How To Travel Cheap: 23 Genius Ways To Travel On A Budget
Have your been wondering how to travel cheap when you want to see the world? As a travel blogger, travel is at the top of the list of things to do this year without going over budget.
One of our family’s goals when traveling is to have the best experience possible while saving money. While there are times we love to splurge on trips, most of the time we try to travel as cheaply as possible.
And cheaper doesn’t mean you don’t get to enjoy amazing destinations and delicious food- you can spend less and still get a pleasurable vacation.
If you like to travel, there are tons of ways to save money while still planning the ultimate trip. Depending on where and when you travel, we’ve got tips to potentially save hundreds or even thousands of dollars on your next vacation!
How To Travel Cheap
There are fun staycations you can as often as you please, but we all know how great it is to travel and get away for a bit!
Our family loves to travel. It’s one of our favorite joys in life- but as a family of six, though, traveling gets expensive quickly. But knowing how much money we may spend can make vacations daunting!
Over the years, we’ve researched and experimented with ways to spend less on flights, hotels, and other travel expenses.
Here are some of the tried and true best tips to travel on the cheap.
Join Travel Programs
Loyalty rewards programs allow you to earn rewards you can use towards free travel with their brand. Most loyal rewards programs are free to join and can save you money and earn you favor with the brand.
Almost every airline, hotel, resort, and car rental company has a loyalty rewards program. They love when you book travel once, but ultimately, they want you to choose their company every time you book a trip.
A few years ago, we booked a hotel stay for our son’s out-of-town youth soccer tournament. I realized I wasn’t a member of the hotel’s loyalty program yet, so I joined it using my phone from the hotel parking lot before walking in. We bypassed several guests in the lobby waiting for their rooms to be ready and were upgraded to a suite for free for being loyal members of their rewards program.
Fly Mid-Week Or At Night
Keeping a flexible travel schedule will prevent you from spending a lot of money on flying. The more flexible your travel plans, the more likely you are to find a great deal on a flight!
While everyone else is booking morning and early afternoon flights, you can usually find great deals by choosing an evening later overnight red-eye flight.
You can often find more deals by looking for midweek flights. Business travelers are known for traveling during the week but families and leisure travelers often look for weekend fights that fit their work schedule.
Use A Travel Card
Some credit cards allow you to earn points and miles that you can redeem for free or discounted travel.
Now, you have to spend money on your credit card to earn points, but those points can do you a lot of good. When used correctly, a good travel rewards credit card can earn enough miles or points to pay for flights, hotels, rental cars, vacation packages, and more.
A more lucrative credit card may have an annual fee, although some of them waive the fee the first year. Paying an annual fee can cut into your rewards earnings, so make sure the card offers enough value through bonus rewards and other card perks to justify the fee.
Many popular travel credit cards charge no foreign transaction fees, but it’s always good to check with your card issuer before international travel. Do yourself a favor and check your current cards to see if they charge foreign transaction fees. If so, you’ll be charged a fee (typically around 3%) on every card purchase made outside of the country.
Research Ticket Prices
One of the biggest tasks when finding ways to travel cheap is researching flight prices. Personally, I tend to start my search on Google Flights.
Google Flights doesn’t list flights for every airline (Southwest Airlines isn’t included on the site), but it’s a good place to start your search. The site shows you airline ticket pricing for multiple airlines and offers plenty of filters to narrow down your search as much as needed.
Here are some other tips to keep in mind when researching ticket prices.
Try a budget airline
Flying on a budget airline is a great way to save money on flights and travel much cheaper. Popular budget airlines include Frontier, Spirit, Breeze, and Allegiant and they offer lower fares that may better fit your budget!
Yes, you will give up some comfort and space when flying on most budget airlines, but many of them have worked to improve the customer experience and are worth a try if you’re looking to save a few bucks.
Budget airlines price their flights differently than many other airlines. Every perk you add will increase the cost. You won’t find free checked bags here- most charge per bag. Picking your seat or boarding early will also cost you more.
We’ve had good and bad experiences flying on budget airlines, so it might be good to lower your expectations when flying with one. Think about what conveniences you’re willing to give up before booking a flight on a budget airline.
Fly out of a nearby town
If flights out of your home airport seem too expensive, look at other airports in your region.
We live in Cleveland (about 10 minutes from our airport), but we can sometimes find cheaper flights by changing the departure airport to Akron-Canton, Columbus, or Pittsburgh.
Depending on the price difference, the extra drive time ng gas money might be worth it. It’s typically not the best tip for us because we don’t have to pay for airport parking in Cleveland, but it could work for you.
Book flights early
There are last-minute flight deals to be had, but typically prices are cheaper when you plan well in advance. As flights fill up, prices can sometimes go up for the remaining seats.
Once you have travel dates and a destination in mind, start searching for deals to find cheap flights whenever you can.
You can often get early notice of flight deals by signing up for a flight deal alert service. These are paid services that send you emails with the latest flight deals, where you may learn about cheap flight deals as soon as they are released.
Popular flight alert services include:
Get Travel Insurance
Paying for travel insurance might seem strange to some, and is one of those tips people sometimes skip over, but it can help protect you and your family when emergencies occur.
Accidents happen. Trips get canceled. Flights get delayed. Bags get lost. Buying travel insurance is an additional cost on top of your trip cost, but it could be worth the extra charge.
You could spend thousands of dollars on an amazing vacation only to have an emergency pop up at the last minute. You could be out of all of the money spent if your plans were nonrefundable.
Popular insurance companies include:
- World Nomads
- AIG Travel Guard
- Seven Corners
Also, check your credit card to see if they offer travel protections. Many top travel rewards cards come with built-in travel insurance protections on purchases made with the card.
Train travel is an inexpensive way to trek across the U.S. or other countries. Rail passes are available that provide savings and flexibility when traveling.
When you book individual train trips, you’re locked into a specific timeframe. Purchasing a rail pass gives you more flexibility and can save hundreds of dollars over booking each ticket separately.
Popular rail passes include:
Student & Discount Cards
Regardless of where you travel, if you plan to visit any attractions, head to their website or call to see if they offer any discounts!
There’s a giant travel world of discounts available for students, teachers, and senior citizens. From museums and art galleries to other popular tourist attractions, you can often find discounts of up to 50% or more on attraction tickets, tours, and more.
You’ll probably need to show the proper ID (driver’s license, student ID, employment ID, etc.) at the time of purchase to get the discount. You can find these types of discounts at U.S attractions or when traveling abroad.
Not only can you rent a vehicle to drive, but you can also rent a vehicle to sleep in rather than expensive hotels! One of our travel bucket list items is to rent an RV and travel around part of the country as a family.
Sites like RVShare allow you to search for RVs to rent from local owners. Plus, they offer something for every budget, from full-sized motorhomes to pop-ups trailers and more. In some cases, you can even have the RV delivered to you or your travel destination.
Cheap Places to Stay
Not only can you save money getting to your travel destination, but there are also ways to find cheap accommodations during your trip.
Like most things, the more flexible you are, the more likely you are to find great money-saving deals.
Why spend money on a place to stay at all? House sitting is a unique way to save while traveling and take advantage of a money-making side hustle to add cash to your travel budget.
You can apply to be a house sitter or search house sitting opportunities on websites like:
You don’t have to use a house-sitting website to find opportunities. If you have family and friends in other states or countries, offer to house sit while they travel.
One of our out-of-the-box cheap travel tips: you can go tent camping or splurge at a camp that offers cabins or other accommodations. This is a great way to stick to your budget, travel to interesting places, and make great family memories.
Camping can be cheap, and we have tips to make it cheaper for you too!
Our family isn’t an outdoors family by any means, but we do like to go camping occasionally. Not only is it a chance to get out into nature and take a break from the stress and noise of everyday life, but it’s a great way to save money.
When we adopted our two girls and became a family of six, we realized quickly we would no longer fit in a traditional hotel room.
We turned to vacation rental sites like Airbnb to find more suitable accommodations. Not only did we find places that fit our growing family, but we also discovered we could save tons of money booking a rental versus staying at a hotel.
With Airbnb, you can customize your search to include just about any need. You can even message Airbnb hosts beforehand to ask questions. I’ve successfully reached out to negotiate the rental price before, so think about doing the same before booking a rental. You never know unless you ask!
We’ve stayed at Airbnbs in Orlando, San Diego, and Washington D.C. and have plans to book more in the future!
Hostels are dormitory-style accommodations and shared amenities that cost much less than staying at hotels. Hostels often get a bad rap, but I know several experienced travel bloggers who swear by them.
It’s also a great way to meet other travelers. Many hostels offer single and double rooms for solo adventurers and couples, but of which are fairly cheap per night- some are only $40!
You can use sites like Hostelworld to find reputable hostels around the world.
Another way to travel the world, meet interesting people, and save money is through couch surfing. There are several websites that connect travelers with locals who are open to letting people stay with them for free.
A few websites to find couch surfing opportunities include:
Don’t let the name fool you either. Sometimes you will end up sleeping on a couch, but many times you can stay in a spare room or an extra bed, air mattress, or other sleeping arrangements.
Save Money On Your Trip
Finding cheap flights and accommodations is great, but don’t miss out on other frugal tips to save during your travels. There are plenty of ways to cut costs and stretch your hard-earned dollars while you’re on vacation too.
Pick Smart Vacation Spots
Your travel destination also plays a part in how much you’ll spend on travel- traveling to other countries or tourist attractions will cost more.
There’s nothing wrong with planning vacations to Disney World (one of our favorite places) or other popular destinations. You can even find travel deals for those spots.
But if you want to save a lot of money, though, you may have better luck looking at places off the beaten path. You’re more likely to stick to your budget, and you may enjoy it more by avoiding the crowds!
There are so many amazing places to see when you travel the world. Don’t limit yourself to only the places that show up on a “Ten Best Travel Destinations” list.
Consider traveling to places with a lower cost of living or lower exchange rate. We’ve done Disney World and Universal Studios. We’ve done Myrtle Beach. We’ve done All-Inclusive Resorts. All of those trips were amazing! But some of our favorite family vacations were to less touristy locales.
Make Your Meals
You can easily save a few hundred dollars by making your own meals and buying local groceries and food when traveling. You can save a little money making breakfast and lunch on your own, and splurge on everything else.
How much you can do may depend on whether you have access to a kitchen. I remember making PB&J sandwiches in a cramped hotel room years ago, so sometimes you just need to get creative.
This is one of our family’s go-to travel tips for saving money, especially if we’re renting a vacation rental through Airbnb or VRBO. We plan a couple of special dinners at local restaurants, but we buy groceries for our breakfasts, lunches, snacks, and a few dinners.
Plan DIY Activities
There are plenty of ways to find free and inexpensive entertainment while traveling. Mix in some free local fun when planning your next trip.
How can you find free DIY activities to do? Here’s what we do when planning a trip:
- Research online for free things to do based on our destination
- Ask friends and family
- Join travel Facebook groups
- Contact the local tourism board
For more spontaneous fun, ask locals for ideas during your trips. Nobody’s more familiar with all a city’s hidden gems than local residents. This is a great way to get authentic food or find special sites when traveling in other countries!
Get Cash Back
I mentioned travel credit cards earlier as a way to book free travel, and if you have a great credit card you can earn good cashback. But you can’t forget about cash back rewards from other programs!
Travel During Off-Seasons
I’ve mentioned how important flexibility is in finding travel deals. One of the best examples of this is booking travel during a destination’s off-season. Not only can you save money, but it’s also less crowded.
My extended family recently stayed at a house in the Outer Banks in December. Obviously, this limits some activities, like swimming or lounging on the beach, but they’re still plenty to do in the area for a fraction of the cost of visiting during peak season.
The same holds true of visiting popular ski resort areas during the summer. Or visiting popular family destinations during the school year.
Free Walking Tours
Want to know a free way to have fun and explore a city? Walking tours!
Most major cities offer free walking tours so you can visit all of its popular sites and attractions. You can also find paid walking tours and guided walking tours in most large cities, but why pay when you can explore for free?
To find a walking tour, simply Google “free walking tour” and the city or destination name. You can also contact the local tourism board for more information and travel tips.
Unless you can find an in-network ATM, you’ll likely pay fees to withdraw cash. In fact, you could pay two fees — one to the ATM operator and one to your bank if they charge one for out-of-network use. Some banks refund ATM operator fees.
You may also get hit with a foreign transaction fee if you use an ATM outside of the U.S. Check with your bank to see if they charge ATM fees or other fees for debit card use.
City Tourist Cards
City tourist cards and sightseeing passes are one of the best ways to spend less when traveling to large cities like NYC, Los Angeles, London, Paris, and more.
These cards and passes provide reduced admission to popular tourist attractions around the city. Some passes include public transportation discounts on things like dining, shopping, and entertainment.
You can find tourist cards and sightseeing passes available in many major U.S. cities, European cities, and other and international destinations. Some passes to check out include:
- CityPASS: Several U.S. cities and Toronto)
- Go City: Several U.S. cities and other cities around the world
- Vienna Pass
- The London Pass
- Paris Museum Pass
Look over what’s included with a city tourist card (and what’s not) to see if it’s worth the cost and a good fit for your travel needs.
Walk, Don’t Taxi
Taking a cab, Uber or Lyft is more convenient when traveling, but it’s also more expensive.
Whenever possible, opt for public transportation, walk or bike to get around. It will save you money and give you an opportunity to explore your surroundings.
Road Trip Vs. Flying
Depending on your destination, it might be more cost-effective to drive instead of flying.
Personally, I would prefer to fly just about anywhere over driving, but it’s not feasible (and my wife wouldn’t approve). You save money versus time, but if you plan it out, you can have a vacation as you go to your destination!
Compare flight costs to fuel and other expenses you would face by driving. Time is also something to consider when comparing flying and driving.
Work A Side Hustle While Traveling
Traveling doesn’t mean you have to stop earning money. Make money while you travel with easy side hustles that you can fit into your travel time. You can use the money to pay for your trip or use it to fund future travel.
What side hustles are good for travelers? There are plenty of mobile apps that allow you to earn money on the go. Other side hustle ideas include:
Proofreading: Online proofreaders can earn up to $50/hour proofreading content in their spare time, looking over articles and books for good spelling and grammar. You can learn more about proofreading from this FREE proofreading workshop!
Freelance Writing: I’m a full-time freelance writer now but I started out doing it on the side to increase my income. If you love to write, freelance writing can be one of the most lucrative side hustles around. Want to learn how to make the most money as a freelancer? Take the Earn More Writing course!
Blogging: You can also make money blogging on the side. It will take some time to start a blog and build it to the point that it makes money, but eventually you can potentially earn thousands of dollars in passive income through blogging.
Our Thoughts On Cheap Travel
So as you can see, there are multitudes of ways to travel and see the world without going broke! You can be cheap in your travels without missing out on good experiences!
Kevin Payne is a freelance writer and family travel and budget enthusiast behind FamilyMoneyAdventure.com. His work has been featured in Forbes Advisor, Fox Business, Credit Karma, The Ascent, Student Loan Planner, and more. Kevin lives in Cleveland, Ohio, with his wife and four kids.