Travel, especially international travel, is a perennial wish list topper for most adventure lovers, but is all too often brushed aside by budget concerns. As an avid traveler on a budget, I can relate. But, if done properly, international travel doesn’t have to be an out of reach luxury. In fact, I’ve found that many of the travel experiences that I’ve enjoyed the most, have been those that were the least expensive. Here are a few of my tested strategies for planning an enjoyable trip on a frugal budget.
Rethink Your Destinations
Instead of sticking to tried and true tourist destinations, get off the beaten path. Consider limiting your time in larger cities and exploring the countryside, where prices tend to be lower. Choosing less well know destinations in the same region can also be a great way to save. Dying to explore the mediterranean coast? Your budget will stretch much further in Croatia or Slovenia than in France or Italy.
Pick What is Important to You
Spending top dollar on every aspect of your trip can add up quickly. But fulfilling travel is all about having the experiences that you truly value. Spend your budget on the things that matter to you and follow our tips to save everywhere else.
-Accommodations: Instead of springing for a hotel in the city center, staying even a couple miles away can equal some serious savings. Finding a place on Airbnb is a great way to get comfortable accommodations and meet locals. Plus, chances are you’ll be able to save a nice chunk of dough by preparing some meals and snacks in your own kitchen. Hostels and house sitting can also be great ways to save on a place to stay.
-Food: I love food. Like, really, love food. So this is one area where I’m not willing to compromise. Fortunately, in many countries, the really good stuff doesn’t have to be expensive. Avoid restaurants close to tourist destinations that cater to foreigners (multilingual menus are usually a good indicator) and opt for establishments frequented by locals; they tend to be less expensive and higher quality.
I also love exploring farmer’s markets. It’s a great way to get a real test of the local flavor and get high quality food for a great price, perfect for a picnic or a relaxing evening in. As a bonus, vendors are usually friendly and willing to share their favorite local spots.
-Sight Seeing: Many points of interest have hefty fees that can add up quickly. See the ones that are really important to you, but avoid the trap of feeling like you have to see every point of interest in a particular city. If landmarks and museums mean a lot to you, save some dough by purchasing a discount ticket that includes multiple destinations. Many museums offer free entry on certain days, do some research ahead of time, and to take advantage of this.
Don’t discount the best way to see most cities – your own two feet. Not only is walking around free, it’s a great way to get a feel for the unique flavor of the city and see things you’d miss on the big tours.
-Transportation: From airfare to intercity transportation, getting around can occupy a large portion of your budget, making it a great place to find some savings.
Being flexible when looking at flights can be a huge money saver. If you don’t mind a little bit of a drive, flying out of a hub city like Atlanta or Charlotte can seriously expand your cheap flight options.
One of my favorite recent discoveries to get a little more bang for my travel buck is Clever Layover, a website that takes your starting and ending destinations and strings flights together to find you a great deal. It also offers the option of finding you a long layover in a third city of your choice. It’s an awesome way to save on multi city trips. I used it when planning a recent trip to Romania and was able to get a ticket that allowed me to spend a few days in London and then continue on to Romania, for several hundred dollars less than a ticket to Romania alone.
Skipping the rental car in cities and walking or taking public transportation saves you the hassle and expense of paying for parking. For city transfers, don’t forget to check out low cost airlines; many of them don’t show up on traditional airline comparison websites, so this may require some research.
Buy Good Gear Once
Buying good travel gear and apparel can be pricey, but it’s an investment that will last you for years and will save you money in the long haul. Most higher quality brands, like Osprey and Thule, offer lifetime warranties and bombproof construction. Not to mention, they are much more comfortable to travel with. After enduring cheap luggage on an extended trip, my Osprey bag has become one of my most prized possessions. The same thing goes for clothing. High quality clothing is versatile, lasts a lifetime, and will keep you smiling and comfortable on your journey.