This ultimate guide to budget travel tips is meant to help anyone who has dreamed of having adventures but isn’t sure where to start.
Maybe you want to maximize your PTO to visit Costa Rica, or perhaps you’re thinking about taking a road trip but aren’t sure where to start.
Whether you’re looking to explore locally around the US, or your next cross-country adventure you’re in the right place.
To help you plan your next trip no matter your budget, find some helpful resources plus 17 tips on budget travel below.
Tips for Budgeting to Travel More
1. Create A Budget
This nearly goes without saying, but if you are trying to stick to a cheap travel budget the first thing you need to do is actually create a budget!
Our first year of budgeting full-time was spent just tracking our expenses.
We created a spreadsheet on Google Docs and split it out into categories like Monthly Bills, Groceries, Transportation, Eating Out/Dates, Personal Purchases, and other miscellaneous categories.
Specifically, to do this for budget travel, try to track or backtrack the expenses from your last several trips. How much did you spend on food, excursions, shopping, hotel stay, and travel, and for how many days?
Also, pay attention to the general cost of the area and use that to project your next trip. Going to Europe for a week could be more expensive than in Latin America, for example, but it depends on where you are and what you do.
Now that you know the general cost of your trip, you can start saving up for it.
After creating our budget spreadsheet, we just input every expense that we made and categorized it.
After creating this habit of tracking our spending and gaining an idea of what we would realistically need, we started to write out the budget goals for each category to track our income and where the money would go for each month.
We even plan out how much of our savings goes to each category – one of which is specific to travel. That way, instead of just looking at our savings and trying to force a trip out of it, we can save up and be strategic about making travel a financial priority.
This helps us look at realistic goals for saving and prioritizing travel with our budget. By doing this we have been able to afford travel to places like Paris and Hawaii while my husband was still in graduate school on a student budget!
Once you have your budget organized, you can begin to analyze your expenses and find more opportunities to shift around and even save more!
2. Minimize Food and Drink Spending
Whether it’s eating out, ordering delivery, or even drinks after work, a large chunk of your monthly budget could be going to this category – especially alcohol.
While this is certainly not my favorite piece of advice, it is an incredibly necessary one because though I dislike taking time to cook and eat in, I dislike being stuck at home instead of being on the beaches of Mexico even more!
Oh, and let’s chat about those sneaky alcohol purchases!
Whether we’re toasting to the end of a long day at our favorite local restaurant or grabbing a bottle of red wine to have with dinner at home, it adds up! By simply tweaking our alcohol spending habits—like swapping that fancy cocktail for a homemade alternative or enjoying a glass less frequently—we can save more than just a few dimes.
It’s all about finding that sweet balance where we can still enjoy the little pleasures in life without draining the wallet. Remember, every little bit saved is a step closer to feeling the sand between our toes and sipping a local beer… only this time, it’ll be on a sun-soaked beach instead of our couch!
Looking back to tip #1, try to add up how much you are spending on meals out, delivery, coffee, and alcohol.
For me, this was way more than I thought! Taking that extra time to plan out your meals and cook at home instead of eating out or ordering delivery can add up over time.
Boom! That’s now in your travel budget.
3. Identify Other Unnecessary Expenses Eating Up Your Budget
Monthly subscriptions can be especially sneaky. A few dollars here and there per month can be easy to agree to, but when you look back over them, they might be adding up to more than you think.
Cancel that subscription! One quick way to save up a few dollars here and there is to stop those monthly subscriptions that could be draining your future travel fund.
Make a list of all your monthly subscriptions and see which ones you can comfortably eliminate.
Try to compare their importance with your goal to travel more.
If you can, try to eliminate them all! Hulu, Netflix, Disney+, Blue Apron, Hello Fresh, Stitch Fix, Ipsy, YouTube Red, Dollar Shave Club, Spotify, Rent the Runway, Trunk Club, Try the World, Wine Clubs, the list goes on and on but these can really add up!
Try to see if you can add some of these monthly subscriptions or other unnecessary expenses that you found to your travel fund instead.
4. Minimize Bills (Where Possible)
You’ll have to get creative and analyze your comfort level, but here are just a few ways we and others we have spoken to have minimized their expenses in daily life in order to afford travel
- moving back home with parents, or with more roommates
- downsizing home/rental or even car
- moving into a van or tiny home
- sharing accounts (cell phone, streaming services, satellite, etc)
- shopping second-hand
- use your local library – more than just books! (museum tickets, movie streaming, etc)
- turning off lights/unplugging appliances when not in use – and on that note, make sure your lightbulbs and appliances are energy-efficient
Not every option will work for everyone, but if you are willing to minimize some bills, it can help you save money to travel more.
For us, it meant living in a smaller cheaper apartment with utilities included, minimizing shopping and eating out, and not owning a car.
This isn’t the most glam option, but I’m not even thinking about it when I’m lying on a beach in Hawaii – just saying!
5. Use what you have
Not only is “shopping your home” a great economical decision, but it is also sustainable. This is a tried and true method that many low-budget travelers are very familiar with. They say “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” or in this case, don’t replace it!
Don’t feel pressured to buy all the things you don’t have on a packing list or the newest gadget release. If you can make what you have work, use that instead of buying something new!
We have done this to a ridiculous level in the past, even reusing pretty candle tins as containers around the house and empty spaghetti jars for leftovers.
This is a green decision that will save you some green.
6. Buy Reusable
If you do have to replace items, try replacing them with longer-lasting or reusable options.
For example, we have stopped buying things like cotton face pads, paper napkins, and Ziploc bags.
To initially purchase the reusable options is an investment, but over time as you don’t have to keep replacing the disposable options, this will save you money!
7. Walk or Use Public Transportation
It’s possible to save a lot of money on gas and ride-share fees if you can walk a little further or take advantage of public transportation more often.
We know not everybody has this option, but for those of us who live in a city with public transportation, taking advantage of this can save us hundreds of dollars.
I have a coworker who lives not very far from me but spends hundreds of dollars a month on transportation through ride shares, while I spend $0 on public transportation to the office and around with my commuter benefit.
The downside to this is that you pay with your time, and you might end up toting around a lot of things because you can’t leave them in your car.
The upsides? It’s more sustainable, plus no searching for parking, worrying about car insurance or having it broken into.
Oh yea, and long weekends in Puerto Rico.
8. Save Points… But Avoid Debt
Don’t go into debt trying to sign up for credit cards for miles and points.
While we recognize that everyone’s financial decisions are personal, we would highly recommend avoiding making any credit card purchases beyond what your monthly payments can feasibly cover.
This means being responsible with payments and avoiding interest at all costs.
Going into debt can quickly accumulate, especially when you are hoping to travel more frequently.
Instead, focus on budgeting and living within your means – or ideally below them so you can also save.
9. Keep Travel Savings in a High-Yield Savings Account
After making all this effort to cut your spending and budget wisely, why not put your hard-earned savings into a high-yield savings account while you’re at it?
Most national banks hold your money at an interest rate of .01% which is a steal – for them. Several alternatives will help you grow your savings without necessarily investing your dollars.
We like the online bank Ally (not sponsored!) because it’s easy for us to access and they offer a competitive interest rate that helps us grow our savings throughout the year. Ally’s APY, or annual percentage yield, is a whopping 4.35% at the time of writing.
This is referred to as a high-yield savings account.
We also like Ally because they offer low to no fees for withdrawal, so once you’re ready to use that money you can! Within our account, we can also sort the savings into “buckets” to keep up with different savings goals, such as setting aside a portion for travel or specific trips.
There are many high-yield savings account options available though, some with even higher rates than this one, so check them out and see what works for you.
Sign up with our referral link to be awarded up to $125 when you open a high-yield savings account with Ally and fund it within 30 days.
How To Make Your Travel Budget Go Further
Now you have all this extra cash saved up from your dedicated budget scams. Now what? Here is how we make our travel money take us further on a budget!
10. Don’t Go Far – Stay Local!
For me, the two biggest costs of a trip are travel and accommodations – staying somewhere local can easily cut out one or both from your travel budget.
Sometimes you can spend years living in a place and never see it as a tourist does – so try being a tourist in your own town!
Step into the shoes of a curious traveler and experience the quaint eateries, local artisan shops, and the untold stories etched in every corner of your local area. Try searching “things to do in x” for your current city, and you might be surprised what you find on the list.
Stroll down the main street and pop into the places you’d proudly show off to a first-time visitor. Wander into new exhibitions, try a new global cuisine, or even out-of-the-box activities.
Have you ever taken a nostalgic train ride through scenic landscapes? Is there a local hike you could explore to look at things from a higher vantage point?
Mixing up everyday scenes with new experiences doesn’t require a passport—just a dash of creativity and a thirst for adventure. Let’s turn the familiar into the extraordinary, one local adventure at a time.
11. Research Ahead Of Time And Compare Prices
A little research makes your budget go a long way, so it’s time to pull out your Pinterest! This tip can be time-consuming, so if you’d rather save your time be willing to pay a bit more for your trip. For me, the research before a trip might be time-consuming but it is one of the ways I start to get excited about the upcoming vacation!
For example, on our trip to Paris, we learned we could visit the neighboring Champagne region and go wine tasting. There were a lot of tours offering round trip service from Paris, but it was loads cheaper to take a train into Reims and bus around to the Champagne houses, so we decided to do this instead.
Be sure to keep a document with ideas of things to do and the cost as you go so you can reference back to it. A bonus is that when it’s time to leave, you’ve already done all the work and can relax and enjoy the trip and your wallet can too! Some of my favorite ways to look through ideas are:
- Pinterest – you can search specific topics and save them onto boards and sub-boards, making it easy to organize. Follow us on Pinterest here!
- Instagram – there is now a great feature to save posts and organize them into collections. You can also search by location and hashtag. Check out our Instagram here for lots of travel tips!
- Youtube- many of my friends and travel buddies love to subscribe to travel vloggers on Youtube. This is a great way to see things to do in a place + get travel inspo.
- Subscribe- blogger subscriptions are free and we put a ton of time and research into creating travel guides and travel tips for our subscribers so you don’t have to do as much work!
12. Go Where & When The Deals Are, Or Travel Off-Season
Use search sites like Google Flights, Hopper, Skyscanner, or Momondo to search for the cheapest flights to your destination or sign up for services like Travel Pirates or Scotts Cheap Flights who do this for you and email you when flights to any destination take a dip.
This is how we flew round trip to Paris from Seattle for $320 last March for my birthday! If you are more flexible with your dates, travel when it’s cheaper, and if you are more flexible on location, you can use the Google Flights search engine to see where the cheapest destinations are from your given location.
Keep in mind the destination’s general costs as well; for example, flights to Iceland might be cheap but food, gas, and accommodations will more than make up for what you save.
If you aren’t able to be flexible about spontaneous deals or want to travel somewhere specific, consider going during the off-season.
Typically, this will be in colder months, unless your destination is popular for winter sports and festivities. For example, we scored round-trip tickets to Paris from Seattle for around $330 per person and traveled during the winter.
Traveling on a budget can still be fun! We snagged these budget flights to Paris in the off-season and still had an incredible time.
We were bundled up, but starry-eyed because Paris is always a good idea, as they say. If you want to visit a certain destination, try doing a bit of research about their high and low seasons, and save some of your budget on cheaper accommodations and travel costs. However, make sure you find out that the things you want to do are still available.
When we went to Paris, many things were closed due to the slow season and the bitter cold. We couldn’t go to the top of Notre Dame because of the temperatures and many cafes and champagne houses were closed.
13. Again, Eat In
Unfortunately, eating and drinking out can eat up a lot of your travel budget, so getting groceries and cooking during your stay is one way to stretch your travel budget a little further.
Exploring the local produce can also be a fun way to get to know the area better.
Rent a place with a kitchen and hit up the local market or grocery store.
You can try out new ingredients or even take a cooking class with the money you saved on eating out, and then try your hand at recreating the dishes back at your hostel or hotel.
14. Support Local Businesses
While it might be easier to always stay at a national hotel chain, or book with a well-known tour operator, you can often save money by supporting a locally-owned business instead.
From boutique hotels to local tour guides, choosing to stay and spend your money at local businesses not only puts more money back into the community but can also give you a more authentic experience.
Plus, you might get some insider tips and recommendations from the locals.
15. Save Money on Accommodations
Ahhhh, hotel stays can be luxurious and relaxing, but consider looking into more economical accommodations to save on your travel budget.
A local bed and breakfast, for example, could cost less and give you a more personal touch PLUS breakfast.
You can also look up shared homes on websites like VRBO, just make sure you read the reviews and confirm the listing is reliable.
Another option is to stay in a hostel, as these days a hostel can come in a wide range from grungy backpacker party hostels, to more upscale digs that can rival a hotel.
Finally, if you are determined to travel but spend as little as possible, you can camp out, rent a sleeper van, or even go Couchsurfing for free.
That’s how we ended up road-tripping around the Big Island of Hawai’i for my birthday one year – planning to camp around the island on a budget trip!
16. Use Public Transportation, Or Walk
We know this isn’t an option at every destination, but if it is then we recommend using it!
Most places with a metro line will even have daily, weekly, and monthly passes that can save you money depending on how long your trip will be.
Buses can also be a great option, and you also see more of the local life where you are – just be sure to do your research to get on and off at the right stop!
Walking is also such a great option because it allows you to see more of the area that you would never see if you just drove around everywhere.
Now that online maps like Google and Waze are more widely available, it’s easier than ever to get around a new place more independently.
You can walk off all that delicious food on your trip, get to know the area better, and save money too. Win–win–win!
17. Cash In On Miles And Points
An easy way to rack up free travel money is to sign up for rewards programs for airlines and hotels. Sometimes they can even pay into each other.
These programs are free and you’re throwing away free travel credit when you don’t sign up. If you have recently traveled, you can often go ahead and sign up and backdate the credit if it wasn’t too long ago.
If you are budget savvy and won’t be tempted, try signing up for a credit card, especially one from an airline, to cash in on a bonus miles offer.
Our advice is only to do this when you already have the cash to pay it off. Getting into debt isn’t going to save you any money, so if the temptation is there, it might be better to skip this tip.
Final thoughts on this budgeting for travel guide
Hopefully, these budget travel tips can help you save money and travel to more places.
Of course, a final option to afford more travel is to have a career in travel. Have you considered ramping up your remote skills, or possibly working for an airline? There are endless possibilities, both for a 9-5 job and as a remote employee who can travel.
Where are you headed to next? Let us know which tips work the best for you and what you would add to the list in the comments!
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