Budget Travel: The Need Explained
My wanderlust was on fire again after visiting Hawaii in May 2022. The issue was that having a large family meant vacations were extremely costly making them few and far between. Our family only really had one vacation since becoming a full fledged blended family in 2022. Traveling on a budget without sacrificing experience or quality was key.
Traveling is expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. Contrary to popular belief, there are ways you can travel cheaply without sacrificing your comfort and convenience. Whether you’re planning a solo trip, a family vacation, or a romantic getaway, these 15 tips and tricks will help you keep your expenses low and your adventures high. From finding cheap flights and accommodations to saving money on food and transportation, we’ve got you covered. Let’s get started!
How to Travel on a Budget
1. Set a budget and stick to it
The first step to traveling cheap is to set a budget and stick to it. Determine how much you can afford to spend on transportation, accommodations, food, and other expenses, and make sure you don’t go over it. This may require some research and planning, but it will pay off in the long run. Don’t forget to add a buffer and emergency budget so you aren’t caught by surprise!
2. Be flexible with your travel dates
If you’re flexible with your travel dates, you can often find cheaper flights and accommodations. Use travel websites that allow you to compare prices across multiple airlines and hotels, and look for deals and discounts.
My favorites are SkyScanner and Google Flights. To use SkyScanner, enter your airport(s) of choice, check anywhere, and check anytime. Once you do this, it will give the best deals to go anywhere in the world.
To do this with Google Flights, click the Explore option and enter your departure city and dates, but leave the destination blank. If the dates are flexible, click Flexible Dates which will give you even more bargains.
3. Use a travel rewards credit card
Many travel rewards credit cards offer points or miles for every dollar you spend, which can be redeemed for flights, accommodations, and other travel expenses. Look for a card with no annual fee and a sign-up bonus, and use it to pay for all your travel-related expenses. You can read more about the art of travel hacking here!
If it does have an annual fee, make sure that the benefits of the card outweigh the fee that you are paying. Nearly all of my flights and accommodations are paid for through the points earned on my travel rewards credit card.
Travel rewards credit cards also usually come with handy things like travel insurance, car rental damage waiver, and baggage delay to ensure that you are covered if anything goes awry while on vacation!
4. Book accommodations with a kitchenette
One of the easiest ways to save money on food is to book accommodations with a kitchenette. This allows you to cook your own meals and avoid eating out for every meal, which can quickly add up. If the inner foodie in you still craves local faire, visit a local market to get fresh, local ingredients to cook the recipes of the region you are visiting.
My family tries to only have one of our meals out a day while the other two are prepacked or made at the hotel. This saves a ton of money so you can use your budget towards activities and experiences instead.
5. Take public transportation
Taking public transportation is often cheaper than renting a car or taking taxis. Look for maps and schedules online, and plan your route ahead of time to avoid getting lost or wasting time.
Make sure to do your research on the reliability and efficiency of using public transport in the area before relying on it to avoid any mishaps. Sometimes the ease of having your own transportation greatly outweighs the amount of time spent on a public transport schedule.
6. Eat like a local
Eating like a local can save you money and give you a more authentic travel experience. Look for street vendors and local markets, and try the local cuisine. Street food is a favorite of mine because it is cheap and authentic. One of the most unexpected places that I found street food in Hawaii was 7-eleven.
Here on the mainland of the United States, I would never eat fresh food from a gas station as that is a recipe for disaster. It wasn’t until a local told me about how it is the norm to grab breakfast or lunch from there on the daily.
Since I was so pressed for time while getting my tattoo in Hawaii, I basically lived off the manapua and spam musubi there.
7. Get free walking tours
Many cities offer free walking tours, which are a great way to see the sights and learn about the culture and history of a place while staying on a budget. Check online for schedules and meeting points. You can even do your own walking tour via apps like Visit A City and WalknTours which are extremely interactive and informative.
8. Use airline miles and hotel loyalty programs
Regardless of how often you travel, joining airline and hotel loyalty programs to earn points and miles can beneficial since they can be redeemed for free flights and accommodations. Many programs offer perks like free upgrades and early check-in as well. These combined with the credit card travel reward points can make your trip virtually free!
9. Book flights when it is cheaper
Flights tend to be cheaper on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, so try to book your flights for those days if possible. Also, avoid booking flights too close to your travel date, as prices tend to be higher. For domestic flights, it is suggested to book your flight about 76 days in advance. Longer hauls like international flights are often cheapest when booking six months in advance.
10. Pack light
Pack only what you need and avoid bringing too much luggage, as many airlines charge extra fees for checked bags. Use a carry-on and pack smartly to avoid excess baggage charges. Try to pack clothes that can be mixed and matched to make new outfits rather than packing a different outfit for every day of the week.
One universal guideline is to pack one hat, two pairs of shoes, three bottoms, four tops (short or long-sleeve or outer layer), five pairs of socks, six pairs of underwear. This should be sufficient to last you for fourteen days.
Beyond that, customize your pack list to include swimwear, rainwear or other specific items related to your trip. You should only have to do laundry once every six days according to this guideline.
11. Use discount codes and coupons
Look for discount codes and coupons online for flights, accommodations, and activities, and use them to save money on your travel expenses. Rakuten and Honey are great browser extensions that alert you of cash back or discount codes for whatever you are looking to buy whether it be concert tickets, tours, or activities.
12. Travel off-season
Traveling off-season can save you money on flights, accommodations, and activities, as many places offer lower prices during their slow seasons. Plus, you’ll avoid the crowds and have a more authentic experience. Our favorite times to travel are in January and September because they have low rates for all of the above.
13. Stay with locals
Staying with locals through Couchsurfing or Airbnb can save you money and give you a more immersive experience in a place. Many locals are willing to show you around, introduce you to their friends, and give you insider tips on where to go and what to do.
14. Bring your own snacks
Bringing your own snacks and drinks can save you money and keep you from getting too hungry or thirsty while traveling. This is especially true when traveling with kids to avoid meltdowns. I usually wait until I get to my destination to go grocery shopping to pick up things like snacks, granola bars, drinks, and grocery items. A refillable water bottle is a great way to save money on drinks and waste.
15. Negotiate prices
Don’t be afraid to ask about discounts for accommodations, transportation, and activities. Many places are willing to offer discounts or lower prices if you ask, especially if you’re traveling in a group.
If you go to a local market or flea market, you can negotiate prices for things like souvenirs and goods. Just make sure that you are not being offensive or asking too little in your asking price as this is the livelihood of the merchant.
Save Money, Travel More!
Traveling doesn’t have to break the bank. By following these 15 tips and tricks for traveling cheaply, you can save money and still have a great time. Take it a step further and learn about Travel Hacking to save on flights and hotels while not skimping on comfort and luxury. Happy travels!