Traveling on a Budget: Less Money Not Less Fun

It never fails…we get back from a trip and are chatting about it with a friend and the response is something like “I wish my family could afford to take a trip like that.” [and yes, sometimes it has a snarky tone to go along with it 🙄] Listen, could you spend thousands and thousands on a wonderful trip? Absolutely! But you don’t have to. If you plan ahead, are flexible and get a little bit creative, you can have an adventure without draining your wallet.

traveling on a budget

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Whether you want to visit a theme park near you or you are ready to travel to a new country, there are things you can do to save money and stay on budget. Below are my favorite 10 ways travel on a budget without cutting out the fun.

1. Set a REAL Budget

I know, talking about budget is a real drag, but it is a necessary step. The first step to your budget is just coming up with a number you are willing to spend on the trip overall. If you aren’t realistic with this number, you will never be able to stick to it and well, a budget you won’t stick to is basically no budget. Once you have your REAL budget number, you can take the time to break it down in categories including accommodation, transportation, meals, and activities. Having a budget in place from the beginning will guide your decisions and keep you on track throughout your journey. It can start to be fun! Make it a game for yourself, think “how can I get what I want for less” and then keep going with the tips below.

2. Travel Off-Peak Seasons

Before our kiddo came along, this was MUCH easier. For instance, my husband and I would plan trips to Europe in early Spring and avoid the crowds and the heat and enjoy cheaper air travel. Now, with a teen in school, it is a bit trickier. If you can only travel when school is out it is hard to travel in off-peak seasons but not impossible. Not all schools around the World get out at the same time so I like to look at flights to see when prices are going up and down for our potential destinations. In our area, school now lets out the end of May so many times we could get better deals in early June versus if we traveled in July or August. Likewise, if you live in an area that doesn’t go back to school until later, like Labor Day, you may find deals the end of the summer in late August.

3. Look for Alternative Accomodations

There are so many options now other than just hotels. And no, I’m not saying you and your family need to stay in a hostel! Consider staying in one location for several days and rent a home or apartment. This can also help with my next tip below in cutting down food costs because you can cook your own meals. Home or apartment rentals are especially a good deal if you have a large family. Even though it is normally just 3 of us traveling, we have found in some areas it is hard to find a hotel room for 3 without upgrading to a suite. Websites and apps like Airbnb and VRBO offer a wide range of choices in most locations. You can also Google for home rental agencies in the location you are traveling to to find even more options.

4. Cook and Eat Like a Local

Eating out for every meal can quickly eat into your budget. Instead, visit local markets and grocery stores to buy ingredients for simple and delicious meals. Even if you do not have a kitchen where you are staying, you can easily make sandwiches or make a plate of local cheeses and crackers (and a bottle of wine for the adults!). Not only will you save money, but you’ll also get a taste of the local cuisine and culture.

The other option is looking for truly local restaurants away from the normal tourist areas. These tend to be a bit cheaper and better!

5. Public Transportation is Your Friend

Public transportation is not only cost-effective but also a great way to act like a local. Research the transportation options available at your destination, such as buses, trains, and subways. Especially when traveling outside of the U.S., trains are usually a great easy option.

Tip

Most cities have an app for their local transportation options. A simple Google search before your trip will show you, usually it is mentioned on the city’s transportation website. This is extremely helpful to have and oftentimes will have an interactive map to help guide you to the train station or bus stop.

6. Free and Low-Cost Activities

I know I know, rarely is anything free but hear me out. Many cities have lovely parks you can explore for free. Yearly street festivals and events can often be explored for free (of course it will cost money to try the foods or purchase goods). One of my favorite low-cost activities though are the Free Local Walks. Many cities now offer city walks with a local guide for free or allow you to name your price. I consider this low-cost instead of free though because the right thing to do is to tip the guide after the walk. Freetoursbyfoot.com is a good example.

7. Ask for a Discount

If you are traveling with a student or traveling with teens, take advantage of student and youth discounts available at many museums and attractions. Also, if you are a member of AAA or AARP, you can ask if a discount is available for those organizations at hotels or attractions. If you have a membership to your local museum, check to see who their partner museums are in other cities. We’ve found in some cities museums were free on certain days of the week, so do some research and never be afraid to ask. A quick search like “free things to do in Chicago” or “free walking tours in Barcelona” will usually get you started.

8. Plan Ahead for Deals

Doing some research in advance can many times unveil deals to save you good money. For instance, before our trip this summer to Copenhagen, I learned about the Copenhagen Card. There were two different cards available, and I was able to choose the one that met our needs based on how long we would be there and the attractions I knew we would be most interested in. The card offered savings plus convenience. Also look for things like 2-for-1 deals like a free boat tour if you book your hop-on hop-off bus ticket online. Speaking of tickets online, you can usually save money by booking attraction tickets in advance online versus day of in person. Honestly, even it if isn’t cheaper I will do it anyway just for the convenience of not having to stand in line!

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9. Watch Your Souvenir Spending

Souvenirs can quickly become a budget buster. Instead of splurging on items that will clutter your home or end up dusty in the garage, focus on collecting meaningful mementos like postcards or small, locally made crafts that serve a memory from your trip. We’ve started a fun tradition of buying magnets when we travel – they are small and can hold a favorite picture from our trip on the fridge when we’re back! I also love to find a small inexpensive piece of jewelry at a local market or stand – it’s something I will use and will remind me of our travels every time, plus it’s easy to pack!

10. Use Miles or Points

If you aren’t yet accumulating miles or points through credit cards or loyalty programs, now is the time to start. There are entire websites devoted to help you navigate this (ThePointsGuy.com is my favorite) so I won’t go into too much detail here, but I will say it has really made a difference in our travel. Warning: When you start down this path it can be addicting! I love seeing how far our points or miles will get us now. We’ve been able to get free or upgraded hotel rooms as well as free flights by using miles and points.

Conclusion

Remember, travel is about making memories. No one is going to remember how much you spent on your trip, they will remember the experiences. I hope with the tips above you can see that with the right planning and research plus a little flexibility thrown in, you can save money without skimping on the journey.

Now, go see something! 🧳

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