Updated: Jan 2, 2020
If you're looking for budget travel tips, download my favorite travel planner here!
It's sure to help you discover cheap travel tricks from someone who has actually used each and every one of them – me!
Look, we all have that one friend who always seems to be jetting from one adventure to another across the globe. You see her photos on Instagram: “Enjoying the beaches in Bali” and “I just ate the best cannoli in Rome!” You think, “How is she possibly able to afford to travel so much?!”
I hate to admit it, but I AM that friend. In the past two years, I've started ticking off travel spots on my bucket list. And no, I'm not so lucky as to have struck oil on my family farm or inherit millions when my eccentric great aunt died. But with a few strategic career moves, making some smart choices, and putting together this travel planner, I've been able to rack up some serious cheap travel miles so I'm not racking up serious debt.
So I'm sharing the budget travel tips and tricks that I've learned over the last to years with you. Yeah, YOU!
There's also no reason you, too, can't strategize with a travel planner in order to finally take that trip you've been fantasizing about. It's time to abandon the delusion that seeing the world is a luxury only the Kardashians can afford.
Don't just pin it, LIVE it!
Part I: Researching Your Airfare, Transport, and Lodging
Use SkyScanner.com I don't plan anything until I check this site. It does a general price comparison of flight costs across various dates. For example, if you're thinking of flying from Boston to Rome this holiday season, the scanner reveals that December 2 is a terrible day to fly compared to the rest of the month. But if you want to open your Christmas presents at the Colosseum, the week of December 24-27 has flights for only $325!
2. Get group deals from Travel Zoo, Gate 1 Travel, & Groupon. Each of these budget travel sites have been vetted either by myself or a close friend (one of whom just got back from seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland on a group excursion through Gate 1 Travel – for $1400 which included a meal a day!)
*Bonus travel planner tip: Search flights on two or three different days. Delete your browser cookies before each new search - it could bring up new, non-saved searches with different (hopefully lower) prices!
3. AirBnb is totally worth it. Families or groups traveling together get the biggest advantage here. Multiple bedrooms for the kiddos, a kitchen and living space – often less than the price of a traditional single hotel room! Suggestion: always read the reviews of other guests who've vetted the homes. More money-saving benefits from using AirBnbs to come, so stick around...
4. Use Rome2Rio app to route some seriously cheap travel. This app shows all the options for getting from one place to another, from local bus routes and train schedules to flight plans.
5. Use Pronto Passports to avoid skipping work to stand in your passport application/renewal line. Put that extra day's paycheck in the travel fund jar.
Part II: Travel Like A Pro
6. Pack like a hiker. Avoid baggage fees by carrying just a backpack. (If hikers can survive for months with just a backpack, you can go on vacation with one.) The average airline now charges around $25 per bag, and some go as high as $200 for second bag! Lots of European airlines even charge for any carry-on other than your purse! Two of my friends did a 2 week honeymoon through Europe with just a backpack each. Train-hopping and riding buses was a breeze.
7. Use space bags & zip bags for everything, including clothes! Thanks to my hiker buddies teaching me to tight-roll clothing into airtight bags, my son and I can travel for 7 days sharing a carry-on. You don't have to spend money on the fancy compression bags if you're going the budget travel route – a giant Ziploc works just as well. (Keep an eye on weight limits !)
8. Only pack 5-7 days' worth of clothing. If you're staying in an AirBnb, you can usually use the washer for free. If not, you can hand-wash using Camp Suds – another hiker hack. Don't roll your eyes at hand-washing clothes, either. It worked just fine for centuries, so you can handle the job once or twice on vacation. Also, be smart about your clothing choices. Lightweight fabrics that don't take up much space and don't wrinkle badly are preferable. Personally, I like casual dresses because they take up half the space of jeans and a Tshirt.
9. Minimalize the toiletries. A toothbrush and toothpaste are all you really need – AirBnb's and hotels have the rest. If not, your Camp Suds will do the job. Instead of shampoos and conditioners, bring a mini tube of superglue – it'll be a life saver if your sunglasses break or your bag tears.
10. Check airport security times with MiFlight and border wait times at Homeland Security's website.
11. Use WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger to text and call for free using wifi. International data charges are THE. WORST. I've been hit with a $300 phone bill upon returning from a trip abroad. Before you leave, call your phone carrier and ask them how to ENSURE your cellular data is completely turned off, and ask them about their weekly international travel plan options.
Part III: Planning Your Fun
12. Use Facebook groups to ask locals for advice on how to travel cheap locally. For example, since I travel to Italy a lot, I am a fly on the wall in a group called “Americans Living in Italy” where folks are happy to answer my questions. I have saved myself a load of money by finding out which museum package deals are a waste and which are worth the bundle price.
*Bonus travel planner tip: Speaking of tourist traps, here's a tip to avoid being pick-pocketed. When you are in one of those crowded tourist zones, try to ignore the urge to check your wallet when you see “Watch for Pickpockets” signs. Smart thieves hang out there and watch people tap their pockets, thereby showing the thieves exactly which pocket to reach for in that split-second they have to rob you.
13. Research free days at museums, zoos, attractions. A great question to ask folks in those Facebook groups we talked about!
14. Eat brunch and lunch out but grab local snacks at the grocer and market for dinner and breakfast. We all know dinners cost more at restaurants, so eat the same meal at lunchtime for a fraction of the price. Some of my favorite dinners have been the meals we've made ourselves, eaten while sitting around a game of cards at the BNB after a long day of seeing the sites. A baguette sandwich in Paris, a spread of market-fresh salami and cheese in Florence, and home-cooked fish-n-chips in London.
About the Author:
Liz London is a part-time writer and a full-time travel enthusiast. She currently lives in Italy and travels with her husband and globetoddler son every other month or so, so you can believe she takes her cheap travel tips seriously. She prefers dogs to cats, but sloths are the best. Her best travel advice? “Leave the gun. Take the Cannoli.”