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How to Travel Cheaper: A Beginner’s Guide to Budget Travel

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Traveling is all the rage these days. Just take a quick skim through Instagram, Facebook, or Pinterest, and you’ll probably have at least a small case of FOMO. It seems like everyone is always jetting off everywhere. While that’s definitely not the case (social media is only a highlight reel, after all), you might be wanting to get in on the traveling fun, but be hesitant because of the cost. Traveling can be very expensive, for sure. When I hear how much my friends spend on their trips, my jaw drops. It’s literally often triple what I spend on similar trips. Over time, I started realizing how little idea most people have on traveling cheap. So, in order to try to help others out, I’ve made this quick little guide on how to travel cheaper.

I don’t consider myself a budget traveler. Not by any means. But I’m definitely budget conscious. So here are the ways I travel cheaper (relative to my friends), but still comfortably, for five years and counting.

1. FIND CHEAP FLIGHTS

This is the quickest way to cut the cost of your trip by a couple hundred bucks right off the bat. The greatest part about saving money through the flight is that you are not sacrificing quality. You are getting the same service as you otherwise would have, but paying less. These are the ways I save money on my flights.

Skyscanner Search Engine

Skyscanner is my favorite search engine. I first heard about it at a study abroad orientation before departing for a semester in London, and I’ve been using it ever since. There are two main things I love about Skyscanner.

Firstly, they include budget airlines that major search engines often do not include. This is key when you are traveling to a newish region, and you don’t yet know what budget airlines even exist to go check them yourself.

Secondly, they have an “everywhere” option for the destination. This has been so great for me when I am looking for a last minute trip, or when I don’t care where I am going but just want the cheapest flight. I enter my departure airport, I select “everywhere” for my arrival airport, and I choose the dates. You can even choose “whole month” if you want to be more general. Then, your results are listed in order of cheapest price.

how to travel cheaper with skyscanner

Google Flights Search Engine

I will always have a special place in my heart for Skyscanner, but I’m using Google Flights more and more these days. When it first came out, I had no idea how to use it to its full potential, but now I finally see why everyone likes it.

Firstly, I love how easy it is to search several flights at once by selecting multiple destination and departure cities, not just “nearby airports” from one main selection. I also love how many ways you can filter down your search, like by selecting or excluding connection airports.

Google Flights filter on connetion cities

Secondly, I adore the Date Grid feature, where you can easily see price differences for similar dates. And – perhaps my favorite part – you can click Track Prices after setting all your filters to get price changes emailed right to you!

Google flights price grid

Hopper Moblie App

I’ve only just recently started using this free phone app (download here for iPhone or Android), but I love it so far. With Hopper, you can select a flight route for the app to monitor, and it will then notify you when prices drop. They also notify you when a flight to a nearby destination drops, too. You can monitor multiple flights at a time. They also provide this service for hotels, but I have not used that yet.

Hopper mobile app welcome page
how to travel cheaper with hopper mobile app
how to travel cheaper with hopper mobile app
how to travel cheaper with hopper mobile app

Scott’s Cheap Flights Mail List

If ya don’t know, now ya know. All the cool kids use Scott’s Cheap Flights. It’s an email list where Scott, the guy running it, emails you when airlines have huge flight drops or mistake fares. Prices usually only last a day or two at most, so you have to act fast if you see a flight you like. The nice thing about this is that the flights are all with major airlines, so you’re sure to fly comfortably. There is a paid version and a free version, but the free version is honestly pretty good. On the free version, I get emails once every day or two, and once in a while, twice in a day.

how to travel cheaper with scotts cheap flights

Budget Airlines

Some people love ’em, some people hate ’em. Me? I think they’re a great way to travel cheaper. If you’ve traveled Europe long term, you’ve definitely heard of the European ones, like RyanAir, EasyJet, Vueling, or EuroWings. Asia and Latin America have their own budget airlines too, and there are even international budget airlines, like Norwegian, or the now-bankrupt WOW Air. The important thing when booking with these is to read the fine print. You’ll regret it if you don’t. Trust me. If you’re worried, read my super-detailed guide to flying RyanAir. The same general principles apply to all budget airlines.

Travel Carry-On Only

This is often necessary when traveling budget airlines or domestically, but major airlines are starting to apply the budget airline strategy for international flights. Nowadays, they often offer a “basic economy” as opposed to just “economy.” This is cheaper, and excludes things like free check-in bag, flight changes, and sometimes meals. Not sure how international or long-term is even possible with just a carry-on? Check out my guide to traveling carry on only.

2. FIND BUDGET FRIENDLY ACCOMMODATION

Assuming you find a decently priced flight, housing will likely be the largest single expense of your trip. I hate feeling like I overpaid for housing way more than for a flight, because I tend to be out and about all day. All I really need is a safe, clean, conveniently located place to sleep – and I never sacrifice any of these three qualities for price. Luckily, there are more than a few ways to save on housing.

Book With AirBnB

If you haven’t heard about AirBnB yet, you’ve been living under a rock I’m here to save you. It’s a super-convenient site where you can book vacation rentals (apartments, houses, villas, tree houses, the list goes on). In recent years, they branched out from just housing, and you can use their site to book ~experiences~ too. But back to housing. AirBnB can be a GREAT way to save (especially when you are in a group) because you are renting from a person, rather than staying in an expensive hotel. Also, AirBnBs can be very centrally located, since they tend to be people’s apartments. If you’ve never used AirBnB before, you can even save 15% off your first booking by using this link to sign up. You’ll also get $15 off your first ~experience~ of $50 or more. This all only counts for your very first time, though.

airbnb travel booking website

Stay in Hostels

Hear me out of this one. I know you’ve all seen that one scary movie, but hostels are usually nothing like that! I’ll admit, I was a little skeptical when I stayed in my first one. I read way too many reviews and viewed every single traveler-posted photo on TripAdvisor before booking anything. In the end, all went well.

Hostels can be great for many reasons.

Firstly, they can save you money. I’ve only used them in Europe thus far, where I averaged $20 a night in Germany, Scotland, and Austria in winter, and $34 a night in Italy in summer. But travel to Latin America or South East Asia, and expect to pay under $10 a night. The two sites I check and use to book these are Booking (which includes hotels and guest houses) and HostelWorld (which is purely hostels). Get 10% back from your first booking when you use this link for your first time using Booking.

Secondly, they are a nice way to not feel so alone while traveling solo. You can meet other solo travelers, and hostels often put on nightly events, city walking tours, and game nights.

Thirdly, another money saving perk about hostels is that they often come with a kitchen. You can buy local produce (often WAY cheaper than produce in the US) and cook to save money, too. Two ways to travel cheaper in one. BAM.

Hostels often offer all-male or all-female dorm room options, if this helps you feel more comfortable.

Couch Surf or House Sit

I’ve never used either of these two options. Fill disclosure; I don’t see myself doing either of these two options any time soon as a solo-female traveler. But I wanted to include them in my list so y’all have full information. Couch Surfing is where you literally stay with someone for free, often on their couch. People who host couch surfers usually love to meet new people and host couch surfers for that reason. House sitting is also becoming a thing these days. With this, you get to stay in someone’s house for free in exchange for watching their place while they are gone. This can be as long as a month sometimes, and often is more of pet sitting than simply house sitting.

Book as Far Out as Possible

Unlike with booking flights, it’s pretty rare to get a last minute cheap hotel. The best way to ensure you have as many options as possible and aren’t forced to just book whatever is left is to book as far out as you can. The cheapest and best-value places (whether hotel, BnB, or hostel) will naturally sell out fast. So travel cheaper by not procrastinating on housing.

3. CHOOSE A BUDGET DESTINATION

An easy way to travel cheaper and save on not just housing but also meals, on the ground transport, excursions, and even souvenirs is to just choose a cheaper destination in the first place.

Visit a Cheaper Destination

This can be a place with a weaker currency than its neighbors, like non-Euro-zone European countries. Or it can be entire regions, like South America or Southeast Asia. It can also just be a less tourist place overall, like Portugal instead of Spain. This is a great decision for longer-term travels, as the low costs after arrival can offset the upfront cost of the flight to give you a low overall per-day spend.

Travel in the Off Season or Shoulder Season

If you absolutely must travel to the most touristy, high currency value countries, consider traveling in the off season or shoulder season. Off season travel is great for places like Europe. When I traveled to Iceland in winter, I literally saved $100 a day off my camper van rental, which I had for a week. That was a ton of savings right off the bat. My flight was cheaper because I traveled in winter too. Some places, like a Mediterranean island, don’t make sense to visit during the off season in poor weather. So consider visiting in the shoulder season. You can get the best of both worlds by traveling just before or just after the peak season, where the weather is still warm but the crowds and prices are lower. I traveled to Croatia in May, and attraction entrance fees were sometimes half the price they would have been in July and August.

4. AVOID FOREIGN TRANSACTION FEES

It baffles me how people travel without fee-less credit cards and debit cards. This is a no-brainer way to travel cheaper. Most credit cards charge a 3% fee when outside your home country, and most debit cards charge this same 3%, but also a $5 ATM fee every time you withdraw from a foreign ATM. The numbers maybe sound small, but this adds up FAST.

Especially if you are traveling longer than a week, consider opening up a travel rewards credit card before leaving home. Look for one that charges zero foreign transaction fees. I’ve had one of these since studying abroad, and it’s saved me so much over the years.

Recently, I also opened up a checking account with Charles Schwab, who offers a foreign-transaction-fee-less debit card. I haven’t used it yet, but I’ve traveled with so many people who love it. I’ll update y’all on how I like it after my upcoming trip!

5. SAVE UP SLOWLY IN ADVANCE

Traveling cheaper doesn’t mean traveling for free. Regardless of how cheap you get your trip to by using my tips and resources above, it will still cost money. But here are some ways to save up for that trip.

Skip that Coffee

Let’s say you stop by Starbucks or Peet’s three times a week and spend $5 each drink. That’s $60 a month. Doesn’t sound like much? That’s the price of a round-trip European flight with RyanAir. Or ten night’s stay in a hostel in Ecuador or Thailand. Or entry and a train ride to Machu Picchu. Make your own coffee at home each morning instead, at least until you save up for your trip.

Eat Out Less

It’s so hard to say no when a friend asks you to brunch. But at around $20 a pop, brunch even just once a week can add up fast. Make your own food at home (or pick up healthier frozen meals, like from Trader Joe’s), and suggest hang outs that cost less money. Meal prep every Sunday so you have food waiting after work and don’t need to pick up take out. Eating out adds up. And you’ll be doing a lot of it while traveling anyways, so put it on pause until you save up.

Start in Advance

The best way to save up is slowly over time. That way, all you need is a bunch of small changes you won’t even notice. Saving $60 a month on coffee and $150 a month on eating out adds up to $1,260 over six months. That’s about how much I spent backpacking Europe for 3.5 weeks. As the saying goes, if you started when you first said you would, you would have achieved it by now.


WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Do you think traveling is too expensive for your reach? What are your ways to travel cheaper? I’m always all ears for more tips! Let me know in the comments below.

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Traveling on a budget? I go into detail on specific ways I travel cheap, without giving up much.
Traveling on a budget? I go into detail on specific ways I travel cheap, without giving up much.
Traveling on a budget? I go into detail on specific ways I travel cheap, without giving up much.

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