How to travel cheap: the absolute guide to budget travel

"How do you afford traveling so much?" - I have been asked this question way too many times. I can't even count. And I AL...

"How do you afford traveling so much?" - I have been asked this question way too many times. I can't even count.
And I ALWAYS say the same thing, that you do not need to be rich to travel, you really don't.
We all associate travelling with big expenses, but if you're clever and responsible, you can really travel regardless of your budget. How? I will show you how on this post.
Surely, we all have heard that you need money to travel: to pay for accommodation, transportation, food,  activities, etc. But most people have this idea that you need to be somehow rich or wealthy in order to do be able to do this, which means, if you're a broke student or unemployed, you don't stand a chance to see the world - and I couldn't disagree more!
What if I told you that YOU CAN afford travelling, and that you could actually live the travel life with less money than what you need to live your current life, just as long as you give up on some things?
Let's find out how!


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Last updated: January 2021


how to travel cheap

TABLE OF CONTENTS


BEFORE YOU TRAVEL

These are all things you can consider before you travel to ensure that your trip will be hassle free and cheap. 


1) Visit a cheap country

cheap countries
Tatry mountains in Poland. My first trip ever was in Poland, to study abroad (Erasmus). One of the reasons that lead me to choose this country was because of it's incredibly cheap prices, which then allowed me to travel a lot even though I was just a student.

I mean... isn't that obvious?
It should be, but actually is not that obvious.
If you live in a region or country where the wages are considerably high comparing to others (such as Switzerland, Japan, Hong Kong, Norway and many more), this might not be something you have to worry about, but if you live in a country where your monthly wage is about 300€-500€, where you can barely save any money, this might be the most important step of this list.
Remember that getting a good flight deal will be useless if you have to pay tons for your accommodation and food.


Bonus Tip: search online for the most cheap countries, and make a list of those you can afford, and interest you. Do not worry if your dream is to visit a very expensive country, life might change. Focus on what you can do now, instead of feeling down for what you can't.

Also, have in mind that a country can have extremely cheap food and services, yet be very pricey when it comes to accommodation. An example of this is Algeria. Algeria is relatively cheap, but not very opened to tourism. Thanks to that, the demand for accommodation is so low, that hostels and low budget hotels are very difficult to find.



2) Plan ahead

plan ahead

Once you know where you want to go (or even if you don't), my second tip is planning ahead, as your whole trip will really depend on it.
The most expensive things on your trip are likely to be way cheaper if you book them ahead. This includes flight tickets, accommodation, attractions that you can pay for online and get a better deal, and even rental cars.
I remember back in 2013 when Poland had the Polski bus that would offer tickets from 1€ if booked way in advance. I think the same company (now under Flixbus) is now offering tickets from 5€, which is still fairly good.
To help you understand where to start from, I will explain you what I normally do.

  1. If I know that I want to visit a specific destination: Do a research to understand the peak season and off-peak season. Check prices along the year from different airports (when applicable) and compare them (I use Skyscanner and EasyJet Low Fare Finder for this). Then, I see if I can pay for the cheapest flights, and if this time of the year is convenient for me. There are cases where you can find a cheap flight from a busy city such as London, and its worth buying one ticket from your city there, and from there to your destination.
  2. If I don't know where I want to go, but I feel like travelling on a certain month: I will use EasyJet Inspire Me, select what my budget is (the lowest possible :p) and check if I want to go to any of the destinations available for that month.


Bonus Tip: The prices will also change according to the country you're buying your tickets from. For example, a ticket from Singapore to Bali might cost £100 if I'm buying from the UK, but cost the double if I'm purchasing them from Singapore, even though I am purchasing the same ticket! (this was just an example so the values can totally change). To fix this, you can use a VPN service to change your location so you can try out few different options and find out the cheapest for the most convenient flight



3) Travel off-season

travel off-season

And since I mentioned peak and off-peak season, one of the top tips to travel cheap is to travel off-season. Many times, travelling off-season is associated with bad weather (low temperatures, rainy seasons, etc.), but the truth is, you can get REAAALLY lucky. And sometimes, you might travel at peak season and be unlucky with the weather.
Travelling off-season will also take the crowds away from your experience, which is amazing! No one likes to wait in long queues or have to wait for other people to move away so they can see the landmarks and take a photo with them.
But, since we're talking about money, why exactly travelling off-season will save you money?
Not only the flight tickets will be way cheaper, but accommodation, restaurant prices, attraction tickets, everything will likely be way more affordable than during the busiest months.


Bonus tip: consider doing most of your paid attractions during week days. When doing your research, you might find that certain activities are cheaper during the week than the weekend. If you've got no time to do research, stay on the safe side and do more outdoors/free activities during the weekend. The same thing can be applicable to flights, as most cheaper flights are during the week, and prices raise considerably from Friday to Monday.



4) Take advantage of long weekends and months where work is quiet

budget travel work
My boyfriend isn't able to travel as much as I do because of his work, so we have to plan it very well. This was in 2018, when we both travelled in November (off-season) to Salzburg, for a short weekend getaway. We had great weather and the Autumn foliage made the views way more beautiful than in Summer!

Another reason why planning ahead is so important, is because by doing so, you can think about strategies to save some of your holiday days.
Is there any long weekend that you can use for a short getaway? If you've got a family, what season can you all travel together? Or if you're planning on leaving your kids with someone else, when exactly can you do this?
On my case, December is a great month to travel. Most of my clients are away and many of my classes get cancelled, so staying in town isn't really worth it for me. I use those days to visit my family back in my home country, whereas in another month I will be loosing money and potentially clients.
Have a look at your calendar. If you work for someone else, what months are your colleagues going to take their holidays? If you're self-employed, what months of the year are you less busy?



5) Join a Loyalty/Travel Rewards Program

travel rewards programs

Travel Rewards or Loyalty Programs are offered by many airlines, and they're basically points programs that give you free flights or other benefits (such as free seats, checked bags, etc.) as a reward for using their services consistently. The more you travel with the company, the more points you get, and the closer you are to finally get that free trip. Some programs will be based on miles, while others will depend on how much you spend on each flight.
In the last few years, some airlines started offering hotel bookings and rental cars, which can then revert into points too. Some hotels and credit cards also offer similar benefits.
I personally have never used none of these because I tend to fly with low cost airlines that do not have this option.



6) Subscribe to newsletters and use travel apps to save money

flight discounts
For a while, I was only travelling within Europe because I couldn't imagine paying around £1000 on flight tickets. Thanks to the Jack's Club, I paid £320 return from London to Rio de Janeiro, and my whole trip of 17 days (including the most expensive destination in Brazil and another super pricey excursion) cost me only about £1300.
     

Wondering how your travel freak friends get all of those crazy deals on flights and accommodation?
Here is the answer: subscribe to low cost airline newsletters (such as Ryanair and EasyJet) to be one of the first knowing about their sales and big deals, or the Jack's Club, which I have been using to book most of my cheap flights, to be honest - they have info on cheap flights from Europe, UK and Ireland, and USA.


Bonus Tip: stay on top of your expenses during your travel with Splitwise. This App is extremely helpful specially if you travel with friends and want to split the costs without too much headache.



7) List your house on Airbnb

Earn some money while you're away, by having someone staying at your house. This can easily cover some of your expenses and it will be a way of paying for your accommodation or food while you're abroad.



8) Look online for discounted packages and passes

travel discounted packages

Many places have discounted packages or passes that you should get before your trip, in order to be able to visit more for less. This is the case of the LondonPass in London, the JordanPass in Jordan, and many other country or city passes that are available online.
Buying these packages ahead will allow you to check if it's worth buying them or not: which activities are included? Are you interested in them? Would you pay for them otherwise? How much money will you be saving with the pass?
Ask yourself all of these questions and you will know if it's worth purchasing the existing pass or not.
The same thing can be applicable to train rails, such as Interrail (train pass within Europe to European residents) and Eurail (train pass within Europe to Non-European residents).


Bonus Tip: If you are a student, or under 25 years old, chances are that you will find plenty of discounts on many attractions. Take advantage of them while you can!



9) Look for opportunities

The first time I ever travelled, it was thanks to Erasmus, an European student exchange program that allows you to spend one semester or even a whole year of University in a different country, doing similar subjects to the ones you would be studying in that year. Not only you have the opportunity to study abroad (so you don't miss a year of education), you also get a certain amount of money to support you while you study there, so if you're on a budget, just choose a cheap country (like I did) and money will certainly not be an issue! 
Doing Erasmus changed my life! If it wasn't for that experience, this travel blog would never exist and I would probably not even know that I absolutely LOVE to travel!
There are other student exchange programs (so if you don't live in Europe, don't be discouraged!) and other opportunities, such as volunteering overseas or even enrolling in programs that promote working abroad for a year or two after you've graduated. I had a cousin that did this and went to Brazil for work!





WHILE TRAVELLING

There is a lot you can do to save money during your trip, so here are some options.


10) Pack light

pack light

Taking a check-in bag with you can be very pricey. Even if the value doesn't seem much at first, you still have to pay for it again on your return, so a bag that costs £20 to drop off, will cost you £40 for the entire trip (not to mention that you will have to be at the airport way before your departing time and will have to wait on your arrival too).
As a low-budget traveller, you are better off with a hand luggage. Take only essential things with you, and remember that doing laundry at your accommodation it's always an option. I travel with lots of photography gear and still manage to pack light most of the time. One of my tricks is to use jackets with big pockets (when applicable), have a folding backpack that takes very little space in my luggage and packing cubes to save space and compress my clothing, so that I can take 7 dresses instead of 4.
Check my packing equipment HERE to find all of these and more.



11) Save money by sleeping on a hostel or have a room just for yourself... FOR FREE

couchsurfing experience
One of our best Couchsurfing experiences was in Salzburg. A young lady was visiting London and was looking for a place to stay. Since she was from Salzburg and we were visiting her town in the following weeks, she wouldn't be there, but she kindly offered to speak to her family and check if they would be willing to receive us. We spent a wonderful evening talking to this warm-hearted people, had breakfast with them and her dad even offered to pick us at the Zoo and takes us to the airport on our last day. We could not ask for more.
             

A room for free? Yep, that's completely possible.
Accommodation is certainly one of the biggest expenses of your trip, so if you are on a budget, than you should be opened to find ways to save on your sleep. This will depend on how much time you are planning to spend on the place where you will be sleeping (for example, will you require a kitchen, and a living room or will you just go back to sleep and spend most of your day outside doing sightseeing?), as well as what you are willing to sacrifice.
I have put down 5 different options for you:


  1. Stay with relatives/friends/acquaintances
    Do you have friends, relatives or even acquaintances in the area that you will be travelling to, who invited you over at some point? Then why not using their help now? Personally, I prefer other options as I want to be free during my holiday time, and it feels disrespectful to stay at their house and not spend much time with them when I haven't seen them in so long, but I have done this in the past as well. It depends on the person I am staying with, but I have had some great experiences too. You might also try asking your friends if they know anyone who could host you.
  2. Try Couchsurfing
    I have been doing Couchsurfing since 2013, and I absolutely love it. Couchsurfing it's an online community where people make their houses available for travellers. In other words, you can either host people in your house for free, or you can surf at a local's house in a location where you need accommodation, without paying a cent. Some people will have a couch to offer, some an inflatable mattress, some even an empty room, it all depends to what the host have available, and this can be discussed with them prior to your stay. Also, remember that not everyone will be living in the centre of the town, so knowing their location and how to get there is something you should definitely do before you accept a request. Now here is the thing: these people are taking their time and privacy to receive you in their house, so there might be rules that you need to follow, and it's polite of you to be nice to them, and spend some time with them too. Maybe even bring them a gift from your home country. It's an amazing way of experiencing the true culture of the place you're travelling too, as well as meeting new people, and having a great time. I have heard about other communities such as the Global Freeloaders, but I have used Couchsurfing for years and that's the one I really recommend.
  3. Book a hostel
    Not a big fan of staying at some random stranger's house (as I hear every single time I do Couchsurfing)? Then try a hostel instead of a fancy hotel, and you might find a place at a better location. When you sleep at a hostel, you will be surrounded by many other travellers, which is great if you want to meet other people. That being said, you have to be extremely careful with your belongings (make sure you use the lockers properly), and of course, privacy is something you won't really have. But hey, with low-budget, we can't be picky.
    I have had a much better experience on Couchsurfing most of the time, but that's just because I love meeting new people, and I don't mind adjusting my travel to their requirements. Plus: most of the time, I get a much better place to sleep than a hostel.
  4. Try house sitting
    This is something I never tried because I would rather pay for a hostel or do Couchsurfing, but house sitting offers you the chance to have a house for yourself, in exchange for a service: most of the time is taking care of the owner's pets, cleaning the house, do gardening, etc. If you're curious about it, there are many sites offering this, one of them being MindMyHouse. It's very important, however, to notice that you have to be careful with what you accept: there has been cases where people accept house sitting expecting to be busy at the house for about 2h, and spending the remaining hours sight-seeing, but when they got to the place, the house was such a mess, they could not live in there unless they would clean it properly - not a nice holiday, huh?
  5. When commuting, take night transportation
    I can imagine some of you like "hell no!". But you know what? If you have to travel for many hours, why not combine it with the hours of sleep so that you save a ton of time and money? I have done this in trains and couches and although my back might not appreciate it and I might have been a bit sleepy the next day, I do not regret doing that at all. Some night transportations have beds available for a higher price, so if you can't imagine yourself sleeping on a regular seat, then this can be a great option. Taking a night train means one more day of my precious time on holiday, and one less night that I have to pay for accommodation. So... why not?


12) Cook your own meals

travel save money on food
When I do Couchsurfing, I like to cook dinner at my host's place (if they're ok with it), so we can eat together and I can give them something as appreciation for their time and kindness. Sometimes, the hosts want to cook for their surfers too. This was one of these cases, where our host in Genova cooked a delicious and typical pasta from the area.
           

If you've got a way of cooking your meals at the place you're staying at, then this is a great way of saving money. If you suck at cooking, then you can always buy frozen ready meals in the supermarket and heat it up on a microwave or oven. If this doesn't sound like a good idea to you, then there are other options that will save you less money, but still going to help if you are on a budget:

  • When eating out, look for cheaper restaurants, order a good amount of food and save the leftovers for dinner;
  • If you're going to choose between lunch or dinner to eat out, choose lunch as many places will offer a lunch deal (and as I mentioned on the point above, you will be able to save for dinner too)



13) Hire a bicycle, walk around sightseeing points or take public transportation

budget travel transportation
I visited Palma de Mallorca with Joel back in June 2017 (a trip that cost us only £25 return each) and because we didn't have money to hire a car, we hired bicycles and explored by bus!

Depending on where you're planning to go, this is very possible with good planning. Some destinations can be perfectly seen by walk, bicycle or even local buses. Not only will you be helping the environment, but your finances as well.

Hiring a car can be very pricey, and taking a taxi around will make you regret not planning your trip ahead. You can also try hitchhiking or blablabla car.
When visiting a place that is hard to see without having a car, choose wisely the company you rent your car with (we recommend RentalCars and Economybookings) and make sure you have insurance. It might seem an extra payment at first, but if you're on a budget, you don't want to risk having to pay a massive fee for damaging the car.



14) Decide what your priorities are

Are you picky with food? Or accommodation? Or the amount of exercise that you have to do? Do you prefer to visit museums, view points, parks, palaces, or just go hiking?
From your preferences, you will have to decide which ones are you willing to pay for, and which ones you're not.
Just because there is a lot of paid attractions in one city, doesn't mean you are supposed to do all of them. There is always lots to do for free on each place.


Bonus tip: to save more money, avoid indoor or paid activities and choose free activities instead. For example: you can visit a popular castle from the outside without entering. You can also take free walking tours around the town instead of paying for one (bear in mind that they will kindly ask for a donation at the end).



15) Earn money overseas or exchange your services

travel cheap retreat
In 2018 I was invited to work on a Health Retreat as a Personal Trainer and Zumba/Body Conditioning Instructor. While I didn't get paid for my classes, I did enjoy a free travel and a full week of relaxing away from the busy daily life, with healthy food, a pool and other activities.
      

Who says you can't earn money while you're abroad? This will depend entirely on your daily job, lifestyle, skills and what you're willing to do (once more). I will touch very briefly a few options, but if you want to go more in depth on this, make sure you check my post with over 30 travel jobs to earn money while travelling (for all of the possible options!) as well as the list of steps to follow in order to know which travel job is best for you.


Work overseas

  • If you are a Yoga Instructor, you can find many Yoga Retreats that will pay for your expenses and services, while you get a free holiday at a nice destination. Some might not be willing to pay for your services, but agree on covering the whole holiday. Retreats are available for all sorts of people, so this can be applicable to Personal Trainers, Dancers, Nutritionists, and many many more;
  • Certain sports such as diving, surfing, adventure sports, skiing, snowboarding and ice skating are needed all over the world and are often recruiting instructors;
  • Speakers can be invited to do speeches at conferences overseas;
  • Athletes can earn free travel when required to attend competitions in different countries;
  • Flight attendants have the benefit to spend some of their free time in destinations they haven't been to, all for free;
  • Cruises are often looking for people to work for them. While you will be working many hours and not having a lot of time to do sightseeing, you will earn good money and depending on your job, you might actually enjoy quite a lot of the cruise. You can work as an entertainer, gym instructor, bartender, cook, administrator, room service attendant, and many more;
  • Travel agents are often sent abroad to deal with potential partners and organise holiday packages;
  • Tour guides can work in different countries, as long as they abide by the legislation and have the necessary qualifications;
  • Travel bloggers and influencers can be contacted by companies to promote their services, while earning a free press trip;
  • Many companies offer the opportunity to work for them in a different country for a set amount of time;
  • English teachers can have the opportunity to travel abroad by teaching English in a foreign country;
  • Working as a nanny or carer is a popular way of living overseas without expenses. It's possible to save some money while you explore a new country, learn a new language and do something different. That being said, this type of work can be very time-consuming;
  • You can also volunteer at a country you would love to learn more about, and have a lifetime experience. You can find volunteering work associated with farming, religion, education, charity and many more;


Work remotely
Some jobs allow you to earn the same amount of money regardless of where you're living. This is the case of online services, such as consulting, video editing, remote costumer services, and many more. If you have this type of job, you can easily travel the world without worrying about your expenses, as long as you get your job done and do not stay at countries you can't afford to live.


Get extra cash during your holiday
Up until now, I mentioned ways of working and living abroad. However, if you are not willing to give up on your daily job, but still want to earn some cash while travelling, here are some ideas:

  • Street performer: got skills? Can you entertain people? If you can dance, play music, sing, make jokes, pretend to be a statue, or anything else that will attract people's attention, than you can be a street performer. Try it, earn some extra cash and come back home with an unforgettable experience
  • Help local's with simple tasks: there are websites and apps available to people who are looking to get someone to help them with daily tasks such as cleaning the house, pack and moving houses, do some gardening, fixing a furniture, etc. If there's something that you can do, and you got the time to invest on it, then why not?




16) Watch out for fees and avoid them with a fee-free debit/credit card

fee free card travel

When paying for something abroad, or even withdrawing cash from an ATM, you might get charged a fee that generally ranges between £1-£2. Large amounts of cash will mean bigger fees, and even when they're small, it's still money you're losing, and if you keep on doing payments with a card that charges you, it all adds up, and you will end up with a very big expense just on fees.
Luckily for us, cards like Revolut and Monzo exist.
Instead of being charged for any transaction you do on a foreign currency, these cards simply charge you the value you are supposed to be charged, on your currency. Isn't that amazing?


17) Be open minded

caravan budget travel

This is probably a tip you won't find it anywhere else, really.
It's easy to say that we can't. The hardest is to fight the barriers and find a solution.
If you really are on a low budget, you can't be picky. And I mean it.
How can you travel cheap, if you say that cooking your meals, taking public transportation and staying at other people's houses isn't for you? No one will be able to help you find other solutions when you turn down the ones that can sort your problem out.
There are families who travel together on a budget. Some hosts on Couchsurfing don't mind kids, and some couples save up money to buy a caravan or transform a big 4x4 into a "living space" for few days. 
 
Where there is a will, there is a way.
I truly believe we are capable of anything we put effort into.
Having a big family, being a carer, working on an extremely strict job, all of these can prevent you from travelling, but there are always workarounds.
Oh, and don't be afraid of what other people will think of you, because you're sleeping at hostels, or because you do Couchsurfing, because you're taking your kids with you on a crazy adventure, or because you visited a famous town and yet you didn't see the most popular attractions. No one will dictate your happiness, except for you.




18) Be positive, and start slowly

local travel
After living 5 years in England, I visited Seven Sisters (a beautiful and easy day trip from London) for the first time. We often focus too much on international travel and forget to explore our surroundings!

Still think you won't be able to afford it? Consider travelling in your home country.
When we live in a place, we take it for granted and don't fully explore it. I am sure there are lots of places you haven't steeped feet on, that would truly blow your mind!

Bonus tip: Another way of experiencing travel is to bring the world to you, instead of going out to the world - go on a Meetup event to meet other travellers and people with same interests as you, or receive surfers in your house and listen to their stories. You can even ask them to bring a postcard from their countries! :)




And that is it, my absolute guide for a low-budget holiday. Hope it helps you, and more importantly, it encourages you to travel regardless of how much money you've got. Travelling is available to almost all of us, if we really want to. Lots of love! 




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