How to Travel on a Budget: The Ultimate Resource on Getting More For Your Money
With our social media feeds full of dreamy destinations and our inboxes reminding us of daily deals, it can be difficult not to want to ditch the day job and travel the world. Like, tomorrow! Unfortunately, most of don’t (or at least think we don’t) have the budget for traveling in quite the same way as our favorite influencers! However, we’re here to tell you that it is definitely possible to travel on a budget and we’ve got the tips and tricks to prove it.
From planning your trip in detail to find the best deals, to saving money without scrimping on experiences while on the road, we’ve got the ultimate resource guide for getting more for your money while traveling. We even go into ways that you can extend your trip while you’re away so that you can continue living the dream and ticking off those bucket list destinations!
Read on to discover how you can travel the world on a budget without it giving you the checking-your-bank-balance fear…
Planning Your Trip
Planning your trip is often the part in which you can save the most money as it is usually the initial outlay for the flights that takes the most significant chunk of money. If you can research your flights and destinations carefully and plan accordingly, you might be amazed at how much you can save.
Travel Out of Peak Season
Traveling out of peak season is one of the best ways to make the most of your budget as many airlines, hotels and tour operators will offer discounted prices in order to fill their spaces.
While, of course, some destinations have set tourism seasons for a reason (due to heavy monsoons or heatwaves for example), there are others in which it is considered the less optimum time travel, but it still good enough.
If you can avoid it, try not to travel during school holidays or over public holidays such as Christmas and Easter. Airlines and holiday operators know that many people can only travel during these periods, so they bump up the prices. If you can, try to choose dates in which supply is greater than demand as this is where you’ll find the best deals.
Shoulder seasons such as May and September/October (for Northern Hemisphere destinations) are great times to travel as you are likely to receive much of the decent summer weather while also receiving better rates and having beaches and tourist attractions to yourself! Similarly, the beginning or end of the ski season is the best times to get the biggest bang for your buck.
Consider a Budget Destination
When planning budget travel, you’ll want to weigh up both the cost of getting there as well as the cost of living when in-country, so that you can see which works out cheapest. It may be that destinations that are on your doorstep may be affordable to get to, but accommodation, activities, and eating out are expensive. If this is the case, you may want to consider some more budget destinations such as Eastern Europe or South-East Asia.
Eastern Europe can be a great alternative to some of the more popular Western European cities as there are still loads of historical and cultural sites to be explored, but your budget will stretch a lot further.
Research Flights Carefully
Thankfully for us travelers flights have become more and more competitive over the past few years, and there are loads of budget deals to be found. However, it is essential to do your research carefully when planning flights to ensure you don’t get caught out by hidden costs.
First, you’ll want to look at where the flight departs from and figure out the price of getting to that airport as well as possible costs like airport parking. It may be that a flight departing from an airport slightly further away works out best when you weigh up all costs involved.
Secondly, you’ll want to check the times of the flight and see whether a flight has a layover or not. If it does, you’ll also want to find out where this is and for how long. Flights with a lower price tag often have inconvenient departure times which may mean you have to pay for a taxi to get to the airport instead of using public transport, or even stay at a hotel near the airport the night before which will all add up. Layovers themselves don’t necessarily have to mean additional costs. Still, if you have a long stopover in, say, Norway for example, you’ll want to bear in mind that food and drink within the airport will be expensive.
If you do decide to go for a budget airline, be aware that the cheapest fare option is likely to only include hand luggage and may not include luxuries such as in-flight entertainment or meals. As such, you’ll need to bring snacks as well as books/music/downloaded movies so that you aren’t tempted to upgrade to the extortionate additional extras while on-board!
Another thing to keep in mind when researching flights is that prices go up and down depending on the time and day you search, the date you fly, as well how close it is to your departure date. Research by Opodo suggests that flying on a Sunday is likely to offer the best prices and that you’re best off booking your flights in January or September for the cheapest tickets. Some travelers also choose to use flight price tracker apps like Hopper and JetRadar which analyse data from thousands of flights to tell you when would be the best time to book your flight.
*Top Tip* If you do your own flight research, remember to use incognito mode on your computer browser to ensure websites don’t hike up the flight prices based on your frequent research of the same routes!
Collect and Use Loyalty Points
Another way you can make savings while traveling is to collect and use loyalty points wherever possible. Loyalty points aren’t only reserved for business travelers who frequently fly long-haul. Most airlines now have some sort of rewards system which offers discounts, deals and upgrades.
While loyalty schemes once meant only flying with one specific airline, nowadays, with the introduction of flight groups such as Star Alliance, One World and SkyTeam you can book flights with a variety of airlines while still earning rewards along the way.
Credit cards, supermarket reward cards and hotel loyalty schemes are also great ways of adding up points that you can put towards your travel experiences.
In addition, following blogs such as The Points Guy or Head For Points allow you to get insider tips on how to make the most of your loyalty points, giving you information on how to collect the most points and when you use them.
Travel with Friends/Family
If you’re longing to travel but the options you’re looking at seem expensive as a solo traveler, why not ask your friends and family if they fancy coming along for the ride? Often, splitting transport and accommodation costs between a group is a fail-safe way of saving money while traveling.
Airbnb, HomeAway and other home rental sites often offer larger accommodation options, that when split between a group work out much cheaper per person than if you are traveling alone or as a couple. Not only does this allow you to have a home away from home experience, but you’ll have much more space to cook and socialize together.
Consider Staying in a Place With Kitchen/Laundry Facilities
In line with group travel, you might also want to consider booking a place to stay that features kitchen and laundry facilities, especially when traveling in more expensive countries such as Scandanavia, Australia and the United States.
Cooking can sometimes work out more expensive than eating out if you have to buy a whole host of ingredients just for one meal as a solo traveler, but if you’re traveling as a group, it can be much more economical.
Similarly, having laundry room where you can wash and dry your clothes for free can be an excellent way to save money while on the road. Some hotels have laundry charges per item which can add up very quickly indeed! Even if you only book somewhere with a laundry once every couple of weeks, it still may work out as a budget-friendly choice. Easy access to laundry facilities are essential if you are saving money traveling with only carry on luggage.
Choose Destinations Based on Exchange Rates
While it is somewhat difficult to predict the changes in the economy at large, there are certain destinations that are best avoided if your currency is currently weak against theirs. Sites like Travel and Leisure and TripSavvy sometimes offer articles that show the top destinations where you’ll get the most for your money (usually USD or GBP). This is based on countries that have had falling currencies against the dollar over the previous few years.
This research will enable you to pick out destinations where things like hotels, meals, shopping and transportation will be cheaper than usual due to the strength of your currency. When you add the savings you could make from exchange rates, to traveling in the off-season and using loyalty points, you’ll be well on your way to being a budget-travel extraordinaire!
Be Flexible - Budget Heaven
If you’re flexible and don’t have a preference of where and when you travel, then you can use searches like the Skyscanner ‘Everywhere’ search, to find the best flight prices to a variety of destinations from your chosen departure airport. This allows you to seek out the cheapest deals and then weigh up the costs in-country to see if that destination would work for your budget.
Alternatively, you could just turn up at the airport and ask at the counter what flights they have available last minute or on standby and simply travel wherever is cheapest! This can be a pretty exciting way to travel, but you will need to pack a range of clothing in your bag, or only choose warm destinations if you’ve only packed your shorts and Speedos!
It may be that you have a destination in mind but not a specific date, in which case you can use the flight price tracker apps and travel at the time that is cheapest.
Pre-Book Airport Parking
If, when you’ve decided on a destination, you know you’ll need to drive to the airport, make sure you pre-book airport parking as far in advance as possible. Prices tend to rise the closer to your departure you get, so book early to secure the best price.
You may also be able to use some of the loyalty points I mentioned earlier to redeem a discount on your parking, so keep your eyes peeled for deals!
When You're On The Road
Once you’ve got the planning bit out of the way, you’ll be ready to depart on the adventure of a lifetime. However, if you’re traveling on a budget, it’s important not to get into ‘holiday mode’, throwing all spending habits out of the window. This especially applies if you’re traveling for a long time as you don’t want to spend your budget in the first few weeks or months and be left hanging, or worse, have to cut your trip short! Fear not though as the following tips will help you save your cents while on the road…
Use Public Transport
Taxis and private drivers are a sure-fire way of adding costs to your trip, so if you want to travel on a budget, it’s good to look into public transport options in your chosen destination to try and save yourself some pennies.
Many countries have fantastic public transport systems, be they trains, trams or buses, which are regularly used by locals to get around. As such, they are fairly reliable and usually very budget-friendly. In countries like Sri Lanka and India, you can sometimes travel for two hours plus for less than a dollar, which will save you cash for enjoying local sights and, of course, plenty of curry, samosas and lassis!
Even if you plan on traveling long distances, public transport can be a much better option than flying as not only is it cheaper and better for the environment, but if you travel on an overnight bus or train you save yourself the cost of accommodation too.
While traveling overnight on public transport in some countries is considered dangerous, there are plenty of countries like Thailand and Vietnam in which it is safe to do so and which offer perfect routes and prices for backpacker travelers!
Camp/Stay In Hostels/Campervan
Choosing your accommodation wisely while on the road is a great way to save money as it soon adds up when traveling for an extended period. You can often look back on your time away, having enjoyed plenty of free experiences and realize that you have basically eaten or slept most of your money away! An excellent way to minimize this is to camp, stay in hostels or travel by campervan so that you kill both your travel and accommodation expenses with the same stone.
If you travel with your own tent and camping gear, you can easily set up on free camping spots or even on the beach (if it’s legal), and stay under the stars without having to spend a dollar. This is perfect for those who love being in the great outdoors and who don’t mind trading in creature comforts for a few more days on the road.
For some, camping is simply not an option, so you may have to upgrade somewhat and stay in a hostel. Hostels around the world vary wildly in terms of quality and price. On the whole, the larger the dorm you stay in, the cheaper the price tag, therefore, if you want to save money while traveling, opt for the cheapest bed possible and fill up on the hostel breakfast to make the most out of your money.
Eat/Shop With the Locals
Another way to save money while on the road is to eat and shop locally wherever possible. If produce is imported, like Western snacks and drinks, it’s inevitable that it’s going to be much more expensive than local foodstuffs. Rather than buying processed products, try to seek out local markets that offer a whole host of items like fruit, nuts and homemade snacks at bargain prices. This will be good for the wallet and will offer you a more authentic experience!
This also goes for choosing street food and local cafés and diners rather than chain restaurants. While McDonalds and the like are relatively budget-friendly options the world over, they are likely to be much more expensive than traditional street-side shacks serving up delicious local meals like noodles, rice and beans, tacos or satay skewers (depending on where you are in the world).
Eating on the go can be money-saver too, as it’s often sitting in restaurants and adding on service charges that up the price. Rather than opting for a hotel breakfast (which is usually overpriced for the quality of the food!), head out to a local bakery or market to pick up things like croissants, coffee and fruit to-go. These are likely to be much cheaper, and, eating little and often allows you to try loads of different local delicacies rather than filling up on Western food that you’ll eat at home anyway.
If you do decide you want to eat in a restaurant, try to avoid tourist traps by getting off the beaten path and away from the main squares. Instead, seek out smaller restaurants where you can see locals eating as these are likely to offer quality food at affordable prices.
Bring Your Own Food if Traveling Remotely
While we’re on the subject of food, it’s worth noting than in some remote destinations it can be particularly difficult to source food, especially in excess for tourism purposes, and as such it may be worth bringing your own food to these locations if you get the chance. Remote islands such as the Corn Islands in Nicaragua can be pretty expensive for anything other than seafood so bringing items for breakfast and perhaps staples like pasta or rice can help you save money while still having the chance to explore stunning remote locales!
Couch-surfing has long been a way for budget travelers to save money and they are a great option if you’re a solo traveler looking to meet locals along the way. Couch-surfing is essentially a more basic version of Airbnb, which allows you to sleep on a local’s sofa for free, and they often throw in some decent tips about the area too!
The homestay network was set up to make the most of human generosity. While there have been some reports of nefarious activity by a rare few hosts, on the whole, the platform provides safe, free lodging ideal for those on a budget.
You might not want to stay on a sofa every night of the week. Still, it can be a particularly good way of squeezing an extra few days out of your trip when you’ve overspent elsewhere!
Hand Luggage Only
Traveling with hand luggage only is perfect for those who want to be footloose and fancy-free as it allows you to make the most of the fantastic deals offered by budget airlines without being stung by the aforementioned hidden fees! Baggage charges for anything over about 10kgs can sometimes be as much as the flight itself on airlines like Ryanair or EasyJet, so if you can travel with a small, lightweight bag, you’re bound to save money on your flights.
The less luggage you have, the more likely you are to be able to hop on a motor-taxi or tuk-tuk too, which will save you the cost of getting a taxi when you arrive at your destination.
While traveling with hand luggage only can sometimes be a bit of a struggle (depending on where you are going) it does mean that you have to be a bit more restrictive with additional clothes and souvenirs you purchase, which is an excellent self-imposed boundary for shopaholics!
Travel With a Decent Credit Card
We mentioned earlier about choosing a destination with a decent exchange rate, but this isn’t the only factor that comes into play when getting money out abroad. Different credit and debit cards have different fees and limits based on where you are, how much you take out, and whether you spend money in stores or restaurants directly on your card. You, therefore, need to look carefully into the charges involved so that you choose a provider that offers the best rates.
You’ll want to find a credit card that has no usage fees abroad, no additional commission fees for exchange rates and where possible, no limits on how much you can withdraw from an ATM while traveling.
It is also worth traveling with a variety of cards, at least one Visa and one Mastercard, to ensure you have a back-up in case a cash machine or shop doesn’t accept your card.
Avoid Cell Roaming Fees
Mobile phone roaming charges can be extortionate when traveling, so it is essential to check your cell phone contract before you go away so that you don’t get stung with a hefty bill when you get home!
You’ll also want to leave your phone on airplane mode when you land in a country while you check that your data is off to ensure that you don’t accidentally rack up a bill by using data instead of WiFi. Thankfully, most airports and hotels offer free WiFi these days, so you should be able to use your phone in these destinations at least without having to worry.
If you do think you’re going to have to use data while on the road – if you’re working or will be traveling remotely, for example – you might want to see if your cell phone provider offers data package deals or better still, if it allows you to use your phone contract as normal in the country you are visiting. The UK mobile network 3, for example, allows users to continue using their normal contract allowances in over 70 countries worldwide, so it’s well worth checking if your network offers something similar!
Seek Out Free Activities
One of the best ways to experience a destination is to simply walk around the location, taking in the sights, sounds, smells and goings-on that occur on a day-to-day basis. Not only does this give you an insight into the local culture, but it’s also absolutely free, which makes it ideal for budget travelers! If you want to go one step further and dig a little deeper into a destination, you could join a free walking tour. These usually center around the history, culture and architecture of a place. While a donation is often suggested, it is not required, hence the name ‘free walking tour’!
There are loads of other free activities in cities across the world that will help keep you entertained while also being intrigued by and informed about your destination. Things like museum and gallery entrance, outdoor exhibits, churches and parks are often free and enjoyable for people of all ages. Even world-renowned tourist attractions like the Louvre in Paris are free on certain days, so do a little research or head to your nearest tourist office to find out the best deals.
Ask For Discounts
If all else fails, you can try your hand at asking for discounts. As the saying goes, “if you don’t ask, you don’t get”, so if it feels appropriate, you can ask for a discount or offer your best price and see if the vendor will take a deal. Discounts can be found at hotels, shops, markets and sometimes even restaurants.
If you can, try to find local magazines or flyers when you land in a destination as these often feature sponsored adverts or coupons for local businesses which can come in handy when deciding where to eat or shop.
When staying in one destination for an extended period of time, feel free to speak to the management of your hotel or guest house directly and ask for a long-stay discount. Often hotels will be willing to offer a lower rate or throw in some additional extras for those staying with them for a long time. It may well be that they earn more money by you booking directly than if you go through an agent or third-party website so it could be a win-win situation all round!
Talk To People
You’ll be amazed at how many opportunities come up while traveling when you simply talk to people. Whether it’s heading out on a fishing boat with the locals, being invited for dinner with a family or being offered tickets, gifts or freebies, you’ll be surprised about the doors that may open.
Of course, you’ll need to be polite, friendly and interested in the people you converse with – and there’s probably an element of luck/right time, right place involved – but on the whole, humans are both kind and generous and want you to have a memorable and authentic experience in their country.
Even if it’s merely hitching a lift in the back of a pick-up truck when the sun is beating down on you, you’ll be glad of the few dollars you saved and will have probably made a nice, new connection.
Ways to Extend Your Trip on a Budget
Slow travel is one of the best ways to save money if you’re traveling for a long time and these tips will help you extend your vacation even further by offering ways to save or earn money while on the road.
House-Swapping or House Sitting
House-swapping or sitting are wonderful options for those who don’t mind having a few added responsibilities in return for a roof over their heads.
If you’re traveling long-term you might want to check out some house-swap options for while you’re away; letting people stay in your home and staying in theirs instead. Depending on where in the world you live and where you are going to, the pool of people interested maybe somewhat niche. Still, if you know you’ve got something good to offer, then it’s definitely worth a try!
Sites like Home Exchange and Love Home Swap allow you to build a rapport with your potential swappers through a secure messaging system and then agree to a swap that suits both of you. These can be especially good for families traveling on a budget as it allows you to have space, home comforts, toys and sometimes even a car to use for much less than it would cost for a hotel or hire car!
House-sitting can be a similarly good opportunity for budget travelers and is perfect for those who don’t have a house to offer but would still like the comfort of staying in a fully-equipped home rather than a hotel. While house sits obviously vary significantly in terms of the level of comfort offered and level of responsibility required, there are so many house-sitting websites and groups out there that you’re sure to find something that suits. If you’re lucky, you’ll also make some new furry friends too, which is always a good thing!
*Top Tip* Consider listing your place on Airbnb while traveling (having someone back home clean and/or manage it) so that you can have a continual income without much effort while on the road.
Another way to save money while traveling is volunteering, which can come in all shapes and sizes! Volunteering can be anything from offering your time to work for a hotel or hostel in return for a bed, to supporting local community projects such as permaculture, education or building projects on a free basis. Some of the most well-known volunteering options include WWOOFing, a site that gives travelers the chance to work on organic farms in exchange for food and accommodation, and WorkAway.
Most volunteering options usually offer you some form of food and board in return for your time, but it is important to check what is included before you sign up.
Some voluntourism opportunities are paid for by the travelers themselves, so you’ll need to work out whether this is in budget or not.
It is also worth pointing out that volunteering or work/lodging exchanges may be illegal in some countries depending on the restrictions of a tourist visa, so you’ll want to check this with the local embassy before you sign up to anything if it is something you are concerned about.
Teach English Abroad
Teaching English abroad is yet another option for those who want to extend their time away as you can easily stay in one destination for six months plus while working at a school. While most teaching English jobs require you to have a TEFL/TESOL/CELTA certification, others may only ask that you are a native English speaker with a clear accent.
You’ll need to do your research before applying and accepting these jobs to ensure you have the correct type of visa, know what the reimbursement will be, and whether it is a fixed-term contract that you must complete in order to receive payment.
However, once you have found an English teaching job that is to your liking, you can start planning your time abroad and figure out when and where you can take day trips or weekends away to explore the country. Many Asian destinations have significant holiday periods (over New Year, for example) during which schools close, so you may have a long weekend or even a week off where you can travel.
While studying abroad isn’t often free in itself, it can be a very good opportunity to add to your travel experiences while being based in a new location. It is important to make the most of your time abroad, travelling to new towns and cities nearby on your days off, as this is likely to be much cheaper to do than if you decide to return once you’ve gone back to your home country.
It’s not surprising that some American students who study abroad in Europe visit more countries during their year/semester abroad than they ever have before. When you think about the fact that these destinations are right on their doorstep rather than being $1000-dollar flight rides away, it seems like a no-brainer!
Work on a Yacht or Cruise Ship
While traveling on a yacht or a cruise ship may not be budget-friendly, working on one means that you’ll be able to travel the world while also earning a living. Of course, you’ll have to have sea legs to be able to handle the constant movement, but if you love being aboard a boat (and don’t mind the cramped living quarters), then this can be a fantastic way to see the world.
Yachties are likely to receive more time on land than cruise ship workers (as cruise hours tend to be long). Still, both will allow you to admire the views while sailing and hop off every now and again to discover a destination.
Share or Sell Your Services
Depending on your skill set, sharing or selling your services may be another option that allows you to stay on the road that little bit longer. Whether you’re a hairdresser, handyman, digital marketing expert or photographer, there may be opportunities that allow you to make a little extra cash while traveling.
Hotels, hostels and other businesses may be interested in upping their social media game or adding more content to their website and as such may be willing to offer free accommodation or payment in return for your help.
Some hostels also allow travelers to sell haircuts or even tattoos to their fellow backpackers which means you can make money without having to set up shop!
Bring Your Work With You
If you work online, you may be able to take remote work to the next level by working on the road, becoming what’s known as a Digital Nomad. Some workplaces may allow you to work remotely with your laptop, allowing you to continue your regular full or part-time job while traveling. If this is something you’re interested in, it’s always worth having a conversation about as you never know, your boss may be more than willing to give it a try!
Alternatively, you might want to develop a ‘side hustle’ or be a freelancer while traveling. These options give you a little more flexibility as you can be your own boss; choosing what hours you want to work and the fees you charge. The world of remote freelancing is vast and ever-expanding, so whether you’re a writer, graphic designer, yoga teacher, entrepreneur or consultant, there’s sure to be someone out there who is seeking your skills. This may start as merely an extra income stream, but it could turn into a job that can keep you traveling indefinitely!
Hopefully, by now you believe us that budget travel is most definitely possible and you’ve got a bit more of an idea of how you can get the best bang for your buck. Some detailed research is always a good jumping-off point, and it should give you an idea of the range of deals that are out there.
If all else fails, start applying to competitions online, and you never know, if you’re lucky you might be jetting off to Antarctica for free!
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