Don’t have a huge travel fund yet? No problem, there are plenty of ways to travel on a budget that help keep costs down.
This is one of the greatest things about traveling, anyone can do it no matter what your travel budget is. The best part is that traveling doesn’t have to be expensive.
I’m sure we all want that luxurious 5 star beach vacation where someone fans you off with a palm frond in one hand all while feeding you grapes with the other – but the reality is that most people can’t and will never be able to afford that type of trip.
Again this is okay because there are plenty of ways to travel and save money doing it. With a little research, these travel budget saving tips and determination you’ll be on an epic budget trip without having to sacrifice those bucket list experiences.
Okay let’s get into the juicy details. Here are 33 traveling on a budget tips and tricks for saving money on travel.
*I have sprinkled some affiliate links in this post including Amazon that gives me a small commission at no extra cost to you if you decided to make a purchase. All proceeds go to keep Jess traveling, coffee ☕️ and let's be real...probably wine 🍷. I thank you in advance.
1. Be Flexible
One of the best ways to travel on a budget is to be flexible. When you are on a strict schedule and you have to leave on a Friday and return on a Sunday you’re almost guaranteed to be stuck with the prices you’re given.
Prices are usually more expensive on the weekends and it doesn’t leave you with many options to choose from if you are flying. If you have to fly home on a Sunday, there are only so many flights to X destination on a Sunday.
Being flexible allows you to pick the cheapest flight based on price instead of the day.
Travel Tip: Research shows that the cheapest day to fly or to book flights is on a Tuesday.
2. Use a Credit Card with Great Travel Benefits
Using a credit card to rack up points/miles to use on travel is oh so rewarding. This is a great way to use everyday purchases for a win. You MUST pay the credit card(s) off quickly in a timely fashion.
Letting the payment roll over to the next month would defeat the purpose as you would be charged interest and that doesn’t save you money in the long run.
I have several credit cards that I use to accumulate points and every year I take myself and my partner Joe (the man behind the camera) on a trip completely paid for by points.
I have specific credit cards that offer high travel incentives and put every purchase I can on my cards to rack up points. Same with Joe, if he has to fill up for gas or runs to the store, we put everything we can on the credit cards and just Venmo each other the difference. Then I pay the card off promptly when I’m done. This way I never find myself in credit card debt again and I’m investing in a FREE vacation! Plus it builds my credit, win win.
These are the top 3 credit cards I use for travel and to accumulate travel points:
Plus most travel credit cards come with several other perks like car rental loss & damage insurance and baggage insurance on lost bags. Each credit card varies in benefits so make sure to check each one out separately to see what kind of perks you will get.
3. Avoid Foreign Transaction Fees
Avoiding foreign transaction fees can end up saving you a big chunk of change. 3 of the best ways to avoid foreign transaction fees are as followed.
First, never exchange your money at the airport. Money exchangers at the airport have a high exchange rate fee. If you are bringing money with you to exchange to foreign currency, your best bet is to exchange your money anywhere besides the airport.
A good rule of thumb is to always withdraw money over exchanging. But if you must, to get the best exchange rate, find a local bank and do your money exchanging there.
Second, set up an account with a bank that will reimburse any foreign transaction fees that you acquire on your travels. I personally have been using Charles and Schwab for several years and will be forever be a loyal customer.
Once I arrive at my destination, I find the nearest ATM and pull out some money. This will pay for my transportation to my hotel. I don’t have to pull a lot of money out at once because Charles and Schwab will reimburse my of any foreign transaction fees (i.e. ATM fees) at the end of each month.
Since the bank reimburses any and every foreign transaction fee you can use an ATM as frequently as you’d like knowing you will get those fees paid back. This is not only a great way to save money on foreign fees but it allows you to stay safe as your travel. Carrying a lot of cash on your person at once makes you a target for common theft.
Finally the third way to help eliminate foreign transaction fees while you travel is to use credit cards. Many credit cards have too foreign transaction fees. Stay organized and track your expenses in the Trail Wallet Travel Budget App. This will help you keep a running tally of how much you are spending so you can pay your credit card off right away not accruing any interest charge.
4. Visit Cheap Travel Destinations
Okay so this may come as a no-brainer but if you are traveling on a budget and looking for the ultimate budget trip then pick a destination that is cheap and affordable. There are plenty of destinations world wide that you can travel cheap and for an extended period of time.
Southeast Asia is a popular backpacking destination because you can travel to multiple countries at a fraction of the price. Some countries you can travel for as low as $15 a day. That of course includes a bed in a dormitory, street food and buses to transport you around. The best countries in Southeast Asia to travel cheap are Laos, Cambodia, Philippines, Indonesia and the less touristy parts of Thailand.
Central America is also a popular backpacking hotspot to travel on a budget. The cheapest countries in Central America are Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala.
And if you are looking to backpack through Europe, Eastern Europe prices will take you much farther than Western Europe.
Although a trip to the Hawaiian Islands sounds amazing, the cost of traveling to Maui for a week on a budget would be equivalent to backpacking Southeast Asia for a month. Trust me, I live on Maui – it’s expensive!
5. Travel in off or shoulder season
Traveling in the off season or in shoulder season is a great way to keep the cost of travel low while still being able to enjoy the same place. For example, traveling in Maui during the shoulder season (May & September) tend to have cheaper accommodations and flights. Yet the weather is perfect and you can still enjoy many of the main activities that people come to Maui for. It’s quite the anomaly.
If you are traveling to Southeast Asia in the off season, hotels, activities and transportation is half the price. Plus this allows more freedom to adventure as you don’t need to book your stays far in advance as there is more vacancy.
This does come at a cost though, off season in Southeast Asia is monsoon season which means that it down pours (aka monsoons) for several hours daily. In my opinion this just adds to the adventure. Don’t forget to pack a rain coat or an umbrella!
6. Use Public Transportation
Opting for public transportations over cabs can save you significant amounts of money. Most cities have reliable and accessible public transportation, whether it’s via bus, subway or metro.
Public transportation also helps you get more acquainted with the area and you never know what hidden gem you may find along the way. It’s about the journey and not the destination after all, am I right?!
7. Use a Student ID for a Discount
Did you know that places like historic attractions and museums offer student discounts if you present them with a student ID? Think if it like a senior discount but for those seeking knowledge under the age of 26.
Places like the Louvre in Paris or the Forbidden city in Beijing offer a discounted price when purchasing a ticket if you can show them a student id. A useful tip to know before traveling China is that many places in China offer student discounts to enter attractions so make sure you utilize this perk if you have a student ID.
Interested in traveling China? Check out these guides for inspiration:
8. Don’t Use Plastic
Opt for using reusable water bottles instead of plastic bottles. You can easily fill up your water bottle inside the airport at a water fountain or in the lobby of your hotel for free instead of having to spend money on plastic one time use, throw away bottles.
Shop Travel Water bottles ↓
9. Walk Everywhere
Walk everywhere. Not only does this burn more calories but it helps you get familiar with the new area or city that you are exploring.
I once walked 16 miles in one day in Las Vegas just by exploring the strip. This made indulging in margaritas that much more enjoyable it’s a great way to save money while you travel.
10. Go to National Parks on Free Days
Did you know that the National Park service in the United States offer free admission to everyone on certain dates throughout the year. This is a great way to save money on an entrance fee and get to experience the raw beauty that National Parks have to offer.
In 2021 these are the dates of free admission to any National Park.
- January 18: Martin Luther King, Jr’s birthday.
- April 17: First day of National Park Week
- August 4: One year anniversary of the Great American Outdoors Act
- August 25: National Park Service Birthday
- September 25: National Public Lands Day
- November 11: Veterans Day
The only downside to this is that these days do tend to be very busy. Another great option if you plan on traveling to multiple National Parks a year is to purchase a National Park Pass. They cost $80 and 3 visits to any park pays for itself. These are a few of my favorite National Parks in the United States.
11. Utilize Free Museums
Did you know that lots of museums in the United States and world wide offer free admission. Visiting museums is a great way to learn about history and is a perfect way to spend a day when it’s raining outside. Some of the museums in the United States that are free to enter are:
- Smithsonian – Washington DC
- Getty Center – Los Angeles, California
- Museum of Contemporary Photography – Chicago, Illinois
- The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology – New York, New York
- The Alamo – San Antonio, Texas
12. Download Currency Converter App
There’s nothing worse than getting ripped off or paying too much in a foreign country all because you didn’t convert your currency properly in your head. Downloading a currency converter app makes the converting process much easier. There are lots of apps available that are free, easy to use and have real time exchange rates.
13. Use Apps to Call/Text Friends & Family Back Home
Don’t pay for a cell phone plan. Instead use apps like WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger to call or text friends and family back home when you have access to free wifi.
But if you want to feel safer and have cell service buying a SIM card is a cheap way to go. Just make sure you phone is unlocked. You can usually purchase SIM cards at the airport or any convenient store.
14. Travel in a Group or with a Buddy
Traveling in a group or with a buddy is an easy way to cut costs on things that you would have to pay for anyways by splitting the bill. Things like hotels, cars or cabs are a great example of this.
Ways to Find Cheap Tickets, Discounts & Cheap Transportation
15. Join Facebook Groups
There are hundreds of Facebook groups you can join that talk about travel and make you aware if there’s a great travel deal going on. I’m always scanning groups to gather inspiration for future trips and find deals.
16. Use Skyscanner to Book a Flight
Skyscanner is by far one of my favorite search engines when it comes to booking flights. It gives so much freedom and flexibility to book the cheapest flight possible.
It has this nifty feature that allows you to search to anywhere at anytime, all you have to do is choose a starting destination. This is great if you don’t have your heart set on any particular destination or time.
Once you’ve found some cheap destinations, airline and date I usually head to that airlines official website. You can then type in the dates you found that cheap price and book directly from the airline.
Booking directly from the airline is usually the cheapest way as you won’t be charged any third party finder fees and better customer service in case you have to deal with cancelations or refunds.
17. Sign up to Newsletters for Cheap Flight Deals
Sign up for newsletters that send deal alerts and information on sales. There are tons of great sites that send real time sales, deals and error fares (those mind blowing cheap flights posted as a mistake by the airline) directly to your inbox, according to your home base airport.
I subscribe to several newsletters and am ready to pounce when the perfect deal lands in my inbox. Some newsletters require a subscription but it’s a small price to pay for awesome deals.
Here are a few of my go to sites.
18. Research Rome2Rio to find the Cheapest Route
Rome2Rio searches any city, town, landmark, attraction or address across the globe with thousands of multi-modal routes to easily get you from A to B. This allows you to pick the cheapest mode of transportation. If you have time to slow travel this website will be your best friend.
19. Sign Up for my Newsletter for Money Saving Deals
Love saving money on travel? Sign up for my newsletter to get money saving deals and travel tips directly to your inbox. Get ready for some serious Hawaii travel inspiration!
20. Use Ride Sharing Apps
Ride sharing apps are a great way to share or reduce transportation costs when you travel on a budget. These are a few of the best ride sharing apps out there.
- Uber – Matches passengers requesting rides with drivers based on the GPS location of the passenger’s phone
- Lyft – Lets users request a ride.
- Blablacar – Very popular in Europe. Blablacar is the world’s leading long distance carpooling service, connecting drivers with empty seats to people traveling the same way.
- Grab – the Uber of Southeast Asia. Grab is available in the following countries: Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines, Myanmar, Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Vietnam.
- LOCA – the dominate ride sharing service in Laos.
- GoBike – Motorcycling ride sharing app which offers an alternative to car-riding apps in Thailand.
- PassApp and ExNet, – both offer autorickshaw and tuk-tuk services in Cambodia.
- Carma Carpooling – the app lets users share commuting costs with neighbors and colleagues headed the same way.
How to Save Money on Hotels
21. House Sit
House sitting is one of the best ways to travel on a budget for long term. There are tons of perks to house sitting aside from savings tons on your accommodations.
First, it allows you to travel slow and get out of the tourist trap that you might find yourself in if you are only spending a few days in a city. You’ll experience a different perspective of an area if you are house sitting in a local neighborhood and get a small sense of what it’s really like to live there.
Second, you will cut your food budget by cooking for yourself which I mention later on in this post as a way to save money on food while you are traveling.
Third and probably the coolest part of house sitting is the pets you’ll meet along the way. Many house sitting opportunities come along with watching and tending to a furry friend. Homeowners are looking for responsible people to help reduce their own costs like paying for pet kennels and to keep their house safe and in order while they are gone.
These are the best house sitting websites to help you on your travel on a budget journey. All require an annual membership fee but that’s a small price to pay for big savings.
22. Travel Overnight
A great way to save money on a hotel for an evening is to travel overnight. You can travel overnight on planes or buses but I’ve had my best overnight travel experiences on trains. This is of course is a ticket booked in a sleeper car. It’s room, board and transportation all in one.
The overnight train in Thailand from Bangkok to Chiang Mai was around $32 USD for a second class sleeper. It was a pleasant experience – besides the fact that I had food poisoning but that’s a different story.
I even once took an overnight train in China from Shanghai to Beijing that lasted 24 hours. Not as pleasant an experience as Thailand’s but hey it saved us money and it’s an experience I will never forget.
23. Rent a Bed
If you are traveling solo or with a group of friends renting a bed in a dormitory hostel instead of a private room is the way to go. You can beds for as cheap as $2 a night. Staying in hostels are a great way to stretch your budgeting you are traveling long term.
Saving money on hotels isn’t the only perk of opting for hostels. It’s a great way to meet like minded travelers when you are on the road explore a new place. Plus hostels usually have a communal kitchen so you can cook a few meals for yourself which helps save money on eating out.
Already have a destination in mind? Check out hostel prices for yourself.
Couchsurfing is exactly how it sounds – you spend the night on someone’s couch which is a great way to travel on a budget. Couchsurfing is a community website where you can create a profile to tell fellow members about yourself, and then use that to: gain access to free accommodation in a local’s home, host a traveler in your home, or, meet-up with people from around the world if you are in the same city.
This is a great way to meet locals and connect on a personal level. Hospitality on Couchsurfing is free but it is recommended that the guest aka traveler show their appreciation by cooking a meal, taking the host out, bringing a small gift or offering some other gesture.
How to Save Money while Traveling on Food
25. Make 1 Meal in a Day
Dining out is expensive whether you are traveling or not. And eating street food is obviously going to be much cheaper than a sit down restaurant.
Another way to save money while traveling is to cook one meal a day in. This allows you to experiment with local ingredients plus you’ll know exactly what your putting into your body aka no meat surprise dish for this meal!
Most Airbnb’s and Vrbos come equipped with a kitchen and make sure you book a hostel that has a communal area for you to cook if you’re booking beds in a dormitory.
26. Street Food vs. Dining In
Street food requires less overhead compared to restaurants making the main advantage of street food the price. Since street foods provide less facility you can get delicious food for a fourth of the price.
If you are looking to save a few bucks on food find a food truck or the like with a long line of locals. This means the food is tasty, cheap and worth the wait!
27. Cut the Booze
We all know that excessive amounts of booze on the regular can not only increase your budget but also your waistline. Therefore you should party with a purpose – meaning on special occasions like a full moon party in Thailand or St. Patricks Day in Dublin.
Cutting the booze will keep your wallet full and it’s a great way to stay in shape while on the road.
28. Avoid the 6 Block Rule
The 6 block rule is referring to the 6 blocks that surrounds any major tourist attraction. Avoid eating at any restaurant in these areas as prices are more expensive and usually lesser quality.
29. Eat where the Locals Eat
Who doesn’t want to eat where the locals eat when they are traveling to a new destination? Eating local means the foods good and the prices are cheaper. Talk about a win win when you travel on a budget.
Traveling on a Budget Tips in the Airport
30. Utilize Airport Lounges
A great way to travel on a budget while in the airport is to utilize airport lounges. Access to lounges give you a comfortable space to hang out on your layovers, places to charge all of your devices, use the free wifi and they usually offer free food and drinks. That alone should be reason to make sure you get insider those lounges. It eliminates the cost of expensive airport food and it provides comfort!
Some airport lounges are free, some can be included in your ticket and certain lounges can be accessed by paying a small fee.
Remember when I talked earlier about credit cards with great travel perks? An awesome and sometimes underutilized credit card perk is access to thousands of airport lounges world wide. Of course that depends on what credit cards you have but only more reason to get ones with great travel perks ya?!
For example if you are a Hilton Honors credit card holder you can enroll in Priority Pass Select which offers 10 complimentary visits to more than 1,200 lounges in over 120 countries, regardless of which carrier or class you are flying.
If you don’t have a Hilton Honors cc you can still purchase a priority pass. This is great especially if you travel or plan on traveling often.
31. Bring your own Snacks
If you are not utilizing those airport lounges like I discussed earlier bring your own snacks to avoid the wrath of expensive prices for mediocre food. This is also one of the necessary tips to survive long haul flights.
32. Pack in a Carry-on
There’s nothing worse than thinking you found the perfect, cheap flight only to realize that the baggage fees were twice as much as the plane ticket itself. Packing light and in a carry-on will significantly reduce your baggage fees and you won’t have to stress about the possibility of your luggage not making it with you on the flight.
Packing light allows you to not only reduce baggage fees but it gives you more freedom to move about as you please as you’re not bogged down by excess baggage.
33. Book a Long Layover
If you are traveling on a tight budget but want to see as many places as you can booking a long layover is a great way to achieve this goal.
For example let’s say you are traveling to Cambodia, one of the cheapest countries to travel to in Southeast Asia. Chances are you’ll have a few connecting flights. If you are connecting through Tokyo and you arrive at 7 am, book your connecting flight later on in the evening.
This will give you a full day to run around and explore a part of the city. Not only will this save you money on a hotel but it allows you to experience an expensive destination on a budget.
Check out Skiplagged to find and book long layovers.
TRAVEL TIP: When booking a long layover make sure to check if they have accessible public transportation to get to the city from the airport. Nothing eats up your budget more than expensive cab rides. Most big cities in China, Japan and Taiwan all have accessible subways into the city making these great long layover stops.