Travel has always come with a pretty hefty price tag. Now with prices for gas and plane tickets at all-time highs (thanks, inflation!), it’s even more expensive and, for many, just not in the budget right now.
…or is it?
Even when cash is tight, getting away for a while doesn’t have to be completely out of the question. You just have to travel smarter. We spoke to Kathleen Curran, travel expert and associate director of content at EF Ultimate Break, who shared some easy, realistic ways to save money while traveling—without sacrificing any of the fun. With these budget travel hacks, you can book that plane ticket without worrying about draining your savings. Bon voyage!
1. Book Smart
The keys to saving money on travel are planning and preparation. That begins with booking since your travel methods and accommodations are usually the highest ticket items. One of the easiest travel hacks that can help you save on lodging? Opt for a hostel over a hotel, resort, or rented home, as it’s usually the cheapest option. “If you haven’t stayed at a hostel before, you’re missing out,” Curran said. “They’re typically centrally located, affordable, and a lot more fun than you might think.”
Hostels are also a great option if you’re traveling alone. Staying in shared lodging is a great way to make new friends, get tips from other travelers, and stay safe with others around, Curran noted. Many hostels even have kitchens, which can save you additional money if you buy local groceries and cook most meals!
2. Book Early
When it comes to your budget travel, when you book is almost as important as where you book. “If you’re a chronic procrastinator, this is the one time you’ll need to be better,” Curran said. “Booking your trip early almost always gets you the best flight price. Outside of deals once a year (think Black Friday), the earlier you book, the more you’ll save.”
It’s also a good idea to use shopping tools like price scanners or sign up for travel alerts and deals in advance. Hopper is a popular app that helps you find the best travel deals, or you can easily track flight prices directly on Google Flights. The right tools will help you book at the most optimal time for you and your wallet.
3. Pack Light
If you’re used to stuffing everything you can into your suitcase, it’s time to pare it down. Overpacking can quickly lead to extra fees for overweight or oversized bags, too many carry-ons, and more. Avoid unnecessary added costs by packing light. “Plan out your trip style with staple pieces (think skirts, pants) that you can use across multiple looks and pair with different tops and accessories,” Curran recommended. “This gives you unique daily ‘fits without the dreaded baggage charge.” You definitely don’t have to sacrifice your style—just be strategic about it!
As for actually packing your bag, Curran recommended the Marie Kondo folding method or the rolling technique, both of which let you save space and pack more items. Bonus: These travel hacks can help keep your clothes wrinkle-free, too, because: “No one has time for ironing when adventure awaits,” Curran said.
4. Choose Local, Casual Eats
To stretch your food budget, forego tourist-trap restaurants, boozy brunches, and fancy multi-course meals. Instead, shop the streets for small, locally owned businesses that offer authentic yet inexpensive fare. “Dip your fork into street food options that are typically more affordable,” Curran said. “Cities like Cartagena, Marrakesh, London, and Tokyo are all known to have some of the best street food you can find.”
Another helpful strategy? Load up on lunch! Since the mid-day menu is typically cheaper, “go big during lunchtime and opt for a smaller, more casual meal at dinner,” Curran advised. “You’ll save more than you think.”
5. Drink Like a Local
While you indulge in more affordable eats, mind your cocktails, too! As Curran advised: “Hands off the minibar!” The markup on those tiny drinks is insane. And if you’re checking out the local bar scene, opt for house wines, lower-shelf liquor, or local brews.
For pre-dinner or casual drinks, grab some beers or wine at a supermarket where prices are typically much lower. “And when you do want to experience the nightlife, keep your eyes peeled for bars and pubs filled with locals,” Curran said. Don’t forget to check out happy hours and drink specials, too!
When it comes to staying hydrated, pack lots of your own water, or use a reusable water bottle with a filter for when you’re out and about. Curran warned that water bottles in touristy areas will always be overpriced, so being prepared can save you some serious coin.
6. Consider Travel-Friendly Credit Cards
While saving for your trip, keep an eye out for travel-minded credit card promotions. Look out for cards that offer sizeable sign-up bonuses or travel points for purchases. Rather than charging your entire trip on credit, Curran recommended using the card as a savings tool: “Pay bills and rack up points at the same time to offset some of your travel costs.”
By using these travel hacks, you’ll find it’s actually pretty easy (and fun) to plan a wallet-friendly trip that works for any budget. Happy travels!