I love to travel. But what I love more is saving money on travel.
Traveling inexpensively is not just my hobby, I’ve made it my side business with Travel Hacking 101. My goal is to make travel accessible to people who feel that it’s out of their reach. And many people make the misguided assumption that to travel the world, they need to have lots of money.
If you’re long on travel ambition but short on funds, I’ve got seven budget travel tips for you to save money on travel. With enough time and planning, you can go just about anywhere, even on a tight budget.
I’ve saved the best option for last….
1. Plan ahead and do your research
One of the best ways to travel on a budget is to fully plan out your trip in advance. This doesn’t mean that you have to have every moment booked to within an inch of its life. But it does mean looking into things like accommodation, transportation, and local attractions before you go.
Giving yourself time to get a feel for what you should expect to pay for a hotel room or for transport between cities means that you’ll be able to build a trip budget based on what things actually cost – not what you imagine they cost, or what they cost in the priciest tourist areas.
Cheap flights, inexpensive car rentals and budget accommodation are all easiest to find when you’ve got time to research, plan and explore your options. Giving yourself time to compare usually means you’ll get a better deal.
Make a budget
Having a budget – and actually sticking to it – is a habit that will save you money no matter where you travel. In fact, this should be something that you do no matter where you’re headed.
Budget travelers especially need to live closely within their means, and have a plan to stretch their dollars (or euros or yuan or what-have-you…). The research you do to learn the average price of things will help you to decide how much you actually need for your trip.
A budget will also give you a savings target, so that you can make sure that you have enough cash on hand to pay for your trip. A budget trip that turns into credit card debt isn’t really affordable after all.
2. Plan to eat where the locals eat
This is especially true when it comes to finding cheap food. From street food to small, local establishments, you can be almost assured that you will save money when you immerse yourself in local life.
Get local recommendations
I find YouTube to be a great source of restaurant recommendations from local English speakers. I try to watch a lot of YouTube videos about my destination, and I keep a Google Map of the city where I can save restaurants that I hear about, with notes on each place. That way, when I arrive, I have a ready-made map of recommendations!
You can also expect to spend less when you eat the local food. If you’re in Southeast Asia, for example, you’ll pay a premium for American food. And I can guarantee it won’t be nearly as good as the nasi goreng or khao soi.
Cook some meals for yourself
Making your own meals will of course make your money go further. Groceries are generally pretty cheap everywhere, so if you have access to a kitchen, use it! If you don’t eat a big breakfast at home, there’s no need for a full spread when you travel. You can have lunch by buying some bread and cheese at a grocery store and have a picnic at a local park.
Making your own meals doesn’t have to be a sacrifice, if you treat the experience of buying and preparing local food as part of the experience.
While you could go super frugal and avoid restaurants altogether, that would be both a logistical hurdle and just not very fun. Trying new foods is one of the joys of travel – one of the joys of being alive, really. If you’re smart about your choices, you can afford to eat out once in a while, or every day.
Book a place with free breakfast
While it’s not as easy to get as it used to be, many hotels and b&b’s still offer free breakfast for their guests. Get a room that comes with your first meal of the day and you’re saving money to start your day! Who doesn’t like free food?
3. Look for cheap destinations
Saving money is easiest when the destination itself is inexpensive. Sure, you can do a budget trip to Paris, Tokyo or Dubai, but chances are you’re going to be able to afford a lot more in Eastern Europe, South America, Central America or Southeast Asia.
You’ll have most of the same expenses – accommodation costs, your flight ticket, maybe a car rental. But while you’ll still have expenses, you won’t spend as much money as you would in a place where your money doesn’t go as far.
Consider alternatives for the places you’re thinking of going. Dying to go to Hawaii and lie on the beach? You could spend a month in Thailand for the same price as a week in Maui.
Want to explore the Mediterranean coast? Croatia has the same beautiful views as Italy, but with nowhere near the expense – or the crowds.
Being both creative and flexible about your chosen destination can mean the difference between a lovely budget holiday and a stressful penny-pinching one.
4. Maximize free or low cost activities at your destination
Your goal when visiting other countries should be to experience as much of the local culture as possible. Seeing the world cheaply doesn’t mean you have to skip destinations – instead you want to focus your time on things that are low cost or even completely free.
Free walking tours
A quick google search for “free walking tour” or “free events” will likely yield some great results no matter where you’re headed. Free walking tours are some of my favorite activities when traveling – but be sure to research whether (and how much) to tip your guide. Sure we’re trying to save money, but not at the expense of the people working hard to make our trips memorable.
Free museum days
Free entry days at museums can be a godsend for a tight budget. Save money by planning trips to major tourist attractions on days when they offer open admission.
For example, the first Sunday of each month offers free admission to many major Paris musuems, like the Louvre and the Musee d’Orsay. In New York, you can visit the Guggenheim Museum on a “pay what you wish” basis on Saturday evenings.
There are loads of options for any major city. Crafting your schedule carefully can definitely help you save money.
5. Save on flight prices to get the best deals
No matter where you’re going, the cost of your flight is going to be one of the most – if not the most- costly expenditures of your trip. International flights in particular can seriously set you back. Finding the cheapest flights will make a big difference in your travel budget.
Be ready to be flexible
For budget travelers, seeking the best deals on flight prices usually means being flexible with your schedule. If you can be open to both a range of possible dates and a range of possible flight itineraries, you’ll be more likely to snag the best deals.
Consider budget airlines
If you’re based in the United States, chances are good that you’re familiar with low cost airlines like Frontier or Spirit. But many countries have similar options to get cheaper airline tickets for short trips.
Europe in particular has options for allowing you to travel for cheap throughout the continent. While no one would argue that they’re luxurious, airlines like Ryanair, easyJet and Wizz Air offer flights for only a few euros in some cases. While it used to be cheapest to take the train through Europe, domestic flights now offer both a faster and cheaper alternative.
6. Get travel insurance
This one is pretty straightforward. Even when you’re on a tight budget, going to the cheapest destinations and have snagged a great cheap flight, you’re still spending some serious money on your trip. Travel is an investment, and it’s one you want to protect.
Travel insurance is an extra expense, that’s true – but it’s a hedge against higher costs down the line. If you are stranded by a cancelled flight, most travel insurance will cover the cost of a hotel room. If your baggage is lost, most policies will cover the cost of replacing your clothes, toiletries, sometimes even electronics. And if you become ill in another country, travel insurance will typically cover much of your medical costs, even if your personal health insurance won’t.
Spend the extra few dollars and get travel insurance – I recommended AXA Travel Insurance.
7. Learn travel hacking
The best way to save money on travel is cut down on your largest expenses – flights and hotels. My preferred way to cut that cost? Not to pay it at all!
I’m a travel hacker. That means that I use credit card signup bonuses and points accrual to pay for flights and hotel rooms (and occasionally things like tours or food).
Travel hacking maximizes the value of your everyday spending – the money you’d be spending anyway in your normal regular life – to earn extra value for you in the form of points and miles.
I go into a lot of detail about travel hacking elsewhere on this blog, such as my guide to 6 credit card hacks to save thousands on travel. It’s no exaggeration to say that I’ve saved tens of thousands of dollars by using points to travel the world cheaply.
In addition to points to help you cover the biggest expenses of your trip, travel credit cards can offer things like a free night at a hotel, free wifi or even lounge access at airports (hello free food and drinks!).
If you’re interested in learning how to travel hack like I do, check out my Instagram channel and my page of the best credit card offers for travel. (I earn a small commission if you use my links to apply for a credit card; these funds help keep Travel Hacking 101 free!)
In short, there are a number of ways to travel cheaply. By planning ahead, choosing a cheap destination, going on free walking tours, and especially learning travel hacking, you can save more money on your next trip and still have an amazing time.
So what are you waiting for? Get started planning your dream vacation today!