My 9 Essential Budget Travel Secrets

True or False: You need thousands, maybe even tens of thousands of dollars to travel.  FALSEEEEEEE! So so wrong. You don’t have to be a Vanderbilt to travel. Nowadays, everyone and their mother is hopping a flight to Rome, Paris, London, etc.  So why can’t you? In 2013 I studied abroad in Salamanca, Spain, it was my first time out of North America and I wanted to see everything! Only problem? I wasn’t rich, and I’m still not.  I figured out very quickly that if I wanted to explore Europe I was going to have to save, save, save and budget, budget, budget. I didn’t need a limitless bank account but I did have to be smart about where my money was going and how far I could stretch a Euro.  Now don’t get me wrong, I made mistakes; Some small mistakes and some that cost me a pretty penny. So after all my triumphs and defeats, here are my 9 secrets on how to travel on a budget:

  1. Buy flights at off times and compare sites:

When buying flights, search during off times.  You’ve probably all heard this by now but it’s true!  Randy and I bought our flights for our honeymoon to Phuket, Thailand on a Sunday at 10:30pm.  Monday, the next day, the Google Flight Tracker emailed me saying that those same flights went up a few hundred dollars.   The trick is to look during a time when most people would be working.  Once you know what off time you’re going to buy your ticket, compare sites.  I usually look on Google Flights, Hipmunk, and eDreams and compare their prices.  There are also sites that have discounts for students, like StudentUniverse.

Bonus Travel Tip: Search in incognito, the sites won’t be able to track how many times you’ve searched for your flight, which means they won’t raise the prices 😉  It’s not a myth, it actually happens!


     2. Consider where you’re leaving from and where you’re arriving:

If Europe has taught me anything, it’s that one must be flexible while traveling.  A little bit of creativity can expand your initial travel plans, while helping you save money.  Say it with me: A penny saved is an adventure gained. While working in Madrid, my friend Ann Marie wanted to visit me, but before coming to Madrid we decided to meet up in Amsterdam.  A flight from Madrid to Amsterdam, in April, was €140, too rich for my blood. I looked around on the google flights map and I realized that I could fly to Amsterdam from Alicante, Spain for €62!  Alicante is a beach city south of Valencia. I had never been there before so I figured, why not make it into a little solo trip for myself? Ann Marie and I planned to meet in Amsterdam on a Saturday and I didn’t work on Fridays, so I bought a bus ticket to Alicante for Thursday afternoon.  The bus ticket was €30 and two nights at an Airbnb was €20, an extra trip for only €52! In total I spent €114 on a solo trip to a beautiful place I had never been to AND my original trip to Amsterdam, versus €140 for one trip.  


Playa de San Juan, Alicante
Castillo de Santa Barbara, Alicante
Castillo de Santa Barbara, Alicante. Come on people, how could I miss this?
A Spanish beach and a Dutch canal all in one week? That’s what you call getting your cake and eating it too!


       3. Go food shopping:

Why would I go food shopping while I’m traveling?  Monika, you’re crazy!!! First off, chill out. Secondly, you can save a good amount of money by going to the market for one meal a day.  When I travel my “market meal” is either breakfast or lunch. On average I’ve saved about €10-15 a day. Markets in Europe usually have a wide variety of pastries and fruit for dirt cheap.  So for breakfast I’ll usually buy a pastry or baked good and a piece of fruit, something I can walk with. For lunch, I’ll buy a small baguette, cheese, and meat to make a sandwich. I’ve done this and then gone to a park or beach to eat.  Nature and sliced chorizo go together like peanut butter and jelly.

Bonus Travel Tip: Bring snacks, something prepackaged, with you to the airport from home so you’re not tempted to buy a heavenly Quarter Pounder (no pickles, please) mmmmmmmmmm. 🙂


     4. Take advantage of the free breakfast:

If you’re staying at a hostel or hotel that offers a free breakfast, stock up on anything that you can travel with for the day, for example pastries, granola bars, bread, or fruit.  No shame, you paid for the room, or bed, enjoy the freebies!


     5. Save a night on accommodations and travel at night:

When I lived abroad, if I wanted to save money on accommodations but also wanted to get the most out of a day of sightseeing, I traveled back home at night.  Buses and trains are usually the cheapest early in the morning or late at night. I went to Cadiz with a friend in 2013 and we took the bus from Salamanca, a 9 hour bus ride.  When we came back to Salamanca, we took the overnight bus. We got to have one last full day in Cadiz and we arrived in Salamanca at about 6am. We were exhausted but for us it was worth it.  We saved money and we got more time in beautiful Cadiz.

**PSA time: If you’re going to travel overnight make sure you have a cab, Uber, Lyft, something back to your house from the airport, or bus or train station.  I DO NOT recommend that anyone walks home at 4am. It doesn’t matter where you are, nothing good happens at 4am.

Ya I don’t recommend sleeping in the Barcelona airport during the 2013 French airport strike either, but that’s another story for another post


     6. Go on a free walking tour:

If you’re interested in learning the history and fun facts about the city you’re visiting, then a walking tour is right up your alley.  Now, you don’t need to pay big bucks for a walking tour. When I’ve gone on walking tours I’ve either gone with the hostel I’m staying at, most offer free tours, or I’ve gone with Sandeman’s walking tours.  Sandeman’s is not paying me to say this at all, I’m praising them because every time I’ve gone their tours, I’ve learned a lot and I’ve truly enjoyed myself. At the end of any free walking tour the guide will explain that tips are completely voluntary, TIP THEM SOMETHING!  The nice part of a free tour is that you tip whatever you can. There’s no pressure to give above what you’re financially capable of. These guides work hard to give travelers a fun and informative tour so give a little something, anything helps.

You can also meet a German Journeyman while on a free walking tour… man, cameras in 2013 were crappy


     7. If you have a student ID or a student visa, use it!:

Many museums and tourist spots give free admission, or at least a discount, for those with a student ID or student visa.  I can’t tell you how much money I saved on admission fees from just flashing my student visa.


     8. Check for free admission:

For those without a student ID or student visa, check museum hours and see if they offer free admission hours.  For example, the Reina Sofia, Madrid’s modern art museum, has free admission Monday, Wednesday – Saturday from 7pm-9pm and it’s free all day on Sunday.  When friends and family would come visit me, I made sure to bring them to the museum in the evening or on a Sunday.


     9. Be aware of the Metro and how much you’ll need it:

Metro tickets can really add up, especially if you’re not sure of where you’re not sure of where you’re going (and you end up leaving and entering the same metro stop 2 times, true story).  So I like to map out what general areas I plan on going to each day of a trip. I figure out which metro I’ll have to take, how many times I’ll have to take it, and then if I can walk to the nearby places I want to see.  It may seem excessive but if I’m really budgeting then I’ll want a good estimate of how much I’m going spend on just public transportation alone.

Bonus Travel Tip: This can apply for public transportation day or weekend passes, figure out how much you’ll need to take public transportation and compare the price of individual tickets versus day or weekend passes.

There you go, my 9 secrets to budget traveling.  Save those pennies and go see the world! What do you think of these tips?  Do you already do some of these? Do you have any tips I didn’t mention?  Comment below and let me know 🙂


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  1. You would love a travel company I know about that can make you money just to travel. Actually, I know a few people to network you with. But this all makes me wonder, how do you manage to really afford all of this traveling?

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