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How to Travel Like Royalty on a Backpacker Budget

by Angie Teater Jul 4, 2007
Budget-conscious travelers understand the value of a great bargain.

IN FACT, CREATIVE ways to stretch a dollar have become an art form in many backpacking circles. But if pinching pennies is the only way to fund your global adventure, it doesn’t mean you have to give up the frills.

Some travelers secretly long for a touch of luxury, like curling up in a four-star hotel instead of snoozing in a bug-ridden hostel or dining on a steak dinner instead of popping another can of tuna.

It sounds tempting, but also expensive. Can you really live the high life on a low budget?

With a little planning and a lot of savvy, the answer is yes. Here are five secrets to help you travel like royalty on a backpacker budget:

Collect Frequent Flier Miles

Once marketed exclusively to Business Travelers, frequent flier programs have evolved into a mainstream must-have…and you don’t have to spend your life in the air to reap the rewards.

Rack up points through credit card offers, website events, and everyday purchases.

You can also snag points if you book flights through the carrier’s website or fly through partner carriers. Eventually, you’ll qualify for free round-trip tickets, posh hotel rooms, or even upgraded to sipping champagne in First Class.

Find a Home Away from Home

Why splurge on a hotel room when you can have the home for free?

A growing number of travelers have discovered the beauty of home swapping, allowing fellow travelers to crash at your place while you crash at theirs.

You could wind up sleeping soundly in Tuscan villas, beachfront homes, or penthouse apartments. For more, check out 6 Convincing Reasons To Try A Home Exchange.

Discover Cheap Eats

Ask any seasoned traveler to name their best meal overseas. Chances are they won’t gush over some fancy restaurant, but an obscure hole-in-the-wall joint run by a guy named Frank.

A good rule of thumb – ask locals to point you toward the best Frank-esque restaurants. A better rule of thumb – ask a hotel concierge.

As the most informed local around, a concierge is likely to be a native to the area, well versed in the city’s offerings, and glad to share off-the-beaten-path secrets with you, even if you’re not exactly a guest. Just pick up the phone and dial a hotel. (It doesn’t hurt to ask!)

Another money saving option is turning lunch into the day’s main meal, leaving the soup-and-salad option for dinner. Lunch menus often feature delicious meals equal to a fabulous dinner…except in price.

Enjoy Free Entertainment

Being cash-strapped shouldn’t keep you from having a great time. Whether you prefer music, movies, museums or theater, you can enjoy classy entertainment without breaking the bank.

Most large cities offer cheap or free events, usually advertised in the local paper and online. New York, for example, features Shakespeare in the Park during the summer months, a free event that boasts Broadway-quality performances and celebrity headliners.

Tango the night away along the River Seine in Paris, where sundown converts the garden on Tino Rossi Square into an open-air dance floor. In London, head over to Mediatheque to browse their extensive movie collection and watch for free, just remember to BYOP (bring your own popcorn).

Cruise The World

Ok, maybe it’s not exactly the millionaire experience…but you can still cruise on the same boat!

With cruise lines experiencing a massive increase in sea-bound vacationers, the demand for employees on deck is hitting an all-time high.

Browse the job openings at and jump onboard. Employees usually enjoy free food, entertainment, and excursions during their down time. Who doesn’t want to sail the world and get paid for it?

Budget constraints are a fact of life, unless you plan to win the lottery soon.

But with a little extra effort, you can lay your head on that premium pillow, sink your teeth into a prime rib, and give thanks that every trip can still have a touch of luxury.

Any tips you would add to the list? Share in the comments!

Angie Teater believes travel can happen anywhere, whether crossing the ocean or simply stepping out the front door. Check out her personal blog at Girl Goes Global.

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