7 Great Budget Travel Tips Anyone Can Use!

Conventional wisdom says traveling is expensive.  I guess that’s why most people I know (until recently, myself included) save for months, or longer, to afford their week-long vacation every year.  Personally, I’d save for a 10 day hiking/camping trip to the canyons in Utah or a week-long trip to see relatives and visit beaches in Florida and the rest of my yearly vacation days would be used on short trips closer to home or just on long weekends when I wouldn’t leave home at all.  I thought it too expensive to travel for all three or four weeks of my yearly vacation (I guess that’s the fiscal conservative in me!).  I’ve since changed my thinking on travel expenses and travel budgets.  Now I think it costs more in experiences missed out on than it does in money spent, especially if you travel smartly and budget friendly.

There are many ways to trim travel expenses.  It all starts with a mindset.  Think about what’s really important while visiting a place and ways to cut costs are easy to imagine.  Here are 7 ways I’ve saved money while on the road for nearly 2 months.  Some I already knew and others I learned the hard way!

Do you really want to spend a large part of your travel budget on a hotel, where you won’t spend much ‘awake’ time?

  • Instead of staying in tourist area hotels (translation; expensive), stay in cheaper options down  the road a few blocks or off the beaten path.  Stay in hostels where available or rent an apartment for the week.

Is it more important to eat out three times a day or spend time learning more about the food culture in a region?

Fruit Stand at Rio Piedra Market, San Juan
Fruit Stand at Rio Piedra Market, San Juan
  • Instead of eating at the tourist, and usually chain style, restaurants you go to at home (translation; expensive), eat like a local: go to the market, the grocery store, the street vendor.  This is a great way to gain some insight in the local food culture, and overall culture for that matter.  Eat healthy snacks picnic style in a park or in your hotel room and then reward yourself with dinner out (so just eat out once a day).  If you have kitchen access (in a hostel or apartment) buy local ingredients from the market and COOK!  If you‘re staying in a place with free breakfast, don’t skip it.  Load up!  It will fuel you’re morning sightseeing and keep you on budget at the same time.

Will having a car really be worth the cost and hassle of rental fees, fuel fees and finding/paying for parking?

Metro Sign - Barcelona
Metro Sign – Barcelona
  • Instead of renting a car for the week use public transportation (like the locals).  Most cities, even in North America, have at least a decent system of buses, trolleys, trams, subways, and/or taxis.  If you’re traveling in Europe most public transportation systems are super efficient and very cost-effective.  And another, even healthier option: while sightseeing walk from site to site when possible.


The old saying ‘Time is Money’ can apply when traveling.  Especially if you plan on seeing a lot of the popular sites.

  • Look into buying a city pass card.  A city pass usually lumps together a grouping of tourist stops into one fee and you can choose a certain number of those destinations to visit. The long lines at museums and other trendy tourist stops are not to get in…they’re to buy tickets.  With the city pass you already have your ticket and normally have a special ‘city pass’ line for entry.  Do the math on what the pass costs vs. what you’ll pay for the individual sites you want to visit.  It could be worth buying just for the time savings even if you don’t save a lot of money.  I’ve used this method in the past and walked right past the long lines and entered with no wait!  You can find specific information about these cards on the local tourism website or in the local tourism shops scattered throughout major cities.

Take advantage of FREE (or near free) stuff.  It’s everywhere!

  • To keep in touch back home there is free WiFi all over the place, you just have to find it.  Use Skype or another free online tool to make video/phone calls.   Many museums have free hours in the evenings and on weekends.  In one week, two different cities, I visited five great museums including a Salvador Dali exhibit and a Picasso museum without paying anything.  In Europe and other parts of the world many churches and cathedrals are free or near free to visit.  If staying in a hostel, walking tours are regularly organized and normally free (save a tip at the end).  It’s a great way to get an overview, and some great historic information, of the main tourist sites in the area.

Do you need soft drinks 5 times a day? 

Official Unmapped Travels Water Bottle
Official Unmapped Travels Water Bottle
  • Luckily I don’t have a caffeine addiction and need coffee every morning or a soda with each meal.  It’s expensive to buy drinks every day, so I carry a water bottle with me everywhere.  I fill it up for free when I get the opportunity and in restaurants where they charge for water I’ll just drink from it instead.  Just be sure the water in the area is drinkable.  If you do NEED caffeine, cutting it in half could save you several dollars a day.  That adds up to real savings over the course of a whole trip.

Lastly, you’re on vacation…..relax!

  • It’s an easy trap to fall into….filling every possible moment with ‘stuff’.  I’ve been a victim of the vicious cycle as well.  You’re in a new city, you want to see it all and only have 4 days.  Been there, done that.  The problem is this: while you rush around from place to place you’ll miss out on the ‘real’ culture of where you’ve traveled and when you get home you’ll probably need a vacation to get over your vacation!  Take time to relax.  Chill out for an afternoon in a city park.  If you try to fill every moment with a museum, or famous restaurant, or bus tour, or local show or…… You’ll miss out.  On the atmosphere.  The ambiance.  Take time to soak it in and see the lives people live in the places they live them.   Not only will you learn a little something and be recharged for more sightseeing……it’s free!

Whether you’re traveling for months at a time like me, for Spring Break with your friends, or taking two weeks for your first trip abroad these tips can cut your travel costs and increase your travel experiences!

I’m sure I’ll learn more tips as I continue to travel and look for ways to cut my personal costs.  I’ll try and share them along the way!  What are some tips you’ve used to ease the strain on your travel budget?

See the Spanish language version at lobu.do HERE!


2 thoughts on “7 Great Budget Travel Tips Anyone Can Use!”

  1. One of the funniest comments I heard was a guide in Monserrate near Sintra, Portugal tell me about how tourists have so little understanding of world geography that they think the bridge called “April 25th” over the Tagus River in Lisbon really connects to Africa!

    One mischievous person even said that one must press his/her passport to the glass of the windows on the tourist bus as they reach the other side of the bridge. So mystified Portuguese residents watching the bus see everyone holding up their passports to the windows!

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