How to Travel on a Budget

The number one inhibitor of travel is money. These travel tips will give you the tools to start planning your trip without putting a huge dent in your wallet!

By Samantha Bockoven — November 14, 2022

How to Travel on a Budget

I LOVE to travel. Throughout my lifetime, I have had the opportunity to travel to thirty-seven states and twenty-two countries. On these trips, I have made many memories, learned a ton about myself, broadened my horizons by meeting people from different backgrounds and cultures, and gained skills I will use for the rest of my life.

Planning trips and navigating new spaces seemed daunting when I first began traveling. In addition, I could sometimes get easily overwhelmed by how much it would cost. Sometimes this prevented me from ever going on that trip at all. In the following article, I want to share some tips and tricks I have learned about planning a trip and traveling on a budget.

Write a List of Your Dream Destinations

Whenever I get the itch to travel, I first make a list of places I think would be cool to visit. When I make a list, I include a wide variety of locations. For example, my typical list ranges from destinations as close as one hour away to as far as the other side of the world. Some locations might have beaches or mountains, while others are big cities.

Do Your Research

Once I make my list of places I would like to visit, I start researching. I answer a variety of questions for each location, such as:

  1. How long would it take to get there? Fly or Drive?
  2. How many days would I spend at this location? A weekend? A week?
  3. What is the weather like in this location at the time of year I want to go?
  4. What kinds of activities would I like to do?
  5. If I decided to go for X number of days, what would be my estimated budget for living accommodations, transportation, food, activities, etc.?

Pick a Location

Typically, you start to have a good idea about which trip option from your list will work best with your current schedule, budget, etc. For example, maybe you wanted to go to Europe, but you know you only have the long weekend to travel, so by the time your flight even got there, you would have to turn around and come back. Maybe you wanted to go to Texas during the summer, but after seeing how hot and humid it can be, you decided you better save that trip for a different time. You can pick the best trip but keep the other trips as goals for the future.

Where Can You Cut Costs?

Transportation. Transportation is usually one of the biggest travel expenses. When booking flights, shifting the date of your trip by 1-2 days can save you hundreds of dollars. If you can be flexible by 1-2 days, look into that option. Another way to save money on your travel day is to pack snacks and a lunch from home. Airport food and snacks from the gas station can be expensive. Packing food can help you save a good amount of money right off the bat. Do not be afraid of public transport when you are on your trip. Taking a train or bus instead of ubering can save a lot of money.

Living accommodations.When traveling, accommodations can be one of the biggest expenses. Paying hundreds of dollars for a hotel room can be frustrating, especially when you spend most of your time outside the room. One way to cut down costs is to see where you can stay for free. Maybe you or someone you know has friends or family members that live in the area. Perhaps someone you know has a cabin or beach house they would let you stay in for a small fraction of the price.

For example, maybe your friend's uncle and aunt living in Chicago would be OK if you and your friend stayed with them for a long weekend while you explored the city. By staying with friends or family, you save on the cost of a hotel and save money in other ways like free parking, having the opportunity to eat some of your meals, or using their washing and drying machine for free. Since they live in that location, they also might have great suggestions for different activities and places to eat.

Pro Tip: if you have friends or family gracious enough to let you stay with them for a weekend for free, make sure you send them a thank you note and include a gift card to your favorite restaurant you tried while in the city. Spending $50 dollars on a gift card is nothing compared to the hundreds you would have spent on a hotel.

Activities. When traveling to a new place, spending a lot of money on activities is easy. One way to save money is to look at what free activities are available in the city. Many locations have a lot of fun options for free that can allow you to have a good time while still staying on budget.

Focus On Your Goal

Ready to book your travel and lodging accommodation and make reservations for any restaurants or activities? I recommend setting up a fund with money specifically to be used for the trip. For example, when I was in college, I wanted to go to Europe to see my friend studying abroad. Once I learned how much it would cost, I babysat as often as possible and put all the money I made into a fund dedicated to that trip.

Because I had this goal, I had a more enjoyable time working, knowing it would be worth exploring with my friend, and I also was able to stop spending money on things I did not need because I knew it would help me reach my goal faster. By the time the trip came around, I could have a fun, stress-free time.

Samantha Bockoven

Samantha Bockoven

Samantha Bockoven graduated from Villanova University in 2019 with a degree in Peace and Justice and a minor in Global Health. She went on to get her master’s in public health with a concentration in disaster health and emergency preparedness. Since then, she has worked in a variety of public health jobs in the United States and around the world.
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