Learn to travel on a budget but still have a blast!
On my bucket list… Travel the world.
One thing my husband and I have in common is that we both love to travel. We took our first trip together after five months of dating and we had a rockin’ time in Vegas.
Then it was off to Cabo San Lucas (where we got engaged), Chicago, and even a babymoon to Europe. Not in that order and I don’t recommend taking your first trip to Europe pregnant.
Even after we had baby number one, we continued to travel with him. A frequent joke in our house is how our baby looked on his passport and how neither one of us had been to Mexico until our 30s and our son had been three times!
So with this travel bug, we have learned to use our frugal ways to get by on very little while traveling and how to save on the cost of travel such as hotels, flights, and transportation so we can see more of the world.
In today’s post, I’m going to highlight these savings tips for you and teach you how to save money not only when booking a trip, but when you arrive at your destination too.
My husband should be writing this because he is the one that plans most of our trips – thank you, my love – but I will transport his ideas over to you. His job is to plan and my job is to pack but he has taught me a thing or two! Furthermore, travel is best when you work as a team.
20 Tips to Travel On a Budget and Still Have a Blast
1. Set A budget for Your Trip
Start planning early. Depending on where you want to go, start saving a year to two years in advance.
Do not go into debt for your travel. If you cannot afford to travel because you are in debt, pay off your debt first and then reward yourself with a trip.
Set up a separate savings account or sinking fund for travel.
Research your destination and calculate how much your trip will cost. Divide that by the amount of time you have to save and start setting aside money.
For example, if you are taking a trip that costs $2000 and you have two years to save, you would need to put away about $83 per month to cover the cost.
Here are some budget categories to consider for travel:
- airfare or gas
- rental car/transportation
- souvenirs (I don’t recommend buying a bunch of stuff on your trip. Instead take a lot of pictures and make a photo book later.)
Once you have calculated your estimated cost and budget, start saving. You can set aside a little each month until you have reached your goal.
I do not recommend going into debt for your trip, but if you save up for your travels you will have a much better time and not have to worry about money while you are relaxing.
Suggested Reading: What Should I Spend Money on if I Want to Splurge
2. Create a Plan for Your Budget Travel
When planning a trip, you have to think in advance. If you give yourself two years, you may want to start booking flights and hotels at least 6-8 months in advance to get the best deals. If you wait too long for airfare, you may end up spending WAY more or the budget flights will be unavailable.
Research shows booking travel in advance makes your brain happier because you have something to look forward to, so plan your trip in advance and think about your days on the beach when you are stressed out at work or home!
Suggested Reading: How to Set Goals and Stick to Them
3. Research and Use Comparison Sites to Save More on Travel
Comparison sites are great for finding cheap flights, hotels, and rental cars.
It also pays to check the hotel or airline before booking through one of these sites. Although the comparison sites are usually cheaper, I have found a cheaper hotel room by going to the hotel site directly so it doesn’t hurt to do your research before you book.
We also wait for coupons and discount days on Spirit airlines. Although some complain Spirit is not the best airline, we have had great success flying with them and would highly recommend them. It is true they do not give peanuts and pop, but when you are saving over $100 per flight, you can easily bring your own and pay the $3 for airport water or better yet, bring a water bottle and refill it.
We often use the following to compare prices for our budget travel:
Are you thinking of doing an express deal on Priceline or other comparison sites but are concerned because they do not tell you the hotel name until you pay?
If this is a concern, there is a trick to getting a good hotel room.
Here is my husband’s secret tip:
After checking out the amenities and star-rating on the express deal, check the site betterbidding.com to find out what hotel other people ended up in, within the same area.
Also, check the amenities on the hotel’s website. Oftentimes, you can narrow it down to one or two hotels because one may allow pets or have an indoor pool.
My husband has always got the hotel he was expecting, except once. However, the hotel we got was still very nice and comparable to the hotel he originally thought we would get.
4. Use Rakuten for Money Back on Travel
Many people do not realize you can use Ebates for travel sites. This is where we have made our most cashback and got a HUGE big fat check from Rakuten. The following travel sites are listed on Rakuten:
For those of you that don’t know what Rakuten is…
Ebates is a site that gives you a percentage back of what you spend after shopping through the site. Many travel sites offer 3-5% cashback but others have up to 10%. If you are spending $100 on a hotel room, that is $10 back per night or $70 for the entire week. Use that money for food expenses while traveling.
Check it out and receive a $10 sign-up bonus.
5. Groupon for Budget Travel Activities
Don’t forget to get your Groupon. Check your destination city on Groupon and see if there are any local deals in the area.
Most times, you can use the Groupon app on your phone so you don’t have to worry about printing and remembering your voucher.
On our last Florida trip, we bought a Groupon for a Pirate ship ride for a much lower rate. We also used a Groupon for a wine tour in Northern Michigan.
It pays to check this site.
- 10 Best Cheap Places to Travel in the US
- Top Money Hacks That Will Save You Thousands
- 400 Money-Saving Tips
6. Discount gift cards for Food and Entertainment
Last year we went to Florida and my husband bought discount gift cards at Costco for the Cheesecake Factory. Check other sites such as Cardpool.com to find gift cards for your favorite restaurants, shopping, and/or movies.
You can save 10-20% off by buying your gift cards ahead of time and you can use restaurant coupons as well for more savings.
7. When you Arrive Save on Transportation to Your Hotel
If you are flying, check to see if your hotel provides transportation to and from the airport. This will depend on where you are staying, but when we visited Mexico the hotel provided transportation pick up from the airport and we were responsible for our trip back to the airport. Make sure you read the fine print because you don’t want to be stuck on the day of departure. Although, you can always take a cab and share it to save money.
If you are renting a car, check your comparison sites. If not, you can use Uber or Lyft if it is available in the area for a much cheaper ride than a taxi. We have used Lyft several times on trips and have had excellent service.
Suggested Reading: Lyft: How to Earn Easy Money Using Your Car
8. Save on Food
Love going out to eat on vacation? NO problem. Pick one meal a day to eat out, preferably for breakfast or lunch because it is cheaper.
Then go to your local grocery store and stock up on snacks and food so you are not tempted to order overpriced food at the pool.
True story…We once bought an $8 jar of peanut butter in Mexico which was a TOTAL rip off, but it was WAY cheaper than buying $20 hamburgers all week. So $8 for lunch all week was actually a bargain. Would I ever pay that at home? NO WAY!
9. Use Amazon Delivery to Save on Travel Food and Toiletries
Check your area and hotel/resort policy before doing this, but you can have an Amazon shipment sent to your hotel for items you need including food and toiletries. You can spend more time at the beach and less time shopping.
Check out Amazon and see if this will work for you.
Make sure to check your hotel policy. I know Disney does not allow this, but many other hotels will allow you to have your items shipped.
Need More Budget Travel Tips? Keep Reading…
10. Save on Transportation When You Arrive
Ask yourself, do you really need a car?
The last time we went to Ft. Lauderdale Florida, we did not rent a car. We took a Lyft from the airport and another Lyft to Lauderdale by the sea – a cool area we wanted to check out that was not walkable.
Other than that, the rest of our attractions were within walking distance or we took the free trolly to the Children’s museum. There was a grocery store within walking distance and many restaurants and a mall. Since we were planning on hanging out at the beach most of the time, we didn’t need a car. We saved at least $400-500 by walking and getting in our steps.
11. Find Free or Budget Activities
Find free activities at your travel destination. Here are some great ideas for a beach town:
- walk on the beach
- walk on the pier
- sandcastle contest
- free classes offered by your hotel
- local music
When you arrive at your destination, make sure to check out the city website or chamber of commerce for events in the area. You may be able to find free entertainment, music, or festivals.
12. Be Flexible With Travel Dates and Save More
My husband and I always joke that if we were retired, we would travel all the time. He finds flights on Spirit for $25 one-way, but many times work gets in the way. If you are flexible with your travel dates, you can travel for WAY less.
If you go during peak times such as Holidays, School Breaks, and Summer for some areas, you will end up paying WAY more for the same vacation during off-peak times.
People think we are nuts for traveling to Florida during the summer because of the heat. We hang out by the ocean and catch the breeze and we are just fine! However, we pay much less for traveling during August.
13. Pack Light to Save on Baggage Fees
I have my budget packing down to a science. I pack one bag that must weigh under 40 pounds on Spirit and the rest of our stuff in our personal item backpacks.
We also take our car seat with a cover and stuff extra stuff in the bag such as sand toys and flip-flops. So yes, one bag for a family of four.
If you have small children, you are also allowed to bring a diaper bag, in which you can stuff a few diapers, and add more clothing and toys for the kids if needed. Just buy more diapers when you arrive.
We realized long ago we didn’t need a lot of dress-up clothing when traveling with kids. Usually, we go out to eat two or three times and grab the rest of our food either by the pool or from the grocery store.
We double up on shorts and bring multiple shirts that will match the same shorts. I tuck my shoes on the sides of the suitcase and still manage to bring at least four pairs of shoes or flip-flops and I put an extra pair of shoes in my son’s backpacks as well as sweatshirts for chilly nights or the airplane.
I roll all of our clothing to save space and leave room for my travel-sized toiletries. Sometimes we will buy toiletries when we get to our travel destination because it is cheaper to buy the full-sized when you arrive than spend $50-$100 for another checked bag.
14. Save on Alcohol
Most places do not care or check if you brought your own alcohol to the pool or have a drink in your room. Instead of ordering a $10 glass of wine from room service, buy a bottle and have a drink and relax each night.
The last resort we stayed at was charging $12 for a pina colada. We always treat ourselves to at least one on our trips to the beach, but we waited until happy hour – or should I say a happier hour? – and got buy one get one free! This brought the cost down to $6 per drink!
Normally we just buy our own drinks, but I am not pulling a blender out on vacation, so I will let them do the messy work!
15. Sign up for Airline Miles for Free Travel Rewards
Sign up for your favorite airline’s rewards program and earn travel points or frequent flyer miles to help pay for your travel.
Some people even travel for free using rewards points from credit cards.
I do advise you to read the fine print before signing up for travel rewards with a credit card because some charge a fee and make it difficult to use your miles.
For instance, I had a Delta credit card and the major perk was two free tickets to the lounge with free food at the airport for signing up. I also earned rewards on everyday purchases and got a free companion travel voucher every year when I bought one ticket at full price. Mind you, this card had a $100 annual fee (free for the first year).
However, whenever I tried to use my companion ticket -they only allow so many on each flight – I was unable to. So paying the $100 fee was not worth it unless you are really flexible with your travel.
Yet, if you are using the free airline programs, it will definitely pay off to sign up for the rewards points and use them. After a few trips, you will be able to receive a discount or possibly a free flight so keep track and check your points often. Although not all airlines do this, make sure you check to see if your miles expire.
Check out The Frugal Travel Guy for updates on frequent flyer credit cards and offers.
16. Take the Bump
One reason my husband and I were able to go to Europe is we decided to take a bump on our honeymoon.
At times, airlines overbook and offer lucrative rewards if you give up your seat and fly a later flight.
You must act fast because if they announce this, many people try to take advantage and it is first-come, first-serve if they announce it at the gate.
Other times, they will ask when you check-in. This makes it easier because you have not gone through security yet. If you have a long wait, you could potentially leave the airport.
On our honeymoon, we were both offered an $800 travel voucher for taking a bump. However, we only ended up with one $800 credit and one $400 credit for the bump. We should have both got $800 and this is what we were originally offered but unfortunately, this guy that was standing right by the gate wearing headphones missed his flight. Since there was an open spot they decreased our voucher. BUMMER! – Thanks, random guy for not listening.
Anyway, we ended up with $1200 worth of free flights and we got to ride first class on the way home, just for waiting around six hours for the next flight. If you think about it, that’s $200 per hour to just sit and read a book!
We do not do this anymore since we have kids, but if you are flexible, it pays to take the bump. Waiting a few hours is a minor inconvenience if you love to travel.
17. Save on Flights by Traveling on Tuesdays
According to usatoday.com Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday are the cheapest day to fly. If you can plan your flight from Tuesday to Tuesday, you will save on your trip.
If you fly on popular days or holidays, your flight cost can be double or triple the price so try to be flexible.
18. Save on Your Lodging by Using Airbnb.com
If you are looking to save on hotel rooms, Airbnb is the way to go. You can rent an entire house and be WAY more comfortable at a lower price than what you would pay at a hotel. Do some comparison checking and see if it is worth it.
Make sure you check the reviews before you book, because just like any business there are Airbnb horror stories, but for the most part you will find a better deal for a bigger room.
My parents were bummed because they wanted to stay at the same hotel as us in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, but there were no rooms left. However, they found Airbnb rentals at the same place listed as a condo because we were staying in a suite. So it pays to check Airbnb.
19. Travel on a Budget Together
Rent a Condo with another couple or family and split the cost. This works great if you have friends with kids that same age as yours. Then they have a built-in playmate for the entire trip.
20. Make a Travel Budget
Just because you are on a vacation, doesn’t mean you should totally blow your budget.
I started this during my college spring break because well, I really didn’t have much spending money. I wanted to be able to go out and hang with my friends so I took my cash and divided it by seven days. That was my daily budget. For example, if you are bringing $500 spending cash and you will be there for five days, you have a budget of $100 per day.
If you do not spend it all, carry it over to the next day and if there is money left at the end of your trip, put it away for the next trip!
How to Travel on a Budget and Still Have Fun Conclusion:
If you plan on traveling and don’t want to spend a lot of money, I hope my tips help you live your dream. It is possible to travel without breaking your budget and still continue living within your means.
My husband and I live a frugal life and we have paid off all of our debt (except our mortgage) which allows us to travel more and this is really important to us.
We have priorities and we would rather put $200 away for a trip than go out to the mall and have dinner over the weekend. So we use my 75 Frugal Living Tips and eat out in a frugal way, but we still manage to save and see the sites.
I hope you are able to as well!
Take care – Sarah