Although I grew up in a family that travelled extensively throughout the US, I always wondered what was outside our borders. As a child, I always saw my future as a lifelong kumbaya with all the people in the world, but there was always the sting of
an empty bank account reality to come and kill my dreams. I believed I needed a seven-figure salary to travel. I thought budget travel just wasn’t possible. However, I’m here to declare that:
this is not the case!
The fact of the matter is, the costs of travelling have decreased significantly over the past two decades. With improved technology, booking and accommodation websites, budget airlines, etc., it’s easier to travel than ever. While cheaper, travel is still not inherently cheap.
I’m a 19-year-old university student, you can imagine that I’m not made of money. However, this past year, I’ve been to 18 countries over 3 continents, solely off my savings from my part-time jobs. Many, many people in real life ask me how I’ve been able to travel as much as I have on my budget. I can confidently say that I would not be able to travel half as much as I do without these tips. That’s why today I wrote this expansive guide on budget travel to teach you how to save every last penny to put towards your next adventure.
Travelling on a budget means I’m quite frugal in my daily life. Despite whatever costs I cut out, I treat myself occasionally, and I’m not so strict as to cut every corner. I’m frugal enough to the point where I can still live comfortably. This section is more about cutting out things that aren’t needed as much as they are wanted. All the small costs I cut add up massively and have had the biggest impact on my savings.
- Work: If you’re a student like me, get a job over the year, and take advantage of living with your parents in the summer and work full-time so you can save even more. I worked in my senior year of high school, and for the past 2 summers. Obviously, prioritise your bills, then put the rest in savings.
- Phone: I bought a dirt-cheap, data-reliant phone plan. I don’t need many minutes or messages because I call my family through FaceTime audio and I text with iMessage. Both of these only use data. Saving an extra $30/month can mean an extra night in an Airbnb or a nice day trip! If you live in the UK, use Three because their data plans are cheap (£17 for 12GB of data!) and can be used in over 40 countries at no extra charge, which has saved my life.
- Food/Drink: Cook everything! Buy groceries in bulk, plan out your meals for the week. Instead of buying pesto pasta at an Italian restaurant for $11, make it at home for roughly $3. I usually allow myself to eat out once, occasionally twice a week. Even switching out three $5 Starbucks coffees a week for coffee at home can save $60 a month, or $720 a year!
- Transportation: Walk or buy a bike! Not only will you save money, you’ll help the environment while getting healthier! Try and reserve Uber rides for heading home late after a night out. Edinburgh, where I live, is a small enough city where I can walk everywhere if I wanted to. For example, instead of paying an average of $12 for an Uber twice a week to go run errands, walk or take the bus instead, saving an average of $96 a month. Do this for three months and you can get a round-trip from NYC to Iceland or London.
- Nightlife/Alcohol: Many of my friends wonder how I travel frequently as they spend, on minimum, $30 on a night out. I don’t buy drinks at clubs, at all. If you’re young and going out, pregame! Buying a $20 bottle of liquor can last you, on average, three to five nights out, depending on your tolerance. If you’re going to the pub, try not to splurge on three or four beers in one night, that’s $20 as well. If one on average spends $30 per Saturday night out, that’s $120 a month! Do this for three months, and that’s an extra $300 in your pocket! To put it into perspective, I bought a round-trip ticket from LA to Havana, Cuba for $330. If you want to go rogue, cut out alcohol as a whole, and it’ll save you even more.
Let’s move on to the actual budget travel.
Over the years I’ve found some websites that have saved me tons of money on flights. Here are the websites I trust.
Google Flights: Not the best prices, but it’s a fantastic starting point. It’s easy to use just by searching “X to Y” on Google, and flights show up. It’s a great website to gather reasonable prices for flights and a base to jump to other flight-booking sites.
Momondo: My favourite website, Momondo has saved me more money than I can imagine. For example, my February round-trip from Edinburgh to Hong Kong via Qatar Airways was normally $830. However, I found the exact same flight on Momondo for $450! I put the $380 I saved toward a round-trip flight and 4 days of accommodation in my childhood dream destination, Tokyo. The best part? I still had $80 left over.
Kiwi: Like Momondo, it searches far and wide for budget flights all around the web. No specific distinction from other websites, but you can find incredible deals on here.
Skyscanner: More well, known, it’s like the two above, but it also has the feature where you can put in a budget for flights and just search “everywhere.” Sometimes the flights are cheaper due to long layovers, which you can use to your advantage to go out into a new city for a day! I used Skyscanner with my trip to Croatia and each way I got 17 hours in Amsterdam, so I got 2 days in Amsterdam in my trip for free!
Often, I’ll get excited over the cheap prices of a flight. I’ll consider making a trip, then I get shot down by accommodation prices. While the skyrocketing of prices during peak-season are inevitable, here are some websites I use to book accommodation that can soften the blow to your wallet.
Airbnb: If you don’t already know what Airbnb is, this website allows you to rent actual homes or rooms from locals! Even if I have money to spend on hotels I prefer Airbnb. Airbnb’s it allows you to live like a local and they enable you to really get a feel of the city, outside of the touristy squares. Why stay in a Hilton when you can rent a 10-person Moroccan riad with indoor pools and sky-high ceilings in Marrakesh for $120 a night, or $12 a person? If you use it for the first time, use my referral here to get $39 in travel credit, and I’ll get $19!
Expedia: One of the most popular sites, you can often find hotels and hostels on here for much cheaper than on their actual websites. they have frequent sales, sometimes going as low as 50% off! If you sign up for it, you’ll get member-exclusive deals. It’s great for ultra-last-minute bookings as well, and you can book a refundable stay in case anything happens, for just a few dollars more!
Friends/Family: If you know someone at your destination, save money by asking to stay with them! They’ll show you the city through their local eyes which makes for a more memorable trip.
At The Destination
- Finances: Cash is fundamental. Many countries do not accept credit cards in their shops; taking cash will also be the best regulator of your spending. Having cash will provide you with a tangible idea of how much you’re spending. But, always take your card with you in the case of an emergency. It’s easy to swipe your card on everything and think nothing of it. Tomorrow, you’ll then look at your bank account and you’ll be crying into your overpriced, tourist-trap sangria.
- Pro-tip: If you’re going to Cuba, credit cards aren’t accepted anywhere and American debit cards don’t work anywhere except at the Havana Airport. Withdraw all your cash beforehand and exchange it at the airport upon arrival.
- Food: It’s a golden rule to stay away from restaurants within six blocks of a major tourist attraction, especially if they offer menus in multiple languages. Usually, the food will be average and the prices will be raised. If you’re somewhere especially expensive, buy food from a store and make your own meals to cut costs. In countries like Italy and Japan, it’s very easy to find delicious food at stores, markets, or cafes for cheap.
- Transportation: Budget travel doesn’t just apply to planes. Try and take the buses from the airport and if available, take the metro! One of my most fond experiences in Japan involved people-watching on Tokyo’s metro. On the way to Harajuku, I often saw adults dressed up like anime characters with no one batting an eye. Spending $1-3 per metro ticket and learning the map will be better than spending $10+ per taxi for several days.
- Alcohol: Unless you’re somewhere like Eastern Europe where a pint is $1, try and avoid excessive alcohol. This will cut into your budget and it’ll be too late before you realise.
It’s a lot of information to take in in one post. But when you’re able to apply all of these steps, you’ll be planning your next trip instantly. I know for a fact that if I didn’t do any of these, I’d easily be bankrupt by now. Actually, I would have been too broke to travel in the first place! Applying the steps above, I only spent $850 in total (yes, including my flight) for 2 weeks in Asia. I also spent roughly $350 for 7 days in Croatia. On average, that’s travelling for $52 a day! And I wasn’t in a dirty one-star hostel in either one!
These results will ultimately vary with each person and what budget you set for yourself. But what this guide will do is help you save the money required to travel. However much you decide to save and where you want to go is ultimately up to you, the reader.
What are your best budget travel tips? Any that I should know of? Let me know in the comments below!