How I Afford to Travel on a Budget

How I Afford to Travel on a Budget

What do your vacations look like? Do you struggle to string a few days off together just to spend them in an artificial hellscape with costumed characters and traffic jams in 95 degree Central Florida? Do you not go on vacation at all and maybe spend a few days on housework and errands?

What if I told you that even on a budget, you can likely find a way to afford a dream vacation?

Even though I’ve been saddled with student loan debt and unfortunately chose to get a biology degree, I’ve managed to go on international vacations nearly once a year or so.

I’ve been to Greece twice, Italy, Costa Rica, Austria, Hungary, and Romania.

In a week I’m actually going to London (yes in winter, yes while I’m pregnant). As I get ready for my London Waddle at 7 months pregnant, I will finally share some of my general tips on how I manage to travel for cheap:

1. Make it a priority

My husband and I have decided that travel is a huge priority for us.  I’m the kind of person who would rather spend on memories than spend on things.

One of the ways we make travel a priority is by using a separate savings account for it.  Every 2 weeks or so, we automatically transfer X dollars from checking to our travel savings account (which you should keep separate from your emergency fund).

If you make travel a priority, that means you have to make other things NOT a priority.  For me, I really don’t spend on clothes or accessories like most normal women.  It’s probably been years since I paid full price on an article of clothing in a retail store (more on that later).  We also don’t go nuts on day-to-day entertainment or dining out.  If you want to put money towards travel, look into what other “extras” you can cut from your budget.

2. We look for deals on flights

For the type of travel we do, the travel to our destinations is usually the most expensive part of our trips.

We keep an eye out for unusually cheap airfare.  Sometimes international events will trigger a drop in prices, otherwise you can look at flights off season.

For example, countries like France tend to have a labor strike every other week or so that make international headlines. The weeks that have labor strikes tend to be good weeks to book flights.

Our February 2017 trip to Italy was booked in November 2016 (not to get political, but we all know what happened in the U.S. in November 2016).

The week of Thanksgiving, I saw a few articles circulating around the internet mentioning how cheap international airfare was. We knew we wanted to go on vacation sometime soon, so we started looking at flights instead of getting Thanksgiving dinner ready (never figured out if the U.S. election triggered the low airfare or if normal people don’t book flights before Thanksgiving). Ultimately we booked a flight that was $430 round trip per person to Italy from Florida.  And it wasn’t a new scary discount airline either; it was Lufthansa to Italy and Edelweiss on the way back.

We also have a Delta Skymiles card through American Express.  We run a lot of our reoccurring bills on this card and pay it off every month.  By using this strategy, we accumulate Skymiles quickly.

Trip to Venice During Carnival, Plague Doctor in Gondola
Also, we didn’t know it at the time, but we happened to book our stay in Venice during the weekend of Carnival… perfectly normal to see people in plague doctor costumes in gondolas this time of year.

3. Poshtels

“Poshtels” is a term used to describe posh hostels.  They aren’t the bed-bug-infested-20-college-students-to-a-room hostels that may come to mind when you think of hostels.  Instead, they tend to be aimed at the 25-40 crowd.  Most will have modern private rooms in the neighborhood of $35 to $60 a night.  There also is always the even cheaper option of staying in a group dorm, but we have always stayed in private rooms.

I actually prefer to stay in a “poshtel” over a chain hotel not only because of the price, but also because there tends to be a social aspect to the stay.  Typically there is a communal area where you can meet other travelers; sometimes group walking tours or outings are offered by the hostel.

If the s in hostel is scaring you off, consider small bed and breakfasts or Airbnb.  Airbnb is a great option for if you’re traveling with friends or family and need multiple rooms.  In many places, you can rent an entire apartment for the price of one hotel room.

Yes, not a stock photo- real view from a place we could afford to stay at in Santorini

4. We don’t eat at full service restaurants constantly while on vacation

It’s nice to eat out a little more than usual while on vacation.  However, eating at full service restuarants with multi course meals and wait staff can add up in a hurry.

I also feel sluggish and overly full if we are always eating at restaurants.  Instead of exclusively restaurant dining, we tend to do a mix of street food, grocery stores, snacks at kiosks (got to try the weird potato chip flavors in each country), fruit stands, etc.  Going to a grocery store or food stand in a foreign country gives you a better idea of what the average person eats than going to a fancy restaurant with a menu written in some combination of English and pictograms.

Grocery shopping while traveling
Stocking up at an Italian grocery store

Those are just a few of my general travel tips. In future posts, I will go into more detail about how we made each trip work.

Readers, are there any general tips you use to travel cheaply? Where have you gone in the past, or where do you want to travel? Comment below!

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