Everything You Need to Know About Traveling On A Budget
Updated: Jun 19, 2022
Traveling to a new place shouldn't cost you a fortune – and it doesn't have to! Many people avoid travel because they think they can't afford it. However, there are so many ways to go on a trip without breaking the bank.
I want to preface this guide by making a clear distinction between budget travel and cheap travel. Cheap travel is about trying to spend less while budget travel is focused on getting the greatest value. Everyone has their own budget and how much you spend isn't a measure of the quality of your trip.
Budget travel allows for more variability when planning and going on a trip. Instead of booking the smallest number on the screen, it gives you the flexibility to choose how you spend your money. If you want to spend less on your flight so you can upgrade your accommodation, you can.
Traveling on a budget isn't always just about spending less, it's about being smart with your money.
I didn't know much about budget travel until I studied abroad in London and knew I had to be smart if I wanted to fund my trips. While some abroad programs allow international students to have jobs, mine didn't. So, everything I made that summer before was what had to get me through 4 months.
My focus was on cheap travel for my first few trips until I realized that there's a difference between cheap and cheap. There are some awesome travel deals out there, but sometimes you really do get what you pay for.
And I was actually costing myself more money, in the long run, trying to save pennies. Because I was living on my own in another country, I had to be smarter with my money.
So, without further ado, this is my ultimate guide to traveling on a budget.
Have a Plan
Thorough research is essential when planning a trip, especially when you're going someplace new. This includes learning everything from flights and lodging to the reliability of the public transportation system.
When you are traveling on a budget, doing research helps prepare you for handling any problems that come up when you get to your destination, or even when you're planning. It's essential for making smarter decisions with your money.
There were a few trips while I was abroad where I definitely could have saved money if I'd done more research. For example, I ran into multiple transportation issues in Greece and Italy, not knowing until I got there how unreliable public transport could be in those countries. If I had done the right research beforehand, I probably could have saved myself a few hundred dollars.
Find Inexpensive Flights and Accommodation
There are lots of creative ways to save on flights and accommodation when using a typical booking website. When I was in London, I typically relied on Google Flights, Momondo, Hostelworld, and Airbnb to purchase plane tickets and hotels. But there were a couple of other tricks I used to make sure I was getting the greatest value possible:
I shopped around on multiple websites – When booking hotels and flights, I searched on every single one of those websites I listed before making my final decision. This is because each platform may show different results, and one of those results could be the best option for me within my budget.
I scheduled my trips to leave during the week – While it's been proven that no day of the week is better than another for booking flights, traveling during the week is typically less expensive than on a weekend.
I booked as far in advance as possible – They aren't kidding when they say the early bird gets the worm. While I've heard of miraculous last-minute deals, I've never experienced one myself. Had I booked my trips earlier, I could have saved myself some more money.
Every traveler has their own budget, method, and a cocktail of resources they use when searching for flights and accommodation. Use what online sources work for you but think about budget travel and how you can get the most value out of your options.
Take Advantage of Public Transportation
Renting a vehicle or relying on apps like Uber can get really expensive, especially when you're in a city or traveling a bit of a further distance. It can also be intimidating when you're in a place you've never been before with its own, unique rules of the road. Taking advantage of public transportation is a great way to save yourself some cash and avoid a possible traffic violation.
Difficulty navigating public transportation systems will vary across countries depending on things like infrastructure and language. While living in London, I found the Underground was very easy to navigate, ran relatively smoothly, and got me from one place to the next in as little as 10 minutes.
Travel During Off-Season
There are so many benefits to traveling during the off-season, but the most obvious one is the significantly lower cost. Not only is it cheaper to fly, but hotels, food, and activities are also typically less expensive.
Traveling during the off-season is also another great way to get a truly authentic, local experience. You get a front-row seat to what the "every day" experience of a place is. You can also avoid the rowdy crowds of the busy season, which means no long lines and quiet museums.
This is the most important part of traveling on a budget. Instead of killing yourself trying to find the cheapest flight or the best hotel deal, be willing to think about creative ways you can allocate your spending.
For example, while planning my trip to Boston, I couldn't find a hotel that was less than $180 a night. After calculating car-related costs, transportation, food, and extra spending, I knew I wouldn't be able to afford it. But then, I remembered I could take a train.
So, instead of having to cancel the trip or settle with the cheapest option, I was able to book a room in the center of the city, save myself money on transportation costs, and get the best value while staying within my overall budget.
Traveling is something anyone with any budget can do. And with the proper tools and a little bit of experience, you can ensure you get the greatest value and experience out of your trip.
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