Travel doesn’t have to break your budget. With the easing of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, many countries are reopening their borders. But even if your wallet is a little lighter than you’d like, you can get where you want to go with our 57 tips on how to save money while traveling.
How Do You Travel on a Tight Budget?
Whether you picture yourself seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland or relaxing on the shores of the Adriatic Sea, you don’t need to splurge to have a knockout vacation. A little bit of creative thinking can go a long way toward getting through your travel bucket list. Check out our tips or jump to the section that piques your interest:
- Start planning
- Organize your research
- Zig when others zag
- Use tools to stay on track
- Spread your wings and your search options
- Take affordable ground transportation options for local travel
- Find the best travel bargains
- Learn how to maximize your points
- Communicate like a travel pro
- Cook on the road
- Get a good night’s rest at low cost
- Travel light
Before You Go: Start Planning
1. Set up a separate travel account
Our first travel tip is an easy one: open a separate trip account which does not charge fees at your bank or credit union. Instead of lumping all your money together, a separate account can help you easily monitor progress toward a travel savings target. This step can motivate you to set aside additional funds as you begin reaching your goal.
2. Say yes to part-time work
A few extra hours working at a coffee shop, babysitting, house-sitting 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 cash or gift cards on your birthday
Whether you’re saving for a holiday in Mexico or hoping to backpack around Europe, your loved ones will be excited to hear that you’re planning a dream trip. If you have a birthday, holiday or graduation coming up, be honest and request gift cards or cash when others ask what you’d like as a present. Don’t forget to send postcards from your travels abroad as a token of your gratitude!
4. Embrace travel planning as a hobby
All budget travelers should take time to learn about the spot they’re interested in. If you regularly do research, you’ll start noticing patterns and travel deals. Let’s say you want to stay at a certain resort in South America. By reading reviews on sites like TripAdvisor, you may learn when the resort is likely to offer bargains. Then you can wait and pounce on the deal when it appears.
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. Keep a list of sites that give you reliable, insightful and free information to 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 and how to save money while taking your next trip.
- 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. Her travel blog will help you have authentic experiences — and save you money while you’re at it.
- The New York Times Frugal Traveler covers a lot of ground. Discover whether the three-night Bahamas cruise advertised for $210 is a real deal, get advice on how to find budget airlines and more.
6. Check out travel books at your local library
Most libraries have a wide selection of travel guidebooks. You can even take some library books without adding weight to your suitcase by downloading some ebooks.
7. Buy a used travel guide
Digital books are a safe bet, but a single travel guide in hardback can be handy if you can’t use your phone and need to find a grocery store. Once you’ve discovered a favorite at the library, buy a used version online for a few dollars. Just make sure it’s an up-to-date copy!
Zig When Others Zag
8. Dare to be different
Sure, Paris and Greece are iconic places to visit — but they’re often expensive and so crowded that you eat up hours waiting for a glimpse of what you came to see. Dare to be different on your adventures by taking the road less traveled. Your stories will be much 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 a touristy location.
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 of visiting certain places. 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.
Venice, for example, is expensive from April to September, but prices tend to drop in March even though the weather is still appealing, according to travel writer Rick Steves.
Local holidays can also drive up prices, so make sure you do your homework ahead of time. Trips to China cost more during Chinese New Year. Australia’s schools have two-week breaks at regular intervals, doubling costs during these periods.
Use Tools to Stay on Track
11. Stay organized with travel itinerary templates
Travelers lose time and money from missed connections and may become vulnerable to pickpocketers 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, discover places you want to see via the photos on Expedia Viewfinder or capitalize on any of these other convenient travel apps.
Spread Your Wings and Your Search Options
13. Get to know flight search engines
Budget airlines are your best friend when you’re looking for cheap travel. There are so many flight search engines that seasoned travelers sometimes engage in long debates about which ones save them the most money. Experiment with these options to find your perfect flight deal:
- Booking.com vaults to the top of many traveler’s lists because it shows low fares and comprehensive details, including the 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 determine whether one part of a country is cheaper than another. Google’s travel technology also shows when flights to a particular place tend to fall in price.
- 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. Browse through budget airline sites
Search engines often don’t include options from budget 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 a lot of money on a single ticket. Keep an eye out for a last-minute buys and make purchases quickly because many travel deals often last for only 24 hours or less.
16. Think a day ahead
Desperation can lead to expensive choices. If you arrive late without a plan, you are likely to pay more than you should for transportation and lodging. 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 arrive at least a day or two ahead of time on multi-stop journeys.
17. Take advantage of airline miles programs
Travel rewards programs vary in how much value they provide, but they can cut your airfare costs — and possibly earn you a free flight!
18. Look for free layovers
Some airlines promote stopovers in certain cities, allowing you to get two trips out of one. A stopover is a flight layover 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, for example, 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 of flight on the airline’s website. For more information, read this article on stopover deals.
Take Affordable Ground Transportation Options for Local Travel
19. Keep your car in travel shape
Heading out on a road trip? Maintain your car as recommended in the owner’s manual. Change the oil regularly and make sure that your tires are properly inflated. 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 websites 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 about the bus
Megabus and Greyhound provide some of the thriftiest ways to get between cities such as Philadelphia and New York or Minneapolis and Chicago. Amtrak trains can also provide an affordable way to travel are typically a much more comfortable ride than buses.
23. Ride-sharing apps
Uber and Lyft work well, but you can catch a ride at a much lower cost using alternative ride sharing apps like BlaBlaCar.
24. Overnight travel 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.
Find the Best Travel Bargains
25. Do research on the websites 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 tours using sites such as Travel China Guide, for example. Use a search engine to find the most effective sites for your destination.
26. Find the best combination of budget travel on Rome 2 Rio
Rome2Rio 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 any special pricing for places you want to see.
28. Consider bundling costs with a Go City card
Do you like to see popular sites but aren’t sure how to do it within your 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
Search Bing for “free events” in your destination city for information about free festivals, musical performances and other offerings. Don’t forget to check if there is a national park nearby!
30. Research free times at museums
Many museums have at least one free or reduced-price day or evening. There are also free walking tours in historic areas of cities, so check your options out before you go.
31. See if local spots have reciprocity
Do you belong to a museum or gym in your city? Find out if it has reciprocity with similar organizations in other cities so you can snatch 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. Make your purchases beyond 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, tourist attractions and transit. Having a Student Advantage discount card can help.
Learn how to maximize your points
34. Point your way to savings
A number of reward points programs offer significant savings. There are vast differences in the value each program provides, but you don’t need to analyze every possibility. You just need to find a program that works 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 transaction 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 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 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 that may be particularly dangerous. If you’re heading to Europe, check the Euro foreign currency conversion rates before you go so you'll be well-informed of current rates.
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 heading abroad, travel insurance may help you stave off financial disaster. If you’re heading out on a road trip, make sure you also have car insurance.
In addition, 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 pay for additional coverage to be evacuated if you become sick or are injured in a remote destination where you are uncertain of the quality of care.
Your trip insurance should also 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 guidebooks and websites suggest.
40. Know the local crimes and scams
Doing careful research can reduce your chances of becoming a victim.
In Times Square, for example, some people dress up in unusual costumes, offer to take a selfie with tourists and then refuse to return phones until an unsuspecting victim pays up $5 or $10. Staying aware of your surroundings can help you avoid such situations.
41. Use local WiFi
Many cities offer free WiFi access at airports and libraries. To avoid extra charges, you can also look for hotels or Airbnbs that offer free Internet. Added bonus: You won’t be tempted to check your phone constantly while you’re out and about if you don’t let yourself use your mobile phone’s roaming data.
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. If your provider doesn’t have a good option, a SIM card can save you a bundle, although you may need your cellular provider to unlock your phone. 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.
Cook on the Road
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. Basics like tortillas, 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 up in the morning to stock up on food for the day, discover homegrown produce and meet a few of those locals who can tell you where to go. Enjoying street food is a major perk of traveling.
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 daily responsibilities. 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 traveling. At many parks, you can pitch a tent for just a few dollars a night. If you don’t have camping equipment, borrow from a friend or rent from REI.
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’re backpacking. 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, driving and renting hotel rooms.
52. Couchsurf or stay in a hostel or nunnery
Couchsurfing.com connects travelers with people willing to share their homes. 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. You may also want to consider staying 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. Post your travel itinerary 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 fees. For those that do, try a 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 products 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 that can occur by carrying around a backpack full of books.
56. Have a plan for washing your clothes
At a campground, laundry can cost at least $2 per load, while 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 traveling.
Some travelers pack laundry detergent and wash their duds in the sink or bathtub. A camping clothesline can allow you to air-dry your clothes efficiently, and choosing fabrics that dry quickly can reduce drying time.
57. Stick to your budget
A spending plan must ultimately be more than a plan. To make it a reality, track your spending and stay within your limits.
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 traveling will set you on the path to fun, affordable travel.