Traveling can be overwhelming, especially when you consider how much it costs to take a trip. Current travel trends are inspiring the need for great budget travel ideas, and lucky for you, I’ve already done some of the hard work for you!
When you’re ready to bite the bullet, here are some of my top tips to save money and alleviate financial burden when traveling!
Save it up, Buttercup
Save. Your. Money.
When anticipating taking a trip, it’s wise to start putting back some money with each paycheck. I never pay for anything until I’ve booked my flight. The flight is often the first and biggest chunk of change to drop. I always cringe before I hit that “Book Now” button because it’s such a large purchase! Traveling is thrilling, BUT I never want to let my wanderlust get the best of me by making an impulsive travel purchase that I really can’t afford.
If you don’t have the discipline to leave your stash of cash alone, put it in a travel fund that isn’t easily accessible. For example, I put my travel money in a savings account that penalizes me for withdrawing money too frequently. I love it and I hate it. (But I mostly love it).
Another tip I find helpful is to chip away at the trip a little bit at a time. Once my flight is purchased, I’ll knock something else out with each paycheck. Perhaps a I’ll pay for a hotel stay with one check; the next check I might pay for a tour I want to take. I spread out the costs over the course of several months so I’m not leaving myself short by paying for everything at once. I do this all while keeping in mind my full trip budget, of course.
Sadly, my salary alone is rarely enough to cover the trips I want to take. However, I am fortunate to be able to pick up extra shifts at my job. While I (really, really) don’t like working extra, my end goal is worth it. It doesn’t make sense to go into debt for travel as it will only make future travel less possible!
I have to be honest… researching is half the adventure for me! Total nerd, I know.
As I mentioned, flights can be a big chunk of your travel budget. It’s really important to make sure you’re getting the best deal! Start watching prices early and run comparisons for several weeks. Don’t limit yourself to a particular airline (unless you want to score airline points). The best flight stalkers get the best deals.
It’s also wise to take a good look at all your accommodation options. Don’t get stuck in hotel tunnel vision! Sometimes getting a hotel is the best option, but there have also been times where it was cheaper for me to rent an Airbnb, like that time I spent a mere $40/night in the city center of Ljubljana, Slovenia. Or perhaps the best option is a hostel, like that time I stayed at Wombats in Budapest for $26/night. (Because I know you are wondering – I used my savings to get a phenomenal massage after spending the day soaking at Gellert Baths). Don’t hate.
There are several websites out there designed to help you find bargains. This can be done by providing a vacation package, or by bundling accommodation, rental cars and/or flights. Travelzoo is one website that has some pretty good deals. For example, a quick look at my app reveals that at this particular moment you can do a 6 night tour of Ancient Greece for $899 to include flights, accommodation, private transportation, sightseeing and associated fees, airport transfers, 8 meals and guide services. Seriously!!! You literally can’t even get a flight for this amount most of the time. (My flight to Athens, Greece cost me $760). Just make sure you always read the small print. In this case you have to get to New York for the flight, and only certain departure dates apply. Nonetheless, if this meets your needs, you can save a whopping $1600 on this trip. Ridiculous. Currently consulting my own calendar…..
Another way to save money is to use simple common sense: don’t pick a place that’s stupid expensive!!!! There are so many amazing places to see that won’t facilitate bankruptcy. Some of the most beautiful places I’ve seen were the least expensive – Croatia, Slovenia, Costa Rica and Thailand to name a few.
Early Booker Gets the Deal
It’s easy – the earlier you book, the more likely you are to find a good price. This goes for flights and accommodations alike. My general rule of thumb for booking flights departing from the US is:
57 days out for domestic flights
160 days out for Asian-Pacific flights
176 days out for European flights
90 days out for South/Central American flights
77 days out for Caribbean flights
Booking early for tours won’t necessarily get you a better price, but you’ll have a better chance of getting in before the tour fills up!
Break Your Leg, Not the Bank
Just kidding. Don’t break your leg. But definitely have fun doing activities that could break your leg without going broke.
Some of my fave free and low cost activities available in most travel destinations include online walking tours, free museum entries, hiking, swimming, tastings, meetups, Hop-On Hop-Off Tours, sightseeing river cruises, and my very, very favorite: exploring wildly on foot and getting lost in the city!
Another place you can find reasonably priced experiences is on websites like Airbnb. Case in point, a quick search on Airbnb for experiences under $15 in London includes photography tours, city walking tours, live music, salsa lessons and a scavenger hunt race – and that’s only in the first two rows displayed! What I love most about these types of experiences is that they’re provided by people who who call your destination “home”. They live the city’s culture every day. They’re not some huge company trying to make money in a place they’ve never seen.
Public transportation is your BFF. Bus it up or take the subway over a taxi or Uber. For cross country travel, a bus or train can save you a ton of money versus private transfer or a car rental. Many popular destinations are promoting the use of bicycle-sharing systems, which is a lovely way to get some exercise and see the beauty of the city around you. Finally, there’s nothing like your own two feet to get you around. There’s so much to see, and walking (which is free, btw) will immerse you fully into your chosen destination.
Cut Unnecessary Costs
If you’re traveling overseas, you may want to consider bringing a credit card that doesn’t charge international transaction fees. Those fees can add up over the course of your vacation, and it simply doesn’t make sense to pay extra money when you don’t need to.
While on the subject of credit cards, they are highly advantageous over debit cards, and obviously, cash in the event of theft. Heaven forbid you fall victim to crime while on an adventure, but it can happen. I was 3 days into a 20 day trip when I was successfully pick-pocketed in Italy. I thought I was being careful, but as it turns out, those assholes are really, really good. (Not bitter at all).
Anyway, if your credit card gets stolen, you can initiate an investigation with your credit card bank and carry on with your backup method(s) of payment. If your debit card gets stolen, you can still initiate an investigation with your bank, but your account will probably be completely sucked dry and there are no guarantees as to if or when you’ll get that money back. If your cash is stolen, well… buh-bye. These are additional costs I think we all want to avoid.
It’s wise to keep a close eye on your bank statements while you’re traveling. Thieves have gotten really fancy and can steal your credit card number without actually taking your card. While the jury is still out on whether or not RFID skimming is a real threat to be worried about, it’s always best to play it safe and keep your cards and passport in an RFID-blocking wallet or purse. Apparently aluminum foil works just as well – if you can keep it intact for the duration of your trip. I have trouble doing that on a daily basis with my refrigerated leftovers, so good luck if you go that route. Keeping a close eye on your statements is also a good way to make sure you’re staying on budget. Those souvenirs add up pret-ty quickly.
Finally, if you’re strategic with your credit card use, you can set yourself up for rewards and travel discounts.
My best advice is to be cautious with credit card use. Only charge what you can pay. There’s nothing worse than ruining the memory of your travel adventure with a long-lasting financial burden. Make memories that will last forever – not credit card interest.
Some of my most amazing trips have been the least expensive. I hope these tips to travel on a budget have been helpful and encouraging. I’m always looking for new ideas to save money, so if you have any suggestions I’ve left out, drop them below!