Two of the most common reasons that people don’t travel are time and money. If money is your hurdle, and you want to know how to travel on a budget, you’ve come to the right place.
Traveling doesn’t have to be expensive. Sure, you can spend $20,000 on a lavish, excursion-riddled 14-day vacation in the Virgin Islands, but there are plenty of places to go, things to do, and methods of travel that help diminish financial strain.
In this guide, I’m going to share with you how to travel on a budget. These tips and tricks that I have shoved up my sleeve will help ensure that you make the best budget-minded decisions for an affordable but unforgettable adventure. You’ll learn many ways that you can travel on a budget so you can spend more time adventuring and less time worrying about money.
How to Travel on a Budget
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Take a Road Trip
One of the best ways to save a large amount of money is to take a road trip!
Off the bat, road-tripping immediately eliminates airfare, rental car expenses, and rental insurance fees. It could even eliminate lodging if you camp outdoors or in your car, but we’ll get to that later!
Taking a road trip is my favorite means of travel. Road-tripping leaves plenty of room for flexibility and spontaneity. Instead of sitting at an airport for hours awaiting an aircraft that may or may not arrive on time or get you to your destination, you’ll be cruising through small towns and stopping whenever and wherever you please.
After all, driving through the little towns is so much better than flying over them; you never know what you could be missing!
🚗 Skip to the Road Trips page on my blog to get destination ideas and trip itineraries!
Do Your Research
I know what you’re thinking. How does research save money on travel? It’s actually a huge reason that heavy planners like myself can travel on a budget.
Think about it: if you’re unprepared, you may get lost or end up in a place that you don’t want to be in. Getting lost not only shaves precious time off your trip but cuts into your fuel budget as you fight to backtrack or reroute.
If you don’t do proper research on your trip, you could end up at a park or attraction that’s closed for the day or a road that is shut down for an afternoon due to construction. Your route could include unexpected tolls, traffic delays, or detours because you didn’t check the navigation ahead of time.
There will be plenty of time for spontaneity on your trip, but make sure you have the basics covered before you set off, whether by car, plane, or boat. Your schedule and your wallet will be grateful!
Save on Gas
Unless you are flying to a destination and taxiing to your location where you plan to stay for the entire duration of your trip, you will no doubt be purchasing fuel at some point.
If you’re flying, try to select a rental vehicle with maximum fuel efficiency and select a good insurance plan.
If you’re driving your personal car, be sure it’s tuned and road-ready with a fresh oil change and proper tires. Ensure that your car is insured for road trips so that if you break down in a different state, you will be covered. Towing and mechanical repairs can throw a wrench in your budget. Bring along emergency supplies like jumper cables, a tire inflator, and an extra quart of oil.
Gas-saving apps like Gas Buddy and Upside are useful for scouting the best fuel prices near your current location. Gas Buddy will send you a debit card that is hooked up to your personal bank account to save you even more at the pump while Upside dishes out big discounts in return for any receipt that is uploaded to their app.
Many national gas stations like Marathon, Shell, and Speedway offer rewards on fuel and merchandise for signing up for a simple membership and swiping your card at the pump each time you fill up on gas or snacks.
Bring Your Own Food
Whether you are flying or road-tripping, bringing your own food from home will save you a fortune.
Even if you are traveling solo, food costs add up. Assuming a single meal at a fast food joint costs around $10, with three meals a day for a week-long trip, you would be spending $210. That doesn’t include drinks or snacks or additional members that may be in your family. And many meals at fast-food restaurants nowadays cost a lot more than $10, especially in bigger cities or the more expensive towns in the country.
And let’s face it, when you’re in line in a drive-thru, you’ll probably splurge on a delicious treat because it’s a good deal and your stomach is growling. So eliminate that urge by packing your own sweet treats and yummy meals to reduce reckless spending.
If you are flying and are unable to pack all of your own food due to limited suitcase space, bring any specialty items that you might not find in local grocery stores, and purchase the rest of your food at your destination.
Buy sparingly so that food doesn’t go to waste. Avoid going out to eat as much as you can. Doing so will not only save you money but will allow you more time to spend on your adventure and less time inside stuffy McDonald’s and sticky-floored Burger King’s.
Brew Your Own Tea and Coffee
Have you seen the price of coffee lately?! I recently redeemed a free reward for my birthday at Starbucks, and my peppermint mocha was $8. No special syrups or add-ons, just the mocha. That’s INSANE!
To save money on your trip, bring your own coffee or hot tea. If you are road-tripping, a Jetboil is a great solution for boiling water to brew tea or coffee. If you are staying at a hotel, chances are free coffee and tea are served each morning; some might even serve hot drinks all day! And every Airbnb we’ve ever stayed at has had some sort of brewing station and complimentary beverages, but don’t rely on it.
Coffee and tea taste way better on the trail and out in nature anyway. Instead of waiting in an endless line for Starbucks, Dutch Bros, or a crowded local coffee shop, brew a cup on the trail or outside your car and soak in your surroundings with a steaming cup. Listen to the birds chirp and the trees rustle with your hands wrapped around a steaming mug.
Remember to bring your own coffee mugs and any sugar or creamer you wish to add if you are road-tripping!
I should note that I am not against supporting local businesses. In fact, I encourage it, and I do so on every single one of my trips. However, since this blog post is focused on budget travel, I am choosing to share the tips that save the most money. As always, if you have extra wiggle room in your travel budget, I encourage spending it on local/small businesses to support the growth of those small towns that make our country so great.
→ READ NEXT: How to Brew Tea and Coffee at Camp and on the Trail ☕️
Stay With Friends and Family
If you have family and friends spread all over the country as most people do, it doesn’t hurt to ask one of them if you could stay with them for a night or two.
If they live near your destination and they are available, see if you can spend the night with them free of charge. This could also give you a rare opportunity to visit with people that you might not otherwise have been able to see! Win, win.
Camping is my favorite means of travel to save money and spend more time outdoors. Instead of booking a hotel or Airbnb that could cost hundreds of dollars per night, book a night under the stars for free or for a small fee. Pitch a tent or car camp in a campground or dispersed campsite to be treated to the ultimate “million-star” experience!
Camping is so great that I wrote an entire guide on why camping is better than staying in a hotel. Check it out! ⛺️
There are plenty of apps and websites that will help you find the best campsites near your current location or the area you will be traveling to. The costs, rules and regulations, exact coordinates, amenities, and other campers’ ratings and reviews will be revealed.
The Best Apps and Websites to Find Campsites
- Reserve America
Campground and dispersed camping experiences differ from each other. Campgrounds often have smaller campsites that are squished tightly together and sometimes offer amenities like coin showers, water, and a general store.
Dispersed camping is more primitive as there are often few to no amenities, but iconic views and plentiful solitude are guaranteed.
Whether you are tent or car camping or camping in a dispersed campground or regular campground, make sure you are following the rules and always leave the campsite better than you found it.
⛺️ If you are interested in learning how to free camp in the USA, read my guide!
Take Advantage of Hotels’ Free Breakfast
Staying in a hotel has several perks: a hot shower, unlimited water, a nice bed, heat and air conditioning, and sometimes, free food.
If you do book a hotel in advance, be sure that it comes with free breakfast; that automatically adds value to your room! An unlimited hot breakfast allows you to pile up on not only food for that current breakfast meal but also throw in a few extra things for the rest of the day.
After all, everything’s “free” (meaning, included in the price of your room), so take what you want! Toss an extra apple or banana, a mini box of Cheerios, a package of Poptarts, or a muffin into your bag for later.
Take full advantage of all of the complimentary items that a hotel offers with your room to maximize your benefits.
Carry the 10 Essentials
I wrote an entire blog post on the 10 Essentials, and though it mostly relates to hiking and outdoor backcountry adventures, it can apply to road trippers and travelers, too.
Having food, water, shelter, layers, first-aid, personal protection, an emergency fire starter, navigation, light, and sun protection will ensure that you have the safest possible trip and won’t run into any hurdles that will leave you with an empty wallet and a spoiled vacation.
Use Travel Credit Cards
I rarely put anything on my debit card anymore. Utilizing credit cards (responsibly) is a great way to earn cash back for travel.
Travel credit cards like Capitol One Venture and Chase Sapphire Prefered offer travel-specific rewards while other credit cards like Bank of America and Discover offer cash back for general purchases.
Using credit cards to buy everyday items and redeeming your cashback for road trips is a great way to save some money while traveling!
Choose Budget-Friendly Activities
I know I’m always focused on hiking and outdoor recreation, but this is a hiking and outdoors blog after all! Hiking, camping, and paddling are some of the most affordable yet exciting adventures that one can experience.
Though I love splurging on unique excursions like walking across one of the world’s longest bridges, spelunking through caves with experienced guides, and diving into the ocean with snorkels strapped to my face, good old-fashioned time spent in the woods by ourselves is the cheapest yet most valuable form of entertainment.
For a small fee or sometimes no fee at all, you can hike through some of the most incredible landscapes in the world, camp under the twinkling stars, and create a highlight reel of memories that you will never forget.
I hope you’ve learned a thing or two about how to travel on a budget! Implementing one or more of these tips will save you money so that you can spend more time outdoors doing what you love.
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