Everyone says they want to travel. To see the world and experience new sights. That’s great, but not everyone has the bank account to support spontaneous $5,000 vacations three times a year. While I can’t help you book an extravagant dream vacation to Paris, I can help you travel on a budget and see a little more of the world without going bankrupt.

Book your flights first

While being able to travel thousands of miles in a single day is an amazing feat of human ingenuity, it’s also a huge pain in the neck for a plethora of reasons. 

If you’re flying on your next vacation, plane tickets will be the biggest expense. Anyone who has traveled before knows that sometimes plane tickets can even cost as much as the rest of the trip expenses combined.

That’s why those plane tickets will make or break the bank the next time you travel on a budget. 

Be as flexible as you can

Trying to find the cheapest flights is a challenge for anyone, and it doesn’t help that ticket prices can change at literally any second. So when trying to find the best bargain for traveling, you’ll want to do a few things.

Firstly, choose your destination based on the price of the tickets if you can. This is easily the best way to save money because you’ll be flying to wherever is cheapest. You can even pick domestic or international places and whatever is within your budget.

Secondly, and much more realistically, check for flights over multiple days. That means physically looking at different days and comparing different flight days. 

Supposedly, the cheapest time to book a flight is mid-week, and flying in the middle of the week also seems the cheapest option. While booking those Florida flights on a Wednesday is usually pretty doable, it’s a lot harder to plan your trip around leaving Disney World on a Thursday morning, especially if your off days are Saturday and Sunday.

Check one-way prices

Depending on the flight, you may actually be able to find one-way tickets that make it easier to travel on a budget than roundtrip tickets—one of the many ways airline prices make no sense.

It’s definitely not a guarantee, but the next time you look at flights, it doesn’t hurt to look into them, especially if you live close to another larger airport that may have more flights in and out. The more flights they have to deal with, the more likely you will find deals on those flights.   

Use more than one internet browser

You know cookies? The digital kind, not the chocolate chip variety. Those things can actually jack up the cost of flights sometimes. The research is inconclusive, but one study has shown that there can be differences in price based on your browser’s cookies.

The idea is that airline websites know through your internet search history that you’re interested in going to a certain place and increase the plane ticket prices accordingly. Airlines, of course, claim the price differences have nothing to do with cookies or browser history, but it doesn’t hurt to compare. 

Sometimes paying extra is worth it to save more overall

I don’t fly a whole lot, but I have noticed over the past five or so years that some airlines will charge extra for carry-on bags. The tickets for those flights are usually the cheapest option, too, which sucks because I am an over-packer. I need at least one small suitcase for any trip, and even large backpacks are usually counted as carry-ons. 

If you’re like me, make sure you keep an eye out for the carry-on policy with your tickets. Saving $20 now isn’t worth it if you have to pay $35 later to check your bag.

Research local accommodations 

After plane tickets, typically, the next most considerable cost when it comes to traveling is accommodations. Hotels are stupidly expensive, and they can really get you with all the hidden taxes and fees. 

While it’s nice to stay in fancy hotels with big pools and swanky fitness rooms when traveling, you probably won’t be spending that much time at the hotel anyway. It’s okay to stay somewhere a little less fancy to save some money. 

Beware of 3rd party websites

While it may seem like a deal online, 3rd party websites like booking.com can end up putting you in a tough spot. They don’t prioritize you when you don’t book a hotel directly through them or their website. That can mean not guaranteeing your reservation or putting you in a totally different room than the one you booked.

Personally, I’ve been lucky enough not to have any issues, but I’ve had friends who worked at hotels checking guests in. For them, it was way less common not to have any issues with 3rd party sites. 

When there are issues, a lot of the time, the hotel can’t help you either, and you’ll be forced to try contacting the 3rd party site after a long day of traveling. 

If you end up booking through a 3rd party, try calling your hotel ahead of time to confirm your reservation. At least there’s a chance of ironing out any issues before they become a problem. Keep in mind, though, that even if you do call ahead, you aren’t guaranteed a smooth check-in later. Some hotels may not have access to your reservation information until you get there.

I’m not saying you should never use 3rd party websites; they can be really helpful in comparing rates and finding deals. Just be aware of the troubles that may arise later. 

Try a hostel

Hostels are definitely one of the cheapest accommodations out there. They may not be as common in the US as in other countries, but they still exist and are super cheap. Sometimes even going as low as $20 a night per person, which is insanely hard to beat when you want to travel on a budget. 

Some hostels will even offer free breakfast, too, so that’s one less meal to worry about paying for.  

For travelers looking into hostels, I advise you to be very aware of what kind of room you’re booking and the type of area you’re booking it in. Most hostels offer communal rooms and shared bathrooms, so don’t go in expecting a private room and bathroom unless you are 100% certain that’s the kind of room you booked. 

The last hostel room I stayed in was made up of three bunk beds and a sink. It was also $30 a night in the middle of Vancouver, B.C. (It was honestly a great stay too. Everyone was super nice, and there was a ton of stuff to do within walking distance). 

Look into Airbnb

These days most Airbnb’s are about the same price as hotels. With an Airbnb, though, you can usually get the whole place to yourself and enjoy all the utilities you would at home. Internet, a full kitchen, etc., are common in most accommodations, making the whole trip feel a little easier.

If you’re a real bargain hunter, you can still find some really cheap places to stay, but you’ll run into the same thing with hostels. You probably won’t end up sharing a room, but you may end up sharing a house, etc. 

You can use other apps to crash at privately owned properties, but Airbnb is the most well-known and well-vetted. 

Check out the local transportation options

Public transit isn’t usually ideal, but it will be cheaper than renting a car. You don’t have to worry about gas, and most major cities make it doable. Some cities even have rentable bikes that will help you get where you need to go quickly without waiting on the next bus.

Cars are certainly more convenient, but they can easily cost up to $200 daily. Even from the places that claim their rentals start at just $20. 

If you really need a car, you may be able to find some ride-sharing apps. When my partner and I went to Virginia last September, we used Turo to rent a car. It’s like Airbnb but for cars. Through the app, you can check out the available cars for certain dates and arrange a time/ place to pick one up. 

You get to choose what car you want that way too. So you won’t just end up with whatever is left in the lot at traditional car rental places.

Check for discounts

Many places have discounts for students, AAA members, AARP members, military service members, etc. All you’ll need is an ID/ membership number, and you’ll be able to score some nice discounts.

Usually, the discounts aren’t that much, but hey, 10% off is better than nothing, right? You’d be surprised at the number of businesses that offer these discounts too. I’ve used AAA discounts at aquariums and museums, buying train tickets, and even at some restaurants. 

If you are no longer a student nor a member of any of the other discounted groups, don’t worry. You can still snag some discounts next time you need to travel on a budget. 

A popular membership with tons of discounts is AARP; you can join for free! While it is more meant for senior citizens, there isn’t an age requirement to join. You won’t have access to the full benefits of AARP membership under the age of 50, but you will still get their sweet, sweet discounts. 

Make your own meals

Groceries are expensive, but they’re still cheaper than eating out for every meal. While you should definitely put some money aside to try out the local cuisine, one of the best ways to travel on a budget is to skimp on the dinner bills. 

Making your own food is especially easy if you have access to a kitchen. It might feel weird to go grocery shopping first thing after traveling for hours, but you will definitely be saving some money.

If you are dead set on eating out or eating at a specific restaurant, try to aim for lunch. Lunch menus are often cheaper than dinner menus, and it’s more convenient to eat out while exploring your vacation spot. 

Ask the locals

The easiest way to travel on a budget and save money is to talk to the people who live there. They can give you the inside scoop on everything, anywhere from cheap eats that will knock your socks off to the most amazing experiences that won’t break the bank.

Even if you don’t know anyone in the area, you can still get to know people who live there. A great way to do that is to head into small businesses and strike up a conversation with the workers. If you’re lucky, you might even find the owner and get to know them.

Most people are happy to take a break from watching the shop to share their perspectives on the best things to do in town. 

Sign up for our newsletter

Those are our best tips for traveling on a budget! For more helpful tips and our best blog highlights, sign up for our newsletter! We write about some pretty cool stuff, like this guide which has everything you need to know about buying a car

Once a month, we’ll send out updates with everything Everyday Owl and a whole lot more. Just scroll to the bottom of this page to sign up and enter your name and email address.

Do you have any tips for how to travel on a budget?

1 Comment

  1. Thanks for the great tips! I have really noticed how much cheaper it is to cook my own meals when traveling. I have saved a significant amount of money doing this.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may also like...