The #1 reason people give for why they don’t travel is that they can’t afford it. The truth is, people don’t realize how easy it can be to travel on a budget. Adventuring is no longer for the elite or for just those with trust funds.
Thanks to increased competition, technological advances, and access to tons of online resources, it’s never been easier to explore the world. There are entire books, websites, and courses geared toward travel hacking and learning how to work credit card reward programs to get travel for rock bottom prices.
But what if you don’t have that kind of time? What if you want to travel the world, but are limited in both time and money? If this is you, you’ve come to the right place. I’ll show you how you can save money on the 5 major travel categories to create an epic vacation while you travel on a budget.
These travel tips are easy to understand and implement. No fancy systems or complicated spreadsheets here. Just simple, no-frills travel advice for saving serious cash on your next adventure. Discover how being intentional with your resources can help you travel on a budget without sacrificing experiences.
Travel on a budget: the big 5
The bulk of your travel expenses can boil down to these 5 areas:
- Timing & Duration
- Experiences & Attractions
Much of the expense of travel comes down to being specific. If you have a specific location you want to go to, a specific time you want to be there, a specific place you want to stay, specific ways you want to travel there, and specific things you want to see or do while there, all those particulars can really add up.
By being flexible in some (or all) of these choices, you can really drive the cost of your travels down. One of the best travel hacks for saving money is to prioritize deals where you can score reductions on two or more of the big 5 categories. If you find a deal that offers you a week-long vacation with accommodations to one of your tops destinations, and you can pair it with a cheap flight, that’s traveling smart on a budget.
Travel on a budget by being flexible on destination
Being flexible on your travel destination is one of the best ways to travel on a budget. Whether it’s planning an entire trip around a killer accommodation you found or checking out a new place because you scored a rock bottom flight, being flexible about where you go on your next adventure can make a huge difference in the final price.
- Airfare is often the most expensive item when planning a trip outside the county, so prioritize a good deal to a great location (especially if traveling with the family, as tickets really add up!)
- Do some research on your preferred destination to get an idea of how much things will cost while you’re there. It can break your budget if you find a low-cost flight but then can’t afford to do anything while you’re there because everything is so expensive. This isn’t to say that you can’t still go there on a budget. You will just need to consider what other areas of the big 5 you can trim costs so that you can afford the experiences and attractions.
- Want to go on a cruise? Check out wave season! It’s the Black Friday of cruise lines, roughly from January to March, when cruise lines offer major deals or free upgrades
- Keep a travel bucket list of places you want to go and experiences you want to have. Then, when you find a sweet travel deal to one of those places, jump on it!
Travel on a budget by being flexible on timing and duration
When you travel on a budget, being flexible on when you vacation and how long you are there can be a great way to trim costs. Travel destinations often have high seasons and low seasons, so timing your travel during off-peak seasons can save you a lot of cash. Low season travel saves you money in several categories of the big 5- flights are cheaper, accommodations are more budget-friendly, and you can stay longer for less.
- Planning and reserving in advance of your trip cans save lots of cash. Book in advance of your trip as much as possible.
- Some popular tourist destinations, events, or shows sell out weeks or months in advance. If there’s something you really want to see or a tour you really want to go on, book in advance to ensure you don’t miss out!
- Much of the cost of a trip is eaten up by airfare, so if you’re flying somewhere, consider staying longer to get your money’s worth.
- Research your destination to get a rough idea of how much it will cost to get there & stay there so that you can recognize a steal of a deal when you see it.
- Planning your travel months or years in advance can help you travel on a budget (if booking far out, consider travel insurance. Lots of life will happen between when you books& when you go).
- Score the best flight deals about 3 months out from your fly date. Wait too long to book and you’ll pay a premium.
- Sign up with Hopper for travel alerts. They analyze flights to determine if they’re good deals and tell you if they suspect you could pay more or less in the future. Sign up for their trip alerts and they’ll alert you when it’s likely your best time to buy.
Travel on a budget by being flexible on transportation
If you’re not careful, Transportation costs can really add up and can ruin your efforts to travel on a budget. Flights, gas costs, rental fees, train or subway tickets, taxi services, and parking fees are all elements of transportation you’ll need to consider and plan for if you want to travel smart on a budget.
To fly or to drive?
This is often a big decision when determining how to travel on a budget. Flying used to always be the more expensive choice, but thanks to low-cost carriers applying a healthy dose of competition and travel websites that let you research and book great deals, that’s not necessarily always true anymore.
The hidden factor that usually makes flying more expensive than driving is the rental car. If you’ll need a car while you are at your destination, it’s almost guaranteed that driving will be cheaper. However, if you are going to rely on public transportation & taxis while traveling, a flight could come out cheaper in the long run (especially if you’re traveling to a city where you would have to pay a hefty fee for daily parking).
So which should you do? Write down the costs associated with each option and research to get a general idea of expenses. Then, choose the option that comes in with a lower price tag.
- Break transportation costs down into two areas: the round trip costs and the “while there” costs. Try to trim each category down by making plans in advance.
- Relying on public transportation over private is almost always the more budget-friendly choice
- Price flights from neighboring cities. You can often score cheaper flights if you are willing to drive from your home city to a larger hub or international airport.
- Consider pairing flights together to save cash. Sometimes booking separate flights to a layover city and then to your destination is cheaper than booking the whole route as one ticket.
- Just as you can research flights to get the best deals, check out rental car options (both franchise and independent) to save cash.
Travel on a budget by being flexible on accommodations
After transportation costs, accommodations can be the biggest expense of a trip. The options for where to stay can be overwhelming, so have a rough idea of what you want- or what you’re willing to consider- before you research.
When it comes to accommodations, it’s not just about the hotel anymore. The possibilities are almost endless. Thanks to websites like Airbnb and HomeAway, it’s never been easier to rent space in someone else’s place. And with all the resources out there to comparison shop, hotels have had to step up their advertising game to get bookings. Many throw in extras like hotel credits, free wifi, or free parking to entice visitors to stay.
- Check out travel websites TravelZoo or Travel Pirates to score great vacation packages with accommodations
- Renting a place with a kitchen is a great way to cut the cost of food while you travel
- Rent the smallest space for the number of people you have. When my husband and I travel without the kids, we always search for studio apartments. They’re substantially cheaper than one bedroom places and often the size is comparable.
- If you’re traveling to a major city with public transportation, consider a space outside the city limits that has easy access to the downtown areas
- If staying at a hotel, consider the additional costs of parking or driving to where you need to go. If the hotel includes a complimentary shuttle to a from the airport, that could save some cash as well!
- Check for traveler group discounts, like AAA.
- Always take the time to read reviews! Reading about the experiences of other travelers helps you get a feel for what the accommodation will be like. A bargain is only a bargain if it’s a good place to stay. You won’t care how much money you saved if the room smells like mold and there are bugs everywhere.
Remember that you are going on vacation to see a place, not see a room. Trimming accommodation costs is one of the best ways to be able to do and see more while you’re there!
Travel on a budget by being flexible on experiences & attractions
Saving money on all you see and do is the last of the big 5 ways you can travel on a budget. Just as with the other categories, research is king. By having a general idea of your can’t miss activities, you can stay on budget without breaking the bank.
Often when visiting a place there are things that you don’t want to miss and there are things that you would like to do, but could do without, if you had to. Begin researching your destination to discover all the possible events, attractions, and activities that appeal to you. Then, create a list in order of importance to ensure you get to see & do your most important choices.
My favorite resource for destination specific research is Trip Advisor. Create a free account to build a trip on the site. This will allow you to save attractions, events, and accommodations as favorites so that you can source them later.
- Consider your “must-do” list. Research each and see if there are ways you can save. Sometimes there are discount tickets available online, special promotional days, or buy one, get one events.
- If traveling with kids, check for places where they get in free or at a discount. Sometimes places offer a “kids get in free” day. Plan your visits around special promotional days to save cash.
- Some attractions have discount pricing for admissions after a certain time. If you think you won’t need to be there all day, consider going in the evening to save cash.
- Check for reciprocity deals or special guest discounts. Sometimes attractions have special discounts if you have a membership to sister or cousin company. For example, we purchased Dollywood tickets for half price because we were members of our local aquarium. Often zoos have agreements like this as well.
- Special guests like seniors, children, or military members sometimes receive a discount or free admission. Be sure to check & see if any could apply to your visit.
One more tip….
Nothing zaps the joy out of your experience like not being present. You’ve done the research, made the plans, and spent the money. Don’t miss out on the experience by not being present.
Don’t have your face buried in your phone, missing all the stuff to see out your window. Don’t let work troubles or concerns about what’s going on at home hamper the joy of your experience. Take time to soak it all in.
Be present. Enjoy the moments, take lots of photographs, and journal memorable events and details. When you get home, create a scrapbook and enjoy reliving these travel moments for the rest of your life.
Travel on a budget by keeping the big 5 in mind
When you travel on a budget, it all about give & take. You have to balance wants and needs against preferences and wishes.
Consider the options available in each of the big 5 categories:
- Timing & Duration
- Experiences & Attractions
Make a list of trades you’re willing to make and any cuts that are doable. Consider what items are non-negotiable for you. Keeping these items few will enable you to plan a great adventure for less.
Start making travel plans today
You can travel on a budget while still planning a memorable trip for yourself or your family. While it may take a bit more energy and patience than just throwing budgetary caution to the wind, you will be so glad you stuck to your budget when you’re back home and aren’t facing crazy high credit card bills and the guilt of overspending.
Don’t let the fear of cost hold you back from exploring the world. Incorporate our travel advice, tips, and tricks to score some sweet deals and stretch your budget.
Remember, this is the first post in our Travel on a Budget Series! We’re sharing our best budget travel tips, hacks, and advice for each of the big 5, so be sure to read each post and discover even more ways to save!
Other posts in this series…
Looking for more inspiration?
Check out these 15 Benefits of Taking a Family Vacation and learn the importance of creating travel memories with your kids
Looking for some ways to save money on an upcoming road trip? Check out our guide to the best road trip tips.