Travel doesn’t have to break your budget. Whether you picture yourself riding camels to the Pyramids or relaxing on the Adriatic Sea, you can get to where you want to go with our 57 tips for how to save money traveling.
How Do You Budget for Travel?
1. Set up a separate account to save for travel
Open a separate account (make sure it does not charge fees) at your bank or credit union to save for trips. This step can motivate you to set aside more funds because you can set a travel savings target and easily watch your progress toward it instead of having it lumped in with other money.
2. Consider funding your travel with part-time work
A few extra hours working at a coffee shop, babysitting, or freelancing in your field can add up quickly. Deposit these funds directly in your travel account, and you may be able to pay for your trip well in advance.
3. Ask for gift cards or cash for birthdays, holidays and other occasions
It’s not tacky to respond honestly when people ask what you want as a gift. You can request cash or gift cards and explain that they will help you pay for your dream trip.
4. Embrace travel planning as a hobby
Planning pays off, but it takes time. If you do it regularly, you will become an expert and be able to watch for deals. Let’s say you want to stay at a certain resort. By watching its web site and reading reviews on sites such as TripAdvisor, you may learn when the resort is likely to offer bargains. Then, you can wait, check regularly, and pounce on the deal when it appears on the resort’s site.
Organize Your Research
5. Make a list of helpful travel sites
Figuring out where and how to travel requires research, especially if you are on a budget. So many companies and individuals post travel articles that you can lose days clicking from article to article. By keeping a list of sites you like most, you get generally reliable, free information and save yourself from getting lost in the Google rabbit hole.
A few sites to get you started;
World Nomads sells travel insurance and offers tons of practical information and advice
Nomadic Matt is a real person who left his job to travel and blog. He shares what he’s learned about where to go, how to save money while traveling, and more, on his site.
Gigi Griffis also left her traditional life to travel and work. She writes about her experiences and has created several “travel like a local” guides to locations that include Switzerland and New York so that you can have authentic experiences and save money.
The New York Times Frugal Traveler covers a lot of ground, both geographically and informationally. Discover whether the three-night Bahamas cruise advertised for $210 is a real deal, get advice on how to find cheap air fares and more.
6. Check out travel books at your local library
Most libraries have a wide selection of travel books. You can even take some of them with you without adding weight to your bag by using your library’s ebooks on your phone or other device.
7. Buy one used travel guide
Advance research and digital copies can save you time and money, but a traditional book can be handy when you don’t want to pull out your phone or for other reasons. Once you’ve found a favorite at the library, buy a used version online for a few dollars.
Zig When Others Zag
8. Dare to be different
The Eiffel Tower and places like it are iconic, but often expensive to visit and so crowded that you eat up hours waiting for a glimpse of what you came to see. Besides, won’t your party chatter be more entertaining if you can talk about a visit to South Dakota’s Corn Palace or the sweet spot you found in the French Pyrenees at a fraction of the cost of Paris?
9. Pick affordable destinations
Your travel budget will take you farther in some locations than others. Most countries in Southeast Asia are affordable choices, but in Europe, you may fare better in Romania than in Italy or France. For a list of cost-effective options this year, check out these suggestions from Indie Traveller.
10. Travel in the off-season or the “shoulder season”
Speaking of being different, try to avoid the most popular times to visit certain places. Venice, for example, is expensive from April to September, but prices drop in March even though the weather is still appealing, according to travel writer Rick Steves.
Local holidays can drive up prices, so you may not want to travel during those. Trips to China cost more during Chinese New Year. Australia’s schools all have similar schedules, with two-week breaks at regular intervals, doubling costs during these periods.
The time between peak periods and the off-season is known as the “shoulder season.” These in-between times, which vary by location, can offer an alluring mix of good weather and value pricing.
Use Tools to Stay on Track
11. Stay organized with travel itinerary templates
Travelers lose time and money to missed connections and may become vulnerable to pickpockets by fumbling through bags looking for information. Keep all your dates, times and reservations in one place with a travel template like this one from Vertex42.
12. Find the travel apps that work for you
Paper travel itineraries come in handy for those times when a dead battery, theft or loss cuts you off from your phone, but digital apps can keep you on track and save you money. In addition to well-known apps such as Uber or Lyft, you may want to organize your journey with TripIt, find places you want to see via the photos on Trover or capitalize on any of these convenient travel apps.
Spread your Wings and your Search Options
13. Get to know flight search engines
There are so many flight search engines that seasoned travelers sometimes engage in long debates about which one saves them the most. Your favorite may leave other travellers scratching their heads, so experiment with these options to find your perfect match:
Booking.com vaults to the top of many travellers’ lists because it can deliver low fares and comprehensive details such as length of layovers and availability of in-flight entertainment.
Google Flights “search by map feature” lets you see prices in various locations so that you can see whether one part of a country is cheaper than another, for example. Google’s travel technology also shows when flights to a particular place tend to fall in price, one of the ways to save money while travelling.
Kayak is best known for its “hacker fares,” which combine separate one-way tickets to create a more affordable round trip flight. If you use this feature, keep a close eye on flight times to ensure that you can make connecting flights. Kayak also offers sorting tools and predictive technologies that can lead you to lower fares.
14. Look at discount airline sites in places where you want to go
Search engines often don’t include options from discount airlines such as Southwest. You usually have to visit the airline’s own site to purchase one of these fares. Check out this list of discount airlines from around the world to expand your search.
15. Watch for special airfare deals and be ready to buy
Sites such as Airfarewatchdog and Scott’s Cheap Flights can alert you to bargain flights that can save you hundreds on a single ticket. Just be ready to buy because the deals often last for only 24 hours.
16. Always be at least a day ahead
Desperation can lead to expensive choices. If you arrive late and are tired, you are likely to pay more than you should for transportation and rooms. You don’t always need to plan your entire agenda well in advance, but aim to know where you are staying and how you will get there at least a day or two ahead of time on multi-stop journeys.
17. Take advantage of airline miles programs
Airline rewards programs vary in how much value they provide, but joining these programs can cut your airfare costs.
18. Look for free layovers
Some airlines promote stopovers in certain cities, allowing you to get two trips out of one. A stopover is an interruption of your flight that lasts 24 hours or more. Some destinations have partnered with airlines to encourage stopovers as a way of boosting tourist spending.
On Etihad Airways, you can arrange a stopover in Abu Dhabi that includes two free nights in a hotel, among other perks. You generally need to book this type a flight on the airline’s website. For more information, read this article on current stopover deals from various airlines.
Cover Ground Travel Affordably
19. Keep your car in travel shape
Maintain your car as recommended in the owner’s manual. Changing oil regularly, ensuring that your tires are properly inflated and adhering to these American Automobile Association(AAA) recommendations can improve your gas mileage and prevent costly breakdowns.
20. Use public transport
The Transit option in Google Maps can guide you through public transport options, which is frequently the cheapest way to get around in many countries. Just make sure it will work where you are going because some countries, most notably China, block Google.
21. Check web sites of local transit agencies
Once you know where you are traveling, checking local transit sites can save you time and money. Many have visitors’ guides that show you the basics of using the system and offer advice on how to get to popular destinations. The Chicago Transit Authority, for example, allows you to order its Ventra card online and have it mailed to you before you go so that you can skip the hassle of buying a ticket or card when you get there.
22. Don’t forget bus companies
Megabus and Greyhound provide some of the thriftiest ways to get between cities such as Philadelphia and New York or Minneapolis and Chicago. Amtrak is often a more comfortable ride than the buses on the East Coast but costs significantly more.
23. Ride-sharing apps
Uber and Lyft work well, but you can catch a ride for free with apps such as BlaBlaCar and on message boards on sites such as Gumtree.
24. Travel overnight to get transport that doubles as a place to sleep
Book an overnight train, plane or bus trip. You can sleep while you travel with no additional cost for a room or bed.
Go on a Bargain-Hunting Safari
25. Do research on the web sites of local travel agencies
Especially when you are traveling abroad, local sites may offer you deals and information that you won’t find on international sites such as TripAdvisor. Travelers to China may find better offers on hotels and cars on trip.com. Use google to find sites most effective for your destination.
26. Find the best combination of travel on Rome 2 Rio
Rome 2 Rio puts together possibilities by plane, train, bus and ferry so that you can plan the easiest and most affordable way to get to where you want to go.
27. Snag discounts from Groupon, Costco, AAA and others
Resorts and other businesses that cater to tourists may provide discounts on Groupon. If you belong to Costco, AAA or even a professional membership group, check whether they offer discounts for places you want to see.
28. Consider bundling costs with a Go City card
Like to see the popular sites but aren’t sure how to do it within our budget? Go City Cards can save you money on multiple attractions and let you bypass the ticket line.
29. Look for free entertainment with “What to Do” lists at your destination
Just google “free events” in your destination city for information about free festivals, musical performances and other offerings.
30. Research free times at museums
Many museums have at least one free or reduced-price day or evening.
31. See if local organizations have reciprocity in other cities
Belong to a museum or gym in your city? Find out if has reciprocity with similar organizations in other cities for free admission and workouts.
32. Make six blocks your no-go zone
Savvy travelers believe that the prices of food, souvenirs and just about everything else rise significantly in the six blocks near a major tourist destination. Pass on purchases in this radius to save a lot of dough.
33. Take advantage of student and senior discounts
If you are a student, younger than 26, or older than 65, you may be eligible for discounts on airline flights, accommodations and transit.
Become a Scholar of Points, Cards and All Things Financial
34. Point your way to savings
The number of points programs available and the vast differences in the value each provides requires studying, but that can pay off in significant savings. You don’t need to analyze every possibility. You just need to find those that work for you. For a Beginner’s Guide to points, read this advice from The Points Guy.
35. Find the best travel card
As Nomadic Matt advises, there is no perfect travel credit card. But with a little research, you can find the one that gets you on the road at a reasonable cost. At a minimum, look for cards that don’t charge foreign exchange or other fees. Just be careful not to spend more on a credit card than you can pay off at the end of the month.
Your bank may offer an ATM card that does not charge fees, which may be the best way to get cash in foreign countries.
36. Review your credit card rules to spot additional benefits
Some cards, such as Chase Sapphire Preferred, insure your rental car or even your whole trip. You will have to decide if the yearly fee is worth the benefits, and again, skip credit cards if they will tempt you into accruing debt.
37. Watch foreign exchange rates
Within reason, consider traveling to countries where your U.S. dollar will go far. Some of these countries may be experiencing economic difficulty, so be careful to avoid locations such as Venezuela that are dangerous. Travel+Leisure is recommending such destinations as Hungary and Colombia in 2019 because of the value available to those with U.S. currency.
38. Purchase travel insurance
Sometimes, it makes sense to spend money to prevent financial loss. You generally don’t need travel insurance for short trips inside the United States, but if you are going on a cruise or other expensive trip or heading abroad, travel insurance may help you head off financial disaster.
First find out whether your health-care plan will cover you abroad. If it doesn’t, consider buying travel insurance that will pay for medical needs in other countries. You may also want to additional coverage to pay to be evacuated if you become sick or are injured in a remote destination or country where you are uncertain of the quality of care.
In addition to making sure you are protected against unexpected medical bills, your trip insurance should cover lost luggage, trip cancellation and other problems that can beat up your bank account.
Communicate Like a Travel Pro
39. Ask the locals
People who live in an area know which sites and restaurants are worthwhile and which aren’t. Ask your Uber driver, Airbnb host or anyone you meet for recommendations. You are likely to get a more authentic experience, often for less than the places that guide books and websites suggest.
40. Know the local crimes and scams
In some countries, thieves use children to surround you and try to sell you something while the adults steal your bag. In Times Square, people dress up in unusual costumes, offer to take a selfie with tourists and then refuse to return your phone until you pay $5 or $10. And in some places, using your cell phone in public will make you a target for a mugger. That doesn’t mean such places are unsafe, just that careful research can reduce your chances of becoming a victim.
41. Use local WiFi
Many cities offer free WiFi access at airports and libraries. You can also stay at hotels or airbnbs that offer free WiFi to avoid roaming charges and other fees. Added bonus: You won’t be tempted to check your phone constantly while you’re out and about and far from free WiFi.
42. Buy a SIM card at your destination
Can’t live without constant phone access? Some providers, including T-Mobile, offer plans with generous text and data wherever you are, but if your provider doesn’t, a SIM card can save you a bundle. You may need your cellular provider to unlock your phone to use a SIM card. Learn more about using and buying a SIM Card with this guide from Too Many Adapters.
43. Download Google Maps for your location before you go
By downloading routes you plan to follow ahead of time, you can head off roaming fees and use less of your precious data.
44. Use free communications apps
If you have WiFi access, you can call your loved ones back home to let them know you are safe or to share your adventures. Skype, Google Hangouts and FaceTime are all free, reliable communications tools.
Plan, Shop, Cook
45. Make your own food
Sampling local specialties is part of the fun for many travelers, but if you limit eating out, you feed yourself as cheaply as you do at home. Basic such as wraps, cheese, deli meat, hummus, carrot sticks and apples can fit in your backpack. Yogurt and granola make a quick, healthy breakfast.
46. Stroll the local markets
Low prices and delicious food abound at outdoor markets. Hit them in the morning to stock up for the day, discover homegrown produce and meet a few of those locals who can tell you where to go.
47. Stay in a place with a kitchen
To cook your own food, it helps to have a kitchen. It may cost a bit more, but you may earn that back by cooking what you like at prices you can afford.
48. Pack “Dump Bag” meals ahead of time
This strategy is an advanced version of shopping and making your own food. Read here to learn how an Australian mom feeds her family of six by putting all the ingredients for each meal in an individual bag and then dumps them in a slow cooker so that she can enjoy her day and return to a warm meal. She calls them “Dump Bags.”
Get a Good Night’s Rest at Low Cost
Staying in the great outdoors is one of the best ways to save money while travelling. At many parks, you can pitch a tent for just a few dollars a night. If you don’t have camping equipment and don’t want to buy it before being sure you like it, borrow some from a friend or rent it from REI for a test run.
In addition to saving thousands of dollars over multiple trips, camping can take you to locations that are otherwise hard to see, especially if you backpack. The hills are alive and waiting for you to sleep on them.
50. Download the WikiCamps app
WikiCamps helps users find local campgrounds and hostels for affordable housing options. It’s available in the United States, Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and New Zealand.
51. Rent an RV
With a camper, you get transportation and a room for one price. Comparison shopping is crucial because rental costs can vary dramatically, but a camper may be cheaper than flying or driving and renting hotel rooms.
52. Couchsurf or stay in a hostel or nunnery
Couchsurfing.com will connect you with people willing to share their homes with travelers. If you prefer accommodations that seem less risky, consider a hostel. They’re not just for young people anymore. Many welcome families and older tourists. Or stay in a nunnery where they just might offer you almond cakes
53. Work those social networks
You might be surprised at how many people enjoy sharing their couches or guest rooms with friends or family of people they know. Post your travel desires on Facebook and ask friends to connect you with people who live where you want to go. You just might get great advice about where to go and an offer of a place to stay.
Don’t Weigh Yourself Down
54. Pack light to avoid baggage fees
Baggage fees can add up, so know what they are before you book. Some airlines, such as Southwest, don’t charge them. For those that do, try to carry on. Keep the weight of any bags you do check below airline maximums.
55. Consider buying a Kindle or other e-reader
Kindle or similar product can lighten your load by allowing you to read digital versions of your favorite books. This will help you pack light and may save you from a heavy lifting injury.
56. Have a plan for washing your clothes
Even at a campground, laundry can cost at least $2 per load, often more, and some hotels may charge $20 or so to wash a single item. Finding other methods of cleaning your clothes is another way to save money while travelling. It also helps you pack light because you can re-wear the same outfits.
Pack some laundry detergent and wash your duds in the sink or bathtub. Some travelers even toss their clothes in the shower while they suds themselves. Fabrics that dry quickly can reduce drying time, so your wicking running shirt just might serve as an ideal travel top. A camping clothesline can allow you to air-dry your clothes efficiently.
57. Stick to your budget
A spending plan must be more than a plan. It needs to be a reality, so track your spending and stay within the limits you set.
Whether your favorite kind of trip is a hike at your local state park or a week on a Greek isle, don’t let a limited budget keep you at home. These ideas on how to save money while travelling will set you on the path to fun, affordable travel.