Travel on a budget doesn’t have to feel cheap. I’m getting ready to head to Europe again in a week and I figure now is a great time to share some of the ways I’ve been able to cut costs. Since leaving my serving job in November to start freelancing, income has been a bit of an uphill battle. Luckily, I had been saving some money for a little while so I had enough to get by for a bit. I left this job in order to travel so I plan on doing just that, however, for the time being, I have to find ways to travel for cheap. For reference, I’m headed to Portugal, Denmark, Germany, and Netherlands for a total of eight days and I paid approximately $440 out of pocket (flights, hostels, and a train pass included). Wanna know how I did it? Here’s nine tips for travel on a budget.
I’ve been able to find some insanely cheap flights for myself and others lately, thanks to the host of applications and websites on both my phone and my computer. When I’m trying to find flights or hotels, I check no less than three sources for prices. Always. For flights, I currently have TravelPirates, Skyscanner, Hopper, Kayak, Momondo, and Trip Advisor. For hotels and hostels I use apps such as Booking.com, Hostel World Trip Advisor, Kayak, and Priceline. If you know that you are planning to go somewhere, it’s important to be diligent and check these apps constantly, many of which have price graphs and trends to let you know when it’s cheaper to book and whether you should buy or wait.
The flights for my upcoming trip go from New York to Lisbon, with a layover long enough for me to get out and explore the city for a day, from Lisbon to Copenhagen, and then from Amsterdam to New York again. It sounds like it should cost a pretty penny right? Nope. It ended up free (more on that a little later on) but would have only cost $360 without redeeming my credit card rewards.
One of two major cost cutters, the advent of budget airlines has made international (as well as domestic) travel so much more accessible. Flight prices have dropped drastically, and even some staple carriers have begun offering economy class tickets. Airlines like WOW, Norwegian, and Spirit offer insanely cheap flights, albeit without the frills that come with a more expensive carrier.
That said, an incredibly important point to keep in mind when it comes to budget airlines, however, is that the price you see, will not be the price you pay. Over the course of your booking, you will see that many budget carriers charge you for your seat (strange, yes), meals aren’t included, and baggage limits are heavily restricted with most companies allowing only a personal item for free, everything else, even your carry-on size bag usually still has to be checked. That being said, even with paying for these features, you’ll still end up paying way less than you would otherwise.
Here’s where I’m going to lose some people. Hostels are the second of the two major cost cutters. Average prices vary, but many seem to fall between USD $15 and $35 a night. That price is per person and here’s why it’s so cheap: most rooms in hostels are dorm style with bunk beds and shared bathrooms. While not for everybody, if you’re looking for a way to keep from paying an arm and a leg for lodging, this is it!
Hostels don’t have to feel cheap either. Many offer common areas with cafes, bars, games, and some even have gyms and pools. Many offer discounts on local attractions and tours too. The amount of amenities provided by some hostels makes sharing a room totally worth it. As far as securing your belongings, most have lockers and secure luggage storage, though you will have to bring your own lock. Also pay attention to whether or not linens and towels are provided, sometimes they cost extra, though for pretty cheap you can buy a travel towel that takes up very little space and dries very quickly.
Overall, hostels are a great way to save money as well as meeting travelers from all over the world and who knows where that networking may lead!
When it comes to lodging, location is also a major factor in how much you’ll pay. I see so many people looking at hotels in Midtown Manhattan or downtown Paris. Trust me, the usually short commute time from a hotel or hostel a little ways out is worth the money you’ll save. It’s also worth noting that staying in a suburb if you have a car or if there is a local metro system can save you a ton as well. Usually the further away from the tourist attractions, the cheaper the hotel, though you should be aware of the neighborhoods you’ll be staying in. Almost all booking companies display ratings by other guests and believe me, if it’s a bad location, people will have written about it.
If you love food as much as I do, you’ll quickly realize that it can add up very quickly. While most hotels in the US offer breakfast included with the price, many outside the States do not. Most of the hotels where I’ve stayed in Europe offer breakfasts between €5-12, which isn’t super expensive but hey, if you can save that money, why not? If I’m trying to save money, I’ll usually eat a large breakfast, and save all of my food budget for the day for a nice dinner.
I’ve mentioned it in a few past posts, but the time of year is a huge factor in the prices of everything from flights, to hotels, and even some of the attractions. It’s important to find out when high season is for each country or region you plan to visit (most of the time it is in the summer or around holidays). It’s not uncommon to see prices for flights and hotels almost double during the tourist seasons. If you have the ability, it’s best to visit during the off season.
-City Passes and Offered Discounts
There are so many deals offered by apps, hotels, businesses, and tourist offices it’s hard to keep track of them. Many cities offer different packages for visitors to save a few bucks. If you plan to visit museums, check to see if they have package tickets. Check your hotel or hostel for discounts as well.
-Credit Card Rewards
I’ve now flown round trip twice for a total of $0. While it’s not always advisable to have a credit card, if you’re smart about it and have one that offers rewards, why not make the best of it? Many banks and credit companies have cards that offer rewards and miles for each dollar spent and over time, it adds up. I have enough points left that I could probably book another round-trip flight for free!
This tip goes along with budget airlines for the most part, but is also applicable to any carrier. I constantly see people with giant suitcases for short trips. It’s completely unnecessary and usually ends up costing more money for you to check. I try my hardest to pack lightly enough to have my one carry-on and one personal item so that I don’t have to check anything. Believe me, it’s possible. I travel with my tripod, camera, and laptop, and I’m still able to fit everything into those two bags. I was always a chronic over packer, so if I can do it, you can too!
People constantly ask me how I travel for as cheap as I do (and I’m not even being as strict with myself as I could be), so hopefully some of these tips help some of you to be able to travel on a budget without feeling cheap!