Budget travel does not necessarily mean living from a backpack and sleeping in crowded hostel dorm rooms. With a little planning, it is possible to travel on a budget while still enjoying the sights, sounds, and flavors — even the creature comforts — of any destination. The low-season travel months are just around the corner and can make a big impact on making your budget-travel dreams a reality. Here are tips on how to travel on a budget, without traveling like you did when you were a college-age backpacker.
1. Consider a group trip.
Organized group tours take advantage of group discounts on lodging, meals, and excursions to create cost-effective itineraries, many for just $100-200 per day. Booking the same trip on one’s own could easily blow a budget, but with a group, discounts can range from 30 to 70 percent. There are many different types of groups to travel with, and once you find the one that appeals most to you, it is a great way to explore far-off locales in comfort, and without the hassles of doing it all yourself or breaking the bank.
2. Plan for the off-season.
Off-season and shoulder-season travel can be a budget traveler’s best friend. For many popular destinations, off-season flights and lodging can run up to 20-30 percent cheaper. Depending on the destination, shoulder seasons generally run from April to mid-June and September to October, low season generally runs from November to March (save for big holidays, such as Christmas or, in the US, Thanksgiving). Sure, the weather may not be as stellar as other times of the year, but you also won’t have all the long lines and crowds to contend with.
3. Check out currency conversion rates.
Depending on your country of origin, currency conversion rates can make a big impact on stretching a travel budget. For example, the US dollar to the Mexican peso is 1:20, making Mexico a favorite spot for American budget travelers. Another example is Poland, a current hot spot of budget travel, where the Polish zloty is 1 to 0.23 euros. Also try doing a little research into market trends. Argentina is normally one of the least budget-friendly destinations in South America, but the peso is currently lower than it’s been in years due to some bureaucratic turmoil, making it the cheapest time to go to Argentina in recent memory. If your cash goes further, so can you, and in nicer digs.
4. Take the road less traveled.
Instead of paying a premium to stay in heavily touristed cities, skip the crowds and high prices by visiting lesser-known cities in the same area. For instance, trade in the bustle of Paris for France’s gastronomy capital, Lyon, which is just as beautiful as Paris but attracts six million tourists per year versus Paris’s 32 million. Similarly, San Diego, just south of Los Angeles, has the same great food, warm beaches, and beautiful people as its more-visited neighbor, but with more budget-friendly options for travelers. In smaller cities, food and lodging are more affordable and are almost guaranteed to offer a more personal experience.
5. Book hostel stays.
Hostels aren’t just for backpackers anymore. There are many luxe hostels that offer private rooms, even suites, at a fraction of the cost of hotels. In addition to offering more amenities than an Airbnb, from rooftop bars to budget-friendly dining, hostel stays are a great way to make new friends, especially for those traveling solo. Because of their affordability, and the fact that most are located right in the middle of the action, they tend to book up fast. Be sure to make reservations in advance or your only option may be the dreaded dorm room.
6. Invest in a hybrid travel bag.
Hybrid travel bags can serve various uses both at home and on vacation as they can be personalized to your particular travel needs. Use as a carry-on duffel on the plane to avoid hefty bag check fees (not to mention the all-too-common and costly nightmare of lost luggage) and then, once you’ve arrived at your destination, as a backpack for sightseeing. One suggestion for choosing a hybrid bag is to make sure it offers easy, yet secure, access to the things you personally require the most access to. For some people that might be a water bottle and phone, for others a wallet or documents.
7. Use your contacts.
Having a local connection is great for making friends within your chosen destination, but also for providing tips on the lesser-known and generally more affordable highlights of that destination. Social media is a great way to reach out and find these people, not to mention great advice from others who may have already been there and done that. If you don’t have these kinds of contacts, use an app that connects travelers to friendly locals who are more than willing to share the inside scoop on what’s best about their towns.
8. Make a “must-do” list.
Traveling on a budget doesn’t mean denying oneself the things that make travel so amazing. Being cognizant of the “must-sees” and “must-dos” and budgeting for them helps to control impulse spending, such as an expensive cocktail to help pass a long layover or a souvenir that won’t be treasured as long as the memory of the experience you worked so hard for. A budgeting app can help with tracking your total budget, as well as specific line items you may have, such as essentials like food or splurges on experiences.
9. Consider a stopover.
Icelandair is perhaps one of the most famous airlines offering cheap flights in exchange for
“stopovers” of over 24 hours at its hub in Reykjavik. Many other airlines offer such deals, which can cut a pretty penny off of high flight prices. If you have time to spare, this can be a great way to cut costs and have an unexpected experience, all while making your dream destination a reality.
Best Travel Credit Cards
Top offers from our partners
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
80,000 bonus points
The Platinum Card®
75,000 bonus points
American Express® Gold Card
60,000 bonus points