Travel is only for the wealthy and glamorous, right?
That statement could NOT be more wrong! Travel is for anyone who wants it. With the right attitude, the right creativity, and the right strategies, you can travel as far, as long, and as often as you want. Here are my top tips, uniquely curated after years of solo travel, broke college student travel, responsible grown-up travel, and couple travel. It’s all possible, even on a tight budget!
Eat a Big Breakfast (and take some with you)
Fuel your day from the get-go. Be sure to include things like cheese, nut butters, seedy or nutty breads, and high-protein staples like yogurt, cold cuts, eggs, etc. These foods will help you stay full longer, so you don’t need to stop for lunch a couple of hours later unless you want to.
If your accommodation includes breakfast, eat your fill, and discreetly (or, like my husband, unashamedly) take some with you for later. If you’ve got bread (croissants, biscuits, sliced bread, rolls, big pretzels) and cheese or meat, you can make a killer sandwich for lunch. Is whole fruit available? Toss an apple, orange, banana, etc., in your day bag. No buffet? Head to the local grocery store for bread, cheese, calorie-dense spreads, or something else that’s inexpensive yet filling and tasty.
If food and dining out are your things, by all means, budget your money for that! But if you’re more interested in museums, events, shopping, hot-air ballooning, etc., consider eating on the cheap and on the go. Traveling well on a budget is all about saving money where you’re willing to save it, and really savoring those things you’re willing to pay for!
Read on: 6 Ways I Can Afford to Travel
Do Your Research
I know, this one’s boring! But it doesn’t have to be. I love planning my trips because it gets me excited for everything I’m going to do. Here are a few budget-dependent items to include in your trip planning research:
Where are the inexpensive destinations?
Step 1: Figure out where you want to go! For Americans, famously inexpensive destinations include Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Chile, Romania, Greece, Croatia, the Baltics (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania), and more! Honestly, though, any place can be affordable; you just need to do your research to figure out what you’re getting into and how to do what you want to do as inexpensively as possible.
What’s the best (i.e. least expensive) way to travel?
Is it by air? Train? Bus? Walking? Ferry? The answer might surprise you! When Steve and I visited the Baltics a few years ago, we assumed we’d have to fly between the capital cities to visit them all most efficiently. No so! It was just as fast, and far less expensive, to go by luxury bus!
I love the app (from the App Store and GooglePlay) and website called Rome 2 Rio (no, this is not sponsored!) because it shows you all the ways to get from Point A to Point B, and it takes into consideration both time and cost! The best and least expensive way to travel may be one you never would have otherwise considered.
When are the cheap flights going?
Keep an eye out for those cheap flights! Never buy from a third-party like Orbitz, Skyscanner, or Expedia, but use them as a tool to find cheap fares. Make sure your flight searches include both weekdays and weekends, and be willing to slide your trip by a day or two in either direction. You could literally save hundreds of dollars by flying on a Wednesday instead of a Friday!
Generally, midweek is the cheaper time to fly, but an exception is a place like Brussels. It’s the capital of the EU, so there’s a lot of Monday-Friday business travel that happens there. You know the generally cheapest day to fly to Brussels (not always but most of the time)? Saturday. Mix it up, explore all your options, and you could be flying for far less than you might have with a rigid timeframe!
If you read nothing else, read this: How to Find Cheap Flights (the right way)
What are the FREE things to do?
This is the easiest way to save money–don’t spend it! Do a quick search for the FREE things to do at your destination. Two of my most-viewed posts ever are FREE Things to Do in Cheyenne, WY, and FREE Things to Do in Charleston. Many museums around the world are free (or offer a free day each week or month), the outdoors is always free, and did you know the Staten Island Ferry in New York City, with a stellar view of the Statue of Liberty, is also free? It’s true!
Do a little research. You might be surprised at how many things you can do without spending any money at all!
More here: The Best Apps for Travel
Find the Off-season or Shoulder-season
It’s cheaper to visit the Caribbean in the late summer and fall. You might run into a hurricane, but the risk might save you hundreds of dollars! Hawaii in April is less expensive than Hawaii in February or July. Greece is cheaper to visit in winter than summer. A trip to New Zealand will cost you less in August when destinations in the U.S. are often at their most expensive–why? It’s the dead of winter in the Southern Hemisphere!
Figure out the cheapest time of year to visit your preferred destination, figure out why it’s cheap (hurricane season, too cold, too hot, rainy season), and then decide if it’s worth the savings to visit at a less popular time of year. Lower crowds are another perk of the off- and shoulder-seasons!
Keep reading: The Ultimate Guide to Travel and Your Money
Don’t Buy a SIM Card—Use Wi-Fi Instead
I have never bought a foreign SIM card. I know this is one of the top money-saving tips on everyone else’s budget travel posts, but not here! My husband and I switched to T-Mobile a few years ago because of the included international plan, and we couldn’t be happier with that decision. However, before we had T-Mobile, we simply used wi-fi whenever we could.
Most accommodations include complimentary Wi-Fi, at least in their common areas, as do many restaurants, museums, etc. Use it! You don’t want to lose or damage your U.S. SIM card, you really shouldn’t be sticking foreign objects in your phone, and if your phone is locked, you can’t get your SIM card out to put a different one in anyway. Plan to use Wi-Fi, and turn on Wi-Fi calling if your Mom insists that you call her!
Read next: My Top 10 Travel Hacks
Be Willing to Walk or Take Public Transportation
If you don’t absolutely need a rental car, don’t spend the money on one! There’s a massive rental car shortage at the moment, so it’s probably cost-prohibitive anyway. Choose a walkable destination (basically anywhere in Europe!), or figure out how to use the public transportation system, whether that’s train, tram, bus, subway, or something else.
You want to save the most money? Walk. You want to travel as inexpensively as possible? Figure out how the locals do it. They’ll probably be happy to help you figure it out, too!
Luggage fees, waiting around at baggage claim, rolling a heavy suitcase across cobblestones–it’s not the way to go! I am a huge fan of carry-on only travel. I always know where my luggage is, I never have to wait around for my luggage, and I’ve never had an airline lose my luggage! Checked bag fees can start at $25 per piece of luggage, each way, but I’ve seen baggage fees up to $75 at some airlines. And if it’s over a certain weight limit or an odd shape, that will cost you even more!
Bottom line: I have never once paid a checked bag fee. There’s no telling how much money I’ve saved over the last 15 years of travel. Travel cheaper, travel faster, pack lighter!
Must read: How to Pack the Perfect Carry-on
Is flexibility the key to happiness? I think it might be! I’ve already mentioned how a little flexibility can save you money on flights, but there’s more to it than just that. Being willing to start your day early might get you a cheaper ticket to a site you want to see. Having a late lunch is usually cheaper than going out for supper. Changing your schedule around might mean you get to visit a museum on a free admission day. Willingness to be flexible comes with some perks!
Also helpful: The Secrets of Successful Travelers
Get a Rewarding Credit Card
You have to book certain things with a credit card–flights, accommodations, etc.–so you may as well get rewarded! There are lots of points-driven credit cards these days that come with no annual fee, like the CapitalOne Venture One Card (we both earn bonus miles when you sign up at this link), and you’ll be surprised at how quickly the points add up! The same is true for airline rewards, hotel rewards, and basically any rewards program you’ll actually use.
Two things: 1. Always pay off your credit card so you never carry a balance and end up actually paying more; and 2. Don’t buy things you don’t need just to get points!
Keep reading: The Beginner’s Guide to Points and Miles
Don’t Assume “Cheap” is the Same as “Affordable”
That “cheap” accommodation outside the city center may actually force you to spend more money on transportation to and from the things you’re there to see and do. And that “cheap” hostel may require you to bring your own sheets and towel–oh, and add a luggage lock to your shopping list.
Speaking of shopping, is that “cheap” luggage going to hold up to the stresses of travel, or is it going to rip or break when you’re toting it all over the world? Is that “cheap” airline ticket going to include four or five layovers and take 48 hours of your time when spending $50 more could get you there with one layover in only 10 hours? Consider why something is “cheap” before you decide it’s “affordable!”
I am all about finding a good deal and taking advantage of less expensive options, but take it from me, sometimes “cheap” does not mean the same as “affordable.”
Want more money saving tips and travel hacks? Check out my Saving and Money Page!
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