Source: Denise Jans on Unsplash

Budget Travel

Budget travel is a popular trend that has seen a rise over the years as travelers choose to be price-conscious while traveling to faraway destinations. If we look at travel trends from just a decade or so ago, holidays meant spending time at the beach or stuffing your car with bags of essentials as you crossed state borders. Foreign travel was unthinkable for a lot of middle-class families. However, with the rise in disposable income — along with budget airlines and travel influencers — it is now easier to stroke the hidden wanderlust in all of us.

Source: ian dooley on Unsplash

More and more people are traveling, not just domestically but to remote regions of the world that were once considered exotic. Travel is no longer equated with being rich or overly expensive, especially when planned effectively. When money is not a constraint, any destination and accommodation type are accessible. But the best way to travel without going into debt is to rely on effective budget travel hacks and tips.

Being on a budget does not mean traveling cheaply but going to places where you can stretch your dollar. These are also places that are popular on the tourist trail because they offer the perfect balance of culture, activities, and cuisine. So, whether you are thinking of the scenic trails of Oregon or the powder-white sand of the resorts in the Maldives, it can all be done on a budget.

What is budget travel?

Source: Gerrie van der Walt on Unsplash

When most people think of budget travel, they immediately think of backpackers on a leisurely trip around the globe. Rather, budget travel allows couples, groups of friends, or families to explore the world without breaking the bank. Thanks to the explosion of social media, we are forever inundated with pictures of exotic locations that we might think are beyond our budget. But all it takes is some careful planning and flexibility, and before you know it, you are on a flight. Also, it does not hurt to get off the normal tourist trail and experience the culture or pose for a photograph without standing in long queues.

Traveling on a budget does not mean visiting unpopular destinations or relying on the cheapest and slowest mode of transport. Budget travel allows tourists to travel to some of the most popular places around the globe without skimping on the experience. It also does not mean sacrificing comfort. As long as travelers set a budget and allocate it effectively, they are sure to have a memorable holiday.

Budget travel will not get you a room at the Four Seasons, but it will allow you to book the cutest little cottage in places such as Maine. And while it will not have you eating Michelin-starred meals, it will let you taste some of the best street food in Thailand. Moreover, embarking on a great budget journey increases interactions and allows travelers a glimpse into the local way of life.

So, keep an open mind and be a little flexible, and you will soon be making budget travel a norm for all holidays.

How is budget travel different from backpacking?

Source: Mantas Hesthaven on Unsplash

While backpacking has generally been a way to travel on a budget — with countless tips and apps — budget traveling has long left the realm of traditional backpacking holidays. Budget traveling does not have to mean slugging heavy backpacks and only eating ramen noodles. It also guarantees a full range of experiences while being mindful of expenditures.

More often than not, backpacking means staying in hostels with shared bathrooms. On the other hand, traveling on a budget can still get you cute apartments in the center of Budapest. While you are most likely to find backpackers in the cheaper enclaves of cities or campsites, budget travelers usually happen closer to the center.

While budget travel has no restricted age group, people usually associate backpackers with kids taking a gap year or college students enjoying summer in Europe. Moreover, backpackers are generally on longer trips and always opt for the cheapest accommodations and activities.

All types of travelers need to be flexible with travel dates, and the key to organizing a holiday on a budget is to plan in advance and travel outside of the peak tourist season. An additional benefit of this is a chance to enjoy the locale without the hustle and bustle of big crowds.

Does budget travel have to be local?

Source: Jed Owen on Unsplash

While budget travel can be local as it is a way to save on transportation, it can also mean booking a flight and traveling to a new country or even a whole new continent. Long before travel became accessible for all with the advent of low-cost airlines, budget travel was generally associated with trips close to home. But today, you can easily fly across the globe and hop on cheap domestic flights to head to your next stop.

Budget travel might not suit those who like to choose a destination on a whim because traveling on a budget involves planning. Travelers can even skip taxis and rely on shared cabs or the metro to get around the city. Save money by skipping restaurants near popular tourist attractions and instead pick an equally great place a little further away. And if you can see locals lining up, you have hit a jackpot. Another great way to find the best food joints is by checking the ratings on Google or other food-related websites.

Dining also makes up a large portion of expenditure while traveling. Booking hotel rooms with a kitchen or self-contained apartments is an excellent way to curb restaurant expenses. What’s more, fresh fruits and vegetables are quite affordable in Asia and South America. But that does not mean you have to forgo all the local delicacies — you can always set aside an amount for weekly meals outside.

Tips for traveling on a budget

Source: Damaris Isenschmid on Unsplash

As traveling becomes more accessible, it has also led to accommodations and activities to suit various budgets. While certain popular destinations will always have comparatively higher price points, it is still possible to visit them and have fun. Here are some tips for traveling on a budget:

  • Travel during the off-season and be flexible with your dates

One of the most cost-efficient ways to travel is to skip the peak tourist season and visit during the off-season. For example, instead of traveling to the Amalfi Coast during the summer, plan a holiday between November and February, which is generally the low season. Unless you are traveling to a resort town that only comes alive during the summer, traveling in the off-season will still allow you to absorb the culture.

  • Book tickets in advance

If you plan your holiday early, you have the benefit of comparing flights and timings to see the cheapest available options. Another option is to download an app such as Sky Scanner and allow it to choose the cheapest destination for you. Early booking is the best way to guarantee great tickets if traveling during the peak holiday season.

  • Check for travel discounts

Many airlines offer discounts for students, senior citizens, and military personnel. Check them out before you book! Another great way to score deals is to compare prices from different booking and airline websites to ensure you pay the best price possible.

  • Skip hotels and stay in homestays, Airbnbs, or shared hostels/dorms

While hotels are, no doubt, comfortable and provide a host of top amenities, they can also get expensive. But it does not mean you have to skip staying in them altogether. Local hotel chains are a cheaper alternative to international brands in places such as Asia. Another option is to stay in locally owned inns or guesthouses. Not only will they offer a more authentic experience, but allow visitors a chance to interact with the owners.

Airbnb and VRBO are also excellent accommodations, where you can book everything — from gorgeous glamping spots in Oregon to secluded mountain cabins.

  • Cook for yourself or try local food joints

Food is a huge expenditure when traveling. One of the best ways to work around this is to book a self-catering accommodation or a hotel with kitchen/kitchenette. This way, you'll avoid high restaurant prices. If cooking isn't possible, local food joints are the next best thing and offer excellent quantities of food for minimal prices.

  • Use public transport

Get familiar with the most commonly used mode of transport, be it a tram or rail service. Not only will it help you save money but it will also be much quicker than taxis in some countries. Moreover, public transportation is free if you are lucky enough to be traveling to Tallinn in Estonia.

Moreover, Baltimore’s Charm City Circulator provides a free downtown bus service, running every 15 to 20 minutes on four separate routes. Travelers should also take advantage of the complimentary shuttle service to nearby attractions or the closest transport hub. And if you are planning on staying in a city for a while, forget day passes and pay for a weekly or monthly pass that will be more cost-effective in the long run.

  • Engage in free or low-cost activities

More often than not, the best memories are experiences that cost little to nothing. These can be getting lost in a historic part of town or catching the most magnificent sunset from your RV. No matter where you travel, city parks are free and a great way to spend an afternoon. Spend the day discovering hiking trails, let children play on the swings, and then sit down for a picnic under a shady tree.

Go on a self-guided walking tour of the city, which will also turn out to be an excellent way to learn more about the history of the place. You can combine that with visits to museums, but before you go, check for student discounts and free admission days if possible. You can also attend fun summer concerts and festivals that many cities across the US organize.

  • Interact with locals

Locals are the best source of information, as they can suggest some of the best places to eat and recommend often underrated attractions. They are the ones who know where you can find the best tacos or pad thai in town, so make sure to approach some of them!

  • Exchange your currency at the destination

To avoid hefty foreign exchange fees, be sure to exchange some of your currency at the destination. If that's not an option, you can also check with your bank to see if you can use your debit card to withdraw local money directly from an ATM in the destination.

Top destinations around the world to explore on a budget

Top US destinations to explore on a budget

  • Arizona

Source: Gautier Salles on Unsplash

Arizona is one of the top choices for a low-cost holiday if you love exploring the outdoors. From the awe-inspiring Grand Canyon to the famous Red Rocks of Sedona, Arizona offers countless trails for visitors to the state. Sedona Red Rock Pass costs about 20 USD and can be used for the entire year. Opt for affordable cabins near Sedona or pick hotels with free parking when staying in the lively city. But it is not just the outdoors that are affordable; several attractions and museums in Phoenix also allow free entry. And instead of staying in the city center, you can opt for more affordable resorts nearby.

  • Oregon

Source: Varadh Jain on Unsplash

Start your holiday in Portland, Oregon, where there is no shortage of budget hotels or vacation rentals to rest your tired bodies after a fun day. The city also includes several interesting attractions that are free for all, such as Hoyt Arboretum and Tom McCall Waterfront Park. Before you call it a night, go on a brewery tour for the perfect end to the day.

Skip the more expensive rentals near Crater Lake National Park and opt for an amazing RV rental and camp at Mazama Campground within the park. Next, you can head to the picturesque city of Cannon Beach for a laidback end to your holiday.

  • Wisconsin

Source: Dave Hoefler on Unplash

This mid-western state is a popular tourist destination not just for its scenic splendor but also for its many attractions with free entry. Beginning in the capital Madison, both Henry Vilas Zoo and Olbrich Botanical Gardens do not charge an admission fee. Milwaukee carries the trend with lovely indoor and outdoor attractions that allow for free entry, such as the Oak Leaf Trail, Milwaukee Riverwalk, and Basilica of Saint Josaphat.

Moreover, reserve an RV or a campervan if you are in the mood for a Wisconsin road trip. You can drive around the state, stopping at campgrounds on Lake Michigan or near many state and national parks in Wisconsin.

  • Idaho

Source: Porter Raab on Unsplash

While the state might be popular for its bountiful potato harvest, it is also a great adventure ground for outdoor lovers. Crater of the Moon National Monument & Preserve is a must-visit and costs around 20 USD per vehicle with passengers included. Idaho Falls is also a major city here and can be used as a sleeping base or campsite — most of which are available on a first-come-first-serve basis. Moreover, Idaho Falls is an exceptional place with indoor and outdoor activities and vacation rentals for families.

No matter what time of the year you choose to visit, Sun Valley cannot be skipped. Famous for its slopes during the winter, the city transforms into a lush wonderland with hiking trails and gushing rivers during the summer months. Stay in cozy cabins surrounded by forests close to the city, pick vacation rentals in the heart of Sun Valley, or opt for cheap hotels in Boise. Getting around the city is even made easy with the free bus service available on select days.

  • Texas

Source: Erin Hervey on Unsplash

Texas offers visitors a varied landscape to explore, from the beaches of Galveston to the striking Guadalupe Mountains. San Antonio is the perfect place to learn about the history and culture of Texas and includes several admission-free attractions. These include the UNESCO-listed San Antonio Missions National Historical Park and The Alamo. The state capital, Austin, and Houston offer a multitude of attractions that charge no entry and are great for families.

El Paso is an interesting off-beat destination that is also a major crossing point to enter Mexico. A major attraction here is Fort Bliss, one of the largest military bases in the world. The city offers excellent hotels with breakfast, delicious Tex-Mex cuisine, and a historic trail. Moreover, cities such as Fort Worth and Corpus Christi offer affordable hotel accommodations.

For those looking to take a break and feel like they are the only people around for miles, Waco is a must-visit, as it provides visitors with a full Texan experience with sprawling ranches and a chance to feel like a cowboy.

Top European destinations to explore on a budget

  • Hungary

Source: Bence Balla-Schottner on Unsplash

Boasting a rich history and stunning landscapes, Hungary is another Central European wonder that needs to be on every budget traveler's list. The journey begins from Budapest, a UNESCO World Heritage Site straddling the Danube. Purchase the Budapest card to avail free rides on public transport, entry to a dozen museums, dining discounts, and admission to a thermal spa. Explore the city’s famous landmarks and things to do with your kids before returning to your affordable Airbnb for the night.

From here, take a train to the UNESCO-listed Tokaj for a taste of sweet Hungarian wines. Spend a couple of days here before boarding another train to Miskolc, known for its unique medicinal Cave Bath, and you can even stay in Airbnb accommodations. It is also the gateway to Bükk National Park, which offers guided tours for a minimal fee. Nearby Eger is another popular city with affordable Airbnb rentals and gorgeous attractions.

  • Slovenia

Source: Arnaud STECKLE on Unsplash

This country might not be the first place you think of when planning a European escapade, but it will surprise you in the most expected ways. Ljubljana might be one of the smallest European capitals, but no way is it any less stunning. It also offers affordable places to stay. The best way to get your bearing in the city is by riding on the Urban Electric Train that takes tourists around popular landmarks, such as Plečnik House and the Roman Wall. Moreover, cycling and walking around the city are more suited for tourists who wish to take their time exploring.

Use the capital as a base to explore the many smaller nearby towns before making your way to Bled to lose yourself in nature and other things to do. Slovenia also has more than 10,000 km (6,213.71 mi) of marked trails and is a top destination for hiking. Along the route, you can sleep in forest rest huts or book cute glamping sites.

  • Estonia

Source: 66 north on Unsplash

The country of Estonia is a gorgeous oasis in Northern Europe and boasts lush green forests that will make you feel like you're in an enchanted land. Its capital, Tallinn, is famous for its historical old town and Christmas tree. Just wandering around the center of Tallinn is something every traveler must do to admire the fairytale-like vibe of its medieval buildings and cobblestone streets. For fans of street food, there is also a variety of traditional food to try in Estonia, including the delicious kohuke, which is chocolate-coated sweet curd.

Affordable stay options also aren’t hard to find, with cheap hotels galore.

  • Poland

Source: Elijah G on Unsplash

Offering a collection of interesting and famous buildings, some of which are free to visit, Poland is a great stop for any vacation. From exploring the park behind Krasinski Palace to unraveling the mysteries of Krzyztopor Castle, you'll have much to do here. If you have a little extra to splurge, visit its capital Warsaw’s local markets for fascinating souvenirs and treats to buy, including gorgeous amber jewelry. Kraków, one of Poland’s oldest cities, is also worth a visit to see its gorgeous Main Square. Plus, there are plenty of budget hotels and hostels where you can spend a night or two.

Top Asian destinations to explore on a budget

  • India

Source: Sylwia Bartyzel on Unsplash

India is a kaleidoscopic burst of culture, heritage, and traditions that need to be experienced at least once in your lifetime. Your biggest expenditure when traveling to India will be on your flights. In addition to flying, traveling between cities can be done in air-conditioned overnight trains and buses. With a little bit of research, you can skip tourist hot spots and make your way to unexplored destinations instead. You can travel to Gokarna instead of Goa or visit the mountains of Shimla, both of which offer affordable accommodations. Moreover, you can head to the hills of Northeast India.

While it is recommended that tourists avoid uncooked food, freshly cooked street food is cheap and delicious. And if you get the chance, you should visit some of the country’s famous street food markets. If you prefer eating in a restaurant, there is no shortage of dining establishments. Most hotels also offer a complimentary breakfast, so make sure to eat your fill before heading out for the day.

  • Vietnam

Source: Tron Le on Unsplash

Vietnam is one of the cheapest destinations in Asia to visit, especially for travelers coming from the USA or UK. Not only does it have a straightforward visa process, but it also has free sightseeing and other cheap things to do in cities such as Hội An. You can also eat your way through the country’s diverse food scene in its incredible street food markets without worrying about your wallet. Hanoi weekend night market in Vietnam’s capital is a must-visit site where you’ll find not only classics such as pho but also bright lights and music to serenade you while you eat.

When it comes to affordable stays, Vietnam has great homestays in places such as Sapa that will keep you comfortable while also providing necessary amenities. Backpacker hostels in Hanoi are another option to consider if you’re looking for something more low-maintenance.

  • Thailand

Source: Jakob Owens on Unsplash

Gorgeous beaches, breathtaking natural beauty, and a vibrant culture—these are not hard to see why Thailand is such a popular vacation destination. Whether you want to try water sports in Koh Samui or marvel at Phimai Historical Park’s centuries-old temples, Thailand has attractions to keep you occupied for quite some time. Budget-friendly activities include surfing in Surin Beach’s calm waters and going on a bike tour. You can also easily find an affordable stay option to put your feet up in, such as hotels and resorts. For a fun stay, choose a treehouse, some of which offer great deals for you to grab!

Benefits of traveling on a budget

Source: Andrej Lišakov on Unsplash

  • Cost saving

One obvious benefit is cost savings when you travel during the off-season and choose public transport over taxis. The money that you would spend on fancy hotels or overpriced taxis can be diverted into visiting more attractions or picking something special from the airport shops.

  • Chance to explore the local way of life

Walking or cycling allows tourists to wander into alleys that taxis would generally bypass. It also provides a glimpse into local life and could have you stumbling upon a hidden gem. Traveling in the low or off-season will allow visitors a glimpse into the city when it is not brimming with tourists, all trying to get the perfect Instagram shot.

  • Learning to become more flexible and spontaneous

Budget travel offers a chance to be spontaneous, embark on a new route, or take a detour if you have time to spare. Interacting with locals could lead to them inviting you to a meal or even a wedding at their home or a popular weekend trek. Learn to go with the flow as long as you feel comfortable and safe for a rewarding experience.

Being flexible with your choice of accommodation and opting for public transport will have you saving money as well. Plus, working with limited resources and, thus, having to come up with innovative solutions to any troubles on the fly will teach you to be more resourceful.

  • Networking and making connections

Budget travel offers a chance not to be afraid of being vocal to ask for help or recommendations not only in the city but also for other places in your itinerary. Ask for the best way to travel, reliable local apps, and must-do activities in and around the city.

  • Chance to get off the tourist trail

Google is the main source of information when traveling to a state or a country, but no one knows a place better than the people who live there. They can guide you to places that are not on the popular tourist trail but are just as impressive and with fewer crowds.

  • Chance to plan a longer holiday

You can do more with less money since your budget will be fully planned for the trip, including accommodation and travel costs. Some accommodations, especially rentals, even offer discounts for longer stays that you can use to your advantage.

  • Less environmental impact

Using public transport to get around, bringing reusable items such as water bottles, and conserving resources as much as possible can also lead to your vacation leaving less of a carbon footprint in the world.

Common mistakes to avoid when planning a budget vacation

Source: Jamie Street on Unsplash

  • Not doing enough research before you travel

While some flexibility is part of traveling on a budget, tourists should also research and have a rough itinerary planned before reaching their destination. This will offer a chance to maximize the free-entry days at museums and plan activities around free concerts or events.

  • Not checking if your accommodation is equipped enough

While cheap prices are enticing to look at, it's also important to take the time to ensure that your chosen accommodation has all the basic amenities you might need, such as access to running water, clean interiors, and insulation against the weather. Moreover, the availability of safety features is essential.

  • Underestimating expenses

Going on a budget vacation does involve copious amounts of research and management of resources, and not budgeting for necessary expenses can leave you stranded in unfavorable situations. For instance, not accounting for currency exchange rates might mean you wind up with less cash than you'd planned.

  • Overpacking

Excessive luggage weight can lead to a host of problems, starting right at the airport if you happen to be flying in. Airlines charge exorbitant amounts if the weight of your belongings exceeds the specified limit. Additionally, if your bags are heavy, this could mean you require assistance transporting them from one place to another, which will also cost you extra.

  • Being unaware of local rules and restrictions

To avoid paying fines or penalties for inadvertently going against local customs or laws, you must read up on the destination and ensure you're prepared to follow all the rules.

Experience the joy of traveling without burning a hole in your pocket

Source: Tabea Schimpf on Unsplash

Do not let budget restrictions stop you from your wanderlust spirit to thrive. Look beyond the popular destinations, and you will realize that there is so much of the world waiting to be discovered. Rejoice in the fact that you can visit these untouched wonders before they find their way on every tourist itinerary.

A little research, an open mind, and some flexibility will go a long way in planning and executing a successful budget holiday

Budget-friendly accommodations in the US

Budget-friendly accommodations in Canada and Mexico

Budget-friendly accommodations in the UK

Budget-friendly accommodations in other European countries

Budget-friendly accommodations in Asia

Budget-friendly accommodations in the Caribbean

Budget-friendly accommodations in Oceania

Budget-friendly accommodations in Africa and the Middle East

Budget-friendly restaurants in the US and Canada

Budget-friendly restaurants in Europe

Budget-friendly flight options in the US

FAQ's about Budget Travel

  • Do I have to stay in shared accommodations during my budget vacation
    Not at all. Airbnbs and VRBO listings make it possible to find accommodations to suit a variety of budgets. When traveling internationally, you can book local chain hotels that feature a full set of amenities without the high price points but offer the privacy you need. Airbnbs are also a popular alternative for clean and comfortable accommodations.
  • Are my transportation options limited to buses during a budget vacation?
    Definitely not. You can hire a car or even a campervan when traveling domestically. Many hotels offer complimentary parking bays even for larger vehicles. When traveling out of the country, local buses and trams are an option. Major cities around the world also have metro and underground lines that make for faster travel.
  • Is it safe to travel on a budget?
    It is safe to travel on a budget since you are not staying in places without security. It is, however, always a good idea to practice precaution no matter where you travel. Be careful with your belongings, and always double lock the hotel door. If in doubt, you can also use additional locks or jammers.
  • How can I avoid tourist traps?
    It is always a good idea to read about possible scams or issues in the destination you are trying to visit. For example, in many Southeast Asian countries, cab drivers will take visitors to a gem of a workshop or tell them certain attractions are closed for the day and offer to take them someplace else. Travelers should also be aware of fake law enforcement officers and data theft.
  • How can I find cheap flights for my travels?
    Checking booking and airline websites for discounts, such as those for students and senior citizens, is a great way to cut down on cost. Some airlines might even do flash discounts on their websites. Don’t forget to compare prices across different websites for the best deal!
  • What budget-friendly activities can I enjoy while traveling?
    Self-guided tours are a great way to explore any destination for a lower cost. You can also visit city parks for picnics or strolls. Always research beforehand to see if there are any attractions with free entry that you can add to your itinerary.
  • Is budget travel suitable for families?
    Yes! There are plenty of affordable accommodation and activity options everywhere to make sure you and your loved ones don’t miss out on the fun.
  • How can I save on food expenses while traveling?
    If possible, bring your own cooking equipment to make homemade meals. Altrnatively, opt for accommodations with kitchens or kitchenettes. However, if that’s not feasible, eating at local joints is another option to cut down on costs.
  • How can I make the most of my budget vacation?
    The internet is a great resource when you’re planning a budget vacation. Conducting thorough research online will ensure you book the best accommodation, travel options, and activities for your chosen budget and destination.

Good things are meant to be shared!
Back to top