Do you feel like travel might be out of reach for your budget? You might be surprised to learn that travel is less expensive and more accessible than you might think. With some simple travel hacks and planning, you’ll find that travel can actually be quite affordable – even international travel!
We rounded up the advice of travel bloggers, expats, and financial professionals in search of the best ways to save money while you travel.
With tips for saving money on everything from flights and hotels to airline fees and even bottled water, this guide will help you make the most of even the tiniest travel budget.
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The Beauty of a Budget
Before you start planning your trip, its important to make sure you have a travel budget in the first place! Michael Reynolds from Elevation Financial offers this recommendation for making a travel budget that won’t blow up the rest of your financial future:
“Set up a separate bank account at a different bank, and make sure you get a debit card with it. Only pull it out to pay for travel and only take it with you on vacations. Keep the debit card locked in a drawer or a safe, so you aren’t tempted to use it for everyday stuff.”
He also recommends setting up an automatic recurring contribution to transfer money into this travel account every month. This easy habit shouldn’t be hard to establish, and your budget will adjust. This way, vacation spending never hits your daily budget.
Having a separate travel account also has the side effect of shielding your main bank accounts from fraud if your card is lost or stolen while traveling.
15 Best Ways to Save Money While Traveling
There are many tips and advice out there to help you to save money while traveling. Here are the top tips we’ve collected from finance and travel bloggers to help you save more money on your future adventures.
1. Travel Hacking
The art of travel hacking brings about opportunities to find cheaper flights and cheaper accommodations. If you are going to do any traveling, it may be prudent to seek out a sound travel credit card to help you accumulate points and miles to travel for free.
Travel hacking is the art of accumulating credit card points, airline miles, or hotel points to gain free and cheaper travel. The most common way is to open up a credit card to get a hefty welcome bonus and transfer those points to a travel partner to purchase free flight tickets.
You can also use these same reward points to be sent to a hotel partner for free nights at a hotel.
Travel hacking is an excellent way to save money to travel. The welcome bonuses and money spent can help you collect more miles and points to get free flights, saving thousands of dollars while traveling.
2. Getting Cheap Flights For Travels
Cheap flights are not as easy as most people may think. They do not grow on trees. If you want to save money, it is best to look for cheap airfares.
Cheap airfare can be found by flexibly planning and using budget airlines to score great deals.
Flexibility is critical when trying to fly cheaply. Airlines will increase their prices 28 days beforehand for international flights and 21 days before domestic flights.
Use Google Flights or even Skyscanner to look for some cheap flight deals.
If you can determine the place you would like to go to, you can find a time to book a great time. It is usually best to fly out during the week and off-season times. That will allow you to have the best rates possible.
3. Travel on Budget Airlines
When looking at cheap flight tickets, you must look at some budget airlines. Jason Butler from My Money Chronicles explains how budget airlines save him money.
“One way to save money is to use budget airlines on short trips. I recently flew to Cincinnati on Frontier Airlines. The round-trip flight from Atlanta was $193. If I had flown Delta or Southwest, the trip would have been over $300. Saving money by flying with budget airlines allows you more money for food, drinks, and souvenirs.”
If you are ok with flying budget airlines, you can score a great deal. Recently, I saw a deal on Twitter that you could fly from LAX to Honolulu for 12,000 Southwest points and then fly to Sydney for an additional $168.
A ticket under $200 with a stopover in Hawaii is an incredible deal. These are on-budget airlines, but the prices are hard to beat.
4. Explore On Your Own
Kevin Lao from Imagine Financial Security suggests exploring places on your own. Don’t jump on a bunch of touristy excursions! Do your excursion yourself!
Not only does planning your own transportation and excursions help you avoid expensive tour traps, but it helps you find places most tourists don’t even know about!
5. Travel Like a Local
Ashlee Fechino from The Happiness Function shares that when traveling, consider exploring your destination like a local. Where do the locals hike, camp, and go out to eat? What would you do if you were to live near the destination you are visiting?
Roadtripping closer to home and exploring the state parks and national forests can be a local option for a great travel adventure.
Opt for camping and free outdoor activities such as hiking, kayaking, and taking photos, leading to more traveling for less money.
Traveling to less famous places and experiencing them low-key like a local is a great way to have incredible experiences without breaking the bank. You’ll also likely encounter fewer crowds and spots to spend money.
6. Shop Locally For Souvenirs
Sanjana Vig from The Female Professional shared her tips for saving money on choosing souvenirs, which can be a fun way to help you remember your trip. When it comes to souvenirs, try to shop locally.
You’ll be supporting local businesses, receive authentic, usually handmade wares, and, depending on where you are, can bargain down prices.
Some tips to follow when bargaining include:
- Start at the lowest possible price that you think is fair.
- Have a cutoff price in mind, and don’t go higher.
- Try to bundle items, paying a lower total cost than purchasing them individually.
- Be willing and quick to walk away if shop owners don’t work with you.
- You get to save money while adding to the overall experience of the trip!
7. Stay at a Home Exchange
Casandra Karpiak from Karpiak Caravan shares her tips on home exchange and how it can save us money on accommodations.
“My secret weapon for saving money while traveling is the website Home Exchange. I have been a member of Home Exchange for years, and it has saved me thousands upon thousands of dollars. I travel the world with my family of four, staying in all kinds of accommodations during a home exchange.
The best part about Home Exchange is there are three ways to participate. Simultaneous, non-simultaneous, and guest point exchanges provide the flexibility to exchange the way that suits your travel style.
For a typical family vacation, we purchase airfare on points and do a home exchange in at least one of the destinations we visit, leaving only paying for a rental car. If you are looking to save money while traveling or for ways to travel more often, this is a wonderful option.”
8. Pack Smart
Jessica Bishop from The Budget Savvy Bride reminds travelers to plan and pack smart. Maximize your space by finding the largest-sized airline-compliant personal item possible.
If you can get away with packing only a carry-on, you can avoid added baggage fees on most airlines.
Put together a capsule wardrobe of mix and match items that you can wear multiple times if you go for a more extended trip. The extra $100 or so you’ll save in baggage can be put towards much more fun parts of your travel!
9. Bring Your Own Water Bottle
Any international traveler has likely faced the dilemma of finding safe drinking water. While grabbing a bottle of water here and there might seem like a small expense, it can add up quickly throughout a vacation.
Save money when traveling abroad by bringing along a Steripen or similar UV-light water sanitization device. Not only do these small, packable UV lights filter large quantities of water quickly, but they’ll help you become a more eco-friendly traveler by cutting down on your single-use plastic consumption.
You’ll recoup the cost of the Steripen within just one international trip with all the money you’ll save.
10. Meal Planning
Karee Blunt from Our Woven Journey gave us tips about her meal plans to save money on food for a whole family.
Dining out can be one of the most expensive parts of traveling. We all have to eat, so there’s no way to avoid spending money on food, but how can you enjoy your vacation without overspending on meals? Where you choose to stay can significantly affect how much you pay (or save) on meals, especially for larger families.
Whenever possible, stay in a hotel that offers complimentary breakfasts. Some hotels like Homewood Suites even offer “social hour” several evenings a week, which can easily be dinner for most people.
Another option is to book a hotel room that has a kitchenette. You’re all set to grab a few groceries at the store, like milk and cereal for breakfast and frozen pizzas for dinner.
It takes minimal effort to fix the meals, and you’ll save money for other vacation activities.
11. Research Food Options
Caitriona Maria from TPR Teaching reminds travelers to spend time researching food options.
If you plan to eat out several times a day, it’s a good idea to be mindful of how much money you spend on food and beverages. This can get expensive, but there are some tips and tricks you can use to help lighten the load on your wallet.
Here are some tips on how to save money on foreign cuisine:
- Do your research (before you get hungry!) and look for restaurants that offer good value for money. Every city has hidden gems that don’t cost an arm and a leg to dine in. You can quickly check the restaurant reviews and price ranges on Google Maps.
- Opt for happy hour when grabbing drinks. Raise your glass to happy hour! Happy hour is when discounted alcoholic beverages are served in bars and restaurants.
- Look for buffets and all-you-can-eat deals if you have a big appetite. Not only will you save money, but you’ll also get to try various dishes.
- Ask the locals about the best places to eat and drink and avoid expensive tourist traps. Rather than blindly figuring out everything yourself, they have the best knowledge of where to find the tastiest food and cheapest drinks.
- Stick to water if you are on a tight budget. It’s cheap and will save you from spending money on overpriced beverages. Tap water is also safe and free to drink in some countries.
12. Prepare Meals On the Road
Steve Morrow from Paddle About shares tips on preparing meals on the road. Food is always a considerable expense when traveling. Stay in an Airbnb or hostel when possible can allow you the opportunity to prepare your own meals. Often we can make our meals much cheaper than eating out.
When staying in a hotel, try to book a hotel with a complimentary hot breakfast. Then, fill up with a great meal in the morning and eat snacks until dinner.
This way, you can cut down on the number of meals to pay for each day.
13. Store Food and Eat Leftovers
Jon Dulin from Money Smart Guides shares that one way we save money on travel is to stay in hotels with a microwave and mini-fridge.
These amenities allow you buy some basics at the grocery store and make breakfast and lunch, saving money. And when you do eat out, bring leftovers back to the hotel and reheat them the next day.
14. Ordering Grocery Delivery
Mark Patrick from the Financial Pilgrimage shares how ordering groceries can save money on travel.
Using a service such as Instacart, groceries can be often waiting for you on the doorstep by the time you arrive at you destination. Of course, ordering groceries doesn’t mean you need to avoid restaurants altogether.
On the contrary, eating out is often a favorite part of a vacation. However, having lower-cost groceries reduces runs to the hotel lobby or convenience stores in higher-priced areas to fill the gaps between restaurants.
15. Always Have A Food Plan
Sam from Smarter and Harder shares the need to always have a food plan. If you leave your travel meals to the fate of “I’ll eat when I’m hungry,” you may find yourself in a precarious position with limited options.
Having at least a loose plan for what, where, and when you’re going to eat each day allows you to avoid overpaying for meals at the last minute out of necessity. You can also plan to bring pre-packed meals and snacks to drive down the travel food bill further.
Traveling can be great fun, and by using these 15 easy ways to save money while traveling, you’ll be able to afford more (and better!) travel opportunities.
So budget your cash and meal plan, be flexible, travel hack, and think as a local. These few tips can help your travel experience be much better.
Carley Rojas Avila is a bilingual New York-based travel writer, editor, content marketer, and the founder of the digital travel publications Explorers Away and Home to Havana. Carley is an expert on all things Latin America, the Caribbean, and Cuba, having lived and worked in four different countries in the region. Her writing has appeared on the Associated Press wires and in Travel + Leisure, Yahoo, MSN, Euronews, The Weather Channel, and more. When she's not writing about her travels, find her front row at a Bad Bunny concert, befriending street cats, and taste-testing every pizza in Havana.