Travel tips

How to travel on a budget: 10 money-saving tips

Money in a piggy bank

Rick and I have been ready to plan some serious travel this year after the experience the last two years have been and while it feels like we’ll have plenty of credit card points to book a hotel room for an entire year, we still like to save money when we travel.

That doesn’t mean we skimp out on our vacations or only eat meals in our rooms or book the cheapest room we can find. It means we plan our getaways carefully and often in advance to make sure we’ve done our research to ensure we’re getting the best deal for our travel budget.

If you’re looking for ways to save money on travel this year so you can plan more frequent getaways instead of waiting for your travel funds to replenish, here are our top tips for traveling on a budget.

1. Have a dedicated travel fund

First and foremost, an easy way to save for travel is to have a dedicated account just for your travel funds. Open a savings account that’s strictly for travel and start automatic deposits into this account. That way when the travel bug hits you, you know exactly how much you can spend without impacting other budgets you’re managing. You can feel comfortable setting off for a tropical getaway and know your rent and bills will still be paid.

2. Location, location, location

Staying in the heart of your travel destination can often add dollar signs to your budget, but sometimes it’s worth it to spend a little more per night on your hotel but have everything right at your doorstep. Instead of paying to trek into the city, you can just walk. Plus, many hotels that are in a central location offer free pick-up and drop-off at the airport so you have one less thing to worry about when you land or when it’s time to go home.

Sandals Resort in Jamaica

3. Add up the amenities

When comparing hotels, be sure to look at inclusions as well as hidden fees. I love Las Vegas but even I have to admit the quote-unquote resort fees have gotten ridiculous. For amenities, make sure that good Wi-Fi is already included in your rate, breakfast should be included, and check for any additional benefits like a free cocktail hour or free activities, like bike rentals or yoga classes.

Another similar tip is to cash in on those rewards! Sign up for loyalty programs with the big hotel chains and airlines to start racking up points or miles that can be cashed in for free nights, discounts, or extra amenities.

4. Book direct

Comparison sites, like Expedia, are great for seeing what’s available and to get pricing but I always recommend travelers book direct with the hotel, airline, and car rental agency. You’ll often find better rates by booking direct as you aren’t costing the business extra fees by booking through an Online Travel Agent (OTA). You can even contact the property to see if they offer better book direct rates over the phone.

5. Make it a combo

I will say that sometimes sites like Expedia or travel services through Costco do offer a good deal, so if you find it’s cheaper to bundle your travel services than pay separately but directly with the vendor, go for the combo! Make sure that you’re comparing apples-to-apples in room type, airfare class, and so on as you’d hate book what seems like a good deal to find out you’re in the worst room and have to pay for carry-on baggage at the last-second.

Rick and I also use this method when we book all-inclusive resorts. We love that once we get there we don’t have to carry cash or cards with us as everything is already included. If we want to go kayaking it’s already paid for. Want two desserts at dinner? No problem. Room service at 11 p.m.? Don’t mind if we do!

Couple kayaking

6. Ask for a discount

I already recommended signing up for loyalty programs or memberships but think outside the hotel or airline and see if you can get additional discounts with your membership with AAA, your military or veteran status, student discount, senior discount, or credit card affiliation. Many credit cards partner with other businesses to offer exclusive discounts to cardholders.

7. Sit, stay

House sitting or pet sitting can be great ways to explore new destinations without paying for accommodations – just don’t skimp on your responsibilities in those accommodations. With our remote work culture becoming more normal, this can be an excellent way to travel as you can continue to earn a paycheck while traveling and not paying for a hotel. Plus, the internet connection could be much better in a private residence than shared among 150 hotel rooms.

8. Stay the weekend

If you travel for work, start extending your trip if you can! Your company will fly you home so all you need to budget for is hotel or Airbnb, food, and activities. It’s also a great way to make sure you actually see the city you’ve traveled to outside of the conference room or convention floor.

9. Find the freebies

Many cities, especially hot travel destinations, have tour companies that offer free walking tours a few times a week. While you should definitely plan to tip your guide, these can save you about $25 per person.

Museums, art galleries, zoos, and other favorite sightseeing activities often have free days as well that you can take advantage of. Another freebie option is related to point three on this list: the amenities. Some resorts and hotels offer free classes, tours, or excursions for their guests so be sure to find out what’s on the calendar before you arrive to save your spot.

Stephanie and Rick in Colosseum
We walked all over Rome! One day, we easily clocked 10 miles on foot.

10. Pack your fitness tracker

Opt to walk as much as possible between your accommodation and your activities. Not only is this great for your health, it’s also great for your wallet as you don’t have to pay for ride shares, taxis, or trains. If it’s too far to walk or the weather has taken a turn, use public transportation instead of private. It’s often more affordable and much better for the environment.

What are your top tips for traveling on a budget? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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Hey, I'm Stephanie! I'm a copywriter living in beautiful Denver with my husband Rick, and our dog Rocco. I love traveling, writing, reading, and being outside as much as possible - unless I'm on the couch binge watching Stranger Things with a glass of wine! Thanks for reading and being a part of the adventure with Back to the Passport! ❤️

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