Travel

How to Travel Cheap: The Ultimate Guide

We interviewed more than 50 frequent travelers to compile this ultimate guide on how to travel cheap.

Here you will find 50 tips on everything from transportation, accommodation, food, safety and more.

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TABLE of CONTENTS

Planning Tips

A great trip requires extensive planning. Here are a number of pro-tips:

1. First things first

Start with the video above before diving into any concrete details of your trip, as it has a lot of great pre-planning tips that will save time, money, and hassle in the long run. 

2. Take notes.
Before scheduling travel dates and booking reservations, make sure you have a notebook to record travel information as you move through the planning process. A journal is a great tool for writing notes about places to see and things to do while on vacation. You can also print out confirmation emails and pertinent travel documents that are normally hard to keep up with and store them in this journal.

3. Look for the most authentic experience within your means.
Be honest about what you can responsibly afford while traveling. Before planning anything, sit down and plan a general budget for your trip. This doesn’t have to be too specific yet—instead, determine the maximum amount of money you want to spend on the trip overall. As you choose this amount, make sure that you’re leaving yourself enough financial cushioning for when you return. Once you know this general budget it will be easier to know what corners you need to cut in order to make the trip happen.

4. Plan the heavier expenses first.
Because they’re typically the most expensive purchases you’ll make when planning, make sure start your planning with transportation and lodging costs. Research in these areas will often help you determine if the trip is financially possible or not.

Pro-tip: Figure out your flights first. Look at it this way: you have to fly to Bali from New York, but you don’t have to stay in a five-star resort while you’re there. Once you know what it will cost to get to and from your destination, look into housing options that are more in line with your personal budget.

5. Be flexible with your travel dates.
Be willing to negotiate when planning the departure and return dates. This can be hard to lock down, especially if you have a busy job and other commitments. If you don’t have these obligations, though, go with the deals! There are often several cheaper options available if you’re willing to leave a couple days earlier or later than your original plan. It’s best to start this process by determining a general month or season that you would like to travel. Once this is decided, explore this broad window until you find the cheapest options available.

6. Be open to a slightly different destination.
If you’re having trouble making your trip work financially, look into traveling somewhere that’s near where you want to go. Because tourism and destination popularity largely determine the cost of your trip, be open to staying somewhere close to your desired destination instead of within the city itself. By flying into lesser-known locales and traveling into the city for the day, you can cut a lot of the cost that you would normally pay and still have the experience you want to have.

7. Go all-in.
All-inclusive deals save you time by covering food, entertainment, and housing all in one fell swoop. This makes it easy to enjoy your trip without worrying about the ramifications of exceeding your budget. For example, Disney offers deals that provide guests with an on-resort room, daily park passes, and a customizable meal plan. This type of plan keeps guests covered on all the basic necessities while giving them enough room to have a personalized and rewarding vacation experience.

Pro-tip: On the other hand, these deals can easily cost an arm and a leg. Make a list of all the amenities offered in the all-inclusive plan and ask yourself if you’ll realistically take advantage of them all. If not, it might be better to pay for the basic .

8. Make your own all-inclusive deal.
While it is primarily used as a tool for buying and flight tickets, Orbitz (and similar travel planning websites) can be used as an all-in-one service for securing lodging in the area you’re traveling to. After booking a flight, Orbitz will provide several cheap hotel and car rental suggestions, streamlining the process and making the planning more beneficial for the user. If you’re not picky about your lodgings and prefer simplicity in planning your trip, Orbitz can be a great help to you.

9. Know where you’re going.
Make sure to research local customs and behaviors before booking your trip to make sure that you will be comfortable in a completely different environment. If the natives speak a language foreign to you, it might be worth learning some common phrases like ‘Where’s the bathroom?’ or ‘How much does this cost?’ Because it can be hard to adapt and function in a different culture (especially when there’s a language barrier), it’s extremely important to explore these possibilities before you arrive.

10. Be adventurous.
Regardless of where you visit, explore your nearby options to see if cheap travel is possible for a day-trip to a nearby city or country that interests you. Taking a bus to Cologne from Amsterdam, for example, is a relatively quick and cheap trip by bus. These visits break up the routine of your main destination and add another layer to your overall experience. As long as you’ve got the important travel documents (like your passport) that you’ll need to move from place to place, it’s relatively easy to get a multi-cultural experience if you plan for it.

11. Cash in old rewards…
If possible, redeem frequent flyer miles or other such rewards when booking your flights. This is like a past version of you paying it forward for the trip you’re planning. Besides, who doesn’t love a free trip?

12. …and build up new ones.
If you’ll be frequently traveling by plane, look into getting a travel rewards credit card. Not only will this help you rack up frequent flyer miles for your next trip, you’ll also have a safeguard in case you run out of money or are having trouble using your normal debit card.

13. Do your research.
Traveling takes a lot of careful planning.
Looking to bring back the lost element of wonder to traveling, this atlas documents hidden landmarks and monuments that are essential additions to your trip. Best of all, you can enjoy the benefits of this book longer after you return by using it to whet your curiosity and cure your wanderlust.

Pro-Tip: While the Atlas Obscura is chock-full of general information for several popular travel destinations, it would most likely be more beneficial to find a more specific atlas or travel guide based upon the area you will be visiting if you’re looking for a more extensive database of information.

Transportation Tips

In order to take your trip, you’ll need a way to get around. Because these transportation services are typically the most costly, it’s important to weigh your options based on your budget instead of convenience. Even though flying is the most common mode of travel when taking a vacation, there are several options to keep your expenses minimal. Whatever method you choose, though, the following tips will help you find the best deals possible.

FLIGHTS

14. Book your flight on a weekday.
The tickets that you will find for purchase during the week are on average less expensive than those offered on weekends. Specifically, Tuesdays around 3 p.m. are the best days to find cheap flights. This is due to competitive price adjusting that occurs as a result of airlines announcing sales every Monday, so be sure to search through these deals towards the beginning of the week.

15. Stay ahead of the game.
While we covered the best day of the week to book flights above, the time until your departure can also affect how much you pay for a ticket. Purchasing your tickets a couple of months in advance — 54 days prior to departure, to be exact—will give you the cheapest options while waiting until a week before will be much harder on your wallet.

16. Register baggage and carry-on items before showing up to the airport.
By adding your baggage to your ticket when booking a flight, you’ll be able to save some money and figure out how much you can pack for the trip. While it will still be possible to add these bags at the check-in counter, it will likely be much more expensive to do so. What’s more, these late additions to the flight aren’t guaranteed to make it onto your plane if you check a bag last minute.

17. Travel Lighter.
If possible, try to fit your luggage into one carry-on lightweight luggage. While this means less changes of clothes that you can pack, it completely eliminates both the costs of checking baggage as well as the possibility that your bags are lost by the airline. This is easier for shorter trips or if you’re staying somewhere that provides a washer or dryer, of course, so it would be good to account for that before departing as well.

Pro-Tip: A good travel backpack provides ample room for only the essential items. As a unique feature to the design, this bag is able to take the form of a backpack, duffel bag, and a messenger bag, allowing you to travel in whichever way you’d like. This bag is perfect for a weeklong get-away to a warm location, but may be a little tougher to fit bulkier winter clothing into. Even if packing all your items isn’t possible in just this bag, it still serves as a great, and stylish, addition to your carry-on baggage collection.

18. Explore foreign or lesser-known air services.
While it may be a little concerning to travel on a foreign airline, they are typically cheaper and just as safe as the normal flight companies that you’re used to. If ticket prices are comparable between domestic and foreign services, examine what amenities will be provided on the two different flights. The foreign airliners will often include nothing more than one carry-on bag, so this will be somewhat of a sacrifice if you’re used to complimentary peanuts and drinks as you travel.

19. B.Y.O.S. (Bring Your Own Snacks)
Because prices at the airport are more expensive in general, packing snacks into your carry-on is a great way to keep your body fueled while pushing through a travel day. These pre-packaged snack shouldn’t be an issue when going through security screenings as long as you make sure not to bring any liquids.

20. Pack travel sized toiletries into your carry-on.
In general, it’s a good idea to have a toiletry kit for overnight trips amongst your travel gear. Travel-sized toiletries packages are great tools for those looking to get through security without having to toss out their toothpaste, shampoo, or conditioner. Convenience Kits lives up to their name by crafting toiletry packages for both men and women that take the hassle and unnecessary expenses of buying toiletries before every trip you take.

21. Try Skyscanner.
For the truly savvy traveler, Skyscanner is an invaluable tool for acquiring incredibly cheap plane tickets. Like most other booking sites, Skyscanner offers the best deals it can find from a wide variety of both well-known and smaller airlines. Something that makes it a little more unique, however, is its continuous scanning of flights and email updates. If you are planning well in advance, you can set a price alert for your specific trip that will continuously update you on the best prices as you move closer and closer to your departure. This makes it easier to find the best time to buy cheap tickets.

OTHER TRANSPORTATION

22. Avoid renting a car when you’re on vacation.
Explore the public transportation options provided by your destination before committing to rental car fees during your stay. By opting for the bus or train, you can quickly and easily move between the most popular locations without dealing with the hassle of traffic or navigating unfamiliar roads.

23. Can you get a Lyft?
It’s also a good idea to look into taxi and rideshare services (like Uber and Lyft) before you travel to see if it’s possible to get around once public transportation stops running for the night. Unlike public transportation, these services are direct trips to where you need to go and can also save you a little time in getting back to where you’re staying.
Pro-Tip: Limit these services to the times that you absolutely have to use them. While more convenient than the bus or subway, they are also more expensive. When traveling abroad, research if these services are available in the country you’re traveling to. While they are very popular in America, rideshare services are slowly spreading to other parts of the world.

24. Walk everywhere you can.
Walking is good exercise and good for the wallet, a win-win. If you choose to walk instead of paying for buses and trains, it’s best to plan your experiences for the day base on a general area. By doing so, you can get as many things done as possible in one spot and eliminate the fees for public transportation. By walking, you also get a fuller understanding of what your surroundings have to offer. This helps you feel the overall vibe of the city without having to pay anything for it.

25. Take a bus or a train when traveling between landlocked countries.
Buses and trains eliminate the possibility of jet lag and offer you a view of the countryside. All in all, these methods of transportation are perfect for the frugal traveler because they’re cheaper and provide a better understanding of the landscapes you’re traveling through. As a general rule of thumb, taking a bus is the cheapest (but most time-consuming) option available, typically. Trains can sometimes be cheaper than flying, but typically are on par with (if not more expensive than) flights.

26. Research the sites with the no/low middleman fees.
For example, Rail Europe is known to charge slightly higher than official prices with embedded booking fees, while booking direct with SNCF if you are in France or Trenitalia if you are in Italy will allow you to pay only the direct ticket charges with no additional fees.

27. Explore bulk transportation options.
Before traveling, look into the most common modes of transportation (bus, rail, train, etc.) and see if there are any multiple-day passes that you can purchase to best preserve money. As you do this, think about how often you will realistically be using these sources to move around. If you will only need a couple of rides throughout your trip, it might be a better idea to simply buy a single-use ticket each time you need it.

Housing Tips

While taking a vacation often awakens a taste for luxury, it’s possible to enjoy a five-star housing experience without paying a five-star price. The best thing you can do to understand a culture is to live like the locals do. This means avoiding the traditional options and immersing yourself in opportunities to interact with the people of the city. While hotels and condos aren’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s cheaper and more immersive to book a hostel or Airbnb.

28. Hostels “> Hotels.
Avoid the cookie-cutter luxury hotel experience in favor of a cheaper and more communal experience. In general, staying at a hostel offers countless opportunities to explore a city while paying for only the most essential amenities—a bed, a roof, and a safe place to hang your hat. Hostelworld is an authority on these cheap, community-based options. This site shows top rated hostels in hundreds of locations based on the input of users, tailoring the experience you will have to your preferences.

29. When it comes to roommates, the more the merrier.
Arguably, one of the biggest appeals of traveling is the conversations with strangers from different walks of life. In hostel settings, pick rooming situations that host more people in them. These rooms are cheaper to rent and allow you to meet travelers from all around the world who can give you perspective about where they’re from. Their insight could help you find a potential future destination, so don’t be shy!

30. Check out Airbnb and CouchSurfing as well.
These cheap options are unique because they allow you to stay in someone else’s home instead of turning to more traditional options. Airbnb offers rental house that are typically a little cheaper than hotels depending on the area. CouchSurfing, on the other hand, offers space to stay in a local person’s home, which is entirely free. Before deciding on these options, make sure that you and your travel partners are comfortable sharing space with strangers. If so, you’ll be saving money on housing while getting a more local perspective on what to do while at your destination.

31. Get your money’s worth.
When looking for one of these aforementioned rental properties, check out the amenities included and compare prices based on these. For example, do you really need a pool or movie room? Can you find a place with more space for the same price? Asking yourself these questions will help you eliminate unnecessary expenses for luxury add-ons that you won’t use enough to justify paying for.

Eating Tips

Food is an essential that you can’t fully avoid paying for, which makes it tricky to figure out the best ways to save money while getting the nourishment that your body needs. If you’re taking a cross-country trip, it’s easy to pack a cooler and bring food of your own to help alleviate some of these costs. But how can you save money on food when you fly or are in another country?

32. Eat away from the touristy areas of the city to avoid paying more for food.
Like the attractions that surround them, these restaurants will have an upcharge simply for being convenient. You’ll find that the farther you walk away from these areas the cheaper the food is, so it’s a good idea to check out a restaurant’s menu before committing to eating there.

33. Don’t be afraid to eat places that aren’t the top-rated restaurants in your new location.
By opting for less celebrated locations, you won’t be taking anything away from your dining experience except for some of the cost. In fact, the food found in these less popular restaurants is typically just as good and often truer to the culture that it is representing than the most .

34. Be your own chef.
If you’ve got a cooking space and time, try to buy groceries and make dinner some nights. Even though eating at top-rated restaurants while on vacation is appealing because of the new location, these restaurants charge a lot for the luxurious experience they provide. Like all other aspects of cutting travel costs, pick your battles. Make sure to treat yourself a few times over the course of your stay—but don’t funnel all your money into the short-live experience of eating.

35. Bring your water bottle
Whether traveling by land or by air, a water bottle or travel mug is an invaluable asset for making sure you stay hydrated for free while traveling. Because it’s easy to find a water fountain or sink in airports, bus terminals, and train stations, you can refill your bottle to our heart’s content. The added bonus? You save on calories and the possibility of dehydration from sodas and other drinks.

Pro-Tip: Make sure to check into the quality of water when you’re in a new environment. While it will be fine to drink from the tap in most locations, there are some countries where tap water is only usable for showering, the toilet, and washing clothes and dishes. In these places, make sure to buy bottled water—this cost is going to be less than the hospital bills you’ll pay if you get a stomach bug from drinking bad water.

36. Don’t eat your budget up.
Even though it’s very common to simply eat out for every meal while vacationing, this is a surefire way to run through your budget and eliminate options for sightseeing and fun during your trip. Realize that daily budgets include your daily costs for food, typically three meals. This makes the amount of money you can spend on attractions and shopping less than the full budget, so be aware and plan accordingly!

You can even get paid to travel if you are smart about it.

Sightseeing & Entertainment Tips

There are numerous free things that you can do to find fun without hemorrhaging cash, especially if you’re willing to have a less touristy experience. This doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy the sights and attractions that have put your destination on the map. Instead, be smart about these tourist hotspots. Costs like lodging, food, and transportation are unavoidable, but elective expenses for attractions like monuments, museums, and malls should be managed to better preserve your funds.

37. Be Picky.
Plan to visit your top two or three sites instead of taking a whirlwind tour of all the attractions your destination has to offer. By doing so, you’re able to spend as much time as you’d like connecting with these areas while eliminating the strictures of scheduling an entire day around the traditional tourism model. While at these locations, make sure to spend time exploring, asking questions, and trying to get in touch with the history that these sites represent. In the end, this will help you feel better about paying for the experience.

38. Explore cheap (or free) attractions with TripAdvisor and Lonely Planet
Sites like TripAdvisor or Lonely Planet can help you find free museums and attractions while traveling. These sites provide you with a list of the top-rated and must-see attractions for any city. They’re both great references for you as you enjoy your vacation, and can help save the day if weather or insufficient funds force you to change your plans unexpectedly.

39. Go to a show.
Try to see a concert, play, or musical while you’re traveling. This gives you a better understanding of the types of venues that your destination offers, as well as giving you the chance to observe and experience the cultural differences between yourself and the locals. Plus, these shows are invaluable opportunities to make a memory that is unique to yourself and your trip.

40. Use a map to highlight your planned routes and craft an itinerary.
Buy a map or guide to the place you’re traveling and use it to plan out what you’ll do and when. This itinerary will help you remember all the things that you want to see while helping you stay within the parameters of your schedule. Just make sure you allow yourself a little flexibility in case you run over on time for or get tired while seeing the sights.

41. Take a hike.
Don’t forget—nature is free! Try exploring natural areas like parks and hiking trails to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life. This is important because you’ll most likely be surrounded by concrete for most of the trip, so seeing some green and breathing fresh air will likely be a nice break in the monotony of the city.

Money Management Tips

Perhaps the best way to maintain your budget while on vacation is to simply be smart about the way you’re handling your money. It’s very easy to simply use a card to pay for your travel expenses; however, this simplicity makes it easier to charge carelessly and lose track of what you’ve spent throughout the trip. By adhering to the following tips, you’ll be able to keep up with your expenditures better.

42. When traveling abroad, use an ATM instead of traveler’s checks.
This is not only because the ATM is more convenient, but also because they are more accessible and less hassle. When using the ATM take out larger sums at one time to avoid being repeatedly charged currency exchange commission fees.

43. Carry cash.
While a debit or ATM card is more convenient to keep up with, it’s also way easier to spend more money with it. Taking out set amounts of money and then physically handing it over helps reinforce how much money you’re spending and how quickly you are running through your budget.

44. Use your resources to help plan a daily budget.
After figuring how much money you want to spend in total while on your trip, divvy that larger sum of money into several smaller sums that are spread out evenly between the days of travel. Once you’ve set your budget, make sure to stick with it and be aware of how much you’ve spent as the day progresses. For example, if you only budget to spend $50/day, a good way of managing this is only to bring $50 cash with you as you explore.

45. Find the places with the lowest commission fees for converting money.
When converting to foreign currency, do some research as to where the best conversion rate is. Several places that are more convenient (like the airport, for example) often charge commission fees that make your money slip through the cracks and into the pockets of the services providing the conversion. By finding the lowest possible conversion fee, you’ll be preserving as much of your cash as possible.

Safety Tips

Whenever you’re moving around a new location, it’s important to keep your eyes peeled for any potential sources of danger that may be lurking around the corner. This doesn’t mean living with fear for your whole vacation. Instead, you should simply prepare yourself for the possibility of running across this danger and prepare accordingly.

By being aware of your surroundings and taking the necessary steps to guard yourself from petty crimes, you’ll not only be protecting yourself…you’ll be protecting your wallet, too.

46. Keep your eyes peeled as you walk.
Traveling by foot may be cheaper, but could also take you through some of the rougher parts of a city. One of the most common crimes that travelers are subjected to is theft and pickpocketing. By keeping a watchful eye (and your hands!) on your bags, purses, and backpacks, you shouldn’t find these items turning up missing or stolen.

47. Have hidden pockets
Because some thieves have gotten creative and started cutting holes in bags while their owners aren’t looking, it’s a good idea to keep all of your essential items in a safe place on your body that isn’t easily accessible. Money belts and passport-protecting necklaces are invaluable tools for protecting these essentials because they are placed within your clothing and hidden from potential pickpockets.

Pro-Tip: A good money belt features pockets for storing your passport, money, and other important items in a location that is safe from the grasp of potential pickpockets. It rests within the waist of your pants for convenient access, is waterproof and made of a breathable mesh material, and includes an adjustable elastic waistband for easy customization. All in all, this is the perfect blend of personal protection and intelligent design and is a must-have when traveling in sketchier or more crime-heavy locales.

48. Avoid heavily populated tourist areas.
Street-smart people know that there are more opportunities to take advantage of tourists in crowded locations. It’s easy for them to steal something and slip into the crowd, so be wary of heavily populated areas while moving around your destination.

50. Use common sense and intuition
If you see a dark and scary alley, it’s probably best not to find out what’s lurking in the shadows. If you’re by yourself don’t get too drunk, as this lower state of inhibition will make it easier for someone to steal from or hurt you. By taking precautions and trying to get inside the mind of potential criminals you’ll be able to keep yourself safe in an unfamiliar setting.

Final Thoughts

These tips are intended to get you the most bang for your buck. As you plan for your trip, feel free to mix and match these suggestions to your heart’s content and personal preferences.

No matter where your travels take you, make sure to have fun and take a lot of pictures and write some entries into your journal. You can’t put a price of the memories you make on vacation, even if you’re trying to reduce costs and money spent.

Now comes the fun part — planning your trip!

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