Are you tired of hearing about your friends’ great travel adventures, but can’t afford a trip of your own? Well, traveling doesn’t have to be a huge drain on your resources. A little research about traveling on a budget can often lead to more interesting experiences as you eat, drink, and see the sights like a local.
Take a look at these eight money-saving travel tips and use your shoestring budget to turn your dream vacation into a reality. Who knew traveling on a budget was so easy?
If you are traveling on a budget and are completely open to where or when you’ll be traveling, you have an advantage over everyone else and infinite possibilities await. Google Flights allows you to enter your city, choose “everywhere” as a destination, and just choose the cheapest flight. Also, sign up for some of your preffered airlines’ newsletters or follow them on Twitter to hear about special discounts.
While you’re being flexible, it also pays to be secretive; based on the cookies in your browser, flight prices increase after repeated searches of the same route. These scare tactics are employed by airlines to make you book the flight quickly in case prices go even higher. Make sure you regularly clear your browser’s cache or search for flights in private browsing mode.
Choose your Flight Date Carefully
Great flight deals don’t follow an exact pattern since all airlines are different. However, it’s usually best to book your flight three weeks to three months in advance if you want to hit the prime booking window. Early birds have more choice but at a significantly higher cost, while last-minute bookings tend to propel prices through the roof. Of course, you should avoid booking at common holiday times such as Christmas, summer holidays, or local holidays in your destination.
Midweek flights and night flights are usually much cheaper than any time on Sundays and Fridays. Flights on Saturdays and Mondays fall somewhere in the middle of that price range. The day you book the flight can make a difference too. Friday is typically the most expensive day. Most airlines start their sales early in the work week and end before the weekend, so prices tend to spike at the end of the week.
Keeping luggage light will help you to save on luggage costs while traveling on a budget, since so many discount airlines only allow free baggage in the cabin. Booking with a national carrier airline may seem more expensive, but they don’t charge extra for hold luggage and they often fly to more conveniently located airports.
Penalty charges for breaching luggage limits can be prohibitive, so measure and weigh all luggage in advance. Before you go, take a look at our article all about how to pack like a pro for more helpful tips.
Avoid Bank Fees
Do some research before you leave home and get a no-fee ATM card if you can, such as one offered by Charles Schwab. Here’s an article from The Budget-Minded Traveler about how to get your hands on one: How to Set Up a Charles Schwab Bank Account and Avoid ATM Fees Anywhere.
If you use cash machines without a no-fee card, the bank charges can be exorbitant. The cardinal rule is, never use credit cards to withdraw cash advances, since the charges are even higher. However, making large purchases is prudent with credit cards since the charges are cheaper and the purchase is protected. On a similar note, use official exchange offices and banks in cities instead of the ones at airports, which generally have the worst rates.
Choose Your Accommodations Wisely
Does your entire traveling budget revolve around getting a cheap hotel room? People tend to spend more on accommodations compared to other activities, often overlooking budget options like hostels. Hostels have had a resurgence over the past couple of decades; many now offer more than dorm rooms and some are even more stylish than hotels. More than that, hostels offer the chance to meet other travelers, share stories, and gain invaluable firsthand advice.
For a more local budget-friendly option, consider staying in a vacation rental. Or, if you truly prefer hotels, find deals online or travel in the low season and negotiate a deal in person; you’re more likely to get a discount when hotel owners need to fill up rooms.
Eat Like a Local
Checking out the local shops and markets can be fun and interesting when you first arrive at your destination. In addition to saving big bucks, this is also a good way to eat like a local and enjoy leisurely picnics filled with people-watching.
You’re going to want to eat out at some point however, and that’s where you follow the locals onto the side streets, away from the main squares and commercial centers. Prices drop considerably when you get on to the quieter streets, and the quality is just as good, if not better, than in tourist areas.
Street food is another wonderful way to fill up on local cuisine for a few dollars or less. From classics such as hot dogs and noodles, to daring delicacies like deep fried insects, you’ll find it served up somewhere at a neighborhood stall or food truck.
Don’t forget to make the most of inclusive breakfasts at hostels and hotels, because eating early in the day means you won’t need to spend as much on food later. One final piece of advice is bring your own snacks to the airport. There food and drink prices range from slightly overpriced to extortionate.
Don’t Preplan Too Much
It might seem like a good idea to organize your sightseeing before arriving, but doing some research is much better than booking tours before you arrive. Things can change. Perhaps the weather is bad and makes that five-hour boat trip you booked and paid for a completely miserable experience, or maybe you find a better deal on a different attraction once you arrive.
Local organizations usually offer better value than anything you can get from a travel agency back home. Often the same museum passes offered online can be bought in person from tourist offices and kiosks at your destination. Also, some attractions have free entrance, such as the National Gallery in London, Berlin’s Reichstag, and the American Folk Art Museum in New York.
Figure Out the Transportation System
Walking is a good way to get around most cities when traveling on a budget. Best of all, it’s free. Local transport networks can look deceiving on maps, and sometimes subway stops are much closer than you imagine, so it’s best to look at a detailed street map or phone app to decide if going on foot might be worthwhile.
Buses are usually the cheapest form of transportation, but it depends where you are; they might not be an option everywhere. Some tourist passes also include free city transport, so do the math and figure out if the amount of traveling and sightseeing you’ll do is worth the investment.
When it comes to long-distance travel, night buses and trains can save you time and money that would otherwise be spent on accommodations. Sometimes trains are cheaper when booked in advance, so do some research before you leave. If traveling by car, either get a group together to split costs or rent a small car for big savings.
Hopefully, this advice will inspire you to take that trip you’ve been putting off. There are lots of small ways you can save big money, and all it takes is research and a savvy mindset. Traveling on a budget isn’t as difficult as many people think. Whether you choose to sleep on a couch and eat street food or book a trip in the off-season, there’s no excuse to not get out there and see what the world has to offer.