There are many good reasons to travel, from checking a destination off your bucket list to simply using up a few vacation days. Despite how effortless it can look in the photos afterward, travel can seem intimidating and difficult in the beginning, especially if you’re not traveling with deep pockets. But with a little preparation and planning, you’ll be set to go, no matter the size of your budget.
Any kind of travel requires a financial investment, and the best thing you can do to prepare is to make saving for travel a priority. Set up a separate savings account just for your travel savings, and set aside a little each week or each paycheck. If you’re considering a non-essential purchase, like dinner out or new pair of jeans, put that money in your travel account instead and promise yourself a treat when you’re away.
This is also the time to set a goal, and figure out the answer to basic questions such as, “How much vacation time do I have?” and “What is a realistic budget, based on my savings?” These questions will be guidelines for you in the planning process. If you’re thinking about your budget from the beginning you are less likely to set your heart on budget-busting destinations, hotels or itineraries.
The key to traveling on a budget is doing your homework. Research your destination, and visit message boards on popular travel sites such as Frommer’s or TripAdvisor. Fellow travelers often post detailed itineraries and budget friendly tips. The two biggest expenses for any trip tend to be transportation and lodging, but a little planning ahead can reduce these costs significantly. Check multiple sites when looking for the best airfare, as prices can fluctuate, even on a daily basis. Following airlines or travel organizations on social media channels is a smart way to get the latest information on deals or contests where a single Tweet or entry can result in surprise savings!
Hostels or camp grounds are often the cheapest places to stay, and great local accommodations can be found through sites like Airbnb, if you are comfortable staying in someone’s home. Hotel discounts are often offered to members of different organizations, such as AAA or your college’s Alumni Association (or even Sons of Norway!).
Planning and saving early are important when your bank account isn’t as big as your travel dreams. But it’s also important to stay on budget after you arrive. When you’re visiting popular travel boards, jot down advice on free or cheap activities at your destination. Make sure that the special dinner you forwent in preparation for this trip pays for itself by keeping other meal costs low. Stop at a local grocery store to stock up on breakfast items and small snacks to carry with you during the day, and avoid big hits to your daily budget on an overpriced snack in the afternoon.
While traveling, rely on public transportation as much as possible, as it is cheaper than renting a car or paying for parking. Take advantage of your hotel concierge if you have one, it’s their job to offer advice and discounted tickets to entertainment. Also don’t be afraid of asking locals for advice, they are often the ones who can point you in the right direction, whether you’re lost or looking for beautiful spot to enjoy that apple you tucked away in your backpack.
Once you’ve learned how to travel on a budget, the only thing you’ll need to worry about is where to go, next.