How to travel on a budget

August 9, 2016

budget-travelBudget 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.


Start a spare change jar to augment your travel budget.

Air Travel

It’s become expensive, but there are still deals to be had if you’re a savvy searcher. 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 allure of the open road.

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 for good prices.


Pack up and get ready to go!

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. 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.


If my friends lived here, I’d take them up on an invitation.


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.

Mindset matters

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!


37 comments on “How to travel on a budget
  1. Jessica says:

    I am such a budget traveler. I always check for AAA discounts and we are sure to check to see if we have accrued any points for free hotel stays or plane tickets. Also, we have traveled using which can save money and give you more space.

  2. Peggy says:

    These are really great tips. As a frequent traveler, I also rack up points on my card and use my points for either discounted or free airfare OR trade in points for my car rental. I’ve become a huge fan of AirBnB and for extended stays use this service. I found an affordable apartment to rent in Dublin, Ireland for a month and I found a home that sleeps 8 for 2 months in Key West. I see food as a big expense for extended stays, so if you can find a place with a kitchenette or full kitchen, YAY!

  3. Barbara says:

    It really does come down to priorities, doesn’t it? I enjoy getting away for short trips and also one big trip every few years. I will save this and read it again. You are the master of getting true bang for the buck! Thanks.

  4. I’m a budget traveler also! It’s all about the journey, not the destination.

  5. I live to travel and those are great tips. Having been a freelancer all my life I have to travel on a budget and am a huge fan of Rick Steve’s. We avoid big “American” hotels when we go to Europe and love to stay in small boutique style lodging. I love to eat though and adore trying local food. I can’t say I’m good at staying away from restaurants. They’re part of the fun. Loved traveling to Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic as they’re not on the Euro and are cheap.

  6. helene cohen bludMan says:

    Great tips. Traveling is such a joy and knowing how to economize makes it doable.Love your photos, too!

  7. With recent financial difficulties our traveling to Europe, which we miss, and to island have been stopped. We found staycations are wonderful as are the ones I write about for my disability travel audience. All of your tips are wonderful and when we’re up and running again I’ll remember them. P.S. People with disabilities get free admittance to national parks!

  8. Diane says:

    Showing this to Husby, who is also a budget traveler. Great ideas!

  9. Hi Carol! I never thought of you as a “budget” traveler but I agree that there are ways we can all save money and travel more. One thing I didn’t see you mention is airbnb. We use it ALL the time and have gotten some incredible deals on travel compared to any little dinky hotel room. Right now we are staying at the beach for a month using Airbnb here in Ventura and are very happy. I/we strongly recommend it! ~Kathy

  10. Momina Arif says:

    great post. i love road trips. every once in a while, people should get in the car and drive into nowhere.

  11. Ruth Curran says:

    Our mileage plus credit card (that we use as if it were cash) has allowed us to travel! It does seem that airfare bogs down the budget doesn’t it? I love your tips and we too love road trips.

  12. candy says:

    If I can save money to do even more traveling I’m in all the way. Great tips.

  13. SuE says:

    We love to travel but like you Carol and M, our funds are limited. We usually take an apartment if we travel overseas and spent a week in Florence cooking our own food which we had purchased from the market. At the moment life has put a hold on our travel plans and I’m bursting to travel again. Thanks for your tips!

  14. Michele says:

    Traveling has never been a priority for me. When I was a lot younger I used to drive to various US locations–but of course back then we didn’t have the internet to look for deals–we just happened upon them–not the best way–but it did mostly work at least back then.

  15. lori says:

    Thanks Carol! I’m looking to some more travel so I appreciate your tips.

  16. Crystal Gard says:

    These are some really good tips to travel on a budget and stick to it.

  17. These are great tips. Travel can be so ridiculously expensive – which is one reason I started travel writing 🙂

  18. Like most, I love to travel and the cost can be a turn off but your tips will most definitely be incorporated as I plan my next trip! Was thinking Costa Rica next but might switch to Peru.

  19. Great tips, Carol! I love VRBO or Air bnb. Having a kitchen to cook a meal or two in each day can be a great way to save. You are right. Most of us have a finite amount of dollars to spend. It’s all about prioritizing what is important to you.

  20. Great post Carol. I love to travel I haven’t made it out of the country yet but I will. The past few years I’ve been really lucky and have gotten to fly for free and most of the time I can stay with friends in other states, which tends to make it even better because they know all the best non touristy places to which tend to be more affordable and not hiked up. But even with landmarks you can always find deals and discounts on things.

  21. Elizabeth O. says:

    There are plenty of ways to save on your travels, especially these days when airlines are offering more discounts on tickets compared to the previous years. Aside from looking out for airline ticket discounts, there are also apps that you can use to search for cheaper tickets and accommodations. I love your suggestions though!

  22. Sue T says:

    I wholly agree with you, Carol, about avoiding the busy/peak season. Timing (and planning) is key. Also, there is a huge (big time!) different in air fares purchased, say, two weeks ago versus those purchase two days ago.

  23. A low budget is such a problem for many people these days – me included – and your guide is going to help me a great deal in the future. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  24. Angie Scheie says:

    You pretty much described me in that first paragraph. Bit by the travel bug but with limited resources. i’ll be pinning this for sure. Thank you!

  25. Lisa Froman says:

    Great piece. Very helpful. My boyfriend and I each put aside a couple hundred dollars a month in a travel account. Really, I want to go to Europe– specifically Greece and Italy and surrounding areas (his lineage is part Sicilian) but we keep using our travel account for trips to beach or last year to San Francisco. I am headed to New York for a conference next month ( my company pays) but we are adding on a couple of nights to see shows and play around. This means we will be dipping back into our travel account. Lol.i guess it is about choices. I will be putting my foot down soon though because I want to go to Europe when I can still enjoy it and get around. Thanks for tips on points…I never bother with those because I always thought they had too many conditions or were restrictive.

  26. Wendy says:

    We travel a lot but I’m terrible at budgeting. Thanks so much for sharing this – I’ll try some of these tips.

  27. Liz Mays says:

    I’ve been using a rewards card for a long time, and I JUST decided to go ahead and switch to an airline card. It just makes logical sense since I travel so much.

  28. Nicole Escat says:

    This is very nice especially I am having a tight budget but I am still planning on travelling.

  29. Great tips! We often rent houses/condos because we find that we can save a ton of money not eating out so often and with two kids it is easier! We also love to use Groupon or Living Social for saving on outings, events and eating out.

  30. Jenny says:

    I live in a smaller market so airline deals are extremely hard to find. As in, I’ve never found any. It’s so sad! I have to either go some place that’s within a days drive or just budget a lot for airfare. I wish I could find more deals at my airport.

  31. peace kairu says:

    awesome tips for travelling I wish to travel more 🙂

  32. rain says:

    thanks for the suggestions. for me, flights is always the biggest budget killer but, if you get in early there are great deals. i just have to learn not to procrastinate.

  33. Candy says:

    We are saving now for Ireland next year. All about planning.

  34. Mardene Carr says:

    When I travel it must be as cheap as possible while still comfortable. Some of these fares are out of this world. Some seasons you just have to keep away from that airport for your sanity

  35. These ideas are simply awesome! Your post makes travelling on a budget possible!

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