Budget travel is not just for the young. It’s for anyone. And it doesn’t have to be bare bones, either.
The travel bug hit me hard in my 40s. I was single and still building a career and concerned about saving for retirement. Living in the expensive Bay area, there wasn’t a lot of extra money. And still, I traveled.
Today, things are much different. But we’re still wise with how we use our travel budget and I still remember all of the things I did to keep traveling even when on a budget. Here are some of them.
Budget for it
M and I love to travel and the biggest category of expense in our budget is travel. But we don’t have unlimited funds. You won’t find us eating too many dinners out, we don’t tend to frequent expensive restaurants more than a couple times a year. Designer clothes aren’t a priority. We keep our cars 12 years–he’s only had four cars his entire life. We’ll go to an occasional play or concert but our usual weekly entertainment is Netflix or TV or having friends over– and we’re good with that. For us, travel is a priority and we make it happen by not doing things that aren’t as important to us. That’s the honest truth.
So if you want to travel, budget for it.
It’s become expensive, but there are still deals to be had if you’re a savvy searcher. Kayak.com provides airfare comparisons and so do a bunch of other sites. Google “cheap air fares” as a starting point.
You can also find lower fares by checking non-US airlines, flying routes that include stops (instead of a nonstop) and if you’re flying while overseas, using regional discount airlines like EasyJet. Don’t fly during busy travel seasons, look for off-peak or shoulder travel, especially for Europe. Winter flights to Europe can be very low-cost compared to high season fares. It’s not impossible to find a deal; it just takes a little research.
For years I’ve used credit cards that accrue mileage points on my two most frequently-flown airlines and have had the free trips to prove it. Many free trips. Others swear by credit cards that allow you to use points for any airline. I put every single expense I can on those cards no matter how small and have for years: groceries, movies, whatever. The points add up. If you think we pay for every airline trip we take, you’d be wrong. We’ve had three free domestic trips this year alone.
It’s never too late to sign up and often there are hefty points bonuses for just opening the card. Some friends of mine open a bunch of cards they only use for the minimum requirement–just to get the air miles. We don’t do that, but it’s a way to get free trips quickly. I also use those points for rental cars. Love that!
The car! The car!
I love a good road trip.Love love love it. Even if your destination is 1,000 miles away, spread the trip out over a few days to really enjoy what’s along the way. This is also an option if you don’t like to sit in a car for long periods of time. Plan a trip with frequent stops to see interesting things.
It’s easy to plan driving routes with online tools and there is so much to see in this beautiful country. There’s not a single region of the U.S. that doesn’t have something good going for it.
On the water
Cruises can be a really good deal and are all-inclusive, except for excursions. Pick one for your circumstances. If you’re an older adult, you won’t want a family-oriented cruise. And look for deals! Some travel agents are cruise experts and know all the ins and outs of finding the best discounts. I once used a cruise specialist in Canada–I’d never met her but she saved me a load of money. Also try cruisedeals.com for good prices.
Cheap but fun destinations
Mexico, Canada, Peru, Puerto Rico, Hungary and the Dominican Republic are all budget-friendly destinations, as are countries with currencies that aren’t doing so well. Go off-peak, too; summer in Mexico or the Caribbean is affordable and there are fewer crowds. Search online to see what the cheapest fun destinations are for the time period you’d like to travel and consider current events.
Try small independent hotels instead of chains. Booking.com has some great deals, and there are other hotel comparison websites as well. Check reviews there and on TripAdvisor to be sure you know what you’re getting but there are deals to be had. Sometimes, renting a small flat or house is the most affordable option. VRBO, Homeaway and AirBnB are all helpful. Be sure to build in all expenses, including the house cleaning fee.
Any fixed-price, all inclusive vacation, such as a resort package, will likely save you money. So can group tours. AAA has a number of budget-friendly options.
If you’re a senior you can get a $10 senior pass to all national parks. This is an amazing discount because those parks are beautiful and many sights are easy for disabled people to access. There are all kinds of discounts today–theme parks, AARP, AAA–look for them.
Many museums in the U.S. and elsewhere have free days–and the British Museum is ALWAYS free! As far as discounts are concerned, seek and ye will find.
Any online search will yield excellent advice that will help you find ways to travel on a budget. I love Budget Travel magazine and subscribed for many years. Here’s one of their articles.
Many people swear by the advice of Rick Steves. Here is some money-saving travel advice from him.
We are always inviting friends to stay with us–and we mean it. If you’ve got friends like that, TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THAT! It’s free lodging. Just don’t “take advantage” if you know what i mean.
If you think staying with friends means you’ll be tied at the hip to those friends your entire trip, think again. If they are anything like us, they’d appreciate you going off on your own for at least half the trip, so they can go about their daily lives. Plus, if like us, they live in a great destination, they’ve probably taken people around a million times. Pick a few days to spend with them and tell them you’ll be off on your own the other days. Just get their advice.
Also, make sure you take them out for a really great meal one of those days, as a thank-you. Or get them something you know they’ll enjoy. It’s the courteous thing to do. And don’t stint. Budget for it. After all, they’re saving you a whole lot of money you’d otherwise be laying out for lodging and they’ve probably made a few meals for you.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way. If you want to travel, you can, even on a budget. Make travel a priority. Because if you want to, you will.
So get busy and plan that next trip!
Got some budget travel tips to share? Love to see them in the Comments section.
I’m always happy to give travel advice. If you’ve got questions, ask them here or email me at ccassara (at) aol and I’ll get back to you.
Oh, and happy traveling!