Posted Date: December 15, 2020
Are you planning a trip and wondering how to travel cheaper? Unlike what most people think, traveling doesn’t have to be expensive.
I’m always looking for the most affordable ways to travel. Nowadays, there are so many excellent resources to help you travel cheaper – from work exchange programs to City Pass.
Here are 14 budget-saving tips to help you save money on the road.
Cook Your Meals
Food is my favorite part about traveling, but it can also be one of the most expensive parts, as well – especially if you’re traveling for six months or longer. If you want to save money on the road, cooking your own food is a sure way to bring down your travel budget.
Traveling in Western countries means a meal can cost anywhere from $5 – $20 per meal if you eat out. That can eat up your budget quickly and take away from the number of destinations you are able to see and activities to do.
Choose accommodation that has a kitchen like hostels or Airbnb, so you have a way to cook your own food. Pack your own reusable bags to make lunches for while you are out during the day, so you aren’t tempted to stop somewhere for lunch.
You can also browse the premade section at the grocery store to see if they have any affordable options like salads and sandwiches. This was my go-to while I was backpacking in Europe for 6-weeks. Grocery store sandwiches are better than you think and much cheaper than a $10 sandwich from a cafe!
Travel During the Off-Season
If you don’t mind wearing a jacket or getting caught in a rainstorm, you can save a lot by traveling during the off-season. The off-season in the Northern Hemisphere tends to be from October through April, and in many tropical destinations, the off-season tends to do with when the rains come through. But that doesn’t mean your trip will be any less enjoyable.
In fact, it may be more enjoyable because you will be saving a lot of money on transportation and accommodation costs. These costs are usually significantly cheaper during the off-season because there just aren’t as many visitors.
I have traveled to Europe during the winter months and saved 50% on flight and Airbnb prices compared to the summer months. I also went to Costa Rica during the rainy season and saved a lot on hotels, and it only rained at night. A win-win situation! Plus there are fewer tourists, which means you get a more relaxed and intimate experience.
Find Free Activities
Get creative and find free activities to do. I know some cities even have free admission to museums (i.e. London & Washington, D.C.). Here are a few of my favorite free activities:
- Free walking tours: Did you know most cities have free walking tours? This is a fantastic way to get to know your way around a new city and to also meet other travelers. It is optional to tip at the end of the tour, which is courteous, but other than that you don’t have to pay to take the tour.
- Exploring cities: Spending the day walking around cities is one of my favorite activities. There are so many parks, free art galleries, neighborhoods to explore, and shops to visit. You could spend days getting lost in a big city.
- Hiking: When people ask us how to travel cheaper, we always suggest visiting places where you can go hiking. Hiking is usually free (unless you are visiting a National Park) and is also very rewarding. If you go on a 5-hour hike during the day, you can’t help but feel accomplished and refreshed after spending a day in nature.
City passes are an excellent way to save time and money. For example, we got the Copenhagen Card for our quick 48-hours in Denmark and it was a lifesaver! It cost ~83 euros per person, and we got free transportation and access to all of the major museums in Copenhagen.
Paris has a museum pass that offers free entry to most of the major museums, and you can skip the line too!
As with anything, double-check the attractions available on the card to make sure it covers the cost of most activities you would like to do.
Stay With Friends
Do you have any friends that live around the world? If so, ask if you can stay with them. On our trip around the world, we stayed with friends in Australia, France, and England, which saved us thousands of dollars in the end.
We rented a spare bedroom in my friend’s apartment in England for 2.5 months, and it was significantly cheaper than it would have been if we had to find our own place to rent.
This is also a great way to stay with a local who can take you to the best spots in the area!
Book Cheaper Accommodation
Accommodation is one of the biggest costs on the road. Avoid hotels and book the cheaper option – this is one of the best ways to save money on the road.
Here are a few recommendations:
Hostels are usually the cheapest option and they are a great way to meet new people on your travels. Hostels in Asia can be as cheap as $2+ per night, and they are around $10+ per night in Europe. My go-to sites to book hostels are:
Couch Surfing is a way for you to stay with locals for free. You just sign up for the site and see if anyone is offering a free couch or bed for travelers in the area. In exchange for the free stay, you usually have to offer to cook or give your host a gift, but Couchsurfing is still much cheaper than paying for a place to spend the night.
If you are traveling with a friend or a partner, Airbnb’s can be as cheap as hostels depending on where you are staying. Compare prices with hostels if you are traveling in a group to see what the best option is.
Sign Up For Work Exchange Programs
If you are wondering how to travel cheaper, this is one of my top recommendations. Sign up for a work exchange program site and you can travel for almost free.
With a work exchange program, you volunteer/work with a host in another country for a certain amount of hours each week in exchange for a free stay and sometimes free food. So basically you can travel without the cost of accommodation and food!
I’ve done this twice with Workaway – once in France and once in New Zealand – not only did it save me money, but I loved the experience as well!
There are a few different sites that offer work exchange programs – you can check out an in-depth article I wrote about it here.
If you aren’t up for working in exchange for a free stay, then housesitting may just be for you! As a housesitter, you get to stay in someone’s house for free while you watch their house and sometimes their pets while they are out-of-town. The owners are verified and have reviews that you can look over before deciding on your place to stay. You’ll get access to their house and kitchen, so you have a way to cook your meals – so many options to save!
There is a sign-up fee, but keep in mind, you’ll be staying for free. The sign-up fee is definitely worth it.
Here are a couple of worldwide house sitting sites you can look into:
Use Your Student Card
Don’t forget to take your student card with you on your trip because it can save you a lot of money! One of the best perks about being a student is all of the discounts you can get while traveling.
Museums and tours often have discounted tickets for students. Sometimes they don’t have the discount listed on the website or price board, so make sure to ask just in case!
Use Credit Card Points
Travel credit cards are a great way to spend money on your day-to-day expenses and get free travel rewards in return! I would recommend signing up for a card that has a large sign-up bonus and offers excellent travel rewards.
With the sign-up bonus alone, you should be able to get a free roundtrip international flight. That alone makes it worth it!
We saved up 300,000 credit card points between 4 credit cards and it saved us thousands of dollars in airfare. We would have spent that money anyway, so it was nice to get free flights in return.
These are the travel credit cards that we used:
- Chase Sapphire Preferred – sign-up bonus is usually 50,000+ points
- American Express Delta Gold card – sign-up bonus is usually 30,000 – 60,000 points
You can also learn more about the best travel credit cards here.
Get a Travel Debit Card
In my earlier days of traveling, I used to take my debit card from a local credit union with me on trips. The card always shut down when I arrived overseas, and I was always charged an ATM fee that equaled somewhere between $2-$5 per transaction.
Save yourself the hassle and extra money and sign-up for a travel debit card that has no foreign transaction fees and offers an ATM rebate. My go-to travel debit card for this is the Charles Schwab debit card.
We used the Charles Schwab debit card on our 12-month trip and never had any issues with the card. We got an ATM rebate at the end of every month, so you end up paying $0 in ATM fees. There are also no foreign transaction fees.
I never travel without my Charles Schwab debit card and I would highly recommend it for anyone traveling internationally!
Find Cheap Flight Deals
Learning where to look for cheap flights and how to book them is a useful skill that will save you money time and time again. Here are a few tips to book cheap flights:
Be flexible with your dates
If you can be flexible with your travel dates, it makes it a lot easier to book the best flight deals. Many online booking sites will give you the option to search with flexible dates. This gives you the opportunity to find the cheapest flight within the month or week that you want to fly out and can end up saving you hundreds of dollars.
Search in incognito mode
Have you ever noticed flight prices slowly increase the more you search? To avoid this, search for your flights in incognito mode. Incognito mode is a feature that allows you to browse online privately without your computer knowing your location and recent browsing histories. To do this, open up a new window and use the commands listed below before you start your search.
- Incognito mode for Mac – command + shift + n
- Incognito mode for Windows – control + shift + n
Book with the best travel search engines
I often book flights with either Google Flights, Momondo, or budget airlines.
- Google Flights – I use Google Flights for its search functionality. The calendar search function allows you to see flight prices every day for months in advance. This is useful when you are trying to find the cheapest days to fly out.
- Momondo – Momondo is a travel search engine that searches thousands of airlines for the best flight deals. Momondo searches more airlines than Google Flights, which is why you can often find the cheapest flights on Momondo. You can also see flight prices for budget airlines on Momondo, which is a huge perk because not all travel search engines include budget airlines in their search.
- Budget Airlines – Most countries have a few budget airlines (Ryanair, Easyjet, Spirit Airlines, etc.). It’s always worth it to search for tickets directly through these budget airlines to see if you can find a better rate by booking directly with them. I’ll sometimes go to Google Flights and find the cheapest days to fly out, write down those dates, and then do individual searches with these budget airlines.
- Scott’s Cheap Flights – Scott’s Cheap Flights finds the best flight deals, mistake fares, and error fares. You can sign-up to receive emails with the best flight deals from your local airport. Signing up for a service like this can often save you $100’s on flights and you don’t have to do any of the work to search for the deals yourself.
Use Ground Transportation
Traveling on a budget means you need to be creative with the ways you get around. I have been on trips where I have taken flights, buses, trains, and boats – whatever I need to do to get the most affordable price. I often end up booking a train or a bus because it is more convenient and is often kinder to your wallet than flying.
Train travel is always my favorite way to get around. There is something magical about being able to look out the window and see the countryside as you ride by.
If you plan to travel mainly by train, then I would recommend looking into getting a tourist rail pass. The Eurrail pass for Europe and the Japan Rail Pass are a couple of examples of this type of pass. This rail pass is only available to tourists – you can’t be a citizen of these countries if you want to get this type of pass.
With these types of passes, you select the number of days you would like to travel in an allotted time period, and you can take unlimited train rides on your travel days. Make sure to order your pass before you leave on your trip in order to avoid paying higher prices when you arrive.
Like I said, tourist rail passes are only worth it if you only plan to travel by train. Otherwise, it is cheaper to buy point-to-point tickets.
I have personally never bought a tourist rail pass because I never solely travel by train. I always opt to buy a point-to-point ticket because it’s cheaper for one-off rides.
If you are booking point-to-point tickets, make sure that you purchase them at least 3-weeks in advance. The train companies use a dynamic pricing model, so the closer to your departure date the more expensive the ticket will be. You can save a lot by booking these further out in advance.
Traveling by bus is sometimes the only way you can get from city to city. For example, Croatia doesn’t have an extensive rail system, so the only way to get from Dubrovnik to Split is by bus – other than by plane. And it cost a lot less than buying a plane ticket.
Buses may take longer, but taking buses can be a huge budget-saver. Look into the site Rome2Rio to check bus schedules around the world.
Another recommendation is to search on Google for bus routes. For example, search “bus from Split, Croatia to Zagreb, Croatia.” You’ll see a few different options show up. I will often use this method to search for bus routes, and I will also do this to compare prices with Rome2Rio.
For city travel, look into getting a metro pass instead of single-ride tickets. Most cities offer 3+ day passes that are discounted and will be cheaper than paying per ride if you travel by public transport often enough.
Bla Bla Car is a carpooling service offered throughout Europe. On this site, you select your destination and pay a small fee to share a ride with a local driver to get you from point A to B. It’s a much cheaper option than renting a car or taking a train, plus you get to meet locals along the way!
Last-minute bookings usually mean you are paying higher prices. If you want to get the most out of your budget, book your transportation and accommodation in advance – at least 3-weeks to a month.
I’ve missed out on booking the highest-rated and most affordable hostels/stays before just because I didn’t book early enough. I’ve also paid a hefty amount for train rides by booking last minute – like buying train tickets 3 days before a trip from France to Southern Spain. It’s worth it to plan ahead and save the extra money.
Stay Longer in Places
I’ve learned that traveling slow is not only enjoyable and less stressful, but it is also one of the most affordable ways to travel. The less you move around means the less it costs to get around. You cut out the costs of paying for a train ticket or a flight every few days by choosing to stay somewhere long-term.
Sites like Airbnb offer discounts for people who stay over 4-weeks. You can also negotiate monthly prices with Airbnb hosts and save a couple of hundred dollars per month by doing this.
For example, we were going to spend one month in Bordeaux, France. We had a budget of $1,300 per month, so we reached out to a bunch of hosts and asked if they would be willing to work with us and try to meet our budget. Now, we weren’t reaching out to places that cost $5,000 per month, but usually to places that were listed at $1,500 – $1,600 per month. To our delight, most of them agreed to work with us on the price!
There you have it – how to travel cheaper in 15 simple tips! I guarantee that if you follow all of these budget-saving tips you will be able to travel longer and cheaper.
If you have any other suggestions on how you’ve traveled for cheap, let us know in the comments section below.