traveling on a budget

Getting the Best Prices for Traveling on a Budget

The old cliché that it’s better to buy experiences than things is true for so many of us, but actually being able to afford those experiences is another story. In 2017, 74% of people said they’d gone into debt just to go on a vacation! We desperately need the getaway, but we are spending beyond our means to go.

It doesn’t have to be that way!

Budget traveling doesn’t mean staying in roach motels and traveling in the hay bails on the back of a tractor. There are hundreds of ways to experience the world without breaking the bank. The better you plan ahead and map out your visits, the more you can save!

Pre-Travel Checklist

Start by obtaining all the travel documents you’ll need. Having a passport, valid photo ID, and copies of your birth certificate, credit cards, and insurance cards are a great first step. Even in your traveling within your own country, it’s always best to be over-prepared for any situation that could arise while you travel.

Call your credit card companies, banks, and cell phone company to inform them of your plans to travel. Even using a card across state lines can flag a fraudulent charge. Cell phone carriers often have options for international travel so your bill doesn’t go through the roof when and if you need to make calls.

Choosing a Budget Friendly Destination

So, where will you go? First, here are some budget-friendly suggestions for where to travel:

  1. Choose your travel budget first, and base that budget on actual numbers you’ve saved in a bank account. If you save $1,000, only move forward booking travel using that money. Then, begin searching for destinations that will accommodate that budget number. Where should you travel? To places you can afford.
  2. Almost every major tourist destination has a smaller neighborhood or city nearby. Often times these towns can offer some beautiful experiences, similar to that of the high-traffic areas, and inexpensive transportation to get you into the main city. For example, Tivoli is a smaller town outside of Rome. Only 3 euros and you can take the train into Rome, but stay in small villas or hotels that are far less expensive.
  3. Google cities that are walkable. The more you can walk, the more you save on transport. Map out your daily tours and include at least one day to wander. You’ll be glad you did.
  4. Make a list of things you love to do on vacation, or a bucket list of things you want to see. Begin a search of towns and cities that offer those things! Then do your best to combine a few of the items on your list in one trip. For example, going to Paris just to see the Eifel Tower is great, but if you also love hiking then stay in nearby Larchant so that you can enjoy its beautiful trails. Then take a day trip to Paris to see the Tower!
  5. Look at flight deals! If you want to travel but you don’t have your heart set on a destination, take a look at affordable flights. If you find an amazing deal, consider that your budget-friendly vacation is half-planned for you! The same goes for train tickets, bus tickets, and car rental deals. If you find super cheap transportation, go where it takes you!

Getting the Lowest Prices for Traveling

Once you’ve decided on a budget-friendly destination that matches the amount of money you’ve set aside for vacation, you have to think about the most affordable ways to book your travel. Here are some suggestions for budget-friendly bookings:

  1. Here’s a secret booking hack – open an incognito window in your browser during your search for flights, car rentals, and hotels. Booking websites actually remember your searches. They have a tricky way of tracking prices you’ve been quoted in the past so that when less expensive options are available, you never get to see them! Keep browsing on the low-low!
  2. When you’re booking, choose off-peak seasons. Google the high traffic times for the areas you want to visit and choose the first or last week of the peak season, or move a few weeks into off-peak season These will often leave you with less-populated resorts and hotels, not to mention way better prices!
  3. Book in advance. Most people know this one, but it’s worth mentioning that you can save hundreds by booking as far in advance as possible.
  4. Be flexible with your airlines/airports. If you can set aside more time for travel, you can often save money by switching airlines several times throughout travel and choosing airports that aren’t closest to your hometown (provided that driving to the airport and parking your car there don’t actually even out the cost).
  5. Tuesday is almost always the cheapest day to fly. Try to book your vacations from Tuesday to Tuesday.
  6. Find a great travel agent!! It used to be that we couldn’t book a flight without going to a travel agency, but now anyone can book a flight on the Internet. Typically travel agents are free to use (they make a commission from the hotels/flights they book for you) and almost always have great advice on where and when to travel cheaply.
  7. If your credit score is good, you’ll likely qualify for a travel credit card. It’s important to compare and contrast them to see which ones you can redeem for the most and best travel for you. Put some of your typical, monthly expenses on this credit card so you’ll have no trouble paying it off every month. Then when you go to book your travel, you the credit card for bonuses, cash back, and more!

Minimizing Your Day to Day Expenses

Once you’ve booked your budget-friendly vacation, preparation is key. The biggest expenses on vacation are often the ones we don’t think about before we leave. The more prepared you can be, the less likely you’ll overspend!

  1. Money exchange rates and transaction fees can eat into your travel budget. Find the least expensive way to exchange money while you’re still home and call your credit cards to find out if there are fees associated with using them in other countries. Sometimes you can negotiate these fees.
  2. Often times you’ll need specific vaccinations to visit certain countries. Be prepared by getting those shots well ahead of time. Also ensure you pack prescriptions and daily supplements in the amounts you’ll need for your trip. Packing whole bottles is fine until you lose them!
  3. Think about toiletries like deodorant, toothbrush/toothpaste, and sunscreen. These can be relatively inexpensive to purchase while you’re vacation, but they can also be the exactly things resorts will price-gouge! Umbrellas are another expensive item to purchase. It’s far more budget friendly to purchase a small travel umbrella or rain shield like a parka.
  4. Don’t forget your chargers! Cell phone and laptop chargers are expensive to replace. Double check the type of plugs you need in other countries, too. Often times you’ll need an adapter to use your electric accessories.  
  5. Be sure you’re aware of what different airlines will let you bring on board versus what you can pack in your luggage. For example, airports will take full bottles of shampoo and throw them away! What a waste of money!
  6. Double check hotel and motel fees, like parking fees or resort fees. Sometimes these aren’t clear when you book, so ask for all fees to be put in writing so you’re prepared for a more accurate final bill.
  7. Consider daily travel costs. If you’re planning to use public transportation, remember to bring enough money for cabs or Ubers in case public transportation goes down. Prepare for the worst and if there’s money leftover, you can put it towards your next vacation savings fund!
  8. Pack travel food! The more snacks you can bring with you, the less you’ll end up spending in between meals. Protein bars, trail mix, and fresh fruit (some airports will not let you through with fresh fruit) are excellent snacks to keep on your while you travel. This can save you upwards of $20 a day!
  9. Focus on lunch! Lunch should be your biggest meal of the day while you travel. You can often get more food for less money than you would pay for dinner. (And bonus points – you’ll probably walk most of it off!)
  10. Find accommodations with free breakfast! Loading up on heart breakfast foods like eggs and sausage or toast and fruit will keep you going until you eat that big, budget-friendly lunch!

Cheapest Places to Travel to on a Budget

If you haven’t yet chosen a destination, it’s not hard to choose one that’s budget-friendly. Savvy travelers can go almost anywhere in the world on $50/day or less using all of the above suggestions, but heading to a location that is already known for being budget-friendly only sweetens the deal!

While staying in the continental United States seems like it would be a good deal, many times the states are far more expensive than traveling to other parts of the world. You’ll spend more on airfare, but usually far less on accommodations, food, and day-to-day transportation.

  1. Smaller countries like Honduras, Nicaragua, and Guatemala are the most budget-friendly if you’re looking for a Central American getaway. Hotels are anywhere from $15-$40 per night and food costs are usually $3 per meal or less!
  2. Cambodia is one of the least expensive Southeast Asia countries, and the locale is gorgeous. The locals treat tourists very well, and you’re living large if you spent upwards of $50 per day on accommodations, food, and travel! If you’re backpacking, Cambodia is your budget-friendly go-to.
  3. Most people think France when they think about traveling to Europe, but most Eastern European countries have just as much history without the price tag. The Ukraine, Bulgaria, and Romania all have incredibly budget-friendly price tags and offer fabulous experiences for tourists.
  4. Zanzibar is an incredibly opportunity to see the most beautiful oceanscapes. Off the coast of Africa, the travel costs will eat up most of your budget. But once you arrive, you’ll find your dollars go far and that nothing can buy the pristine white sand! Foodies – start celebrating. The food here is delicious!
  5. A little closer to home, Montreal, Canada is not only beautiful, but the exchange rate makes it very affordable. You’ll fine this city to be strongly French-influenced, which means a European-feel without the European price tag.

Budget-friendly travel doesn’t always mean staying in hostels. And while hostels around the world are notoriously safer than they were 30 years ago, there’s no need to give up a hotel room and good meals in exchange for seeing the world.  Take the time to plan and prepare and you’ll find that incredible vacations are possible.

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