The Ultimate Guide to Traveling on a Budget

How to travel and enjoy without breaking your bank? Here is your ultimate guide before planning your vacation.

Adventures can be had even with the shortest of travels, and memories that will last a lifetime are often made on these adventures. I want to go to all of the fifty states, as well as Canada and Mexico. My bucket list also has a list of world landmarks that I hope to visit when my kids are older.  But how can I take my family to all the places I dream of without spending a ton of money? Can you travel on a budget? In the hopes of creating memories with my kids, I've looked into this question and the answer appears to be a resounding yes. Here, I will share with you the ultimate guide to traveling on a budget.

This guide is quite long, so we provided anchor links to help you jump to sections that interest you. You can also choose to read this article chronologically.

Let's jump in and find out how you can travel the world without breaking the bank.

How to Get There

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Transportation represents one of the largest parts of your travel budget, so big savings here will definitely make a difference. Are you looking to travel to an exotic locale or will the next state over do? Maybe you want to drive to a town or two away from home?

  1. Cheap flights: Airfare can make a huge dent in your vacation budget. Using the right search engines to book, searching in “incognito browser” mode to avoid inflated prices from a remembered search, and utilizing frequent flyer or other plane-fare points are all important steps to booking the cheapest flight available for your long-distance journey. Check out this blog post from Thrifty Nomads (@thriftynomads)for more budget-friendly flight planning tips.
  2. Carpools: Of course, carpooling or ride sharing to your vacation destination only works if you're staying in-country or traveling to a country near yours (i.e., US to Canada), but it is a definite money-saver. (@familiescom) has some great tips to get you started on your carpooling vacation here, including considerations on who you carpool with and whether you should rent a car or bring your own.
  3. Cruise ships: Ships are perhaps the oldest means of cross-country travel, but are by no means the cheapest. If you decide that cruising the world is your ideal vacation, Quick and Dirty Tips (@quickdirtytips) has the run-down on how to get the best deals, from booking your own shore excursions to the ins and outs of the ship's various policies. Knowing them can save you a lot of money.
  4. Train: Although no longer a common means of travel here in the US, I was pleasantly surprised while planning our next vacation to find that trains are still a popular, budget-friendly means of transportation in Europe. If your next vacation is taking you overseas, look into these money-saving tips on train travel from Rail Europe (@raileurope).
  5. Bus: Almost as uncommon as train travel, bus travel can save you money and present a unique opportunity to view the country as you go. Go! Girl Guides (@GoGirlGuides) has all the tips and tricks to getting the most for your money with cross-country bus travel in this article.

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Where to Stay

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In order to travel, having somewhere to stay is necessary. Do you plan to stay in a hotel? Do you know people in the area, or feel comfortable renting space in a stranger's home? Read on to learn how to get the best prices for your travel accommodation needs.

  1. Couchsurfing: Couch surfing has become a worldwide traveling phenomenon, thanks to various websites where hosts and guests can contact each other. For example, Couchsurfing (@Couchsurfing) lets you connect with people in your destination who are willing to put you up for a certain length of time. Explore the basics and learn more about Couchsurfing and its mission to see if this might be a good fit for your next vacation.
  2. Hotel: Hotels make for great lodgings since they offer comfort and conveniences that you may not have at home. There's the added bonus of you not having to make the bed yourself.  However, they are notoriously expensive. Use these tips from NerdWallet (@NerdWallet). Ideas include taking advantage of affiliations such as AAA and student discounts to save money on your next hotel stay.
  3. Bed and breakfast: My hometown boasts one of the most popular BnBs in the area, so I must admit I'm a bit biased towards these cozy lodgings as a result. I adore bed and breakfasts, with their charm and comfortable atmosphere. You may think a stay at a BnB would be an expense you can't afford on a tight budget, but check out this article from Independent Traveler (@TravelEditor). You may be surprised to learn that BnBs are a frugal option.
  4. Hostels: Hostels are found all over the world, for as low as $10 a night per person in some countries. Hostels have increased in popularity over the years, and their low prices leave no mystery as to why that is. Money Crashers (@MoneyCrashers) gives the skinny on pros and cons of hostel life in this article.
  5. House Swapping: Love Actually was a fairly accurate portrayal of house swapping — you log into a house swapping website, make a profile, and begin an exchange with someone in your destination area. You want to see if you can swap houses with them for the duration of your travels. Hopefully, the person you entrust your home to in the exchange will keep your home well-cared for in your absence, as you will do for theirs. Love Home Swap (@LoveHomeSwap) has some great tips on how to get started.

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How to Save on Food

Of course, a full stomach is very important to enjoy your travel. There are a few ways to save on food without compromising the travel.
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Eating is a necessary and enjoyable part of traveling. I definitely want my kids  to experience the unique flavors of different cultures. There are lots of ways that you can save money on your food budget on the road. My family loves food but we have certain dietary restrictions. That's why I have paid special attention to this part of our vacation budget.

  1. Bring your own: As this article from One Good Thing By Jillee (@byjillee) points out, the average family can spend up to $100 on a single meal during vacation. In the same article, you'll find tips on stocking up groceries to take with you on your next vacation. With these groceries, you can make your food in your hotel room and save hundreds of dollars. Bringing your own food may also be the best option if you have specific dietary needs or restrictions. This way, you can eat without fear of cross-contamination or allergies.
  2. Buffets: For roughly $15 a person, buffets are a pretty popular vacation eating destination in my large family. As Nomadic Matt (@nomadicmatt) reminds us in this blog post, you can eat at a buffet for one meal and find yourself full for the whole day, or at least with plenty of leftovers to take with you for a light dinner.
  3. Picnic: Who doesn't love a good picnic? By stopping at a local grocery store, you can easily save money on your vacation budget. The Savvy Backpacker (@SavvyBackpacker) offers a few insights on picnicking during your travels in this handy blog. A picnic will also offer a great opportunity to interact with the locals and get the low-down on the best places to sight-see.
  4. Street vendors: In most larger cities, and even a few smaller ones, there are various food vendors set up along the street. They sell everything from local cuisine to their take on exotic dishes, usually at a fraction of the cost of a traditional venue. For tips on street vendor food safety and quality before you partake, check out this article from Etrampming (@Angesstramp).
  5. Local food: Eating as the locals do, especially if you're traveling in another country, can save you money and a stomachache. I know, I know – sometimes you just have to have a slice of pizza. But if you're in China, pizza is most likely going to cost you more than some lo mein. As Gadling (@Gadling) shares in this article, you can save up to the three-fourths of the cost eating at local, popular restaurants versus more “touristy” places.

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What to Do When You Get There

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Whew! You've gotten to your destination, checked into your accommodations, and remembered to eat. Now, what do you do? The possibilities are endless if you know where to look.

  1. Sightseeing: Generally a free activity, or at least rather cheap, sightseeing is a great way to get in touch with the local culture and history. Whether you travel in-country or out, you can always learn something you never knew before about your destination. Although your sightseeing activities will vary depending on your plans, Free Tours By Foot (@FreeToursByFoot) offers this guide to New York City, as a starting point for you.
  2. Street performers: One of my favorite vacation spots is within the US – St Augustine. As in many places around the globe, St Augustine is home to some very talented street performers and other local entertainment. These performances may vary from place to place; in some areas, you may find local musicians, while other areas may boast a fire-eater or snake charmer. No matter what talents the local performers possess, NPR Music (@nprmusic) offers a guide for tipping the performance and other etiquette to follow.
  3. Visit local-preferred beaches: My area is a tourist hot spot — I live in Florida, spring break destination of all college students, so I can speak from experience on this one. If you were to visit my area, you're likely heading to Daytona or Miami Beach for your vacation. If you asked a local, though, we'd point you in a direction off the beaten path, where parking is a mere $2 and there are no crowds. This article from US News Money (@USNewsMoney) gives more insight into how to make your beach vacation affordable.
  4. Museums: A little education goes a long way, and museums are a fabulous learning tool. Seacoast Online (@seacoastonline) offers a guide to getting your museum adventure together without breaking your budget.
  5. Attend a festival: Whether it's a music, food, or art festival, the experience will give you lasting memories. Middle of the Map Fest (@motmfest)has some very useful tips for attending a festival on a budget in this article.

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Will Work for Travel

Working while traveling? There are a few jobs for you to enjoy both worlds.
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My favorite part of freelance work? I can take my work with me wherever I go. Not everyone is that fortunate, but could you be? There's a mind-boggling number of jobs available that are willing to pay you to travel.

  1. Peace Corps: The Peace Corps (@PeaceCorps) is a wonderful opportunity for qualified individuals to travel the word while making a difference. To learn more, check out the Benefits and FAQ pages of their website.
  2. Teaching English: If you are a native English speaker with a college degree and teaching certifications, you could get paid to teach English overseas. This in-depth guide from Go Overseas (@GoOverseas) gives all the details on which countries pay the best and how to get started.
  3. Nanny: Are you a people person? Are you good with kids? If so, you can get paid to be a travel nanny. As (@CareDotCom) explains in this article, you'll need patience, enthusiasm, and lots of energy for this job. But if you can do it, it's very rewarding.
  4. Cruise ship crew: If you're a steady hand on the water and not prone to sea-sickness, traveling the world as part of a cruise ship crew may be right up your alley. Matador Network (@MatadorNetwork) offers insight into the life of a cruise ship crew member in this first-hand experience piece.
  5. Freelance work: As I said earlier, my job allows me to do my work from wherever I am, whether that's my kitchen, my kid's school, or halfway around the world. Take a look at this article from Millo (@milloteam) to turn a freelance position into a full-time, well-paying career from anywhere in the world.

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Special Needs and Occasions

If you are going to travel with special needs, then you must consider a few factors.
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Traveling with kids means that I need to make sure our destination is kid-friendly and safe. Traveling with disabled kids puts a bit more legwork into planning our travels. There are several things to consider if you plan to travel with kids, a senior citizen, or a person with a disability. Ditto if you can't bear to leave Fido at home. And of course, traveling on your honeymoon or anniversary can be a money sink if you're not careful. I've outlined a little list here of some common needs and how to travel with them.

  1. Kids: Traveling with kids can be a headache, but it doesn't have to be a pain in your wallet. From staycations to taking advantage of age-restrictions and discounts, Rough Guides (@RoughGuides) has the solution for your kid-in-tow budget travels in this guide.
  2. Persons with disabilities: If you or anyone in your family has a disability, traveling is still possible. You do have to plan it more carefully though. There are medications to consider: how will you store them, will you have enough, are you allowed to bring them with depending on your mode of travel, etc. You may need special accommodations that are accessible and safe. It's also a must to know the nearest hospital or medical facility should the need arise. Rick Steves (@RickSteves) offers tips for travelers in this blog, which will answer these questions and more.
  3. Senior citizens: Traveling isn't just for the young; it's for the young at heart, too. My grandparents are well into their seventies and still love to travel the world whenever the opportunity arises. Check out this budget travel guide from Simply Seniors (@SimplySeniors) for money-saving tricks for senior citizens who want to see the world.
  4. Pets: You wouldn't leave your kids at home while you travel, so it's no surprise that many people don't want to leave their pets at home either. After all, pets are considered part of the family. Sadly, traveling with them can be far trickier than traveling with kids. You may run into more costs, as many hotels, planes, and even cruise ships require extra fees and deposits for pets. To find pet-friendly accommodations for all of these, check out this article from The Travel Channel (@travelchannel).
  5. Special occasions: Whether it's a honeymoon, anniversary, birthday, or graduation, one of the best ways to celebrate milestones is with an unforgettable trip. Travel + Leisure (@TravelLeisure) offers this article as a great starting point to plan your next special occasion vacation without breaking the bank.

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Now you've arrived, checked into your accommodations, eaten, found things to do, and taken any special needs into consideration. You may even have found some work to do on your travels, helping to supplement your travel budget. What else could there possibly be to think about? Make sure you consider frugal options for the following travel expenses.

  1. Souvenirs: No trip is complete without bringing some sort of souvenir home. These trinkets can range from a seashell you picked up on the beach to a monogrammed t-shirt. But if you're not careful, keepsakes and souvenirs can eat up a good chunk of your vacation budget. Euro Cheapo (@eurocheapo) offers this guide to affordable or even free souvenir ideas to bring home to your family and friends left behind.
  2. Passports: If you're heading overseas or even just across the border to Canada or Mexico, you'll need a passport to do so. While you can't really cut the cost of the passport itself, Post-Crescent (@PostCrescent) offers tricks that can help you save money. These include asking for the 52-page passport book instead of the standard and taking your own passport photo. The article also has tips on where to go if you're not a handy photographer in this article.
  3. See your doctor: Most important if you're traveling overseas, a check-up or two before you leave is an absolute must. We all know medical appointments can be expensive, so is there any way to save money on them before your vacation? Wes Nations (@JohnnyVagabond) offers tips to save hundreds of dollars on your travel healthcare needs in this article.
  4. Pack the essentials: Where you go will determine what you need to bring, of course, but there's a fairly common thread through most vacation destinations on what you should bring and what you can pick up while you're there. Should you bring the sunscreen or leave it at home? Bring the extra charger or pack batteries instead? Budget Travel (@BudgetTravel) offers an overview of the most common vacations and what you should bring or not in this guide.
  5. Travel insurance: Although not necessary on short trips, travel insurance is an excellent idea on longer trips. Travel insurance can protect you against cancellation fees; cover your personal items and baggage should they be lost, damaged, or stolen; and protect you in case of medical emergencies. Lifehacker (@lifehacker) can help you decide if travel insurance is for you with this post.

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I hope you can apply them to your next vacation, whether on your own, with friends, or as a family. Did you enjoy the list? Are there any budget-friendly travel tips we left out that you have used? Let us know in the comments, and don't forget to share with your friends and family.

Your ultimate guide to save a lot of money, effort and time while traveling. It will surely make yours a remarkable experience.

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6 years ago

Major dork alert, but… The Holiday was the movie that featured house swapping, not Love Actually.

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