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How to Travel on a Budget

7-Minute Read

When people talk about the No. 1 thing that holds them back from traveling, they often mention money. Many people budget for travel or save money for a long time while planning for a vacation. While travel expenses can add up, it doesn’t have to. If you want to see the world on a budget, here are a few travel tips to get you started.

Bird's-eye view image of European city.

How to Travel Cheap

The most expensive parts of any vacation are typically flights and accommodations. Here are some budget travel tips to help you minimize or eliminate your primary travel expenses.

Plan to Travel During the Off-Season

One of the best ways to travel on a budget is to visit places when they aren’t as busy as usual. Hotels will often give discounts during the off-season (or shoulder season), and flights are not nearly as expensive. You may also want to research and explore the cheapest days to fly during the holiday season.

For example, Florida is packed with vacationers around the holidays because most kids aren’t in school and families can take time to travel together. But if you visit Florida outside of the holidays or spring break time, the flights might be a fraction of the price.

The same thing goes with European vacations. Many students study in European countries in the summer, and it’s a common time for families to visit for week-long vacations. Flights and hotels are filled during this time, so consider visiting during Thanksgiving week or in another off-season instead. The hotels and flights will likely be much less expensive.

Stay in Hostels

One of the most budget-friendly accommodation options is hostels. There are many types of hostels including party hostels, themed hostels, and more. While hostels have a reputation of being crowded bunk rooms with minimal amenities, that’s not always the case.

Use a website like Hostelworld or Booking.com to search for hostels in the area you’re visiting. If you don’t want to share a room with others, hostels have private rooms with either private or shared bathrooms. They’re typically a bit more bare-bones than a hotel room, but offer front desk assistance, daily cleaning and other amenities such as access to Wi-Fi and TV. You can find all the details and photos on the booking websites, many of which have filters so you can explore only hostels. Essentially, many hostels are simply budget hotels filled with unique travelers and their stories.

Use Frequent Flier Miles and Credit Card Points

Another way to save a lot of money on flights and hotels is to use points programs. There are several to choose from, but we recommend doing plenty of research and understanding your credit score before taking out a credit card with intention to travel.

If you want to capitalize on travel rewards, you first need to find a credit card that offers travel perks and benefits you’ll use. This may be a specific airline, hotel chain or simply cash back on travel. It’s important to understand how that card earns points and how you’ll be able to use them. Some credit cards offer a huge points bonus toward flights if you spend a certain amount in the first three months of having the card. Others have cash-back rewards that you can use on any travel-related expense. Find the bonus that works for you.

Then, use the credit card to attain the sign-up bonus. Again, be sure that you aren’t overspending on your credit card and that you’ll pay the balance in full. It typically takes a few weeks or a month before the points get posted to your account. Then, you can spend them on travel to minimize the out-of-pocket expense of booking flights, hotels or other travel.

It’s important to note that if you decide to use a credit card for travel points, make sure you are responsible with your credit. You can do this by always paying your bill on time and paying the total balance in full every month. 

Another option would be to take out a personal loan to fund your vacation. This way, you’ll know in advance exactly what you can spend. And, since you’ll have a payment schedule, your time frame for repayment may be more manageable. But, before you take out a personal loan to pay for your vacation, compare lender terms and rates to decide what you can reasonably afford and what fits within your budget.

Follow Budget Travel Experts

There are several websites and social media platforms dedicated to helping consumers save money on their travel expenses. Here are a few of the most popular sites and how they can help you.

  • The Points Guy – This website educates consumers on what the best credit card sign-up bonuses are, how to “travel hack” the point systems, and other travel-related news.
  • Scott’s Cheap Flights – This website offers an email sign-up service that sends people flight deals from their local airports. There is a premium service that sends even more flight deals daily.
  • Groupon – You can find deals and discounts on vacation around the world by using Groupon. From tours around Greece to a quick trip to the Smoky Mountains, you can discover trips to fit almost any budget.
  • Airbnb – For travelers who want a more personal yet affordable trip, you can visit Airbnb to find a variety of accommodations. Whether you decide to rent out a room or an entire property, you can find accommodations to fit your needs that won’t break the bank.
  • Rakuten – You can become an online travel-booking pro by combining cash-back rewards and discounted rates from travel websites. Rakuten helps you find vacation deals and offers cash back for using its site. For example, you can book with Expedia and earn up to 14% cash back.
  • Discount travel sites – Visit discount travel sites like Priceline or Travelocity to find deals and discounts on some of the most sought-after travel destinations.
  • Local social media pages – There are several individuals, airports, airlines and more that post on social media about flight deals as they occur. For example, the Dallas-Fort Worth area has Instagram and Facebook pages called Cheap DFW that posts when there are cheaper than normal fares from the local airports. You may want to search for your local airport, favorite airline or favorite hotel chain to see if there are similar social media sites.

Travel Light

Many airlines will charge extra for checked baggage, especially on domestic flights. An easy way to cut costs while traveling is to pack less. This will help you save on extra baggage fees, which can cost $30 to $60 per leg of your journey.

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Where to Travel With a Low Budget

There are many places you can travel that are significantly cheaper than others. For example, if you have two weeks to travel, you may want to visit Southeast Asia instead of the South of France. Here are a few location-specific examples of places that you can travel to stay on a budget.

Southeast Asia

Plane ticket aside, many cities in Southeast Asia are both beautiful and inexpensive to visit. While most countries in Southeast Asia are very budget-friendly, you may want to consider traveling to Siem Reap, Cambodia to see Angkor Wat and the other temples; Bali, Indonesia for surfing and exploring the jungles; or Thailand for some of the best scuba diving in the world.

In these areas, hostels are typically less than $10 a night, homestays can vary but are typically $30 or less, and a nice hotel will cost $70 on average. Flights from country to country vary but are known for being very inexpensive. For example, you can fly from Siem Reap, Cambodia to Saigon, Vietnam for as little as $23.

Central America

If you’re looking to do everything from surfing to learning about ancient history all on a budget, then Central America might be the perfect vacation spot for you. Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama are a backpacker’s paradise, and they’re inexpensive.

Buses from city to city are often only few dollars, with air-conditioned trips costing about $20 to $30. A hostel can cost $5 a night for a dorm room, and some luxury hotels will go for as little as $80 a night.

Europe

Yes, even Europe can be a budget-friendly destination. When considering where to visit in Europe, you may want to skip London and Paris and consider going a bit further east.

For example, in Prague, a liter of beer costs anywhere from $1.50 to $5, and it’s easy to find a hostel for less than $12 a night. In Kyiv, Ukraine, public transportation costs only $0.30 to ride. Portugal and Italy are also known for being much less expensive to visit than their busier neighbors.

The Road Less Traveled

Ultimately, the cost of travel is largely due to supply and demand. If you’re traveling to see Paris and the Eiffel Tower, you may want to also consider taking a few days outside of the city to see some lesser-known, but still wonderous, locations. For example, you may want to consider visiting the wine regions in Portugal if you’re there to see the famous spots in Porto and Lisbon. Another option is to go off the beaten path and visit Hokkaido, Japan for its untouched wilderness while visiting Japan to see Tokyo.

Image of green bridge in dark green jungle.

More Budget Travel Tips

You’ve learned how to low the cost of accommodation and flights, but there are still several ways that you can save money while taking in the sights.

Meet Locals

One of the best ways to save money is to act as the locals do. The tourist centers almost always have high prices on food and activities. You may want to use a website like Meetup or Couchsurfing to plan get-togethers with locals. And it’s never bad to gain a friend abroad! You can also look for live music or use Facebook to see what events are taking place near you.

Take Advantage of Free Experiences

Many cities offer free walking tours or classes. Many hostels will advertise these events, and the teachers or tour guides accept tips as payment. Some hotels, hostels or even restaurants will offer free yoga classes. Restaurants may offer free cooking classes if you buy a meal or drink. There are plenty of options, so ask around when you get to your destination. Taking free or inexpensive classes can be a great way to encounter local culture on a budget.

Book Hotels With Free Breakfast or Parking

While this may seem like a small cost, nominal expenses like meals and parking can add up the longer your trip. For example, parking in Chicago can often cost up to $50 per night. If you’re booking a cheaper hotel that does not offer parking, you may end up paying more for it in the end. The same thing goes for breakfast or coffee – if your hostel is cheap but does not offer free breakfast, you may be left to spend quite a bit of money to eat in a restaurant.

Stay Longer

It may seem counterintuitive that traveling for a longer period of time can save money, but there are plenty of work or volunteer programs that help ease the cost of travel. For example, WorkAway is a website that connects people who are looking to travel for a long time with small businesses or individuals who need a bit of extra help. Travelers can exchange a couple of hours of their time for free accommodations and sometimes even free meals. Other similar sites include WWOOF and Worldpackers.

Image of coastal beach near mountains.

The Bottom Line

There are plenty of ways to travel on a budget. In addition to minimizing what you spend on flights and accommodation, you can choose to find free things to do or visit places that are less expensive than others—research is key!

And if you’re considering taking out a personal loan to travel, we offer a simple, secure and fast borrowing process. Get started today.

People Also Asked...

How do you travel on a low budget?

  1. Don't eat three meals a day. ...
  2. Families can save even more on food by using the grocery store. ...
  3. Travel in the off-season. ...
  4. Share your trip (and its costs) with a friend or family member. ...
  5. Go where you know people. ...
  6. Avoid gift shops and shopping in general. 

How can I fly for free?

  1. Sign up for a new frequent flyer credit card. ...
  2. Sign up for a non-specific travel rewards card. ...
  3. Volunteer to get bumped and use a voucher. ...
  4. Seek out overbooked flights. ...
  5. Use your companion ticket. ...
  6. Complain with good reason.

What are cheap vacation ideas?

  1. Tour your own city. And this doesn't mean you “tour” your house projects and work on your yard. ...
  2. Go camping. ...
  3. Go to the less popular beach. ...
  4. Book travel packages using warehouse stores. ...
  5. Stay with friends or family. ...
  6. Travel during the off-season. ...
  7. Go away on a weekend trip. ...
  8. Take a vacation on a weekday.

What's the cheapest country to visit?

  1. Colombia. Average daily cost: $28 U.S. per person. ...
  2. Cambodia. Average daily cost: $34 U.S. per person. ...
  3. Albania. Average daily cost: $47 U.S. per person. ...
  4. Republic of Georgia. Average daily cost: $17 U.S. per person. ...
  5. Nepal. Average daily cost: $25 U.S. per person. ...
  6. Bolivia. Average daily cost: $27 U.S. per person. ...
  7. Armenia. ...
  8. Estonia.

How to travel on a budget: Our 7 best tips

  1. Come up with a plan. Traveling spontaneously is great, if you have the luxury of time and money to spare. ...
  2. Travel out of season. ...
  3. Be accommodation-savvy. ...
  4. Pack properly. ...
  5. Book flights in advance… ...
  6. Embrace public transport. ...
  7. Don't eat away your cash.

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