Believe it or not, you don’t need to be excessively wealthy to travel. In fact, you don’t even need a cushy job or a stacked savings account to see the world. These days there are tons of cheap ways to travel domestically and internationally, from discount airlines, to home shares, to affordable activities.
If you do your research, get creative, and take a little advice, you can find all sorts of ways to travel for less and plan that trip (or trips) you’ve been pining after. Heck, if you do it right, you may even be able to travel for free. Here’s our expert advice on how to spend less money when you travel.
If you’re one of those spontaneous travelers, this may be the time to change up your process. Planning in advance can save you big bucks! Of course, there are always those rare last-minute deals, but in general you’ll be able to compare prices and get better advanced rates on airfare, car rental, and accommodations if you plan and book in advance. Airfare, for example, is very volatile. But if you’ve spent some time checking out rates you’ll know a good deal when you see one.
Creating a budget for your trip is another helpful way to save and stay within your limits. It also helps you prioritize what you actually want to spend money on versus what you’re willing to cut out or save on. For example, maybe you need a big food budget but you’re okay staying in more simple accommodations. These are things to iron out before you start your trip so you know how to spend once you get to the destination.
A budget also helps ease some of the burden while you’re actually traveling. If you know your limits, you won’t be stuck checking your bank account to see if you can afford those museum tickets.
The combination of budgeting and planning can oddly enough give you some flexibility in your trip. Say you unexpectedly scored on a super cheap hotel room, but you had budgeted for something more expensive. Well, now you have more cash to spend on a better meal or better rental car— whatever you’re into.
Prepare for your trip by opening up a travel credit card a few months before you start booking.
You can easily rack up the miles and get your flight for free if you play it right. You can use these miles for flights or hotels and rental cars too. To do it right, find a credit card that offers a sign-up bonus with a big chunk of miles at the beginning (we’re talking 50,000+) and ideally one that doesn’t have a huge annual fee, or at least waives it the first year. When you redeem your miles for flights, these credit cards will usually give you a free checked bag too, which can save you tons of money if you’re checking luggage.
If you already have a travel credit card, or use various ones frequently, you may end up with straggler miles that are unlikely to ever get you a full flight. These are perfect for hotels and rentals— you’ll be surprised as to what you can find and book with so few miles.
Flexibility in travel is important no matter what and even more so when it comes to your travel dates. If you can, travel when other people aren’t. This could mean flying mid-week or not booking certain hotels over the weekends to avoid the crowds and high rates.
Traveling during off-season, especially if you’re going to a very seasonal destination, like mountains near a ski resort, is another great way to save some cash. Keep in mind that some hotels may close during the season, but there are always options. You may have to deal with more intense weather patterns and temperatures, but you’ll avoid the crowds, get a better feel for the local scene, and spend less money in the process.
If you’re not sure how to find the best deals, check aggregate websites like Priceline or Expedia for accommodations, rental cars, or flights. You can also use pages like Skyscanner or Kayak to look for flight deals, which work particularly well if you have flexible dates.
You may have a very specific destination in mind for your vacation, but do some research before jumping at that flight deal. Big cities like New York or San Francisco, for example, may have a lot of flight options but once you get into booking the accommodations, food, and activities, you may be shocked by the high prices. This is particularly important if you’re coming from a relatively inexpensive city.
Choosing the right destination becomes even more crucial when you travel abroad. But sometimes this can work in your favor. Say you want to head to Spain, but you find out that rates in Barcelona are way outside your budget. In this case you can check smaller towns or other areas of the country to find better rates. And you’ll probably have a far more authentic experience in the process.
You also want to keep in mind exchange rates when traveling abroad. It may be cheap to fly to London, but the pound will really get you. Do the math and see if heading to a cheaper destination (even if the flight is a little more) could actually save you money in the long run.
There are all sorts of ways to save on transportation. If flights are pricey and you have the time, turn your vacation into a full-on road trip. As you drive you can use certain apps that direct you to the cheapest gas stations to help you save on fuel too.
Instead of calling Ubers or taxis, use public transportation. Rail and metro passes are a great way to save on transportation and get to know what life is really like at your destination. Even better: bring your best walking shoes and walk when you can! Walking from place to place is one of the best ways to get to know a lot of cities in the world, especially if you’re in Europe. Many cities also have phenomenal public bike services, which are great for the environment, your health, and your wallet.
Hotels can really rack up the price of your travels unless you find a great deal. Luckily, there are tons of other options to help you save when it comes to choosing your accommodations.
If you’re flexible and okay with communal bathrooms, sleeping quarters, and bunk beds, hostels are a serious money saver. You can find deals as cheap as $10 a night, and sometimes that includes breakfast. Many hostels also have options for private rooms, which are very affordable too.
Couch surfing is a members-only network of hosts and travelers that lets you crash on other members’ couches (or sometimes actual rooms and beds) for free all over the world. They also organize events for travelers and locals so you can really get to know the city.
For vacation rentals by owners or to rent people’s homes all over the world, websites like Airbnb are great for saving money. There are all sorts of styles of houses and rooms for any traveler, no matter your budget.
This is a super good option if you’re traveling in a group. You can divvy up the costs and you’ll likely have access to some kind of kitchen where you can make a few meals instead of eating out every night. Also check out full-on home exchanges that let you completely swap houses with someone else.
Whether it’s a full-on backpacking or more of a glamping style situation, sleeping in the great outdoors is a fantastic money-saver. It’s also a great way to reconnect with nature and create a whole different style of outdoor vacation where you can really disconnect. Sometimes those are the most relaxing of all. Also check out camper van rentals for a mobile vacation experience.
One of the best ways to find the best prices while you’re traveling is to talk to locals. If you’re in a city that’s loaded with tourists, it can be easy to get sucked into expensive tourist traps. Whether it’s a restaurant, activity, or a simple shop, lots of places jack up the prices to people who aren’t familiar with local fare.
Chat with locals and find out where they’re eating on Saturday night or where you should buy the coolest local goods. They can give you tips and tricks and not only will you save money, but you’ll have a more authentic and enriching travel experience.
Eating out every meal is a sure way to spend way too much on travel. If your accommodations allow it, try to cook as many meals as you can or buy foods from the grocery store that are easy to eat. You can also try and book hotels with free breakfast. If it’s big enough, it may even hold you over until dinnertime.
On the other hand, if food is a huge priority for you when you travel, try going for two cheap meals a day and splurging on just one nicer meal. That way you can still get a taste of the local flavor without breaking the bank. And like we said, stay clear of tourist traps that jack up the prices and often have pretty mediocre food.
Another option is to find hyper local dining experiences like EatWith. EatWith allows you to dine in people’s homes, be it a professional chef or a home cook. These experiences can often be cheaper and tastier than dining out, and they’re definitely the most authentic. Your hosts can probably offer you more tips and suggestions for how to enjoy the city like a local.
Discovering a new place doesn’t mean you should have to fork over hundreds of dollars for activities— there are always tons of free or inexpensive things to do. Plan your stay around free museum days, for example, or look into visiting museums that are always completely free.
Look for local events like free concerts or shows, and if you’re in a big city, check out their city pass and see how much you can save by hitting all the major sites. Lots of cities will also offer free walking tours where you simply tip your tour guide at the end of the tour. And if you’re a student? You may be able to score serious discounts at cultural and educational sites.
The common denominator in all of this is that sharing— whether it be a car, house, meal, or simply tips and tricks— is the best way to save money when you travel. So when you’re looking to rent a car or get yourself from one place to the other, check out Avail sharing. You’ll be able to borrow a car at a low price with full insurance coverage and no weird hidden fees. As one of the best cheap ways to travel, Avail can save you tons.
Sharing your car is one of the best, low-risk ways to start a car rental business. Click here to learn how to share your car with Avail!
You can rent a car before you’re 25, though it can get expensive. But with Avail, all drivers 21 and over pay the same daily rates.