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Jul 1, 2024

How to travel cheap: budget-friendly tips and tricks

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From a weekend jaunt to a trot across the globe, many people find travel exhilarating, relaxing, and rewarding. But it can easily get expensive. If you have the travel bug, indulging it doesn’t have to break the bank. With the right strategies, you can explore the world without emptying your wallet. With smart strategies, you can plan how to travel cheap, from booking flights to finding affordable accommodation to saving on food and fun. 

Here’s what we’ll cover:

Travel cheap with smart planning

Consider budget-friendly destinations

If you don’t have your heart set on a specific place to visit, consider selecting your destination based on cost. Countries like Thailand, Vietnam, and Nicaragua are known for their affordability, offering rich cultural experiences at a fraction of the cost of more traditional tourist spots. If you’re staying within the U.S., you might want to eschew big tourist destinations in favor of hidden gems that don’t come with the high price of tourist traps. Compare costs of living and travel expenses across different destinations to find the best deals.

Research seasonal cost differences

Traveling during off-peak seasons can significantly reduce your expenses. For example, visiting Europe in the fall or spring can save you money on flights and accommodation compared to the summer months. You may also find that travel is more expensive over national holidays and school breaks; avoiding popular vacation dates can help you travel cheap. Research destinations with significant price differences based on the season to maximize your savings.

Set a travel budget

Break down your travel expenses into categories such as transportation, accommodation, food, and activities. Research the typical costs for each category in your chosen destination. That will give you an idea of how much your trip will cost. Create a sample budget template to help you stay on track and avoid overspending. You can apply the same principles you’d use to make a budget for your day-to-day finances; just create a miniature version specifically for your trip.  

Save for travel

Once you know what your vacation will cost, set a savings goal so you can put aside money to fund your excursion. Start building a fund for your trip by saving a portion of each paycheck, and consider keeping it in a high-yield savings account or money market account so it earns interest. If you want to fill your travel fund faster, look for ways to save money on your living expenses; every little bit helps and adds up over time.

Save on flights for cheaper travel

Use flight comparison websites

Comparison shopping can help you uncover the best deals on flights. There are many online flight comparison tools you can use to locate the lowest-cost airline for your vacation plans. These websites aggregate data from various airlines, making it easy to compare prices. Set alerts for price drops to ensure you get the lowest possible fare.  

Be flexible with dates and destinations

If you can keep your travel dates and destinations flexible, you may find significant savings. Check the websites of various airlines to see which days of the week have the lowest fares; for example, flying midweek often results in lower prices compared to weekend travel. And if you’re open to a variety of possible destinations, use an online tool to search for the cheapest destinations from your departure city. You can often travel cheap if you’re open to visiting a variety of places based on current prices. 

Take advantage of airline sales and promotions

Many airlines offer sales and special promotions, so stay alert for savings opportunities. You can sign up for airline newsletters and join loyalty programs to receive notifications about upcoming deals. Some airlines offer exclusive discounts to their frequent-flyer members, so consider joining programs to get cheap travel discounts.

Use credit card points and miles

If you have a travel rewards credit card, use it to earn points and miles for your purchases. Strategies like booking through the card’s travel portal or taking advantage of sign-up bonuses can help you accumulate points faster, leading to free or discounted flights. If you use a credit card to get travel rewards, however, be careful not to rack up credit card debt that will come back to bite you later. Paying off your balance in full each month can allow you to earn discounts on flights without piling up interest payments. 

Consider ground transportation

Busses and trains

You don’t necessarily have to take to the air to get where you’re going. If your destination isn’t too far away, hopping on a bus or train can make travel cheap. It will take you longer to reach your vacation spot, but for many people, the journey is part of the fun. You’ll get to see a bit of the country as you travel. 

Road trips and ride shares

When gas prices are lower, driving can be less expensive than a flight, bus, or train. If hitting the open road appeals to you, calculate your car’s miles-per-gallon and figure out how much it will cost to drive to your destination based on current gas prices. For an even cheaper option, you can sign up for a ride-sharing platform that connects you with drivers heading to your destination, so you can split travel costs. 

Choose lower-cost accommodations

Hostels and guesthouses

Hotels can be expensive, so consider staying in low-cost hostels or guesthouses. If you don’t mind sharing a room with other travelers, you can often get even lower prices. Many of these options also provide communal kitchens, so you can save money on dining out during your stay.

Vacation rentals and homestays

Online platforms that allow people to rent out their vacation homes or rooms in their house can offer competitive prices. Look for listings with positive reviews and responsive hosts. Staying in a local’s home can also provide a more authentic experience; you may even make a new friend.

Couchsurfing and house sitting

Couchsurfing allows you to stay with locals for a low cost or even free, offering a unique cultural exchange experience. House sitting is another way to travel cheap, offering free accommodation in exchange for caring for someone’s home while they’re away. Some homeowners will even pay house sitters for taking care of their property. You’ll find multiple websites that connect travelers with people who want a guest to stay in their home.


Camping is a low-cost accommodation option that allows you to enjoy the beauty of nature too. As long as you don’t have to invest a lot of money in camping equipment, you can travel cheap by staying in the great outdoors. If you don’t have gear of your own, consider asking an outdoorsy friend to loan you what you need.  

Budget motels

Fancy hotels that come with a lot of amenities also come with a high cost. A budget motel that provides the basics may be all you need to enjoy your trip. If you’re going to be spending your time exploring your destination instead of hanging around your lodging, extravagant accommodations might not be worth the money.

Get around town for less

Public transportation

Using public transportation is often the most affordable way to get around when you reach your destination. Download apps for the public transportation options in the city you’re visiting so you can easily navigate. Many cities also offer multi-day transit passes that provide unlimited travel for a fixed price.

Ridesharing and car rentals

If you need a car during your trip, you might use a ridesharing app for short distances; if you avoid surge pricing during busy times of day, this can be more affordable than renting a car. If you do rent a car, you could save money by using a service that allows you to rent by the hour instead of booking a car for the entire duration of your stay.

Dine on a dime for cheaper travel

Local markets and street food

Eating at local markets and trying street food can save you money while providing authentic culinary experiences. Look for stalls with long lines, as they often indicate good quality and hygiene. Always check the food’s freshness and cleanliness before eating.

Cooking your own meals

If you stay somewhere with kitchen facilities, you can cook your own meals. Shop at local grocery stores and prepare simple dishes to save on dining expenses. This also gives you the opportunity to try local ingredients and flavors.

Budget-friendly restaurants

Search for local restaurants on review websites to find low-cost food spots. You can often see pictures of restaurant menus on these sites so you know exactly what your meal will cost. And user reviews can tip you off to particularly delicious options that are easy on your wallet. 

Meal deals and discounts

Take advantage of lunch specials, happy hours, and other meal deals to save money. Joining loyalty programs for restaurant chains can also provide discounts and special offers. And if you’re over 55, don’t be afraid to ask if a restaurant offers a senior discount.

Find affordable fun

Exploring nature

Nature offers a wealth of free and cheap activities, from hiking and beachcombing to birdwatching and stargazing. Many public spaces are free to enjoy, and entrance fees to national parks are often quite low. 

Cultural and historical sites

Many cultural and historical sites offer free or low-cost entry. Museums, monuments, and local events often have discounted admission on certain days. Take advantage of free walking tours to learn more about your destination’s history and culture.

City passes and attraction bundles

Purchasing city passes can save you money on multiple attractions. These passes often include entry to museums, landmarks, and even public transportation. Research and buy attraction bundles in advance to get the best deals.

Student and membership discounts

If you’re a student or a member of certain organizations, you may be eligible for travel discounts. Carry your student ID or membership card and ask about discounts at museums, theaters, and other attractions. 

3 bonus tips to travel cheap

#1: Pack light to save on baggage fees

Packing efficiently can help you avoid checked baggage fees. Use packing cubes and roll your clothes to maximize space. Create a packing list with essentials only to keep your luggage light and manageable.

#2: Get travel insurance

If you’re planning how to travel cheaply, you may be tempted to skip travel insurance. But that can wind up costing you more in the long run if your plans go awry. Travel insurance provides coverage for unexpected expenses like medical emergencies and trip cancellations, and by comparison shopping, you can find affordable policies. 

#3: Save on phone and wi-fi costs

Staying connected while traveling doesn’t have to be expensive. If you’re leaving the country, use local SIM cards and portable wi-fi devices to avoid high roaming charges. And if you’re staying in a motel that charges for wi-fi, tuck an ethernet cable into your bag so you can plug directly into the internet for free. 

Smart choices make travel cheap and fun 

When planning how to travel cheap, you may have to make some trade-offs. Think about what will make your trip truly rewarding to decide which expenses are worth splurging on and where you can go with low-cost options without undermining your enjoyment. 

Traveling on a budget is all about careful planning and smart choices, but it doesn’t mean sacrificing quality experiences. With a little creativity and flexibility, you can explore the world, meet new people, and create unforgettable memories. Start planning your next budget adventure today and see how far your smart financial planning can take you. 

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Written by

Tara Blaine

Tara Blaine draws on over 20 years of experience as a writer to translate seemingly complex financial ideas into insights readers can put to work in their everyday lives. She’s written personal finance education materials for numerous institutions, helping customers learn smart techniques for budgeting, overcoming debt, saving money, and planning for their long-term financial health.


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