From the high cost of hotels to the seemingly ever-increasing cost of flights, traveling can be an expensive endeavor. Luckily, there are plenty of budget travel tips and tricks to help you … save money while you are on the road that can either help you stretch your trip out longer or help you stay in that upscale historic hotel that you have been dreaming about (ok … maybe the one I have been dreaming about).
If you are used to staying in luxury properties and flying business class, don’t get scared off yet! Budget travel doesn’t have to mean giving up all of life’s luxuries. It simply means choosing what you desperately want and where you can cut corners so that you can make your dream trip a reality.
Sightseeing Doesn’t Have to Strain Your Budget
When you’re planning a trip, staying within your target cost can be stressful. Luckily, our scavenger hunts, art walks, pub crawls, and ghost tours can help you see more, even on a strict budget! Visit the ScavengerHunt.com store to grab tickets for any city on your itinerary, or consider an explorer pass for more frequent fun!
21 Budget Travel Tips
Below you will find some of our best budget travel tips that can help you save money as you explore the world!
1. Get a travel credit card.
One of the best ways to save money on travel is to get a travel credit card. These are normally offered from banks or directly from the credit card companies themselves. One of the best is the Chase Sapphire Preferred card which offers up to 5x the reward points on airfare and hotel rooms purchased through Chase Travel and 3x for dining. The travel rewards points can then be used to purchase frequent flyer miles from a wide selection of airlines. There is an annual fee of $95 but if you travel a lot it is well worth the money.
Citi and American Express also offer great cards with plenty of perks but keep in mind that American Express isn’t widely accepted outside of the United States so you may not get as much bang for your buck with that one if you plan on traveling internationally a lot.
If you decide not to get a travel credit card, make sure that the card that you do have has no transaction fees. While the fees don’t seem like much at first, they can add up quickly. This goes for ATM cards too. Some countries have very low limits on how much money you can take out at a time with high ATM fees meaning that you have to take money out repeatedly and spend a fortune in order to do it. It is frustrating and can get expensive but some banks will even automatically refund the money that you paid to access the ATM.
2. Don’t be scared of booking at the last minute.
Nearly every travel guru in the world will tell you to book in advance if you want to save money. While it is definitely true that the price of airfare and accommodation can go up drastically as you get close to a big event like Christmas or Thanksgiving or if you are traveling during the peak season, keep in mind that some companies have a tendency to overprice their flights or accommodation and then have to dump their rates at the last minute in order to achieve high occupancy.
If you are flexible, this could be the ideal time to snap up some last-minute deals on cheap flights or hotel rooms. Since none of us has a crystal ball and can see into the picture, there are some great apps out there, like Hopper, that give you the option to select a price watch that will let you know if the prices are likely to go up or down so that you know when is the best time to book.
By the way, if you want to find more apps that can help you save time and money, check the Best Travel Apps for Planning, Booking, and Enjoying Your Vacation.
3. You are never too old for backpacking.
There is a common misconception that backpacking is only for young people which is sad because it is an amazing way to save money. Staying in hostels and using public transportation can save you a fortune if you are traveling long term, especially if you stay in hostels that have kitchens where you can cook your own meals or hang out areas where you can relax with your new hostel friends without having to pay to go to expensive bars or cafes.
Not only that, it really is one of the best ways to get to know a country. You come into contact with way more people than you normally would if you were staying in a hotel which means that you greatly increase your chances of learning about that awesome place that barely any tourists hear about, or that hidden gem where you can try mouth-watering local food.
Staying in hostel dorms may not be for everyone and that is perfectly ok. Many hostels also have private rooms (although these are not always cheaper than staying in a hotel so make sure to do a quick comparison shop) where you kind of get the best of both worlds. You get the privacy of a hotel room, combined with the great common spaces, kitchen, and ability to make new friends! If you are worried about what a hostel is like, you can usually find plenty of reviews on websites like Booking.com and Hostelworld.
When you set out on a backpacking trip, don’t forget to pack lightly. Ideally, you will be able to fit everything in one carry-on size hiking backpack and a purse or day pack. This will make it much easier to get on and off public transportation and save you money on baggage fees. To learn more reasons why it is much better to travel lightly, skip down to tip 18!
4. Use public transportation.
In most parts of the world, using public transportation is much, much cheaper than taking taxis or Ubers, especially in the United States and Western Europe. While it is important to always consider the convenience factor (ie it is not worth making 10 different transfers to save a few dollars), taking public transportation usually works out to be the best deal when you are looking at getting from Point A to Point B. What you may even find is that it is sometimes even faster than taking a taxi if you are trying to travel through a city that is plagued by traffic jams like Mumbai or Hong Kong.
When you arrive at a destination, make sure to check whether or not they have a public transportation card. These could be unlimited rides for a certain period of time like you find in NYC or they could be stored value cards where you get a reduced price per ride, such as London’s Oyster card or Hong Kong’s Octopus card. Depending on how much you use the public transport systems, these can all help you save a lot of money on getting around.
5. Find creative ways to save money on accommodation
When you factor in the costs of accommodation, travel can get really expensive, really quickly. Thankfully, there are some creative ways to save money on accommodation.
If you love meeting new people, Couchsurfing is one of the best ways to cut down accommodation costs because it is completely free after paying a low annual membership fee. After you have set up a profile, you have the opportunity to message hosts asking if you could stay with them. It is a good idea to introduce yourself and explain why you want to stay with them (and don’t just say you want free accommodation). And in return, you can open your own home to any potential surfers coming through your town. I have used Couchsurfing a lot as both a traveler and a host and have had amazing experiences doing so. If you are a solo female traveler and are a bit worried about safety issues, you can also check out Facebook groups like Host a Sister which is much more female-friendly than Couchsurfing and cuts out the risk that you may end up with a creepy as a host.
If you want to stay somewhere for more than just a few days, you can also look into TrustedHousesitters which helps connect people who are looking for a housesitter or petsitter with people who want to find a place to stay, or Workaway which lists different volunteer opportunities around the world, many of which offer free accommodation in exchange for working a few hours a day. Many of the work placements are in hostels but you can also find a lot of farm stays, babysitting gigs, and more.
If you are staying for more than a month in a destination as a digital nomad or remote worker, you are likely to be checking out places on Airbnb. Rather than paying the ridiculously high prices listed there, try to contact hosts directly to see if they would be offering a discounted rate on a month-long booking. You may be surprised at what they are willing to offer for the convenience of having a month-long tenant.
6. Travel during the off season.
Despite what you may think, there is often not a WORSE time to visit many popular travel destinations than during the peak season. Sure, the weather may be beautiful in Italy during the summer but you also have to deal with seemingly endless throngs of people. Or that festival may look really interesting but is it really worth paying 5x the normal rate for accommodation and having to deal with huge crowds of other visitors trying to go to the exact same place that you are?
There are certainly exceptions to this (Oktoberfest in Munich for instance), but if you want to save money (and a lot of stress!), it is good to visit places during their off-season. If you go right at the start or the end of the peak season, you will often get all the same benefits (gorgeous weather, fun activities, etc) but at a fraction of the price that you would have paid by going a week earlier.
This is definitely one of those situations where you really need to weigh up what you really want and decide accordingly. If you are going to a place specifically for a certain event, that is something non-negotiable, but if you are simply going during a time because you heard that it’s the high season, it is a good idea to do some research and cost comparisons across several weeks to decide if it is really worth it.
7. Buy travel insurance.
Whenever and wherever you travel, always make sure that you have adequate health insurance as American insurance plans will generally not cover you when you are outside of the country. It is no fun getting sick or injured in a foreign country and it is even worse to get hit with a huge bill afterward. Travel insurance can be surprisingly inexpensive and it is a small price to pay to have the security that you will be covered in case anything goes wrong so this is one area where you definitely don’t want to skimp.
8. Always know the exchange rate where you are traveling.
This may seem kind of like a no-brainer but it can be very easy to forget what exchange rates are between currencies when you are bouncing from country to country. If you are prone to get confused, make sure to have a screenshot of the most recent exchange rate (xe.com is great for this!) handy so you can easily refer back to it.
Also, it is a good idea to practice converting things in your head before you get into a taxi or try to head to the local market to buy something as there are plenty of unscrupulous people all over the world who will be happy to take advantage of tourists.
9. Pack your own food.
If you really want to save money, packing your own food when you head out is a great way to do it. While this can be extremely useful when you are flying (airport food is laughably expensive), it is also pretty handy when you are exploring a new, and very expensive city (I am looking at you Scandinavia!) as even a quick trip to McDonald’s could end up costing the same as a week’s worth of food in other parts of the world.
If you are staying in a hostel, this is easy as you can simply throw together a sandwich made with delicious freshly baked bread, bright red tomatoes, and scrumptious cheese that you picked up at the local grocery stores pretty much everywhere in the Americas, Europe, Middle East, New Zealand, and Australia. However, if you are staying in a hotel it is slightly more challenging. If possible, try to get a room with a fridge or a window ledge if you are in a cold place and ask reception if you can borrow a knife quickly.
Try and reuse everything that you can throughout your journey. This includes saving your disposable silverware from your flight, the containers from your groceries, and any plastic wrap or tin foil that you pick up along the way. These are great for storing food and wrapping up leftovers that you can eat later. Don’t be scared of looking “cheap.” Most fellow budget travelers will be in awe of your forethought and preparation and anyone who is judgemental simply has too much time on their hands if they care that much about what a random stranger is doing.
10. Take full advantage of the hotel breakfast.
If you are staying in a hotel or guesthouse that offers free breakfast, take advantage of it! Even if you normally aren’t a big breakfast person, this can be a huge money saver. If you eat a hearty breakfast, it gets you all set for a fun day of exploring and also makes it possible to get away with just a light lunch. This not only helps save time but also money as you don’t have to set aside upwards of an hour to go eat lunch somewhere (unless you are a big foodie … then, by all means, go for that big lunch break!).
You can even grab an extra bread roll, some cheese, and a piece of fruit from the breakfast buffet and bring it with you! I personally am not a big fan of sweet food in the morning, so I tend to stockpile muffins, cookies, or cakes that I can snack on later, especially if I am in places that aren’t very vegetarian-friendly.
When you are searching for a hotel, always check to see if breakfast is included and what other guests have said about the quality and quantity of food, as this could be the thing that helps you choose one hotel over another!
11. Shop around for rental cars.
Sometimes when we travel, we get so excited to get our flights and accommodation booked that we forget about how we are actually going to get around! In some places, especially in the US, it is necessary to have a rental car and while these aren’t always easy on your budget, there are plenty of ways to save money.
First, make sure that you shop around. Using car rental aggregators like Priceline can be a great way to get an idea of what rental cars cost in a particular destination and you will be able to see the various price points offered by different rental car companies.
Second, don’t forget to factor in the cost of gas in some destinations and any tolls that you will have to pay (Europe, Australia, and Mexico are full of expensive toll roads that can really, really add up.) Some rental cars give you the opportunity to pre-purchase gas so that you don’t need to worry about refilling the tank. As a rule of thumb, it is usually way more expensive than just refilling it on your own so make sure to leave enough time to fuel up before dropping the rental car off.
Third, check with your credit card to see if they offer any rental car insurance before buying the expensive policies offered by the rental car companies themselves. Many of the policies have a high deductible AND premium which can more than double the price of a rental car. With a little proper planning, you can rest assured that you are adequately covered
12. Join free walking tours.
All around the world, you can find free walking tours popping up in cities both big and small. Although they aren’t technically free (you are expected to tip at the end and not tipping as a way to save money is definitely not cool), they are a fantastic way to learn more about a destination and make new friends (I actually met a guy I dated for six years on a free walking tour!) that you can hang out with after the tour.
You can find advertisements for these in many hostels or if you want to plan everything out in advance, you can see what is available on Freetour.com. As an added bonus, many of the tours are led by university students and they can often tell you what restaurants and bars are good options for budget travelers and give you all kinds of other tips and tricks about how to save money in a destination.
If you want to explore a city but can’t find a free walking tour that you like, what about a fun-filled scavenger hunt? These will have you racing down the streets as you search for your next clue. You will learn a lot about the city and have a great time doing it!
13. Go off the beaten path.
When we fantasize about our dream destinations, we often think about Instagrammable spots like San Francisco, Hawaii, Paris, Rome, Sydney, or Bali. However, these places can get very expensive and are not always the best options if you are traveling on a tight budget. Instead, you may want to look at some emerging destinations in Eastern Europe or South America like Georgia, Bulgaria, Bolivia, or Colombia or some of the tried and true budget destinations like Southeast Asia, India, and Mexico. They all offer wonderful activities and attractions that won’t break the bank the same way some of the destinations in the United States, Western Europe, or Australia would.
Besides being much more affordable, the great thing about visiting some emerging destinations is that you get the chance to experience what it is like there before they become flooded with tourists (which they inevitably almost always do). Just imagine how cool it would be to explore a country with very few tourists and be able to brag about how you traveled there before it was a tourism hotspot?
14. Know when to splurge.
Although this is an article about budget travel, this is a point that I couldn’t resist bringing up. Travel is all about new experiences and it is important to know when is a good time to splurge without making yourself feel guilty about it. If you have been dreaming your entire life of doing a gorilla trek in Uganda or if Antarctica has been at the top of your bucket list for as long as you can remember, this IS the time to splurge.
Obviously, it is not a good idea to throw a $10,000 cruise on your credit card and hope that you can pay it off someday but if you have worked hard to save for an experience of a lifetime, then do it and try not to worry about the costs. There are plenty of other ways that you can save money in other parts of your trip.
15. Know when NOT to splurge.
While it is important to be able to identify the experiences that are really important to you, it is equally important to be able to forget about things that aren’t. It may seem like you absolutely MUST go to that expensive restaurant, trendy rooftop bar, or five-star hotel. In these cases, it is a good idea to stop to think about how much it will add to your travel experience. Is this something that you think you will remember forever? Or is it something that you think would be kind of cool? Even worse, do you just want to go so that you can post photos of it on Instagram? When it comes time to spending a lot of money on something, you really need to ask yourself whether or not it is worth it.
For example, I once paid around $350 to spend the night in an uber-trendy hotel in Beijing that I desperately wanted to stay in. Because of travel delays, we ended up arriving late at night and barely had any time to really enjoy the facilities and the amenities. It felt like a huge waste of money and I am fairly certain that even if we had had more time to stay at the hotel, it still wouldn’t have been worth the extortionate cost. However, we also once paid $500 EACH to stay at Giraffe Manor in Kenya. This was an extremely special treat and we could only afford to spend one night but spending an evening watching giraffes trundle by outside of your window and then having them pop their heads into your hotel room in the morning made it well worth the money.
Looking back, I can’t believe that I spent so much money on that stupid hotel in Beijing that I barely remember (that was the cost of my monthly rent in a beautiful colonial town in Mexico) but I am incredibly grateful that I had the opportunity to stay at Giraffe Manor once.
16. Be flexible.
When it comes to traveling, being flexible is one of the best ways to keep more money in the bank. This means being flexible as much as you can when it comes to travel dates, destinations, type of accommodation, etc. If you were originally planning on going to Hawaii over Christmas and staying in an airy Airbnb right on the beach, but end up finding a great package deal to Thailand leaving a week later, go for it! Hawaii will still be there but you aren’t always guaranteed to get such a great deal again.
Being flexible can also save you a lot more than money. When you are flexible, it is easier to go with the flow in nearly every way and you can handle all the challenges that traveling throws at you much easier. This will make your entire trip more enjoyable and help cut down on your stress levels that could be elevated by last-minute changes to your itinerary, flight cancellations, and other common frustrations.
17. Take advantage of layovers.
If you are trying to plan a journey to your dream destination but find yourself having to make a choice between a super-long layover or an incredibly expensive flight, check to see if there is any way that you can take advantage of that long layover. Some destinations will offer free or inexpensive city tours if your layover is above a certain amount of time which is a great way to explore a new city rather than just sitting in an airport for hours on end. Just make sure to check on any visa requirements before getting too excited at the prospect!
Meanwhile, a handful of airlines will even give you the option of having a “free layover” while you are on your way to your final destination. Imagine having a flight to Italy and being able to spend a few days in Iceland or spending a few days in Istanbul on your way to Thailand. It is almost like having two vacations in one!
If you can’t take advantage of either of the above options, it is still worth trying to see how long you can stretch your layover. For instance, while flying Ukraine Airlines between India and the Czech Republic, I was able to choose flights so that I had an overnight layover in Kyiv, which just so happens to be one of my favorite cities in Europe. I was able to go into the city, meet up with a friend for drinks, and then head back to the airport the next morning fully refreshed and ready to hit the road running in Prague.
18. Pack lightly.
When you are getting ready for a big trip, it is easy to get a bit excited and throw way more in your bag than you need. From high heels to hiking boots, you may find yourself planning for absolutely every fun thing that could come up during your stay. While it is great to be prepared for every adventure, these things can get very heavy, very fast and you may suddenly find yourself with 30 pounds of stuff strapped to your back.
This is problematic for a few reasons when you are a budget traveler. First, baggage fees can be extremely expensive depending on the airline. For low-cost carriers, the baggage fees can even add up to more than your actual flight! While this may not be a huge deal if you are just flying to one city for a week-long getaway and flying straight back home, it can become pretty problematic when you are flying from place to place and having to pay the high fees every single time. This could quickly end up eating into your trip budget so it is a good idea to try to keep everything confined to one carry-on and one personal item.
If the money factor isn’t already enough to make you want to downsize, it is also important to remember that having a lot of stuff can actually impact your overall safety for one major reason. The more stuff you have with you, the harder it is to move. You can’t easily hop on and off public transportation and you will most likely have to put your luggage in the trunk of a taxi (always a bad idea). It also means that if you get creeped out while staying at a hotel or hostel, it is harder to pack up your stuff and get out quickly. Plus, there is nothing that screams “tourist!” louder than having a huge suitcase that you are trying to maneuver on a metro.
Traveling lightly really is a no-brainer when you consider the cost of baggage fees and mobility issues and there are plenty of space-saving hacks that allow you to make the most of the space that you have in your bag. To learn more, make sure to check out our guide to Space-Saving Travel Packing.
19. Don’t expect everything to be perfect.
Thanks to our own imaginations as well as the endless array of images that we see on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube, it is easy to think that traveling is glamorous and luxurious. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Traveling can be challenging, frustrating, and exhausting—even if you are staying in five-star hotels and flying business class everywhere. Having a lot of money definitely makes traveling easier but it will never be perfect no matter how much money you have.
The important thing to keep in mind when you are traveling on a budget is that nothing is ever going to be completely perfect. Your budget hotel room in Mumbai may have a crappy air conditioner, and your too-cheap-to-be-true apartment in NYC may have the bathtub in the middle of the kitchen. Your “luxury” sleeper bus in Cambodia may show up hours late with beds that look like they were made for five-year-olds, or your rental car in Argentina may end up being such a clunker that you aren’t sure that it will survive the road trip that you have in mind. Don’t let this ruin your trip. Instead, try to look at it as something that you will look back on and laugh at later.
When you set your standards fairly low, you may find yourself being pleasantly surprised at what life throws at you.
20 Triple check the COVID restrictions.
We are now getting close to two years of a pandemic that shows no signs of ending and once again, countries are starting to put travel restrictions in place. Before you travel anywhere, make sure to check the most up-to-date travel restrictions for a destination not only based on your nationality but also where you are coming from.
In August 2021, I was not allowed to board a flight from Spain to Bulgaria although Spanish people could fly to Bulgaria, and Americans outside of Spain could travel to Bulgaria. Needless to say, I lost the money for the flight as well as the travel costs to get to and from the Madrid airport, the extra night that I had to pay to stay in a hotel, and the extremely last-minute flight I needed to book in its place. Another friend had a destination suddenly added to her country’s “red-list” when she was in the middle of a multi-country trip which meant she couldn’t fly home from the final country on her trip. She ended up losing all of the money she paid for her flights and then had to pay extra to go to an alternative destination.
Although restrictions are changing constantly, it is important to be as up-to-date as possible and be able to make quick decisions on where else you can go in case of an unexpected restriction suddenly being slapped into place. It is also a good idea to “shop around” when it comes to PCR tests. Some labs charge an absolute fortune for a test while one a few doors down the road charges half the price. You can usually ask at your hotel or hostel or on Facebook groups where people recommend going.
21. Get a local SIM card.
While many American phone carriers offer international roaming, this usually tends to be much more expensive than simply getting a local SIM card when you arrive in a country. There are sometimes kiosks in airports where you can do this or you can also just show up at a local phone store and ask for one. Make sure to do a quick google search to see what documents that you need (usually your passport and your visa if applicable) before you go so you don’t have to turn back around empty-handed.
Even if you plan on relying mostly on wifi, SIM cards are extremely useful to have in case you end up with an unstable connection at your accommodation and don’t want to have to rely on going to cafes all the time to connect to their internet.
Ready to Roam?
We hope that these budget travel tips have helped you find ways to make your dream vacation a reality and we can’t wait to hear your feedback!
Frequently Asked Questions
There are many ways that you can save money while traveling! Budget travel tips include packing lightly, taking advantage of layovers, and being flexible about dates, destinations, and accommodations.