As someone who doesn’t have an infinite amount of disposable income, it is necessary for me to budget on trips in order to get the most amount of travel that I can afford. Instead of having one expensive trip, I can get three affordable trips out of the same cost. This is a huge win for me.
Below are some of the ways that you can budget on trips as well.
Sometimes, driving your own car might not be the most cost-effective way to travel for a few reasons – distance, parking fees, and gas. If the distance is too far, it might be too time-consuming and gas-heavy to drive. Plus, there might be parking fees associated with driving. When we drove to San Francisco, hotel parking fees in the city is typically around $50 per night.
But other times, driving is a great option. There was a time when I had to drive from Dallas, TX to Omaha, NE. Flights were $600-$800 roundtrip, which is insane. So I ended up driving 12 hours each way, spending only about $120 on gas roundtrip. If you add more than one person in your car ride, your cost goes down exponentially as each individual can contribute to the gas budget. Also, who doesn’t love a good road trip?
I’m a huge fan of budget airlines in order to use that saved money on experiences at your destination. Paying extra for seat assignments? No, thanks. I’ll risk getting stuck in the middle if it means I can have a nice meal later. Or how about boarding priority? Unless it’s Southwest where it’s on a first-come first-serve basis, this is such a weird perk because it just means you’ll be on the plane, sitting and waiting, longer than other people.
Also, I discussed more in-depth about flying on Spirit, a budget airline, and how to maximize the experience without the cost.
Go where the flights are cheap
If you are someone who wants to travel the world versus specifically wanting to go to a handful of specific places, the easiest way to budget on trips is to go where flights are cheap. There are a few websites out there that report on flight deals, including The Flight Deal. I’ve found some cheap flights through here that has spurted our Chicago trip and our New York trip. Sometimes, they’ll even let you in on mistake fares where I’ve seen flights like LA to London go for only $200 round trip. Mistake fares may or may not be honored by the airlines, though, but if they do, that’s such a steal of a price.
Collect Airline Miles
One of the easiest way to save on flights is with free flights via airline miles. There are a couple of ways to collect them, including credit card reward systems and being a rewards member of the respective airline. We have cashed in on a good amount of free flights (my husband even scored a couple of first-class flights to Asia) through airline miles.
At one point, Southwest was having an amazing promotion for California residents where, if you signed up for their credit card and made one purchase of any amount, you simultaneously also received their Companion Pass for one year! With the Companion Pass, each flight is basically a buy-one get-one-free. This coveted pass is usually hard to get – either annually fly 100 one-way flights or 125k qualifying points, so it was a ridiculously great offer.
That year, we solely traveled on Southwest to maximize the Companion Pass.
Use Coach buses
An alternative mode of transportation are the “Greyhound Buses” of the world. I’ve mainly used MegaBus for these, and I found that they’re very affordable, comfortable, and a great way to budget on trips. When I was in New York some years back, I took a MegaBus to D.C. for $11 one-way. The seats were plush, the double-decker was fun, and I spent my time looking out into the different scenery.
When I’m traveling solo, I tend to not care so much about where I’m staying because I’ll be exploring the city anyway. It just needs to be fairly clean and safe. This is why hostels are a great option, especially when you’re traveling by yourself and don’t have anyone to split the hotel bill with. There are hostels all over the place, and costs are typically $18 – $40, depending on the hostel and the amount of people you’re dorming with.
Use cheap hotels
When I’m traveling with someone else, the cost of hostels aren’t as effective since you can split the hotel bill. Again, if the hotel is not the focal point of the trip, there’s no real reason to spend a lot on where you sleep. But if you’re going to something like an all-inclusive hotel like Secrets Maroma or Hyatt Zilara Cancun, that’s another story.
A modern option these days is AirBnBs where you rent someone’s room or house for a period of time. The great thing about AirBnBs is that you can find some unique accommodations to stay in, like a treehouse, an airstream, or a yurt. I personally dream about renting an AirBnB out for a month in Florence, Italy one of these days to get a feel of what living in that city is truly like. The thing to keep in mind, however, is a listing’s “cleaning” and “service” fee, as they can be quite exorbitant compared to the original staying fee.
Collect hotel points
Similar to collecting airline miles, collecting hotel points is a great way to earn free hotel stays. I recently posted a hotel review of our stay at Grand Hyatt Tokyo, which was paid all via reward points, a.k.a free. In fact, we used points for most of our upscale hotel stays (InterContinental San Francisco, Hyatt Regency Paris Etoile, Andaz Savannah) and smaller stays, which saves so much money. You can get hotel points by having a general travel credit card, a specific hotel credit card, or becoming a member of their rewards program and booking through their website.
Snacks / Cheap Eats
Considering that the average person eats three meals per day, food can be a big line item on a trip. But it doesn’t have to be.
One easy way to budget on trips is through getting snacks from the grocery store or a local vendor. Surprisingly, Japan was not an expensive place to eat because there was so many vendors selling little snacks for less than $5 that can fill a belly up. Another way is to pick a hotel with a continental breakfast and getting your breakfast fill that way.
One good meal a day
Let’s be real, though. Sometimes local cuisine is one of the main reasons we make the trek. The best way is to budget for one good meal a day. If you’re traveling with other people, perhaps everyone can pick something different from the menu and share. That way, you get to taste a sampling of the local cuisine without extra cost.
Stray from the Tourist Area
Restaurants near any landmark attractions are usually more expensive because real estate is more expensive. They may also not be the best tasting places to eat at. Instead, venture out from the touristy areas and go where the locals eat.
One of my fondest memory in Paris was finding this small and very busy restaurant right by the Seine river that was actually affordable! After a weeklong of snacking through Paris, this restaurant was a godsend. My meal was $14 for a main meal, an appetizer AND a glass of wine! What?! I wish I remembered the name of the place.
Where you go matters a lot. Europe is a lot more expensive in everything compared to Southeast Asia. South America is a lot less expensive than North America. New York is a lot more expensive than Memphis. If you’re wanting to experience luxury travel without spending a lot, go to places that are inexpensive. Southeast Asia is a place rich with culture where you can experience high-end travel and not break the bank.
Every city has their free attractions, whether it’s LA and Rodeo Drive, San Diego and the beaches, Washington, D.C. and the museums, or New York and Central Park. Take advantage of these free attractions and see what some of the locals enjoy on a regular basis.
Sometimes, travel doesn’t have to mean getting on a plane and flying for hours on end. Day trips from your resident city can be just as thrilling and adventurous, and the cost goes down so much. I can’t tell you how many day trips I took from Los Angeles to neighboring cities like San Diego and Santa Barbara that costed just gas and a couple of meals. Or Dallas to Waco or Austin. Our backyard deserves to be explored more, after all.
I hope these tips on how to budget on trips come in handy for your future travel plans. If you have a tip that I didn’t mention, comment them below! I’d love to learn something new!