map made of money budget travel tips to plan a cheap vacation

Budget Travel Tips – How to Plan a Cheap Vacation You’ll Love!

I can’t tell you how it pains me to hear these words “I wish I could travel. You two must be rich to be able to go all these places.”  It pains me because it simply isn’t true.  It’s entirely possible to travel, even with very little money. It just takes a will to do it, some creativity, and maybe a bit of discipline too.  So in this post, we want to share with you some of our best budget travel tips to help you plan a cheap vacation that you’ll love and get more for your money during your trip.

But First – You Gotta Save That Money!

Before we get into our list of tips, let’s first address the biggest obstacle many people complain about when they want to plan a trip – not having enough money. While I can’t help you with making more money, I can help you come up with ways to save and maximize what you do have. Growing up in a family with modest means who traveled quite a lot, I know how to stretch a budget. And I also know just how rewarding it is when you make the sacrifice to save and are rewarded with a vacation and memories that last a lifetime. 

jar of money and stacks to save money and budget

First, you have to make saving a priority and be determined to make it happen. Unless your financial situation is dire, there are many ways to save money for vacation.  From cutting back on expensive coffees at Starbucks, or even making it a point to dine out less and cook at home.  You may also restrict any kind of frivolous shopping (perhaps avoiding Amazon or places like Walmart or Target altogether) and any other unnecessary expenses or activities. 

Just doing this for a couple of months, you will be surprised at how quickly the savings can add up.

Another recommendation we make to people who want to save money for vacation is to create a separate travel savings account.  It REALLY helps to keep this account separate from your daily living expenses because the saying is true:  “out of sight, out of mind.”  So you are far less likely to spend it.  You might even forget it’s there!

These are just a few of our tips to get you started. But we wrote a whole blog post that goes into more detail about saving money for your vacation. So be sure to check it out – 5 steps save money for a vacation.

How to Travel on a Budget – The Mindset You Need

When it comes to traveling on a budget, there are a few things to keep at the forefront. First, it’s all about planning. I know, I know – that might not be what you wanted to hear. But hear me out.

Winging It Will Cost You

While you may want to just wing it, from my experience, being unprepared often causes you to spend MORE money and waste time (which is just as valuable)!  Taking the time to actually plan your trip in advance and do some research can really help you save money on the trip itself (you’ll notice this as we get dive into all our tips below).

However, just because you have a plan doesn’t mean you can’t be spontaneous and flexible!

But Flexibility Can Be a Good Thing!

Being flexible with things such as your travel dates or swapping items on your itinerary for different days can help save you money. Even if you have created a vacation itinerary for your trip, there’s always a little room to fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants once you are on vacation. That’s a part of the fun! But having an overall plan in place and costs budgeted in advance will really help you to stay on budget.

The traditional Tahiti Hula Dance at the Old Lahaina Luau, Maui Hawaii

Be Creative!

Finally, the key to traveling on a budget is being creative. As we’ll discuss below, going with the crowd can actually be more expensive. The same goes for some of those cookie-cutter travel deals you see, such as buying a package or booking the most popular hotel. They may not always be the best deal, they just make it easy. Which is usually more expensive.

Being creative about where you stay, where you eat, where you go, and what you do on your trip can really save you quite a lot of money.

There really are plenty of ways to travel on a budget and still have a wonderful vacation. So let’s get into it!

Budget Travel Tips (Steal Them For Your Next Trip!)

Over the years we’ve visited nearly every state in the US as well as over 40 other countries! All while having jobs and living pretty normal lives. Neither of us has a trust fund or anything like that, and we certainly wouldn’t call ourselves rich. Just normal people who have discovered ways to travel without spending their life savings. Traveling on a budget for us means that we can travel more often.  And traveling is something that we love to do that adds some fun into our lives!

Here are some of our top budget travel tips that will help you be able to plan and enjoy an affordable vacation!

1. Make Your Budget Stick to It

Once you have saved the money for your trip, it’s important to create a budget and stick to it. When you create your travel itinerary, this is a good time to be more specific about what you want to spend on different things, such as hotels or food. Some things are easier to control, such as booking your flights and hotels. The things that are hardest are on-the-go-expenses and spontaneous things, such as food or shopping. 

To help you stay on budget you might set a dollar amount per day or only get a set about of cash out and make a rule to only spend cash for these things. There are a few ways you could go about it. We also like to have a separate “travel bank account” that we use as a part of our savings strategy. But having that separate account means that we can only spend what’s in there!

Our FREE Travel Itinerary is a great tool to help you both plan your trip and create your vacation budget. 

2. Accrue and Use Travel Points

If you read our post about getting a $3000 vacation for $1000, then you know a bit about using travel points. Or sometimes it’s called “travel hacking.” Basically, it’s a strategy where you use pay for everyday things at home on credit cards where you earn travel points. You have to be disciplined and pay these credit cards off immediately though (otherwise, that’s a whole other issue that does NOT save you any money).

There are also rewards program points you can earn for loyalty with certain travel providers, such as hotels or airlines.  Essentially, you are building up these travel points that can be redeemed for travel. We have numerous cards loyalty points that we’ve earned over the years. I think we might have around $3000 – $5000 worth just sitting in our accounts right now!

So if you are planning a budget vacation, you can use points to cover all of the trip or maybe just a portion to keep costs down, such as using points for your flights or hotels. 

3. Consider Your Travel Destination

Naturally, some travel destinations are going to be much more expensive than others. Places like Hawaii may cost a lot more than a trip to Florida. One of the biggest factors will be transportation. If you can hop in the car and drive to Florida in a few hours then that will be cheaper than flights to Hawaii! But it’s not only transportation. It’s the number of people as well as accommodations, food and activities (which we’ll talk about further down in this article). 

READ MORE: Check out our library of downloadable ready-to-go Travel Itineraries!

International Travel & Currency Exchange Rates

Lastly, if you are considering traveling internationally then you should keep currency in mind. There are different countries where your money might go further than others. For example, visiting London and traveling around England is typically going to be a lot more expensive than a trip to Mexico or maybe even Costa Rica. 

So when picking an international travel destination you’ll also want to consider the conversion rates between currencies when you are estimating the cost of things such as hotels, food, transport and activities. 

4. Tourism Boards are Awesome! (Information & Free / Low-Cost Activities)

For us, travel is all about the experience – whether it’s dining out, chatting with locals, participating in cultural experiences, or unique and exciting activities.  Being a budget traveler doesn’t mean that you have to sacrifice the quality of your travel experience.  Our first recommendation for finding low-cost or free activities at a destination is to check out official tourism board offices or websites.

While some of the activities they offer will be less than unique (or less than authentic), you can still find valuable information for your trip such as city maps / guides, as well as downloadable content for your mobile devices.  In fact, most of these tourism office websites will have entire sections devoted to free or inexpensive activities, so they are a great resource that you shouldn’t overlook!

dublin mobile app, download dublin audio guide, mobile travel guides, dublin visitor app, visit dublin app, dublin tourism tips, budget travel dublin, travel blog
The Visit Dublin tourism website has a great mobile app that you can download to your mobile device! 20 audio guides, maps, and directional information – very handy!

Not every tourism board is created equal, but over the years we have discovered some pretty great ones.  Dublin, Ireland has a fantastic tourism office right in the city center.  Their website also has a variety of items you can download to your mobile devices for free.  Hong Kong is another great example.  With an awesome website and helpful on-site location, they provide a wealth of information as well as a wide range of low-cost and free activities for visitors.

Hong Kong also has some programs that allow visitors to participate in classes including Tea Appreciation, Tai Chi, Feng Shui, Cantonese Opera, etc. all FREE of charge or for just a minimal fee.  They even have a Chinese Junk Boat ride that you can take of the harbor on certain days.  The classes and experiences are amazing, and you can’t beat the price!

Tourism board websites are also a great travel planning resource because they typically have a calendar of events such as festivals, concerts, parades, etc.  Many of these local events are free and are a great way to mingle with the locals and soak up their culture. 

For example, in late September / early October Italy’s Tuscany region celebrates the harvest season with all kinds of festivals.  Being in these small villages eating and drinking with the locals is an awesome experience.  You may even be able to participate in some of the harvesting activities and learn about making wine.

Some of Our Favorite Tourism Board Websites

5. Download Audio / Walking Tours to Your SmartPhone

Modern travelers are lucky to have so much helpful technology at their fingertips.  In particular, budget travelers have the opportunity to leverage these devices to enhance their travel experiences in a budget-friendly manner.  We are big fans of downloadable audio guides / walking tours; it’s like having your own personal tour guide for a fraction of the cost.

Audioguides can be downloaded on numerous websites, including iTunes or other major tourism websites (including some tourism boards).  Some sites may charge a small fee for the download, but others are completely free of charge!  Most downloads are available for multiple devices.

Better Than a Tour Guide?

Honestly, it’s almost silly not to take advantage of these! In some ways, it’s even better than a tour guide because you can go at your own pace and get completely lost in the experience.   Plus, we weren’t following some big tour group with a guide holding a giant red flag and talking into a loud microphone!  For us history buffs, it’s an awesome way to explore a destination.

Enjoying our historic walking tour in Macau

For example, we once had a 2 ½ hour tour of both the Colosseum & the Roman Forum – it was incredibly detailed.  If we missed something, we could replay it, or if we wanted to sit to take a break and just soak in the scenery, we would have a seat and press pause.  We learned so much more than we would have just wandering on our own or fussing around with a guide book.  And by downloading the free audio-guided tour, it didn’t cost us a penny!

If you are traveling through Europe, be sure to check out the Rick Steves website.  Not only is he incredibly knowledgeable and thorough with his information about Europe, but he has a wonderful travel audio guide section with FREE downloads

6. Other SmartPhone Apps & Files

The SmartPhone has really changed the game when it comes to travel. I remember going on my first European vacations on my own before they existed. But wow have they made it so much easier! There are some great apps you can download to help you during your trip, as well as downloading documents like maps, bus routes, and even to learn the history about an area.

Some tourism websites will even have apps or documents that you can download to your mobile device too!  These aren’t necessarily audio guides, but they are worth mentioning.  It’s convenient to have so much information, including maps and lengthly guides at your fingertips as opposed to carrying heavy books around.  

You can also find a number of language resources to help you learn key phrases. Many of these are free or nearly free, and they can really add a lot to your experience and even help you out if you are in a bind. Most downloads are available offline, so you do not need a wifi connection to access while you are traveling.

From guided walks in the city center of Paris, learning Thai on the airplane, or learning about the history of Germany while driving through the Black Forest, mobile technology has really changed the way that we learn and travel.  This is perfect for budget travel, especially those of us who really want to get as much as they can out of the experience and connect with the culture.  It brings a whole new meaning to the experience and even more vivid memories of your adventures.

7. Prepare Your Cell Phone So You Don’t Get Whacked With Charges!

We’ve talked a bit already about using your SmartPhone during your trip. Which is a super valuable and convenient tool during any kind of travel. However, you definitely need to prepare in advance and set things up accordingly before your trip so you don’t get surprised by insane fees (yes, they can be shockingly high!).

Research Your Plan (Buy an International Package if Necessary)

First, you need to research your current phone plan to see if it is even possible to use your phone where you are going. This is really more important if you are traveling internationally. However, keep in mind that just because your phone may work overseas doesn’t mean it cost you a fortune. Carriers jack up the prices for roaming. But Some carriers allow you to buy an international plan for a reasonable price that will allow you to use your phone overseas without paying so much. So be sure to do this before you leave for your trip or it might end up costing you a lot of money.

Prepare to Limit Data Use With Offline Tools

Remember you don’t always need to have your data on. In fact, that can cause problems – especially if you are overseas. So when you are downloading apps and tools, check to see if there is an offline version that will work even if you are not connected to data. Also, be sure to download some things in advance such as documents, maps, etc. so they can be used offline. 

Take Advantage of Free Wifi During the Trip

Nowadays wifi is pretty much everywhere. Which is fantastic for travelers who need to hop on for a bit. Whether it is your hotel, a restaurant, or even local transportation!

Buy a Local SIM Card (if your phone is unlocked)

Another cheap option is to buy a local SIM card when you arrive in another country. These are usually quite cheap and can be a great alternative. However, they only work if your SmartPhone is UNLOCKED. Here in the States, many people enter into phone contracts (ex. AT&T, Verizon) where they get the phone for free or for a discounted rate as a part of a contract term. During that contract most people don’t realize that their phone is LOCKED. And they cannot put another SIM card in it to use. 

So it’s important to know this in advance of your trip. Because if you can’t use a local SIM card, then you need to have a different plan. 

For more details, be sure to check out our more in-depth blog post about how to use your cell phone internationally. 

8. Research “Must-See” Attractions for Specials & Discounts

Whenever we are making our list of “must-see” places during our trip, we immediately search all their websites for prices and possible discounts that we can take advantage of in order to save some cash.  Some sights will have discounts on certain days or times of the day, others might offer discounts to students or groups.

Hong kong history museum, Hong kong space museum, Hong kong history, Hong kong museums, Hong Kong
The Hong Kong Museum of History is FREE every Wednesday!

For example, the Lourve museum in Paris offers free admission on the first Sunday of every month.  It’s crowded, but the museum is so big that you only notice the crowds around famous works (like the Mona Lisa, which is always crowded regardless of the day).  Also, the Lourve offers discounts to art teachers and certain EU members.

Other museums and attractions may have twilight hours, where you get a discount if you go late in the evening.  With some advanced research and planning of your itinerary, you can find all kinds of ways to save on your entrance tickets, which can really eat into your vacation budget!

Get Your FREE Travel Itinerary “Cheat Sheet” Here!

9. Don’t Go With the Crowd!

Going with the crowd can end up costing you more money because it’s easy. But if you are creative and stop for a moment to think about something different, or find a different way, then you may actually save yourself some money (and have a cool experience too). 

For example, the first time I visited the Eiffel Tower the lines for the elevator were super long.  As we stood around trying to decide if it was worth it to wait in that line, we noticed a different line that was shorter. 

We inquired and learned that it was the line for the stairs. Apparently, no one wants to take the stairs!  We learned that we could take the stairs without waiting in hardly any line, and it was much cheaper than taking the elevator!  Since we were traveling on a budget, we jumped at the chance to save some additional cash & have a more unique experience.  

take the stairs up the eiffel tower, paris france europe, vacation, backpacking, peanuts or pretzels adventure travel blog
Taking the Stairs up the Eiffel Tower, Paris France! Tough on the legs, but great views & no line & cheaper!

Another example is taking a gondola ride in Venice.  Many travelers go to the main areas near St. Mark’s Square – where all the other tourists are!  Don’t do this.  These gondoliers will charge you the most…because they can!  And because they are anxious to move you through your ride and get back to the next paying customer, you may not get the best ride experience.  

What people don’t realize is that if you walk 10 minutes or so, away from all the mass crowds, you can often find a gondolier who is willing to negotiate for a much cheaper rate.  If he doesn’t, then just keep moving to the next one.

Find Alternatives to Tourist Traps

There’s a reason they are called tourist traps. They are usually crowded, expensive, and often less enjoyable than we imagined. Sometimes they are unavoidable if it’s something you really want to see and there is no alternative, such as the Eiffel Tower. But other times you might be able to find similar options.

For example, when we were traveling in Ireland we had rented a car and dreamed of driving the famous Ring of Kerry peninsula. But after doing a lot of research, we heard many people say the road was so packed with traffic that is super slow. And the large tour buses clog it up by having to go slow around the narrow turns – making it even worse!

So we opted to drive the Dingle Peninsula instead. It was nearby and gave similar views, but it was even more enjoyable because it was less crowded. In fact, it ended up being one of our favorite parts of the trip!

Find Out Where the Locals Go

We’ve used this one many times! When we are traveling we often ask our taxi drivers and hotels where to go. Sometimes they will point us toward the touristy places. If so, we reframe the question by  saying something like “No, where do YOU go for ______?”

Finding out where the locals go, especially in touristy places, is a great way to save money and have a more authentic experience.

For example, when we got off a cruise ship in Cozumel we were looking for some tacos. Initially, people were telling us to go to the touristy restaurants nearby the port. We said “no no, where are your favorite tacos for lunch?” We ended up 2 blocks away from the port eating street tacos from a truck and sitting on a bucket on the side of the road — surrounded by locals and even the cruise ship staff! 

The best $1 tacos we ever had. 

josh sitting on side of road in Cozumel eating at taco truck
Josh sitting on side of road in Cozumel eating the best dollar tacos from a taco truck with the locals!

10. Combine Activities (Including Dining) When Possible

We are always looking for some kind of “freebie” or bonuses when we buy tickets to visit monuments or book day trips / tours.  Whenever you can combine different activities into one price, and especially if there is a meal involved, it can be worth it (but do the math to be sure it really is a deal).  

Book Individual Day Trips

While large tours and fully-packaged vacations are not always a deal, we have found that individual day-trips can offer good deals and convenience. For example, a friend and I were visiting Rome and wanted to take a trip down to explore the ancient city of Pompeii.  We didn’t have a car and were very limited on time.  So we booked a 1-day tour.  For a reasonable price, it included our transportation, a private tour guide up to the top of Mt.Vesuvius, then another specialized guide through the ancient city of Pompeii, as well as a traditional pizza lunch and a couple drinks. 

When we added up the cost of doing it ourselves (including the hassle of finding our own way using public transportation to Naples), it was actually a great deal & more efficient use of our time!

Check For Special Ticket Perks & Inclusions

Sometimes when you are buying tickets for something they have options that include certain perks or freebies. For example, you might find “multiple entries” on admission tickets that you buy where buying a ticket for one museum may give you free entry to a couple of others nearby.  Other times we’ve learned that we can take our ticket stub and get free drinks or snacks or for discounts on meals at nearby restaurants.  There are a lot of ways you can work this system and stretch your vacation budget.

Pints at the Gravity Bar, Dublin – Our tickets included Free Drinks!

11. Consider “City Passes” – But Do the Math to Be Sure it’s a Deal for YOU

You may have seen them advertised all over tourism websites, “city passes” that will get you all sorts of free admission, transportation and discounts.  It is a very convenient offer, especially with the transportation included, but be aware that just because they are marketed as a “deal” doesn’t mean it’s a deal for you.  Every traveler has different preferences and items on their “must-see” list.

We decided to purchase the Roma Pass in Rome!
We decided to purchase the Roma Pass in Rome!

Our recommendation is to do the math based upon what YOU want to see and do.  When we chose to travel to a destination we go through and make a “wish list” of all the things we want to see. Then we calculate what the total price at the door will be.  We cross-reference that with a list of what is offered in the City Pass to see if there is any overlap with our wish list.  

If there is overlap with the activities we want to do, then we compare the total costs of each to see which is the better deal.  This is important to do so that you know you are getting the most for your vacation budget.  For example, we chose to purchase the pass in Rome & Dublin; however, we opted not to purchase the pass in Edinburgh or Florence because we didn’t feel like it would be worth the cost compared to what we really wanted to spend our money doing.

The moral of the story is that city passes are an awesome idea and can be really convenient. But don’t assume they are the most budget-friendly for your situation. 

12. Book Accommodations With Valuable Freebies

When you are searching out accommodations, don’t just look at price and amenities alone, because there are many other factors that could impact your overall vacation budget.  

Hotel Free Breakfast

For example, we love finding a place to stay that offers free breakfast.  Not only does it save some cash, but it is hugely convenient and saves us time (which is also valuable)!  If you don’t eat breakfast, then this may not be important to you. And it’s true that sometimes we opt to have something simple like coffee and a granola bar. But during some trips, we know that we’ll want a bigger meal to get the day going. And if we can get it included in the room rate, that’s a bonus. 

However, again it depends on the total price of the room and the breakfast if it’s worth it or not. 

Hotel Free Transportation

Some hotels will offer a free shuttle service to and from the airport (or at a discount) as well as transportation around town too. These are great perks, as long as the overall cost of the hotel makes it a reasonable tradeoff. Again, it’s not always a deal but it could be depending on the destination.

Hotel With a Convenient Location (Yes, That’s a Freebie)

The location of your hotel is also a major factor that should not be overlooked.  Pick a hotel that is convenient to where you will be spending the most time.  Not only will it save you huge amounts of travel time within your destination city, but it may also save you money on local transportation! 

Basically, just because a hotel is the cheapest doesn’t mean it’s the best deal for you. For example, if you stay at a cheap hotel that is way outside the city center, then you may end up spending a ton of money on subways, taxis and buses. And you could be wasting a ton of time on traveling back and forth too. So sometimes, paying a little extra for a more convenient location is totally worth it and can save you money!

Hotel Amenities and Activities

Other “freebies” to look include amenities like wi-fi and swimming pools. But they go behind that  We have stayed at a number of places that offer FREE walking tours of a city or steeply discounted activities around town.  We are all about free or discounted activities!  

We have found that sometimes paying a little extra for the right type of accommodation with these kinds of “freebies” can actually get you a lot more for your vacation budget.

13. Budget-Friendly Accommodation Options

Many travelers fall into the trap of only thinking of major hotels.  But experienced travelers know that major hotels can be the most expensive type of accommodation, and they often lack many of the “freebies” mentioned above.  

Boutique Hotels, Bed & Breakfasts, Airbnb and Hostels

We have found that bed and breakfasts and smaller boutique hotels often offer many more perks for a better price.  Plus, they usually have a lot more character and you can get more insider information from the staff and other travelers. Honestly, boutique hotels are probably our favorite of all for what you get for the price.

We also enjoy the occasional hostel. While hostels are not for everyone, many people will be surprised at the diversity of what they offer.  Not all hostels are created equal and they are not all just dormitories! In fact, some are more like boutique hotels with private rooms! They just might also have some common areas or provide more basic service and amenities (although we’ve stayed at some nice ones that had quite a lot of amenities too!).

To learn more, read our post 5 Misconceptions About Staying in Hostels.  You may be very surprised!

But overall if you are really traveling on a budget and open to a hostel, you will find that there probably is no cheaper way to go for accommodations. In fact, budget travel for young people usually means a hostel. You can get rooms in a dormitory for as low as $5 or $10 per night in some places. 

You might also consider booking an apartment or home as a vacation rental. Websites such as Airbnb and VRBO have made this an extremely popular option for travel. Sometimes you can book just a room or you can reserve the entire place – which is really great for longer-term stays and vacations with larger groups. Actually, for a larger group and family trips, vacation rentals can be a lot cheaper than multiple hotel rooms! So for example, if you were planning a trip to the Dallas area, then you could opt to rent one of these apartments for rent in Garland.

Then there’s also Couchsurfing. This is for the more adventurous travelers who don’t mind staying with strangers and making friends. It’s not for everyone. But I can say we have done it ourselves (in Hawaii actually) and know many other travelers who use it and have made wonderful friends around the world. 

A Kitchen for Cooking (and Visiting Local Markets)

Also, having access to a kitchen at your accommodation is a great way to save money during your trip.  Dining out can be extremely expensive, especially when you are on vacation.  Many hostels (and even some boutique hotels or B&B’s) have open kitchens that you can use.  

You may say “I don’t want to cook if I’m on vacation” – and we totally get it!

However, when you are traveling on a budget having access to a kitchen allows you to at least make some breakfast in the morning before you head out, or pack a lunch for later in the day. This leaves you more money in your food budget to splurge on a great dinner!

You can also make cooking part of the experience, depending on the destination. For example, we love visiting local farmers markets when we travel. Whether here in the States or when traveling abroad. It’s a fun and low-cost activity as well as a nice way to enjoy the outdoors and interact with the locals. Having a kitchen gives you a reason to buy some fun things to try and also gives you cheap entertainment.

Also, during a trip to Tuscany, we spent most of our days exploring local markets, and our evenings drinking wine and cooking in our little apartment in the countryside. We had a fantastic time and it definitely saved us a lot compared to dining out. 

Traveling on a budget really just means making some adjustments so you can get more for the money you have! And that’s especially true when it comes to food. So kitchens can really help in that aspect. 

14. Best Time to Book Your Trip

While it’s possible to find last-minute travel deals that pop up, we’ve found that usually, last-minute trips are often MORE expensive! Planning a vacation in advance is usually cheaper. While there’s no hard and fast rule on this, we do have some general thoughts just from our past experience. Overall we recommend that you start planning 3-6 months before your trip (or even earlier if you are really excited). And when it comes to making your reservations for the trip, we’ve discovered that booking your trip around 1-2 months prior is best. 

Personally, we have discovered that flight bookings tend to be best around one month prior — but some people feel more comfortable booking the flight even earlier than that. While it’s possible to get a deal before or after that date, the overall trend we see is that around 1 month is the sweet spot when you are bound to find some of the better rates. 

TIP – we often use Google Flights “explore” option to browse around and try different dates and destinations to see all the prices. We don’t always book through that tool, but definitely use it to browse all different options!

Track Prices for Flight Deals

You might even track different flights online to get notified when there are deals. For example, many airlines will have special deals at certain times of the year to Europe or other popular destinations. This is great if you are open to different places. There are also websites that will let you input a specific destination and you will get notified of a great deal when it comes up. Scott’s Cheap Flights is a perfect example of this!

15. When To Travel / Best time of Year

As far as the best time of year to travel, that depends on your destination.  We always recommend planning your trip during “shoulder season” — which is typically just before or after high season.  For example, if you want to visit Europe – don’t go in the summer because it is high season.  

Not only is it more crowded and hot in the summer, but prices are very high.  Traveling in the Fall is much better in Europe because it is shoulder season.  Crowds are lower and it is less expensive.  But most popular attractions are still open and the weather is more pleasant.

While traveling in the low season may give you the best price, beware because some destinations are not very enjoyable during that time.  For example, it could be monsoon season or freezing cold…and perhaps none of the tourist attractions are open.  So be sure to look into this before planning your trip.

Also, remember that seasons are different depending on where you are traveling! For example, Summer might be the high season in Europe but in much of Florida Winter is peak season!

Avoid Traveling on the Weekends

Another way to be sure you save some money is not to travel over the weekends. Weekends tend to always be expensive when it comes to both flights as well as hotels. So if you want to save money, book your flights for mid-week (we find that Tuesdays are often pretty cheap days to fly). Also, when it comes to hotels if we must stay over a weekend then we try to adjust our itinerary so that we aren’t in the high-cost most expensive cities. 

For example, if our trip includes a couple of days in San Francisco then we might do San Fran mid-week when hotel prices are cheaper.

Consider Traveling Overnight

This won’t work for every destination or situation, but in general, anytime you travel overnight (either flights, buses, etc.) then usually it is a cheaper option than during the day. There were a few times when we chose to take an overnight red-eye flight to save money as well as even taking an overnight train in Asia. 

READ MORE: 5 Expert Tips to Surviving an Overnight Flight

Traveling on Holidays – a Good or Bad Idea…

In general, traveling over a major holiday tends to be more expensive. So if possible, you will want to avoid it if you can. For example, visiting Florida’s beaches during Spring Break will be much more expensive than other times of the year. You also might find that flights are super expensive the week of Thanksgiving or Christmas.

However, there are times when traveling on a holiday could actually save you a bit of money. For example, sometimes actually flying on Christmas Day can save you cash because most people have plans and want to be with their families. So it’s possible that you could get a deal on that day. But not always.

16. Pack Light and Avoid Baggage Fees (And Double-Check Airlines)

It’s crazy how much baggage fees can cost nowadays. And a lot of airline search tools conveniently avoid adding in baggage fees, instead choosing to surprise you later! Be sure when you are searching for flights you check the prices for checked luggage – or even carry-on fees (that’s an infuriating one)!

Josh at the airport removing liquids from a bag before checking on the flight

One way you can minimize these fees is by packing carefully. Only bring what you really need and be sure what you bring can be mixed and matched. Think “dual-purpose” with anything you pack, from shoes to scarves. And use packing cubes to stay organized and smash more into your bag so it can fit in that overhead bin!

READ MORE: Flight Packing Tips & Complying with TSA Rules

17. Alternative Budget-Friendly Activities During Your Trip

Over the course of our travels, one of the things we’ve discovered is that many people end up spending a fortune on all the activities and day tours.  But you don’t have to spend a fortune!  Day tours are a great option when you need to pack a lot into a short amount of time, but you don’t need to do them every day.

Explore on Your Own (DIY Tours)

If you have a little flexibility and a couple of days to spend, then we recommend doing some things on your own.  One way to explore on your own is to do walking tours using your smartphone (like we mentioned above).  And like we mentioned, you might be able to find a boutique hotel that offers some type of free walking tour.

Many times, we’ve even downloaded tour guide itineraries online and then just drove ourselves to those same destinations on our own! You don’t always need a guide if you are adventurous enough to go on your own…and willing to do a bit of work ahead of time to plan. 

Geocaching with Free City wifi
Geocaching in Hong Kong

Go Geocaching

Another budget option is to consider doing some Geocaching during your travels.  Geocaching is a scavenger hunt game that we like to play — and it’s great for taking you on an inexpensive walking tour of a city.  Lastly, similar to Airbnb there are a number of websites that connect you with locals who are willing to take you around on a tour for a very reasonable price.  This is a great way to connect with the culture by having a local guide!

Free Activities Can Be Fun!

Finally, sometimes you don’t need to fill your schedule with activity after expensive activity.  

Doing things like strolling through a local market, relaxing at a beach, or going for a hike can be great ways to enjoy your vacation…and these are all free activities.  Plus, if you are willing to rent local transportation and do a bit of research, you may be able to take yourself on your own tour of an area without having to pay a tour guide.  

18. Avoid ATM & International Transaction Fees

Depending on your bank, you might be tied to using certain ATM machines to avoid transactions fees. Be sure to research this and keep it in mind for your trip – because these are totally unnecessary fees (in my opinion)! If you have a local credit union that you use, perhaps you should consider opening an account with a larger bank so you have access more ATMs without the fees.

If you are planning an international trip, you should definitely be aware of this. Fees can add up! So be sure you are not taking out money all the time (to minimize the fees) or possibly get a bank account where there are no ATM or international ATM fees (we have Charles Schwab for just this reason!). 

Also, if you plan to use your credit card internationally be sure to check that there are no transaction fees! We use Chase Sapphire for this reason, there are no fees internationally and we earn travel points too. 

We go into a lot more detail in our full blog post about Money Travel Tips, so be sure to check it out! 

19. Travel Insurance (It’s a Small Cost that Could Save You Big!)

Yeah, I know. You might be thinking “why on Earth would I pay extra for something that’s optional when I’m traveling on a budget?” And I totally get it. But the thing is, depending on the cost of your trip and where you are going, travel insurance might be a massive lifesaver for you. Especially now when traveling in a world with Covid, travel insurance can save you a lot if you need to cancel a trip altogether or if you need to change plans.

Travel insurance can also really help you with costs if your luggage gets misplaced or delayed and you have to go out and buy new clothes, or if your gear is stolen (like a camera or computer). Plus, medical travel insurance is especially important if you are traveling somewhere with subpar medical facilities and need to be transferred to a better hospital for treatment. 

20. Travel Slower and for Longer

In some instances, people want to go for more than just a short vacation — they actually want to travel for an extended period of time.  And really when it comes down to it, traveling slowly can be cheaper! For example, you can book places for a week or a month at a time to get a deal. Or you can travel by bus rather than by plane. If you have some time and can travel longer, then it can definitely save you some money overall. 

We know how this goes because we’ve done it ourselves! Back in 2014 we quit our jobs and sold everything we owned to go travel around the world indefinitely! We ended up being gone for 3 years, and it really changed the trajectory of our lives.

It’s crazy for some to fathom, but it really is totally possible to travel the world on very little money.  And that’s why we really believe in all these budget travel tips we’ve been sharing here. Because we can speak to the fact that they work!

Work Exchange

But you don’t even need to go for as long as we did. Maybe you just want to take a sabbatical for a couple months or a gap year and not blow your savings. There are many websites such as Workaway or Woofing which enable you to connect with locals to do some work in exchange for accommodation and even meals. 

Another option is housesitting! We actually did this a few times while in Asia – we did both house and pet-sitting. It was a wonderful way to stay for free in a local apartment. And we actually still stay in contact with them years later!

Working at a cafe in Bangkok...and lots of coffee!
Working at a cafe in Bangkok…and lots of coffee!

Working as a Digital Nomad

Another option is that you may want to do some professional work for money on the road, such as being a digital nomad. And luckily, the internet makes that possible! As digital nomads ourselves, we can attest to the fact that it is totally possible to make money online while traveling.  From creating online businesses, becoming a freelancer, teaching English or providing business services or creating travel content, such as this blog!

With These Budget Travel Tips, A Cheap Vacation Can Be a Great Vacation!

These are some of the best budget travel tips we’ve discovered that will help you not only plan a cheap vacation, but still make it an enjoyable vacation that you’ll remember. Really, it just takes some advanced planning and some creative thinking. 

As with anything, there will always be some tradeoffs to make; however, we love the challenge of seeing what all we can accomplish on our small vacation budget.  Over the years, we have had some awesome experiences and done SO much while spending much less than the average traveler.  Traveling for less means that we can travel more!

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