Budget traveling is an art form. It requires dedication, sacrifice and creativity, but if done right, it can be a great way to go further and stay longer on your trips! However, to budget travel successfully, you need to employ the right tricks and strategies.
Luckily for you, I have put together everything you need to know to become an expert at budget traveling and travel for cheaper than you ever thought possible!
So without further ado, here are the top 30 budget travel tips you need to know:
1. Avoid traveling to expensive destinations
If you’re a budget traveler, there are some places in the world that just don’t make sense for you to visit because of how expensive they are. Two that instantly come to mind are Norway and Switzerland; expect to spend a lot of money touring those countries.
The best thing you can do is go to countries that are easy on the wallet so check out my Guide to the Cheapest Destinations for the cheapest countries you can visit in every part of the world!
2. Don't travel during the high season
You can save even more money by ensuring that you avoid traveling to your destination in the high season as that’s when flight and hotel prices are the highest! The best time to travel is during a country’s shoulder season when the weather is still okay and the prices are normal.
I tell you the best time to travel in each country’s Destination Guide.
3. Use cheap flight strategies to get the cheapest flights
One way to fly for cheap is by using budget airlines, but there are other strategies you can use to get to your destination for even cheaper. The main ones are called split-ticketing, one-way return tickets, and hidden-city ticketing, but there are more strategies too.
Learn about all of them in my Guide to Cheap Flight Strategies.
4. Travel with a carry-on bag only
A lot of airlines these days will charge you for checked luggage so until they do the same with carry-on bags, one way to save money is by traveling light and only bringing a carry-on bag with you. It is definitely possible to travel with a carry-on bag for long periods of time, you just need to know how to pack it effectively!
Learn how in my Packing Guide.
5. Be flexible with your timing
Traveling in the middle of the week is almost always cheaper than traveling on weekends. If you can, try to book your flights on a Tuesday instead of a Friday or Saturday. Use the date grid and calendar view features provided by Google Flights to find the cheapest dates to travel on.
Learn how to use it in my Guide to Google Flights.
6. Use the cheapest methods of transportation you can
Getting cheap flights to your destination is important, but so is the type of transportation you use to get between different destinations when you’re there. You aren’t going to be flying everywhere so you need to make sure you know the cheapest ways to get from A to B. These include traveling by bus, ridesharing, and hitchhiking.
Check out my Guide to Cheap Transportation for all the best ways.
7. Stay in cheap accommodation
Accommodation is the 2nd biggest expense you will incur after transportation so you need to make sure you limit how much you spend there too. Stay in cheap places like hostels and airbnbs, but also make sure to take advantage of couchsurfing, overnight transportation, and camping to save even more money!
Learn all the best ways to save money on accommodation in my Guide to Cheap Accommodation.
8. Use credit card points and rewards to get free flights & hotels
Travel credit cards often come with lots of benefits like free flights, hotels, upgrades, lounge access, and more. Take advantage of these benefits by getting yourself a good one. Travel credit cards can also save you money on travel and rental car insurance as a lot of them come with it!
Check out my Guide to the Best Travel Credit Cards for all the top no-fee cards you can get for your trip.
9. Volunteer at hostels to stay for free
Some hostels will let you stay for free if you work a few hours for them every day. They typically won’t take on volunteers for less than a week (most require 2-4 week commitments), but if you’re traveling long-term, it can be a great way to travel while saving money on accommodation. Your tasks can range from reception work to changing beds to working the bar, it depends on the hostel.
Either contact hostels directly or use Workaway to find opportunities like this!
10. Don’t be afraid to ask for upgrades
When checking in to your accommodation, don’t be afraid to ask if they can upgrade you for free. Sometimes they will say yes! You have nothing to lose and the worst that can happen is they say no.
Note: you have a better chance of getting a free upgrade if you check in later in the day as most other people will have checked in by then, giving them a good idea of what rooms they have left.
11. Take advantage of free days for museums and other attractions
Some museums and other attractions will have free admission on certain days of the month or week so do your research and see if you happen to be there at the right time!
Be sure to also check and see which attractions in the place you’re visiting are always free and avoid going to expensive tourist traps.
12. Go on free walking tours
A great way to experience a new city is by going on a free walking tour. A knowledgeable guide will take you to all the top attractions in the city and tell you interesting facts and stories about them.
It’s a fun way to learn about the place you’re visiting and also a great way to meet other travelers as there’s a lot of time to chat with the other people on the tour as you’re walking from place to place! And although they’re called free walking tours, you are still expected to tip your guide at the end of it so make sure you give them a couple bucks!
13. Bring your university student card
A lot of museums and other attractions, especially in Europe, will give discounts to university students. Some will require you to be under 26 while others don’t have age limits as long as you have a university student card.
And even if you’re not a student anymore or you are over 26, bring it anyways because as long as the card doesn’t have any dates on it, you can pretend like you are still a 25 year-old student for the discount! Most places won’t check your ID so just play dumb and act young 😉
14. Get an ISIC card to get even more discounts
The International Student Identity Card (ISIC) is recognized in many destinations worldwide and is similar to a standard university student card, but can offer more discounts than your standard card would get you. From discounts on shopping to food to entertainment to accommodation to travel, the card is extremely useful for budget travelers.
You need to be a full-time student to qualify for it, but if you’re not, you can also get the International International Youth Travel Card (IYTC) to get similar benefits as well. Both cards will cost between $4-$25, depending on which country you get it in, and are valid for one year from the date of purchase.
15. Learn to negotiate and haggle
In many parts of the world, especially developing regions, negotiation and haggling are a normal part of their culture. In addition, they will often raise prices for foreigners because they know they will be able to make more money from them.
It’s important that you learn how to negotiate and haggle to get cheaper prices on goods and services while abroad. You may not be able to get the local price every time, but at least you won’t get completely ripped off simply for being a tourist!
16. Sneak into hotel pools by pretending you’re a guest
If you’re in a hot destination and you want to cool off by taking a dip in a nice pool, but your cheap accommodation doesn’t have one, one way to do it is by sneaking into a hotel that does! As long as you act confident and like you’re a guest, nobody will question you.
Make sure to do your research beforehand and don’t show up in your bathing suit at the door and you should be fine. Other tips include taking an indirect route to the pool and checking for the types of room numbers the hotel uses (3-digit vs 4-digit ones) to make one up on the off-chance you are asked for yours.
Note: Sneaking into hotel pools could be considered trespassing in some places. I am not suggesting you do it, just giving you examples on how you could.
17. Try to eat at local restaurants
Restaurants that you find in touristy areas are almost always going to be more expensive than ones a few blocks away. Try to find local eateries because they will almost always be cheaper than tourist trap restaurants, not to mention the food will be better.
One sign that a restaurant is a tourist trap is if it offers a menu in several different languages. Another is if there are no prices on the menu at all. If you don’t see any prices, run far far away.
Use sites like TripAdvisor to find cheap places to eat near you while on the go and always be sure to check reviews for any restaurants you find.
18. Take advantage of daily lunch specials
In general, eating out at restaurants will be costly, but one way you can mitigate that cost is by taking advantage of their daily lunch specials. Most restaurants will have cheaper deals at lunchtime than they will at dinnertime so try to save your “going out” meal for lunchtime to save money.
In some countries, they might even specialize in offering a super cheap meal deal that includes a drink in addition to food. For example, in Spain this is called the menu del dia and typically costs between 8-12€.
19. Ask if the bread or peanuts are free before touching them
One way bars and restaurants will squeeze some extra cash out of you is by dropping off some bread, crackers, or peanuts at your table after you make your order. Most people will assume they are complementary and start to munch on them and in some places they will be, but in many others, they will actually charge you for them.
If you’re not expecting this, it can come as quite a shock when you get the bill, even though they typically only charge between $1-$3 for them. Always ask your server if they are free and if they say no, then tell them you don’t need them to avoid paying for them.
20. Ask for tap water
Another way that restaurants abroad will make money from unsuspecting tourists is by bringing them expensive bottled water when they ask for some water. If all you want is to quench your thirst, you don’t need to pay $10 for a bottle of special mountain water, tap water will do.
Of course, it depends on the quality of the tap water in the country you’re visiting, but if you’re in a country that has clean tap water, make sure to clarify that you specifically want a glass of tap water. Some servers may get annoyed that you would ask for such a thing and decline your request, but most of them will oblige.
21. Research the tipping culture in advance
Believe it or not, tipping is not a universal custom. In some cultures, tipping might even be considered to be rude! Therefore, it’s important that you research what the tipping culture in your destination is like before you go there because it might turn out that you’re not expected to tip at all.
You can learn about tipping customs in each destination in its Destination Guide.
22. Get food at supermarkets and make your own food
Eating out at restaurants all the time will add up and if you can make your own food instead, you can save quite a bit of money. Most hostels and Airbnbs will come with a kitchen that you can use to cook your own food and you can often get the ingredients you need at nearby grocery stores for fairly cheap.
Supermarkets will also sometimes have sections with ready-made food that you can buy to have a cheap meal on the go. That’s what I did when I traveled to Switzerland!
23. Bring sandwiches with you when you’re on the move
Instead of paying for food at airports or train/bus stations which is going to be more expensive, save money by buying a sandwich at a local bakery or grocery store that you can keep in your bag for later when you get hungry. It’s also much cheaper than airplane food!
24. Carry a refillable water bottle with you
Although bottled water is typically fairly cheap, by constantly buying them, you’re contributing to all the plastic waste in the environment, especially in developing nations. By carrying your own water bottle and refilling it at free water sources, you’re not only helping save the environment, but you’re also saving money.
Of course, you need to make sure the tap water is potable in the country you’re visiting, but even if it’s not, many places will offer bottled water refills at a lower price than buying a brand new bottle of water each time.
You can even get a cool collapsible one (which is great for traveling) on Amazon for cheap!
25. Pre-drink in your accommodation before going out to party
Alcohol in bars and clubs can be pretty expensive and one way to save money is by pre-drinking in your accommodation before going out. You might already do this at home, but many people forget about it while traveling and if you plan to party a lot on your trip, it’s a great way to save money.
Just get a cheap bottle of alcohol at a nearby grocery store and drink it in your room. It’s also a great way to make friends at hostels!
26. Get around by walking and using public transport
The cheapest way to get around in a destination is by walking since it’s free! Walk wherever you can and if something is too far away to walk to, take public transport. Taxis are pretty expensive and you also run the risk of getting scammed by drivers so just stick to public transport.
27. Post rides on ridesharing platforms if you’re doing a roadtrip
If you plan to rent a car or do a roadtrip, then one way you can save money on the cost of the rental or the cost of gas is by putting your trip on a ridesharing platform and finding people to come along with you! There are lots of people that look for rideshares to get to their next destination and you can make a little bit of money by giving them a ride.
In Europe and some other places, they use Blablacar whereas in Canada and parts of the US, they use Poparide. Learn more about these platforms and what to expect from ridesharing in my Guide to Ridesharing.
28. Know how to get cash from ATMs
When it comes to getting cash, using those currency exchange booths is the worst thing you could do. Every time you use one, you lose a lot of money on the bad exchange rates and commission fees that they charge you. The best possible way to get cash is by taking it out from ATMs. However, you need to know what you’re doing because ATMs also have sneaky ways of squeezing money out of you.
Learn how to avoid paying unnecessary ATM fees in my Guide to Getting Cash While Traveling.
29. Get a no-fee debit card for traveling
Part of avoiding unnecessary fees when getting cash from ATMs is using a debit card that won’t charge you for foreign ATM withdrawals or foreign exchange fees. A good travel debit card is also useful when making card transactions both in-person and online.
Check out my Guide to the Best Travel Debit Cards to find the best debit card for you no matter where you live.
30. Get a local prepaid SIM card
Roaming fees totally suck and if you’re not careful, you could end up coming home to a huge cell phone bill as a result of them! Relying on wifi is one way to stay connected while abroad without paying roaming fees, but it’s not the most useful as you aren’t always going to find free wifi on the go.
The best way to guarantee an internet connection while abroad is by using a prepaid SIM card, more specifically a local one. Local cards are cheaper than international ones and can make your life on the road so much easier.
Learn more in my Guide to Prepaid SIM Cards.
And that’s it!
Follow these tips and you’ll be a budget traveling expert in no time. If you have any tips of your own to share, let me know in the comments below and if you’d like to read about my own budget travel adventures, check out my travel blog!