How to Travel on a Budget

Traveling can get expensive but planning ahead can help save you money and headaches. I'm always looking for ways to save money so it's no different when I'm on the road. First off you have to get to where you want to go. I was lucky to have frequent flyer miles for my airline tickets. I have airline credit cards so that whenever I'm spending money I'm also earning miles. Whenever I'm getting ready to take a trip, I first look and see if there are miles flights available. 

If you don’t have miles, consider traveling in the off-season or look for special deals. I’ve had really great trips during the off-season. I loved going to Austria and Germany in winter because I got to see how those countries celebrate the holidays. Plus the snow in Salzburg was gorgeous. Watching prices for different destinations will give you a good idea of average cost and potentially lower cost destinations. It's also worth it to check out airlines that you're not going to find on aggregate search engines like Orbitz or Travelocity. Remember, it might be the same price or even cheaper to fly home from a different location than you fly to. You'll be able to see more sites and not have to return to your origin point.

Accommodations are also a big part of the budget. I really liked having an Airbnb while in Paris and because I stayed for a full week, I got a discount on the rate. The interface of Airbnb makes it really easy to see the price and location. So much better than an average travel site. It’s usually a lot cheaper than hotels and if you have kitchen access, you’ll be able to cook at home (saving more money) and use the fridge (for leftovers). Other great options for cheap accommodations are hostels (especially nice if you’re on the younger side and looking to make friends) and house exchange. My uncle has had great success with international and domestic house exchange. It takes a lot of planning and you have to be willing to let people use your house but it will cost no money (yay!).

Read as much as you can about your destination before you go. Make notes on where you’d like to go and what days those sites are open. Mondays are often the worst for sightseeing as lots of museums are closed that day. So plan ahead and maybe make Monday your travel day. Years ago, I went to Munich on a Monday and there was very little to do. If I had planned ahead a bit I could have seen more of the sites. During my trip, I was able to do two or three (smaller) museums in one day. Consult a map of the city and try to visit one neighborhood with multiple sites in one day. You’ll maximize your time and save money on transportation costs.

Look for free museum days. Most museums have certain days during the month or week when admission is free. I was able to take advantage of this at the Picasso museum and the Pompidou in Paris. So, if you’re flexible on your travel dates, try to go when you’ll be able to take advantage of those days. Remember that those days are usually more crowded so get there early to avoid lines. I found that in Paris most museums charged admission but in London and Dublin they only asked for a donation. However, in Paris you can purchase a museum pass that can save you a lot of money.

In the US, if you have a Bank of America card you can get free admission to many museums on the first weekend of the month. I’ve used this at home and while traveling. On a trip to Chicago a few years ago, I was able to save loads on admissions. Also, if you’re a student make sure to bring your ID card because there’s usually a discount. In the US, some places also have a AAA discount (usually about 10%).

Food can be one of the most expensive parts of traveling. While I was in Paris, I stayed at an Airbnb and was able to cook for myself. I made breakfast at home and most days packed myself a lunch too. Most nights for dinner, I made a point to go out and experience what the city had to offer. However, if there’s a nice (expensive) restaurant that you’d like to try out, lunch is often cheaper than dinner. Some places also have early bird specials and fixed price menus (prix fixe in France) that will save you money. In London, it was easy to find really good prepared food at the grocery store for an inexpensive picnic lunch or dinner. 

When I got to London, I was really craving drip coffee and bought a jar of instant. Not the best coffee but it was so satisfying to have my morning ritual. I really wish I had had the instant coffee in Paris as there wasn’t any in my Airbnb. I could have saved a lot of money on expensive tiny cups of coffee. At the time, I was trying to not be so American, but I really just like my black drip coffee in a super big mug. And espresso and tea are not the same. If coffee or even a certain kind of tea is important to you or your morning ritual, consider bringing it with you. It will save you money and keeping some of your home ritual will set your day off on the right foot. (Of course you can go fancier than instant coffee when you’re on the road and there are lots of options out there.)

Paying for bottled water can cost a lot of money so when I travel, I always bring a water bottle to fill up on my way. In the US, it’s relatively easy to find a water fountain in any airport, museum or park (usually right outside the restroom). I was surprised how challenging it was to find a water fountain in Europe. I think I saw two during my whole trip! So, I made a point to fill up the water bottle at home in the morning and bring it with me.

I also brought snacks with me all the time so if hunger pains struck, I could eat a few almonds and be on my way again. It's also a good idea to bring food with you to the airport. Most airport food (especially in the US) is significantly more expensive. So instead of eating at the airport or buying a snack on the plane, bring your own. After you eat it, you'll have more room in your bag which is always helpful. :)

These are just my little tricks for saving money while on the road but there are people who are really serious about it (read this article). Mostly saving money just takes planning ahead and sometimes a little bit of sacrifice in the comfort department. How do you save money when you're traveling?