As someone who has been to 27 countries in 27 years (my ultimate travel goal is to visit all 7 continents!), I like to think that I’ve gotten a pretty good handle on this whole traveling thing. The majority of my trips have happened in my 20’s, so as you can imagine, that means less luxury hotels and more hostels.
I’ve definitely overspent on some travel experiences (like those 160 euro tickets to the Moulin Rouge show in Paris – at least it came with champagne!) and have been way too frugal at other times (like when I wouldn’t pay 2 euro to go to that museum in Amsterdam with my friends because it didn’t interest me).
But overall, I think I’ve found a good balance between spending and budgeting when I’m out exploring the world.
I want you to benefit from my past, so here are 15 tips for traveling on a budget that I’ve learned so far. What can you add to this list?
1. Search flights with Kayak.
I always use Kayak.com when searching for flights. I love using the +/- 3 days search option so that I can find the cheapest options around the days I’m looking to fly. They also have an “Explore” tab where you can simply put in the time of year your want to travel (ex: Fall 2017, September 2017), the number of days you want to stay (ex: 2-5 days), your price range, and even the number of layovers. I like using this feature to give me ideas of what countries are cheapest to fly to!
2. Search ground transportation with Wanderu.
Wanderu.com is basically the Kayak for buses and trains. I love it! Since moving to the East Coast, I travel via bus way more than I ever did before. In fact, last month I was able to get a bus ticket from New York City to Washington D.C. for $25 round trip. It was even a holiday weekend!
3. Stay with a friend.
As someone who grew up in the Midwest, the idea of “troubling someone” by asking to stay at their home seems like such a faux-pas. However, I have hosted so many people at my apartments both in Chicago and New York City and have loved it! If you know someone where you’re going, why not reach out and see if they have room for one more for a few days? The worst they can say is no!
4. Stay at an Airbnb.
If you don’t know anyone where you’re going, Airbnb is the next best thing to staying with a friend. I’ve stayed at so many Airbnb’s across the US and Europe and have always had positive experiences. I love reading the reviews of others who have stayed and more often than not, I’ve made friends with my host!
Sign up for Airbnb here and get $40 off your first stay!
5. Pack in a carry on.
Packing light may seem like an impossible feat for many, but it can be done! In fact, I traveled for two weeks in Europe this past fall with just one small carry on bag. I always say that what you need for a long weekend is all you need for any length of trip. Because honestly aren’t your shoes and toiletries the things that take up the most space? When you pack less, you a) don’t have to pay crazy baggage fees b) can take public transit with ease and c) can spend less time thinking about what to wear and spend more time exploring!
This carry on is the perfect size for most airplane regulations. It’s also lightweight and inexpensive!
6. Use public transit.
So now that you’re traveling with just your carry on, it’s time to take public transit! It’s almost always the cheapest option, no matter where you’re traveling. It can be a bit overwhelming when you’re in a new place (especially if you’re in a foreign country), but I promise you that most people are willing to help if you just ask.
My biggest tip for using public transit is to use the Google Maps app on your phone. If you’re in a place where you won’t have internet, you can still save an offline map of the city where you’ll be. To do this, go to Google Maps App>Search City>Menu>Offline Areas>Custom Area>Download.
7. Share a ride.
And even if you just really can’t get yourself to use the bus to get from the airport to your Airbnb, you can at least share a ride to save some money. Uber, Lyft, and Via all offer shared ride services for a flat rate. I’ve found that they are often 50% cheaper than taking a cab alone!
Want some ride deals?
- Sign up with Uber here and get $20 off your first ride.
- Sign up with Lyft here and get $5 off your first ride.
- Sign up with Via here, enter promo code breanna4d4 and get $10 off your first ride (available in NYC, DC, and Chicago).
8. Use a credit card with no fees.
Credit card fees are the worst! Before moving to Africa for 3 months, my husband and I signed up with Capital One 360 because they have no foreign transactions ATM or conversion fees. How amazing is that?! We even opened up a Quicksilver credit card with them and got 1.5% cash back on all of our purchases. It’s still our favorite credit card to this day!
9. Bring a water bottle.
This seems so simple, but it can save you a ton of money! Spending $1 here or $5 there (like at the airport – ugh!) can seriously add up. If you’re traveling by plane, just make sure you empty your water bottle before going through airport security, then fill it up once you’re on the other side!
This is my favorite water bottle. I have it in the 21oz size and it’s perfect. It keeps water cold up to 24 hours or hot for 6 hours!
I also like to use a carabiner clip like this with my water bottle when I travel so that it can easily hang off my backpack or purse instead of having to always carry it in my hands.
10. Bring your own snacks.
But like seriously, is airport or gas station food even that good? Especially on travel days, bring your own snacks. Fresh fruit, trail mix (here’s my recipe for homemade trail mix), and a good ol’ PB & J are some of my favorite things to bring along. One time I even brought leftover chicken legs and hard boiled eggs through airport security and no one even batted an eye!
This is my favorite lunch bag to use. It’s super pliable so you can shove all sorts of odd shaped foods and containers in it! (Or a plastic bag works just fine.)
11. Go to the local grocery store.
Once at your destination, head to the grocery store. I always eat breakfast in and sometimes even lunch, depending on where I’m staying. Sure that hot dog stand may look amazing, but more often than not you’ll find yourself eating an overcooked weiner on a stale bun. Save your money and splurge on an amazing dinner.
12. Avoid the trinkets.
Trinkets, curious, knickknacks, tchotchkes – whatever you want to call them, they are often cheap, but rarely worth it.
When I was in high school, I had to buy one of those ridiculous tourist t-shirts that said “I Love (enter city name here)” everywhere I went. By the time I left for college, I had an entire bin full of them and do you know what I did? I threw them all out. When I started traveling in college, I ditched the t-shirts and bought one postcard for each city I visited. What to I do now? I buy just one special item that’s unique to the place I’ve been. For the entire 3 months I was in Africa, I brought home just home small hand carved bicycle that’s now on display in my living room. And I love it.
13. Learn to barter.
If you decide that you really do need that special souvenir, buy it for as cheap as you can. Bartering isn’t a very common practice in the United States, but it is typical of many countries around the world. If you’re traveling outside the US, ask your vendor the price of the item you want, counter with 75% less than he’s asking, and then meet somewhere in the middle. Not only will you get your momento for less, you’ll have a good story to go along with it!
14. Never pay for a bathroom.
Now this isn’t always possible, but it can be done! Even now that I live in New York City, sometimes I find myself in an emergency situation downtown with no toilet to be found.
The best places for finding a free bathroom:
- Libraries. Head in, pretend like you’re looking for a good book, and then make a beeline to the bathroom.
- Department stores. Large department stores look Bloomingdales in the U.S. or Galeries Lafayette in France typically have public restrooms.
- Fancy hotels. Many people wander into nice hotels just to check out the beautiful decorations. Bonus? You’ll often find a toilet inside.
- Cafes. And if you’re gonna have to pay to pee, at least get a coffee out of the deal!
15. Make money while you travel.
Even with all your new found budget travel knowledge, you’ll still have to spend some money while exploring the world. Why not find some ways to make money? Here are a few I’ve done.
- Nanny or au pair. The summer after my freshman year of college, I found a nanny job in Maine through Care.com. I had only ever been to New York City prior to that, so I loved that on my weekends off, I was able to explore more of the East Cost.
- Teach English. After graduating college, I spent a year teaching English in France. I worked 12 hours per week, was given free housing, had paid holidays, and made 900 euro per month. Nearly every weekend I was traveling somewhere around Europe, and my monthly stipend covered it all! I got this job by applying through TAPIF. There are plenty of other similar opportunities like this, oftentimes in Asia. Google “Paid English Teaching in (country name)” to get your search going.
- Blog. While in Africa for three months last summer, I essentially took a break from blogging. However, Crafty Coin was still receiving thousands of views a month, which was able to bring me in some money through ads. It was awesome! Learn how to start a blog that makes money here. It’s my step-by-step guide for creating your very own blog.