Research, Research, Research
I will always recommend research. I’m not against spontaneous travel, but spontaneity isn’t always going to be synonymous with budget travel. If you are trying to be budget conscious, making rash and on the fly plans will probably be a mistake. Many of my recommendations will require some pre-travel or pre-decision research. I truly think all budget travel needs to start with looking into your destination, reading blogs from travelers who have traveled there, chatting with travelers and travel agents you know, reading reviews, and shopping around.
Create a Budget
No matter where you’re going, always create a budget. Whether you’re going on a quick weekend getaway or a month-long multi-country road trip, financial budgets are key. Especially if you want to budget travel. If you don’t take the time to budget out your trip, you will assuredly spend more than you expected and really wanted to spend. Creating a comprehensive budget doesn’t have to mean cheap travel, either. It just means that you know how much you want to spend and how much you can spend. If you aren’t sure where to start, check out the site https://www.budgetyourtrip.com/. You can input your destination and see what they say is the average daily cost. Their data comes from tens of thousands of travelers who have shared their travel costs with the site. And in the end, always be prepared for unexpected expenses.
Choose Cheaper Destinations
Where you travel is definitely a factor when it comes to budget traveling. Cost of travel is not created equally based on destination. Bottom line, if you are a budget traveler and want to travel more for less, you will need to determine your destinations wisely. I start by researching the standard of living for my desired destination. What do accommodations generally cost? What about food, car rental, gas? How good is their public transportation? Can you walk to many things you’d like to see? Often a more expensive flight will keep us from looking at certain destinations, but with some research you can find out if maybe paying a bit more for a flight will save you more in the long run. For instance, flights to Iceland are pretty cheap, but everything else in Iceland is fairly pricey. Flights to Indonesia are generally more expensive, but your daily budget is relatively low. Keep in mind, you can find ways to travel cheap or travel in luxury regardless of cost of living for that destination.
Travel Credit Cards
Finding a good travel credit card can really start paying dividends quickly. As an aside, finding the right card for you will potentially be different than what makes sense for me. While cash is king, credit cards really offer so many potential travel hacks for you. Nowadays, there are hundreds of different travel reward-based credit cards available for you to choose from. Instead of getting overwhelmed and just using your debit card, do some research and use these tools to help earn free flights, hotel stays and more. First, decide what your goals are. Are you looking for cash back, no fees, strong welcome offers, miles? Do you shop a lot of Amazon and want to make sure you get 2x points for all Amazon purchases? Most importantly, make sure whatever card you choose can be used all over the world without any foreign transaction fees. My current go-to card: Capital One Venture Rewards. It gives me 2X miles per dollar spent every day. It also earned me a credit for my Global Entry fee.
Picking the right travel season has a lot of upside potential. On and off-peak will definitely factor in while budget traveling. Even a cheaper destination to visit will have an ideal time, from a budget-perspective. Similarly, a more expensive destination might be able to fit into your budget during off-peak season. Generally, off-season travel means that the weather isn’t as optimal for tourism. While it may be hotter or rainier or super cold, every place has something to see regardless of when you visit. I prefer to travel off-peak if possible. Obviously, the budgetary concerns are important. I also love that, in general, there will be less tourists there during off-season time. As a photographer, that’s a big plus for me. Also, many people will tell you that peak travel season offers the best photos. No matter when you travel, you need to be mindful that weather fluctuates. Be prepared for the unexpected. It’s so important to be mindful of the seasonality of the travel industry.
Find Cheap Flights
Flights will often be a more expensive budgetary expense. I always recommend shopping around and doing your research to try and find the cheapest flight possible. The internet is littered with great advice on how to get the cheapest flight possible. There are four things I think about when booking a flight:
- If your schedule is flexible, there are cheaper days to travel. Basically, flying out on Tuesday (and Wednesday) tends to be cheaper than other days since most folks travel around weekends.
- In general, it’s smart to book early for the best deal. That being said, sometimes you can get last minute deals if you’re into spontaneous travel. Either way, if the flight is refundable, book the best price you see early and then continue to search for better deals.
- I tend to travel off-peak most of the time. Doing so is advantageous from a flight cost perspective, too. Supply and demand. If less people are traveling to that destination, prices will often lower to entice more people to fly.
- Last, while you’re searching for flights, make sure to clear your browser cookies and use an incognito or private window. This way, your previous search history will not be a factor while booking a new flight. Prices can also vary depending on where you are booking from, so mitigate that by using a simple VPN on your computer to make it look like you are booking from another place.
Find the Best Connectivity Options
Prior to traveling, make sure you look into your phone plan to confirm what it will cost you to use it if you’re going abroad. Unexpected roaming fees can easily blow your budget. Some companies have a daily flat rate for texts, calls, and internet connectivity that can be very economical if you need access to your phone. I have AT&T International Day Pass for $10/day. I am often working while traveling, so I need consistent coverage. Otherwise, it’s best to keep your phone in airplane mode. If you have an unlocked phone, you can also look into getting a local SIM card for emergency use. Additionally, you can often find free wifi along the way. Like your AirBNB or a local coffee shop. Bottom line, though, I think having some sort of cellular or internet access while traveling is important for potential emergency situations.
Book Early and Keep Searching
Booking early can often be a very good tactic to getting the best possible price for your travel. That being said, deals can come and go pretty quickly and often without notice. While booking anything for a future trip, you should take advantage of relaxed cancellation policies. This way, you’ve confirmed your activity, rental, accommodations, flight at a price that fits your budget, but if you come across a better deal, grab it! Even after you’ve booked your entire trip, occasionally looking to see if a better deal is available could potentially save you some big bucks. Also, unless you are offered a special deal for paying upfront, always opt to pay later or in installments. This way, if you do cancel, it’s easier and you have more flexibility. Additionally, your money should always be earning money for you, not someone else. If places require you to pay 100% upfront for far in the future travel, make sure you’re getting some sort of perk for that.
Save on Food
Food costs can break the bank before you even realize it. Some advanced planning can help keep those costs in check. First, bring snacks with you. By packing shelf-stable snacks and eating them along the way, you’ve already figured out a big financial saver. This is especially handy advice for folks like me who have dietary concerns. As a bonus, you can take that luggage space that was once devoted to your snacks and use it for any souvenirs you bought along the way. Cooking your own meals is another way to be more fiscally sound. If you opt to book an AirBNB with a kitchen or a hotel with a kitchen, making your own meals gives you more flexibility and control over your budget. And, again, might be a benefit if you have dietary concerns. That being said, there are ways to eat out locally and still stick within a tighter budget. Look at bakeries, street vendors, farmer’s markets, prepared meals at grocery stores. Research local spots that aren’t as tourist-centric. You’ll often find better prices since you aren’t paying the “tourist tax”.
Drink from the Tap
Buying bottled water can get expensive fast. And not just that, but it’s also bad for the environment. Most statistics say that 80% of plastic bottles just end up in landfills. If you are on a tight budget, water can become a burden quick. If the tap water is safe to drink, I’d recommend bringing your own water bottle so you can fill it up as needed. Places like Iceland have pristine tap water that is better tasting than any bottled water you’ll try. You can get your fill of cold water from the tap, a natural spring, just about anywhere. If the tap water isn’t safe to drink, though, I highly recommend looking into a sterilization tool, like the Steripen. If you have access to a stove, you can also boil the tap water to make it drinkable, too. Either way, you have water to drink, your budget is safe, and the environment thanks you. If you have no way around buying your water, you have a few options. Buy in bulk so you can get some savings there, book at accommodations where water is free, and if you do eat at local restaurants, fill up your water bottles while there.
Talk to the Locals
When possible, talk to locals and get their advice for how best to navigate their home economically. They will have a wealth of knowledge. For instance, those local spots I mentioned above? Locals are the perfect people to recommend the best hole-in-the-wall that no tourist guide will think to mention. Eating like a local will definitely save you money. They’ll also be able to give you ideas about great places to see while visiting. Locals will know the tips and tricks to a fun day of adventure without breaking the bank. Where do you find locals? Pre-travel, check out Facebook groups, look for instagram hashtags, blogs from locals, ask your network of friends on social media if they know anyone. Most people will want to share their favorite places and activities with you. I love to strike up conversations with locals while traveling. It’s a great opportunity to enrich your travel experience, since locals are a huge part of the culture you want to get to know while traveling.
Tourist traps are real and they can definitely hurt your budget. Now, they totally have a place in traveling, but if you are being particularly budget savvy, you might want to venture off-the-beaten-path more. Every place you visit will have amazing things to see. I bet you’ll be able to fill your days without going to expensive tourist traps and not feel as though you’d missed out on anything. Partake in free activities, like walking tours, free entry days at museums, farmer’s markets, public beaches, nature hikes and more. Don’t worry about following the crowd. If you end up going to a more touristed location, do a little research before your trip and find out the less popular destinations to visit or off-peak times to visit. One of my favorite things to do, if I already budgeted for a rental car, is to tour the country. We’ll plan road trip days of sightseeing where the only expense is the car we already accounted for and the gas it takes to tour around.
Don’t Write off Travel Agents
Budget travel can seem really overwhelming. At the end of the day, your time is also your money. If you look over this list and other budget travel hacks lists and think this seems way too time consuming, maybe it is. Don’t write off working with a travel agent to help you get the best deals possible. In the past, travel agents made their main revenue from commissions paid by the vendors, such as the airline, hotel, car rental place, etc. That being said, compensation to travel agents has shifted a lot lately. Some vendors, like airlines, are now able to effectively market direct to the consumer via their websites and social media, which really takes the place of the travel agent in many ways. What you’ll see more of are service fees added to certain bookings, like when they book your airline travel. You’ll also see travel agents that are really focused on package-centric travel, since that’s another way to still get commissions as an agent. Definitely look for an agent that focuses on the travel you want to do.
If budget is your primary concern about travel, some research will go a long way. Figure out what you can spend and then work on a trip that can fit into that budget. With some time and creative planning, you’d be surprised how far that dollar can stretch if you’re willing to be flexible.