Affordable travel is easier than most think. Learn ways to save on your next trip and create a low cost travel itinerary with my 10 BUDGET TRAVEL TIPS!
Affordable travel...two words that rarely appear together. Many people are under the assumption that travel is expensive and there is no such thing as low cost travel. Nothing could be further from the truth!
If you travel smartly it doesn’t have to break the bank. An amazing trip does not require you to stay at the nicest hotels or dine at the fanciest restaurants. In fact, I strongly believe traveling that way takes away from having an authentic and unforgettable experience.
Some of my best memories include getting lost on the Tube, maneuvering around a hotel room the size of a shoe box, and creating DIY picnic meals. Learn ways to save on your next trip with my list of ways to make affordable travel a reality.
1. TRAVEL DURING SHOULDER SEASON (AKA NON-TOURIST SEASON)
For those unfamiliar with the term shoulder season let’s look at Italy for an example. Italy’s tourist season, or busy season, is late May through early October. Shoulder season would be March through early May and late October through November.
One of the first sites I visit when thinking about a trip is travel.usnews.com. They do a wonderful job of giving a broad (though sometimes lacking in detail) look of when to visit a specific city. In fact, this topic is so important I have published a number of detailed "best time to visit" posts. I go through each month and season and what time of year typically comes with lower costs and crowds and decent weather.
I often save 40-60% on hotels by traveling during unpopular times. You may sacrifice the likelihood of “perfect weather”, but in exchange, you get fewer crowds, little to no lines, and greater flexibility in your schedule since you aren’t required to book everything in advance. Traveling during shoulder season is one of the best things you can do if you are looking to create a low cost travel itinerary
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2. RESEARCH YOUR HOTEL
A lot of my research when planning a trip is spent on the hotel. It’s not because I have to stay in the best of the best or the latest and greatest. It’s because it takes time to find the lowest price possible for a hotel that meets your criteria.
My criteria is a good location, clean, and comfortable. I will also include that it needs to be enjoyable because it doesn’t make sense to stay at a hotel that makes you cringe and possibly taint your entire experience just to save a little extra money.
Think about what your priorities are and then search like crazy. I utilize a lot of booking sites like Tripadvisor, Expedia, etc. and always double check prices by going to the hotel directly to see if they offer “best rate guarantee” type deals. Spending a few more hours researching hotels and saving an average of $50 a night for a 10-day trip can really add up and is worth the effort.
3. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF TRAVEL CREDIT CARDS
I take no shame in playing the credit card game to the max. Research what travel rewards card will work best for you and do not, I repeat, DO NOT use a cash back or any card that does not earn travel benefits. I cannot remember the last time I paid for a flight with cash. Typically your flight is going to be your biggest ticket item. Affordable travel becomes a lot easier If you can nix that cost by using points.
4. DON’T Go Crazy WITH PAID TOURIST ATTRACTIONS
One very common mistake travelers make is filling their itinerary to the brim with paid attractions. You may think you just created a low cost travel itinerary by finding a cheap hotel and paying for your hotel with points...but then end up spending insane amounts of money on paid attractions every single day of your trip.
Having a memorable trip does not mean you need to hit every single, admission required attraction. I rarely will schedule more than 2 paid attractions each day. Is going to the Louvre a must when in Paris? Absolutely! Do you need to hit every major museum in Paris? No (unless you are an art junkie).
A lot of the memorable experiences on a trip are often little to no cost. Schedule time to wander the city and get lost. Check out the local market and pick up your picnic items while you are there!
Instead of paying for 5 walking tours on your next big trip, pick 1 or 2 and create your own walking tours for the rest. I love utilizing Rick Steve’s audio app for free walking tours (available on IOS and Android devices). Always Google free attractions offered by a city or ask your hotel. You might be surprised by the offerings or learning that a museum is free a certain day of the week/month. And voila, affordable travel just became a lot easier.
5. Walk Everywhere
Part with the idea that you will be walking down the streets of Paris in your most fashionable shoes and instead pack your comfortable walking shoes and get ready to hit the streets. Walking not only saves a considerable chunk in your travel budget but is also the best way to get acquainted with a city and get a feel for the layout (not to mention feeling less guilty for all the treats you will be enjoying).
6. Take Public transportation
When walking isn’t an option grab a public transportation map and get comfortable with the system. It may be confusing at first, but trust me, once you get past your first few trips using public transportation it becomes a breeze. It always makes me sad when I hear someone went to London and didn’t get on the Tube once! Not only did they spend a small fortune in cab fares but they missed an experience. You just can’t visit London without hopping on the Tube
7. Eat at Food markets
One of my favorite things when traveling is checking out the food markets! Not only is it a great opportunity to try a variety of local dishes in one place but makes affordable travel a breeze with the cheap prices. It's a lot more fun and provides much more opportunity to meet people than sitting in some fancy restaurant paying tourist sized prices.
See also: Best Food Markets in Madrid, Spain
8. Learn the Art of Grab-and-go picnics
Grab a baguette from the boulangerie by your hotel, some cheese from the fromagerie and a sampling of meats from the boucherie. Walk to a close by park and you’ve got yourself one affordable, memorable, and delicious meal! You are now on your way to becoing a low cost travel expert.
If the weather isn’t great find a grab-and-go café type place (these are crazy popular in Europe) and have a quick bite there. This way of eating (especially in the afternoon) not only saves cash but precious sightseeing time
9. Do as the locals do
I try to avoid hotels, restaurants, bars, etc. aimed at tourists (and most especially American tourists). Don’t go to the bar at the Four Seasons or The Ritz and drink a €15+ cocktail.
Instead, go to the local pub or wine bar for a €3 glass of wine. Even when I travel with my husband we never go to the ritzy restaurants. Not only does it cost a small fortune, but it also makes packing much more of a headache. When you stick to the casual spots the locals hit you aren’t forced to pack or waste time changing into fancy restaurant attire.
I also find it’s a lot more fun and easier to make friends when you are going to the casual restaurants and bars filled with locals and like-minded tourists.
10. Pack like a pro
Continuing on the thought of skipping the fancy restaurants and therefore bypassing the need to pack chic outfits, let’s talk about packing. Not only is over packing a pain in the you know what by having to drag said luggage to every destination, those pesky luggage fees can really put a damper on your day each time you hit the airport.
Why fellow travelers feel the need to wear an outfit only once when they travel I will never understand. I plan on wearing every outfit at least 3 times. Guess how much space 4 outfits take vs. 12! Don’t pack 14 pairs of socks, underwear, etc. for a two-week trip. Utilize your hotel sink, pack a travel bottle of laundry detergent and voila - you just saved some precious luggage space without having to sacrifice one outfit.
I could go on and on...which is why I dedicated two blog posts on how to pack light. These tips and tricks are a life saver and allow me to carry on for 2 week trips. If you prefer videos, head to my Instagram profile page and click on the "Packing Tips" highlights reel. I go through everything I'm packing and how I'm packing for several different trips of varying lengths and weather conditions.
Affordable travel is within reach and will become second nature when you put these tips to practice. You will quickly find that travel doesn't have to be expensive nor does a low cost trip mean you are missing out by not spending a fortune. Traveling with the above tips will actually give you a more authentic experience and the chance to mesh with the locals!
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Additional travel tips
Are you a budget travel expert? Share your affordable travel tips in the comments below!
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