My teen and I have been living the budget travel life full time for almost 2 years now, but we have actually been living a fairly extreme budget life since he was a baby. I was/am a single mom, trying to balance my time spent with him and my time working to pay our bills, so living on a tight budget just became a way of life for us. Over the years I learned how to shop smart to make the most of our dollars, and once we started travelling I learned all I could about saving money on flights, accommodations and general living. My knowledge in budget living has naturally gravitated into budget travel skills, thanks to my penchant for being cheap 😉
I get asked often how we manage to travel as much as we do, and how we’re able to live so cheaply. So I’ve compiled this list of budget travel tips to give you some ideas of how you can travel more while still maintaining a low cost of living! It IS possible to travel on a tight budget!
**Full disclosure: This post contains referral links. I may receive a credit for referring you. Gotta fund our travels somehow, so I can keep putting out great content for you!**
We’ve spent a fair amount of time in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, so I put together a one month budget that might give you an idea of how you can plan a budget travel getaway with your family.
In the fall of 2015 we spent 3 months road tripping, which was an amazing adventure. If you enjoy road tripping, this post may offer some suggestions about how to save money while on the road.
Budget Travel Tips
These tips may not work for everyone, but they all come from my experience living a budget travel lifestyle.
On saving money to travel:
- Shop from sale flyers, not your shopping list. Always look through local grocery flyers and make your list from there. Try to buy enough of ‘big ticket’ items (meat, bread) to last 2-3 weeks until the next sale. Freeze whatever you won’t use within a few days. After a few weeks of doing this you’ll have a stock built up to where you no longer ‘need’ anything, except to replenish your freezer.
- Buy ‘no name’. Most no name products are made in the same factory, with a similar or the same recipe. But the prices are markedly lower. More often than not you won’t even notice the difference. (Except with KD and ketchup.. those are different, and I fully support buying brand name for those! haha)
- Stop eating out (naturally). You can often find your favourite restaurant recipes online, so try to recreate them. Have a monthly fondue night or taco night to make eating at home a fun event that trumps dining out, and comes with a much lower price tag.
- Meal plan. Once a week or once a month plan your menu. Knowing what to make decreases the likelihood of going out to dinner because you’re tired or don’t know what to make. Or are missing ingredients.
- Meal prep. Once a week and/or once a month pick 6-7 recipes that you can prep ahead and freeze to pull out in the morning before leaving the house for the day. I prefer slow cooker meals.. Pull them out of the freezer the night before, then throw it in the slow cooker in the morning on low. Dinner will be ready when you get home!
- Have a garage sale
- Bring old clothes to a consignment store, or sell on ebay or facebook buy/sell groups
- Have movie nights at home with popcorn, movie snacks and slushies
- Try the 52 week savings challenge! (Note: check the comments for some great alternative suggestions to save the same amount in the end!)
- Clip coupons! You don’t need to be a coupon collector to benefit from using them! Every little bit you save is that much more you can add to your travel fund!
On booking cheaper flights:
- There is no single site that you can use to find the best prices. I use Skiplagged, Skyscanner and google flights and compare my findings between the three.
- have flexible dates, and search ‘whole month’ to see if leaving a day or 2 earlier or later is cheaper. Skiplagged had a line graph that shows you 2 months of prices, so is always my first stop when searching flights.
- Follow Secret Flying blog and on facebook to catch some great deals. Move fast on these though!
- If using a third party search tool, book with the airline if possible. They often offer some assurances that third party sites don’t.
- If you can’t find the right price on the airline’s site, call them with the flight number you’re looking at. Often the rep can find that flight and book you on it. I once save $100 on every flight I could find online, because I found it cheaper on google flights and called Air Canada to book it. Took 30 minutes, but it’s worth $100 to me!
On finding cheap accomodation:
- On airbnb, flipkey and VRBO always contact the host before booking (unless booking just a couple nights). Introduce yourself, explain the reason for your visit, mention your budget and ask if they’re able to offer you a discount.
- When staying long term, book a week or 2 on airbnb/booking site and use that time to look around locally for something longer term. Almost everywhere you go will have some sort of expats or rentals group on Facebook that you can use to look in. Often walking around the neighbourhood you’d like to live in and talking to some locals will help you find something
- On airbnb, search by the week or the month. Often hosts give discounts for weekly or monthly rentals. If staying a few weeks, seach for 28 days. We’ve found many places that offer a 40-50% discount for a monthly rental, so even if we leave a week early it’s still cheaper to book the month.
- Look into house/petsitting. Sites like trustedhousesitters, mindmyhouse and nomador will offer the ability to apply for housesits around the world (with a sign up fee). I join local expat Facebook groups and get involved in the conversation, then post about my free services and what I can offer them. (be sure to read the group rules, first!!)
- Consider WWOOFing or HelpX. You can trade some work for a place to stay or food to eat. This is a bit harder for families, but opportunities are out there!
On saving money on excursions:
- Calculate the cost of doing it yourself. Often you’re paying for convenience, but could easily plan it yourself.
- Consider whether renting a car for a day or 2 will work out to be cheaper than booking a tour for your whole family. If a one day tour is $100 each, but a car is only $40, you might be better off with the car.
- Look for a discount card. Do a google search ‘(city name) discount card’. Check this one out for Playa del Carmen, Mexico. We did a daytrip to Chichen Itza for only $30usd!
- Bring your own drinks. Many will cover everything, but require you to buy your own drinks
- Ask for a group rate and involve a few friends
- Check groupon, to see if they offer any discounts for where you’re going
- Look into whether there are timeshare presentations where you are visiting. We’ve done a few, and they often give free excursion tickets just for attending the presentation. Depending on your negotiation skills and time vs money valuation, you may find this to be a worthwhile trade.
On saving money while travelling:
- Cook your own food. Often you can buy a week’s worth of groceries for the same price as a single restaurant meal
- Don’t be afraid to menu shop. Pick an item that you know what a good price is (mine in mexico is guacamole) and use this as a baseline to gauge whether the restaurant is expensive or not
- Go in the off season. Everywhere has one
- Plan meals at places out of the tourist zone. Restaurants here are usually much more expensive than in more local areas
- Souvenir shop out of the tourist area
- Do your research on the area… Taxis here in Mexico like to double the price for tourists. If you know the normal price, you can haggle with them
- Learn local transit. It’ll almost always be cheaper than a taxi!
- Bring your toiletries and a first aid kit. Nothing like having to find something quick to force you to abandon your budget
- Check whether there is a groupon or something similar where you are travelling. They offer many great food and activity discounts
- Always carry water/something to drink. As in your home country, convenience stores charge more for the convenience of their offerings, so avoid as much as possible!
- Bring granola bars, nuts, crackers and other small snacks on bus trips, day trips, walks around town, travel days… Basically everywhere!
- Don’t exchange currency at an airport. Wait until you get into town
- Open an account at a bank that offers to reimburse fees in other countries. Scotiabank in Canada and Charles Schwab in the US are 2 good options.
- Get a Worldsim card, a Flexiroam sim or a new sim card in each country you visit. Your home country may offer roaming packages, but they will be expensive
These budget travel tips have been compiled from 15 years of low budget living experience. Hopefully you are able to use some of these tips to set out on some adventures of your own! Do you have any budgeting and money saving tips? Leave a comment below!