How I Afford to Travel on a Budget
Last updated on December 31, 2019.
I love to travel. Everyone knows that. So I travel – a lot. Weekend getaways, roadtrips, international adventures, you name it. And I love every moment. The only thing I don’t love is when people judge me because they think I spend too much of my money irrationally. I’ve said it a million times and I’ll say it again – traveling is one of the best things you can spend your money on. There’s a quote that I live by, “Travel is the only thing you can buy that will make you richer.” Travel is such a culturally enriching experience, giving you new perspectives and appreciation for life and the people around you. So yes, I travel a lot. But it’s important to know that traveling can be very affordable – as long as you know how to travel on a budget. Keep reading to learn my secrets!
If you can, be flexible with your travel dates. Try to travel on weekdays over weekends. Track flights for a while before you commit to purchasing them. Avoid peak times! Do your research to find out when the peak times are for wherever you are going. Hotel and flight prices skyrocket during school vacations and holidays. If you have the option, travel during slow times. You can find more tips on how to find flight deals in this previous post. My favorite search engines for flights are Kayak and Google Flights; for bus and train trips, check out Wanderu.
Take Advantage of Free & Discount Admission Days
Did you know that the Louvre is FREE on the first Sunday of every month from October to March? Yes, free. And while the line was decently long, it moved so quickly because nobody had to stop to pay! We actually planned our trip to Paris to be on the first weekend of the month just for this purpose. Similarly, the MoMA in New York City is FREE on Friday nights from 4-8pm. When do you think I visited the MoMA? Same for MASP in Sao Paulo. The Museum of Art in Sao Paulo is FREE on Tuesdays! (And it also has an AMAZING collection of classic paintings.) There are many more around the world, so always check before visiting!
Okay, so not every place has a free admission day, but many have discounts! Most zoos offer discounted admission in the winter, if they are open. Speaking of zoos, do you have membership at your local zoo? If you do and they are a member of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, check out the AZA’s reciprocity list! Many zoos and aquariums offer free or discounted admission for members of other AZA zoos and aquariums.
Are you a student? Always always always bring your student ID with you when you travel. It’s one of the first things I tell my new students during orientation. Students get access to cheaper flight fares through Student Universe, and most museums, zoos, and aquariums offer student rates as well. Many places offer AAA, veteran, and senior discounts too! It never hurts to ask.
Groupon is Your Best Friend
Every time I travel somewhere – and I mean EVERY time – I check out the local deals on Groupon. I’ve booked some of my favorite tours and excursions on Groupon. From a ghost tour in Boston, to a brewery in Chicago, to an airboat tour in the Florida Everglades, I’ve gotten some really amazing deals. Usually the offers are at least 50% off, and if you combine that with a promo code and Ibotta (see below), you can save even more! Just don’t forget to use your offers before they expire. 🙂
Coupon & Travel Apps
Yea, I know it sounds cliché, but I save so much of my money with coupon and rebate apps. Even better, some of them can stack! For example, I am an Expedia Rewards member, so I earn points to cash in toward hotel nights. If you book through the Expedia app, you get double points – easy bonus! Now, Expedia is featured on Ibotta, so if you access the Expedia app by going through the Ibotta app, you’ll get a percentage of your purchase back on Ibotta too! Keep reading for more ideas like these. 🙂
Ibotta is by far my favorite app to use. I preach its wonders to all of my friends and family. Why some of them still refuse to use the app is a giant mystery to me. Since I started using the app five years ago, I’ve earned almost $1,800 back on my purchases. Yes, $1,800; you read that correctly. When I have time to spare I can be a bit of an extreme couponer, but when I don’t have a lot of time, I still use Ibotta. For how simple the app is to use, it’s silly not to! In addition to the rebates on individual items, they have monthly and holiday bonuses to help you save even more.
So… How does it work?
Easy. Open the app and choose the store you are going to shop at. Then scroll through all of the offers available at that store. You can even browse by category or search by typing or scanning a barcode. See what offers are of interest to you and click to activate. Then, go shopping! (In the store you can also scan the barcodes of the items to make sure they match for the rebates – sometimes you need to buy a specific size or variety.) When you get home, take a picture of your receipt, scan some of the barcodes to confirm that you bought the items and submit! Some receipts take a day or two to process, but most are done in a matter of minutes (sometimes seconds!).
Then what? I usually let my money build up in the app for a while before I transfer it to my Paypal account. You can choose to get a giftcard, or transfer to Venmo… there are lots of options. But this is one of the biggest ways I save up money to travel! Since I’ve already paid for the items in full, the rebates are really just a bonus savings that I build up. Then I use that money to book a flight or as spending money on my trip. If you still don’t have Ibotta, what are you still doing here? Click here to download the app and get a welcome bonus as soon as you use it. You’re welcome!
As I mentioned before, I’m an Expedia Rewards member. And since I travel so much, I decided to get the Expedia Mastercard for all my travel purchases to get instant VIP Silver status and extra points on my Expedia purchases. Of course, by the time I’m done traveling for the year, I’ve earned VIP Gold Status too! What does that get me? Access to more discounted rates as well as added perks upon arrival. In Germany, we got upgraded to a room on a higher floor and unlimited FREE minibar at our hotel – just for being an Expedia VIP. In Philadelphia I got free drinks at the hotel bar and we had free parking in Niagara Falls. Definitely worth it! You can travel on a budget and still enjoy a little bit of luxury.
Another one of my favorite apps has to be Hotel Tonight. Most hotels are able to be booked for the next seven days at discounted rates. Why? Because some money for a hotel room is better than an empty room getting them no money! In some locations, you can even book up to 100 nights in advance. Sometimes if I can’t find a hotel deal that I like enough, I wait until the day before or the day of and book a great deal on Hotel Tonight! A few times that I’ve used it, the hotel clerks have been shocked at the low prices I’ve paid when I’ve checked in. Check it out for yourself! Bonus? Use code DPATCHETT when signing up to get a discount the first time you use the app.
Want ideas for more apps to help you travel? Check out this post on my favorite travel apps!
Saving Money in Town
Eat on a Budget
Every meal doesn’t have to be a five-star, multiple course dinner at a famous restaurant. Heck, no meal has to be that if you don’t want! Be smart about what and where you’re choosing to eat. Does your hotel have a restaurant? Sometimes hotel guests get discounted rates if there is an in-house restaurant. Groupon is another great place to find local food at lower prices. Or, skip a meal. Do you really need a fully breakfast, lunch, and dinner? Probably not, especially if you stop at a grocery store to get some snacks for fillers. Instead of a full breakfast, grab a croissant and a coffee! Be flexible with your dining choices.
Free Walking Tours
Almost every city offers walking tours, so be sure to check out which ones have the best reviews. In several cities around the world, I’ve been lucky enough to find FREE walking tours. And you know what? Free tours tend to be the best ones! Why? Because they are led by locals, who really know what they are talking about. And because the tours are free, they work on tips. So they will only make money if they put on a good tour. Therefore there is no incentive for them to be bad at what they do. In the next city you visit, look for a free walking tour – you won’t regret it!
Get Recommendations from Locals
Lots of people fall into the “tourist traps” out there. They don’t do their research ahead of time to get discounted tickets for attractions, they pay more for parking, and they hit up the most touristy shops. But just a little time invested before your trip can save you hundreds of dollars later. Find your favorite travel blogs (like this one!) and get advice. But if you get stuck in a pinch and forgot to research – ask a local. If you chat with someone from the area – your Uber driver, the hotel clerk, or your waitress at dinner – you’ll get some of the best advice possible.
For example, when I got a great deal (from Hotel Tonight, of course!) at a hotel in central Philly, I was freaking out about the $50/night parking fee. So when I checked in, I asked the receptionist if there was any cheaper parking nearby. And there was! Just two blocks away was a public parking garage that offered parking for $7 all day. We left the car there for the weekend and saved $86 just by asking a simple question.
Plan Ahead! Buy a CityPASS or a Big Bus Tour
Both of these companies help you see the most of the sights – at a discount! I love using CityPASS to get skip-the-line access to the most popular attractions.
Lastly, Use Common Sense
One of the most obvious ways to afford to travel is to just make it a priority in your budget. If traveling is something that is important to you, make it a point to save money for it! You don’t have to go out to dinner every night, live in a giant house, or spend all of your money on video games. You choose what’s important!
And if you’re a person who has a hard time putting money aside, set up a travel fund box/jar in your house, like this one my friend made for us. You know that spare dollar or two in your pocket at the end of the day? Put it in the travel fund! Then, when you’re ready for your next trip, you’ll have some spending money or a bus fare. My husband and I like to use this money as a special, fancy dinner out when we are on vacation. We spend a little more than we normally would – and enjoy every moment.
That’s Not All…
While these are the most common and best methods I use to save money for and on travel, there are other methods too! For example, any time you have a friend or family member with a spare couch or bedroom to offer, take them up on it! What other methods do you have to help you travel on a budget? Let me know in the comments!
Julia Dent (@juliadentphoto)
I do a lot of the same things! I do need to get better with using the apps and couponing though
Yes! I go in stages sometimes, but if you ever want advice, I’m happy to help!
Great advice! My husband and I recently fell into a tourist trap in Vancouver and went up to Grouse Mountain on a co-worker’s recommendation. If I had done my research, I would have realized that the views were totally not worth the price of the gondola ride and there wasn’t much to do once you were up at the top. Lesson learned: always research and try to get advice from a local.
Oh yes! Been there, done that! The best advice comes from locals – or fellow bloggers before you go!
I travel tons and also on a budget but I still found some really helpful tips here! Never heard of Wanderu before and I didn’t know about the Louvre free ticket! Should have planned my trip to Paris better^^
Awesome! Glad I could help 🙂
Carly | FearlessFemaleTravels.com
Flexibility is totally key! I almost never start my trip planning with “I want to go to X.” Instead, I start with, “Where can I fly to for really, really, really cheap?” I’ve been to some amazing (and crazy!) places because I’m willing to go just about anywhere!
YES! So so true. That’s how I ended up in New Orleans for my birthday! I can’t wait to see where my next random trip takes me. 🙂
I save money on my trips all the time by checking groupon before buying tickets to any tourist site!
Always a good part of travel planning!
I have never heard of Ibotta and Hotel Tonight. Thanks for the recommandations! As for me, I sign up for all the airline newsletters. And whenver I see a really good flight deal, I’ll book it. Sometimes that’s how I plan my trips because my schedule is pretty flexible. And I use frequent flyer points to book my trips as well. I’ve been doing that for many years and got many international trips for free. Thanks for sharing your tips!
Airline newsletters are awesome! Though I’m guilty of deleting most without reading them because I get so many! Do you have advice on how to sort them out?
I only subscribe to the ones that I can use. when I already have my trips booked, I just delete the newsletters. but when I want some inspirations, I look at the deals and see if those are the places I want to visit. I usually just do a quick scan and delete the email if I don’t see anything. I know what you mean…there are so many! so maybe only keep the newsletter that is applicable to you. hope this helps 🙂
Nadia @ Nomadic Nerd
I’m always in search of cheaper travel, I’m a student afterall! Great tips here, hopefully they help me too 🙂
Glad to help!
Melissa Douglas (@GirlyNomad)
Some great tips here! I think that a lot of people assume that travelling always has to cost a fortune but these hacks prove it doesn’t 🙂
Exactly! Don’t assume I’m rich because I figure out how to travel internationally.