Travel on a Tight Budget

If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you’ve figured out that I absolutely love to travel. And you also know that I’m more of a saver than a spender. Those two practices seem at odds, right? I often talk to people who view travel as completely unaffordable. They end up living vicariously through others who are willing to make it happen. But why shouldn’t those great travel stories and experiences be your own?

Here’s the deal: I’m convinced you can make travel a possibility on any budget. My first visit to New York City in college was one of the cheapest trips I’ve ever taken, and it was probably one of the most memorable. The secret to traveling well is to know your budget and have a clear sense of where you want to splurge and where you want to save. When I went to New York, I knew I wanted to splurge on a hotel room that was in a safe area right on the main drag. I saved by walking everywhere, eating street food, and taking advantage of student discounts whenever I could.

Want to make travel a reality on your budget? Here are a few things to keep in mind:

·      You Don’t Have to Go Far to Have an Adventure: When people hear the word “travel” they often envision heading overseas or at least cross-country. But chances are you could have just as much fun exploring a destination that’s close to where you live. Last summer, my husband and I took a small weekend road trip around southern Minnesota: We saw bison and waterfalls at a local state park, had a lovely night out in a nearby city, visited a scenic overlook, and took a slow drive along the river back home. We covered 300 miles in two days and, since we purchased the hotel room using points, the only costs we incurred were for gas and food.

Tip: It’s easy to dream of new destinations and forget to explore nearby attractions. Do a little research on things to do within a 100-150 mile radius of your house. Maybe it’s wine tasting at a local winery, camping at a local state park, exploring an out-of-the-way small town, or enjoying a night out in a new city. Find one or two attractions and make them the highlight of your trip, then see where the road takes you.

·      Embrace the Off Season: If you’re a teacher, or you have school-aged children, your travel windows are probably limited to spring break, Christmas break, and the summer. But if you don’t, you’ll find better deals on hotels and airfare as well as shorter lines at local attractions during less-popular times of the year.

Tip: Pay attention to weather patterns. There may be times of year you actually want to avoid, such as hurricane season or the dead of winter when all of the local businesses close up shop.

·      Pick Your Loyalties: You may not think you travel enough to make this worthwhile, but hotels and airlines have been upping their game on their rewards programs — making it even easier to get free hotel rooms and flights.

Tip: Do your research to determine which airline and hotel chain best fit your needs. Do you often check luggage? Which areas of the country do visit you most often? Find a hotel chain with a variety of different price point hotels included so you have your choice of options to fit your budget.

·      Be Creative with Housing: You might start by traveling to places where you can stay with family or friends. Or, expand your horizons by staying in a smaller place than you might be used to. My husband and I bunked in a one-room cabin in South Dakota a few years ago, and soon we will be renting a tiny house on Minnesota’s North Shore. This can save you significant money and make your trip even more unique.

Tip: If you can, travel with other people. Adding a few extra bedrooms to your housing search is often way less expensive than staying in separate locations.

·      Don’t Eat Out for Every Meal: As a foodie, experiencing local cuisine is one of my travel highlights. But eating out for every meal can get old (not to mention expensive) quickly. Whether you are staying in a hotel or renting a home, take advantage of the local grocery store to pick up items for easy breakfasts and on-the-go lunches so you can make going out for a meal special and not a necessity.

Tip: Having a kitchen in our Airbnb is a non-negotiable for us. If you can’t get a full kitchen, at least find a space with a refrigerator and microwave. You’ll be grateful to have those options available to you.

·      Give Your Budget Some Breathing Space: I get it — you want to move from zero to travel as fast as you can. But how much more fun would your trip be if you had a little wiggle room? My husband and I planned and saved up for our dream trip to Paris for three years. But because we took the time to save more than our budget said we’d need, we had extra spending money so we could take advantage of things we could never plan for in advance.

Tip: Build into your travel budget extra money for eating out, experiences, and spending on souvenirs. Giving yourself a cushion will give you more freedom to take a breath and enjoy your trip without having to constantly check your wallet. Best of all, if you don’t spend it all on this trip you’ve got a head start on saving for your next one.

·      Pad Your Time on Either End: Nothing kills a travel buzz like being stressed or anxious. We’ve learned that leaving on Saturday gives us time to get the house ready and pack after the work week ends – and coming back the following Saturday grants us a whole day to relax and get ready for the upcoming week. I initially thought I would regret spending one less day at my destination, but I never have.

Tip: If you can, leave a little later and come back a little earlier. Often, you’ll save some money in the process, too, by not traveling during peak times — not to mention one less night of lodging and expenses. 

Have you traveled on a tight budget? What are your best tips? Share below!

Don’t forget to join me live on Facebook or Instagram on Thursday night at 8pm Central. I’ll be sharing practical tips to help you make that dream trip a reality.