Seeing the world doesn’t have to be expensive. In fact, if you stick to our time-tested budget travel tips, you can take longer trips while minimizing damage to your savings account.
From using VPNs to find the cheapest flights to seeking out the lowest ATM fees, there’s a lot you can do to bring your travel costs down to a minimum. Best of all, you can do all this without compromising on the quality of your trip.
It’s tempting to throw caution to the wind now and again, but my advice is to look at a budget vacation as an investment in your future. The smarter you spend, the more places you’ll get to visit down the line. Isn’t that what we’re all after here?
So, if you’re looking for advice on how to travel cheaply, you’ve come to the right place. We’re all about squeezing value out of the tightest of budgets, and now it’s time for you to learn exactly how to do so.
Failing to prepare is preparing to fail (or so I’ve heard). Before packing your bags and setting out, you can save a small fortune by following a few logical pieces of advice. Carefully planning and savvy trip-booking will save you heaps of money in the long run.
While this might seem like a no-brainer, it’s arguably the number one rule for planning an affordable vacation. You need to set reasonable expectations for a budget trip, which might mean going off the beaten path and trying something different.
Destinations like Paris and Bora Bora will always be in vogue, and by all means, cross them off your bucket list if you have the money. That said, visiting budget-friendly destinations like Mexico, Portugal, Eastern Europe, or Southeast Asia can be equally rewarding.
Traveling to a popular hub during peak tourist season is a big part of the appeal, but it is also the most expensive time to visit. Visiting during an unconventional season is a great way to see all the sights while saving significant money.
Not to mention, If you’re the type of person who prefers a little peace and quiet, vacationing out of season is a great way to avoid noisy flocks of tourists. Many destinations shine their brightest without the background noise, which could be true for yours too.
Everyone wants to see the world outside of their little bubble, but that might not be possible without a proper budget. The good news is that you can cut down on expenses and discover some hidden gems if you stay closer to home. Remember, traveling farther away doesn’t always mean having a better time.
Traveling closer to home will inevitably be more streamlined if you have a car or camper van of your own. As we discuss later on, a reliable vehicle is more than just a means of transport when you’re out on the road, which is excellent news for you and your precious budget.
Chances are, the price of lodging makes up the bulk of your travel expenditures, but there are ways to put a roof over your head without spending a penny. By offering to house-sit for a local and watch their pets, you can score a bed, a warm meal, and maybe even some extra cash.
If this reminds you too much of all the housework waiting back home, there are plenty of alternatives. Workaway offers lodging in exchange for a wider variety of services, while Couchsurfing lets you find strangers who’ll let you crash with no strings attached.
I’m all for being spontaneous and adventurous, but if you’re traveling by plane, waiting until the last minute to book tickets is usually a bad idea. Plane prices can vary wildly from day to day, and they almost always peak a few days before takeoff.
Booking a few weeks or even months in advance can save you hundreds of dollars in the long run. The downside is having to commit to a game plan far in advance, but that’s part and parcel of traveling on a tight budget.
If you use VPNs to watch Netflix shows that aren’t available in your region, you’re not alone. But did you know that you can use the same trick to land an even better deal on your flights? Needless to say, the less money you spend on tickets, the more cash you’re left with at the end of the day.
Switching your location to another country (like Mexico, Malaysia, or Myanmar) will often result in a reduced ticket price. The process is relatively straightforward, and it only takes a few extra minutes of prep work for potentially significant savings. Why not give it a try?
When traveling, countless little expenses are constantly nibbling away at your bottom line. Heading out with your friend or partner can help stop the bleeding since you can split hotel rooms, gas money, grocery bills, and other essential costs.
Besides, it can get a little lonesome out there without anybody to share your experiences with. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of me-time if that’s what you’re after, but the longer your trip, the more you might wish you had somebody to share it with.
While a swanky hotel room is a welcome luxury for any traveler, it’s far from essential if you want to save money. If you don’t mind sharing a room with a handful of strangers, staying in a dorm room or a hostel is a great option to stretch your budget further.
There are a few important strategies to master if you opt for a hostel over a hotel. Still, if you prepare accordingly, hostel life should be a more rewarding and money-saving experience. Whatever you do, always bring a pair of quality earplugs for the inevitable snorers or sleeptalkers.
Eating out on the town is a great way to get a feel for how the locals live, but it can also get a bit pricey. An excellent way to get around that reality is to find accommodation that includes at least one free meal daily to keep things cheaper.
You can find these kinds of deals all over the world, and if you’re staying for an extended period, the savings really start to add up. For example, this hostel in Krakow lets you enjoy a whopping two meals a day for free while offering a super-comfortable bed to lay your head down.
Airline companies and hotels often partner with a specific credit card provider to offer special deals for users. If you play your credit card game right and do some research, you could snag a nifty welcome bonus and accumulate points that can lead to free or heavily-discounted travel.
One of the best ways to track these offers is through Nerdwallet’s best travel credit cards roundup. This post has come in handy for thousands of travelers, and it’s probably the best way to keep track of which cards are best for your travel style.
We’ve reviewed several cheap lodging options, but if you enjoy the outdoors, you might not need to pay anything at all. Camping is a great way to connect with nature without investing much beyond a simple tent and inflatable mattress.
This might not always be an option since you’ll need good weather and a nice campsite to set up shop. That said, if the name of the game is saving money, it doesn’t get much more affordable than camping out for free in the cozy confines of your tent.
There are plenty of reasons to consider traveling light – mainly the privilege of mobility. Beyond that, though, it also helps on the spending front – chances are you need far fewer supplies for the average trip than you might think.
Baggage fees have been known to take large bites out of travel budgets, but with a bit of personal item carry-on magic, you can save significant money that would be better spent elsewhere. Just be sure you buy a properly-sized bag that’ll fit underneath the seat in front of you.
Buying a camper van is a significant investment, but it will pay off in the long run if you travel a lot and even make it your primary residence. Why overspend on “affordable” NYC hotels when you have something like the Brooklyn Van Alley to fall back on?
If you have zero experience with mobile homes, there will be a bit of a learning curve. Besides the vehicle, you’ll also need to set some money aside for essential supplies. Still, if you can survive that initial investment, a camper van might just pay for itself in due time.
Planning the trip is just the beginning – there’s arguably even more clever maneuvering once you reach your destination. Here’s what you need to keep in mind after you’ve arrived:
Poor currency conversion rates might not seem like the biggest deal, but they add up over time. A few cocktails and into your trip, you may fall into the bad habit of pressing the button to be charged in your home currency on the credit card reader rather than the local one. Hate to break it to you, but the conversion rate is never in your favor.
To avoid the conversion fees imposed by most credit cards, paying in the local currency is always a good idea. These fees apply whether you’re at a restaurant or a retail store, so be mindful before reaching for your wallet.
When you arrive, you might feel too tired to stress over where you withdraw local currency, but you mustn’t jump the gun. Not all exchange desks will give you the best deal, so always check Google reviews before blindly handing your money to the first money changer you see.
The same goes for ATMs, too – depending on the bank or the machine itself, you may get charged an unreasonable fee, even if you withdraw the local currency. Dynamic Currency Conversion isn’t as helpful as it sounds, so use your best judgment.
Taxis and Ubers can be very convenient in a time crunch but are also quite expensive. Often, a taxi driver will pick you up knowing that you’re a tourist (even if you speak the local language) and charge you a higher price than what’s fair.
The safer bet is usually to rely on public transportation whenever possible. On top of it being cheaper (and often free), it’s easy to keep track of where buses, trains, and trams take you if you use Google Maps to plan your route.
Even if you aren’t on a budget, walking is almost always preferable to driving when visiting a new location. Besides being free, it’s also great for your health and lets you see more of what the region has to offer at your own pace.
Also, a vacation is the perfect time to pick up the habit of walking or hiking back home. The physical, psychological, and emotional benefits of walking large distances daily can be life-changing, so lace up your walking shoes and give it a shot.
The only thing better than “cheap” is “free,” and in the digital era, all it takes to find a free activity is to look it up online. From annual events at parks to free museum days and other meetups, there are almost always free activities to discover in major cities.
Remember, though – just because something is free of charge, it doesn’t mean you should go out empty-handed. Your activity of choice may feature some “hidden” fees now and again, or it could lead you to a pricey detour down the line.
Knowing nothing about your destination is a surefire way to spend more money than you need to. Thankfully, most major tourist hubs offer walking tours that help you immerse yourself in the local culture and discover some fantastic spots.
You’re likely to meet other like-minded budget travelers on a walking tour, so you might even leave with an extra friend or street food buddy. Just be sure to tip your guide for their trouble – think of all the money they helped you save by showing you around.
One thing to remember about tourist traps is that they often know they can overcharge curious travelers from faraway lands. It’s okay to indulge in an expensive meal in the heart of town, but if you’re looking to save money, try out some delicious street food for a fraction of the price.
In some ways, street vendors can give you a better idea of the ins and outs of the local cuisine. On that note, don’t be afraid to head out to the outskirts, either – this is usually where you’ll find some more affordable eateries unknown to most tourists.
If anyone knows the restaurants and attractions that offer the best value for money, it’s the locals. Relying on Google reviews is all well and good, but an insider’s advice can be way more helpful and rewarding.
Depending on where you go, it’s not uncommon for a friendly local to invite you into their home for an authentic, home-cooked meal. Putting the money aspect aside, this is one of the most wholesome vacation experiences you can hope to find. Chat up a friendly local and see where the conversation might lead you.
If push comes to shove, remember that going to a restaurant is almost always more expensive than whipping up the same meal yourself. Even if you don’t have a kitchen to work with, you can always grab some affordable food from the grocery store and enjoy a simple picnic.
This is also a great way to connect with the local culture. There’s no better way to get a feel for how the natives eat than by walking the same grocery store aisles they do. You might even get hooked on some new flavors you never knew existed.
And that concludes our list of the best budget travel tips to keep in mind before planning your next trip. We’ve laid out our best advice based on many years of affordable travel, and we hope it’ll serve you well on your adventures.
The devil is in the details regarding saving money, so if you take advantage of a handful of clever travel hacks, you can rest assured that you’ll maximize your budget. Whenever I check my bank statements after a long trip, I’m always amazed at how far a few good decisions were able to stretch my money.
There’s a dollar to be saved around every corner, and if you’ve been around as many corners as we have, you know how important that can be. Learning to appreciate the simple pleasures of travel really goes a long way.
The bottom line is this: while the best things in life might not be free exactly, they can cost less than you might think. The sooner you learn how to travel cheaply, the more the world will open itself up to you.
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Last Updated on September 19, 2023