10 tips for planning your next trip on a budget

As someone who is constantly traveling, my friends are always asking me how I can afford to go on trips so often. Traveling doesn’t have to mean spending a fortune, and if you’re willing to forgo the 5-star hotels and Michelin starred restaurants, it can be pretty simple to have a full travel experience without going broke. Here are tips that I use to get the most out of my travels while spending as little as possible.

Exchange labor for food and accommodation

While some people may think of labor as a quick way to ruin a vacation, it shouldn’t. A network called WWOOF allows travelers to work on organic farms in return for housing and food. Don’t think that farming has to mean cleaning up after animals and pulling up weeds. Vineyards, chateaus, olive groves, holistic massage and yoga retreats, and balsamic farms can also be found on the list of WWOOF hosts. Working with a family on their property will not only save you money but will also give you first-hand insight into the local culture (now when does a 5-star hotel give you that?).Plan a staycation

Many times, people take their home cities for granted. It’s funny, because when I travel I am constantly trying to do and see as much as possible, but at home I always figure I’ll get to seeing the sites “someday”. Why not make that someday today and plan a trip without leaving home? Look up local theme parks, restaurants, museums, art galleries, historical sites, and festivals and make a “trip” out of it. And if you want a little change of scenery, you can always try venturing to a nearby town that’s drivable and do a long weekend trip.

Travel to countries with favorable exchange rates

When planning where you will go on your next trip, try to take into account the exchange rate and how expensive it will be to travel there. How far will your dollar go once you switch currencies? Are accommodations, food, and transportation costly? For example, while in some countries you can get a hostel for under $10 there are others where you will pay $60 a night for a bare bones room. Think about what it is that draws you to a certain country and then try to find a more budget friendly alternative. Always wanted to go to South America? Instead of heading to Brazil, which tends to be more on the expensive side, head over to Peru or Bolivia, which will be a lot easier on your wallet. Are you the outdoorsy type who thinks somewhere like the Outback in Australia or the Alps in Switzerland would be a fun vacation? Places like Laos (above) and Ghana also offer many outdoor experiences for travels on a budget.

Use memberships to your benefit

Are you a student? Bring your student ID with you. I’m not a student anymore but I still bring my student ID everywhere, and it has saved me hundreds of dollars throughout my trips. Better yet, if you have an International Student Identity Card you will get recognized as a student all over the globe. Senior citizen? Make sure you always carry proof. AAA Cards, Hostelling International Membership, Eurail Pass…go through your various memberships and make sure you don’t neglect the perks they can give you. For example, a Hostelling International Membership will give you special rates in their hostels as well as discounts on tours and attractions. Moreover, having a Eurail Pass will not only make train travel in Europe more convenient and affordable but will also give you discounts on buses, ferries, and attractions.

Signing up for a travel rewards program and having a rewards credit card can also work to your benefit. Personally, I use the Capital One Venture Card, which gives me double miles for every dollar spent, doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees, and includes auto rental and travel accident insurance. I also make sure to signup for the free frequent flyer programs that many airlines offer.

Travel during shoulder season

It’s amazing how much money you can save avoiding traveling to a destination during its peak tourist season. Flights, accommodation, and tours all go down in price, sometimes by hundreds of dollars. For example, when flying from New York to London in the beginning of April, you’ll probably pay around $750-$800. However, when flying the same route in the beginning of June, you should expect to pay around $1,150. Traveling during a country’s low season also opens up the possibility of taking advantage of worthwhile deals and incentives offered to try to boost tourism numbers. Another great thing about traveling during shoulder season? You won’t have to deal with the crowds, making your trip more hassle-free.

Make a list of free and budget-friendly activities in the city

No matter where you travel to, there are free and inexpensive things to do that are still fun and worthwhile. Just check out these guides on free things to do in New York, London, and Sydney, which are all cities that people think to be extremely expensive. For example, one of my favorite things to do in Sydney was to wander the Sydney Univeristy campus and its adjoining Victoria Park (shown right), which was not only relaxing but completely free. Most times, parks, beaches, public art, open-air events, monuments, and many museums and galleries are free to enjoy. Also, many cities are now giving free walking tours, such as SANDEMAN’s New Europe walking tours throughout Europe and I’m Free Tours in Sydney, Australia. And for a night out, find places that offer good happy hour specials and nightly promotions, as full price cocktails can really wreck all your saving efforts.

Try Couchsurfing

Do you want free accommodation? Try couchsurfing. Couchsurfing is a network of travelers and hosts who offer up their couches to people staying in their city, free of charge. What’s also great about this is that staying with locals helps you to see the destination from their point of view, from hidden coffee shops to non-touristy bars and restaurants to attending actual parties and events thrown by people living in the city. If you’re not comfortable staying on a stranger’s couch you can also opt to stay in a hostel, which can help stretch your dollar a lot farther than a hotel would.

Visit cities where you know locals personally

Try to think of cities where you have family and friends who already live there. This type of trip can cut costs significantly, as it can give you a place to stay as well as make traveling a bit more convenient as you’ll have someone to show, and hopefully drive, you around. Plus, access to a stove cuts down costs considerably. Doing a trip like this will not only will you get a change of scenery, you’ll get to spend time with people you haven’t seen in awhile.

Avoid the “English menus”

When going out to eat, make sure to avoid any restaurant that boasts having an “English” menu, as this usually equates to “touristy”. Going to a “mom and pop” type establishment will not only save you money, it will also give you a more authentic culinary experience in the country. When in Ghana, I loved eating at little no-name places and getting my favorite dish, Red Red with Plantains (right). If you’re staying at someone’s home or in a hostel with a kitchen, another option is to cook for yourself. Buy groceries from the supermarket or, better yet, an open air market where you can barter for your purchases.

Do less traveling while you’re traveling

All of those train trips, cab rides, flights, and cruises will start to add up. Instead of seeing ten different cities on your trip, choose only a couple you really want to see and spend more time getting to know those better. This will also help you feel less travel fatigued, keeping you excited and energetic on your trip. And, when navigating the city, try to forgo public transport and walk. You’ll get to see a lot more of the city that way and will have a better chance of discovering something you likely would have missed riding on a bus.