Tips for budget travel: How to save money on your trip
Some people who want to travel might think it's too expensive to reach their dream destination. However, if you're strategic, there are tips and tricks to help make your trip fit into your budget. Below are some of the budget travel tips to make seeing the world, or even just the U.S., a bit more affordable.
Preparing to travel
Traveling on a budget starts with preparation. One of the first things you may want to do is sit down and look at your budget. First, look at where your money is going and if there are places you can cut back to save more for travel. A simple way to cut costs may be to go through your monthly subscriptions and see if there are any that you aren't using or that you don't think are worth the cost.
You may also want to explore your options for travel credit cards. Travel cards help you build up miles or rewards points to put toward flights, hotel stays or rental cars by rewarding you for everyday purchases. Chase Sapphire, for instance, offers both the Sapphire Preferred and Sapphire Reserve cards for travel. Both cards have annual travel credits and numerous other travel-related benefits. There are many cards on the market, so do some research into which may suit you best.
Traveling on a budget
In addition to saving money through your financial choices, you can also plan your trips specifically to help you travel on a budget.
When to travel
When you're planning your trip, consider traveling in the “shoulder" seasons. This means the month or two on either side of the peak season. For instance, instead of going to Italy between June and August when prices are inflated due to an influx of tourists, consider April, May, September or October. You may also want to consider traveling in the off-season, which is typically opposite of the peak season and the least busy time of year. In Australia, for example, this would be their winter months, which are May and June.
Oftentimes hotels and airfare are less expensive during shoulder seasons, but you'll likely still get the weather you're seeking. However, if you want to save even more money, consider traveling in the off-season. For many places this could be the winter months, but with the proper outerwear you'll likely still find it enjoyable.
Places to travel on a budget
If you're flexible with the sights you want to see, there are a few places to travel to on a budget. To begin, try looking at smaller towns rather than big cities. You'll likely get better prices on your hotel and dining experiences. Additionally, if you're within driving distance of a big city, you can still go in and enjoy it for a day. Another bonus of visiting smaller towns is that you'll likely get a more authentic experience and see what life is like for locals.
Some countries are also just naturally more affordable. Do some research online and find countries where your U.S. dollars will go a long way. For instance, you can visit Thailand, with its beautiful coast and delicious food, for a much more affordable price than a country like Spain.
The Balkans, a region famous for its dramatic mountains and glittering beaches, is routinely one of the most affordable places to travel in Europe. Check out some countries or cities that are a bit more off the beaten path to make the most out of your travel budget.
What to skip
If you're looking to save money once you're there, there are a few things you may want to skip.
- Expensive tours. Most guided tours are expensive and don't always provide more information than you could learn by taking the same tour on your own. Consider planning your own city tour or look online for free walking tours.
- Private transit. Instead of hiring taxis or ride shares, try using public transportation. You'll be able to navigate the city like a local for a much cheaper price. Or look into using a bike share program to cut costs.
- Tourist traps. While many things in so-called tourist traps are certainly worth seeing, try and eat your meals elsewhere. Prices near popular monuments and famous streets will likely be much higher than a few blocks away.
How to book travel
There are a few ways to book your travel that can help you stick to your budget.
- Reasonable hotel. Do extensive research before choosing a hotel. Try and find a hotel that is outside of the most expensive area of the city but close enough that you're not spending a ton of money on traveling to the sights. You may want to call hotels to get the best price.
- Book at the right time. Traditionally, the “best" time to buy plane tickets is about two months before your trip. However, that isn't a hard and fast rule. Look up prices early, sign up for price drop alerts and follow airlines via email newsletters and social media to keep atop any deals.
- Check package deals. Airlines and hotels will often offer package deals at a hefty discount to make sure no seats or rooms go empty. Keep an eye on these packages and see if there's one that piques your interest.
- Museum tickets: Many museums offer free tickets at times. The Louvre in Paris is one of the most popular museums in the world but offers free tickets the first Saturday of every month. Check out the pricing for the museums in the city you're visiting and try and plan your itinerary around free days. Other cities offer museum passes that allow you to visit multiple museums in the same city for a flat rate.
- Use reward points. Book through your credit card's travel portal to save money on hotels, airfare and rental cars.
If a big trip still isn't in your budget, that's OK! There are still plenty of ways to get away, even if you stay in the comfort of your own home:
- Day trip. Familiarize yourself with your one-tank trips — the places you can get to on a single tank of gas.
- Road trip. Plan an interesting road trip through your state. You'll save money on airfare but still get to see new places and try new hotels.
- Park trip. The U.S. has extensive state and national park systems. While not free, price is usually by car at the entrance, so you can split the already reasonable cost among your group. Additionally, there's usually at least a full day's worth of activities inside the park. To save more money, bring a picnic!
- Friend trip. Visit a friend of family member within driving distance. You can explore a new place while crashing on the couch at the home of your own personal tour guide.
Using budget travel tips can help you add adventure to your life without breaking the bank. There are plenty of strategic ways to cut costs while still having a fun and fulfilling trip.