • a bit of courage to take some risks 
  • Don’t forget to have fun 🙂

Why should you travel solo?

Traveling solo is like hitting the self-discovery jackpot. You learn more about your strengths, preferences, and how you handle different situations. You also have the freedom to create your own itinerary, make decisions on the go, and explore at your own pace without compromising. 

In all of my experiences, it has also proven to be a great way to meet more locals, which I’m a huge advocate for. As a solo traveler, you’re more approachable. Traveling solo also helps you gain confidence. I have found that a lot of people tend to stay in a very small circle, but if you explore outside of that circle, there are so many people out there waiting to invite you into their home and provide you with so much support and love.

If you are still nervous about traveling solo, I’d recommend traveling solo but within a group trip. For example, I am hosting a group trip in September to Morocco and a ton of other solo travelers are joining.

And what’s the best part of traveling for extended periods of time?

You’re able to spend more time in each destination and go beyond the tourist spots. You’ll gain a deeper understanding of the cultures, traditions, and ways of life. Some of my best trips were when I committed to staying 1-2 months in a destination. I was able to visit so many hidden gems during these longer periods of time, places that only locals know about. I also met some of my closest friends during those longer trips. 

What countries and experiences are still on your bucket list and why? 

I can talk about this forever but I’ll narrow it down to a few. I really want to do an African road trip through Namibia, South Africa and then all the way up to Kenya. Socotra is another place I want to visit; it looks incredible. Another group of countries would be India, Nepal and Sri Lanka. The cherry on the top would have to be Fiji. I’m afraid if I go there, I won’t want to leave! Experiences that I have on my bucket list are diving with great white sharks, solo skydiving, learning how to free dive, going to the airport without a plan and booking a random flight, helping underserved communities, creating a documentary, and sailboat hitchhiking throughout the Caribbean, just to name a few.  

Have you ever done any adventure/extreme sports, and if, so which ones are your favorites?

Is scuba diving an extreme sport? It’s definitely an adventure. I love being underwater so much and if you have the opportunity to experience it at least once in your life, you should. As I mentioned in the above response, I’d love to solo skydive. I have only been once before for my 18th birthday. I consider myself quite adventurous and fearless.

How would you classify traveling smarter? How can people of all ages and travel styles do this?

Traveling smarter can mean a multitude of things but I like to talk about how you can utilize travel rewards and certain travel resources to either extend your travels, save money and/or optimize sustainability and efficiency. Yes, people of all ages and travel styles can travel smarter by planning and researching ahead of time. Why not make the most of your time and do it in a financially savvy way?

What do you appreciate most about your life on the road?

One of the most cherished aspects of my life on the road is my appreciation for the countless individuals who have played a role in my journey. Whether it’s the generous souls who have offered guidance, provided a comforting hug when I needed it the most, made me a home-cooked meal, or simply showed me kindness. I am continuously moved by the good in people no matter where I am in the world. I sometimes remember these people more than the country itself. So to the guy in Puerto Rico who owned that glamping spot, the shop owner in Luxor who offered us a ride, that couple in France who gave me a million recommendations, to the grandma next door who gave me food every day and checked in on me, and so many more people, thank you! It’s so incredible to witness how, despite the diversity of cultures I engage with, there remains a universal connection that ties us all together— kindness.

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