What’s the first thing you do when you have annual holidays coming up?
Usually, the choice of vacation dates is quite limited, so the only thing we can influence is where and what.
We try to fit our dream vacation into the fixed holiday window. And more often than not, we end up sacrificing many must-do because the budget is restricted or certain things are simply unavailable at that particular time.
How can we get out of this vicious circle and travel more for less? And be like that Instagram travel blogger posting from a new location every few weeks?
Over the past few years, I’ve developed a new traveling strategy that has allowed me to be a lot more agile and go on a trip almost every month since July 2021.
I even went all the way to South America and the U.S.A within a five-month period, and no, I don’t have a gold mine hidden somewhere, nor do I have a fancy corporate job.
I’m just a regular government employee who’s learned to travel on a budget to see as much of the world as possible.
Side note: the strategy below might not apply to families traveling with children or people with rigid work schedules, but you could borrow some ideas.
Here are my top 5 travel on a budget tips for traveling frequently and not overpaying for it:
Tip #1. Create a list of your must-visits and do your research
It’s been quite a few years since I started compiling a list of places I’d like to visit someday.
I get most of my travel inspiration on social media, and whenever I see something interesting on my friend’s accounts or in travel blogger posts, I write it down in my notes and mark it on Google maps.
My list is evergrowing with over 50 closer and farther destinations, which gives me a lot of flexibility. Plus, having all the must-visits marked on the map lets me see which places can be visited during one trip and discover more sights in between.
Once I know I’ll have some time for traveling, I go back to the list and use such flight comparison sites as Kiwi and Skyscanner to see which trip from the available budget and time perspective would make the most sense.
I use these comparison sites only for research purposes. I usually purchase tickets directly from the airline as it lets me take advantage of their promotions and discounts (Honey helps me discover them) and eliminates the third party in case of cancellations or other flight issues (= less hassle).
Tip #2. Consider indirect flights and/or rides
During my last month in the U.S., I wanted to visit Salt Lake City but soon realized flights from D.C. were far too expensive. Instead of discarding the whole idea, I looked for alternative options and found that flying to Denver was almost three times cheaper.
Although that city was a 9-hour drive away from my primary destination, I could easily rent a car and visit a few more astonishing places on my way there.
While booking a cheap and direct flight to your dream city is the ideal scenario, it’s not always the best or most affordable way to go.
A great deal of research also consists of looking for alternative traveling options and considering indirect flights or even a combination of different means of transportation (e.g., flight + bus).
Rome2rio, in this regard, gives a good overview of the possible choices, but Google Maps is likewise a good tool for identifying other airports nearby.
I have also opted for longer layovers in case a connecting flight is a must, and the city center is easily and quickly accessible by public transport. This gives me the opportunity to have a quick visit to one more city without the need to spend more money and fly to it exclusively.
Tip #3. Travel off-season and on extended weekends
Some say they can’t really switch off from work unless they use all four weeks of their annual vacation at once, especially in summer. I’d say — that’s like putting all your eggs into one basket.
Of course, having a whole month off work is nice, but you’re not gonna be able to fit all your trips into those 28 days.
If you want to get better at the traveling game, you have to split your vacation at least in half. That will give you the flexibility to go on a trip in different seasons and find the best timing for each location. Summer might actually be the worst time to travel to some countries.
Many places are equally lovely but less crowded and cheaper to visit in the off-season. Paris in late September was even hotter than when I saw it in July. And Portugal in January greeted us with spring-like weather and was almost empty of tourists, making it easier to find affordable accommodation.
If you’re looking to explore a capital city, a couple of days usually will suffice, so consider doing it over an extended weekend. Taking Friday and Monday off or adding an extra day to public holidays, in most cases, shouldn’t be a problem.
You may also just work remotely for a day if a mini vacation is not an option. I have done my fair share of that and never saw it as a burden but instead felt more energized to finish work faster.
This way, you may, again, save some money because weekday flight tickets are usually cheaper than on weekends. Just remember to choose your flight times wisely — departure late in the evening means a whole day of explorations, yet minus one night at a hotel.
Tip #4. Limit your accommodation extravaganzas
While it might be nice to wake up in a room with a view of the Eiffel Tower in Paris or the Colosseum in Rome, plenty of other spots in these cities may offer good sights and may not even cost a thing.
Another criterion I use to decide where to travel next is whether or not I have a friend living in my preferred destination. Not only does that give me the opportunity to get some local knowledge and good company, but, in most cases, it also means a free couch to sleep on.
Even if I have several other reasons to travel to a particular place, my circle of friends is the first one I consult when looking for accommodation. I don’t necessarily hope for a free-of-charge B&B all the time. Locals can also recommend the best areas to look for a room or the nicest hotels to stay in.
And when I go to a location I know nobody from, Booking is my first choice. Over the years, I’ve accumulated a good loyalty program level there, which grants me decent discounts to many hotels, included breakfasts and more flexible cancellation policies.
I have also used Couchsurfing, which is widely popular among solo travelers and backpackers. But I would opt for it only in cities with extremely high hotel rates. At the end of the day, it comes with risks and requires a lot of time to find a suitable host.
Tip #5. Pack light, dine in and walk, walk, walk
Another rule I live by when traveling is that unless I go somewhere for at least a week or to a place with entirely different weather, I try to take only one backpack.
Packing light has helped me save money (especially on low-cost airlines with no included carry-ons) and remain a lot more mobile.
No luggage, no problems because you don’t have to think about where to store the heavy items, you have everything you need with you, and it’s a lot easier to get around. It also limits spontaneous purchases.
When traveling, I limit the use of any transport to cases when the distance to the furthermost point is over 10k, there are some safety concerns, or I have limited time to get to it. Everything else is walkable.
I used to like those hop-on & hop-off busses when I just got into traveling. But I soon realized that I could see more and get to know the city better if I made my legs work and switched to (much cheaper) public transport when there’s an absolute necessity.
Inevitable part of traveling is collecting over 10, 20, and 30k steps daily. And with that level of physical activity comes the need for some food to replenish the energy.
While exploring the food culture is an essential aspect of traveling, I try to follow the rule of one fancy dining-out per day and get the rest of my energy supplies at stores or casual eateries. Food is still food — a source of energy. I also usually avoid eating at overpriced cafés in old towns and ask locals for suggestions to escape other traps.
You can spend a lot of $$$ on exquisite meals and taxi rides, or you can use the money on memorable experiences. The choice is yours.
This small guide might seem like a lot to take in, especially if you’re not into trip planning.
But in reality, there’s just one main thing to remember — less is more. Think like a local, invest time in research, and be ready to get a little more uncomfortable. But most importantly, prioritize traveling. And you’ll get to see so much of the fantastic world we live in! More photos from my travel.
Note. featured image from Departure vector created by storyset – www.freepik.com
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