9 Travel Hacks: How to Travel on a Budget
Backpacking through Europe. Lounging at the beach on a tropical island. These are some of the experiences you might daydream about when you’re at work or home. If you’re on a tight budget though, sometimes it seems that’s all that traveling will ever be – a dream.
You don’t have to wait until you’re bringing in the big bucks to make your travel dreams a reality. With some strategic planning and a few helpful hacks, you can go on that international backpacking trip sooner than you think. Here are some tips to help you figure out how to travel on a budget.
Travel During the Off-Season
Planning a trip during the peak travel season is almost a guarantee that you’ll wind up spending top dollar on flights, hotels, and other accommodations. As tempting as it is to plan a getaway during the summer, make plans to travel at a different time of the year to save yourself some money.
If your schedule is flexible, look to travel during the months of November through March, which is the slower travel season for places like Europe (where travelling on a budget is entirely possible with a little planning). For a trip to Southeast Asia or Mexico, off-season travel times are typically from March through October, and May through December, respectively.
There are other benefits to traveling during the off-season that are just as good as saving money. Not only will you get to enjoy cheaper deals on flights and hotels, but the slower travel season means less crowds and shorter wait times at restaurants and other local attractions.
Plan Your Trips Far in Advance
Another money-saving hack is to book your flights anywhere from six months to a year in advance. Many airlines offer flash sales for as low as $200-$300 for an international round trip. It really doesn’t get better than that!
Booking your flight super early gives you the chance to get in on a great deal and allows you time to plan out other travel details as the date gets closer. It’s also a good idea to book your hotel and car rental (should you choose to rent a car) about two to three months before your trip. This way, once you’re at your final destination, you’ll only need to spend money on food, entertainment, and other miscellaneous expenses.
Consider Staying in a Hostel
Although horror movies might make you believe otherwise, hostels are actually a great option to consider if you’re traveling solo or with a few friends. They’re usually much cheaper than staying in a hotel or Airbnb. Plus, when you think about it, you’ll be spending most of your time exploring, so why spend hundreds of dollars a night just for a place to sleep?
Another benefit of staying in a hostel is that you’ll have the opportunity to meet other travelers from around the world. It’s a great way to meet new people and share recommendations on the best sights to check out during your stay.
Don’t Overspend on Souvenirs
When it’s your first time in a new country, you’ll probably want to load up on as many small trinkets as possible as a reminder that you were there. This can get costly though. Not only do souvenirs tend to be overpriced (since vendors know these keepsakes are every tourist’s weakness), you’ll end up with way more baggage than you came with, literally. The last thing you want to do is spend extra money to check your bags because you’re overloaded with souvenirs for yourself and your friends and family.
As exciting as it is to travel somewhere new, try to make memories that don’t involve buying another t-shirt or keychain. Take tons of photos, and once you return from a trip, get a few of your favorites printed and framed to keep around your home.
If you can’t resist, limit yourself to one or two small items that you can fit into your suitcase comfortably. Once you get home, the traveling high will wear off and you’ll be glad you decided not to buy all those “I heart Paris” baseball caps for everyone in your family.
Reduce Food Costs
Aside from flights and hotels, food is probably the category you’ll spend the most money on during travel. To help save on the costs, try to find a hotel or hostel that offers free breakfast during your stay. You can eat as much as you want in the morning to keep you fulfilled as you prepare for a day of exploring.
It might also help to alternate how much you spend on lunch and dinner. If you splurge on a fancy lunch and dinner each day, it will start to add up quickly. Instead, look for cheaper places to have a light lunch, then enjoy a nicer meal at night. You’ll probably spend most of your afternoon touring the city anyway, so you don’t want to be stuffed from a huge meal.
Depending on where you stay, you can also buy a few items from a local grocery store to make your own meals. Your cooking might not be as desirable as the international cuisine you’re skipping out on, but it can help you save if going out to eat every night starts to get expensive.
Make Saving for Travel a Priority
Like any financial goal, setting aside money for travel should be a non-negotiable if it’s what you truly want to do. Open a savings account specifically for travel and every time you get paid, treat your travel fund like a bill and transfer money for future trips. Setting up automatic transfers can make the process even easier.
You can even create fun challenges for yourself, where any extra money that you get, goes into your travel fund. Whenever you get a bonus from work or even if you find a random dollar bill while doing laundry, put it into your savings account for travel and you’ll be surprised at how quickly it grows.
Even if you don’t have a lot of extra money to save, setting aside $20 for several months can be exactly what you need to help you “spontaneously” purchase a limited-time-only flight deal. It’s the perfect way to get to your next travel destination, without draining your emergency savings or going into credit card debt.
Use Travel Rewards Credit Cards
Speaking of credit cards, if you travel enough, you can rack up tons of points to use toward your next big trip. Using credit cards to earn rewards can be a great way to travel on a budget as long as you’re responsible and pay your credit cards off in full every month.
If your job requires you to travel, you can use your personal credit card for purchases during business trips. Most companies reimburse employees for business-related purchases up to a certain dollar amount, so be sure to get all the details on your company policy to know which expenses qualify for reimbursement and for how much.
You can also take advantage of sign-up bonuses when you apply for a new travel rewards credit card. Several credit card issuers offer anywhere from 10,000 to 60,000 bonus points if you spend a certain amount within the first few months of opening a new card. Some of the best credit cards for travel include the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card.
This ties in with the tip to avoid overspending on souvenirs. Checking in luggage can get pricey, and it’s also a pain to carry around bags if you’ll be traveling to several different budget travel destinations.
Try to pack just one carry-on bag and a backpack (or laptop case if you plan on working while you travel). If you’re going to stay in a hostel, there will probably be a limited amount of space. Packing only the essentials makes things simple and convenient, and you can focus on enjoying your trip rather than trying to figure out where to put all your stuff.
Travel is Possible on a Budget
When you’re making travel plans, remember that being on a budget doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy yourself. You might not have the money to stay in a five-star hotel or eat the most expensive steak every night, but you can still have an amazing time. The experience of traveling and learning about other cultures is once-in-a-lifetime for most of us, so don’t waste too much time comparing your budget to those around you.
Instead, soak up as much of the culture as you can when you’re in a new country. Talk to new people, try new foods, and do anything else to make it the most memorable experience possible. Once you’ve mastered the art of learning how to travel on a budget, you’ll know you’re getting the best deals on flights, lodging, and other accommodations.
After all of the work is done, it’s time to go on that backpacking trip or lounge on that Hawaiian beach like you always daydreamed about.