How to Travel on a Budget
Updated: Feb 3
I figured it was about time to write this - it's one of my most asked questions!! Although I don't consider myself a travel expert AT ALL, I have gone on some super cool trips that have been very much on a budget (i.e. studying abroad in Europe for 5.5 months, going to Hawaii for spring break, road trips, visiting National Parks, etc.). While I was in Europe, I actually created a whole page specifically for study abroad tips or if you're just traveling around Europe here that you can check out too.
There's sooo many options for the actual traveling of getting to and from your location. A nice lil hack I've found is that sometimes buying 2 one-way plane tickets (one ticket leaving from Point A to Point B and one ticket leaving from Point B to Point A) is sometimes cheaper than buying roundtrip flights.
Personally, road trips are one of my favorite ways to travel. Although it depends on time and your destination, road trips are typically cheaper than traveling by air. You just have to account for gas money and lodging on the way. If you have the flexibility, you can check out some really cute local restaurants to eat at and fun activities to do or see on the way to your final destination. It's also a great way to bond with everyone on the trip!
Trains & Buses
If you're not in a rush to get somewhere, trains and buses are also a great way to travel. Just be prepared for the potential of a lot of stops before reaching your destination (although that's always not the case!). But for example, from northern Virginia, I've found $40 roundtrip bus tickets to New York City (a 4-5 hour drive) during Christmas time - and you don't have to worry about parking.
Trains are also a great way to travel, especially if you have work you want/need to do. You can just sit back while working or relaxing and getting to your destination.
Traveling Around Europe
If you're wanting to explore Europe, it's SO cheap to travel around the continent. Again, I really reccommend checking out my website here because I share soooo many more tips there for specifically traveling to and around Europe. Seriously, the most expensive thing you pay for is your flight from America to Europe. If you are planning on traveling to different cities or countries in Europe, check out these options:
-GoEuro/Omimo: This app lets you search tickets from one city to another and gives you plane tickets, train tickets, and bus tickets so you can see the price to travel for each transportation mode. This is an INCREDIBLY awesome way to find the cheapest ticket!!! I used this app the most when living in and traveling around Europe!!
-Trains are a good, cheap option if you're staying within a country and want to explore a few different cities within that country. I, personally, didn't really find cheap train rides from one country to another, but they were perfect to take for just a day trip (or a few nights stay) to cities in the same country.
Google Flights: You can literally google "flights to Point B" and google will show you an entire calendar of flight prices. This allows you to see which day is the cheapest to fly.
Student Universe: If you're a student, take advantage and USE THIS!!! This is how I got to go to Hawaii for a week for $700-something roundtrip! You might get a crappy flight (for example, I had a 22-hour layover in Seattle getting to Hawaii), but it. is. worth. it. I also used this flying to and from Europe while abroad and it only cost a few hundred dollars (instead of $1000+).
Sky Scanner: Another great website to use to look for cheap flights!
Hopper: Hopper is pretty similar to Google Flights in that it'll show you the whole calendar's worth of flights. It'll also tell you if that flight price is higher or lower than average for that season (or if you're being ripped off or not).
Scott's Cheap Flights and/or Pomelo Travel: Two different websites, but both super similar. They are both an email subscription that looks for cheap flights, accidental fares, random drops in flight price, and fare wars. They send out an email listing all the airports with cheap flights to particular locations. There's a free version, but the yearly subscription could be worth it because it lets you choose your home departure airport and regions and will send you notifications when there's a cheap flight from your specific airports. Plus, if you're subscribed you get those emails first (before the free list).
Momondo: They find cheap flights for you. If you're unsure of where you want to go, you can even set a budget and they'll find you plane tickets for anywhere that fits within your budget. This is a cool opportunity if you've got a case of wanderlust but don't know where to go, and for you to visit somewhere you might not otherwise travel to for cheap.
Booking Flights Strategies
Be flexible!! When looking for flights, be flexible on the dates you leave on. Also be flexible with what airport you fly out. Sometimes it's worth flying out of a further airport if you live near (ish) several different airports and if you have someone who can drop you off/pick you up.
Budget airlines: You can sometimes save a ton of money flying with budget airlines, BUT make sure to read the fine print. Some budget airlines may initially be cheap, but will charge you for every little thing like your carry-on bag, suitcase, not having your ticket printed out (true story), etc.
Travel voucher: This isn't an option you can always count on, but airlines sometimes overbook their flights and will offer travel vouchers for people who can hop on the next flight and potentially stay an extra night. If you have the flexibility to do so, you can grab some extra cash and sometimes have your lodging and meals covered.
Military Space A Travel: If you're in the military or a military spouse, this could be an awesome way to hop on a plane for free! I haven't done this personally, but I've heard mostly good reviews traveling this way. Just research flights and bases near you.
Where to Stay
-Use hotel search engines such as Roomer Travel and Hotel Tonight to find discounted rooms
-Try price matching with other hotels. It doesn't always work, but it's worth a try because some hotels will.
-Hostels are the way to go, especially in Europe!! Always be safe, but some hostels do have the option for all-female rooms or some have the option for single rooms. Make sure to bring your own towel and a lock (you're usually given a locker, but not always a lock) to keep your stuff in).
-The best ones (cheap and cute!!) get booked fast, so book an Airbnb ASAP once your plans become finalized.
-If you're already a member of Airbnb, share your referral link with friends and family. They get to save money AND you get to earn some extra cash so it's a win-win!
-If your trip is last minute, you might be able to get a discount with the host if you message them beforehand since a cheaply booked Airbnb is better than not being booked.
-If you're planning on staying somewhere a long time, some hosts give you a long-stay discount. In the long run, it might be cheaper to stay in one Airbnb for a month than for 2-3 weeks.
This is such a great way to be one with nature and see new places. Look up camp sites at national parks and state parks for both tent camping and car camping. Getting a big van or an RV is also such a cool experience and makes it easy to have your vehicle/bed/kitchen all together.
Eating While Traveling
-If you'll be at a place for more than 2-3 days, go grocery shopping if you're staying somewhere with a kitchen (and on that note, try to plan ahead and book someplace with a kitchen)!! Buy food that you can use throughout the week - such as eggs, rice, vegetables, bread for sandwiches and toast, etc. Go in with a plan though, because it's easy to overbuy supplies.
-Feel free to ask a restaurant for "extra" so you can make a meal last for 2 meals (ex. eating half a footlong sub tonight and the other half tomorrow)
-Bring your own snacks! This is also easier to make sure you'll be eating a bit healthier, but it's also easy to pack a few snack baggies of snacks instead of spending money on snacks every afternoon. Some good non-perishable snacks are crackers, trail mix, granola bars, etc.
How/What to Pack
-Look up what the weather will be like while you're there. Some northern states/countries might be cooler even in the summer or some places might have cooler nights that you might want pants and a sweatshirt for.
-Tryyyy not to overpack. Easier said than done (trust me, I'm not much of a light packer either). But try to be realistic with what you'll actually need (Do you really need 5 outfits for a 2 day trip?? Probably not..). Jewelry and other accessories are something super easy to pack (and doesn't add weight to your bag) to change up your outfit from day to night.
-If you're just going to be gone for 2-3 days and/or will be city hopping and/or if you'll be arriving in places before you're allowed to check into, I highly suggest using a backpack. It forces you to pack lighter because otherwise you'll be forced to lug it with you everywhere and get a sore back.
Traveling Solo vs in Small Groups vs a Bigger Group
Traveling Solo: it's easier for you to do the activities you want to do, you don't have to wait on others, etc. Honestly it's a great way to grow and learn more about yourself and just kinda reflect on life without any interruptions. Obviously be safe about it, but highly recommend it!!
Groups: Honestly, I think it depends on where you're going for you to decide on how many people you'll be traveling with. However, make sure you're traveling with a good group of people who are drama free (or maybe that's just my one requirement...?). Even if you end up traveling with a group of strangers or only know a few other people, traveling makes it sooo easy to get to know people quickly and on a deeper level. Always be open-minded and remember that compromising goes a long way too.
Small Groups: If you're in a city, it's easier to be with a smaller group (like 2-6 people). Especially in Europe, where restaurants and cafes aren't use to accommodating to larger groups. Also, by going in a group, it's easier (and cheaper) to find lodging and split the cost of that. If you're planning on going to a grocery store instead of eating out more, you can also split the grocery bill. Beforehand, I'd discuss with everyone what their must-see and do's are to make sure you're all on the same mindset or that everyone doesn't mind splitting up (whether in pairs or individually) at some point to do whatever activities they want to do and see.
Bigger Groups: Out in nature (like a camping trip) is a bit easier for bigger groups (8+ people) , although traveling with a big group is always fun no matter if you're in a city or nature or wherever!! One thing to be aware of is that you might have to split up more often - whether it's a restaurant (especially if you're abroad) or to do activities. Again, a good thing about groups is that it's easier to split lodging costs (if you were to get an Airbnb or a cabin, for example) and even food costs if you're planning on cooking more than eating out.