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Budget Travel: How to Get the Most for Your Money

Plan your next vacation on a budget with these 8 smart travel tips. Learn about saving on flights, hotels and dining, planning a tour, and more.

By Bill Camarda | American Express Credit Intel Freelance Contributor

4 Min Read | December 20, 2019 in Money



Even the most cost-conscious people can travel if they plan properly.

Often, when you travel matters as much as where you travel.

Here are 8 tips to help you travel the world on a budget.

It’s a big, glorious, fascinating world. Chances are, you’d love to see as much of it as you can—but travel can be expensive. Fortunately, there are great ways to travel without breaking the bank. This article compiles tips on some of the best ways to save money while traveling, how to budget your trip, and how to travel on a budget. In other words, it’s all about squeezing more great experiences out of your hard-earned travel budget.


Save with Your Travel Budget Goal in Mind

One way to start is by automating your savings—that is, setting up a bank account just for your travel dollars and automatically moving a small amount into it weekly or monthly.


You might identify some small expenses you could forgo for a while. The quintessential example is those expensive daily coffees, but maybe for you it’s a rarely used subscription streaming service or gym membership. Or maybe reduce your expenses for things you get no pleasure from at all: interest payments on loans you could consolidate at a lower rate, or heat and air conditioning left running when you’re not home.


To build your travel bankroll, also consider using travel credit cards that generate reward points, or cash back credit cards where the reimbursement can go straight into your travel savings.


Build a Preliminary Travel Budget, Then Get Creative

Now, you can start thinking about the fun side: where you’ll go and when. You can use standard travel sites to get a baseline sense of what transportation and lodging cost, and then do a quick back-of-the-envelope estimate of what you might spend while you’re there. Consider meals, snacks, gifts, local transportation, admission fees, hotel taxes (sometimes surprisingly high), and tips—and add a buffer for expenses you can’t predict. Depending on your risk tolerance, perhaps consider travel insurance. Also, match tipping customs to your destination—they can vary significantly from country to country.


If that budget number is too high—and it often is—it’s time to get creative about tips to save money on vacation. There are plenty of ways to spend less, depending on your interests, flexibility, and how much pampering you demand. Here are eight ideas to help get your budget travel motor running.


8 Budget Travel Tips

  1. Look for airline and hotel flash sales. Airline websites, third parties such as Skyscanner, Airfwarewatchdog, and Scott’s Cheap Flights, and aggregators such as Secret Escapes, Stayful, Hotel Tonight, and Groupon Getaways offer flash sales and limited-time offers on excess inventories of airplane seats and rooms.1
  2. Consider going off the beaten path. Less-traveled destinations may cost less than intensely touristed places such as Paris and Rome. US News’ recent survey of lower-cost European travel options included Portugal’s Porto and Lisbon; Spain’s Valencia; Hungary’s Budapest, and due to recent exchange rate shifts, Turkey’s Istanbul.2
  3. Travel during “shoulder” or offseason. You can save substantially by avoiding your destination’s peak season. Often, you can get the best of both worlds by traveling during “shoulder season”—weeks that aren’t quite peak, but aren’t square in the off season either. In much of Europe, that’s mid-to-late spring, as well as September and October. But check, because seasons vary by destination.3 And, of course, seasons are reversed in the Southern Hemisphere.
  4. Travel light. As American travel writer Rick Steves puts it: “You'll meet two kinds of travelers: those who pack light and those who wish they had.”4 So, it’s a good idea to pack light. Can you stick with carry-ons only? If you and a traveling companion both usually check a bag, can you share one and use it for large toiletries, scissors, and other items you can’t carry on? Baggage charges are trending higher, especially if you fly discount carriers or choose basic economy fares.
  5. Eat light. A simple picnic lunch in London’s Hyde Park, New York’s Central Park, or Madrid’s Parque del Buen Retiro can be as unforgettable an experience as a meal at a Michelin-starred restaurant. If you can, grab your food in local markets—for example, Montreal’s Jean-Talon Market, a 15- to 20-minute stroll to the lovely Jarry Park.
  6. Take free tours. Some of the best city tours are free, often staffed by smart, entertaining locals who know their cities inside out—and who hope to earn your tips. Take these tours early in your visit to get the lay of the land. You can use them to figure out where you want to spend more time on your own, and to get advice on exploring your destination.
  7. Plan other freebies, too. New York’s Museum of Modern Art is free on Friday evening; Madrid’s legendary Prado is free most evenings; Rome’s Vatican Museum is free on the last Sunday of each month; and London’s British Museum (home of the Rosetta Stone) is always free.5,6,7 Look for festivals and street fairs, and walk wherever you can, especially in cities. When you can’t walk, public transportation is usually far cheaper than taxis and Ubers—and it might be more interesting, too.
  8. Consider alternatives to hotels. Many destinations now sport home-, apartment-, or room-sharing rentals of widely varying shapes, sizes, and costs. Many cities still have hostels for backpackers—many of whom are now employed, rather than students, according to Hostelworld.8 If you’re even more adventurous, you can explore free hospitality services such as


The Takeaway

You can afford to experience more of the planet than you ever thought possible—if you save and budget travel carefully and choose the travel bargains that are just right for you.

Bill Camarda

Bill Camarda has more than 30 years’ experience writing about business, technology, and finance. He is author or co-author of 19 books on information technology.


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