travel on budget

How to Travel on a Tight Budget


There’s no getting around it: traveling abroad is expensive. Long flights, hotel rooms, and eating out add up quickly, and it’s incredibly easy to blow your budget. But there are ways to mitigate some unavoidable expenses. Love traveling but don’t love spending a lot of cash? Read on!

Don’t Pay for Too Many Things in Advance

Doing so can actually cost you more money. “Unless you’re traveling in the peak season and have no flexibility in your schedule, wait until you arrive in country,” one travel agent says. “Paying online with a credit card for things like boat trips to the trailhead or gear for glacier trekking in Patagonia will always entail extra fees and leaves you no room to bargain. Plus, if you book on the ground, you’ll be able to pay with local currency.”

Watch for Flash Sales

It’s never too early to start scouting airline websites for flash sales. “LAN Airlines, the main carrier for South America, will often have 24-hour sales where you can fly to Patagonia for half the normal price,” the agent says. “Icelandair is renowned for offering sale fares to Reykjavik for less than $300. Similarly, expedition cruise companies that sail to Antarctica will try to fill their remaining berths by offering mind-blowing buy one, get one free promotions for trips leaving within a few days or weeks.”

Be Flexible

This is easier said than done, but padding a few extra days into your itinerary can save you money. This flexibility allows you to change your plans on the fly. Say you meet another group of hikers on the street, and they’re headed out one day later than you. If you can push your schedule back a day, you could share the shuttle costs with them.

shuttle travel

The best way to blow all your money is to go to a country with great local food like Indonesia and eat at western restaurants like Hard Rock Cafe. If you are willing to eat from street carts, local markets and small cafe’s you can stretch your budget much, much further. For example, a serving of nasi goreng with shrimp ( fried rice, vegetables, egg and shrimp) can cost 1-2 dollars in a local market. A hamburger, fries, and salad near the beach could set you back 10-15 dollars.

Aside from focusing on the financial benefits of eating local, Rick Steves points out that you should always remember why you wanted to travel. There is nothing better than experiencing the culture and traditions of a meal that has been around for centuries. Even if every now and again you try something that is horrible or way too spicy, it is all part of your immersion into a foreign culture.

Book Lodging Directly

You’ll often be able to negotiate a better rate by getting in touch with the lodge or hotel owner or manager directly by phone or email rather than by booking online. This is especially true if you’re traveling during the off-season.

If you cannot deal without luxury most of this list is not for you. However, if you can, this is the best way to save a ton of money. Get onto sites like and see what properties are having a last minute sale or heavy discounts. Maybe it isn’t in the prime location or doesn’t have a swimming pool in the courtyard. Ask yourself how much time you are going to spend at your accommodation.

If you are the type of person who is out all day adventuring and seeing the sights, book somewhere cheap, clean and with basic amenities. Most vacation destinations have accommodation ranging from $10 to $500. I personally search the location and then order the listings from cheapest to most expensive. I try not to scroll too far.

Cash Is King

Speaking of paying with cash, it’s always best to bring U.S. dollars and exchange it for local currency as soon as possible. Making purchases with a credit card will likely entail foreign transaction fees and puts you at the mercy of the day’s official exchange rate.

Be Diligent

It pays to do your research and look at all your options, even for expenses that seem obvious. For example, the Travel Channel notes that while grabbing a Eurorail Pass may seem like a no-brainer for a trip across the pond, after a ticket-to-ticket comparison, buying individual tickets for each leg of your journey is often cheaper. Sometimes it’s even more economical to rent a car. If you’re headed to Western Europe, rentals often cost just $200 a week, and you’ll have the ability to explore the remote mountain roads and coastal hideaways between the big cities.

The first thing many people do when they arrive at their destination on a vacation is head to the tour booking office. Purchasing jet ski hire, jungle tours, day trips, snorkeling adventures and all kinds of fun activities. Most of which are luxury activities and are not necessary to have a good time.

Every now and again an opportunity might come along too good to miss, like a bungee jump in New Zealand or scuba diving in The Gili Islands, but for the most part the best activities are free. Think hiking, beaches, snorkeling, sunrise, sunset, visit temples, churches and other tourist attractions. Hiring a moped or splitting a car between friends will give you the access to most locations a tour guide can take you. Be responsible for organizing your own adventures and fun and you will discover more but also save a lot of money.

Use Public Transportation

Public transit just about everywhere else in the world puts the United States to shame, and it can offer more benefits than just being cheaper than expensive in-country flights. Buses in Chile and Argentina, for example, usually include free movies, regular meals, and hot tea and coffee. Book a sleeper seat, or salon cama, for a fully reclining chair and relax. Not only will this save money, but you also won’t be at the mercy of the regional airlines, which are known to cancel flights and go on strike with remarkable regularity.

5 thoughts on “How to Travel on a Tight Budget

  1. Booking directly with a hotel manager is a good point. It seems kind of counter-intutive, what with all the huge travel sites with competitive bookings. But a lot of smaller places don’t participate in online travel sites, so talking directly with such places can sometimes (sometimes) yield good results. You just have to be willing to try more than one hotel.

  2. Dig in deep and check out local travel possibilities. If you travel like the locals, you can’t help but save. Talk to locals. They know the cheapest ways to get around.

  3. Use cash whenever possible is a valid point. Avoid those credit card fees. Plus, some places give small discounts for cash as they want to avoid credit card service fees as well.

  4. Of all the tips I’d say that staying flexible might be the best one. A lot of places have unannounced discounts or specials, so try to watch for those while you’re on your trip.

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