5 Tips for Traveling on a Budget

Everyone deserves the mind-blowing sensation that comes from traveling, and experiencing something completely new — something that you can’t quite get from a book, or your own back yard. Many of us yearn to know what’s out there on the other side of a flight or road trip. So what’s stopping us? Why aren’t we constantly jet-setting?

Sometimes our hard-earned dollars don’t seem to stretch quite far enough to fund all the dream vacations we might want to take.

However, there are ways to travel efficiently enough and still afford rent, groceries, health insurance, personal necessities, and all the goodies we want from BLINQ.com.

In addition to getting all your travel necessities, like luggage, from BLINQ up to 85% off (hint, hint), I have compiled a list of a few of my other favorite tips for how to travel on a budget. So get ready to spread those toes out in the sand or break in your walking shoes!
5 Tips for Traveling on a Budget

1) Be Open to Unconventional Vacations

Tokyo. Paris. London. Amsterdam. New York City. Singapore. These are all very desirable locations to visit, and also some of the most expensive destinations. I’m not telling you to rule these out immediately, nor am I encouraging you to quell your dreams of ever visiting.

However, you should absolutely always look beyond the obvious when planning your trip. There are reasons why these places are swarmed with tourists and consistently pricey; and there are just as many rewarding reasons to consider alternative (and more frugal!) destinations.

There are various approaches when seeking the unconventional. On a small scale, consider staying in neighboring towns and villages where you can access that ultimate dream destination.

Here I’ll draw from my personal experience studying abroad in France. Instead of staying in Nice, France, when I went to visit, I did a bit of research to find a cute spot in the neighboring village of Menton. My costs for where I stayed were two-thirds of the price of comparable places in Nice, provided all of the gorgeous Mediterranean views, and it was only a two euro and 20-minute train ride into Nice’s central train station for all of the perks I was seeking in the city.

Menton, France (Photo Credit: Erin Strine Photography)

Menton, France (Photo Credit: Erin Strine Photography)

On a larger scale, you could also consider more under-the-radar destinations to visit. Consider the vibe you’re seeking–whether beach, mountains, city, or something in between–and I guarantee you can find it somewhere with more reasonable flight prices and daily living expenses.

Though, be sure to investigate crime rates and what to expect on certain alternative settings (as well as for any destination, really). Be aware of your surroundings, and know what you need to do to keep safe, and not blow your whole budget by virtue of a stolen wallet or bag.

Moral of the story? Consider simple alternatives and do a bit of extra research, and you’ll save big.

2) Set a Budget Based on Where You’re Going

Remember those daily expenses I just mentioned? They’re important when you’re planning how to spend your money. Personally, I think they should factor a great deal into choosing a location; if the transportation, lodging, and living costs are lower, you’ll be able to do more.

Regardless, once you’ve determined a location to visit, do a little research about how much it costs to buy food there, and how much you’ll be spending each day on lodging, and other essential expenses. The key to traveling on a low or fixed budget is being aware of each possible cost that you might incur, and therefore knowing just how far your money can take you.

This way, you can have a general idea of how much you’ll need to get by so that you don’t have too many unexpected costs, and you avoid that horrible sensation of checking your bank statement and wondering, “oh my gosh, where did my money go???” If you factor in average everyday expenses, you’ll have a much better idea of how much of your budget you can devote to other nonessential expenses. Read: fun!

p.s. A bonus to knowing what to expect with expenses will also prevent you from being ripped off. If you know that a cab ride or bus fare should only cost roughly $5 USD, you’ll know to say no to the cabby offering to take you for $30.  Pro tip: always ask your driver for an estimate before you go if they’re not turning on the meter.

3) Plan To Splurge

5 Tips for Traveling on a Budget

One of my favorite splurges in Paris!

It may seem counterintuitive to discuss splurging in this article. However, traveling is the ultimate investment in amazing memories. When you’re on the road, you’re going to want to treat yourself to a few special experiences here and there. Once you’ve determined how much of your budget you have left over for these splurges, you must decide ahead of time in which experiences you’re going to invest more to avoid blowing money on impulse buys. You need to plan these investments out just as crucially as your living expenses and essentials.

Part of this planning means deciding how you like to experience a destination and culture, and where you can tolerate cutting corners.

Here are some ways to determine your priorities:

  • Do you like to go to nice restaurants or would you rather check out that cool looking food stand?
  • Do you drink, and if so will you be buying your drinks out?
  • Are you open to public transportation and ride sharing or will you be taking cabs?
  • Will you stay in a hostel if it is an option, or do you feel more comfortable in a hotel?

Bottom line: Don’t throw your money around buying things that you don’t really want, so that ultimately you can’t afford what you were really looking for.

4) Build in Flex Money

It’s a pretty natural inclination to want to stretch your dollar just as far as it can possible take you. We’ve also spent a fair amount of time discussing the importance of being aware of what your expenses will be. But, we’re only human. There is no way for you to know exactly how much everything is going to cost you, and you also can’t anticipate every little kink in the plan.

To avoid not having enough money for unplanned hospital trips (this coming from the girl who needed stitches while out of the country), or for cab money when you’re running late catching your flight home, build in extra cushion money.

The last thing that any of us want is to be caught without money that we need for an emergency or even that unique souvenir discovery that we come across and “must” have after all of our fun budget is spent. You definitely don’t want to have to dip further into your savings account, or your money saved up for expenses back at home.

Side tip: You may want to consider purchasing traveler’s insurance (particularly traveler’s health insurance). There are affordable options available, and this added precaution could save you big time in a pinch (See also: stitches).

5) Be Aware of Hidden and Avoidable Fees

An important part of maintaining a strict budget is ensuring that you maximize every dollar. While traveling you should be aware of certain hidden and avoidable fees so that you don’t waste money that could have been either saved or spent in a much more interesting way. This is especially important to consider if you are traveling outside of the US.

My first pointer is to always read the fine print. It’s common for American airlines and travel services to print your boarding pass for you, and to offer complimentary bag checking services. That is not always the case. Many airlines, particularly budget airlines, will try to make more of a profit off of fees for services that one might assume are always free.

5 Tips for Traveling on a BudgetIn order to avoid these charges, research baggage fees and restrictions ahead of time, and challenge yourself to pack light. My friends and I like to make a game out of who can pack the smallest bag (points gained for the most compact packing, and deducted for the traveler’s foul of packing so lightly that you smell for the rest of the trip from wearing the same outfit the entire time).

My second and final pointer is to minimize exchange rate penalties and pesky ATM fees.

There are several approaches to this, so I’ll give you my top three:

  • Use a credit card when possible as they tend to have the best rates on foreign transactions (as compared to ATMs and debit cards).
  • When using your credit card, always be sure to choose the local currency when given the option. If you convert to USD, you’ll waste money on conversion rates.
  • Be mindful of where you’re using the ATM. It will be more expensive in those convenient, obvious locations such as the airport or your hotel. Seriously, whopping fees in comparison to the average.

I personally found these three tips to be the least obvious, and they saved me the most in the long run; but I encourage you to do research on banking options and other ways to save on fees.

You made it!

Thank you for sticking with me through this article. I hope that these pointers are helpful in planning an enjoyable next venture.


Author: Claire

Claire is passionate about travel, grammatical correctness, and Carolina Basketball. When she isn't writing, you can find her being overly competitive at sports, brushing up on French literature, or relaxing at her favorite brunch spot.

4 thoughts on “5 Tips for Traveling on a Budget

  1. AvatarJacqueline Chavez

    Great pointer about the bag check-ins! I didn’t know until recently that you could avoid those fees.

  2. AvatarRobRob@TravelLatte(.net)

    Some of the biggest expenses and best places to save are tours and excursions. Like you said, investigate costs and alternatives, but also inclusions. A more expensive tour on the surface may actually save in the long run by including meals or multiple venues, for example. City Passes are a great way to save, too, but be sure they cover the places you actually want to go.

  3. AvatarJohn

    Good point about ATMs—when I travel, I only use ATMs in established banks—helps protect against fraud too!

  4. Pingback: 7 Ways to Splurge without Breaking the Bank - Color Me Frugal

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