Traveling on a budget is best done with a plan.
I say this from experience. As someone who has traveled extensively, always on a backpacker budget, I have learned how to take care of my finances abroad while having amazing experiences at the same time. And the best way to keep your wallet padded and a smile on your face is, you guessed it, to have a plan.
Traveling on a budget doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice fun, and it certainly doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice comfort.
These 20 budget travel tips will help you be as prepared as possible for a wallet-friendly trip abroad.
Let’s dive in!
My 20 Best Tips for Traveling on a Budget
Tip #1 – Travel in the Off-Season
No matter where you’re headed, something that’s universally true is that traveling during the peak season will have you shelling out a lot more money than traveling in the off or shoulder seasons.
The best season for budget travel completely depends on your destination, so I recommend researching weather, price points, and typical flight fare for your chosen locale. You could save tons of money on transportation, accommodation, food, and activities.
Tip #2 – Pick Your Destination Carefully
Another universal truth when it comes to budget travel is that some destinations are a lot less expensive than others.
How expensive a country will be to visit depends on many factors, so I recommend looking at guides detailing what to expect from your destination at different budget levels. Look at factors such as tourism hotspots, general food, accommodation, activity, and, transport costs, and the type of experience you’re looking to have.
Tip #3 – Explore Alternative Accommodation Options
When choosing accommodation options, many people often default to booking hotels or resorts. Sure, these places are often luxurious, but what if I told you that you could still maintain your level of comfort, yet at a lesser price point?
There are so many budget accommodation options out there for you to explore, including Airbnb’s, housesitting programs, hostels (they have private rooms too!), campervans, and glamping.
Tip #4 – Plan Your Days in Advance
As much as I love being spontaneous in my travels, I have to admit that whimsy generally equates to a heftier price tag. Before you take off on your trip, I recommend making a spreadsheet (where my Type A’s at?) with all your costs including transportation, food, activities, accommodation, and shopping.
That said, a trip isn’t well-rounded if you don’t leave a little wiggle room, so I also recommend putting aside some funds for spontaneity. Planning ahead for, uh, being spontaneous means that you miss the money out of your wallet but you can still go with the flow.
Tip #5 – Get Outdoors
Sure, visiting National Parks tends to cost money but, in general, exploring the great outdoors can be a whole lot cheaper than paying for indoor experiences.
If you’re wanting a day of budget travel adventure, then I recommend activities such as hiking, snowshoeing, surfing, snorkeling, swimming, waterfall chasing, or just lazing away on a beach somewhere working on your tan.
Tip #6 – Pack Well
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve packed in a rush, only to get to my destination and realize that I forgot something important. Cue wandering around my destination, wasting money on something I already technically own.
I hate running errands when I’m traveling or on holiday, so following a packing list and making sure you have everything you need will not only save you money, but it will also save you time.
Tip #7 – Embrace Street Food
This one is a win-win situation. In my experience, street food is some of the best and most culturally-authentic grub you’ll find while traveling. Oh, and it can be pretty darn cheap too!
To find the best street food in your destination, I recommend going where the locals go. Wander around, see if there are any lines at the food stalls, and then eat at those places. This is your best bet for not getting sick and getting the tastiest food at the same time.
Tip #8 – Use Points
It took me way too long to realize that one of the best ways to save money traveling was to use credit card points. Called ‘travel hacking’, using credit card points means that you sign up for different travel-friendly credit cards, meet the minimum spends, and then use the points you acquire on things like flights and hotel stays. This is a great way to build up credit and a ton of free trips all in one go.
Of course, I only recommend this to people who are prepared to meet the minimum spend, keep track of their spending and points, and can keep up with payments. If you can do these things, then prepare yourself for a life of free travel.
Tip #9 – Understand Your Travel Insurance
Travel insurance — such a necessary evil. I call it evil because most of us never use the insurance that we purchase, and yet I think it’s one of the most important things to have for every trip.
If you’re employed full-time or are with a major bank, then chances are you’re already covered for travel insurance. However, if you’re not then there are plenty of great options out there (in the past, I have used World Nomads and always found their policies fair).
That said, read the fine print with your policy. Understand what your insurance covers and what it does not. Depending on what kind of trip you take and how adventurous you are, you may want to beef up your policy before you depart. Doing this could honestly save you tens of thousands of dollars in the case of an accident or hospital stay.
Tip #10 – Research Hidden Fees
Ah, if I had a dollar for every hidden fee that bit me in the butt… well, I certainly wouldn’t break even because hidden fees can be quite the expense.
When booking travel, always read the fine print, and always remember that airlines, hotels, and vacation packages may be showing you a number before taxes and fees.
However, even more than that, costs when purchasing food, souvenirs, and hotel amenities may not be as upfront as you think. If you’re not sure what is included in the price, always ask. And keep a little fund set aside in the event you have to end up paying more than you bargained for.
Tip #11 – Know the Water Situation
Truthbetold, I’m really not a fan of bottled water. It’s terrible for the environment, supports shady companies, and is a complete waste of money. That said, I’m also really not a fan of water-borne illnesses, either. So, before you travel somewhere, research the water situation — know if the water in your destination is safe to drink or if the tap water is best avoided.
Then, armed with that information, plan ahead. If the water is undrinkable, then I recommend bringing a life straw or water-purification tablets. I’ve used both of those options and can vouch for them keeping me healthy.
Read Next: An Environmental Pledge for Us All
Tip #12 – Use a VPN
A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is a tool that will allow you to trick the internet into thinking you’re surfing from a country you may not actually be in. Not only is this a great way to keep your data secure online, but it could also get you travel deals.
The next time you’re searching for flights or accommodation, try booking from your destination country, or somewhere else entirely, and see if the prices change.
Tip #13 – Ask the Locals
One of the most surefire ways to save money while traveling is by asking the locals where to go, what to do, and where to stay.
Whether it’s your Airbnb host, your taxi driver, or your hotel concierge, asking a local where to eat and what activities to try will give you a great experience and could end up saving you some moolah in the meantime. In general, locals know the best spots in their city, and they love to spread the love!
Tip #14 – Get a Local SIM Card
As much as “going-off-the-grid” feels amazing, chances are you’re not going to be 100% offline on your trip. So, unless you have a great phone plan at home, getting a SIM card in your destination will go a long way in saving you from data overages.
To get one, you can either go into a phone distributor in your country, but you’ll find a lot of convenience stores carry SIM cards as well.
Tip #15 – Get Bank/ATM Savvy
Again, with the fees! If you travel regularly, then you know taking money out of your account via a foreign ATM can be costly. ATM fees, foreign transaction fees, etc, etc. So, I recommend familiarizing yourself with the fees your bank will charge you, and then adjusting your habits accordingly.
If you’re a frequent traveler then it might make sense to switch to a bank that refunds your fees, but you can also bring an appropriate amount of foreign currency with you to your destination, or get a debit/credit card with low rates.
Tip #16 – Research Local Transit
I admit it, when I’m traveling, I like to do so with a modest amount of luxury. Meaning, on my own time and in my own car. That said, mine are definitely not the most budget-friendly travel habits there ever were.
If you want to save money on local transport, then look up bus routes, ride-sharing programs, if there are tuk-tuks, etc. Taxis are efficient but are best saved for trips to and from the airport, although I don’t always follow my own advice.
Tip #17 – Look for Free Admission Days
Did you know that a lot of the popular activities in any given destination have either free or low-admission days of entry? Well, it’s true, and unless you love paying full-price for all of your activities, a little research will go a long way into saving you money in this area.
Tip #18 – Consider Alternative Airports
Flying into popular airports is expensive. The big landing pads are hot ticket items, and a chuck of your airfare goes directly to paying for your flight to land.
So, if you want to save some money, look into flying into small, less-frequented airports. I’ve done this numerous times and, while it may take some extra maneuvering trying to figure out where to go and how to get around, it’s always 100% worth-it for the extra money in my wallet.
Tip #19 – Don’t Overdo It
Hey, I get it. When we’re traveling, we all love luxury. We love spending our hard-earned money on fancy meals, fancy hotels, and fancy souvenirs. But, if you’re traveling on a budget, then I have to remind you not to overdo it.
As I mentioned above, plan out your days so you can take into account when you want to be bougie, and when you need to stick to your budget. There’s no rule that says you can’t enjoy some of the finer things in life while on a budget, but it’s best to not go overboard every single day.
Tip #20 – Try the Local Alcohol
Speaking of going overboard on vacation — alcohol! If you’re the type that likes to indulge in beer and liquor while abroad, then an easy way to save money on this is to try the local alcohol. Local alcohol isn’t subject to import fees and thus tends to be cheaper. Plus, locally-sourced alcohol is a whole cultural experience in and of itself, so there is really no downside.
That said, being on alert for seriously-bootlegged alcohol. A guy in Playa del Carmen once invited my friend and me to come and drink out of his bathtub filled with tequila. We declined.
That’s it for my 20 travel budget tips!
I hope this helps in your future budget travel planning. Traveling on a budget is one of my passions, and if I’ve saved you even a dollar from these tips, then I count that as a success!
Let me know your budget travel thoughts in the comments!