How To Travel on a Budget

Traveling is one of the most rewarding gifts someone can give themselves. Seeing the world involves meeting new people, experiencing cultures different from our own, and sharing memories with others. However, not all of us can afford the benefits of travel. Here are some tips to keep your expenses low and your fun at an all-time high!

Location:

Certain locations will be cheaper than others depending on the season. All pro-travelers know travel jargon that consists of “peak season” (mid June through August), “shoulder season” (April through mid-June and September through October), and “off-peak season” (November through March). The range in months often correlates to when people will be traveling there. Peak season generally will also mean more people will be there, while off-peak season tends to correlate with fewer people. With a little research on your destination, in search of the off-peak season, you can often catch a deal with lower pricing. Travel destinations often lower their prices during off-peak season to entice more people to come and keep their income flowing. One tool you could use is the Best Time To Go search engine. You can search by geographical location or by month that you want travel, and the website will do the rest of the work for you. It will come up with a detailed summary on the daily cost for each traveler, average monthly temperature, and a list of lodging sites. Of course, this is only the beginning of your research, but it’s a start!  

Airfare & Transportation

Airfare can be one of the more costly expenses of your travel if you do it wrong. Flights to Europe and Asia can cost an upward of $1500 for a round-trip ticket. A good way to go about booking flights is to first do your research on Google Flights. By putting in your departure and destination location in the indicated fields, you can get a sense of the airport options that you have for your destination stop. Sometimes flying into one airport can be cheaper than another, but you’ll have to be aware of the extra costs on taxis if it leaves you further away from your lodging. Once you explore Google Flights, you will get an estimate of the flight costs. If there isn’t a flight in your range of expenses, don’t lose hope. My trick is the 54-day rule. It has been proven that the U.S. continental flights have their absolute lowest price 54 days before the flight is scheduled to take off. If you don’t hit this number exactly, it is suggested you buy your tickets 105 to 21 days in advance (aka roughly 1-4 months in advance).

Another cost that some of us forget to include is the costs of taxis to and from the airport. Usually you will always be charged $30-$50 around the world. There is not much to get around this except for being aware that some people will try to upcharge tourists because they are easy targets. Do your research beforehand, or ask people who have gone to your destination in the past to see what the flat-rates of taxis are from the airport. And remember, public transport is always the cheaper option!

 

Lodging/Housing

When I traveled to Paris and Madrid, the only way I lodged in these cities was through Airbnb. The best thing about this is that you get to truly experience living within your destination versus being a segregated tourist. Not only is it often times cheaper than staying at a hotel, but you can see your money go to supporting the locals.

There are tons of benefits to getting an apartment. The hosts I had when traveling to these cities were very welcoming and accommodating. They provided recommendations to the best local eateries and sights to visit. My apartment had its own washer and dryer so I could do my laundry, often allowing me to pack lighter. The kitchen allowed me to cook my meals at home and save leftovers, which cut the cost of living by a lot. Even more, I was supplied with quality brands of shampoo, conditioner, hair dryers and more. Because these are real people’s homes, they often give you the experience they would like to be given as well. And after a long day of sightseeing, there is nothing better than being able to go home to your own apartment. I’ll never forget my last night in Madrid. I stood out on my balcony, listening to a local, one floor below. She was strumming lightly on her guitar that filled the air with a soft lull.

Food

Food is a major cost when traveling, impart because it encapsulates the culture while also being a necessity. My best suggestion if you are on a budget is to eat light for two meals of the day so that you can splurge on your third meal. If you are not a big breakfast fan, grab some fruit or a pastry with your coffee and save the extra $5-$10 on your night out.

When I was in Paris, eating a croissant and espresso was my breakfast, and lunch would be a ham and cheese croque. That cost me around $15 max, which left me $20 for a nice dinner meal. When I was in Madrid, I found the local supermarket which had very low prices on almost everything. A whole frozen pizza cost me $2.99. Although this isn’t the most fabulous way to spend your traveling, if you are looking for a way to do it and still get the best of both worlds, you have to find ways to save even when you are there. Having the Airbnb allowed me to save on food money because I was able to cook in the kitchen. But if you stay with a hotel, you can always resort back to the two cheap meal rule and save up on the third. My best advice: Plan how much you are able to spend each day on food and budget accordingly.

 

Ways of Payment

New travelers (such as college students) may not be aware of the currency exchange rates. These are rates that are applied when you exchange your money to different currency.  If you are unsure what your bank rate is, it is always best to ask them before you go and verify what the cheapest way to exchange will be. I have had no problem taking from ATMs around the cities I have traveled. The rest I charge on my credit card. However, exchange rates will be applied. Often you will get asked if you want to charge your card with U.S. dollars or the currency of the country. The best thing to do is be aware of the exchange rate and to choose the lower currency. This way you will be charged your foreign transaction fee later and you won’t have to worry about if you chose the higher currency.

 

Phone Usage

It is always important to be aware of your phone usage while abroad. Most phone carriers have an international data plan that you can subscribe to while you are away, but often they are more expensive than necessary. One way to get around this is to buy a SIM card at the airport from a kiosk when you arrive. Usually, they will give you a deal like 10 Gigabytes for roughly 60 euros, if you're traveling to Europe, that is. Unfortunately, I was skeptical about this and paid $10/day on my 13-day trip for data. I was also worried that if I needed to use my Maps on my phone, I wouldn’t have access. However, there are so many cafes in Europe with WiFi access that this was unnecessary. I would’ve done well with the SIM card.

 

Entertainment/ Fun

Lastly, we all plan those special events we want to attend while we are traveling. Other than budgeting for these excursions, be sure to check out the student deals that apply. I found that a lot of museums in Europe had student discounts or were free. It is always worth a shot to look. I went to about three museums that could have easily cost $50 and I ended up spending $0. That’s a whole days worth of meals that can be saved. Also, do research on your activities or start with a search of “free things to do in ___” on Google. You never know what you will find. When I was in Paris, I accidentally didn’t plan my day to Versailles. So when Monday came around I found out the palace was closed, but I also learned that the gardens were free and open to the public. This is how I ended up spending a whole day in the gardens of Versailles, for free, with very little people around. My mistake ended up becoming a dream-come-true.

 

Final Tip to Travelers:

Be open on your travels. Sometimes we hold our vacations and travel experiences so close that we almost suck the spontaneity and magic out of them. Allow room for life to happen and go with the flow. Make sure to save throughout the year so you can have the best travel experience possible!

 

*Note: Always alert your bank and phone company that you will be traveling with the given dates so that your accounts are not frozen. Companies will freeze people’s accounts to ensure that their money or phone is not being stolen or used by someone other than them.

 

[Feature Image by Unsplash]