Saint Augustine once said, “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” Traveling is entertainment as well as a deserved downtime for our mental health. After working hard and saving up all year, you've earned those weeks lying at your dream beach, taking in the view from that mountain you wanted to climb, or enjoying nature at your favorite camping spot.
Everything sounds extravagant, but your pocket does not necessarily have to suffer for it. Traveling on a budget and within frugal lifestyle is not equal to never having a great time. The trick lies in planning well in advance and choosing the best elements for the plan. Here are some tips by experience on creating a low-budget-but-highly-satisfying vacation!
Plan well and far in advance
Let's say you have the money to pack your bags and take off to your dream destination right now. What would you do if you spent hours on the road only to find the place is closed for the week? What do you think about dragging your luggage to find a hotel after one long day of walking around the town? While there is beauty and excitement in a spontaneous trip, there is no room for such luxurious and random moments if you want to travel on a budget.
A well-made travel plan takes time to complete, sometimes months or even years in advance. That much time allows you to decide on your destinations, the most efficient ways to move around, and how much money each set of activities will require. Perhaps you're not used to following your itinerary to the exact details, but a well-thought travel plan leaves (almost) nothing to chance and avoids any unexpected spending.
Set a budget and track your spending
A budget comes hand in hand with a plan, so you must write down all possible expenses. Have a realistic list of what you expect to spend every day, such as food and snacks, sightseeing spots, and transportation - cover everything, then stick to the plan. Always include the minuscule expenses as they can add up and make up a huge amount. Remember that emergency fund is mandatory. It’s better to have it and not need it than the other way around!
Once you have set the limit, money tracking comes next. You can opt to write every purchase down to the smallest expenses, but an Excel or Google sheet can help you log various things at once. Even better, make use of the various expense tracking applications you can find in the stores. For example, since I discovered Splitwise, I have never looked back. This app helps keep everything in check, especially when I go with someone, and we split the expenses. Everyone can add each other's expenses and have the app calculate everything, including who spends what and who owes what. The data will be vital for your next trip; you know better what kind of expenses to prepare, which allows you to create a more efficient budget and traveling plan.
Be clever with your time and destination
Do not underestimate the power of timing. If you’re after the sun, consider traveling towards the end of the summer. While it is still warm in your destination, other people will be going back to work as you’re getting ready to leave. Try to avoid peak periods, such as school holidays, as airlines and hotels tend to up the prices to make the most out of the traveling families. The best time to go is usually the shoulder season, which starts right after a peak period and ends just before the low season. See if you can book everything during this time frame where airlines and hotels low their prices to attract customers.
Timing aside, check your destinations. Have you thought about visiting less popular, less marketed spots? Such places are generally not as packed with tourists, hence being less expensive. Travel forums are rich in information about these hidden gems. Surprise yourself by dedicating extra time reading travel forums to find beautiful, less-visited destinations!
Choose cost-effective airlines and accommodations
Nobody likes stopovers, but they cost less at times. Book your flights as early as possible and look out for airline promotions, which tend to run during low seasons. A few airlines offer loyalty programs that reward you with points or miles the more you fly with them. You may have enough points to redeem a free flight after a certain number of flights or once you reach a specific membership level.
As you search for a place to sleep, keep in mind that budget or free accommodations are not necessarily bad. I hardly have breakfast and only eat when hungry (which could be any time of the day). Such habit makes it a struggle to stay at a hotel because of the time limits. Now, I open apps like Airbnb and look for a place with a kitchen. Cooking meals is not only cheaper, but I can also do it whenever, put in whatever, and they taste great! I understand that not everyone is a cook, though. Some hostels provide a breakfast buffet for a large portion of the morning or microwave for you to heat the ready-made meals from the supermarket. Alternatively, if you are a social and extroverted person, you may want to check out sites like Couchsurfing, where you can stay with someone for free. Nomador, House Sit Match, and Pet Sitters International provide free accommodation for as long as you take care of their house or pets.
Save up whatever you can
It's cool to enjoy a sandwich at the airport while you’re waiting for your plane, but why not make your own instead of buying one? That will save you the overpriced airport food, and you can have whatever you want on your sandwich. If you think about taking a cab to the airport, consider calling your friend to drop you off in return for a future favor. Are you planning to leave your pet at a pet hotel during the trip? Maybe a roommate or a family member can handle them for less cost. The $5 or $10 you saved may seem minor, but the amount adds up, and it may be the amount you need to cross one more point on your bucket list for the trip.
If you can't escape paying, minimize the cost without being overly inconvenient for you. For instance, the roaming service of your home phone operator most probably costs more than a local SIM card. Additionally, the card usually comes with an internet plan that can assist you on your way, and it is easier to make emergency calls with a local number. Avoid being taken for a ride by local tour guides or agencies. If you have researched the destination before the visit, going around on your own using public transportation should not be a big deal.
Treasure the experience
Many people associate traveling with luxurious places to visit, souvenirs to buy, or photos to show off to friends on social media. They tend to overlook the essence of the vacation itself: a time of escape, freedom, and rediscovering life. The real treasure is the long-lasting, possibly life-changing experiences. Nothing traveling on a budget can't give you, trust me!